Hypothetically Speaking…

At last week’s Education Innovation Lab presented by BEST NC, a question was posed that got me thinking —

What do you want education in North Carolina to look like?

I sit and ponder this question with great intentionality.

There would be more technological resources, as well as old school resources (because honestly, children basically eat at least one glue stick a day and take the markers home for snacks). There would be more human capital in schools to work with students, such as social workers or therapists, in order to meet the mental health needs of all students. There would also be human capital like TAs to help with daily tasks so teachers can focus on actually doing their job (which is teaching in case anyone forgot). Standards wouldn’t be so constraining and there would be a huge focus on soft skills/people skills in curriculum.

(Side note: do we even need science and social studies standards, anyway? I understand language arts and math standards need to be a little tighter based on developmental needs, but why can’t we just let kids choose which topics within science and social studies they want to learn about? This would allow for deeper content knowledge and the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice somehow with an application phase of coursework perhaps. Just thinking “out loud” here and would love to hear some of your ideas with this, too!)

Essentially, everything would be centered around a problem. Students would have to find solutions to real world problems in a PBL setting in their classrooms. Everything would be framed around relevance for students, with an emphasis on current events, too.

I’ve always been a believer that I want my students to leave my classroom better people, not just better students. I care more about them learning how to collaborate with one another than whether or not they remember how earthquakes occur — that’s why all of my projects are in a group/partnership setting.

There are studies showing that many high schoolers don’t feel prepared for ‘adulthood’ when they graduate because school didn’t prepare them for the real world. That, to me, is an extreme disservice. Our schools should absolutely be preparing students for what’s to come down the road, whether that’s college or instant career experience.

Needless to say, you can bet that I’ll ask my students this question upon our return from fall break next week.

So now I ask you, friends, both in and out of North Carolina: what do you want the future of education to look like?

Deep Gladness, Deep Need.

Last week I attended BEST NC’s Education Innovation Lab at SAS. It was refreshing to sit with those both inside and outside of education to try to solve the state’s overarching issue of recruitment & retainment of teachers. There were several keynotes followed by smaller breakouts, both of which had my wheels turning at an alarmingly rapid rate.

Andy Baxter of the Southern Regional Education Board spoke about the narrative around teacher turnover, and how ultimately, according to a NC DPI report on turnover from 2008-2014, only 1.5% of North Carolina educators leave the profession because they’re dissatisfied with teaching. Despite this small number (that has, to be fair, risen since 2008), we keep hearing about all the teachers leaving the state to teach elsewhere or exiting the profession because they’re burnt out or tired of dealing with the same problems that seemingly go unfixed every election cycle.

The point he made that resonated most with me was a quote from one of his campus pastors when he was in college.

Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.

Deep gladness, deep need.

I sit and think about why I do what I do. This job is exhausting, and honestly, I have REALLY been feeling that this year. I’ve been frustrated with so many things, mostly outside of my control, and all my sprinting from these last five years teaching is finally catching up to me. I sometimes find myself unmotivated when I get home, and many nights I am just exhausted. But why do I do this? I do it because I get student feedback on projects that say “I learned that I can do more than I ever thought I could” and “I learned I can make friends.” I do it because it’s worth it when a kid comes back and thanks you for being a hard teacher because (s)he learned more from you than any of the other ‘easier’ teachers. I do it because watching students’ eyes glisten as they see their dreams 3D printed into reality is real, actual, unadulterated magic.

I do it because I find deep gladness in fulfilling a deep need: the need to invest in children and educate our society.

There is a very special happiness that washes over me when I am in my element with students, helping them learn to love stuffing their brains to the brim with knowledge. Moments where I can step back into my doorway with students not noticing I’m there, when they’re so engaged in their own learning process that my presence is irrelevant — those moments I savor. They’re moments when I remember my deep gladness meeting, maybe even exceeding, that deep need.

My focus for the upcoming quarter and remainder of the year is to make it a continued priority to stop and take pause to recall these small moments, to revel in gratitude for my passion to work in the lives of children, no matter what the circumstance. It is imperative for us all to remember why we carry on in this profession.

Deep gladness, deep need.

More Than Just Jitters.

My teeth are brushed, my hair still damp, my fan (and mind) spinning.

I’m staring at the ceiling because I can’t sleep.

My lunch is packed and in the refrigerator, my coffee mug set out on the counter, my outfit hanging by the door.

Tomorrow is the first day of my fifth year teaching.

Every year this happens — this “first day jitters” kind of deal. I’m beyond thrilled to start the year and get to know my new students. I’m always a little nervous at least, because I want to make sure I don’t forget something big to tell them or show them. The first day of middle school is huge for these kids and I’m determined to make it a positive experience!

