May I Always Remember to Listen

Blackboard Teacher Appreciation Blog Graphic

There are a lot of things that make teaching difficult. That’s not news to anyone who reads social media (or this blog), but the one element that weighs, emotionally, on teachers the most is the heaviness of student trauma. And I’m using “trauma” very liberally here. I’m generally including the times kids need a teacher to listen to them, to hug them, to console them, or to offer advice. There are times when, after a conversation, I am required by law to call CPS. There are times when, after a conversation, I go to the bathroom alone and cry myself. There are stories so wonderful that I smile all day, and there are stories so awful I can’t sleep at night.

The National Education Association recently suggested that this “Secondary Traumatic Stress” is a leading cause of teacher burnout. Officially, secondary traumatic stress (STS), defined by the National Child Trauma Stress Network is “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.” As more articles surface about this, more and more teachers are beginning to identify the symptoms.

I’m thankful to teach in a district where the stories I hear are rarely, horrifically traumatic, though I know our counselors hear some. However, the general attending-to-teen-emotions, is, in itself, exhausting at best.

However, something I’ve been pondering lately is the courage it takes these students to share such details with me and the level of trust it requires. And this responsibility is not one I take lightly, nor do my coworkers.  

Recently, a student turned in his descriptive writing piece with the subject line “Don’t show anyone.” In this piece he described, beautifully, another young man he had a crush on. It was so sweet and his description so innocent. As far as I know, this young man is not out at school. I’m not even sure he is at home. I was touched that he felt comfortable sharing this with me. And while I worry what his future holds, in this moment, I feel humbled to help him carry this secret.

In addition to being sworn to secrecy about crushes and break-ups, I have listened to stories of poverty, hunger, drugs, and abandonment. Sometimes these stories are in their pasts, but sometimes these things are their everyday lives.

One afternoon a student of mine from 2nd hour asked if he could spend 6th hour in my room. He had just recieved some bad news and was visibly upset. This normally jovial young man was sullen and withdrawn. I got the ok from his 6th-hour teacher and he plunked himself in one of my comfy chairs. I get along well with this kid, but felt kind of honored that he chose my room as a safe space. 

And that’s what got me thinking about my role in student trauma. Of course, I wish the faces sitting in front of me never see or feel pain, but sadly, that’s not realistic. As I reflect on students over the years who have trusted me with the knowledge that they had no food for dinner, or that they are questioning their gender identity, or that their day was falling apart and they “don’t want to talk about it,” I hope that I never take these moments for granted. 

I hope that I always remember how significant it is that these kids choose me to help carry their load. I hope that this load always feels real and significant to me, the way it does now.

To me, the adult who rolls their eyes or dismisses these confessions as a “phase,” is truly doing some damage. It doesn’t matter if the crying child before me is a 14-year-old who got dumped after a 3-week relationship. Those tears are real. That emotion is real. The feeling of loss is real. And I hope I always remember to treat it as such.

Because it’s one thing to put up a sign on your door that says, “This Room is a Safe Place,” and it’s another thing to truly act on that. To make your room safe for both large and small struggles – and celebrations too. To make it safe for talking, crying, laughing, and even just sitting, even if I can’t understand the pain. It’s a place to mourn a parent’s job loss and to celebrate newly received citizenship. A place to struggle with content and a place to rejoice in achievements accomplished.

While I hope that my words, my food donations, my money, my clothing, my phone calls and so much more have helped these students to grow, I know that they have absolutely helped me grow.  They have shown me the depth of experience that resides in my room. And this is something I hope to never forget or get too busy for. This is why it is important for me to listen. I hope I always do, and I hope I continue to let these experiences to shape who I am and how I teach.


Rich Foliage Banner

About two weeks ago we were informed that our well water tested positive for PFOAs (a chemical used in products that resist sticking, heat, water, stains, and grease.  This man-made chemical can remain in ground water for a long time and is dangerous to humans and animals in large doses. The “safe” level is 70 ppm and the number in our water rang in around 150 ppm. 

Thankfully, my husband has a very refined pallet when it comes to his drinking water, and a while ago he purchased a chilled water jug dispenser, like the kind you see in an office. The boys have been drinking mostly out of that for a year. So at least my initial worry wasn’t the boys.  Additionally, the danger of chemicals in the PFAS family is their accumulation in the body, not simply the exposure, and we’ve only lived here two years, so it could be worse.

However, the county dropped off six cases of water and a kitchen faucet filter and just 73044983_10220558813381995_8336593652532903936_o.jpg of left us on our own. There was no follow-up, no additional information about what, if anything, happens next, no 800 number to call with questions, no handouts, nothing. We were left to do our own research regarding the safety of our animals and livestock, our property value, another other in-home filtration systems, etc. 

I must admit, I was angry. This wasn’t fair. This is our new house, the result of, quite literally, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. How could the water be bad? Cooking with bottled was is a pain, not to mention how painful it is to my eco-soul to use all of those plastic bottles of water. But over the next week, as more and more friends and coworkers expressed their concern or offered to help with anything, I started to feel kind of bad about these feelings of pity.

74369209_10220589733154970_3546645811053985792_oUntil we have a chance to get the filters installed, yes cooking with bottled water IS a pain, but I am still lucky to live in a country that has testing and then a safe alternative. I’m also thankful the county gave us the water and filters for free. So what’s a bit of an inconvenience if it means an immediate solution?


I also considered the many people around the world that don’t even have access to clean drinking water. In fact, here are some startling facts from

  • 780 million people lack access to an improved water source — approximately 1 in 9 people.

  • Every minute a child dies of a water-related disease.

  • People suffering from water-related illnesses fill half of the world’s hospital beds.

