Yes or no? What is your school choice?

Where is the grass greener?

May 16, 2017, has passed and so have the school budgets across the region of America that I call home — central New York. Central New York is known for its wicked snow squalls, allegiance to Syracuse University’s sports, Heid’s hot dogs, and its support of publicly funded education. Very few people send their children to private, parochial, or charter schools. A small minority home-school their kids. The vast majority of residents send their children to public schools because they too attended a public school — the proof shown in the t-shirt with their high school colors stuck in the back a dresser.

Central New York might not be a very exciting place, but it has Wegmans, medical centers, colleges, and public schools. This mix of fresh produce, access to health care, and standardized education creates a standard of living that is part of the American dream. It is also very expensive. Central New Yorkers pay high property and school taxes. A gallon of milk is under two dollars (I am sorry for my dairy farming friends), but residents pay more for gas, housing, cigarettes, and booze compared with other areas.

What do central New Yorkers gain from paying higher taxes than say, residents of South Carolina, where my mother recently moved into a nice home with the total tax bill of under $500 a year? What exactly does the American dream cost, and what do communities get for their money?

  • Central New Yorkers get many hospitals, with specialists and research.
  • Central New Yorkers get snow plowing and road maintenance.
  • Central New Yorkers get state subsidized colleges and universities.
  • Central New Yorkers get a foundation built on universal pre-kindergarten (in many school districts) and community-based schools that offer breakfasts and lunch to many students.
  • Central New Yorkers get teachers with Master’s Degrees.
  • Central New Yorkers get an educated workforce.

So, why are there so many “no” votes listed in the results from May 16, 2017?

http://cnycentral.com/news/local/live-2016-2017-school-budget-vote-results

I am sure there are many reasons for the negative votes. Some people believe that school spending is out of control. Some people are facing financial hardships and see their school tax bill as exorbitant. Some people had terrible school experiences as a student themselves, or as a parent. Some people are upset at their local school’s decisions. These are all understandable reasons.

Other people who vote “no” claim that they do not want to pay for other people’s children to attend school. For the same reasons that these people do not support universal health care — these voters only want to pay for themselves; they do not want to help “other” people anymore. They are sick of hand-outs and entitlements.

I wonder what would happen if public education was no longer an option? Would these “no” voters be upset? Would they eventually long for the publicly funded system? Would they lament corporate greed that would inevitably infiltrate our schools? Would they proudly wear their school colors, or would they wonder which school to offer their allegiance?

I also wonder about the low voter turn-out. Why do so few people decide that voting on the school budget does not fit into their schedule? What is more important than children and finances? Is the low turn-out due to complacency? Do residents simply believe that public schools were available for them, so, therefore, they will always be present in the future? Do they not see that the grass grows greener where you water it and that public education is bone dry? So dry that people seek to “fix” it with their own brand of fertilizer so that “choice” can be offered to parents who might not recognize that public schools are the Kentucky Blue Grass seed and privatization is contractor grade?

Ultimately, the residents of the many school districts in central New York have approved funding for the 2017–2018 school year, and I thank them. I appreciate their “yes” vote because it is a vote of confidence in a system that, like my yard, is riddled with bare spots and filled with weeds, but looks beautiful when well watered and cared for.

Do you care about public education? Please comment below, click the heart icon, and join the march event on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/254445494966564/. Support the march at: https://www.gofundme.com/march4ed

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10 Reasons to March For Public Education

July 22, 2017

1. Public Education is a right.

2. Public Education offers choice.

3. Public Education is under attack.

4. Public Education is threatened by corporate greed.

5. Public Education is undermined by politicians.

6. Public Education needs reform, led by educators.

7. Public Education represents American values.

8. Public Education is the great socio-economic equalizer.

9. Public Education mirrors American society.

10. Public Education is an investment in the future.

What are your reasons for supporting public education?

Comment below, follow the March For Public Education blog  here, join the Facebook group, and commit to marching by signing up on the event on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/254445494966564/

I May Have Just Been Murdered By House Republicans

gadflyonthewallblog

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I may be dead already.

And House Republicans may be the ones who killed me.

With the passage of a healthcare bill they, themselves, haven’t read – haven’t studied – haven’t thoughtfully considered in any way – it seems they’ve opened the door for insurance companies to deny people coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

I have one.

