Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The Fight Against DeVos is Not Over School Choice

I've seen a lot of tweets and Facebook posts today saying that the left is opposed to DeVos because of her position on school choice, and that those fighting her are really fighting the rights for families who want choice. I've seen anti-teacher union posts that accuse the teachers unions of creating this controversy to make it harder for the school choice movement.

This is not the case. This is not why educators are out protesting her.

If DeVos was a knowledgeable, experienced educator who understood the delicate ins and outs of the education system but was a strong supporter of school choice things would be different. The teachers unions may still oppose her, the left may still oppose her, but there would not be such a strong outcry from your average teachers.

When she was first announced as the president's pick, many of us were weary about her politics, but we weren't protesting. If she had come to her hearing with strong arguments with why school choice and states rights were important, then we would be having a different conversation right now.

She didn't. Instead, she showed a complete lack of understanding of public schools and IDEA. Her attempt at saying that allowing guns on campus should be decided by the states was laughable. Really, really laughable. (If you are pro-states rights then at least be prepared to defend it before your hearing so you aren't saying crazy things about grizzlies and guns. Have better examples.)

We are not protesting her politics, we are protesting her qualification for the job. She is not an educator, not has she shown any attempt at trying to understand the system. She hasn't made any case for how she can make our system stronger, choice or not.

She could have shown up and made a strong case over why school choice would be better for IDEA. I've heard that argument. She could have talked about how charter schools show a stronger understanding of growth vs proficiency. I've heard that argument. I might not agree, but I would respect that argument.

DeVos didn't make those arguments. She didn't fight for school choice. She didn't prove her extensive knowledge of the education system and how she could take the current system and change it for the better under school choice.

She barely showed up. I've read that's because she's too nice, or because she's from the midwest.

I'm a nice person, I have trouble speaking in public. Confirmation hearings would be most worst nightmare. But I'd prepare. I'd get people to teach me what I  needed to know. I'd know my arguments. I would practice in front of a mirror. It's not about being nice. It's about being qualified and prepared.

This opposition is not over school choice. It's over having a credible leader. It's over respecting the education of the children in this country and investing in our future. It's acknowledging how important education is to our country.

Her confirmation hearing should have been an embarrassment to the school choice movement. Don't those of you who support school choice want someone who understands schools?


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Oh, Curious G. I love you, but it's time to start listening.

Dear Man In The Yellow Hat,

You have a lovely, curious monkey we all love very much. And curiosity is a very good thing to have. But I must say, after years of reading your books, I have some concerns.

We'll ignore the horrors that take place in the first book when you poached him out of his natural habitat and brought him home (the book was written in a different time, so I suppose I'll give you a pass for that...)

But now, after you've lived with George for a long time, you may want to consider changing your parenting behavior.

Whenever you go to a new place with George, you immediately walk away to get something and say "Be good George." The rest of us know exactly what is going to happen next. Spoiler alert: George wants to be good, but he is too curious.

The minute you leave he quickly sneaks off and gets into some sort of trouble that impacts a significant number of people in your community. We know he doesn't mean any harm, but perhaps you might want to think about not letting him out of your sight. He could come with you to get the movie tickets. He could even help you count out the money. Now he's not getting into trouble, and you are having a meaningful learning experience!

Parenting classes might be beneficial at this point. George will never change his behavior and follow your directions unless you change yours. And sir, losing him once is OK. We've all been there. Twice? OK, it's hard to keep up with a monkey. But in every single book? You have a problem that you have the power to change.

In fact, in Curious George and the Fire Fighters, he even wanders off on a school trip, switches up all the fire fighter gear, and slows down the fire truck from getting to a real fire. But in the end it is all OK because he's cute. I fear he learned this pattern of behavior (don't listen, sneak away, do whatever you want, then be cute and all is forgiven) at home.

We love your monkey, we really do. But he's influencing our little monkeys. Toddler-hood is hard enough for us parents without George as a role model for our already anti-authority tykes. Let's unite in this crazy war called parenting. Let's join forces. You set some expectations for your monkey to listen, and I'll do the same for mine.

Thank you,

A Parent (AKA the mother of "Don't call me H! I am Curious George! Call me GEORGE!!  CALL ME GEORGE!!!!" )



Thursday, January 26, 2017

Powerless

Yesterday, a mother shyly asked me what I thought of the new president. While I usually try not to share my political thoughts with parents, this time I shook my head. "I can't even talk about it," I said. "This all upsets me too much."

That was enough of an opening for her. She started to tell me about her reaction to all the changes, her thoughts and fears. How she couldn't believe the violent protests on inauguration day were happening here in America, but how she also could not believe what the new president was doing. "Why did people vote for him?" she asked.

