Category Archives: school

Yes, you should be a teacher

Mrs. Lee, I’m thinking about being a teacher, but I just don’t know. What do you think?
My former students ask me this question pretty often. My answer has not changed even though education has.
Yes. Yes, you should be a teacher. No other job is as rewarding as awe-inspiring, as beautiful and life affirming as teaching.

Yes, teaching has changed, and yes, everything is more test centric. Despite that, teaching is still an incredible job.

Yes, kids curse and question authority and their phones will drive you crazy. Kids always cursed and questioned authority. It’s different now for a lot of reasons, but that’s not just an education issue. And the phones are crazy, but walk into any restaurant and look around. It’s the same everywhere, and it’s certainly not just the kids. We get to be part of teaching society how to use those phones successfully instead of letting them control our lives.
Yes, teaching hurts sometimes. When your kids lose parents or grandparents or get kicked out or live in a hotel or come to school dirty and hungry or get involved in the slippery slope of drugs and alcohol or go through bad breakups or fail their STAARs or get criticized and ridiculed for work they were proud of or wreck their cars or drop out–GOD, that last one hurts so bad–you bet it hurts. And that’s why you will be an amazing and wonderful teacher. Because it does hurt you and you will do everything in your power to help your kids through the tough stuff. 

Yes, politicians who are beholden to banks and other special interests will make you crazy. Yes, the politics of teaching can drag you down if you don’t let it energize you. Yes, you will sacrifice sleep and money and health. And still, yes, you should teach.
Unless, the only reason you’re thinking about teaching is the decent starting salary. Because if that’s it, no, no, no, no. You don’t want to teach for the money, I promise. 
Teaching is hard physically and emotionally. It takes everything you’ve got to do it well, and there will be days you suck it up in the classroom, and those days can have terrible consequences if you’re not immediately aware. You will go home Fridays and crash. You will spend hours (and sometimes $$$) on lessons that fall flat. You will lay sleepless in bed staring at the ceiling worrying about a kid in your class, you will ask for unspoken prayer requests for kids going through struggles that seem impossible.
You will gain weight if you are not extremely careful or blessed with great metabolism or someone who works out constantly. You will work sick and miss moments with your family. You will sit through meetings wondering why on earth they didn’t just send an email or read emails wondering why on earth they didn’t have a meeting. You’ll go through great new concept after great new concept after great new concept discarding the one that came before for the new until your head is spinning and you can’t remember what you’re supposed to be doing.
And still, you should be a teacher.
Because yes, there is heartache and frustration, but there is so much more. You are changing the world, lighting a light, showing the way, challenging and enlightening and loving kids to success. And honestly, there is no better job in the world.

If you feel like maybe you want to teach, try and see. Give yourself three years to discover if the classroom is your calling. If it’s not, that’s okay too. You’ll still look back on your time with kids as an educational experience. If it is your calling, you have found an amazing life journey and the best job in the world. ❤️

#ProudProductOfPublicSchools

I couldn’t read when we moved to Minnesota from Arkansas. Back then we were in groups by color. I was the only one in the red group. My teacher Mrs. Tagee didn’t leave me in that group. She worked with me until I could read with everyone else. 

In fourth grade my teacher Mrs. Baumgardner gave me my first big book: Little Women. I loved that book so much. I finished it at my grandma’s while waiting to move into our new house in Burkburnett, TX.

In Burk, my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Novak, told me I had a gift with words. My sixth grade social studies teacher realized I could make straight 100s in class but my penmanship was awful, so she helped me there. My eighth grade English teacher taught me how to write a research paper, and I used those lessons all the way through my MA in English. My ninth and tenth grade math teacher told me my problem with math was fear, and even though it took a few more years for me to get it, Mr. Brown’s explanation made all the difference in the world. My journalism adviser, Mrs. Anne Gillespie, changed my world. She’s why I am a journalism adviser today and have been for the last 23 years. My junior English teacher, Mrs. Bo, helped literature come to life and demanded I up my writing game to make good grades in her class. 

Most of us went to public school. Most of us had great public school experiences. Public schools have been under attack for decades, and most of those atracks have been about something other than education. Public schools can be miracle workers, but they cannot be blamed for all the social ills of this world. They cannot be blamed for poverty and the educational woes that come lockstep with it. They cannot be blamed for the fact that politicians haven’t figured out how to fund them properly.