I’ve had two small heart attacks this year.

So I sit here stunned at the news on my computer feeling very much at a loss.

People have legitimate political differences, but this… it’s just beyond anything I’ve ever experienced personally.

There are people who count on me – my daughter, my wife, my students. I’m not so vain as to imagine that they can’t get along without me, but my loss will hurt them. I think at the very least they’ll miss me.

I’m 43-years-old. I’ve lived a good life. I just…

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Finish this: “Public Education is…”



“Public Education is DEMOCRACY!”

That is how I finished the prompt on the March for Public Education’s Facebook Group query. (Please join this group of over 13,000 people by clicking the underlined link.)

Yes, all caps are needed. Yes, it warrants an exclamation point. Yes, public education is not just a part of the American democratic system, it the engine of democracy. To further explain, the following are five reasons public education is democracy:

1.Public education is democracy because schools are like the statue of liberty.

Public schools take all kinds of students — black, white, Christian, Muslim, Jew, poor, rich, special needs, or gifted. Public schools face poverty, mental illness, addiction, neglect, and hunger with warm classrooms led by smiling adults. Like Emma Lazarus’ poem, schools take the tired, the poor, and the wretched refuse, because public schools are open to every resident of the United States of America. Public schools are safe havens for our most vulnerable citizens.


2.Public education is democracy because students learn a standardized education, which promotes equal access to opportunities.

Students in central New York, where I have lived my entire life, are offered a standard curriculum, taught by teachers who hold master’s degrees, earn tenure, and who are allowed to collectively bargain and unionize. The New York State public education system, although not perfect, truly attempts to create a foundation for its residents. I attended four different public school districts, and although the frequent moving was often disruptive socially, the standard curriculum and high quality of learning offered by every one of the school districts enabled me to mature positively despite my often disruptive childhood.

Standardized learning and highly qualified teachers help to even out privilege and counteract disparity. Rigorous content, dynamic pedagogy, and equitable funding are all components of effective public schools.


3. Public education is democracy because all teachers are civics teachers.

Although many people complain about students’ lack of knowledge about civics and history, as institutions, public schools go a long way to civilize the huddled masses. Schools teach rules, expectations, deadlines and collaboration.

Students in public education recite the pledge of allegiance every day, participate in moments of silence when tragedy arises, and collectively learn about American government and values.


4.Public education is democracy because parents invest in their communities and have a voice in the budget every spring.

On May 16, 2017, hundreds of school district across the state of New York will offer spaghetti dinners while holding their breaths in the hope that the community will continue to support their district’s financial needs for another year.

When budgets are rejected it is often due to financial constraints, disagreements over spending, or political issues. However, in my twenty-two years of teaching, I have never taught in a school where the budget was not passed. Every budget is tense, but ultimately in Central New York, anyway, taxpayers see the value in an educated citizenry.


5. Public education is democracy because schools, like American democracy, are messy.

I have a respected colleague that often repeats the line: democracy is messy. No truer words have been spoken. Democracy is horribly untidy — riddled with disagreements, power struggles, and self-centered greed. Schools are microcosms of society, and schools represent both the best and the worst of American values and deficiencies.

Out of the mess, however, comes creativity, athletics, clubs, activities, growth, individuality, and success for millions of students. I don’t always like what happens in America, or in public schools, but I would not want to live or teach in any other type of system.


How would you finish: Public Education is…? Comment below, and consider writing a piece for this publication.

Please follow the publication, click the heart 💚 icon, bookmark the website by clicking here, follow on Twitter and join the Facebook group.

#educationmarch — join the march on July 22, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

May is for Marching, a call for submissions to Teaching in Trump’s America

Hello, all! Thank you all for the wonderful submissions in April. May’s theme is marching — marching for public education. As you can note from the image above, the March For Public Education will take place on July 22, 2017, in Washington, D.C., with sister marches in various cities planned on that date as well.

The organizers of the march have asked me to organize a blog for the event. So to support the cause, I am asking for submissions to include both on this publication and on the March For Public Education Blog. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
1.   Why you support public education.
2.    Reasons for marching.
3.    Problems with public education.
4.     Your experiences in public education (student, teacher, administrator, parent perspectives).
5.      Public education compared to charter or private school education.
6.      Finishing this prompt: “Public education is…”

Besides writing, the march organizers are asking for more people to join the Facebook group by going to this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1101122606660880/ and also going to the March For Public Education website at http://marchforpubliced.org/.
I will accept submissions anytime, but I would love to gather most by May 15, 2017.

