Dear Betsy DeVos, I am a Michigan public school teacher and I think you’ve forgotten.

shutterstock_27866770Dear Betsy DeVos,

I am a Michigan public school teacher. In case you’ve forgotten your home state, the state in which your name is plastered all over one of our major cities (I can drive an hour north and seriously see your last name every where), the state in which you yourself were educated and educated your kids, and a state in which the current education situation is not too hot.

I’m pretty sure you’ve forgotten. 

The fact that you have been unable to answer questions about the current state of education and charter schools vs. public schools in Michigan on multiple occasions, is beyond embarrassing, and makes me even more upset that you are our major education decision maker for the nation.

Also, I’m pretty sure you’ve forgotten what teachers do, the role of public schools, and the importance of school funding. Maybe in fact you have forgotten the importance of education as a whole. After all how can you even know when you “have not intentionally visited schools that are under performing.”

You see last year when you were nominated and confirmed I was upset, and now I’m angry and sad.

You’re school of choice initiative is not the answer to our education crisis in America. Moving money away from public schools and making them sound like the undesirable option, and in turn undermining teachers’ ability to effectively educate their students is not the answer.

Since you never attended a public school, never sent your own children to a public school, never worked in a public school, sat on a public school school board, or virtually have had anything to do with the public school system in your entire life other than promote alternative options to public schools….I don’t understand how you have any valid opinion on our education system.

The fact that I, as a third year teacher who was proudly publicly educated K-12, attended a public four year university, and has taught at both a (failing) charter school, and now a public school (all in Michigan), am more educated on the topic of education in our nation than you, as the Secretary of Education, is extremely unfortunate and sickening.

You sit on your thrown of uneducated research, facts, and lies while pushing an agenda for “parent choice” as the solution for our education crisis.

So in case you’ve forgotten, Betsy.

Public school teachers matter. Public education matters. Public education is what has gotten us here. Just because we have hit some road blocks doesn’t mean that public education isn’t the answer any more. This most definitely doesn’t mean that charter schools and school of choice is the answer. America is falling behind due to poor educational leadership, focus and funding.

Like I’ve said Betsy, I think you’ve forgotten.

I think you’ve forgotten what your job is.

I think you’ve forgotten what your focus is.

I think you’ve forgotten the actual true importance of education. 

So I ask you Betsy, before you voice your uneducated opinion on the state of education in our nation…

  1. Research and know you own state and the effectiveness (or lack there of) of charter schools and the current status of public schools, because your lack of knowledge is embarrassing.
  2. Visit an under performing school.
  3. Talk to public school teachers.
  4. And most of all, research education. (My students could have answered most of those interview questions better.)

 

Because, Betsy, you’ve forgotten.

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“There is a place in America to take a stand: it is public education. It is the underpinning of our cultural and political system. It is the great common ground. Public education after all is the engine that moves us as a society toward a common destiny… It is in public education that the American dream begins to take shape.”
Tom Brokaw

 

 

 

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safe havens.

“When I personally go to school everyday I feel very safe, considering it my safe haven from the scary world. Because I know that these adults and teachers will do everything in their power to keep us as students safe, I feel protected. The fact that these school shootings are happening are taking that safe haven away from millions of students around the world is heartbreaking. That security should not be able to be taken away from the children that are making a effort to have an education.”, 11th grade student.

The above was written by one of my students on her current event assignment this past week. When I told her how powerful her words were and that she made me tear up, her response was “I felt you, and all teachers needed to know that. School is my safe haven.” She is spot on.

This is not a political post, though this issue as a whole is political, and as a Social Studies teacher it is hard not to pull politics into it. I hate the politics. 

The past week I have struggled with processing yet another school shooting that has happened in our nation. This is the first mass school shooting that has happened since I started teaching, and it has hit me particularly harder than all the others that I processed as a student. I couldn’t even read our school’s statement about the school shooting in Florida to my first hour class without crying. I had practiced reading it over and over again to myself, but once I was standing in front of a room full of teenagers that I love like I would my own children, the tears took over. We processed it together and cried together.

Since last Wednesday, the questions have been racing through my head…. How would I handle an active shooter situation? Could I hide a full classroom of teenagers safely? Could I protect them?

….and then my student wrote about how school was her safe haven and that she knows that she is protected.