I loved school. I still love school. I hope we as a nation refuse to let bankers and politicians destroy our public school system.

#ProudProductOfPublicSchools #ProudPublicSchoolTeacher

New Kid 

Because I’m a new teacher this year I get to do all those great new teacher in-service trainings.

In 1994 it was Total Quality Schools. 

Anyone who knows me can tell you I drink the Kool-Aid. Any time the latest, greatest program comes out, I jump on board.

Actually for the last several years that’s not exactly true. Now I want to see the research that proves something works, and I want to see a system in place with consistent teacher feedback to work through the program and discuss what’s working, what isn’t, and how it can be fixed if it isn’t working. 

Back in 94 I actually liked much of what we learned in TQS. Those key concepts are still seen in great schools.

Today as a new teacher once more I made the trek down 287 to attend Sheltered Instruction for ESL training in Saginaw.

Teachers, if you haven’t done this training, do it! It is incredible. Our EMS ISD trainer, I can’t remember her name–but she’s leading training next week too so I’ll get it, taught the day-long session perfectly. She modeled how we should teach, not just for ESL, but for all of our students. 

I do a lot of the things I saw today, but nowhere near enough. I thought I’d put the sage on the stage away years ago. Nope. I’m still talking way too much.

This training touched my heart. It made me see how tough some of our kids have it. I hadn’t really thought about how some of our English speaking children from poverty come to us with such limited vocabulary they’re in the same boat as traditional ESL kids. This training inspired me to do more. This training served as a kick in the backside that maybe I’d let myself skid by without improving my craft for a couple years. That’s a dangerous place to be as a teacher.

I’m looking forward to this year as much as I am terrified of what’s ahead. All I’ve ever known is WFISD. Rider was my only professional job. I LOVED my job. I think I still will. Attending training helped curb some of the fear. 😊

living room pictures all packed

Senior Pictures

Did you get your senior picture taken? Did you make your senior appointment? Don’t forget the senior deadline. Get your picture done. According to my records you have not had your senior picture taken. Hey guys, help me out. Here’s a list of seniors not pictured. Can you tell the kids in your classes to get their pictures made? Okay, Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take your last minute senior pictures. 

Hello. This is Mary Beth Lee. According to my records your senior has not yet had their photo taken for the yearbook. Lifetouch will be on campus on THIS DATE to take all last minute senior photos. This is the LAST chance for your senior to be photographed for the yearbook.

Notes (168 of them last year) delivered in class the week before final chance photos. Appointments required. Appointments made. 

Library set up. Pictures taken. 

Yearbook day: I’m not in the senior section!! Did you get your picture taken? Well, I did, in January. I called you, sent you notes, made your teachers harass you, the counselors called you down AND I made announcements the entire time Lifetiuch was here for last chance photos in OCTOBER. You’re right. You’re not in the senior section.
My introduction to my new school came courtesy of senior pictures. EM-S ISD uses a company called Glamour Craft, and they were on campus this week taking senior pictures. My new admin wanted me in the building just in case I was needed. I wasn’t, and that’s probably a good thing.

Monday was tough. I started unpacking my boxes and setting up shop in the new digs. It doesn’t feel like home yet. Brian and I stayed at the Venetian once. It was the swankiest place I’ve ever been. We had a butler and a doorbell. But we were still happy when we got home to the old house. That’s what Monday felt like. My new school is like the Venetian. But I have to find a way to make IT home.

I grew up in black and gold. I chose to swap the black with purple.

When I finished unpacking Monday, I sat at the computer and said What the heck have you done, Mary Beth?

After a few tears, I shook the bad feelings off and reminded myself I always hate school before the kids get there. Then I made a list of things I needed, because lists make me happy.

A bookcase was at the top of the list. Walmart to the rescue. $15.96 for a Mainstay 3-shelf bookcase. Sign me up.

People who know me understand the hilarity that was about to ensue. When it comes to mechanical issues, I’m pretty sure I have a learning disability. The book case instructions were photos. No words. YouTube took care of that. Two videos later (random guy:awesome, Target, your video is foreign language to people like me who don’t speak assembly required!), I tackled the project. 