You can email me submissions at teachingintrumpsamerica@gmail.com, and if you are on medium, please be sure to send me a medium link.  The medium.com publication link is https://medium.com/teaching-in-trumps-america. The publication is also linked to Facebook and Twitter.

Yours in teacher activism,
Laura

5 Reasons Why I, a 43-Year-Old Woman, Binge Watched ’13 Reasons Why’


Over the recent spring break, I binge watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s book of the same title. I am not the target audience for this work, but I could not stop watching this story about adolescence, sexual assault, and teenage suicide. The following is a list of five reasons why I, a middle-aged woman, was enthralled with the story:

1. I teach high school social studies

When I returned to work on Monday, I felt myself scanning the faces of the adolescents that I teach in a large suburban high school north of Syracuse, NY. As I was getting through a lesson on the cold war, I began to wonder how many of my students sitting before me had watched the series? At least half of my class? What were their takeaways? Which character(s) were they most like? Which part of the story resonated with them? Who among these classes was suicidal? Were my students like me, did they continue to live with the characters like I was?

Occasionally a film or a book will strike a chord with my students. I had previously heard students discuss Jay Asher’s novel, but I think the movie will have a deeper impact on adolescents — a group that is tremendously visual. The story is slick, a California cool. If a tired old lady like myself felt compelled to binge watch this movie, adolescents will watch this on repeat. A myriad of conversation topics arise from this story — sex, alcohol, drugs, parents, school, sports, cliques — it covers the spectrum of the high school experience.

2. I have had students attempt suicide

Almost every year I hear about a student attempting suicide. Thankfully, I have not known a student to be successful, but every year at least one student whom I have taught attempts to kill them self. The school I teach in has wonderful social workers, counselors, and teachers, but schools are not equipped for mental health issues.

As a classroom teacher, I hear about the suicide attempts with a statement of confidentially. Teachers get bits and pieces of a student’s story. We hear things like: “Jimmy took a shotgun to the gut last night.” “Nicole took a lot of pills.” These students are absent for a time period. They return, and I am supposed to act like nothing occurred. My job is to teach facts, not to counsel. I am completely useless when it comes to my student’s mental health.

As I watched 13 Reasons Why I searched for signs that might be apparent to me in the reality of my teaching. The main character, Hannah Baker, continually showed me that she was so normal. She was interacting in a typical high school. The actress told the audience that there were no signs. There was only silence. Silence is the enemy.

3. I am raising two daughters

The stupid internet went out two nights in a row during the time when I could watch the series without my daughters’ awareness. So, I found myself hiding in my bedroom, the door shut, trying to keep my daughters away, as I finished watching the series. My twelve-year-old daughter was my biggest concern. She had caught me earlier and commented that her fifteen-year-old cousin was watching this. I said, rather abruptly: “You can’t watch this.” I said it so quickly. I had to protect my daughter. It wasn’t just the sex, it was the entire story that made me pucker. I just don’t think she is ready. I am not ready for her to see rape.

“You can’t watch this.”

However, it is not the sexual aspects of the story that bother me as much as the mental health issues. Two students in the story kill themselves and others locate weapons or escape with substances. As I watched the anguish of Hannah Baker’s parents in the film, I connected with their struggles. They were having financial difficulties and marriage problems. They were not “seeing” their daughter. I worried about my own parenting. Am I missing my daughters, especially the oldest? She is entering adolescence. I want to give her freedom. I want her to be independent and competent. I also want to be the wall that she swims to — I want to give her a safe place to rest and restore herself from a hurtful world.

If you are interested in exploring the parental side of this issue, Ijeoma Oluo, in her piece ’13 Reasons Why’ Scared The Shit Out Of Me — And It Should Scare You Too, does a fantastic job of explaining every parent’s worst nightmare.

4. I wanted to compare

I was curious to see if my own high school experience compared to the one portrayed in 13 Reasons Why. It held up. Although I graduated over twenty years ago, the setting of the story is iconic: the American High School. I also remember watching teenage movies in my youth. 13 Reasons Why was reminiscent of Pretty in Pink’s images of rich and poor kids. There were The Breakfast Club similarities with the cliques and the social outcasts. There were also times that I thought about the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, especially in terms of the pressure of sexual interaction.

