Being observed by a stranger…

A teacher’s observation, not a stalker story.

I was greeting students in the hall when I saw a person I did not recognize. The woman, nicely dressed with a district badge, quickly offered her name (which I did not catch), informing me that she was here to do my walkthrough observation. Mentally scanning my lesson plan, I thought okay, game on!

Beginning in 2015, New York State Law requires that teachers be observed by both a lead administrator and an independent one. A lead administrator is the professional with whom a teacher has a working relationship with, the independent observer cannot be attached to the school’s BEDS forms, and in my case, she was a stranger.

I have been observed countless times in my career, many observations unannounced. However, I have never been evaluated by a professional with whom I had absolutely no relationship. I have never had someone evaluate my teaching who was so unfamiliar. Furthermore, I have never had my yearly “score” tied to someone’s opinion of my teaching based solely on 15 minutes of classroom time.

Although I am a veteran teacher, I was still a bit apprehensive about this unannounced stranger observing my classroom. I quickly assessed the seating arrangement, needing to actually move a student’s seat because, with 29 students, a nurse, a teaching assistant, and myself in this classroom, it is almost standing-room only. Fortunately, it is also a fantastic class filled with thoughtful and reflective adolescents.

Luckily, I had a dynamic student-centered class planned. The class was engaged — showing both analysis and depth. The stranger smiled and nodded, she didn’t seem that out of place.

The following Danielson rubric, sent via the magic of the internet, relieved my anxiety because this stranger deemed me Highly Effective on that famous HEDI scale. I was, of course, relieved, but I can’t help but wonder how much time these “independent” observers are spending outside of their normal duties. Moreover, why has the teaching profession become a place where teachers are so untrustworthy that they need two different observers? Is this the wave of the future? Since 2012, many people have told me to calm down. They tell me this too shall pass. It is not “passing.” These changes are here. The high stake testing, the scoring of teachers, the reliance on DATA seem very permanent.

After the evaluator exited my classroom, a student asked me who “that person” was. I laughed and said: “I don’t know. New York State has mandated that teachers need to be observed by an independent evaluator.” My students let out a collective, uncomfortable giggle. Side conversations occurred, until one student, raising her hand, said: “That is stupid. You should be evaluated by your students.” I smiled. It was a very adolescent comment, but a very interesting suggestion.

When I teach as an adjunct at the college level, I do receive student evaluations. That feedback helps me learn and grow as an educator. Who better to “score” me than the people I have the most contact with and influence on? Although I could see many problems with adolescents “grading” their teachers, I would like to think on average, I would be evaluated fairly.

Overall, the entire APPR evaluation process has been very disillusioning. I am an experienced teacher — since 2012 each subsequent school year has been reduced to a score — my teaching fitting nicely in a rubric. Having many years remaining in the classroom, I am aware that flexibility is the key. However, I am not sure how much more that I can bend.

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Can you please support the soldier, but not the war?

A teacher’s plea.


Driving to work recently, Toby Keith’s “American Soldier” played on the radio. Although service in the military and teaching in public schools have distinct differences, listening to the song helped me draw parallels between the jobs of soldier and teacher.

Being the daughter of Vietnam veterans, I do not mean to disparage our men and women in uniform through my loose analogy. Actually, the lack of support that Vietnam veterans received during that decade-long war, helps to strengthen my comparison. Many of those veterans were called “baby killers” by war protestors, and there were no parades and flags flying proudly when these soldiers returned home. Similarly, in the war on education, teachers have been denigrated — their service to public education has not been valued or celebrated.

Listening to the song, made me realize that the war has been the unrelenting educational reform movement. To gain momentum, the movement needed to paint public education as failing and then offer ways to “fix” it. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is the current leader of this war. The enemy is public education. It is an ideological war, but so were the Cold War’s hot spots. DeVos’s goal is to so weaken public education that school choice (and capitalist education) increase in popularity. She is selling market-based education much like her husband’s company sold Amway. I am not saying she is an effective salesperson, but she is marketing her brand of educational reform through the very American sounding word of “choice.”

