Be fused and mingle, Diverse yet single…

I understand deep emotions and heated conflict over politics and social issues. I have those deep feelings, myself, and I engage in discourse with passion. I guess I prefer such heated emotions to apathy, which is the response that brings out my inveterate anger. What I don’t understand is being mean to people over these conflicts—mostly because I just don’t get the use in being mean.

This morning there are two articles in The New York Times about communities being torn apart by suddenly being thrust upon the national stage. One is Burns, Oregon, the other Manitowoc City, Wisconsin. People who have been friends and neighbors for years in both small towns have stopped speaking to each other. Their deep political divisions are spilling into elementary school playgrounds.

I am not untouched by this. Where I live, a hotly debated school board recall became snippy and unkind online, pitting neighbors against each other. One man in our county called for the execution of all members of our local teachers’ association. Of course, how can this surprise anyone in a country where the governor of New Jersey said teachers who belong to their union deserve to be punched in the face?

While the violent threats did seem to be mostly anti-teacher, there were moments of online pettiness worthy only of cruel adolescents that came from the side I most identified with, and let me tell you, those made me cringe. I believe we had right on our side. We needed no more than to make our case—loudly, yes, but civilly, too. The only time I made any sort of personal outreach to one of the board members with whom I vehemently disagreed, it was to offer condolences on the illness of his father. Perhaps everyone should sit down and reread (or read for the first time) Countee Cullen’s “Any Human to Another.”

Over a decade before the recall, I saw how the judgments of outsiders, people who knew nothing of Columbine High School, poisoned our community. I saw kids who were as traumatized and bewildered as anyone suddenly feel unwelcome in a school that had always operated as a family, simply because they had been friends with two boys who had done something no less shocking to those who knew them than it was to those who didn’t. (If it is any comfort to Burns and Manitowoc City, time has done much to heal those wounds, though they have left scars, for sure.) I saw kids who thought (correctly, I believe) that their school was a great place to learn, suddenly wonder whether they had all been ruthless bullies without knowing it. (They were not.)

We can, will, must disagree. Conflict can often lead to the best outcomes, because any one side on any given issue is seldom 100 percent right. But we can love each other anyway in the meantime. We all need comfort when we grieve and watchful eyes on our children because we can’t be everywhere at once. Weddings and births are causes for joy, whether the parents of the newlyweds or babies will be voting for Trump or Sanders, whether they own guns or eschew them.

The beauty of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will endure decades (centuries, if we care for it) beyond the grudges of today’s strife. In time, I hope, we will learn what we can from Manitowoc City to further the cause of justice throughout our nation, and we will leave behind our judgments of the community and its people—people we don’t know and, ironically, cannot ourselves fairly judge.

For the second time this week, I come back to the quote attributed to Unitarian minister Francis David: We need not think alike to love alike.

Posted in Columbine, Education, Family, Life, the Universe, and Everything, Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

January 2016

Today I packed away Christmas, tucking away all the decorations and ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, with their memories, experiences, and anticipations. Away go the sadnesses and joys that belong to this season, alone. Has anyone else noticed that putting up Christmas decorations feels sometimes like pure joy, at other times a tiresome obligation, but putting them away is always a bit melancholy? At any rate, by January, I am ready to reclaim the house for the rest of the year.

My husband’s business of the last 18 years officially closed its doors on December 31. He still has a lot to do to sell off assets, close accounts, and clean out the building for the long board company buying it in March. He also will be moving on to another job, though we don’t yet know what that will be.

As I move closer to retirement from teaching, I am getting restless, frustrated with many aspects of the classroom these days. This has me looking at my post-teaching options (the most appealing of which still revolve around working with at-risk kids—it has never, ever been the kids that have contributed to my professional frustrations), and I feel torn between the commitments I have made and my own longing for something else.

There are also about two months to go to get to the one-year anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s been a complicated grieving process, and I’m kind of hoping that having made it through this year will allow me to pack some of that away, as well.