  • 10% of the global disease burden could be reduced with improved water supply. Not only would it increase hydration, but sanitation and hygiene as well.[

And this ultimately is the kicker:

In the world, more than twice the population of the United States lives without access to safe water.

I recently watched an episode of Rotten on Netflix about water, and as I was opening a bottle of water and emptying it into my coffeemaker I thought about a small village in Nigeria whose access to water has been cut off by the addition of a major highway – paid for by Nestle to service the enormous plant they built. The locals, who were already walking nearly a mile to the river to collect water, now must cross a harrowing high way, only to find a now-polluted, dwindling river because of Nestle’s activity. Yet, that is the water they drink because that is the only water they have access to.

We will continue to research the best whole house filters and how to keep our livestock safe, but in the meantime, I will do my best to remember that  if opening a bottle to boil some noodles, or making an extra trip to the recycling station means a hardship, then I am lucky enough to live a very privileged life.


World Health Organization and UNICEF. “Progress on sanitation and drinking-water – 2014 update.” 2014. Web Accessed May 2, 2015

When a Teacher Messes Up

When a Teacher

I’ve been teaching long enough, and at the same school long enough, to predict, with some accuracy, how an activity will play out in the classroom. Teaching is all about managing your expectations and then feeling absolutely ecstatic when (if?) things go better than planned. Usually, this skill at prediction serves me well, but I was reminded on Friday of a pitfall of doing this.

My senior classes are starting Jeannette Wells’ memoir Glass Castle next week. If you have not read the book (you should!) it recounts Wells’ upbringing with two very unusual and dysfunctional parents. The memoir relates Wells’ life of extreme poverty. In the book, the parents repeatedly turn down any aid or public assistance. In fact, there are several frustrating moments where the parents make choices that result in homelessness, hunger, and even the endangerment of their children. This is, in fact, a criticism of the book: that a reader may get the impression that poverty is a choice, simply a lifestyle option. 

The district I teach in is not terribly diverse racially, but it has great economic disparity. So, while introducing this text, I wanted to be sure I addressed with my classes that a certain level of sensitivity was needed as we address the topic of poverty. I showed a documentary that I have used in class before. It’s called America’s Poor Kids. The film follows three families who have been thrust into poverty and homelessness as a result of job loss. The film is told through the eyes of the children in each family. My worry when tackling this issue was that students would make insensitive comments, and I thought hearing the narrative from the mouths of children might stifle this.

So I give my classes the warning about just watching and working to understand. The plan is to discuss on Monday, so they can jot notes, but I don’t want comments. I remind them that they have classmates who may identify with some of the things in this film. I know teenagers. I know they giggle at uncomfortable parts. They comment on people, places, accents, clothing that is different than they are used to. I went into this on high alert.

That’s why, when one of my more analytical students spoke up, I jumped on him. One of the families in the film is living in a homeless shelter. During one of the scenes, this student noticed that the mother had her nails done, so he blabs out, “Time’s are so tough mom gets her nails done?” I didn’t think. I reacted. I immediately snapped at him. I said something about this time being for “learning not judging” and that we don’t know the entire situation. I don’t exactly remember, but it was quick and snippy and he apologized right away (because he’s a good bean). I think it was his immediate and sincere apology that caught me off guard. The class went back to watching the film and I sat there processing what had just happened. I was kind of steaming, imaging all of the judgmental thoughts the kids might be thinking, but I also felt guilty. Maybe he really didn’t mean it the way it sounded?

Between classes I vented to my colleague in the room next door and then went back in and taught the same lesson to my next class period. This class cried (literally) when one family had to give their dog up and sat wide-eyed in complete silence the entire time. This cooled my blood pressure and I began to think about what that student had said in the previous hour.

In reality, he voiced what many of us, in our deepest selves, sometimes think. How did she have the money to get her nails done? In one scene, a child is wearing a Hollister shirt. Certainly this wasn’t actually purchased from Hollister?

So I started generating a list of assumptions, questions, and topics around poverty. I had started the class by telling the students that poverty is complex, but then, when one student raised this complexity, I shut it down. In hindsight, I wish I would have encouraged him to jot his thoughts down so that we could discuss his question on Monday. I wish I hadn’t assumed he was making a rude, classist accusation.

But I didn’t, so now I asked myself about how I will move forward.

I went to my standbys: Ruby Payne, Johnathon Kozol, and Barbara Ehrenreich. At my local library I found a book called Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado. I searched the web and bookmarked some good reads. I will spend the weekend reading and thinking and preparing.

I decided, on Monday, the following would happen:

  1. I would publicly apologize to said student for my snippy reaction
  2. I would validate his question/comment and provide a few other assumptions/judgements/questions many people have about poverty.

And then we will start learning. 

While working through Glass Castle we will work through Payne’s Framework for Understanding Poverty. We will read, journal, discuss, and question. We will learn.

As I’ve thought about this the past 24 hours, I’ve contemplated how much better off we’d all be if we did the thinking, questioning, and learning part first, before we did the judging, snapping, and insulting part. I’m not entirely sure I am a good enough teacher to relay this successfully to 120 seniors, but I’m going to make it my goal for this next unit to try.

One Thing Teachers Don’t Want You to Know

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No doubt you’ve heard from a friend, family member, or Facebook meme that “Teaching is a Calling.” And, while I’m sure my ego would have kept me from using that exact phrase, I 100% believe it. Because there is more to teaching than content knowledge, attendance-taking and lesson plan-writing. Just like how medicine requires more than just diagnosis and prescription writing. There’s a human component. The best teachers can tell, just by a quick chat with a class, when they are feeling stressed, confused, or overwhelmed. The best teachers can tell the difference between a child who needs more room to wiggle and a child who may need remediation. As teachers, we get this, and we’ve gotten used to the fact that the outside world doesn’t really get what we REALLY do. But there’s something you don’t know about us. Those of us who stay, who make it through the rough first TEN years – those of us who survive long enough to be called “veterans” – there’s something that we all know and feel, but we don’t show it and we don’t really talk about it publicly.

