Another fight to save Texas teachers

I’m sick to my stomach at what I see happening in my state government right now. It’s not a surprise: our governor made it clear he wants this outcome, our lieutenant governor is so anti-teacher it makes me cringe to even hear him speak. Half the educators I know voted for these guys because the R beside their names even though they’ve made it clear they’re at war with the public school system and teachers.
When I started teaching, I knew I’d never get rich doing it. God put me on this earth to teach, though. I knew it from my first moment in the classroom.

When I first started teaching, I didn’t really understand how the Teacher Retirememt System worked. I saw the contribution on my pay stubs, but I didn’t really comprehend why TRS existed and how it worked.
Then Enron happened.
Long story short a lot of people lost everything with bad investments in Enron. TRS was invested, but the people who run the pension diversify, so TRS survived and even thrived. After that, I learned a little about how TRS works.
Basically: current teachers pay into TRS. The state contributes a small percentage (a number they’ve decreased). When teachers retire they get a set pension for life or they can take a lump sum.
TRS is one of the top performing pensions in the nation. It’s one of the things Texas teachers know they can depend on.
Now republicans have put forward SB 1751. A bill that if passed will move our guaranteed pensions–and state employee pensions–to the market driven 401k system. A system that has been proven to work great for the wealthy while account managers make major bank on fees AND proven to be totally unsustainable for the regular middle class worker to live comfortably in retirement. 
Most teachers are just part of the regular middle class. I certainly am.
I’ve saved my entire career and even put money in my own retirement plan on top of TRS, but TRS is my lifeline. It has to be. I won’t ever get social security because Texas won’t allow me to draw both even if I work enough quarters outside of the school system to qualify. 
Most teachers I know work more than one job. I know when I retire I will have to work somewhere still, that my retirement alone won’t be enough. BUT it is a guaranteed income. And the 401k system some republicans want to move us to is only a guaranteed income for the banks and money managers in charge. If SB 1751 passes, public employees in Texas are screwed. The whole system only works if we all pay our fair share while working, and right now it works well. SB 1751 is ridiculous.
I do have hope. If people make it clear they do not support SB 1751, if they call their legislators, maybe we can swing the tide against this awful bill. I know my local state rep. is very pro-public education and goes against his party regularly. My local senator on the other hand…I don’t know. She’s never written me back.

Texans, I’m asking you to please call your legislators and tell them you do not support SB1751. It’s an anti-teacher bill and it will hurt us terribly. I’m also begging you to research candidates before the next election. We won’t keep winning these fights to save public schools and public school teachers if we keep voting in anti-public school candidates.


Tired, Can’t Afford to be Sick

I’m kind of tired hearing the words that people need to be responsible for their own healthcare costs from those who don’t pay for healthcare.I’m kind of tired of looking at my husband, a healthy 50+-year-old man who has to pay over $400 a month for a $10k deductible non-ACA insurance policy. Non-ACA because only a handful of docs in our hometown accepted the ACA coverage. But the ACA policy was only a few dollars cheaper anyway.

I’m tired of paying $100 for the “free” annual wellness exams.

I’m tired of hearing health care is a “personal responsibility” not a right as a citizen.

I heard a former republican governor of Utah–Mike Leavitt–say all nations know that when their citizens are paying this much of their income on healthcare, they must make changes or their nation is at risk. I’m tired of politicians ignoring this fact.

I’m tired of hearing about how bad a public healthcare policy that insures more for less is a catastrophe for insurance companies while insurance agency leaders rake in record profits and citizens go broke.

I’m tired of hearing how if people got rid of their iPhones and maybe worked a few extra hours they could pay for their insurance. It just shows how completely disconnected Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is and I hope his constituents remind him of that when they next go to the polls. I just want to scream, dude, if someone’s already working 72 hours a week or more and healthcare is breaking them, how the heck are they supposed to do more and WHY should they be phoneless because you don’t want to help fix the problem?! How about you quit with all the big business tax cuts? Oh wait…how much was the bank bailout again? $700 billion. And you think the problem is Johnny has an iPhone? 

I’m tired of the politicization of something that shouldn’t be political. 

ACA didn’t fix the problems, but thank GOD, it made the attempt. The new republican answer leaves people of poverty in deeper poverty while rewarding the rich once a-freaking-gain.

I’m tired of hearing people who don’t pay for healthcare complain about politics of personal responsibility. 

I’m tired. Thank God I’m not sick because I can’t afford to be sick anymore. And the republican “repeal and replace” will make things even worse.


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.


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. 


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 


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.