Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Present Wrapped in Poop

Respect. Teachers deserve it. Most folks think so. But it seems to be lip service a lot of the time, even by our employers.

As teachers, we are often told by the public what an important job we do - that we are valued and loved. But the reality is that for the amount of education we have, and the hours we spend - when you look at professions with equal demands on their time and education levels, teaching is not valued at all.

But that is not the point here. That is all well documented in many other places. My point is the disrespect we receive from within our own profession. From those in the district office. From those who make wonderful speeches at meetings and professional development trainings. From those who say one thing, but whose actions communicate something else entirely.

There are so many examples....... where should I begin? How about claiming to value questions and pushing back, but being reprimanded when doing so? To be told it's not about test scores, to teach and value the whole child, while in the meantime your principal is ripped a new one when those scores are not high enough. To be asked to be an honored member of a "special committee," only to find out it is nothing but a thankless job requiring many grueling hours of your time. Grunt work so someone at the district office doesn't have to do it.

Then of course there are those "presents wrapped in poop." Gifts that seem amazing, but disrespect you in so many ways. For example, being allowed to attend a conference - all expenses paid. Sounds amazing, right? Excepts for the parts where you don't arrive until 1:00 in the morning and have to be up at the crack of dawn, have to share a bed with a total stranger because the district didn't bother to get rooms with two beds, and schedule your flight home so that you do not even have a little bit of time to enjoy the location where you are staying. And let's not forget flying in and out of the most inconvenient airport possible. Now, this isn't true for everyone who attends. District and other select folks received earlier flights in and later flights out at more local airports, rooms where each person had their own bed, and time to enjoy themselves a bit in the location.

My teacher friends who have worked in other professions are always shocked by how crappy we are treated. They always tell me how this wouldn't stand in other professions. But we teachers just suck it up. We are just grateful for what we get I suppose. Grateful for those presents wrapped in poop.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Case for the Teacher's Desk

I love the whole "Flexible Seating" movement. Seriously. It is the best thing for kids. Get rid of traditional seating. Get rid of traditional kids' desks. Grab your bean bags, grab your fun chairs, grab your yoga balls, grab your pillows, grab your wheeled tables that can go up, down, sideways, and every which way. Have at it.

But get your hands off my desk.

Who spends the most time in OUR classroom? Me. I say OUR because it is OUR classroom. Yes, we are all there for our students. But I am there the most. I am there before school, after school, during recess, during lunch, and on weekends sometimes. I come in early during summer, and I am there long after I need to be once school is out for summer.

I deserve one spot to call my own. One spot that is adult size, adult height, with a comfortable adult chair, and an adult desk. I need a space to plan and work. I need a space to reflect, decompress, laugh, and cry. I need a space to store my pens, pencils, thank you cards, and feminine hygiene products. (Yeah, I said it.) I need a place to keep my slippers and comfy socks for those days when my feet are killing me. I need a place to store the candy stash when I NEED A PIECE OF FREAKIN' CANDY. I need a place to keep my color printer that I bought with my own money so I can print the amazing products my students create. I need a place to store my stash of crackers and granola bars for when a student comes to school hungry. I need a place to store my worry rock that I rub when I am stressed.

I spend more time in our classroom than anyone else. Don't I deserve one spot that belongs to me?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Leadership 101

I have worked for many principals. I also have an administrative credential, and have been in many teacher leadership positions. There are a few things I know for sure about being a principal and a leader:

1. I would never want to be a principal.  I know it is a tough job. But if you make the choice, then own it and do it right.
2. You must never forget what it is like to be a teacher and a student.
3. Talk, talk, talk to people before you make decisions. Always.
4. You must see yourself as an equal; you are no better than anyone else. Everyone is a part of the puzzle. Everyone does an important job. You, as a leader, must recognize that and lift everyone up.
5. Yes, there are tough parts of the job. But that is why the principal makes more money.
6. People will want to work for with you if you create an atmosphere of harmony and caring. No one wants to work for someone who lays down mandates and rules with an iron first, reminding others, "I am the boss," whether it be by actions, words, or both.
7. Be a good listener.
8. Be a good listener.
9. Be a good listener.
10. Don't ever hide the fact that you don't know all the answers. Everyone knows you don't. You gain much more respect when you admit that fact.
11. Admit when you make mistakes.
12. Lead with love.

This list, for the most part, works just as well for teachers. And I know I will think of more. But we all need to remember this when we step into a leadership role: How do I want to be led?

