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The School Board Speech, A Little More and Why I WIll Always Fight for Education Based on Something Other Than Tests

Original title: Hey, Bill Gates, Reform This #EvaluateThat BUT then I thought, that’s preaching to the choir and this post isn’t, so I changed it…

Since it’s been in the paper, I thought I’d post my actual speech to the school board. I’ve added some comments at the end. I would’ve said a little more at the meeting, but that pesky 3-minute time limit got in the way. 🙂 The payoff for this post is at the end. I might be a little too honest with it, but honesty is what can bring true change. (If you read the TRN story, you can skip the speech part because Ann Work pretty much summed my words up perfectly.)

The speech:  My name is Mary Beth Lee. I’m the student media adviser at Rider. I’ve taught in the district for 20 years. I enjoyed participating once and then serving as a teacher leader in the Leadership Cohort. I have served on the Superintendent’s advisory committee several times. I’m a member of ATPE. Several of my former students serve as teachers in the district and elsewhere.
First I want to thank the board for their service. I can’t imagine volunteering the time you do in easy years and I certainly can’t imagine serving on the board in the midst of such massive change. I appreciate the board and downtown administration. Unlike so many politicians across the country, you haven’t blamed teachers for the problems in our schools.
I’m speaking today as a teacher and a concerned citizen. In the midst of the talk about buildings, I want to make sure the board remembers buildings don’t educate students.
As the Coalition for Hispanic Education report stated, the district is in the midst of huge change demographically. More than ever we need seasoned teachers in the classroom.
When I started teaching our buildings were filled with experienced teachers. My friends who signed up for jobs in the Metroplex were jealous of our career ladder that started far above state minimum and continued with its guaranteed raises that included a little extra on the five-year marks. They were even more jealous of the help mentor teachers gave us without being asked.
New teachers are so important to education. But I’m concerned that as a district we’re not doing enough to keep teachers in the district, to build loyalty to the community.
We need teachers committed to the district and the city. Teachers who won’t use us as a stepping stone to a bigger pay check.
There are several things the district can do to help promote life-long Wichitan educators.
First, it’s been shown several times over the years that guaranteeing pay raises doesn’t cost the district money. Because of attrition and moves pay raises for educators who commit to the district is a wash.
When the legislature cut funding to schools, every teacher I know agreed that we should all share in the pain of those cuts rather than see quality educators lose their jobs. Those lean days aren’t so far in the past that we don’t understand the need for austerity, but I sincerely hope the board is looking at ways to make sure teachers are rewarded for their commitment to the district.
Second, I hope the administration will look at ways other than a set career ladder to recruit and keep teachers. Finding a way to reward master teachers with continuing contracts would help in that endeavor.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know we’re facing a real crisis in this town. Wichita Falls is changing. The school district can help. They can ensure we hire and retain excellent teachers. They can make sure our buildings have depth.
Yes, we need new facilities, but without a staff committed to the district and the city, facilities are like wrapping paper on an empty box.

Now the more…

I don’t think teachers should get automatic raises just for teaching. I think we should have a career ladder with clearly defined raises and expectations for getting those raises that center on TEACHING not TESTING. Expectations like multiple CE hours, pre-lesson objectives complete with what we think will happen and post lesson analysis over what really did happen. What problems do we see with the lesson? What could make it better? Truly studying our craft in action, and make no mistake, teaching is a craft. That’s what a test-centric system misses completely.

The rest of the story…Why the Fight Matters

When I hit ninth grade I developed this weird social anxiety problem. I couldn’t really talk to more than a couple people at one time unless they were really good friends OR unless I was wasted (I didn’t learn about how freeing alcohol could be until junior year. I was a pro pretty quickly after that). I don’t like to remember those days. High school wasn’t easy. I wanted to love it….but…yeah, not so much.

Thank GOD for my small group of friends and my amazing teachers.