But tonight isn’t normal first day jitters.

I’m lying here awake because I feel so incredibly grateful to be this excited about my job.

Seriously, this is like second Christmas for me.

The blessing is real, y’all — I get to go to work and teach kids about the wonders of our world. I get to show kids their own hidden talents and help them realize their potential. I get to facilitate the learning of young people who might march for civil rights, cure cancer, or go live on Mars.

I get to work with a fabulous team of human beings who are dedicated to doing what’s best for kids.

I get to wake up in the morning and know I have a job that provides me with health insurance and the ability to pay a mortgage.

I am so thankful for these things. I am so thankful for the people in my life who aren’t at school with me every day who encourage me, love me, and challenge me. I can only hope to be a conduit of blessing to those around me wherever I go.

While I definitely have first day jitters tonight, I stand in awe of so many blessings God has granted me, including the passion He wrote on my heart to educate young people.

Here’s to a brilliant fifth year, friends — full of gratitude and constant amazement.

The Teacher Advocate.

I’ve always been a big fan of advocating for public schools. I teach in a public school and am a product of North Carolina public schools, all the way up to the university level. I am registered to vote, and I do my research prior to election day on who’s a champion for public education in my district (and yes, I check voting records – if you’re gonna talk big education game, you better back it up). I am highly interested in educational policy and how politics and education coincide, making this final Kenan Fellows professional institute a dream come true for me.

Thursday and Friday were two days spent with my fellow Fellows engaging in conversation topics revolving around educational policy at both the state and federal level. We had many fantastic speakers grace us with their presence, including a mock show of NC Spin (NERD ALERT: I am obsessed) and many NC House Representatives. We heard from a political analyst and former Fellows who are now using their powers to make an impact with legislators.

After these two days of professional development and intense learning (we’re talking like this was the definition of rigor), my mind hasn’t been able to shut off. I just want to learn more, read more, write more, email more, communicate more. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. So, here’s my attempt to write all this out of my brain in a stream-of-consciousness fashion so I can process other things in my life, like when I’m going to pick up my new gas cap for my Jeep and what fabulous outfits I’m going to pack for my Asheville trip next weekend.

Your responses/answers/comments to any questions are very much welcome, because I most definitely don’t have the answers to these questions…yet.