However, my generation did not have fucking social media, and cell phones equipped with cameras that could instantly message the entire school. Images of our worst choices were not permanently stored for continual humiliation. My generation could escape school. We could go home. Adolescents today are tethered to their phones and are bombarded by drama, images, and a fake sense of intimacy.

5. I am Hannah Baker

And so is every girl. The female teenage body is the most objectified and fantasized image in the world. Every time the picture of Hannah Baker’s underwear peeking out of her skirt was passed around we understand why women are not yet equal. It is portrayed as “boys being boys.” When her ass is grabbed in public and rated the “best” rear end at her high school, nothing about her intellect is celebrated. When the student president reaches up her skirt as she drinks her milkshake, we witness the constant assault to her innocence — any ownership of her sexuality is eroded away. Her vulnerability is so raw that by the time she is raped it almost feels inevitable. As the crime is committed, the camera lingers on her expression — one of complete frozen resignation. Her soul is depleted and the sexual act evokes a scene of a veteran prostitute.


Ultimately, I will watch this movie with my daughters. I am confident that this story will come up in conversations with my students. The degree to which I am disturbed by this work is a positive force for my teaching and parenting. It is a wake-up call for me to see my students and my children in the world in which they need to navigate. Maybe I was not the target audience, but I urge anyone who loves an adolescent to watch this series.

Here is another article about ways teachers can discuss 13 Reasons Why: https://www.weareteachers.com/discussion-questions-13-reasons-why/

This piece on medium.com:  https://medium.com/@brownberryfarm/5-reasons-why-i-a-43-year-old-woman-binged-watched-13-reasons-why-5c1ca46f1cbb

“Will there be homework over break? “

This school year brought six snow days (or was it five?). Either way, when you teach in a block scheduling format loss of days matter. I was schooled long ago that only one major concept will be learned each block, so trying to cram multiple ideas into sixteen-year-old’s developing frontal lobes is just futile. The result of block scheduling is that I only have about 90 chances to teach 20,000 years of history.

When a teacher only has 90 opportunities to instruct, they must make strategic decisions about pedagogy. Decisions like these require editing topics with a scalpel, not a hatchet — regardless of the time constraints, the students still need to learn the basic content to perform well.

I also have some basic values about instruction and assignments. Instruction needs to be clear and assignments must be valuable. When spring break arrives, one question looms: will there be homework over break? I always try to answer that with no. I want to be the reasonable teacher. I want to be fair. I want students to return refreshed, ready to tackle seven weeks of intensive study and review for a major exam. I also do not want to have homework over break, or a pile to grade after the break. I need to put on my oxygen mask as well.

With the loss of classroom time this year, I decided to shorten my research assignment and declare the due date the day before break. Students were instructed to hand in their assignment via Google Classroom and then were set free for a long spring break. Well, that was my plan. Instead, my honors’ sections convinced me that they needed until Wednesday over break, and my academic sections seem to feel that due dates are suggestions. The reality is that today is Thursday, and the assignments are still trickling in. It is like when you hand wash the last dish, clean up the soapy water, and someone hands you their dirty plate (with a smile). So, with every email notification of dear Johnny handing in his research project, I take out the dishpan and fill the sink up with warm water and a drop of soap.

Teaching is so much like housework — it is never finished, and it often goes unnoticed. Unfinished grading hangs over my head like cobwebs in a neglected corner of my house. I feel the weight of each student’s work — the responsibility is great to give them honest, constructive feedback. The pressure is mounting to return to work with a clean desk and a free mind.

The next seven weeks will test my resolve and require my expertise, patience, and humor. I have responsibilities first to my AP students, then to my sophomores, and then to my own children. Sadly, my family knows that May and June are not mommy’s favorite months! My husband often says that he doesn’t like me in September, but he hates me in June.

So, will there be homework over break? Yes. The work will be mostly mine, however. The work involves resting, reading, grading, and planning for the last leg of this school year — a year that has included an incredible amount of soul searching, reflection, and discussion.

Ultimately, I am accountable to my students and they deserve the best version of their teacher. They demand my ability to plan dynamic lessons, coach their skills, and prepare them for success.