Politics aside, gun rights, gun safety and mental health, all of those debates aside, our job as educators is to create a safe haven for our students. To create environments in which students feel welcomed, protected and loved.

We learn about fostering the perfect learning environment in our teaching training, but in reality that perfect classroom environment goes beyond just learning. It’s also creating a safe haven for our kids.

Our kids needs need to be able to trust us on good days, on days we challenge them, on the days when they just need someone to listen, and on the terribly scary days we hope never happen.

As teachers our best interests need to stay focused on our students, all of them. We might all have different opinions on how to solve the crisis facing our nation, but we cannot forget about the kids. The kids are the reason we are in our classrooms. As teachers our job is to give each of our students the education they deserve, and make sure they know that school is always a safe haven for them.

It’s always about the kids.

With love and as I continue to process this tragedy,

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Dear students, I’m in it for you.

Uncle_Sam_(pointing_finger)Last year around this time I wrote a blog post dedicated to my students on how I’m always pulling for them. Pulling for their successes and happiness in life, their education and their relationships. Half way through my third year of teaching, it is no different, but it becomes more clearer to me that I am in it for them. 

Dear students,

I’m in it for you. Days that I feel defeated and think too much about the politics of teaching, and am overall exhausted, I pause and remember I am in it for you. This year has opened my eyes to that is so many ways, more ways than I wish.

I know life isn’t always about getting straight A’s in school, and that sometimes it is straight up a hot mess. The baggage you bring into my classroom is something you can’t always set aside and leave at the door, and usually it is baggage you shouldn’t be carrying at your age in the first place.

I’m in all of this for you though. You bet that I want you to master my social studies class and fall in love with my subject like I am, but guess what? Life isn’t always about that. Life isn’t always easy, but you shouldn’t have to be in it alone.

As your teacher, I promise to always be there for you.

To be your cheerleader. To be a listening ear. To share your celebrations and help in your struggles. To look out for your best interests.

And most importantly to always be by your side so you are not walking alone.

I’m in it for you.

I frequently get asked when I am going to have my own kids (because I’m married so I must have kids..duh), but the truth is I have 130 kids right now…and add onto that an additional 200 from the previous two years. All of you have a piece of my heart, and all are the reason I that I teach.

Next time you are struggling, you have taken on more baggage, life has thrown you a massive curve ball, any of that, know that I am here for you. I’m your cheerleader, your listening ear, by your side when you need it, always looking out for your best interests, and of course your teacher.

Never forget, I’m in it for you.

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the teacher I though I would be

As a newer teacher, I constantly reflect on the idea of who I thought I would be as a teacher and the surrealness of where I actually am and how I got to where I am. 

Spoiler: I am not the teacher I thought I would be. 

Once I decided to become a teacher, early on in high school, I immediately began to put together the idea of what type of a teacher I would be, what teachers I wanted to be like, where I wanted to teach, and the types of students I was going to have. As teachers we know the latter two are just absurd to even “decide”.

These ideas continued throughout most of college and during my placements and internships.

I wanted the “good” schools, the ones that weren’t going to make me cry on a daily basis, the ones with little to no classroom management issues, the ones with less baggage. I had dreams of teaching at my alma matter. I knew exactly the teacher I wanted to be. This wasn’t to mean that past me was unaware and naive to all of the worlds problems and teaching, but let’s be real when I write it down it sure sounds like that.

Though I had a variety of placements during my undergrad, I still had this same idea and concept in my head of what I thought a “perfect teaching job” would be when I graduated.

I loathed the idea of teaching in an inner-city or urban school, the idea of teaching in a school like that made me feel like I was a “left-over” or “reject”, a teacher that “couldn’t get a job” elsewhere. I saw what was happening in places like Detroit, I knew of the attrition on teachers and I didn’t want that.

I was told by many, including one of my advisers, that getting married while still in college was “one of the worst things I could do for my career” and that I would have a “harder time” finding a teaching job because of my marital status. I was told that there was no way I would easily find a teaching job in Michigan that I wanted, and I should be more willing to move out of state.

My goal at this point was to literally prove them wrong.  To get that “perfect” teaching job at that perfect school with those perfect students, in Michigan.

 

Then I graduated, married to my amazingly supportive husband just six month previously. Jobs are not easy to find in December, and when you don’t have experience, well we all know how that goes. I started getting the feelings that I wasn’t going to find a teaching job.

