Tag Archives: education

Lessons

Be kind.

Help others.

Event + Response = Outcome

Everyone is just as busy as you are. We all have the same 24 hours.

When you’re feeling down, do for others. It will make you feel better.

When making a parent phone call, put yourself in that parent’s position and ask yourself what you would want to hear.

You can’t take words back.

Don’t speak in anger.

The universe listens and responds.

The Serenity Prayer is real.

The Golden Rule is real.

Say yes more.

Learn to say no.

You do you.

Written goals are better.

Dream big.

Make your own fun.

Perfection is impossible.

Deadlines are deadlines.

A clean desk is possible.

A messy desk isn’t a moral failure.

Ask.

Listen.

Love.

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The Pilfering of Public Education

Another reason to vote for pro-public education politicians:

The pilfering of public education continues. Next week starts testing, where we will do what the state makes us do even though we know these tests don’t measure what testing companies and politicians and charter schools focused on test scores and the bankers that make big bucks off those charters say they measure. These are endurance tests where focus and the ability to sit for long periods of time will be rewarded even though those two things don’t tell us much about the future success of a student. These endurance grades will be applied to districts and schools this year. Next fall we’ll see the new crop of A-F grades. Schools filled with children who can sit, read, bubble and write for FIVE straight hours will earn an A grade. Good for them.

I’m not anti-test, but I am anti this monster our politicians have created.

A few years ago a new student joined my class in mid-October. She was confused about the focus on tests, the practice tests, the streamlined lessons built to the test, the classes for those who’d failed the test. Where she lived, no one ever talked about the test until the week before and then you took a two-hour test on a computer and went on with your day. She thought Texas was crazy. She’s right.

But schools have to do what the state tells them they must. So we will do this. Our testing coordinators have planned and organized and worked to make the process as painless as possible. We’ve been trained to actively monitor, read directions and say “I can’t answer that. Just do the best you can.” Administers are ready to walk through buildings monitoring constantly. The hall assistants have their Fitbits ready to count the steps. I think some of ours did 10 miles last year.

We will do this and we will make sure our kids know they are more than a test score. The testing company will earn its $70-$90 million they’ve been paid for this test year. And we will lobby the lege to change this nonsense. And it will go on and on and on UNTIL we vote for politicians who listen to educators.

The World is Changing

When I was in college, I had to take speech to graduate. I HATED talking in front of people, but as my professor told me, if I wanted a degree, I had to do it.

I survived.

Today I’m a workshop speaker, I’ve spoken at school board meetings, I’ve given speeches at rallies, I’ve presided over meetings. All of that still makes me nervous. I’m not sure any of those public speaking moments would have ever happened if Dr. Dencil Taylor hadn’t told me I had no choice but to speak in front of my class. EVEN though I told him I’d get sick. He was heartless.

Actually what he was was a master educator who believed more in me than I believed in myself.

Today speech class is no longer part of the required curriculum in Texas colleges. The lege decided it wasn’t necessary. EVEN though public speaking ability is one of the skills business leaders say is absolutely essential to success.

Recently I read about a university that is cutting liberal arts majors. On further investigation I found this is a common theme in higher education. The reason given over and over again: it’s tough to get a job with a liberal arts degree.

The world is changing, and not for the better, if a degree that encourages you to think and read and write can’t translate to a job.

The world is changing, and not for the better, if we only look at education in terms of vocation.

I was alarmed when students said they didn’t want to take high school journalism because they didn’t want to be journalists. I mean, let’s be real, high school IS NOT ONLY about what you’re going to do later in life. And it shouldn’t be. Shoot in all likelihood students will change their major more than once in college if they go to college. They’ll definitely go down different career paths regardless of whether or not they get a degree.

There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with vocational education, but for us to make all educational decisions through that limited lens is a huge mistake.

And that mistake is the same mistake universities that choose to discontinue liberal arts degrees are making.

The world is changing. Training for a vocation is not enough. Students need to be able to think critically and problem solve and write and analyze data and think some more and work in collaborative groups and think some more. They need to learn how to be flexible and understand the difference between fact and opinion, and they need to understand the power of propaganda. And they definitely need to know the past because it serves as a lesson, a warning, a road map to our future.

Yes, we need vocational education. But vocational education is not all we need.

Liberal arts subjects help us navigate that changing world. Removing them from the curriculum is the wrong answer to a real issue.

The world is changing. Absolutely.

21st Century Education: Yearbook

A few years ago someone asked me if yearbooks were even relevant anymore.

I was ready with my standard response: Kids in publications classes learn to communicate effectively, collaborate, problem solve, question why, tell their community’s story creatively and work on a deadline under massive stress in complete chaos. Relevant? Check out the 21st century education skill sets demanded by today’s top corporations and you’ll see yearbook checks almost every box. With design and surveys, it even makes the math cut.

Yearbook, newspaper and journalism classes aren’t just about the end product. BUT the end product does, in education speak, show mastery of the skills learned in the course. In yearbook’s case, the book encapsulates the school year FOREVER. In 50 years the book will be what people turn to to learn about the past. The yearbook is the school in book format.

Yearbook is not just relevant, it’s essential.

(More on this tomorrow.)

Teach the Vote: Save Our Public Schools

When I first started teaching one of the best teachers I’ve ever known told me something that has proven to be true in ways I never imagined.