The next year and a half or so promise a lot of changes in the Reed family—none of them bad, some downright exciting, but I confess that it all has me feeling—yeah, that word I used before: restless. Maybe Monday will settle me a bit, back in the classroom and kids I love.

I hope that 2016 will be good to us all, though I know that it will be kind to some and cruel to others—really a mix of both for most, as every year is. Perhaps it is wiser to wish for us all courage, compassion, grace, and most of all—love.

Posted in Family, Life, the Universe, and Everything | 3 Comments

In the Bleak Midwinter

December—winter—a time when we are enveloped in darkness and, God willing, we huddle in warm homes where light spills from the windows onto the snow—is supposed to be a time for quiet contemplation and renewal of the spirit.

For years my December looked nothing like this. December was a time of taking final exams, and then giving and grading them. It was a time of Christmas concerts at my kids’ schools squeezed in between the grading. Then Christmas break came, and there were cookies to bake, and gifts to wrap (and let’s be honest, often still to buy). When I was a child, my mom stayed home, so gifts were wrapped and under the tree in plenty of time for a couple of weeks of anticipation—rattling and examining, maybe tearing a tiny, tiny corner to see if there was enough there to guess. But I work, and when I had children at home, December was frantic. I was doing pretty well to get gifts wrapped and under the tree in time for Christmas morning.

My last child left home two and a half years ago, though she often comes to visit. There are no more school concerts, and I find I miss them. My son’s first Christmas in Seattle, I worried something awful because it looked like he would be entirely alone Christmas day. (It turned out he found a friend in the same straits, so he was not alone.) This year he will be in Florida with his girlfriend and her family. I miss him but am so grateful that he will be with a family.

You would have thought that empty-nesting would bring more time, but the school board battle revved up the fall my daughter left for college, so the previous two Decembers meant all kinds of union stuff. It seemed life would never let up. And then this past fall, we won…

This year, I’m teaching ACE full time, so the kids had their plates full getting all their assignments done. I didn’t give a final, per se, and I’d already graded the assignments they were resubmitting at least once before, so the process was not as grueling. I didn’t bring work home the last week before vacation.

Gifts are wrapped and either sent or under the tree. My daughter and I baked yesterday, but there was no sense of rushing to squeeze it in.

One night last week, I had nothing that I simply had to do. The kitchen was clean, the house overall acceptable. I was in the mood to sing Christmas carols, but I had nothing to do while I sang. I mean, you can’t just sit in your house all alone (Tory was off doing something else) and sing. I have these compelling Protestant roots. One must be doing something productive at all times.

It says something about me, I suppose, that I had to work to give myself permission. Singing, I assured myself, is a verb. It is, as a part of speech, doing something. It is producing music. Granted, singing is something I usually do in conjunction with something else—cooking, cleaning, driving, etc.—but if I played an instrument, I would have to sit down and just make music. No one would think it odd that a violinist would sit by the Christmas tree and play carols.

So I gave myself permission to do what people did around the solstice in years past, before electricity and 24/7 productivity. I sat down in a living room lit only by the tiny white lights on my tree, pulled out my hymnal (yes, I own a hymnal), and sang songs I love but that seldom appear in sing-alongs: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “In the Bleak Midwinter,” that kind of thing. It was a form of prayer. And when I got tired of singing, I just thought about my parents, both gone, and my kids—random memories. Then I read a bit. It was lovely.

So, I know y’all are busy, and sometimes you just can’t pull off an hour or so of true midwinter contemplation amid the hustle and bustle of December, but if you can, I recommend it. It really is doing something productive.

Happy holidays.

Posted in Life, the Universe, and Everything | Leave a comment

Lamentations 5:5 (Look it up)

I keep telling myself that this blog will go back to being an author blog and stop being about school boards, but apparently not yet.

This one is for other school districts. Well, maybe it’s for us, too. A reminder that the battle isn’t over. In less than two years, we’re going to have to crank up the machine again.

