#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

Tag, You’re It #Betsy DeVos

Dear Mrs. DeVos,

We have a system in this country, and you’ve been confirmed as Secretary of Education because of how that system works. People voted for the president and their senators, and today, that means you now hold a position of great power in our country despite the overwhelming majority of people who asked their senators to vote no. That’s not how our system works, though, so you’re it.

It was obvious during the confirmation hearing that you hadn’t done your homework, Mrs. DeVos. That although you’ve spent years degrading public school systems and championing choice, you really did not know the essential foundations upon which public schools are built. You did not understand school law, nor did you understand basic educational practices. 

You no longer have the option to skip the homework, take the test and let the failing grade stand. A failing grade for you is disasterous for us. So hit the books. We need you to be good.

Now your real work starts. Important work. Essential work. Work that has absolutely nothing to do with your personal bank accounts and everything to do with one of the foundations of this country.

Your job is political, but it is more than that.

Years ago one of my favorite superintendents explained that he knew his strengths and made sure to surround himself with assistants who could shore up his weaknesses. I hope you will do this. Spend time with public school educators: administrators and teachers. Spend time in schools: failing schools and excelling schools. Look beyond test scores because test scores are a tiny portion of what we do.

You’ve had weeks since that disasterous confirmation hearing. Hopefully you’ve utilized that time effectively. 

Different points of view can lead to great successes. I hope we see that from you. Don’t let us down, Mrs. DeVos. Prove us wrong. Prove you are up to the job.

Sincerely,

Mary Beth Lee

Public School Teacher

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 

Support Your Public Schools

She lived in a car with her mother, until her mother OD’d. She sat next to a student whose parents owned a private airplane.

He slept on friends’ couches all senior year. He sat next to a girl whose dad commanded troops in Iraq.

She was a single mom trying to make ends meet. She sat next to a girl whose parents had come to the US to start a new life. They sat next to a foreign exchange student from the Republic of Georgia. They all attended class with three debutants, two kids who lived in the projects, a teacher’s kid and a doctor’s child.

All of them, regardless of background, learned. 

That’s public school, and the strength of public school is essential to our communities, states and the nation.

Today Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presided over the kick off to “choice” week. There they embraced and championed the idea that tax dollars should be used for private education and that charter schools could somehow fix what ails public schools.

Abbott and Patrick are wrong. That did not stop them from firing the shots that could destroy a system so essential to our democracy.

The best way to guarantee strong public schools is to vote for politicians who believe in strong public schools. Abbott used to, Patrick never did.

Neither of these men faced election this year. 

To contact Gov. Greg Abbott and tell him you support strong public schools not choice, click here.

To contact Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to say the same thing, click here.

To be clear, support for vouchers, tax credits or any other means of privatizing public school will kill the public school. Don’t let that happen.

And the next time Texas elections roll around, remember these men have every intention of destroying a true public school system. We can’t ignore this. 

Why I Will March

I will never say #NotMyPresident.

I understand the sentiment but do not embrace it.

I won’t say it because Donald J Trump IS my President.

I am a citizen of this great nation, and as such, this nation and its President belong to me.
That is why I will march.

Because I must join the voices of others to say racism is not acceptable, misogyny is not acceptable, the war against public education is not acceptable, vulgarity is not acceptable, bullying those who disagree with you is not acceptable, defunding Planned Parenthood is not acceptable, calling the media dishonest because they write and say things you don’t agree with is not acceptable, treating others as less than is not acceptable.

I do not march against my President.

I march against the ugliness unleashed by his words. I march against those who have embraced his nationalist speech and added white supremacy. I march against the idea that separation of church and state is a suggestion not a constitutional mandate. I march because we sit on the brink of returning to the age of back alley butchers performing abortions.

I march for my Muslim friends. I march for those terrified that they will be sent back to Mexico because they gave the government their names when the Dream Act started. I march because climate change is real. I march because deregulation leads to corruption like the housing crisis where so many lost their homes. I march because I shouldn’t have to carry my birth certificate to use the bathroom. I march because creationism doesn’t belong in a science textbook. I march because facts are facts. So yes, I will march.

I will do so in peaceful protest against policy and speech, but I do not march against the man.

I march because the constitution says congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I march because I must.

The Night Before

On this night before the inauguration of Donald Trump, I sit here after reading the news, the real news, and I worry.

Yes, tomorrow Mr. Trump will become President Trump. We have a process in this country, and the people spoke. 

I can go through the litany of reasons for why I worry, but I don’t need to. The reasons are many, and they came from Trump’s mouth throughout the campaign and in the days since.

I hope someone takes Trump’s phone away. Or even better, I hope HE puts the phone away. The end of the unpresidential tweet storms would be a good start. 

I hope my worry is completely misplaced. That my friends who say they voted for the businessman because we need that kind of leadership right now are right. I sincerely hope Mr. Trump’s words prove to be electioneering, and I hope from the moment he is sworn into office we see a different kind of Trump. A Presidential Trump.

There’s a Facebook post that has been making the rounds since election night. It basically says hoping from Trump to fail is like cutting off your nose to spite your face, and that is so, so true.

I honestly don’t know anyone who hopes Trump fails. Everyone I know is either on their knees in prayer or sending positive light and energy Trump’s way in the hope that our fears prove unfounded.

The thing is, so far it’s looking pretty grim. Many of the cabinet nominees make no sense.  The Russian hacks and current investigations followed by the Putin praise is more than unsettling, it’s downright scary. The press conference the other day has me trembling in my shoes, especially with the way so many people I know were quick to defend the accusation that CNN was fake news. 