Teachers are the soldiers in the educational reform war. Teachers might not face a tenth of the danger soldiers do, but those teachers in Sandy Hook took bullets for their kids, and I would too. Every time I participate in a lock-down drill, or when my daughters tell me that they pretended to hide in their school cubbies, I recognize the possible dangers of my job.

Teachers are expected to defend, feed, nurture, counsel, guide and, oh right, instruct their students. Like the U.S. military, teachers are required to do all of these duties with public funds, which are not distributed equitably. The struggle reminds me of Michael Keaton’s epic failure as a dad dropping off his kids in the movie, “Mr. Mom,” because teachers are constantly told: “You are doing it wrong!

Experts, politicians, and business leaders send similar messages to teachers, when they say: there are not enough students graduating in four years; students need more technology to be engaged in their learning; traditional instruction is boring; the content is not relevant; graduates are not prepared for career and college; American students perform lower on international exams, and that teachers need to move into the 21st Century, already!

DeVos promotes vouchers and charters as an alternative to public education. She paints public school teachers as outdated and programmed to receive instead of act. Charter and private schools, her supporters say, will offer spaces where teachers can be more innovative — the learning more personalized and relevant. After DeVos visited a school, Emma Brown, of The Washington Post reported that DeVos told a conservative online publication:

“They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child,” DeVos told a columnist for the conservative online publication Townhall. “You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.”

Is DeVos saying that public school teachers are vapid and uninspired? Is she saying that teachers do not know how to be innovative and creative? I would invite her any day of the school year to come and see the public school where I am proud to teach. I want her to see the Humanities in Action students taking field trips to local businesses, and presenting a “Shark-Tank” economics project to teacher judges. I want her to see how my colleagues are writing curriculum, collaborating with one another, and designing dynamic lessons. I want her to see how we care for all children, from the severely disabled to the highest achiever. I want her to see the enthusiasm and the creativity that is happening down the hall in the foreign language class. I want her to witness the dissections and experiments taking place in our science labs. I want her to see how two social workers attempt to meet the needs of over 2,000 students, doing so with grace and humor. I want her to go to the nurse’s office and see how those women care for children. I want her to witness the extremely long hours our administrators clock — attending every function so that if someone divided their time by their salary, the number would reveal that they are making pennies. I want DeVos to see the many clubs, sports, and activities our students engage in. I also want her to see how my school is aging, how my desks are peeling, and how our classrooms lack air conditioning. I want DeVos to see what public school teachers do — she has no idea how empowered we are. Betsy DeVos is not “rooting” for our schools. She has no vision for how to reform our schools because she doesn’t want that socialist model to dominate.

Teachers are but cannon fodder in DeVos’s war on public education. The war did not begin with her, and it will continue to wage long after she is gone. My plea is that when you, the average American, reads another story about “those teachers,” you will recognize it as an attack on the soldiers of education. I hope that you will see it as propaganda. Yes, schools have problems. Not surprisingly, teachers have the answers to those problems. If anyone is willing to give credit to our expertise, we will tell you what schools need. Public school teachers are not the enemy.

My plea to my fellow Americans is for you to support the teachers, but not the war on public education. By supporting teachers, these professionals will become empowered, the teacher shortage will decrease as more young people will gravitate towards the profession, and realistic solutions can be entertained. But, if Americans continue to buy into the rhetoric and the propaganda of the educational reform war, the future of public education will be very bleak. So please, support the soldier, but not the war.

Thanks to That Odd Mom for publishing my rant on projects!

https://thatoddmom.com/the-7-stages-of-my-kids-got-a-project-hell-ccf010ceecd9

The 7 stages of “my kid has got a project” hell.

In Dante’s Inferno, he outlines nine layers of hell. In parenting, there are 7 stages of a different type of hell: school project hell.

My  three faithful readers (thanks, mom-in-law!) know that I am a teacher. Teachers assign projects. Over the twenty-two years of my career, I have assigned small, medium, and large projects. Now that I am a parent of school-age children, I would like to apologize to all of the parents of my students. I am so sorry. Please forgive me, I did not understand about the seven layers of parental project hell.

Stage 1 — I got a project.

“Mom, I got a project in…”

I stop listening right there. I don’t care.