See, the recall election was a whole lot of sweat and, in many ways, an absolute miracle. I honestly wonder whether, if Julie Williams hadn’t pulled the AP U.S. History gaff and galvanized our students, we could have pulled it off. Despite the media and the board majority’s insistence that we had used the kids as pawns, we could never have gotten the kids to walk out. That had to come from them, and it had to come from something they cared deeply about. It took the walkouts to finally get the media’s attention so the community could start looking into what was happening to our schools.

The next shills Americans for Prosperity sets up for school board seats won’t make that mistake; they won’t make it anywhere.

The only hope we have in this country to keep students, rather than corporate profits, as the main focus of public schools is to keep pro-public school school boards in every district. The only way to ensure that is community organization. The biggest organizations already in place to do that are educators’ unions. When kid-focused school boards are in place, it is all too easy to forget how vital organized educators are to the wellbeing of students.

Once you lose such a board, the importance of educators’ associations becomes stunningly apparent. Take my word for it. No, wait. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the many parent and community groups we worked with how important it is.

We can never lose our board again. We will never again pull off a recall like this. We should have been walking, knocking, and talking in 2013 like we did this past fall. A corporate reform board had taken over neighboring Douglas County. It was obvious what a disaster we were headed for, but we were complacent. I was complacent. I didn’t knock on doors either. We just didn’t believe anything could be as bad as what actually awaited us.

Now we know. Let Jeffco be a warning and an example. Americans for Prosperity and their ilk want nothing more than a waaaaay oversized slice of the $600 billion dollar pie that is American education, and they will not let mere trifles like the future of our country and the wellbeing of our children stand in their way. We have to stand in their way. Organized people beat money. That’s not a theory. Jeffco proved that it’s a fact.

The lift is a whole lot lighter if you’re proactive. Don’t wait until a board majority has begun dismantling your public schools and driving out your best educators to get involved. Be powerful. There is strength in numbers. Educators’ unions need to work with their members and their communities. Be prepared. Strategize, energize, and never, ever lose site of who you’re doing this for. They’ll be there in your classroom Monday morning.

 

 

Posted in Education | 2 Comments

The Day After the Big Win

As I walked down the hall at school today, I overheard two kids:

Girl:  That was a terrible thing to text!

Boy: I was just kidding!

Girl: I didn’t know that.  I couldn’t see your face!  It hurt my feelings so bad.

Boy: It was a joke!  I thought you’d know it was a joke!

Girl:  I didn’t.  It just hurt.  It really hurt.

Boy: I’m sorry.

Girl: Don’t do that again!

Boy: I won’t!  I won’t.

Girl (stepping closer): Jerk!

Boy (wrapping arms around her): I know.

Girl stands with cheek on his chest and boy grins.

And I’m thinking two things: A) That was actually a pretty mature conversation for two kids in their teens learning to navigate love—I-statements, acknowledgement of feelings, letting go of pain.  B) How long has it been since I wasn’t too distracted to appreciate the charm of kids growing up?

In a music practice room nextdoor to the ACE room (which shares a hallway with band), a boy is strumming a guitar for all he’s worth, and his friend is singing with a strong, beautiful voice, and a third boy is leaning against the wall listening to his friends with his eyes closed.  It’s clear that no one is judging or worrying about being judged, no one cares whether this is a macho thing for three teenaged boys to do.

I watched my ACE freshmen play games, just appreciating what I love about each kid: There’s the one who never talks to anyone at any other time, but he always takes a leadership role on game day, and he is so chill that even the most competitive, highly-strung kid in the class can’t get mad at him.  There’s the kid who’s half asleep during writing lessons, and then dives into the cooperative games we play full-tilt, and Mr. Negative “I’m-too-cool-for-anything” loses himself in the fun until he catches me grinning at him and he wipes the smile off his face.  Too cool.

Today, I was just a teacher.  I wasn’t an activist.  I wasn’t worried about the future of these kiddos and the ones who will come after.  I was just a teacher.