  • How are we keeping private schools in our state accountable? Is anyone keeping them accountable? Our state constitution says that the state money allotted to public schools must go to public schools, so we shouldn’t be trying to use this money for vouchers to send kids to private schools (that kind of defeats the purpose). Though our state constitution also uses language like “children have a right to the opportunity of a good education,” what defines a “good education?”
  • In 2013, NC spending looked a little like this: $12.1 Billion in the entire budget, $8 Billion of the budget going to K-12 education; 63% of that coming from the state, 22% coming from local districts, and 14% coming from the federal level. Comparing this to other states, many only provide 42% state and 42% local investments. Personally, I think it’s great that NC provides so much to schools from the state level. This definitely levels the playing field for other counties where resources aren’t abundant, and where populations aren’t as high. I also find it ridiculous to fund public schools with property taxes and not something consumable; a better education leads to better jobs, which leads to the stimulation of the economy. Funding schools with property taxes is ultimately limiting.
  • We need to understand that the percent of the NC budget going to K-12 education was 52% and now it’s dropped down to 37%. This is due to other things, like Medicaid, needing to be funded first. Education is ending up with the short end of the stick, getting funded by whatever is left over. How can we combat this? Is there a better way to anticipate budget needs at the state level?
  • NC is 48th in the nation regarding teacher pay. We’re 38th in the nation regarding per pupil spending (we spend $8900/student a year in comparison to $11,300/student, which is the average in the nation). How do we begin to turn this around? On what things should we be spending for each child in the classroom?
  • How exactly are public schools working? How are we basing our answer to this? Are we using criterion- or norm-based data? I believe the answer has to be more than just numbers.
  • Some NC teachers received a pay raise this year, others didn’t. I was fortunate enough to receive one, and that’s only because I’m a third year teacher. I believe the legislative intent wasn’t front-loaded, and many seasoned educators got screwed over because of it. There’s been whispers of making teacher pay merit-based, looking at the NC EVAAS Standard VI piece of the evaluation to determine pay. My question to this is simple: How are you going to do that? This is my third year teaching in a Title I school, and I’ve had many students below proficiency in my classes. How are you going to mark me as a poor educator looking at my test scores? There are five other parts of the evaluation you must consider, legislature: don’t use just one to pay me.
  • NC is the most wired state in America. All of our schools have internet access, though not every classroom does. I had no idea of this fact and am now incredibly curious how we can make it so that all classrooms have access — technology is the future, and we need to get it in the hands of our kids so that they’re prepared for the real world.
  • In 1996, standardized testing really started getting big. It was purely diagnostic. Its initial intentions were to identify students at the beginning of the year who needed a little more help; then, those students were supposed to be given adequate assistance throughout the year and test again in the spring to show growth. The problem is that these students never received the additional instruction they needed, so the test results were showing that students weren’t making gains. Legislators, THIS is why it’s important we have support staff in our schools at every level — we need to meet these kids where they are so that we can help them get to where they need to be.
  • The Education Lottery is a JOKE. Makes me pretty sad that this is a way the state thought schools would actually get funding. Education should be funded in a way that is transparent.
  • Here’s my big kicker: 26% of students in NC are currently living in poverty. There are 1,443,998 students enrolled in public schools in NC, making 26% of those students a whopping 375,439 students living in poverty and going to public school in NC. Y’all, if that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what could. We need to deal with poverty head on before anything else. This isn’t just an education issue, this is a human rights issue. If we’re going to ensure that every child has the opportunity for a good education, we need to make sure these kids have food in their stomachs and resources at home. I feel like there are many people who believe that education should be the sole fixer of social issues like poverty, but how can we be? Educators can’t fix problems of that magnitude alone. This is an everybody, all-hands-on-deck issue with which people should be concerned. There are arguments saying that poor schools produce poor neighborhoods, and there’s a counter-argument that says poor neighborhoods produce poor schools. Ultimately, isn’t it both? Isn’t it just a cycle of poverty and negativity from which we aren’t saving students? Some believe that vouchers, or “opportunity scholarships” are the beginning of a solution to this. I’m wrestling with this more now than I ever have. Yes, I think students should have an equal chance to get a good public education. Yes, I think students of all races and backgrounds should interact together in school. Does this mean that the money for public schools should go to private investors (parents) to send their child to another school out of their neighborhood? How can we ensure that children of all backgrounds are interacting with one another in a school setting? I firmly believe that cultural competence is something that should be highlighted in schools, but how can you do that when all the white kids are sitting in the shiny new school with SmartBoards in every classroom and all the brown kids are sitting in the run-down school that hasn’t seen a renovation since the 1980s?

The people running our state aren’t necessarily anti-education, but the question remains: who’s standing up for it? This is where The Teacher Advocate comes in. Friends, I encourage YOU to stand up for education.

After talking with a friend the other day, she stated that it was like legislators don’t know the issues in our classrooms; this begged me to ask, “Well…do they?” I don’t think the people making decisions on behalf of education are fully aware of the implications of their actions. They don’t realize the problems that we as educators are facing, so it’s our job to change that.

If we want to make change and see good come for our students, it must start first with us. We need to take the first steps in guiding our state to see how imperative it is that we are doing what’s best for our kids.

So, if we’re taking the first steps here, let’s put on our big girl/boy pants and contact our representatives. Don’t know who your representatives are? That’s okay! If you’re in NC, I recommend you check this out; if you’re out of NC, look for a similar link about your state’s general assembly. Think about what you want to communicate to your representatives, and make sure it’s timely and something about which you’re passionate. Do your research before going in to chat (oh, did I forget to mention that a face-to-face conversation is the most influential way to speak to a representative?!) — you will want to know what the person you’re going to talk to looks like. It’s crucial to build a relationship with these people, y’all. Don’t go in swinging bats and throwing ninja stars; just go in with an open mind and a passionate heart. You’re there for those kids sitting in your classrooms without access to technology. You’re there for those kids walking in the door with no breakfast in their stomachs. You’re there for those kids who don’t have anyone else to stand up for them.

You are part of this profession, this calling, because it chose you. Yes, it chose you — you might think you chose to teach, but y’all know this calling ain’t for the faint of heart. You’re in this to win this — you’re a champion for those kids you impact every single day, and you’re a champion for all the other teachers out there (and never forget that you’re a champion for yourself — this nation needs to understand that what we do is invaluable and essential and that you are a professional whose job must be done daily). Right now is our policy window to extend a hand and raise our voices. There is no better time than right now, North Carolina, than to stand up and speak out in the sweet name of public education.

Politically Correct Teaching.

Today was a long day. Our staff meeting ran late, my stove and oven still are out of commission, and my to-do list seemed to continually grow like dark matter expanding in the universe.