Friday, September 9, 2016

Not Next Year, NOW!

As teachers, it's easy to get overwhelmed. It's easy to blow it off and say "next year." It's easy when it's other people's kids. But your perspective changes when you are a parent. I am not saying you have to be a parent to be a good teacher, but your perspective changes. What you do matters RIGHT NOW for the kids in your class. Your students are depending on you RIGHT NOW. So, don't put off trying that new strategy. Or that new technology. Or that new project. Or getting rid of the sacred cows that don't work. Because that kid in your class could be mine. And one day, that kid in my class could be yours.

Monday, September 5, 2016

It's 2016 for Crying Out Loud!

I keep hearing the song from Frozen in my head...... "Let it go..... Let it go!" Please, for your students, LET IT GO! Let go of homework. Why? Well, because research shows it doesn't help, and can often hurt kids. Stop keeping students in at recess. Why? Well, because research shows it doesn't help, and can often hurt kids. Give kids brain breaks (REAL ONES). Why? Because research shows it really helps, and if you don't, you are just making life harder on yourself. (And hurting kids.) Seriously.

Stop blaming the victim. Start looking in the mirror. If things aren't working well in class, take a good hard look at what YOU can do. There's nothing wrong with the kids. There's nothing wrong with their parents. It's you. It's ALL you, because YOU are driving the bus.

Let it go. Let go of all the tired practices that don't work anymore. (Did they ever?) Embrace change. If you don't, you will be left behind. Heck, there are many teachers that already are. And who are they hurting? Kids. My kids. Your kids. Our kids.

Let it go.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Technology is NOT a Reward!

Change is hard.  I get it.  Trouble is, technology is here, and it's here to stay.  Why is it that some educators have such difficulty accepting it in their classrooms?

Let's think about how we ourselves use technology.  We use it to communicate, collaborate, and create. We use it to share, make people laugh, think, and stay connected.  But for some reason, this isn't the case in the classrooms of some educators.  Technology is viewed as an "add-on," a reward that must be earned for doing well.  Not only does this make no sense, it's flat-out wrong.  It is unfair to students, and deprives them of the tools and skills they need to grow and thrive in today's world.

Some teachers just dumbfound me.  For example, I know one teacher who makes his students use flashcards to learn sight words.  When I discussed with him the fact that there are several amazing apps that not only help students learn sight words, but track progress and allow teachers to tailor lessons, the teacher said, "I know.  And my students will be allowed to use those apps once they learn their sight words."  I know..... you are thinking what I am thinking.  They won't need the apps anymore.  Sigh.

Other teachers say things such as, "I don't know how I am going to fit in the technology."  As if technology is some isolated curriculum teachers must cram into their day.  Technology is a tool, and a powerful one.  When used correctly, students can produce incredible work.  Their levels of creativity and collaboration can thrive in new and exciting ways.  In addition, technology can be used in ways that make the teacher's life so much easier if the teacher is willing to do things a little differently.  It just requires making some changes and learning some new things.  Yes, you have to put in some time up front.  But the time you save in the long run is immeasurable.

So how do we help move these folks forward?  When I go to technology conferences, I always hear presenters say, "Focus on the people who are ready to move forward and forget about the negative ones.  You won't have an impact on them."  While I see the thinking here, that's not fair to the students, is it?  We have to find ways to push these folks forward.  It's not about us as adults.  It is about the students.  We need to do right by them.  We need to get uncomfortable, and if that means making others uncomfortable as well, so be it.  It's about best practices for kids.  Not what makes teachers feel good.  I think it is possible to work together in supportive and positive ways in order to move teachers forward and do what's best for kids.  Don't you?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Changing the Narrative……Teachers ARE Public Schools

Apparently, teachers aren’t supposed to take it personally when someone says public schools are broken and failing.

And when we call someone out on that nonsense publicly... someone who has a big microphone... well, something’s going to hit the fan.

Let me back up.  I was listening to a talk show host who, as much as I would LOVE to name names, I won’t.  Because this host has called me enough names and I don’t need any more hateful name-calling.  The host’s guest was someone who has started some charter schools that have made several amazing claims.  Unfortunately, as with all charter schools that make these miraculous claims, the claims turn out to be “not so amazing.”  (I am not going to name the chain of charter schools here, but here is a great site with links to many of these charters who make such claims – “Miracle Schools.”