The big secret is, serving in a thankless job is exhausting and we all suffer periods of sadness and self-loathing about this fact.

When I say it’s a secret, I don’t mean that you all didn’t know it. I mean that we don’t really like to acknowledge it because non-teachers don’t truly understand it. When I’m in public, on social media, or with non-teachers, I’m never going to admit that sometimes all of my being wants another adult to acknowledge my hard work. No, when I’m in public or around non-teachers, then “teaching is a calling” and I work everyday “in the trenches” and I affect “both hearts and minds.” We play this role because we feel under fire. We get snow days and holiday breaks and summer vacation and we know that many think we have no right to complain. But the reality is, many of us would love some real, concrete positive affirmation.

Sometimes, only in my loneliest moments, do I think about how much time, effort, and emotional energy I’ve put into a student, and wish that somebody would say something kind to me. On days when my lesson plan goes perfectly and the class is well-behaved and the discussion is out-of-this-world, my enthusiasm is dimmed ever so slightly by the realization that no one else will ever know. 

Teaching is, actually, a pretty lonely profession. You spend all of your time preparing a plan for a group of adolescents that will rarely notice or acknowledge what you’ve done. And most of the time, this is fine. This is what I signed up for. I don’t expect 15-year-olds to thank me daily. In fact, that’s what makes it all the more meaningful when they do! But the lack of adult interaction and feedback does take its toll.

Surviving teaching is simply subsisting on a series of small moments. A class discussion goes well – my heart swells – I’ll survive this week. A tough student says, “your class is kinda cool” – I choke back tears – I’ll survive another week. A parent says, “he tells us about your class at home” – I smile so big it hurts – I’ll survive another week. A student says, “have a nice day” as they exit class – how nice – I’ll survive another week. But sometimes, these small moments aren’t enough. Or sometimes, the time in between one small moment and the next is too long to sustain. Sometimes, teachers just go home feeling tired and useless and lay in bed at night and rehash the day, the lesson, the conversation, the worksheet and we just wish someone would say “I see your hard work. I see what you’re doing and it’s awesome.”

Teachers are evaluated 5-7 times a year. As a high school teacher, I teach 180 days, 4 periods a day. Of the 720 class periods I teach, another adult will watch an entire class period only TWICE. The remaining observations will be 10-15 minute walk-throughs. This means I will teach 715 lessons with no adult feedback. Sure I’ll get feedback from the kids sometimes (mostly whining), but no peer or colleague will say “I like when you…” or “have you ever thought about…” And so we go to lunch and all try to get a word in in the 20 minutes we spend with other adults. We share with each other (at lunch or after school or in the evening via text) our successes and failures.

And yet, while I spend 7 hours a day standing in front of nearly 130 different students, it can be incredibly isolating and incredibly lonely. Administrators are there to make sure you are meeting standards, managing behavior, and completing attendance. They rarely have the time or know-how (as many times administrators were never teachers themselves) to offer constructive criticism or valuable feedback.

And so, we decorate our rooms, buy new books and materials for our classrooms,  browse the internet for new ideas and updated articles, learn new technology, keep up with TV and music so that we can relate to our kids, attend professional development, read new books, chat with colleagues, email parents, but in the end, no one really notices.

Most of the time I’m okay with this. It’s the job, it’s fine. Who doesn’t feel overworked and underappreciated?

So while we are expected to play the role of noble, selfless, workhorse, many of us are really yearning for some good solid affirmation. Because there are times when every teacher just wishes that someone would SEE them: truly see them for who who they are, what they do, and how they do it.


The Emotional Toll of Teaching

blog header.pngWhenever I post about teaching on Facebook, or chat with non-teacher friends, I try to only focus on the things about it that I love. I think non-teachers see enough teacher posts about low pay and working for free. I think non-teachers look at us and think “yeah, your life is so bad, tell me about your summers off.” Additionally, I don’t feel comfortable complaining about my job when I know that everyone has struggles. I don’t want anyone to mis-perceive that I’m suggesting that I have it worse, when many of us struggle.

However I feel, at the same time, as though I am on the front lines witnessing hardship, tragedy, and despair, with no hope of change. Teaching, unlike some other jobs, feels more personal. A bad day at my office may mean a call to CPS, a sobbing 14-year-old, an aggressive parent. It feels heavier. I understand it may not be, however, I’ve never worked in any other career.  I do think teachers share similar feelings as those in healthcare. You can’t just “clock out,” you can’t just “let it go” at the end of the day. We’re talking human lives here. For me, made worse by the fact that there are some children I can’t save, figuratively, and for a nurse, some children they can’t save literally.

I want to cry out, daily, about the injustice that some of my children live with. I want everyone to know I don’t always have the materials I need or the learning environment the kids deserve. And I don’t want to do this for any sympathy from other adults. I feel obligated to do this to inspire change. I want voting adults to know what it’s really like between the walls of a public school. I want people to understand the complexities of the 120 lives I interact with on a daily basis and struggles some of these kids face. And I don’t want any credit. I don’t want messages of inspiration – I want change. I don’t want to be that teacher who is always whining; I want to be that whistle blower who knows that things need to improve.

Everyday I look at the 31 teenagers in my classroom and think about the messages we are sending them. We tell them, everyday, that they are not worth desks that are not broken. We tell them, everyday, that they are only deserving of my attention if they are at the very bottom or the very top. We tell them, everyday, that standardized test scores are more important than their curiosity and creativity. We tell them, everyday, that an evaluation on paper is more important than their personal needs. We tell them, everyday, that their transcript means more than their mental health. We are telling them, everyday, that we care more about covering objectives that assessing true learning. We are telling them, everyday, that we care more about student count and per-pupil-funding than whether or not they have a safe home to return to each night.