My math teacher practically held my hand through every lesson in Intro. Algebra. He helped me see that my problem was a mental block, and he promised me that one day I would conquer the fear instilled by an evil monster of a teacher in junior high. If my test scores had been held against Mr. Brown, one of the best math teachers to ever grace a Burkburnett High School classroom, that would have been criminal. I wasn’t the only one in his class with math problems. He taught classrooms full of us. The best part of this story other than him being an angel is he was right. I would never go around solving equations for the fun of it, but I took the self-paced Algebra classes at Vernon Junior College, and I survived. And that evil junior high teacher that traumatized me so much I could barely see straight in math classes after…he taught most of the star students. He would do GREAT under the merit pay system that considers standardized test scores as the be all, end all.

My American Lit teacher, Mrs. Bo…probably the best English teacher to ever walk the earth…she made me LOVE literature. She taught me to write. She didn’t make me talk in front of the class, but she let me know that one day I’d be able to.

My eighth grade English teacher was brand new. I can’t remember her name, I think it was Ms. Reed,  but I wanted to be her when I grew up. She taught me research skills I used from eighth grade all the way through my MA in English. She changed my life with her passion for education and her absolute belief in me.

My journalism teacher Mrs. Gillespie helped me discover my passion and held me to a higher standard than I ever held myself. As a teacher now, I know she had to see me making those scary life choices and she had to be worried. But she didn’t hold the choices against me. She never judged me. Instead she showed me what the world could be.

And then there’s Dencil Taylor. He taught my college speech class. He told us all he knew we were terrified. I don’t figure I was the first person he’d run across who could barely whisper in front of a class. He made it clear we WOULD give our speeches, that we had no choice if we wanted a degree. I wanted a degree, but talking in front of five people terrified me. An entire class….oh God, that was torture. I had to leave class after my first speech to get sick. He told me I’d get over that. He didn’t coddle me, or let me make excuses. He made it clear I could drop his class, but I’d just be putting off the inevitable. He let me think it was my idea to stick out the class. The class changed my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be a teacher, I wouldn’t have spoken at the school board meeting. I also wouldn’t be married to the love of my life. I met my husband in that class.

The above story would be a great place to end, but I can’t without a shout out to Dr. Hoffman, yet another teacher who changed my life. He helped me see that I was smart. That’s such a strange thing to write, but it’s the God’s honest truth. He and I have talked about that often over the years since I was in his Sophomore Lit class at MSU. Back then he just encouraged me to keep writing. I did. AND I kept taking his classes. AND when I finished my BA, he dropped an application off at my house to start my MA. And he didn’t really take no for an answer even though I wasn’t all that excited about going back to school. God, I’m glad he didn’t let me cop out of getting my master’s with the “I’m too busy” excuse. Those seminar classes helped me truly fall in love with learning. I definitely wanted the advanced degree, but more than that I wanted to know more, read more, write more, debate more, research more. That hasn’t changed.

NONE OF THOSE stories can be measured on a standardized test. I doubt seriously I would have graduated from high school if I would’ve had to pass a standardized math test, but I’d put my writing, reading comprehension and problem solving skills up against any politician, any test maker, any CEO in this country.

I WAS poor growing up. I WAS a mess growing up. I WAS the kid in the gap the “reformers” say they’re trying to save. Well guess what, reformers: your kind of reform would have destroyed me. Thank God for the master educators who didn’t have their careers measured by my scores on a test. #EvaluateThat #QuitKillingOurKids #QuitKillingOrSchools

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Red4EdTX

I blog about education regularly. If you’re unaware of that, check this out or this or this or this.

You get the picture.

Politicians are actively trying to privatize education while vilifying teachers. I don’t know a single district that hasn’t been affected by this change. I know we’re gearing up for the new school year and teachers are still exhausted from last school year. But those of us who stayed, and some great ones didn’t, aren’t going to give up. We’re going to show up every day and do our best to educate our students. In spite of guidelines that stress the test, we’ll stress LEARNING and the test will happen also.

I’d go on, but I stumbled on the red4edNC.com website last week and this letter that says it all perfectly. I think it’s time teachers in Texas join our friends in NC. I’m all for red4edTX. It’s time we tell our politicians we won’t allow them to kill the public school and we won’t continue to drive good teachers out of the true business of education. Anyone else in?##

My books will be available in all ebookstores Aug. 25. For now, they’re still available on Amazon exclusively. I hope you’ll check them out!