It was a great day.

Posted in Education, Life, the Universe, and Everything, Politics | Leave a comment

Win or Lose

Tomorrow, or maybe early Wednesday morning, we will know the fate of Jefferson County Public Schools and the children we serve.  I wanted to write this today, a public challenge to myself for which I can be held accountable, and to my fellow Jeffco citizens.

This election will put many of us who have cared passionately about the outcome into one category or the other.  We will be winners or losers, and no matter which side we took, we will most likely believe that 85,000 children won or lost with us. Emotions will run deep.

Win or lose, I hope that we will remember that we are not each other’s enemies.  No matter what signs your neighbors had in their yards, no matter what they said when you knocked on their doors, they are your neighbors.  Hard times will fall on all of us, and we will bring each other meals.  We will watch each other’s homes while families go on vacations.  We will report suspicious people snooping around each other’s houses.

Win or lose, we Jeffco teachers are each other’s colleagues.  Whether we work at neighborhood, charter, or option schools, we care about our kids.

I’m human.  I’ll stumble.  Win or lose, I will be as tempted as anyone to feel smug and superior or angry and bitter.  I know I will.  But I resolve not to fall.  I intend to stop and remember the inherent worth, dignity, and humanity of everyone around me, even those I believe were wrong, or selfish, or lazy.  I will reach for humility and forgiveness. At least, I promise to start trying really hard no later than Thursday.  I’ll stumble.  I’m human.

Win or lose, I will never forget the amazing people I have met in the course of this battle.  I don’t even want to try to name them all here, because I know I’ll accidentally leave out someone–there are just so many.  What a blessing!  There have been organizers and foot soldiers, the most incredible mass of loving warriors I could ever imagine.  Nothing can ever truly diminish my faith in my fellow human beings because I have met hundreds of our species’ finest.

Win or lose, I have gained a profound pride in being a union member.  This was such a peripheral aspect of my profession for the first 25 years of my career, but as I have served in a leadership role, working closely with other leaders at the state and district levels, I have gained such appreciation for what our organization does for kids. I will never again be misled by stereotypes.  I have been at countless closed-door meetings, heard what goes on at the highests levels, and now, no matter what tiny sound-bites get twisted by the media and teacher-bashers, I will know the context.  I will remember how every single major retreat or training began with all of us sharing why public schools matter to us–and it was never about compensation.  It was about kids and the future of our country every time.  I know how tirelessly our tiny staff has worked–hours far beyond their financial compensation.  One fought the battle literally up until he died. I will never forget when I lost a student to a heroin overdose and John Ford, president of JCEA, had just lost a former student to suicide, and we sat together and grieved in silence.  Win or lose, I will have this forever.

Win or lose, I will walk into school on Wednesday morning and be the teacher my students deserve.

Posted in Education, Life, the Universe, and Everything, Politics | 6 Comments

The Inside Scoop

I haven’t blogged in a while.  I was sick, first with the stomach flu, then a head cold, but more importantly, I’ve been pretty busy.  On an online discussion board, a fellow participant told readers not to be fooled by my “softer side of the teachers’ union” posts.  That got me thinking that you all might like to know what a union thug does from one day to the next.

On the average day, I arrive at school at about 6:50 a.m.  I check my email and answer, as needed.  This week, I replied to a couple of kids on suspension, chiding them about bad choices, assuring them that I still love them, and attaching work to do over the week.  I check my online planner, and make sure I have everything I need easily at hand.

Twice a week, I meet with fellow educators from 7-8 a.m., and we reevaluate how our kids are progressing, changing tracks to develop new approaches for concepts they’re struggling with or figuring how to accelerate if they’re ready to move on.  From 8-9:00 those days, I have a room full of kids making up work, getting help, or just using our computers for other classes because they don’t have resources at home.