As I listened to the broadcast, I asked a question on Twitter.  The second I posted it, the guest addressed it - weird coincidence.  The response from the host was swift and snarky, tweeting that I should go back and listen again.  Ummm..... OK.  Thanks for the assumption I wasn't listening.  I continued to listen to the entire broadcast and really wondered about this “Miracle School.”

When I got home I started researching on the internet, and found just what I had suspected.  No miracle here.  I tweeted my findings out to the host, and as I did, I noticed that during the broadcast the host had tweeted "public schools are broken," and later tweeted "public schools have failed."

So, I decided to ask the question: “Where is your data to back up the claim public schools have failed?”  The response was basically, “I never said that.”  I love Twitter.  As I retweeted the host's tweets, I started tweeting research showing that public schools are in fact NOT failing; the problem is actually poverty.

Then it started.  I was called a troll, sensitive, wrong, scary, part of the problem, irrational, and ignorant.  (To be fair, I said the host looked ignorant by claiming failure without data.  I suppose I can’t be too mad about being called ignorant.)  I was told I had misdirected anger, and the host wondered how well I convey information to my students.  I was accused of coming into the middle of a conversation, popping off half-cocked, and was then accused of not even listening to the show.  That was followed by the accusation that I didn’t do my homework and my comprehension is sketchy; this was stated because the host claimed no one was blaming teachers.  Finally, I was accused of not being part of solutions, just there to defend myself.

During all of this I was tweeting data, articles, and research findings, none of which the host read.  The host claimed to have data, although none of this data was shared.  Then after repeatedly insulting me, the host blocked me on Twitter, ending any hope of the research being read.

Once again, as happens so often in education, we have someone who has never taught a day claiming to know all there is to know about public education.  A “hero” is brought in who has started some charter schools with yes, great results, but when you dig deeper, you find a lot of dirt.  A lot.  But who cares, right?  The end justifies the means?  The hell it does.

How do we as teachers change the narrative with these folks with big mics?  I’ll admit Twitter is probably not the best place to have such a dialogue, but for this particular host, it’s the ONLY place to engage.  (I’ll just let you come to your own conclusions on that one.)  It is so easy for people to spout off “Public schools are broken” and “Public schools are failing.”  Society blindly accepts it as truth, and everyone shakes their collective heads in sorrow.  When those of us with actual data and research show what is really going on, we are silenced.  Humiliated.  Dismissed.

I suppose that’s where we start.  We cannot allow ourselves to be silenced.  We have to stand up and be heard.  We must tweet, blog, post on social media, and write.  We cannot afford to close our classroom doors and simply teach.  (Hell, we haven’t been allowed to do that for years anyway.)  We cannot naïvely state, “I don’t get involved in the politics of education.”  Education IS politics.  Most important, we cannot live in fear anymore.

When you blame public education, you are blaming teachers.  When you make sweeping statements about the failures of public education, you are making sweeping statements about teachers.  And when you refuse to listen to a teacher who is giving you data and research, you are embracing continued ignorance.  Teachers ARE public education.  We need to change the narrative.  No one else is going to do it for us.

A Note About the References:
I am not going to post the references I tweeted that were specific to the charter school chain that was the topic of the talk show.  But the site “Miracle Schools” has a great deal of this information about many of these schools.  The rest of the references were ones I tweeted about public education, achievement, international comparisons, and poverty.  All of them are below.

Fiske, Edward B., and Helen F. Ladd. "Addressing the Impact of Poverty on Student Achievement - EducationNC." EducationNC. Education North Carolina, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. <>.
McNeff, Mike. "Beyond the Classroom: Poverty Impacts Achievement." Pierce County Tribune, ND, 12 Sept. 2014. Web. <>.
Miracleschools -. N.p., n.d. Web. .
Phillips, Mark. "8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness." Edutopia. N.p., 10 June 2014. Web. <>.
Rabinovitz, Jonathan. "Poor Ranking on International Test Misleading about U.S. Student Performance, Stanford Researcher Finds." Stanford News. Stanford University, 15 Jan. 2013. Web. <>.
Riddile, Mel. "PISA: It’s Still ‘Poverty Not Stupid’ |." Web log post. The Principal Difference. National Association of Secondary School Principals, 12 Feb. 2014. Web. <>.
Walker, Tim. "Shameful Milestone: Majority of Public School Students Live in Poverty - NEA

              Today." NEA Today. National Education Association, 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 

              now- live-poverty/>.