Dead Girl Walking

 

 

A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad deal AND God’s country

Our first full day in Ireland, I was “late” to the bus.

Anyone who’s ever traveled with me can tell you this is a big deal. A very big deal. A terrible, horrible, no good, very bad deal. I HATE being late, and I hate when late people end up costing me opportunities.

In reality we weren’t really late, but everyone else was early, so they hurried us along, which was fine except the only seats left on the bus were in the very back.

You know what happens in the back of the bus, right?

Yeah, we were the wild ones, I guess.

Break the ass with a ham

Break the ass with a ham

You can tell how wild we were by how much joy we took out of this sign on the back of the bus, which we would have never seen had we not been running on time (just later than everyone else) that first day.

Sandra and I are old travel buddies. 20 years of trips makes for an interesting friendship. This was our third vacation overseas together. Thankfully, we had Susan to point out this great emergency sticker disaster. It led to much laughter.

Irish Wolfhounds. Beautiful, but I think they were bored.

Irish Wolfhounds. Beautiful, but I think they were bored.

BUT I still felt bad about being late—r than everyone else. And I felt bad because Sandra was sick. In fact, I felt a little like these guys (Irish Wolfhounds), stars of our first stop: Kerry Bog Village.

Kerry Bog Village is one of those places that shows how life used to be. No actors, but the houses, tools and flowers were cool. It was raining when we got there, so I ran into one of the villager houses.

Peat fire!

Peat fire!

My first choice was a great one because a peat fire was burning and that Irish rain is freaking cold.

I’ve always heard about how stinky peat is. WRONG. It was lovely. A little smokier than wood, but a good kind of smoke. I could definitely live with peat fire on a regular basis.

4 dont throw out baby with the bathwater

Once I got warm I turned around. What I saw made for a laugh out loud moment. I guess maybe I should’ve known the origin of the saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I didn’t. Now I do.

All the Kerry Bog Village houses had the horseshoe on the door for luck. It’s interesting how many cultures put something on their doors. One day I might research the history of these totems. Maybe.

The rain stopped and then started and then stopped and then…you get the picture. If you go to Ireland, make sure you take an umbrella or be willing to walk around wet and cold. Thankfully, my trusty umbrella was with me constantly.

5 peatPeat was piled outside the village house like we would stack wood. I thought that was interesting. I also loved the tools and pots and pans outside the house.

Yes, I know. Flowers and pretty pretties.

Yes, I know. Flowers and pretty pretties.

While I wandered around the village, I couldn’t help but admire the gorgeous foliage. I took 5 bajillion pics of flowers. I won’t share them all. This one was interesting because of the wheel. I wonder if villagers would actually leave the wheels propped up against shrubs or if I fell victim to a staged picture point. If this was a staged picture point, I’m cool with that. It’s pretty. I like pretty.

After about 20 minutes I left the village. It’s definitely one of those tourist trap type places. But, hey, I’m a tourist, so that’s fine. Still, it’s not an in-depth look at life in Ireland.   20 minutes is more than enough time to make your way through the place. (I stand corrected. If we had more time there, I might have noticed how historically accurate it was!)

It’s a nice stopping off point early on the Ring of Kerry Drive.

Homesick moment

Homesick moment

While waiting on everyone else to finish looking at the village or to get their Irish coffees (the sign on their shop said they served Ireland’s Best Irish Coffee. I didn’t try it there, so I don’t know the veracity of that statement), I wandered around the parking lot and ran into this scene. It made me a tiny bit homesick because it looked like Texas, only super green because of all the rain.

But just a tiny bit homesick because I was in Ireland! I never really planned on a trip to Ireland. England and France were on my bucket list from the time I was a teenager. One of my students wanted to go to Ireland, though, and EF made that option possible (Thank you, EF Tours!). I’d been to England, France and Italy already. The student who wanted to go to Ireland had been on one trip with me already, and one of my friends who traveled with me to England and France told me Ireland was God’s country. My student who wanted to go to Ireland loved being there from the time we landed at Shannon airport. I liked it alright, but at this point, I still ranked Paris as my all time favorite city.