When I said I didn’t like to “be political” she said teaching would always be political and that there were forces at work trying to destroy the public school system because they wanted to raid the funding.

I didn’t believe her in 1994, but by ‘99 I saw she was right. Back then it was Pearson and the high cost of testing and curriculum for the tests and retests. I still didn’t understand the full truth of what she saw.

I didn’t understand that banks were starting for-profit charters and moving into states while pulling funding from schools. I didn’t know hedge-fund operators were donating huge amounts to politicians to change the rules. I sure didn’t expect the state to give billions to private investors while cutting funding to our state teacher pension and insurance fund. I didn’t realize then that the push to make public education teaching a drive-through profession was because without a large,vocal group of seasoned public educators, politicians could raid funds all day long and few would know or care.

Flash forward to two decades later.

What that teacher underestimated was how apathy toward voting in the education profession made it easy for politicians to do the billionaires’ bidding, leaving school districts struggling while for-profit charters flourish with no or little oversight.

So here we are. On Feb. 20 early voting starts for the Texas primaries that will be held March 6.

Teachers must stand up and say no more.

We must vote for our students and our schools. We must vote for ourselves and our futures. We must vote for our retirees.

This election is a battle in the war on public education. It’s not about party. It’s bigger than that.

If you want to know how to fight back, a good place to start is the Texans for Public Education site. There’s a list on the site of the public education friendly candidates running for office.

Public education is a bedrock of our democracy. It levels the playing field for all students when it is allowed to.

And when career educators—not just teachers but our staffs, counselors and admin as well— work their full thirty years or more, public schools are stronger.

Both traditions are under attack.

Voting can change that.

The teacher who told me teaching is political was right. We can’t afford to ignore that truth. If we do, our students suffer and our profession will cease to exist.

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. ❤️

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 

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

#YearbookForever

When my first principal called and asked me to take over yearbook, I said no. In my mind, I said a whole lot more than no. Newspaper was part of my soul. I’d grown up revering Walter Cronkite and reading newspapers. I fell in love with journalistic writing in high school when my adviser Mrs. Gillespie introduced me to the wonderful world of UIL and then taught me how to win.

We toured TRN and the people working at paste up with the light boards and glue and tape were so happy. And the smell of ink and paper…ahhhh. Heaven. And the reporters with their cubicles and frenetic pace. And the editor and his big office with the giant conference table for planning the issues. Yes. This was perfection. I’d found my purpose.

But yearbook? No. Just no. It was a bunch of debutantes and cheerleaders and preppy boys. No, thank you. (Former students, stick with me here. There’s a moral to this story.)

The excuse I gave was not so disparaging. I just started my MA, so I wouldn’t have time. No, thank you.

But that principal didn’t take no for an answer. He told me to call a crosstown J adviser I knew from student teaching who advised both programs and who had finished her MA advising both. I called Linda Fain, and she told me I’d be crazy not to do both because teaching English was waaaayyyy more difficult than advising yearbook.

So, cheerleader, debutantes and preppy boys all, I took on the job of yearbook adviser. It took less than a day for me to realize stereotypes suck for a reason. Because yes, yearbook was filled with all those types of kids. Just like newspaper, it was filled with all types of kids period. AND cheerleaders, debutantes and preppy boys were the same kind of wonderful as all the other types of kids out there.

By this time I had three years of newspaper kids, so the program was finally mine. I knew nothing about yearbook, though. I mean NOTHING. I only had one of my high school yearbooks (now one of my biggest regrets). I never thought yearbook was important. I mean it was pretty and all, but it was filled with all the “popular, preppy, pretty” kids so who cared? (Again, stereotypes suck. Man, I had a chip on my shoulder I didn’t even know existed back then.)

My first group of editors taught me the truth about yearbook. Yes, the yearbook is filled with photos of kids who carry the school’s spirit. If they go to everything, they’re in the book more. AND they should be.  BUT the yearbook is so much more. It’s a writing, art and creativity laboratory where kids take the school and transform everything that’s awesome about it into a book format so that those memories last forever. It’s about making an archivable product that people open and say, Holy Cow! This is the best school ever. I want to go there! It’s about telling those stories that last forever in the best way possible: through words, photos or design. It’s about giving the invisible a voice, if they want it, and showing how even though we’re all different, we’re still all Raiders (insert whatever mascot if you’re reading this and not part of Raider Nation). It’s a stereotype breaker, a demanding product that requires hours of time, complete collaboration and thinking outside the box or else it gets redundant, and you don’t want that. It’s on the job training, summer training, fall training and constantly working to get better and better and better. It’s OHMYGOD nerve-wracking because what if people don’t like it?!? It’s a place to learn the thick skin needed when you have the courage to publish your work because GUARANTEED someone WON’T like it. It’s fun and amazing and hard and, dear Jesus, it’s expensive. BUT it’s also so, so priceless.

And it’s a lot like newspaper. Different, but the same.

And I love it.

That chip on my shoulder was smashed to pieces when I took on the yearbook, and I’m a better teacher because of it.

I thought yearbook was fluff. I’ve learned it’s life. It’s the school. It’s forever.

I’m so, so blessed.

IMG_8884

18 yearbooks advised this year. 21 newspapers. #Awesome