Step 1: go find a screw driver because I left my years of tool collecting in the old newsroom.

Step 2: arrange everything and make sure the pictures match.

Step 3: use the hammer

Steps 5-9: suck it up and get over being afraid of doing it wrong. Do the work.

Step 10: unpack the books and put them in alpha order in the new shelf.

And with those books, a whole lot of joy.

Because words are my business and books are my first friends and sharing books with my students makes me so happy. 

That bookcase changed everything as far as attitude goes. 

I’ve taken a huge leap and change is crazy scary, but I’m still me, and my new kids will be my kids just like my old kids are still my kids. And this year is going to be hard, so hard, but hard isn’t bad. 

I’ll always bleed black and gold. But adding a little purple to the mix is a good thing. 


*I’m missing so many books. I think I lost a box somewhere. 

*putting old staff photos up on the shelf helped.

*a screw lock or something like that fell off the case. I threw it away because the case seemed fine without it. I hope the case is still standing when I make it back to the newsroom next week.

*standing there and letting fear stop you from moving forward is always the wrong answer.

Dear September Self,

SeptOk, I guess we could even say August self, but August is different. August is the giddy, sparkly, shiny new year self, and she regularly lives in the world of make believe, Disneyfied education where everything is beautiful and wonderful and people sing songs about the greatness of teachers. September is the real world, smack against a wall, what the heck was I thinking, it would be easier to work-at-Walmart-Target-ToysRUs-Cheddars-ElChicos-TheMallEvenThoughYouHateShopping. So listen up September self. Teaching is hard. It’s always been hard. It’s a sucker punch to the gut hard. And it’s a heck of a lot harder now than it was back in the days of teaching six of eight or five of six. So yeah. Eat right, sleep, take your vitamins, walk, find something to binge on Netflix, buy the tequila and margarita mix and suck it up.

DO NOT plan on writing…or creating much of anything really because you’re going to come home and want to bury your head in the sand, a romance novel, a bowl of homemade chocolate mousse. Wednesdays will suck. Bad. So bad you might think about investing in the complete Sopranos collection because violence is good on Wednesdays.

BUT

September passes. Round about the 24th of the month you start to feel like you know what you’re doing…sort of. By the last weekend, you’re excited about the year again.

And the kids…the kids are great. They’re probably having the same problem with Wednesdays, so don’t plan tests or deadlines on Wednesdays.

Take a deep breath and know September passes. ❤

Sincerely,

Your 2014 late September Self

Dear Educators

time-thiefDo what’s right by your students but protect your time. Burnout runs rampant in this business because what we do is a calling. But we deserve and need lives outside the classroom. School is a job and people will take what you give. If you have a great administrator, and thank God I do (best ever, retiring, I want to cry), they’ll tell you or at least hint that you’re doing too much. That doesn’t always happen, though. So you need to tell yourself.

Remember you are a professional. And you deserve to be compensated for your time. That doesn’t mean you won’t work hours before and after school for free. It doesn’t mean you won’t spend money on your classroom and for your kids. But don’t go broke for your school. Not monetarily, physically or emotionally. And choose those free hours. Don’t let them be chosen for you.

Educate yourself, study best practices, don’t drink the Kool-Aid just because someone presents it as the Next Best Thing. Trust your gut. Practice your craft. Have fun. Teach the topic, not the test. It won’t be easy, but you owe it to your kids.

Fight for what you believe in. Fight for your kids. Fight for your fellow teachers.

If there’s a problem, talk to the person who can fix it instead of getting caught up in a perpetual gripe session with people who sympathize but can’t really do anything about it. If you’re afraid to talk to that person, get over the fear. If you can’t, remember you choose to stay. You control you.

And since you do, since you must, always remember,

Protect Your Time.

You can’t get it back. ❤

**********

I’ve been going through my blog tagging entries. This is what I wish I could tell myself. It isn’t original. I can’t tell you how many educators said these things to me on bus trips to UIL Meets, in district meetings, at Leadership Cohort, in offices, in the teacher’s lounge. The people who told me this were absolutely right. Looking back with regret for the time you missed with people you love sucks. You don’t want to go there. Promise.