8 a hint of what's to comeAnd then as we continued on the Ring of Kerry drive, I saw this.

Before long I knew my friend was right. Ireland is sacred. It’s beautiful. It’s awe inspiring. It truly is God’s country.

A Plea From a Teacher

Dear Texas State Legislators, Governor Perry, SBEC members and TEA officials,

My name is Mary Beth Lee, and I’m an 18-year public education veteran. From the time I was 15, I’ve never wanted to do anything but teach. I love teaching. I love to watch my students engaged in real learning, in problem solving, in learning the tricks to time management. I love watching the light bulb moment when they “get” a new concept. I love how they’ll try and try and try something, failing miserably time and again, until they get it right.

I love the excitement of a job well done and presenting lessons and integrating technology into my classroom. I love the idea of collaborating with fellow educators to make my school the best it can be and providing life-long learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom for my students.

But I’m not writing this letter as a form of praise for a job well-done.

I’m writing because I’m furious. I’m furious at the expense of tests, and I don’t just mean dollars and cents. I spent an hour watching a slide show on how to give a test this week. How to create a seating chart, how to show time, how to actively monitor a classroom. Later this week I attended a session explaining what exactly my students will be required to do to pass this test, and I discovered the answer is take everything you’ve ever learned about successful writing… and toss it out the window.

In the 18 years I’ve been teaching I’ve watched the testing companies take over the education world. They drive our curriculum, they set the bar, they make billions of dollars off the idea of education reform. And yet, for all their billions, and the bars they’ve supposedly raised, there have been no measurable gains in true academic achievement. In fact, Fortune 500 companies and universities across the country complain that we’ve raised a generation of kids with AMAZING self-esteems, who can’t problem solve, think creatively or write in a way that effectively communicates their thoughts. We’ve raised a generation who can bubble in test answers like none other, but when they’re given an assignment without step-by-step instructions, they freak out.

The other day a friend told me her 4th grade niece cried all night the night before her test last year. She was terrified of failing. I’m sure her teacher cried all night, too.

I don’t understand. I’m all for real education reform. I’m all for saying let’s encourage schools to set up systems for student success and academic achievement. I’m all for measuring data and collaboration. But these tests we spend billions on have done nothing good for education.

I went to school in the era before the test. I had my fair share of lousy teachers, but more often than not, my teachers were dedicated professionals intent on seeing me succeed in the classroom. The test has changed NOTHING. We still have lousy teachers who need to be counseled into new professions, but most of us are constantly seeking to do better, be better, inspire our students to academic achievement.

I realize the testing companies love to tell you how we’re behind the curve when it comes to education. That’s hogwash.

No other country educates every student, no matter what, for free. Quite honestly, I’d put our top students against any other country’s top students any day of the week. No other country says if you’re willing to work hard you can do anything regardless of your mental starting point. No other country can boast the numbers of people we see on a daily basis who’ve built million and billion dollar corporate empires from the ground up. Our spirit of entrepreneurship and our commitment to democracy have always been building blocks of this nation, and that was the case before tests ruled education.

My fear: tests will kill that spirit and commitment because both of those require the ability to problem solve, think critically and embrace creativity.

YOU have the power to change this.

Educators do not.

Please, I’m begging you, do something about this. Don’t let our children continue to suffer the mindless monotony of bubbled in answer documents and No. 2 pencils. Put tests back where they should be: tools to measure but not the be all end all of our public education system.