And now.

And now we are telling young women that we will not believe them. We are telling kids on the brink of suicide to “take a number” because we don’t have enough counselors. We are telling the victims of bullying to toughen up because we can’t handle everything. We are telling our young men that we don’t have time to attend to their emotional needs and we are telling young women to cover up because those poor boys can’t learn.

So I sit at my desk and look out at future doctors, realtors, parents, custodians, and lawyers and I wonder what they think of me. I worry daily that they will think I don’t care. I worry daily that they will think I don’t know their struggle. I worry I won’t be able to stop the bully. I worry I won’t be able to help in time. I worry some of them will slip through the cracks. I know some of them are hungry all the time. I know some of them are in pain. I know some of them are distracted by family drama. I know some of them are high because sometimes that’s the only way they can deal.

And I wonder, is this the best we can do for our children? Is this it? When our kids are served lunches that are cheap and processed do they know that we don’t really care about them? Because let’s be honest, we don’t. We don’t really care about them. If we did, we would never allow this. If we really cared about our kids we would demand change at school board meetings and at the polls.

I wrestle with this because I don’t know how long I can continue to do this. The weight of sexual assault allegations, CPS calls, hungry students, sad home lives, homelessness, parents with terminal illnesses,  endless active shooter drills and lock downs…how much longer can I carry this? I leave each day feeling as if my shoulders are sagging under the weight of teen apathy, anger, and, desperation.

I keep trying to wrap this up, but feel like I can’t stop the flood of emotions. The job is hard. On the very best days it’s exhausting and on the worst days it’s crushing. So, when an administrator makes a side comment about your lesson or a politician suggests you make too much money, it feels like the last straw. It feels, like I imagine it must have felt to come home from serving in the Vietnam War, only to be criticized by citizens who have no idea what you just survived. I realize that’s a ridiculously extreme comparison and I don’t even work in one of the “worst of the worst” schools that you hear about on the news.

So while I do care about designing engaging and thought-provoking lessons, the things I lose sleep over (the things most teachers lose sleep over) are much bigger than that. And I’d like to end this on a thoughtful and provocative note, but I don’t even know how. I plan to vote and make my voice heard and I hope other parents do the same. In the meantime, be gentle with the teachers in your life.

Maintaining my Humanity in the Time of Trump


Ever since I read the line, “What if what we experience close up is real, and what we hear on the news and from the mouths of politicians who are jockeying for power needs to be questioned?'” from Brene Brown Braving the Wilderness, I can’t stop thinking about it. The statement, supported in the book with anecdotes and specific examples, has made me keenly aware of the people in my life who I love, but disagree with. When someone Image result for brene brown wildernessis sharing an opinion I disagree with I now think to myself, “this is what Brown was talking about.” A while ago our former neighbors stopped by and surprised us with a visit. Over the course of catching up, the conversation slid ever so slightly into the topic of politics. I know this couple is much more conservative than I am, so I was not surprised to hear their take on the state of our nation. However, all I could think about in that moment was Brown’s quote and all the things I love about this couple. In fact, I didn’t want to disagree or argue, because this is a relationship I care about. And I know that, while we may have different opinions on immigration policy, for example, if faced with helping an immigrant family, this couple would be the first in line. This is my real experience, close up. This is not a study, a generalization, or a rant from a talking-head on TV. THIS is what matters. 

Shortly after the Parkland shooting my Facebook feed and work lunchroom conversations were usurped by gun conversations. Being a liberal, a pacifist, and a person who has never even touched a gun, I was quick to align myself with the anti-gun-at-any-cost crowd. It reached a point where I couldn’t even fathom what these “gun nuts” were thinking. Why did they care so damn much about their guns? So I asked. I went on Facebook and asked my FRIENDS and FAMILY – people I love, respect, and value – why they were opposed to gun control. What I found was that almost none of them were opposed to gun control. I found that we all agree on several tenets and I gained a new insight into the gun debate. There were concepts and words that I had misunderstood. I had made some inaccurate assumptions. The conversation completely changed my feelings about gun owners. It did not change my opinions about my friends, because I already loved them, but it did humanize the argument. I know that a majority of Americans are just normal people, doing the best they can – but politicians don’t really want me to believe that.

The result of this unplanned experiment has been interesting. First of all, it has made everything more difficult for me. The world is less black and white and I’m really struggling with where I stand on some key issues. I have found that some of my very liberal friends are turned off by this approach. There seems to be a growing sense that now is the time to draw a line in the sand and to “stop being polite.” I agree that there needs to be a time when the fight for what’s right might get ugly. It won’t be polite. It will be violent, angry, and possibly misunderstood. Consider sit-ins, walk outs, strikes, protests, and boycotts. I know that social change is difficult and messy and often violent, but I also know that people on both sides are mostly good people.

So how does one reconcile this age of change and progress that is also an age of anger and insult? I don’t expect a Parkland survivor to be polite, but I also know that naming all 6 million NRA members as terrorists is wrong. Where is the happy medium? How does one participate actively in change, but remain free from vitriol? How does one stand up to the divisiveness of our current politicians, but also refrain from using the same polarizing language?

Two "one-way" signs with arrows going different ways on a street in New York


God, I don’t know the answers. What I’m left with is Brown’s remarks about focusing on the individual experiences. I am only one woman and I do know that I can (possibly) affect the lives of those around me and my children. Maybe that’s not enough, or maybe that’s something. I really don’t know, but I do know that it has the feeling of action. It feels as though I am not simply standing idly by. I am resisting, but I am doing so on my terms and with integrity. I may only affect my household or my social circle, and maybe not even that, but I’ll grow old knowing that at least I tried to do something.



