Category Archives: teacher

The kid who knows too little

The girl drove me crazy.

She always called me over, always wanted me to hold her hand and walk her through what to do. She’s in a huge class of students who…keep me on my toes. And she wanted my attention 100%.

The thing is she has a great eye, and she’s super creative, and she seems to be a good student. Except in my class. 

In my class she lost 30 photos. In my class she didn’t follow the step by step instructions printed on the sheet in front of her. In my class she wanted my every moment and that just wasn’t possible.

Frustration set in, on both our parts.

Until the middle of second six weeks when she asked a new question. So how do I make a new PowerPoint again? And the girl sitting next to her added, “What is an attachment?” And the one next to her said, “I never really used email before.”

And just like that I realized for weeks I’d been speaking a foreign language to these kids. And the “Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Lee,” girl was actually the brave one willing to ask the questions.

It took three class periods, but in the end they knew what to do, and now when they walk in the classroom, they do amazing work. We lost weeks because I let my frustration get in the way of finding the positive and I didn’t bother talking to and with them to see if I could understand what the heck was wrong.

Ugh.

Something to remember for next year.

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

An Open Letter to United States Senators

Dear Republican Senators,

I implore you to think about the real damage going on in the US right now. Then I implore you to think about how that damage will implode the public school system if Betsy DeVos is approved as Secretary of Education. 

I’ve read your explanations. That she wrote you and assured you she will not move forward on her decades of public school destruction. But nothing she said in her confirmation hearings gave proof to those answers. 

DeVos is uniquely unqualified to be Secretary of Education. Uniquely unqualified in that she has no public school experience and has dedicated her life to dismantling public school systems. Surely, surely there is a strong Republican candidate with real public school experience. 

While I understand education at these levels is politics, this nominee is more than a political front. She is a shouted message that teachers are bad and public schools destructive. 

Again, I implore you, listen to the overwhelming calls, messages, tweets and emails from your constituents. There is a reason most people are against this nomination, and that reason has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with our children.

Approving DeVos as Secretary of Education will have severe consequences for educators and students. Vote no. 

Sincerely,

Mary Beth Lee 

The Week It Happened

Moi @ 47. 48 around the corner.


It took almost an entire semester, but when we returned from break I felt like me in the classroom.

How weird.

I would have never guessed I would have a mini identity crisis as an adviser after all these years, but setting matters. (The writer in me should have known that.)

I still have so much to learn about teaching, about journalism, about life in general.

At almost 50 it’s easy to just go through life’s motions instead of really living. I don’t want to do that. I want to be like Auntie Mame minus the Great Depression and those boots.😊

Live, Live, Live!

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.

Something Unexpected: The Power of I WANT

I don't have all my photos from this trip on my computer. That is so weird. But I have this one. <3

I don’t have all my photos from this trip on my computer. That is so weird. But I have this one. ❤

When I was a high school freshman, my French teacher had us write down an I Want list.

Back then I lived in books. I saw the world in books. I conquered evil through books, found magic in books, played make believe in books.

And more than anything my books helped me know I wanted to go to Paris one day.

Back then me going to France was as probable as me playing for a state winning sports team. If you’ve ever seen me walk and talk at the same time, you’ll understand that.

Still, my teacher told us to write the I Want down even if the I want was impossible. I don’t know if she knew it, but way back then she was teaching me the power of releasing something to the universe. I released that dream to the universe, along with a ton of others, then got back to the business of being a kid.

Life happened.

And suddenly it was 2008 and the summer after my daughter’s graduation I took a group of students on a tour to….

Yep. Paris.

I remember walking out of the train station and staring in wonder at the beauty that was this city often considered the most magical place on earth and drinking in the flowers on balconies and the coffee shops and the Parisians. It was all so unreal and beautiful and amazing. But it didn’t really hit me until the next day when our group walked into Notre Dame.