Sincerely,

 

Mary Beth Lee

Rider Journalism

Easier isn’t always right

This 110+ degree heat is driving me crazy. Crazy was used in the 186Os. Unlike the words genetics or cool (as in neat, not the weather). One if the neat things abut writing historical is looking up etymology. Not that I got everything right in Honor and Lies. The problem with Texas other than the heat, at least during Civil War times, was that before the war, former slaves were free, but once the war started, in several areas, free people of color were enslaved even if they had papers proving they were free. I chose to make the North Texas ranch areas slave free for the purpose of my novel. In reality, my research showed a different kind of Underground Railroad in Texas. One that utilized Native American tribes to get those seeking freedom to Mexico. I was shocked that people who had always been free, people who owned property and businesses found themselves enslaved suddenly when Texas joined the South. It didn’t happen everywhere in the state, but it wasn’t uncommon either. We didn’t learn much about slavery when I was in school. I think we do a better job now. In England our tour guide told us they spend a long time talking about the slave trade, and he said they are very honest about confronting tough truths. I know any time we talk about racism and prejudice in class, it can leave an uncomfortable awkwardness if the teacher doesn’t do the pre-discussion work and then facilitate. It’s often easier to skip the discussion altogether. Easier isn’t always right, though.

In Case You Missed It

I watched the House in session last night via the Texas Tribune. My poor husband agreed to watch with me. As we waited anxiously to see if HB400 would make the 11:59 deadline, I was appalled by some of the unprofessional behavior I saw. The most appalling moments happened twice. Two female Reps were debating a bill and some of our male Reps started meowing, calling a civil debate a “cat fight.”
I couldn’t see who the Reps meowing were, but I sure hope someone “outs” them.
These are the people we vote to office to carry out the business of our state government. We have a serious problem with disrespect in our classrooms. I guess it’s obvious why.
This behavior is inexcusable. It’s insufferable. Women should be OUTRAGED.
I kept hearing how it was “no big deal.”
I disagree. It’s a very big deal.
It shows a blatant disrespect for women everywhere.
If this is happening from the floor of the Texas House in 2011, I can’t imagine what it was like when Kay Bailey Hutchison and Hillary Clinton started their journey in politics.

HB400 didn’t make it to the floor by deadline, so it died. However, the rep. sponsoring it says he’ll attach it to a Senate Bill. If you believe in a strong public education, call or email your senator and ask him to vote no on any public education finance bill that hurts public education and teachers that doesn’t have a two-year-limit. We understand times are tough and everyone has to tighten the belt. But using this budget crisis to forever change the way we fund education and pay teachers is wrong. We have STRONG public schools in Texas. Let’s keep them that way!

Yes, it is important

Yesterday someone I love told me I needed to understand the budget cuts were unavoidable and that the waste in education is the reason for budget problems in Texas. Ultimately, the person said, you could see the real problem with education in one area specifically: Pre-K. In the person’s opinion, which was developed based on numerous pieces of Tea Party propaganda, pre-K is a complete waste of tax payer dollars.
The person ended their argument by explaining that they had never been in pre-K, so why was it necessary?
This is a perfect example of what’s wrong with the whole school budget problem this biennium.
The people making the decisions have NO IDEA what they’re talking about.
I explained to the person speaking that pre-K teachers prepare low socio-economic students for school. These kids sometimes have one parent, often none. Instead grandparents are raising the children. Pre-K’s feed the hungry. The pre-K teachers I know buy clothes for kids, shower children, run washing machines because kids come to class filthy and teach pre-reading and math skills.
Should education be the stand-in for family? Maybe not, but the reality is it IS. Without pre-K, you are dooming these children to a life of poverty before they ever even have a chance.
BUT our legislators, led by a Tea Party insistent on change and making these decisions without any real knowledge. They’re not talking to educators. They’re being led by lobbyists down the rabbit hole of education by voucher and choice. A place and tie where the rich get richer and the poor die.
The person explaining to me how non-essential pre-K is also let me know Public Education isn’t guaranteed. I told her she was wrong. While it might not be in the constitution, public education is guaranteed by our state constitution.

I’m not sure what’s going on with our state politicians, but I do know education is essential. I know it’s a path out of poverty, and I know we are not a country built on the idea that those with money control the agenda.

I read an email from a teacher about learned helplessness. She says educators let this kind of thing happen because we feel we are powerless. I’m not sure how we find the power, but I do know, if these bills on the floor pass, if our education system is decimated, we have an OBLIGATION to make sure those in office now never find their way to office again. We must start now working to make sure this never happens again.