Should I go into teaching? What should we tell the next generation?

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I am a teacher in Michigan and these statistics have been floating around Facebook this week. These numbers are disturbing for sure and, as a parent, makes me worry about the quality of education my children will have access to in the next 10 years.

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Related to this, however, is another issue that I’ve been ruminating on for some time.  The question is, “If a student tells you they want to be a teacher, what do you say?” Over the past year I’ve heard co-workers passionately tell me why they encourage these students and also co-workers who believe these students should be discouraged from entering the profession. I personally love teaching, so when kids tell me their intentions, my gut reaction is usually excitement. But I’ve started to wonder if I’m doing them a disservice. Should I be discouraging students from entering this profession?

But first, a story….

When I was in college I had a job that allowed me to provide extra-curricular and supplemental activities for the students at an urban elementary school. I ran an afterschool program and one of the clubs I organized was called Girl Power. During one of the activities the kids were telling us what they wanted to be when they grew up. One girl said she wanted to be a host, like the host of a TV show. Thinking I was helping her, I said, “well you can’t just be a host. Usually those people are celebrities or go into broadcasting first.” Afterwards, a teacher who co-taught the club with me, pulled me into the hall and said, in no uncertain terms, “don’t ever tell these kids they can’t do something.” I tried to make my case (I really did think I was helping), but she insisted that it was not my job to shoot them down (something many of them were used to, thanks to life), but to build them up, support them, and encourage their ideas and dreams. Obviously, now that I’m older I agree and see the errors of my ways, but I remember this whenever I hear co-workers tell me that they always discourage students from going into teaching.

I went to college to be a veterinarian and it was there that I switched to English education and truly found my calling. Similar to the girl from my past, our job is to encourage them to take the next steps, to explore a road not taken. Maybe an interest in teaching gets them to college and maybe they follow-through, maybe they don’t, but college will certainly provide them many alternatives.

Additionally, one thing that drives most teachers crazy is the devaluing of the profession. Homeschooling offends me because it suggests anyone can do this job. Many people seem to think that because they went to school, they know what teaching is all about. If you aren’t a certified teacher, you don’t know the years of study about learning theories and the research about best practice. You haven’t been exposed to some basic brain development principles or developmental psychology. These things help to make good teachers. When you teach, you collaborate with other like-minded people and, as a result, you are always working to improve instruction. These are the things professionals know. When legislatures tell me that they’ll give certifications in exchange for service credit, or simply working the private sector, that is a huge insult to the years of hard work I’ve put in.

So when we say to kids, “You know, you can make so much more in the private sector.” or “You’re too smart. Use that science degree for something else” aren’t we doing the same thing? Aren’t we suggesting that education is a waste of intelligence or coursework? Aren’t we sending the message the using a science degree to work as a chemist or a math degree to work as an accountant are more noble or important than teaching?

This profession needs intelligent, passionate people and if we tell those types of students to follow a higher paycheck, we are ultimately hurting the future of education ourselves. Nevermind what the legislature does, we are the ones sending the message that it’s not worth it.

Now let’s be real…

I always get excited when kids tell me they want to teach, but they usually look at me like, “but should I? Really?” and I do think it is important that they know what they are getting into. One thing that veteran teachers forget is that the newest crop of teachers are not going to know any different from the status quo. So I cringe when I hear veteran teachers tell newbies, “it’s not like it used to be.” Well, that doesn’t really matter to (or help) a 23 year-old just starting out.

For example, I’m on my district’s negotiating team and every year the veteran teachers are discouraged and disgusted with the salary package we bring back. Certainly this is because they remember a time when teachers were well-paid and didn’t have to fight for steps, insurance, and cost-of-living raises every single year. But the new hires just look at me bright-eyed and say, “are we getting a step!?” and if I say yes, they are thrilled. Sure we all want to make more, but young teachers are not saddled with the burden of how things used to be. They are able to see the glass a bit more “half full” because they don’t know what the profession has lost. (and the conversation about teacher salary is one for a different post!)

I also think it’s important for kids to know what they are getting into. If one of my own kids wanted to be a teacher I would want to make sure they understand the lifestyle they are signing up for.

You are never going to get rich, you are never going to be celebrated by society, and every single day is going to be hard, BUT you will have some moments that are amazing.

You will laugh and cry and bang your head against your desk, but mostly you’ll laugh (if you’re doing it right).  I’d make sure my kids know that teaching now-a-days requires a lot of self-discipline. You must be able to turn things off. You must be able to compartmentalize. You must be able to look for positives. And you must develop a skin thicker than armor.  

Successful teachers today need to be smart enough to weed through the theories, the fads, the trends, and the hype. They must be able to really SEE what matters and they must be brave enough to fight for it. You must see every day as a chance to be a warrior for change and you must rise to that challenge. Then, you must find a healthy way to decompress, de-stress, and relax so that you can go in and do it again tomorrow.

You must remember that, whether you teach kindergarten or AP seniors, these are just kids. They are still learning, still growing, and still testing. They will frustrate you, but you will also love them. Some of them you can help, some of them you’ll never reach.  You must understand that society expects more of you. You will not get to do, say, or post whatever you want on social media, but the the tradeoff is that it is because you are leading the next generation.

And if you can do all of these things you will reap the rewards of watching kids succeed, grow, change, and grow up to become amazing human beings. It’s hard and some days you’ll wonder if it’s worth it.

That’s what I’d tell my kids, if I had time. That’s what I want today’s kids to know about teaching. Sure there will be salary fights, pension fights, standardized tests, rude parents, idiotic legislatures, long hours, and few thank you’s, but whenever I consider doing something else, I just can’t imagine being happy in any other profession.