My first class is Freshman ACE.  We’re reading Unwind, and we have deep discussions about life, the soul, the ways we treat people as disposable, the moral dilemmas literature puts before us, and the ways these help prepare us for life.  We write well-organized paragraphs and provide details and examples to support our ideas.  We play cooperative board games like Pandemic once a week to build communication skills and teamwork.  I coax little rebels and draw in reluctant learners.  I offer sympathy to kids with injuries. I stand witness as kids call parents and inform them of their overall progress at school.  I also praise kids who are passing all their classes.  Every Friday we talk about the tough issues they face—decisions about drugs and alcohol, the ways that friends and family provide us with love and challenges.

My next class is Junior ACE.  We read together, get misty-eyed together as characters we love die and hard lessons are learned.  We prepare ourselves for the work world, getting closer every day.  We play cooperative board games and talk about life issues here, too.  I adjust assignments for kids who are terrified to speak in public, making them step outside their comfort zones a little at a time until they find it’s not so bad.  I connect kids I teach now with kids I taught over a decade ago to shine a little light on the path ahead.

I finish up with a credit recovery class, simultaneously juggling 3 5-paragraph essay assignments and social studies classes on modern-day media and 1960’s history.  Here, too, we try to eke out time to grapple with issues like conflict-resolution and how to navigate grown-up life.

Mid-day, I grab a half-hour or so with colleagues to eat lunch, laugh at the day’s events, talk current affairs, TV shows, and literature.  (Yes, all of those in half an hour.)

My planning periods are spent grading online work for credit-recovery, sending emails to kids or writing comments so they know how to proceed to the next level in their course of study. I need to turn those around fast so the kids get feedback in a timely fashion and can move forward.  I grade freshman and junior papers.  I use the results of those papers to tweak the next day’s lessons so that I help them with concepts they’re missing.

And yes, once each planning period I take a walk around the outside of the building, closing doors that are supposed to be locked, chatting with kids on their way to their cars, and getting a little fresh air and sunshine to sustain me through the grading.

At the end of the day, I may attend a department leader meeting where we talk about the big-picture of how kids are doing at Columbine and how we can improve this.  I might go to a 504 meeting with a kid and his family to figure out what’s working and what’s not for that child.

When I come home, I often let the dogs out before I head to a union meeting of some kind.  Ssssshhhhhh…this stuff’s super-secret:  We talk about how what’s going on in the district is affecting kids.  We worry.  A lot.  We worry that our best teachers are leaving.  We worry that our kids are getting lost in the political agendas of our board and the big-money organizations playing with our kids’ futures.  We talk about the ways evaluations vastly differ from school to school, or even from administrator to administrator within schools, and how this affects morale and instruction.  We plan thuggery, like knocking on doors as members of our own communities to talk to our own neighbors about the thing that matters most to us—our schools and the kids who attend them.

For a while, deeply uneasy, we worried about a strike.  Now, we pray for a school board in November that cares about kids the way we do, and we pray for good relationships between teachers and district leaders.  We spend very little time talking about personal gain and politics.  (It can be best to avoid politics, as members of the union tend to be rather diverse in their political views.)

I know that’s not what many people believe we do.  All I can say is, I’m there.  Those people aren’t.  I know what gets said.  They don’t.

Or I might go to a church meeting.

Sometimes…very rarely…I breathe.  I watch a TV show I missed—Law and Order SVU, The Walking Dead, Supernatural.  I might crochet, or catch up Facebook, or write something for my blog, my church, my students.  I read books, looking for the next great way to hook kids on reading.

On Tuesday nights, I play trivia with friends at a local watering hole.  On Fridays, I try to grab a bite with my husband, who’s been working long hours running his small business and printing Jeffco United signs.

On Saturdays, I walk neighborhoods in my community and talk to folks about schools.  On Sundays, I go to church and sing hymns, pray, and listen to generally great sermons (thanks, Wendy and Eric!).

This is the life of a union thug.  This is the life of a teacher.

Posted in Education | Leave a comment

If Not Us, Who?

