Tag Archives: teachers

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. ❤


Save Texas Public Schools Rally
Memorial Stadium
Thursday April 14 8-9(ish)

A good friend asked me why we were rallying, what we hoped to accomplish. I thought I’d share my answer here:
What we hope to accomplish: to give people the chance to show they support public education, and to do so before the Senate votes.
What will the outcome be: I don’t know. I was in Austin March 12 with over 11000 others marching. We were there to make our voices heard. If we don’t try, we won’t ever know.
But I do know public education is essential to the United States. It leads to the American Dream. Without it, there is no escape from poverty.
I know teachers usually don’t rally. (We gripe to each other, but we don’t say enough is enough.) Right now I’m hearing a lot of complaints in the community. People believe Rick Perry when he says public schools are the problem, especially when we don’t speak up to say he’s wrong.
Public education is at risk here. It’s real and it’s ugly and if we don’t speak up, we’ll be able to watch it die without ever even attempting to fight.
I can’t sit back and do nothing.

Save Texas Public Schools Rally!

To show support for Texas public schools, teachers and WFISD, a non-partisan Pro-Public Education Rally will be held THURSDAY, April 14 from 8-9 in the Memorial Stadium parking lot. Please bring a flashlight or cell phone with light.
If you would like to speak at the event contact Mary Beth Lee: marybeth@marybethlee.com
Who’s invited? Everyone who believes in a quality Texas Public School System, public school faculty and staff members, parents and students.
Feel free to bring signs showing support for public education.
For more information, feel free to contact me marybeth@marybethlee.com


I have a partial ready to send to Love Inspired, and I’m working on edits of a full.
It’s funny how very different these stories are.
I don’t know if either of them will make the cut. But I’m learning from both stories.
It’s a whole new ball game. I hope both stories get to see readers other than the few who’ve critiqued for me. 🙂

Next week is D-Day for Texas teachers not on continuing contracts. We’ll know the full extent of projected layoffs then. It’s going to be ugly. Those of us on continuing contracts are safe, but it’s still going to be ugly. Between pay cuts and insurance hikes, it’s going to be a painful year.

But not as painful as it is for the people in Japan right now. Or several other countries. Sometimes I think we have it too easy.

From Work Today, Love it!

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups. He uses
the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my
teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard
about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.

“Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists
with their young patients?” I said.

“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”

“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each
patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s
rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below average, and
Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will
also encourage the less effective dentists to get better. Poor dentists who
don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”

“That’s terrible,” he said.

“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to
improve children’s dental health in this state?”

“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing
good dentistry.”

“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work
with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can’t control? For
example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived
homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods.
Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children see me until there is
some problem and I don’t get to do much preventive work. Also,” he said, “many
of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age,
unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and
decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water which is
untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference
early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. I couldn’t believe my dentist
would be so defensive. He does a great job.

“I am not!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as
good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going higher than a lot of
other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red and, from the way he was clenching and
unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. “Try
furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below
average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe
this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a
dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients.
And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I
attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it
is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “Complaining, excuse making and
stonewalling won’t improve dental health… I am quoting from a leading member
of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked.

“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly
laypersons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”

“Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he
said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure
good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”

“That’s too complicated and time consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and
you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”

“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This
can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The state will help you some.”

“How?” he said.

“If you’re rated poorly, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help
straighten you out,” I said brightly.

“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me
how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had
much more experience? Big help.”

“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and
teachers on an average score on a test of children’s progress without regard to
influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like
that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think
of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

“I’m going to write my representatives and senator,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy- surely they
will see the point.” He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and
suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.