 

 

Dear Texas State Politicians

inkSince you dedicated your life, or at least a few years, to public servanthood, I have to believe you don’t want to kill the public schools. If you go visit them, especially those with high at-risk populations, you’ll find those schools struggling to survive.

I know when you pass laws, even unfunded mandates, you want the best for Texas students. Before you pass those laws, I’d like to propose a novel concept: talk to teachers. LOTS of teachers. Teachers from all levels in all stages of their careers. Don’t take the word of for-profit companies as law. They’re not in it for the kids. They’re in it for the almighty dollar. So, please, before you listen to them, remember their agenda.

And while we’re talking about for-profit companies and agendas, I’d like you to really think about the for-profit charters setting up shop in Texas. Are they truly serving our students, or are they raking in dollars and cents at the expense of most students attending? I realize all charters are not created equal, but I bet those turning a profit aren’t in it for the kids. Just look at the data from across the country and you’ll see this to be true time and time again.

When something isn’t working, set about fixing it. I know you were hoodwinked into believing our schools weren’t working. I know you’ve committed billions to fixing the “problem.” For your investment professors state-wide say students are less prepared for college than they were before testing began and our SAT scores have stayed the same. The one area data proves the test has actually helped is in lowering the achievement gap for our minority students. That is a fantastic result. I’d like to believe teachers would have worked toward that goal without the money lost to testing.

I know you can make changes based on real data. I know because this year we didn’t give 15 STAAR tests.

But we did give two language arts tests that were far too long. Especially for struggling learners. Try sitting still for close to six hours (or longer if you include lunch). You’ll understand what I mean. In fact, I encourage you to spend two days taking the English 1 and 2 STAAR tests in a classroom, in a desk. Some of the students taking the test are bigger than you, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Maybe you could split your time. Take the test one day and administer the test the next. Experience testing from a student and a testing administrator perspective. That might help you make an informed decision.

That said, other than its length, the ELA STAARs are solid tests in some ways. They measure objectives students need to master before graduating, unlike the tests that came before.

Which leads me to another issue. Right now we have a system that revolves around the test. Teachers are measured by test scores, schools are measured by test scores, school districts are measured by test scores. The test scores reign supreme, and because of that, we have a serious problem in our schools. We have whole years where students aren’t taught subjects because they’re not tested in those academic areas that year. I know that’s ludicrous, but you have set up a system that revolves around the test, and this is the end result. It’s bad for our schools, our teachers and our kids.

Please talk to teachers. We do have the answers. They’re not easy, though. They’re far more difficult than bubbling answer documents and writing 26-line essays. Once again, I realize you never set out to destroy the public school system, but that’s where we are if something doesn’t change.

I appreciate your time.

Mary Beth Lee

 

 

Will the teachers in the room stand up?

super-teacher1You are awesome. You are amazing. You are selfless. You rock.

You are professionals who are off this summer, and you DON’T get paid for that time, even though people, especially politicians, forget that. Even though you’re off, most of you have spent untold hours earning professional development credit in classes over your content area or classroom skills, taking post-graduate classes to earn advanced degrees and/or attending, possibly teaching, workshops with students who will come back and play on your teams or work on your staffs.

Summer is your time to refill the well. Teaching is an art, and teachers are artists, so refilling the creative well is absolutely essential. Rest, relax. You’ve earned it, and you desperately need it.

But

Don’t forget the importance of what we do.

Years ago I attended a conference where a renowned educational speaker asked this question:

If Starbucks were to run out of coffee, what would their response be?

We all sat and laughed imagining that scenario. The manager would be on the phone to every nearby Starbucks looking for more coffee. The baristas would be ready to jump in their cars to go retrieve that coffee even if it meant a 90-minute drive to make that happen. The Starbucks team would work as a unit to get that coffee, whatever it took. In all likelihood they wouldn’t be OUT of coffee…if they waited until it was too late and there was no coffee, the consequences would be severe. People would lose hours, jobs would be lost and customers would be irate.

If a student isn’t learning or is struggling to learn, and we don’t work together as a team to do everything in our power to help them learn, we’re not talking about hours and jobs lost and irate customers. We’re talking about the failure of the United States as a whole. We’re talking about kids who become adults on public assistance for life or worse.