Then I landed the job the next school year that changed me and uprooted every idea I  ever thought I wanted.

I accepted a job in a hurting inner-city charter high school. I felt like God was pulling me there and it was where I needed to be, though I frequently questioned why. I walked in on week three. By the end of that week I had been called every bad name in the book, and I can tell you right now little learning happened those first few weeks. I wanted a classroom that needed little classroom management, this was a classroom with no classroom management. Complete. Chaos.  My students had baggage, more baggage than anyone (let alone a child), should carry with them, and had experienced more life than me. School was not the priority for 99% of them. I will admit now, I had no idea what I was doing.

I constantly felt like I was drowning, I cried a lot (only two or three times during the actual school day). I felt like quitting. I felt like walking away from teaching. This was a far away as I could have been from the teacher I thought I would be. My administration was as unethical, unprofessional and inexperienced as you could get (and still today I will be as transparent as possible about that). Thinking about it now gives me anxiety. I knew mid-year there was no way I could survive another year there.

But I was there for a reason. I was there for the kids. I was there for me.

My school closed and I was left with the rest of my contract sitting in my bank account and no health insurance, all with no warning due to false assurance from administration.

I was back to the drawing board.  This is when I realized that the teacher that I thought I would be no longer existed.

Thinking about what was “ideal”, just simply wasn’t a thing for me anymore. In my mind there was no way I wanted a teaching job like former me imagined.

I wanted to be a teacher that makes a difference and has support in doing that from other teachers and administration. That was it, and is it still today.

I mean, things like being well-liked by my students and having students that always want to learn and always do all of their work and listen to directions and have no classroom management issues is nice….but I don’t want a cake walk. Teaching isn’t a cake walk.

You see, as teachers, we can’t make up our “ideal” teaching jobs with our ideal schools and ideal students. It doesn’t work that way. We become teachers to make a difference. 

I know for a fact today that I am a better teacher and person because I didn’t end up with that “ideal job” and didn’t end up like the teacher I thought I would be.

Future teachers, if you are stuck on that “ideal” job, don’t. I promise you what is outside of that mold gives so much more.

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it all stacks up

One person can make a difference, and everyone should try. 
President John F. Kennedy

 

 

Be Contagious.

downloadIt’s that time of the year again (seemingly earlier this year), when germs are being shared, we are all contagious, and as great teachers and students we go to school anyways and share it all. I’m pretty sure I have been contagious since last Thursday, but come on it’s way too early for sub plans and that kind of nonsense. If I’m not tossing cookies and do not feel like I’ve been hit by a truck, I’m spreading the love.

As teachers we need to be contagious.

Not the germ-y, cookie tossing, flu stopping kind of contagious that we try to obsessively erase from every desk, door knob or writing utensil.

We need to be contagious with our emotions, with our zeal for learning and desire to succeed, with our acceptance and love for our students. We need to be contagious for our students and colleagues.

We need to make our classrooms and schools infectious learning communities in which students feel accepted and comfortable. We need to be so contagious and infectious that our students want to learn, enjoy learning, and grow.

Being contagious goes both ways though, we know this. We can’t get caught up in the negativity, the politics, the everything else because that is just as contagious, if not more.

We might think that these negative feelings and attitudes that we keep to ourselves are not contagious, that we are not spreading them, but we know this isn’t true. If we let this negativity spread, it just keeps going and can infiltrate everything, it spreads fast just like the stomach bug at the end of a marking period. All of that junk is straight up germs, and just like cookie tossing, something we shouldn’t want in our classroom. We shouldn’t be feeding this inside our classroom, or inside of us.

We need to make sure we are being contagious and spreading the good “germs”, the optimism, the joy, the spirit, the learning, the acceptance, the everything.

So as we start this germ-y season, be contagious.

heart pngit all stacks up.

Enthusiasm is contagious. Be a carrier. -Susan Rabin

Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching? -Dennis and Wendy Mannering

The joy of the 2nd time around. 

Starting my 3rd year of teaching, 2nd year at my current school, has brought more joy than I ever expected.  I have recently brought on the mindset that no one is going to kill my joy about my school, my students, my career path, my life in general. I am in love with it all.

Year three has brought on new joys, that may seem minor to most. Of my first weeks of school, this has been the most refreshing and exciting (though still extremely exhausting).

Here are some of the things I’ve found joy in, in just the first week.