Is it my project?

Do I need to do it?

(All you good parents out there on the internet can start judging me now, I don’t care.)

Stage 2 — Remember, I got that project.

“Mom, remember I got that project?”

Yes, I do. See my mental response to number 1.

(Judgers: I only think things, I don’t say things.)

Stage 3 — Let’s go shopping for that project.

“Mom, that project is due. I need you to buy me glue, tape, beads, poster paper, (and a high grade).”

Great. I would love to spend hours shopping for supplies for a project. Let’s go to one of those crafty stores that force me to recognize my lack of Martha Stewart skills. That will be fun.

Stage 4 — I need to do that project.

“Mom, I need a space to do that project, can I use the dining room table?”

Sure, your project is not due for like three more weeks, and I love clutter. Be my guest, let my dining room table (that family heirloom that you may or may not be inheriting) be your work table.

Stage 5 — I don’t think this project will ever be done.

You know why? Because it won’t. My dining room is going to be a disaster forever.

No photo credit needed because this is my actual fucking table.

Stage 6 — Getting the flipping project to school.

Other caring parents say: “Oh, what a nice project. Wow!”

Other delusional parents say: “I love projects!”

I think: Will this fit in my car?

Yup, still my table. I own the photo, the table, and the memories.

Stage 7 — Storing the now dead project.

I attend the fair. I see my kid’s project — the project I have seen for over a month by now. I get to see other kid’s projects. Those children’s projects are great, but they are not my kid’s. The hoopla is over, the final layer complete.

My kid’s Science project.

But, a crucial question remains: DO WE NEED TO KEEP THIS PROJECT?


Ultimately, many student projects are really family projects. For a student to complete a project well, it usually becomes a group effort in some way. My children’s father is a much better parent. He listens and helps our children. I, on the other hand, contribute the grumbling, the nagging, and the transportation.

The 7 Stages of “my kid has got a project” HELL

In Dante’s Inferno, he outlines nine layers of hell. In parenting, there are 7 stages of a different type of hell: school project hell.

My kid’s Science project.

My three faithful readers (thanks, mom-in-law!), know that I am a teacher. Teachers give projects. Over the twenty-two years of my career, I have assigned small, medium, and large projects. Now that I am a parent of school-age children, I would like to apologize to all of the parents of my students. I am so sorry. Please forgive me, I did not understand about the seven layers of parental project hell.

1. I got a project.

Kid: “Mom, I got a project in…”

I stop listening right there. I don’t care. Is it my project? Do I need to do it? (All you good parents out there on the internet can start judging me now, I don’t care.)

2. Remember, I got that project.

Kid: “Mom, remember I got that project?”

Yes, I do. See my mental response to number 1. (Judgers: I only think things, I don’t say things.)

3. Let’s go shopping for that project.

Kid: “Mom, that project is due. I need you to buy me glue, tape, beads, poster paper, (and a high grade.)”

Great. I would love to spend hours shopping for supplies for a project. Let’s go to one of those crafty stores that force me to recognize my lack of Martha Stewart skills. That will be fun.

4. I need to do that project.

No photo credit needed because this is my actual fucking table.

Kid: “Mom, I need a space to do that project, can I use the dining room table?”

Sure, your project is not due for like three more weeks, and I love clutter. Be my guest, let my dining room table (that family heirloom that you may, or may not, be inheriting) be your work table.

5. “I don’t think this project will ever be done.”

You know why? Because it won’t. My dining room is going to be a disaster forever.

6. Getting the flipping project to school.

Yup, still my table. I own the photo, the table, and the memories.

Other caring parents say: “Oh, what a nice project. Wow!”

Other delusional parents say: “I love projects!”

I think: Will this fit in my car?

7. Storing the now dead project.

I attend the fair. I see my kid’s project — the project I have seen for over a month by now. I get to see other kid’s projects. Those children’s projects are great, but they are not my kid’s. The hoopla is over, the final layer complete. But, a crucial question remains: DO WE NEED TO KEEP THIS PROJECT?