I have discovered in the midst of our school board crisis that, when political predators invade your community, you cannot be neutral, as much as you might wish you could.  Turning away from something like the three members of our board bent on dismantling public schools is like turning away from a crime because the thief’s not directly mugging you.  Maybe he’s not even mugging your kid, right now, but if you have a child, and you do nothing to stop the wrongdoer, what will happen tomorrow evening?

Maybe you and your kids can avoid walking home at night.  You drive or stay in after the sun goes down, but what is becoming of your neighborhood, your home, your children’s home?

So you join the neighborhood watch and put a sign in your window.  Don’t get me wrong, recall signs and signs with our five pro-public schools candidates are a start, but a neighborhood watch sign doesn’t mean much once the thieves figure out that everyone’s watching, but no one is going to step outside his or her comfort zone to actually stop them.

You can talk to your friends and neighbors.  That’s a start.  But again, if all it amounts to is a handful of people tut-tutting about the state of affairs, how does that make anyone safer?  It is true that every drop of water fills an ocean, but we don’t have enough time to fill this ocean one drop at a time.

Sooner or later, you must take to the streets or surrender your neighborhood.  At some point, everyone has to stop looking around, hoping someone else will do all the work that must be done.  A handful is not enough; like it or not, part of the weight is each of ours, and if too many refuse to lift their load, we will all be crushed, our kids with us.

If you have been telling yourself that there is nothing you can do, or that you’ve put out your sign or talked to your friends, and that’s all you have to give, please consider where that leaves you and everyone you know.  Refusing to act is an act in itself.

I have knocked on doors.  There are so many people out there who still don’t really understand what’s happening.  They know there’s some controversy (something they wouldn’t have known if there hadn’t been people knocking on doors for over a year now), but they don’t really understand what it is.  I talked to some of them just last Saturday.  If a friend were going to tell them, they would have done it by now.  If signs alone were enough, they wouldn’t be so grateful for the information my walking partner and I gave them (and they are grateful, we heard so many thank yous).

It’s going to take an army.  It’s going to take you.  Don’t worry.  You get a partner, and if you’d like, we can probably find you an experienced partner.  You get a script and literature.  The time flies.  You put steps on your Fitbit…

And you secure the future for your children and their children.

Click here and sign up.  If you walk, we will win.

Posted in Education | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Jon Taffer and Education Reform

My husband occasionally watches Jon Taffer’s Bar Rescue on Spike TV.  It’s kind of sucked me in, too, but I often find myself watching the show and thinking about education reform.  Yes, I think about school pretty much all the time.

The premise of the show is simple: Someone has a bar that once did well and is now hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars in debt because it’s failing.  Jon Taffer, a professional in “bar science,” comes in and turns the place around.  He runs several successful bars himself, so he’s not an outsider to the industry, and he is invited in by the bar owners.  He doesn’t just show up.

Now, at the beginning of the show, he pretty much always gets into a screaming and swearing match with someone at whatever bar he’s rescuing.  It’s obviously part of the formula.  He always announces that if the owner doesn’t straighten up, he’s not going to rescue the bar.  Most of the time, it’s a gimmick, but occasionally they just refuse to cooperate, and he does walk out and let them flounder in their own mess.

It’s after the gimmicks are done that I think about what he does and doesn’t do to rescue these bars.  (And those who cooperate improve their business anywhere from 30-100 percent.)  I’ve never once seen him look around and say, “You know what would improve this bar?  More competition.  I’m going to build another bar in the neighborhood, and that will motivate you to do better.”  There is already competition.  Patrons already have other bars to choose from, or they can cook a meal and have a cocktail, beer, or glass of wine at home.

Schools are like that.  Colorado has open enrollment, and Jeffco has charters, options, and neighborhood schools.  Also, people can home school.  All of these choices exist right now.

I have never seen him look at a bar—even one that was over a million dollars in the hole—and say, “Let’s shut this place down and bring in a corporate franchise.”