On my way to find a productive working spot this evening, I caught part of the senate debate between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis. In a word, it was disgusting and I am embarrassed.

I was so frustrated listening to this “debate” that I had to turn off NPR. After about 15-20 minutes, I was so tired of hearing the “he said/she said” slander that was bouncing back and forth between the candidates and I quickly became outraged that neither candidate was actually proposing solutions to any problems.

“Tillis says teachers don’t care about kids, they just care about their jobs and pensions…HIS WORDS, not mine!”

Oh, okay, you say those are his words, Ms. Hagan? How about you use YOUR OWN WORDS and tell me what you think teachers do care about. I can tell you that as a teacher, I care more about my kids than anything else (truly, more than anything else — I love them like my own the moment they cross the threshold of my classroom door on the first day of school and I will love them until they are grown up and have third graders of their own), but please, tell me, what do you think we care about? Have you talked to teachers in public schools who are investing their lives to educating the children of North Carolina? Let me tell you, this job is hard and not for the faint of heart, and I’m confident that there are many teachers out there teaching because they’re doing it to see kids have more opportunities to better their futures.

“Two numbers: 7 and 10. 7: 7% pay increase — that’s the highest in a generation! We’re nationally competitive in the teaching field now. 10: 10 years Hagan was in office and did nothing for teacher pay.”

We’re nationally competitive? We’re 48th in the nation when it comes to our per pupil spending. I don’t even have enough composition books to give all my kids, and those black and white marble notebooks are like 4 for $1.00 at Office Max. Since North Carolina is so nationally competitive, I’m guessing that’s why Houston Independent School District hosted job fairs in our state’s capital to try and snag some of NC’s finest? I read more articles in the last school year about teachers leaving the classroom either for new jobs or to move to new states than I’ve ever read before. The mass exodus is real (and cutting Teaching Fellows from the budget wasn’t the brightest idea in keeping the state’s best). Also, let me just say that your 7% pay increase statement is misleading. The average might be 7%, but that certainly isn’t what everyone received. I am fortunate enough to receive a decent pay increase, but I know for a fact that there are talented, wonderful, seasoned teachers I work with at my school who received little to NO pay raise. Yep, that’s right, I know people who got as much as a whopping $50 added to their paychecks.

$50.

Mr. Tillis, what is a seasoned teacher with a family and piled up bills supposed to do with a $50 pay increase? What message does that send to those veteran teachers?

My temper continued to rage as I listened to these two adults “debate” topics like immigration and women’s rights and minimum wage. The whole time I was listening to this throw-my-opponent-under-the-bus-fest, my heart broke a little.

I’m currently teaching my third graders about government. I’ve searched high and low for great articles and picture books and informational texts and graphic organizers to show my kids how our government works. The activity we used today to kick off our unit called for students to work in groups using chart paper to brainstorm ways that the government helps its citizens. Students can use pictures and/or words to answer why government is important to society, and all I could think of when I listened to that shameful exchange of words that NPR called a debate was how I felt like I was teaching my kids the wrong things regarding our government.

Kids are so innocent. They have such an unadulterated, fresh perspective on concepts and ideas that we adults constantly taint with corruption and injustice. While I circulated during the group brainstorm session, I heard beautiful things about government keeping its citizens safe, how government let them go to school and get an education, and even how important the different people who work for government can be to our communities (needless to say, I can’t wait for us to share tomorrow!). I want my kids to see that government is established to keep us safe and organized so that everyone can have a great quality of life, but I’m realizing that maybe that’s too naïve of me.

Maybe instead I should let my kids listen to that debate. Maybe I should teach my kids that politics and government aren’t really that beneficial to society, but rather it’s just a game people play to gain power and demean others. Maybe I should stop doing compliment circle and teaching kids how to be kind to each other and help each other and be problem-solvers independently and in a group. Maybe I shouldn’t teach tolerance and how to question everything and stand up for what’s right.

Well, this is me speaking out for what I think is right: to politicians everywhere, stop arguing. Stop with the he said/she said run-around. Stop interrupting (maybe y’all should read this book I do with my kids every year).

Stop interrupting and start listening to what your constituents have to say. Start listening to what teachers have to say in regards to educational policy and what women have to say about women’s rights and what immigrants have to say about immigration. When you listen, you can problem-solve, and we can eventually make our cities, states, and country better than before.

At least that’s what I’m teaching my eight-year-olds.

Moral Monday.

PREFACE: Don’t know what Moral Monday is? Click here to find some articles concerning the North Carolina movement.