A Lesson in Clarity: the Limitations of Your Own World View

balance-1107484_1280Way, way back when I was in college, I applied for a job at a community center called The Black Child and Family Institute. The interview was tough and I was sure after I left that they hated me. Then a couple of weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything. I was young and not as well-versed in rejection as I am now, so I obsessed about it. I was sure they didn’t hire me because I was white, and I was okay with that because, I told myself, maybe there was a time when I did get an opportunity because I was white, but then they did call and I did get the job.

I taught a pre-kindergarten summer school program for 6 weeks. All but two of the students in my class were Black and about 95% of the staff at the center was Black as well. This was the first time in my entire life that I was aware of my race every single day. If someone didn’t smile back in the hall, I wondered if it was because I was white. If my idea was shut down in a staff meeting, I wondered if it was because I was white. And I didn’t wonder this because I thought my co-workers were racist, I wondered this because I was worried I didn’t belong there. This was a Black advocacy center and did a lot of outreach in the community. I wondered, every day, if my co-workers wondered why the hell I was there. I wondered, every day, if a member of the Black community should have gotten this job, not me. I wondered if the teachers were disappointed that their kids had, yet again, a white teacher. I enjoyed my time there and never had any negative moments with staff or parents, but I felt anxious a lot of the time. I wondered if everyone else noticed that I was white and I was conscious of my whiteness all the time.

During my next semester at school I was in an education class and we were discussing issues of race and equality in the classroom. One of my white classmates said, “We’ve come so far, I just can’t imagine that racism is still a factor in this country.” And one of my Black colleagues said that, as a Black woman, she thinks about race all the time. If a waiter is rude to her at a restaurant, she wonders if it’s because she’s Black. She feels obligated to tip well so that restaurants don’t make assumptions about her race. She feels like she can’t afford a bad day or a rude moment in public because others may make generalizations about her race. When professors don’t call on her in class or value her contributions, she wonders if it is because of her race.

For a tiny moment, I understood her. However, I had ONE six-week experience where I felt this way and she has felt this way, possibly, her entire life. I could have exited my experience if I felt too uncomfortable, and her experience was HER LIFE. I was in college and able to understand and deal with my feelings, but she had, no doubt, experienced these feelings as a child maybe, or a pre-teen, and certainly as a teenager.

So I really didn’t understand. Sure I could sympathize, but I could not in any way assume that I understood her life or that we were equals in this manner.

This experience has shaped me in so many ways throughout my life.  If nothing else, it has helped me to remember that my world view is, yes a collection of my experiences and values, but also viewed through a lens very specific to me. My lens is white, female, heterosexual, and affluent, and no matter how I try, I simply cannot truly see through any other lens. Yes, I can sympathize with the stories and experiences of others, but I can’t really see through their lens.

Somehow, in my old age, I became complacent in my own lens. I was a fairly vocal feminist in college (who wasn’t?), but now I’m old and busy and have found new battles to fight. Things aren’t really that bad for women. Sure, we don’t get paid the same as men and, sure, I get mansplained pretty much weekly, but it’s not like innocent women are being shot in the street for simply trying to get into their own cars after dark, ahem.

Then, Saturday, the Women’s March happened and it was so inspiring. Courtesy of Pantsuit Nation my Facebook feed was literally filled with images of marches from all around the world. Many of my friends marched and the signs, and hats, and smiles were contagious and inspiring. I’m sure there were nasty ones, but most of the messages that were being shared were positive, pro-woman, and up-lifting. It was nice to be a feminist again. It was nice to remember those feminist lit classes I took and to feel, for one day, that my Facebook feed was all about the contributions MY gender had made on the world.

But Sunday I woke up to a much different world. Sunday I woke up to anti-march rants. I read through many Facebook conversations and participated in a few and some of the ones I read were so nasty and so disgusting. The things people were saying about the marchers, to the marchers and one complete stranger even felt the need to message me with an incredibly offensive rant. By Sunday evening I felt sad and angry and generally beaten down.

Saturday’s march resulted in no violence, no arrests, and, sadly, little media coverage. How could all of these people (both men and women) feel so threatened and angered by such a peaceful event?

Sunday evening I tearfully told my husband that I was embarrassed that I had let myself live in such a world of complacency. Simply the message was “respect us and treat us as equals” and the response was one of violent hatred. And this was the second moment in my life when I had a glimmer of what it might feel like to wake up, gay, the morning after the Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage. A thing that should be beautiful and celebrated, overshadowed by hate and fear. Or what it might be like to wake up Black the morning after a police shooting, an incident that should be met with sorrow and unity, but is instead met with finger-pointing and blame. Or what it felt like to be Muslim the morning after the Orlando shooting.

Let’s be honest. It might feel this way most mornings to wake up as a person of color of a member of the LGBTQ community. Maybe not, I wouldn’t know because that’s not the lens through which I view the world. But here’s what I do know: it feels like crap and if any of my friends or family wake up and feel this way on ANY day of the year, that’s not okay.

I haven’t seen the world through anyone else’s lens, so I cannot and will not pretend or assume I know what anyone else’s life is like. However, when any institution or person tries to speak or decide on behalf of another group, I can and will speak up. Many will view this as “negative” or label this action as “furthering this nation’s divide,” but I believe that it is the only way to help heal the divide. I might be wrong, after all, I can only understand things through my own lens, but on this topic, I’m willing to take the gamble.


A Rose by Any Other Name


I’m a public school teacher and frequently find myself in discussions regarding the pros and cons of public vs. charter schools.  What’s hard to communicate is the larger impact these choice schools have on our communities. This is a much larger argument than just where you send your kids this year. This is about the changing of a system and the lasting impact of this change. What we are seeing is charter schools providing as an opportunity to segregate ourselves, avoid each other and completely ignore the poverty crisis in this country.