Each bar has its own clientele.  Each exists in its own neighborhood.  Some are in swanky districts in places like New York City, others in blue-collar neighborhoods in cities like Detroit.  Some are positioned off highways and function as stopping places for travelers.  One size of reform doesn’t fit all.  He knows that the kinds of menus, drinks and décor must be dictated by the market each bar is in, and he adjusts all of these accordingly.

“One size fits all” reform is no more viable in schools than it is in bars.  What Jefferson needs to improve is not the same as what Columbine needs to improve, though both schools have challenges.  We serve different communities.

Some bars have terribly ineffective cooks or bartenders or wait staff.  Some have ineffective employees in every area.  I have never seen Jon Taffer come in and say, “All right, we’re going to have a new evaluation system.  If you can prepare two drinks at once, measuring accurately, and without spilling, you will be ‘highly effective’ and receive a 1.3 percent raise. If you can prepare one drink at a time, measuring accurately, and without spilling, you will be ‘effective’ and receive a .75 percent raise.  If you spill or measure inaccurately, you will be ‘partially effective’ and get no raise.”  I’ve never seen him do anything remotely like this.

He brings in people who actually do these jobs—amazing bartenders who can whip up two drinks at once, accurately and without spilling, all while chatting up customers and having a great time—and he has these bartenders train the existing bartenders at the place he’s rescuing.  The trainers are demanding, insisting upon top performance from the people they’re training, sharp with criticism and lavish with praise.  The vast majority of each bar’s existing employees rise to the occasion and end up beaming with pride at their newfound competence.  Every now and then, someone doesn’t make the grade, and they get fired, but every effort is made to get them where they need to be before anyone gives up on them.  If the cook is the problem, Taffer brings in the best chefs in whatever cuisine is appropriate for the market of that particular bar, from wings to burgers to gourmet.  A burger isn’t seen as a step down, like no one should ever cook or serve a burger.  It’s more like, “If you’re going to make a burger, make it a damned good burger.”

What if we did that?  What if, instead of punishments and rewards, we brought in teachers who get phenomenal results from kids in various types of neighborhoods to train teachers in the best practices for the kids they’re teaching?  What if we assumed everyone could be highly effective, and we treated them that way?

Now, I think we can assume the good wait staff will get better tips, but they’re not necessarily competing for them, and tips aren’t the main objective.  I’ve never seen Taffer set up a competition where waitresses and waiters try to outdo each other for tips.  He builds a sense of teamwork—if the whole bar runs well and the food is terrific, more people will come and everyone gets raises and makes better tips.  Also, everyone takes pride in the success of the business.  Their contributions are valuable, and they feel valued, so they work hard.

What a concept.  Maybe education reformers should watch a little of Jon Taffer’s magic.

Posted in Education, Life, the Universe, and Everything | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Election 2015

I was asked by John Ford to give the closing speech at the all-member meeting of JCEA last Friday.  I spoke on the heels of other compelling speakers who had pointed out the absolutely vital importance of getting a pro-public school board elected this November. We absolutely, positively must get at least 3 of the five seats up for election.  Five of five would be better.  Failure in this endeavor would be catastrophic for the kids in Jeffco. John asked me to tell my story, explain why, with only three years left to retire with very good benefits, I have devoted hundreds of hours to this cause.  This is what I said:

I wasn’t planning to be a teacher.  I was going to be an actress.  I started acting in community theater when I was nine, and I didn’t stop—community theater, school plays, dramatic interpretation in forensics.  I knew what I wanted.  Until my freshman year in college.  I decided to get my teaching license as a backup career, but what was supposed to be a simple college student observation led to a teacher’s challenge to write and deliver a lesson plan, complete with student assessment (we just called it a “paper,” back in the day).  The day I stood in front of that classroom, barely out of high school myself, my soul caught fire, and nothing—not even the murders of kids I loved by a kid I loved—has ever been able to extinguish that flame.