Ultimately, many student projects are really family projects. For a student to complete a project well, it usually becomes a group effort in some way. My children’s father is a much better parent. He listens and helps our children. I, on the other hand, obviously, contribute the grumbling, the nagging, and the transportation.

Why Brown vs. Board of Education was bad for education

brown

Teaching United States history always includes the landmark 1954 Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Usually, the case is framed in the context of Jim Crow Laws, systemic segregation, and the civil rights movement. Often Plessy v. Ferguson is cited alongside the Brown decision. It is clear cut instruction: separate is never equal. Students connect to the message, and names like Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and Ruby Bridges are student favorites as models of civil disobedience and persistence in the face of hatred.

In the 1990s, my alma mater, SUNY-Geneseo, invited Linda Brown to speak about her involvement in the historic Brown decision. I remember sitting in the auditorium with rapt attention. Her message was one of hope and empowerment, but also of a dream deferred. I often mention her talk when teaching about the civil rights movement.

It is so comforting to teach about an underdog story. It is heartening to tell students that the United States has come so far. It is nice to point to the Obama legacy as evidence of a post-racial society. Except, none of that is true. We are not post-racial. We are not equal.

Although people love to champion Brown vs. Board of Education, one of the biggest negative impacts was the firing of teachers during the merger of white and black schools. Jose Luis Vilson discusses a major impact of Brown when he writes in his article “The Need for More Teachers of Color”, published in the Summer, 2015 edition of American Educator:

“For instance, when the Supreme Court began to mandate that southern states comply with Brown v. Board of Education, more than 30,000 black teachers and administrators were fired to ensure that white teachers kept their jobs.”

When teaching as an adjunct at LeMoyne College, students enrolled in an introduction to teaching course often highlight Vilson’s findings. Students express dismay at the exponential ramifications. If 30,000 black educators were fired, that means there were 30,000 fewer role models for black students. There were 30,000 less black teachers to model black leadership to white students. There were 30,000 people who had to find alternative careers, many of whom left a middle-class path. 30,000 multiplied by 63 years equals a shortage of teachers of color.

Think about it, if you are white, how many non-white educators have you had? If you are white, how many non-white teachers do you know? If you are non-white, how many non-white role models have you had in your education?

The school choice issue is another layer in America’s racial question. Many urban educators and parents want better educational opportunities due to De Facto segregation and the underfunding of predominantly non-white schools. Others, like Secretary of Education DeVos, want parents to have the financial ability to flee “failing” schools — often these “failing” schools are predominantly non-white. Regardless of the reasons or the rhetoric, race continues to plague our schools, and we continue to be both separate and unequal.

Why the title: Teaching in Trump’s America?

Place, time, and history.

After recently asking a colleague to write about a wonderful teaching technique he employs, he told me that Teaching in Trump’s America was too political for him to be involved with during this time in his career.

I respect this person’s views. I can understand why many teachers are historically reluctant to raise their voices. I can even appreciate colleagues who support President Trump. Although I comprehend many reasons why educators might shy away from supporting Teaching in Trump’s America, I am troubled if the only excuse is politics, because teaching is political.

The name of the publication is provocative. Maybe some day, it can simply be called Teaching in America. For now, however, the inclusion of Trump’s name is significant because it clarifies place, time, and historical details.

Place: America

The United States has been viewed as a grand experiment by many. Experiments have variables and constants. Experiments can fail. Public schools are the great equalizer — children from diverse backgrounds can learn collectively, with many overcoming socio-economic differences. Education, especially public education, is the embodiment of democracy. American schools are microcosms of society. By analyzing American education, we learn more about our country as a whole.

Time: Post 9/11 World

Since the horrible events of September 11, 2001, many Americans have felt vulnerable. Unlike the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, there was no clear enemy. The kamikaze hijackers flew no country’s flag — instead, America’s enemies were radicalized and trained in many countries, including in the United States. Unease and anxiety, coupled with true economic stagnation, have increased the creation of “other.” This creation of “other” has made scapegoating possible. Unfortunately, teachers have been victims as well. Whether it be the teacher benefit of summer vacations, systemic school failure, or “liberal” intellectualism, teachers have often been cast as prosperous in a worldview of the haves versus have-nots.