While here legally, she feared somehow this status could change overnight without her knowing, and while her children were in school she'd be sent back to her unstable country. Her children would get off the bus to find no one home.

I wanted to say "of course that won't happen. Your children are safe. You are safe" But I couldn't. I don't know. I don't know what is a rational fear, and what is a momma-bear fear right now. I could only listen, and try to understand what it is like to turn on the television in fear you'll hear the new president signed an executive order kicking you out of where you've built your home.

She asked why. Why would we want to kick out people who are here working? Good people with families. People who are a part of the community. People who pay taxes and follow the rules. Bad people, yes, she said, please send them back. But why the rest of us?

She shared how bad things are in her country, and why people from countries like hers want to come here. Why they need to come here. What about the kids? she asked. What will happen to them? They are Americans. They were raised here. What do I do? she asked. What can we do?

As we talked, her five year old played on the floor with toys, pretending not to be listening. I can't imagine his thoughts in all of this, as the grown ups around him talk in hushed tones, fearing our president.

I had no words to share with her that would make it better. I cannot imagine living in fear of the unknown of what could happen next. Parenting is hard enough as it is, without wondering if today is the day your family will be sent back to a place where you cannot guarantee their safety. I cannot fathom the feeling of powerlessness and hopelessness these families must fear.

Politically, things seem to be happening so fast. I couldn't tell her she would be fine because I don't have the answers. I don't think I fully understand what is going on. Do any of us? Does anyone know the grand plan for immigration reform? Is there even a big picture plan?

I came home that night with a heavy heart, feeling powerless and unable to protect all of the families I've worked with over the years. I've met some incredible people who have risked so much to come to America. People who gave up professional jobs in their countries for a better future for their children. People with real skills and dreams who did not have a safe future in their own countries. These are the people we want in our communities. It has been an honor to teach their children and be a part of helping them achieve the American Dream.

A student's work from 14 years ago. "We came because of American Dreams"
After my own children were tucked safely in bed, I caught up on the news and saw the new plans for limiting refugees from many countries - Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Yemen. I've taught children from almost all of these countries. Children who I promise are going to do great things for our country. We are lucky to have many of these families here. I want my own children to grow up with these playmates.

I don't understand what is happening, but I fear these families are being used as pawns in a political game of power. A game that has somehow forgotten that immigrants and refugees are real people. These are our neighbors, our friends. They are our future doctors, teachers, and lawyers. We're stronger together.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I gave up on finding age appropriate guided reading books - so I'm making my own

I've struggled for years with finding age appropriate guided reading books. Students in the intellectual disabilities program may be in the fifth grade and reading at a Developmental Reading Assessment (DRA) level 3, but making steady progress. Sadly, most of the time the only books to hand to them are filled with cute cartoon animals or pictures of younger children. Nothing is motivating about reading a book designed for a five year old when you are ten.

And yet, I've found that using guided reading with kids with intellectual disabilities is motivating and effective (when you have the right books).

So, after years of frustration I started writing my own. This fall I started writing ones for one of my private clients. These books followed the directions on Lego instructions, as after he was finished reading the book, he'd also built something from one of the classic Lego kits. Since Lego kits can be expensive, I've moved on to writing DRA level A-C books about Origami.

I'm testing out the Teachers Pay Teachers site and I've put up one of my Origami books for free. I'd love your feedback on it, and if you try it, let me know whether or not it is effective with your students!

Since they take me a fair bit of time to make each one, I'd love to see them used by lots of students. They will also be good for upper elementary students who are learning to read in English and are reading on a lower level than their peers.

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thank you, Betsy DeVos

I'd started to feel afloat and apathetic about education policy and politics. I've wondered if public schools are where I belong, and have even wondered if maybe I haven't been fair to charter schools, that maybe I should step back and understand them more. I spent two years doing special education eligibility paperwork and making sure every i was dotted, every t was crossed, and that legally we don't leave any loop holes in our paperwork for lawyers to come back at us. Most recently I've gotten busy with private clients and my own family, and forgot about my passion. I'd lost my passion.

In college, defending public education is where I found my voice. Although I am usually quiet and reserved, I provoked many debates over public education among my conservative peers. Once I got started on my soap box I couldn't stop. Think you are going to be important to society as a lawyer in NYC? Think again. Some of my friends became teachers even though that wasn't their original plan, and I'd like to think that my constant, ridiculously passionate talk about how important teaching is had something to do with that. 

But recently? Recently I've been elsewhere. It's all felt too hard. Too much to fight. Everyone seems against us, and after awhile you start to think, well, maybe they are right. Maybe the schools are terrible and everything we are going is wrong, and we should just get out of the way and let the charters take over... depression thoughts, really.