I am a teacher for the same reason I am human.  I was born to it.  I cannot be anything else.

I’ve been told I’m pretty good at it, but I didn’t get that way on my own.  I was mentored, challenged, pushed to excel by my consummately professional colleagues at Columbine.  They took a 23-year-old idealist who wanted most in all the world to be the kind of teacher who changed kids’ lives…and they made her one.

That’s why I’m a member of JCEA, because I challenge anyone out there to find an association of people more dedicated to kids, to the future, to inextinguishable optimism than the teachers of Jefferson County Public Schools.

My story is not unique here.  I know for a fact that I am not the only one who walks into my classroom every day because that is where I am called to be.  I am not the only one here who cannot imagine not teaching anymore than I can imagine not breathing.  No, I am not alone in this arena—not by a long shot.

And I know that I am not alone in feeling that somehow three people have entered my classroom uninvited, into the lives of my kids, and sucked some of the air out of the room.  You know the feeling.  Agreeing to years of sacrifice to protect our kids from budget cuts, only to be told that promises made to us so we could teach our kids and provide for our families didn’t matter (gasp).  Being told that, despite the achievements of Jeffco schools, our evaluation system needed an overhaul because our current one didn’t do enough to make us look like failures (gasp).  Watching profiteers circle our kids, looking to skim off community resources intended to educate our children and put them into the pockets of men far across the country who already have more than they can spend (gasp).

I’m not the only one here who has, at times, felt suffocated.  I’m a teacher, not a warrior, not a crusader.

But wait.  Thirty years ago, I didn’t know I was a teacher.  I had to be thrust into the front of a classroom to discover that.

All of us–you, me, Polly Positive who just didn’t want to believe that our schools were under attack, Negative Ned who keeps insisting there’s nothing we can do about it now—all of us have been thrust onto a battlefield.  And you know what I’ve discovered? I am a warrior!  You mess with my kids, and I am a warrior!  You try to highjack public schools, the cornerstone of my democracy, and I am a crusader!

See folks, it’s not just us.  The people attacking Jeffco aren’t just attacking Jeffco.  They’re launching offensives nationwide.  There’s a reason our story is being told by The New York Times.  There’s a reason that the Vermont Teacher’s Association, just now beginning to smell the smoke of the battlefield drifting in their direction, called upon JCEA to send a couple of its leaders out there to help them marshal their troops for the fight ahead.  We have been called to be the ones who stand up and say ENOUGH!  NOT OUR KIDS!  NOT OUR SCHOOLS!

Look, the truth is, no one wants to be called to something like this.  We signed up to teach children with front teeth missing how to read.  We wanted to get kids to see that doing cool stuff in chemistry could lead to careers developing cleaner fuel.  We wanted to help kids express themselves through art, music, letters, and numbers.

But honestly, when we signed up for that, what did we really want to do?  Change the world.  Leave it better than we found it.  To do that, we are called to this fight.  We cannot not answer.

So how are you going to answer the call?  I have been writing my blog and posting on Facebook.  I’ve been facilitating house parties.  My yard is full of signs.  This fall, I am walking every single Saturday, because by God, I am not going to give up my kids, my school, my community, my country to profiteers.  You’d better believe I’m a freaking crusader!

But I can no more do that alone than I could become the teacher I am today without my colleagues.  I need you.  Your kids need you.  Their kids need you.

I’d like to close by quoting Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world… as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Together, we can stop the advance of corporate profiteers upon the kids in our community and our nation.  We can be the light that shines.  We can liberate others from their fear.  What will you do with your power, your light?  Failure is not an option.  We, the teachers of Jefferson County, must join with our community and win this war.  Will you knock on doors?  Will you phone bank?  Will you hold house parties?  I’m not asking whether you will do any of these things.  You are called. I am only asking which of these things.  And by the way, “all of the above” is an option.

Posted in Education, Life, the Universe, and Everything, Politics | 2 Comments