The last eight years of the constant anti-Obama attacks, often from real fake news outlets, have left people I know and love fearful of everything from President Obama staging a coup and refusing to relinquish power to President Obama setting up death panels to kill off senior citizens. These fears were based on nothing real, but people believed them. And now those same people DON’T believe NBC, CBS, ABC, The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN. That’s terrifying. 

How did we get here? (Rhetorical. I know how.)

Tomorrow, I know we will see a peaceful transition of power, and it will be a symbol to the world that our nation is still great.

I won’t rejoice at the man who is taking the office, though. 

I’ve seen a lot of people say we need to stop paying attention to all the political junk in the news. To them I say, no. Now is the time we must be more aware than ever. The man’s words do matter. The man’s conduct does matter. The man’s promises do matter. 

Mr. Trump will be the President tomorrow, but  if you do not agree with his words, his actions, his policies, silence and acceptance are NOT the answers. Apathy is NOT the answer. 

The first amendment exists for a reason. 

And our government is of the people, for the people. Winning an election does not make you God, it does not make you right. 

The President of the United States is one of the most powerful people on earth. The citizens of this country must hold that person accountable for words and deeds.

And so tomorrow I will be praying for our nation and the rest of the world. It’s the beginning. Hopefully it’s not the beginning of the end.

First training session 

OMG.

Today I learned how to do a squat. The trainer, Shane, told me I’d be doing this, and I laughed at him. Yeah right.

If you know me you understand.

But no, really, today I did squats. 

And I learned how to bend and sit.

If you’re someone who knows this stuff, it looks pretty easy.

If you’re me…OMG.

I didn’t actually realize how hard I was working until it was time to leave and I had to walk again. Lol.

My knees are jelly now. 

I’m proud of me, and I’m thankful for the trainer who says “You’re not broken” while he helps me start down this road to strength and real mobility.

*cool thing about the trainer: he did his master’s at MSU. Yay Midwestern!

Know Your Why

I’ve heard the statement know your Why three times in the last two weeks. It’s a powerful statement.

Knowing your why helps when you do a life spot check, helps you know when to say yes and no, keeps you from just going through life on autopilot. 

My why: to touch lives through the power of story. Whether that’s my books or in writing instruction or helping my kids capture the stories of their community, my why is seen in my work.

Knowing my why helped me start writing again once I had time to breathe, and it helps me focus on critiques of my students’ work. 

Know your why. It makes a difference.

Always Never Always

I write to music. Usually metal, orchestral metal or hard rock. The music I write to has words, but I don’t hear them. I hear the beat and write like the wind…sometimes.

When Ozzy starts singing or Jillian’s  (Within Temptation)  voice breaks over a heavy guitar riff or Angtoria’s Wise Woman sounds, I write fast.

It’s just how I do things.

I revise to Spaghetti Western soundtracks, Yo Yo Ma and other soft music with attitude.

It’s just how I do things.

I write best by using a combination of Fast Draft, rewrite, write as fast as you can, first three chapter hell and beats. I didn’t know they were called beats until I started listening to The Self Publishing Formula podcast. And then I revise, send to beta readers and revise and revise and send to an editor and edit. And then I publish.

This is my system. It works for me when I work it. I quit working it for awhile, but I’m back now.

I’m posting this because this week I’ve seen and heard several absolutes when it comes to writing. I’m not the self publishing expert or even the “write this way” expert, but I do know this: if someone says always do this or this is the only thing that works, they’re wrong.

Except sometimes they’re right. Because when they say the answer to writing is sitting at the computer or on your phone or tablet and writing, they are right. That’s the number one key.

But when they say you must use Story Magic, or the Snowflake Method, or Plot Stormers, or the blob, or Fast Draft, or 5k a Day! or any other method, they’re wrong. Those are tools, and maybe you fall in love with one of them and use it, but maybe you hate it too.

There is no magic formula for writing a book. You’ve got to find your own formula. And you do that by writing.

Want to write? Write. 

Study the craft, listen to podcasts, read Stephen King’s On Writing, study the structure of your favorite author’s work, check out The Gotham City Writers character worksheets, join a writing group (I highly recommend Romance Writers of America). Do all of that. But above all write. Find your method. Repeat.

*A message to myself and others like me.  

Gym Time

When I was nine we moved to Texas.

What I remember from that time: every girl could do a cartwheel and most wanted to be  cheerleaders. I could not do a cartwheel, but I did want to be a cheerleader.

In junior high we started gym classes. Nothing in my junior high world was worse than gym. 1. I was overweight. 2. I couldn’t run, shoot baskets, serve volleyballs, hit softballs, do cartwheels, climb ropes or any of that awfulness. I did love that parachute thing we bounced a ball around on, and scooter races were always fun. 

Today I went to the gym I joined before leaving on vacation. I’ve been one other time. That was to meet with the trainer last week.

The trainer told me I have a mental block where athletics is concerned. He thought it might have been because of a bad coach. But it isn’t that. I LOVED one of my junior high PE teachers. She absolutely believed in me. She believed in all of us. 

I don’t really know what the problem is. 

But I know the trainer is right about my mental block.

I know because I have to psych myself up to drive up the road to go, and then I have to psych myself up to get out of the car and go inside.

Today I sat in the parking lot and told myself to stop being so ridiculous.

And then I took this selfie.


I told myself one day I’d look back at the photo and laugh.

But I don’t know. I look at it now and don’t really feel very funny.

A million moons ago I started this blog because it was January, I’d started a diet and I wanted to develop my writing voice.

Going to the gym is just part of the story.