To better explain myself, let me to offer you this metaphor.

You’re going to have to imagine yourself as a gardener. A rose gardener, to be specific. You’re going to have to imagine that you love your roses dearly. In fact, you are growing a direct descendant of the very same roses your grandparents’ grew and their grandparents as well. Your roses are more than just flowers to you, they are family, tradition, and history.

Now let’s talk about one of these rose bushes. It grows and thrives and offers beauty and diversity to your garden. It provides nectar for bees and butterflies and they, in turn carry the rose’s pollen into the world allowing new, beautiful second and third generations of roses to grow. You provide your roses with food and water and appropriate shelter and
shade. You trim the roses as needed and they flourish. This one bush connects you to family and community as you bring cuttings to neighbors and family members. Over time, however, you begin to take the rose bush’s beauty for granted. You notice tiny flaws and you lose touch with its contribution to the local ecosystem. You water it intermittently. You provide food only occasionally. The bush remains alive, but its vibrancy has faded. It becomes a shell of what it once was.

One day you notice this and, while remembering what once was, you blame the soil, the weather, the neighbor’s dog. You blame changes in the neighborhood, pollution, pesticides, and new development. After all, you’ve provided it some food and water for the most part. Why can’t it grow as it once did? Repairing the damaged plant feels overwhelming. Where do you start? It may take years, generations, for the rose bush to be restored to its once great beauty.

Finally you decide on a completely different approach. Sure you’ll feed and water your rose from time to time, but you’ve decided to purchase a new rose bush, a potted one. This one will be kept in a greenhouse. This will eliminate its exposure to poor soil, the elements, and the neighbor’s dog. This rose bush will prosper.

And it does because you dutifully feed and water it. And this rose bush is beautiful. From time to time you look outside at your old rose bush and wish it could be better, like it once was, but you don’t know how to repair it, and the new one, after all, is right here and you do unwittingly enjoy its novelty. Maintaining something new feels easier than fixing that which is broken. This goes on for a while and is working out just fine. The new rose looks even more brilliant in comparison to the old bush outside.

However, there are problems. At first these are unseen. What you don’t see is that your new plant is isolated from nature and, therefore, is making no contribution to new generations. There is a lasting impact on the local ecosystem because pollinators have fewer options for nectar. The rose bush itself is suffering, though you can’t see it. What you don’t see is that, while this bush looks strong and vibrant, it is actually weak. Its stalk never has to toughen and thicken to keep it up in a stiff wind. Its leaves and petals have never known the feel of insect legs, seeking refuge from a sudden rain. It looks perfect, and yet, it is lacking. The rose bush outside is weather worn, and yet, it has survived.

You find, however, that most people can’t tell the difference and so you continue to purchase and grow your roses inside. You find that you are able to make a pretty good deal of money off these bushes, as they look flawless. The casual observer doesn’t recognize the weak stem or the lack of genetic diversity in your stock. It won’t matter anyway since the casual consumer is only interested in the plant short term. You’ll win flower shows and admiration from your peers because their roses, while beautiful, are grown outside and so their exposure to the elements has left them lacking in comparison to yours.

Many, many years pass and word begins to spread about the longterm impact of your plants. Consumers are upset that the once beautiful roses you sold them are not able to stand up to the outside conditions to which they are exposed. Sure these consumers are able to supplement their bushes with stakes and feed and extra care. And yet, that original bush, while haggard and worn and old, is still standing. You look at what’s left and tell yourself, “it doesn’t matter. What I did was beautiful and right and if people didn’t like, then they wouldn’t have bought my roses.” and you decide you’re more interested in vegetable gardening these days anyway, so you abandon your rose busy venture.

Your friends, your family, your neighbors are left to pick up the pieces. They realize now that you did not sell them rose bushes that could last for generations. Their bushes were unable to sustain transplanting. Overtime, the weaknesses of your greenhouse bushes were finally recognized.

Some people remember the past, however. There were members of the community, now old, who remembered how strong and beautiful your original rose bushes once were and they rallied people to come together to restore the past. They found that the best place to start was with that original rose bush, now barely standing. It hung sadly, petals wilted, leaves dying. They knew the process to restore this plant would be long and arduous. They knew they would have to rely on many different types of people: soil scientists, biologists, botanists, entomologists, and gardeners. They knew they would have to listen to the voices of the past and they would have to confront the choices they had made.

They learned amazing things. They came to realize that a rose bush is so much more than one can see with their naked eye. They came to realize that that original rose bush had evolved from years of change and struggle and it had been made stronger for it. They came to realize that that bush played such an integral role in the garden that all other plants and insects flourished because it was there. The people realized that that one bush had impact much greater than anyone could imagine.

It was a long and tedious process to restore that rose bush and throughout the people said, “Why did we let this fall into such disrepair? Who let this happen and why?” And there were many people to blame, but in the end, each person realized they played a role. They allowed for those greenhouse rose bushes to flourish. They purchased them themselves or sat back and said, “I’d never purchase one of those,” but did nothing to stop their spread. They hoped they were not too late, but it may have been that they were.

So this week, in honor of charter school-supporter Betsy DeVos confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education, I ask you to consider the impact of community schools. I ask you take in their crumbling facades and outdated color schemes and remember what’s happening inside those doors. I ask you to consider the fight this country had in order to ensure that everyone had equal access to a quality education. I’d ask you to consider those who are leftover when affluent parents cut and run and when schools are allowed to close or to fall into disrepair.