Figuring It Out

I understand the idea of the test. If you’re new to this blog, the test I’m talking about is TAKS soon to morph into STAAR.
I went to school in the 80s. I had the teacher we called “Boring (insert last name starting with B here).” I aced his class. Every day we walked into the room, picked up a worksheet and wrote the answers, typically simple vocab, while he read the newspaper at his desk and told us to shut up. In ninth grade, my physical science curriculum consisted of rewriting the book in spirals and watching World War 2 films every Friday.
The problem: I’m not sure the test stops that kind of behavior. The move to a more rigorous STAAR won’t either.
This book I love called Whatever it Takes compares standardized testing to an autopsy. It says the real challenge schools have is getting involved in the process BEFORE the autopsy.
That’s a thought I can get behind 100%. Only the involvement has to be something OTHER than a test.
The simple fact is, and every bit of research proves this to be true, a test is false reassurance that education is better than it was in the past.
So what can we do?
1. Master teacher critiques. (not administrator. Admins are great. I LOVE mine. But they’re managers now, and most have been out of the classroom for too long to relate. PLUS, anyone can put on the dog and pony show of quality teaching for an announced admin eval.)
Two of the best teachers to ever instruct at my school have moved elsewhere. Anne Patterson is in Highland Park. Sheila Curlin works for a company that helps AP teachers become better AP teachers.
Both should have been in other classrooms helping teachers become better. And their classrooms should’ve been open for observation.
That observation should have been MANDATORY.
Curlin and Patterson could teach teachers more about excellence in the classroom in one lesson than 30 hours of post graduate work.
We have teachers like them on campus still, and we’re not alone.
2. Lesson Plans…and not those silly little papers we fill out with objectives listed. Real plans. With scaffolding. Plans that show how over the course of a unit we will measure student understanding of objectives (not by a test, but by formative assessment. NOT paper, not Scantron, not something created and billed by a multi-billion dollar businesses run by men who have no idea about real education.).
Instead these assessments are found in real discussion, in debate, in playing devil’s advocate, in creative projects. The list goes on.
The plans don’t stop there. They end with teachers looking at the results of their work, looking at the successes and failures and making changes as necessary. AND documenting those statistics and plans.
3. Team Teaching. At least teaming for those students who need extra help. How much more would a student learn if their English, history, science, social studies and elective teachers were using the same over arching idea then covering their subject area. EX: The Olympics. In a social studies class students could cover the history and geography and human element of the games. In math they could do anything from measuring distances/engineering ideas/body mass/mathematical equations that show who wins and/or loses, etc. In English students could study literature from ancient Greece and Rome or even study media reports from the WW2 games or 1987 games. They could compare and contrast games now compared to their origins. They could research. They could write, really write, based on facts and evidence and something other than a cute or touching two-page story about a time they met someone who changed their lives. In science they could study Physics, Bio, Chem, A&P starting with the Olympics.
Take that to art. 2-D and 3-D work that starts with the Olympics focus and spirals out. At the end of the unit, the students totally understand the Olympics, and the concepts they’ve learned have been reinforced from class to class to class. True learning has taken place. Learning that transcends a test.
An awesome master teacher friend of mine used to teach Art History. She always had tons of kids pass that extremely difficult AP test. She always used literature and history lessons while teaching art, and her kids were able to understand art’s place in time and culture because of the spiraling of curriculum to curriculum to curriculum.
This kind of teaching can ultimately be measured by a test, but the test doesn’t drive the curriculum.
The kind of education above isn’t easy. It cant be simplified to pass/fail. It requires real collaboration, not just a few words on a piece of paper, not hours and hours out of a school year sitting at a desk with a no. 2 pencil, a test booklet, answer document and certified educator acting as test administrator instead of a qualified professional who has spent YEARS learning the craft of teaching.
I read once that REAL education change won’t happen until we quit trying to change students into widgets, nuts and bolts. I believe that. I hope others do, too, before it’s too late.

The teacher

I led a book talk today over Make Your Words Work, a great writing book by Gary Provost. It was interesting because my group was made up of teachers. I lead student workshops on a regular basis but NEVER teachers. I was worried going in because my experience has been teachers are often the very worst audience. But they were great. The groaned a little when I made them write, but just a little, and most even shared what they’d written. At the end of the day I submitted a workshop proposal to the lady in charge, just in case she ever needs me to talk about words again. I’m a little crazy when it comes to words. I love them and I love sharing that passion with others. Sometimes I think English teachers forget their love affair with language. It’s easy to get caught up in grading, grammar and the day to day stuff of class. I love writing and I forgot about it until my professor called and reminded me I’d always told him I was going to be a writer. 🙂
Nine years later he still asks me how it’s going.
I can’t wait to get the call. He’ll probably be as thrilled as me. 🙂