  1. My former students come up to me and tell me about how their summers were, how their classes are going, tell me they miss me, or just to say hi. (and send me emails just because!) If that doesn’t leave a warm fuzzy feeling, I don’t know what does. It’s literally one of the best feelings in the world.
  2. I have siblings! This year I have younger siblings of my students from last year, it’s so neat to see their similarities and differences.
  3. I have freshmen! I have an entire class of freshmen this year. They are so adorable, untainted by high school, and still in their middle school mold. I love them, and ending the day with them is so refreshing.
  4. I’m not the new kid! It’s so nice to know what’s going on, being in the know, and people recognizing your face (though some parents still think I am a high school student).
  5. New responsibilities and the ability to say no. This year I have taken on slew of new things, and with not being super new I don’t have the obligation to say yes to everything.

Teachers,

I know the first weeks of school can be challenging. I know the politics that influence our jobs everyday. I know you might have “that class” this year. I know your class numbers might be higher than your liking and your room seems to be busting at the seems. I know our pay sucks. Trust me, I know. 

I challenge you to find the joy. There is joy everyday in our jobs. We’re in the jobs of changing and shaping lives. We have an amazing job. We make a difference. 

So whether this is your first, fifth, tenth, seventeenth, twenty-third, thirtieth year, I challenge you to find the joy because it makes the difference. 

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it all stacks up.

when it all stacks up, happiness is key

I recently read a quote about how you should pause a second and look back at everything that has happened in the past 365 days. Who has left your live and who has entered. The experiences you have had. The joys, heartbreaks, and hard times. How those things or people you thought you needed in life have fallen by the wayside and you are better for it. How these past 365 days have changed you.

A year ago I had just accepted a teaching position that was going to cause us to move. I was happy (mostly), anxious, and eager, or so I thought. Life was okay, but at the same time I was barely holding it together with not knowing where or how we were going to move, if my husband was able to transfer his job, if he was happy, if I was asking too much of him, and the overall amount of stress that had happened throughout the summer. With my previous school closing and then possible restructuring being in the works, my entire summer had been filled with uncertainty and interview upon interview. My entire summer up until this point could have literally been summarized as stress and frustration.

With that being said, we don’t have to wait until December 31st to reflect. In the past 365 days so much has happened. God is so good.

  1. That stress of moving and how it was going to impact our marriage? When we were frantically searching for and running out of options for places to move, I received a call for an interview at a school 15 minutes from our home. Within a week I had the job. A school with the perfect fit, even more perfect than the job I had just accepted at the end of July.
  2. I grew as an educator, in ways I couldn’t at my last school.
  3. I found a second family and became part of a new community, that I love so much and can’t imagine life without. Fit is important, I have never had such a perfect fit in any job.
  4. I watched my best friends get married, and was honored to be a part of both of their weddings.
  5. I hailed my first taxi cab. (suburban girl doing big things here)
  6. I bought a new-to-me car. (dragging my feet the entire time)
  7. I traveled without my husband for the first/second/third time since we’ve been married, it was weird, but good.
  8. I found out stress hives are a real thing, twice, and I loathe them. For real, how can you not stress about hives once they start, and then the idea that stress causes/feeds them? Why.
  9. People voluntarily exited our lives, it took me a long time to accept it, but I now realize the necessity of it. When I look back now, the dozen people that exited were replaced with hundreds of new faces that I now couldn’t imagine my life without.
  10. And most importantly, I found the importance of happiness.

My definition of happiness has changed in the past year.

I am happy. Before this last year, I knew I wasn’t happy with my job and was tired of the constant search for a new job, but didn’t realize that overall I wasn’t happy. That doesn’t mean these past 365 days I have been constantly happy, because I haven’t. This year has been tough, not going to lie, but I am happy. I am content.

I have come to find happiness is the most important thing in life. My house might not be clean all the time. I might not have the best salary. I might still suck at cooking. My marriage might not be perfect, because let’s be real we are not perfect people. My cat might hate my husband (she needs to get over it, for real). And I might have taken on more than I can handle for this next school year, but I’m happy.

Happiness is the key guys. You can have the world, all the money, all of whatever it is, but if you are not happy, none of it matters.

Choose happiness.

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it all stacks up.

 

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. Herman Cain

Happiness depends upon ourselves. -Aristotle

Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. -Franklin D. Roosevelt