Yesterday I participated in my first protest at Halifax Mall in Raleigh. I’ve never really publicly protested anything in my life, at least nothing of great importance (let’s be serious, we’ve all protested bedtime at least once before), so I admit that I had my hesitations at first. Moral Mondays have been going on all summer long, and I would catch some coverage on the evening news and think, “That’s great, the legislators are dumb” and go on with my dinner making or Thought Catalog reading. It wasn’t until the budget was finally voted on and subsequently passed that I really started to realize how much was at stake for the progress North Carolina has achieved.

What’s at stake, you ask? Friends, I’ve read the bills (because I’m a super nerd). To save you from reading pages of silliness, here’s the SparkNotes version of what’s going on with the education budget in North Carolina.

I’m a public school teacher in a state where my career is currently under attack. The budget has been cut and educators across the state are losing jobs, benefits, and the respect they deserve as professionals.

Doesn’t that make you angry? It makes me angry. Ergo, I had to do something about it.

So I took a bus from Durham to Raleigh with a friend of mine (because I can’t handle big crowds alone — short people fears?) yesterday afternoon to embark on a pro-public-schools adventure. I figured this would be a pretty big rally considering it’s the last Raleigh-stationed Moral Monday.

Needless to say, I was accurate in my thinking.

We got to Halifax Mall and checked out the expanse that would soon be filled with people; people who want what’s best for our state of public education. While we surveyed our place of action, I soon realized how full my bladder was of water and began my quest for a bathroom.

Yes, “quest” is certainly an appropriate term here. This is what I get for trying to stay hydrated at a protest. Go. Figure.

The police wouldn’t let me use a bathroom in ANY of the government buildings, so basically I walked about a mile to find a restaurant with a bathroom. This instantly made me regret the running I did on the treadmill this morning.

Upon returning to Halifax Mall from what will now be known as the “bathroom hike,” a sea of red flooded the once empty expanse.

Wear RED for PUBLIC ED.

wear red for public ed.panoramaIt was amazing to see so many people in a place supporting students and teachers across the state. I saw teachers from Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Concord, Fayetteville, Wilmington, Asheville — educators from all across the state came to support public education.*

Listening to the speakers, I could feel electricity move throughout the crowd. People were excited. People were fired up. People held more than just signs, they held truths that projected into the sky.

First in Flight, Last in Rights.

This is TOO MUCH.

Support Our Teachers = Support Our Children!

NC Races to the Bottom and Everyone Loses

We chanted together and marched together and stood united as one voice to advocate for your children, our colleagues, and ourselves.

Despite the sadness that ensues in my heart for the state of education in my home state, I’m so grateful and happy to know that I have the right to stand up for something that means so much to me. Acting on my first amendment rights yesterday felt so empowering.

I won’t stop calling. I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop beseeching the legislators of North Carolina to pause and consider the damage they’re doing. Change like this doesn’t come about over night, so I’m relying on patience and persistence to make things happen.

My favorite sign yesterday read Strong Public Schools = Strong Democracy. As a teacher, I always try to model equality in my classroom and I always make sure to give my students the opportunity to voice their opinions. This is what our nation was founded on, is it not? Giving the people the power to participate in government? If we can demonstrate what that should look like in a classroom, then I’d say that’s a game-changer.

STRONG PUBLIC SCHOOLS = STRONG DEMOCRACY.

I’m sure there are great private schools and charter schools out there, but public school — y’all, that’s for everybody. That’s where money and a lottery number picked from a bucket don’t matter, and if you asked me, those things shouldn’t matter. Nothing should keep a child from a quality education.

Forward together, not one step back.

strong public schools.

*People were not just supporting public education; many were also protesting voting rights, women’s rights, and environmental issues. This blog solely focuses on the public education aspect of the rally.

 

NC Teacher: “I Quit”

NC Teacher: “I Quit”.

Such a moving commentary from a North Carolina public school teacher. Breaks my heart, but I have to say that it also makes me want to figure out what changes need to be made to start implementing them now. Teacher retention in the state of North Carolina used to be something that I would think was fairly decent, especially with programs like Teaching Fellows and Prospective Teacher Scholarship-Loans. These programs kept good teachers in North Carolina for some period of time, but now that the funding is gone for those programs, I’m sure we will see a serious drop in the number of good teachers in this state.

What makes me sad is that I can identify with this letter in so many ways. I know what it feels like to be unsupported, to be a test administrator, to physically feel the effects of my job.

There needs to be accountability. The leaders of our schools and districts need to open their eyes and see what’s going on in our classrooms. Where are the people who want to make public education a successful pathway for students?

Friends, we need to be bold and stand up for the injustices in our public education system, especially here in the state of North Carolina.