I stood outside those gorgeous doors in awe of this sacred place that had become a tourist destination and grumpily wondered why it was so hot and smelly. Seriously. The place was crazy with traffic and kids were running all over the place screaming and I was hungry and those stupid cobblestones were a pain in every part of my feet. The birds, God, the birds. They were so gross. And people smoke in Paris worse than they do in the Oklahoma casinos.

I mean I said all the right words. “Cool.” “Wow!” “I can’t believe we’re here!”

But they were a front for what I was really feeling, which isn’t appropriate for this conversation.

But then we walked inside and everything changed.

Walking through the doors into the Notre Dame everything changed. The hair on my arm stood on end as I entered this place that is still holy even though tourists visit in droves. I looked at those arches and those statues and those candles and the floor and the rose window, the glass…truly breath taking. Tears filled my eyes and I was so thankful. Thankful to God, thankful to my daughter and her friends and my mother-in-law who was there with me. Thankful to my friends and fellow teachers who were there.

I remembered that kid sitting in French class in Burkburnett, Texas writing down I want to go to Paris on a list of impossibilites. And with that, I lost it. I boo hoo’d like a baby. Tears streamed down my face, and I’m pretty sure I embarrassed my mother-in-law.

I don’t think I understood the power of the I Want list, even then. But over the last few years of studying The Success Principles and The Artist’s Way and The Secret and the bible, I’ve learned our words have incredible power for good or bad. When we release them to the universe, the universe will answer. Even if we don’t really believe that.

So yeah. The lessons I spent twenty forevers building for week one dealt with goal setting, visualization and affirmation. We hit goal setting hard and talked briefly about affirmation and maybe, maybe, two kids wrote affirmations.

But the I want list was a big star of the show because some of last year’s kids still had their’s and they were able to say, “Hey, I crossed some of my I wants off my list since last January.”

I was able to say I crossed five off my list.

And even if the newbies didn’t believe in the power of an I Want list, they were, for the most part, willing to give it  try.

I understand the reluctant ones. God, I understand them. The disbelief in the supposed truth that anything is possible. Life makes it easy to NOT believe sometimes. And it’s not like you can wiggle your nose and WHAM, the I want happens. You have to work. YOU have to work hella hard sometimes.

But when you put that I want on paper, you have a destination. You know where you want to go. Now you just have to figure out the right way to get there.

That’s what we did last week.

We looked at where we want to get personally and with the different staffs. This week we’re figuring out how to get there.

It’s easy to get caught up in the ickiness on the road to a goal. The pain and heartache and no’s and failures and drama and conflict and testing and interruptions and the news and cell phones and PDAS and all that jazz. But I hope starting with this will help us all work together to start every day with a destination in mind. I know it will help me embrace the journey.

Thank You: Teacher Appreciation Week

apple-256262_640Teacher Appreciation Week means it’s time to say thank you.

There’s no way I can say thank you to all the teachers who’ve impacted my life, but I want to at least point out a few.

Mrs. Tagee from Valley View Elementary. It’s crazy to think back to the lost little kid I was when I moved to Columbia Heights, Minnesota. I don’t remember a lot from those days, but I do remember not reading and how desperately I wanted that to change. Mrs. Tagee helped that wish come true.

Anne Gillespie from Burkburnett High School. Mrs. Gillespie crushed my dreams when she told me I couldn’t be in yearbook. Thank God for that because instead she helped me fall in love with journalism, advising and all things UIL. She changed my life, and I can never say thank you enough for that.

Dr. Thomas Hoffman from Midwestern State University. Dr. Hoffman made me believe in me. He helped me believe in my words and my ability to excel academically. He encouraged me to continue with my education when I finished my BA, and he didn’t laugh at me when I freaked out at that first paper I had to write while pursuing my MA. I’m not sure if I’d still be writing today without Dr. Hoffman’s encouragement and support.