And then I’d urge you to get involved. I’d urge you to fight to keep your local schools open and thriving. I’d urge you to attend a board meeting, a parents group, or even a band concert. See with your own eyes the shoots that this school is sending into the community, into the future. I’d urge you to help fight to keep these opportunities available for all students, no matter their race or economic status. Let us not be a nation that follows the trend of the business insiders, but instead a nation that relishes in our history, learns from our past, and works together to forge a stronger, more equitable future for our children.

Sources to Consider:

A Sobering Look at What Betsy DeVos Did to Education in Michigan

What New Orleans Can Teach Betsy DeVos about Charter Schools

How the Systemic Segregation of Schools is Maintained by Individual Choices

Choice Without Equity:
 Charter School Segregation and the Need for Civil Rights Standards

White parents in North Carolina are using charter schools to secede from the education system

Charter Schools and the Risk of Increased Segregation


Hey Moms, Don’t Sweat It

dont-sweat-it-titleIt was one of those Facebook “timehop” photos that started this. It was a picture of my now-seven-year-old back when he was only two or three. He was looking cute, as two and three-year-olds do, big smile, squinty eyes and in the caption for the photo I had written “never mind that he needs a haircut.” Then current self, as if I reading the work of some stranger, took a second look at the picture. Now, since I raised the child and remember how his hair grew non-stop beginning at birth, I could tell he was probably due for a trim, but as a person, many years removed from my old self I thought, “why the heck did you write that?” And this wasn’t the only time, I know I’ve added “ignore the mess” to many photos and I’ve added, “ignore my laugh” to many videos. I’ve seen others do it too.Nolan to magician.jpg

In fact, I’ve seen the apologies manifest in a more “don’t judge me” sort of tenor as well. Here’s little Johnny eating a piece of pizza and Mom felt the need to add “for a special occasion only.” Sometimes the captions include apologies for messy houses, messy hair, mismatched outfits, dirty faces, junk food, etc – all kid things that we know, in our right mind, are normal and not indicators of how well we are doing as parents.

And yet.

And yet we apologize for them because we feel that the world (or at least our friends on social media) expect better from us. We expect that just because we once posted an article about “Why Your Kid Should Not Eat McDonalds” means we should never be spotted eating McDonalds. We’ve seen the blogs about screen time and so we’re embarrassed when that tablet shows up on the lap of our angel in an otherwise photogenic moment.

Listen, moms, here are some realizations I’ve come to since my life has spiraled out of control (i.e. since the birth of my second child), none of this matters!  And really what we’re talking about here is the management to two types of critics:

  1. That friend who points these things out either because they are trying to be funny or they really are just snarking on you and, in which case, just own it. “Wow, I didn’t know you let your kids eat at McDonalds” just answer with “yep!” or not at all. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself, your parenting, or your decisions to these people. Just own it because we all know that a messy house does not make you a bad parent. So own it, laugh at it, and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can and, sometimes, you just don’t have time to get to that stack of laundry and, sure, it might sit in the middle of the living room for a day or two.
  2. The second critic is much more difficult to silence. This is yourself and the judgments you think other people are making. When you add the caveat “ignore the messy hair” or “don’t mind that pile of laundry,” you are, in effect, telling all of us to notice. And who doesn’t have laundry? Who hasn’t had a day where they look at a child’s rat’s nest of overnight hair and decide to leave it because you weren’t planning on leaving the house anyway. We all do it. This critic, like a sniper, voices your insecurities with laser precision.

nolan-playingI am thrilled when I see pictures that show these moments because it reminds me that we’re all in the same boat and these pictures are real. I love messy backgrounds, laundry baskets, and dirty dishes because it helps remind me that I’m normal. This is the narrative we must force feed ourselves. We must stop posting pictures and then spending minutes analyzing what others might think. We are our own harshest critic and when we feed ourselves these imaginary judgments we are only fueling our own insecurities. The reality (that we really do know in our heart of hearts) is that parenting is hard, confusing, messy, and sometimes no fun at all and everyone has felt this way – whether they post on social media about it or not.

So Moms, I encourage you to stop apologizing. Own the fact that some days don’t look the way you imagined they would and that’s okay. We were all once young and energetic with sweeping statements and harsh opinions about the right and wrong way to raise our children. Now, however, we know that some days are about survival and few days look like a Pinterest post and that’s so very okay. Remind yourself that Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram feature only those moments that worked out, looked cute, and have been sharpened by a filter. They are fleeting and probably the reason that person posted it – a celebration of a moment when parenting was what we hoped it would be.

Finally, support one another. Share your stories of frustrations and failures. Don’t feel pressured to prove to Facebook that you know how to parent; we know you do, we’re your friends, and we’re rooting for you. And good friends will not only understand bad days, but will share their own as well. In fact, once a friend posted that she was feeling like the worst mom ever, so I wrote a Facebook post that said, “Let’s share moments of bad parenting to make her feel better” and the stories came out of the wood works and they were hilarious. In a few hours I had dozens of comments with stories ranging from, “that time I sent my kid to timeout and forgot about him for an hour,” to “that time I forgot to feed my daughter dinner,” to “that time I watched my son share his ice cream with the dog and I let it happen.” And I think I’ve decided that these are the real parenting moments. I think these are the things I will remember and laugh about when my kids are old and grown. I’m not sure I’ll remember that time we went to a function and everyone behaved perfectly and our outfits were coordinated. I imagine I’ll be much more apt to remember the time my son pulled down his pants in front of a room full of company and proceeded to do, as he called it “a wiener dance.” Sure my guests were horrified and imagined they were vowing to never let their own kids come over to play, but that’s probably not the case. And now, several years removed, that memory cracks me up and makes me want to hug my kid. We all have days with too much yelling, or too much screen time, or too much junk food. So let’s own this about parenting, share these moments too, and laugh about it because I worry that someday we’ll look back and wish we would have stopped trying so hard and, instead, would have just enjoyed it.