So thank you, Betsy DeVos. My anger and outrage towards you has helped me find my passion again. You reminded me of just how much I desperately believe in the importance of public schools, and how essential IDEA is to our students. How our federal programs exist not to punish us as teachers, but to ensure that we serve the needs of all students, despite their economic, cultural, linguistic, or special education background. Public schools are far from perfect, but oh, how important it is that they exist and that we do not stop fighting to make them better. ALL of them, not just the charters.

Because if you don't even take public schools seriously enough to have someone give you an Education 101 crash course on all things public education (like federal mandates, IDEA, and growth vs proficiency) then what are you going to do once you actually have the job? 

If you came to the hearings with passion I might have defended you, even if I disagreed with you. If you had facts and figures on why IDEA should be a states issue, I would at least respect you, although I would strongly disagree. But you didn't even bother to learn what it was.

I'm heartsick, and yet, energized. It feels good to be angry again. Let's go.
A student once drew this of me. It really summarizes my thoughts of someone else right now.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Stress and the lack of it

*I wrote this in December and never hit publish, so I'm hitting the publish button now.*

"So, how's it going with your new business?" 

I've been on my own with my private special education business for about 5 months now. I can't put into words how much I love it. I work with absolutely amazing kids and their incredible, dedicated families. 

I'm probably putting in longer hours than I did last year (and making less money), but I love every moment of it. Even when it's not going well, when I'm stressed, have a sick kid, a lesson didn't go as planned, or I'm having trouble figuring out where to go next with a student, I still find myself in an overall happy place. These challenges are good challenges.

What's surprised me the most is struggling with the guilt of being happy. I've been teaching in Title One schools for a long time, where every single moment you are in the building is valuable. I can't remember the last time I took a legit lunch break at work, especially since I became a mom and had to leave right at the end of the day. In a school building, every open second needs to be about the kids. If you find yourself with extra time on your hands (time that lets you actually plan for a class, check in with a colleague, or answer some emails) you've felt like you've done something wrong. Stress is a way of life. It's been that way at every Title 1 school I've worked in.

On the surface this can be a good thing. It shows the dedication of the teachers. We desperately want these kids to learn and succeed. We know they can learn to read, we just need to push ourselves to get them there. So we do. Every day. 

I was surprised this fall to be so uncomfortable away from the stress. I'm still working hard for my clients. I'm constantly thinking about them, looking for ways to improve my practice and get new ideas. I'm reading and listening to professional books, and doing deep thinking about practices. In fact, I'm probably doing more thinking about being creative than I have in the last few years. It's funny where a lack of emergency stress leaves you.

But I find myself wracked with guilt that I'm not feeling this crazy emergency stress every moment of the day. I feel like I'm missing something. As though I've showed up to school naked. 

Today is the last day of school before winter break in my district, and every teacher I know is filled with jubilee. I know they've had a hard December. Schools are crazy this time of year. I'm still working over the holidays, so I don't have that same since of ending, but I don't need it. I don't feel like I just ran a marathon and I need to take a break to recharge. I am recharged. I've been recharged all fall.

It's hard to even write this, because I'm worried someone will read it and say "HEY! That's not allowed!  You aren't allowed to be in the teaching profession and not be stressed. We're taking away your teaching certificate, or we're going to give you 100 more things to do."

What are we doing to teachers? Why have we created these extremely stressful environments and written them off as normal, and a part of the profession? Did we do it to ourselves from our dedication to the children? Did being stressed and over worked become a competition?

Finding the Girls

A few months ago I wrote a post about looking for the girls in children's literature. It was surprisingly hard to find a book for preschoolers with a girl as the main character. Since then a few more girls have popped up in the children's books I've been reading, and I wanted to share.

I recently received a box of books from Scholastic as payment for some work I did for them. (Best payment EVER!) The box introduced me to Zoe, an imaginative young girl who sees the simple moments in daily life as real-life adventures. She struggles with the same life challenges my girls do - the overwhelming decisions every morning of choosing what to wear based on what kind of adventures you want for that day, and how to best use the last five minutes of playground time. In fact, while I previously thought of myself as Fancy Nancy's mother, I now think I may have more in common with Zoe's mother. ("Zoe, you have five minutes"...Argue, argue, argue... "Four minutes." Yes, that's pretty  much my life.)

My girls recently received Ada Twist, Scientist for a Christmas present, and it is awesome in so many ways. I think my two year old may have found a new hero other than Curious George.

My newsletter this month is an old favorite, Katy and the Big Snow. You have to love the fact that it was written back in 1974, but Katy is the strongest tractor around - and a girl.