Sandra Scheller, Rider High School. I met Sandra during my first semester working toward my teaching certificate. She taught journalism at Rider, and she was willing to let me observe her class. From the moment she informed those kids I was her probation officer to the last few months while I’ve watched her prove she is one of the strongest women I know, Sandra has been a true inspiration. She leads her classes with laughter and gentle guidance, and her students know she truly appreciates them. She makes connections that last a lifetime, and I’m proud to call her a colleague and a friend.

Sheila Curlin, Birdville ISD, (but still a Raider). I’m not even sure how Sheila and I first became friends. I think it might have been fashion/shoe envy on my part. Sheila has always inspired me to be a better teacher. We spend hours talking about education and actually enjoying those discussions. One of my first critique partners, Sheila constructively criticized my fiction and called me out when I took shortcuts with it. Sheila helped mold me into the writer I am, the teacher I am, the person I am today. When we see each other now, it’s as if we are still right down the hall from each other. I miss her, but she’s just a phone call away. 🙂

Debbie Begley, Keller ISD, (but still a Raider). I suffer from a serious issue: I’m a shy extrovert. I desperately want to talk, but I’m terrified to do so. For years I wanted to be an education advocate, but that meant actually talking in front of my peers. It took a few years, but Debbie gave me my voice. I’m not sure she even knows that. With her constant encouragement I finally spoke up at a faculty meeting. Since then I’ve spoken at board meetings, marched in Austin, spoken at local rallies and Lord Help, if you ask me a question about education reform. Thank you, Debbie, for helping me claim that dream. I hope to do more with it, and every time I speak, I will say, Debbie Begley helped make this happen.

Scotty Coppage, Rider. How incredibly cool is it that one of my former students now teaches with me?! But that’s not why Scotty is on this list. Scotty is an incredible teacher who challenges me to be better and do more. He teaches from the heart and runs his classroom the same way. But even that isn’t why Scotty is on this list. Scotty’s on this list because when he came into my classroom all those years ago and asked me if I was still writing and I said, well, I’ve been kind of busy and not really, instead of letting that stand he asked if I wanted to workshop The Artist’s Way with him that summer. That summer I learned Scotty was more than an incredible teacher and writer. He was Rock Star. That summer changed my life. I was miserable when I wasn’t writing. Scotty helped give that back to me. He didn’t have to do that, but I’m incredibly thankful he did!

Nikki Looper, Burleson Centennial (but still a Raider). Nikki was the first teacher I ever mentored. I’m not sure why they had me mentor her that year. I think it was because I was across the hall from her. Since that time (a million years ago!), Nikki has challenged me to be a better teacher time and time again. I don’t see Nikki often, but I did at the last UIL Regional meet in Lubbock. Once again she spoke truth about education. Life changing truth. She helped me remember that comfortable isn’t a good thing when it comes to teaching. Those years we worked together changed me as an educator, and I’m incredibly thankful for that.

There are so many others I should mention. Jan Adams, my cooperating teacher who was here for two years and then moved back to Arkansas, helped me understand the power of revision and how simply doing the work and giving it a grade wasn’t enough. Mrs. Bo who made English fun. My eighth grade English teacher–I cannot remember her name and that is awful!–she taught us step by step how to do a real research paper and refused to let us write a word without a complete outline. I used those lessons from then through my MA, and I use those research lessons when I’m writing today. She also told us not to get rid of our favorite clothes when they went out of style because style was cyclical. She was so right. Mr. Brown who told me every day that I could do math, I was just afraid of it. He showed me the power of encouragement and believing you can. It took me several years to understand that lesson. Rhonda Arnold who made me see the importance of loving your school not just working there.

Looking back, I could go on and on and on with this post, the first I’ve written in months, but at some point it has to end. I know I’ve left names off this list that should be here, but I need to push publish. 🙂

The one thing I see again and again in these names is that these teachers changed my life. Teachers hold so much power in their hands. Yes, teaching is a job, but it is so much more than that. I need to remember that every time I walk into the classroom. ❤