One day I was talking to a nurse who said, “I realize your job is hard, but my job is life and death.”

I agreed with her then.

Now that I’m working in a city that is drastically changing from upper middle class to middle class to lower middle class to where we are now…where most of the children in our district qualify for free or reduced lunch, I totally disagree. It might not be as visible, but when we walk into the classrooms, our jobs ARE life and death.

Remember that as you go to your workshops and classes and think of the cool lesson plans for next year.

I know we can’t do this alone. It takes a village and all that. But we are on the front lines. When we walk on our campuses, every student there belongs to us…not just the ones in our classes. We are the heroes, and this is more than a job.

Enjoy your summer. You’ve earned it.

*************

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The extroverted introvert dilemma

stressI sat in the back of the auditorium, my speech in my notebook, ready to share with the staff what I’d learned about professional learning communities and how they could change everything if teachers were given the time and resources to make them work.

My hands were shaking, I was sweating, I thought about blowing the whole thing off. My friend, our speech teacher at the time, Debbie gave me a thumbs up. Okay. I could do this.

And I did.

And it was amazing.

I was shaking the whole time, but the adrenaline rush was tremendous.  People listened to what I said. Everyone didn’t agree with the outcome I proposed, but everyone appreciated the effort. And they had ideas of their own. Ideas that would lead to student achievement.

(Leadership Cohort changed me, challenged me, made me speak up. First post about those days here.)

But still, over seven years later, I have to force myself to speak up in a room of people. Small groups, no problem. Big groups…gulp.

I’m an extrovert on the inside, an introvert on the outside. It makes for some hilarious self-talk, let me tell you.

I’m working on this. If my inner extravert weren’t trying to come out on a regular basis, I’d wrap my introvert self up in quiet awesomeness. BUT that’s not the way it is. I want to speak up, I want to talk to people…even people I don’t know. So here goes.

Another pledge. I’m going to embrace both sides of myself. But I’m not going to let the introvert win. No more sneaking out of meetings as soon as they’re over without talking to others, no more WANTING to share with the group but keeping my mouth shut because I’m nervous.

This is turning into a July of pledges for me. Good thing I’ve got The Success Principles to help me succeed! ❤

********

Don’t forget to sign up for my author newsletter here. No spam, just give aways and free reads and new release news!

Angel EyesAngel Eyes, The Guardian Book 3 by Mary Beth Lee releases July 20. Sharlene Gallagher is back. YAY!

Dead Girl Walking and An Angel Earns Her Wings are available to Amazon Prime members to read for FREE!!!! Check them out. Dead Girl Walking will release in audio soon. It’s soooooo good y’all!!!! I can’t wait to share!

Proud Day Memory

College graduationThis is the one picture I have of college graduation in 1993. DH took it. I was sick as a dog, but at the time I thought I had a little headache. Turned out a tiny bit more that that. My one and only experience with strep that I can remember, and I’d put it up there with swine flu. (If you’ve followed this blog, you know I got that experience in 2009. Ugh.)

That little girl in my arms and the man taking the photo were the two biggest reasons I have degrees today.  The little girl was my daily inspiration to go to school, do the work and get done. ❤

Family reunionThe man taking the photo was my biggest cheerleader, motivator, calm in the storm ROCK.

(This is us in May this year. 21 years after my first MSU graduation. 15 after my second.)

It wasn’t easy. But it was worth it.

If you’re struggling right now with school or a career path, find a rock and an inspiration. If you don’t have one, use the comments here and let me be your rock. It’s easy to not go. School is expensive. It’s HARD. It seems so pointless to take classes like Zoology and Botany and College Algebra when what you want to do is teach journalism. But that degree is as much about persistence as it is about learning the content. And if school isn’t your path, that’s okay, too. But only if you have a path, a plan, a goal to a successful life. Research shows college graduates earn more over a lifetime, but college is definitely not the only answer. Find someone who successfully does what you want to do and ask the how to get there. People are incredibly helpful, but you’ve got to ask.

If you want to know about advising student media or writing, I can answer questions. I know there are others out there willing to help.

Whatever you do, don’t choose to let life live you. YOU LIVE LIFE. If you don’t know the difference, feel free to ask. I’ll explain. 🙂

*****

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