Historical Details: From A Nation At Risk to Race to the Top

In 1983, the Reagan administration published A Nation At Risk. In 2002, the Bush Administration supported the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2010, the Obama Administration promoted the Race to the Top and later (2015) The Every Child Succeeds Act (reauthorizing the 50-year old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which No Child Left Behind also reauthorized). For the last fifty years (most of the post-world war two era), politicians have used funding as a tool to mold American education — in a feeble attempt to make America competitive with other nations. These educational politics have promoted a narrative of school failure.

Therefore, Teaching in Trump’s America is an apt title for a publication that aims to shine a light on the realities of public school teaching. Minus the noise of politicians, publishing companies, and non-teaching “experts,” teacher’s authentic voices can be collectively raised. The story of education can change, one post at a time. Furthermore, true democracy can only survive with loud individuals speaking their truth to power.

https://medium.com/teaching-in-trumps-america

Post Traumatic Trump Syndrome (PTTS)

A quiet news cycle makes me nervous.

I have a problem. No, I am not a snowflake. No, I am not “triggered,” and, no, I don’t need a therapy animal. What I am is a white, middle-class, middle-aged woman who is anxious. My anxiety has a name, maybe you suffer from it as well? Google it — it is called Post Traumatic Trump Syndrome (PTTS).

I noticed my symptoms the other day when I was listening to NPR on my way to my job, teaching social studies at a large suburban school north of Syracuse, NY. I was prepared to be upset by the latest Trumpism that I expected to be reported. Instead, I became nervous about the tone of the coverage — it was light and friendly. I thought: What the fuck is going on? Why are we acting like everything is normal? How the hell is the world still turning? Why aren’t people marching in the streets?

Every time I hear the words: President Trump, I shake my head. How can it be possible that he is the leader of the free world? When he began his campaign, I had a fleeting curiosity: I wonder what he would do as president? I wonder if he would be more effective because he is a businessman? But then, I watched the campaign. I read everything I could read without the strain causing my eyes to bleed. By October, I was no longer wondering optimistically about what he would do as president, I was contemplating what would actually happen if he did. He seemed to feed and grow off our polarization. He became a monster that we created. And, now, that monster is PRESIDENT!

In November, I made the decision to not vote for either the Democrat or Republican candidate. (My reasons are explained in the post I am a Feminist, but I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton). I think, ultimately, my decision was a defense mechanism.

Since the election, I have had an automated mode of functioning in our new world order. I drive to work, enter the building, and pretend. I act. I smile. I teach history. I talk about the weather. I avoid discussing current events. And through it all, I twitch. I sigh when I push the radio button in my American made SUV. I cringe when I press that red power button on the remote, hesitant to hear the day’s events on the nightly news.

Mostly my therapy for PTTS involves writing. I write here on medium (to my three fans, thank you for reading). I write strongly worded letters to politicians. I troll Trump on social media. I turn down the volume during his speeches — forcing myself to only read his words. I have begun to follow activists sites, and I even began a medium publication where teachers can speak their truth to power, called Teaching in Trump’s America.

Unfortunately, the therapy only gives temporary relief, because the Trump Effect has infiltrated my classroom. It began with red hats proudly worn and has recently presented itself with student’s comments and stories. In December, a student proudly showed me an acrylic paperweight he made in technology class. On the paperweight, he had etched Trump’s face and the phrase “locker room talk.” I asked him if he realized the importance of that phrase, he blushed and said yes. I was not convinced that this student fully comprehended how offensive words can be for many people.

Unfortunately, I have many anecdotes of how my classroom has been impacted by the current political climate. I have written many posts trying to digest these changes, but every time I think that the rise of hatred, bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and misogyny have peaked, they rear their ugly head sending me back to the proverbial therapist’s couch.

Many people tell me to relax. They say it will only be four (or no more than eight) years in which I will be traumatized. What they do not recognize is that their casual attitude is part of my anxiety. The normalization of hate and fear is making me feel uneasy. It is not democracy or the system that I fear. Ultimately, if marches, speeches, and activism are the salve, then complacency and silence are the salt in the wound.