“Teaching is a calling”…& other Smarmy Excuses

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Yesterday, I was at my local discount grocery store (because yeah, teacher). Before I had completed my perusal of the first isle, I spotted a familiar face – one of my building’s regular substitute teachers was there with a friend.

We chatted for a bit & before long, the topic of teachers leaving Oklahoma came up. The friend (whom I had never met prior to that encounter) asks, “Why do you think that is?”

Now, Dear Reader…you know me well. And in case you’ve forgotten, my Midwestern upbringing and Scots-Irish heritage tends to make me rather up front. Not rude, just not one to waste time. So, my answer was rather short. I replied, “Pay is a huge factor. A single teacher with two kids qualifies for food stamps here. Not a whole lot of incentive to stay if the neighboring states are paying $10-20,000 more. If it weren’t for my spouse, I wouldn’t have ever come here to start with. Not for this pay.” 

I honestly expected a thoughtful nod, a friendly “see you around” to the substitute teacher, & to continue shopping with little memory of the encounter after some time goes by…Dear Reader, I was wrong.

This complete stranger looks at me and states, “But teaching is a calling. People teach because they want to make a difference. Getting paid more doesn’t make them a better teacher.”

I kinda expected some shirtless, bear-chested, Redneck to pop through the off-brand cereals instructing a passer-by to, “Hold my beer.”

*Side note: At this point in my retelling of this story, my spouse was starting to give my “the eye” having many a personal experience with my decidedly Irish temper. However, being as this was a total stranger…I bit my tongue.

Eyebrow raised, I simply stated, “Other things certainly factor in, but you must agree that a hungry child is going to be distracted by that hungry belly instead of learning at their full potential.”

He nodded in genial agreement.

“So, wouldn’t a teacher who is rested after a single 50-hour work week be a better teacher than one who has to put in an extra 30 hours on top of the original 50 at a second job?” I continued (my perplexed tone and “are-you-an-idiot-or-just-that-selfish” look starting to send the stranger’s internal warning system on alert). “With a Master’s Degree and more than a decade of experience under my belt, surely I should be able to afford to send my kids to college…right?”

I think I scared him a bit…because at the moment I turned to reach for the shark shaped cheese crackers my youngest asked for, he walked off. 

Dear Reader, I was dumbfounded. How in all that is good in this world can we continue to allow folks to hide behind the excuse of education being a “calling” when society continues to add more and more requirements before allowing someone the title of “teacher”. A century ago, maybe; but not in 2017. 2017 requires 4 years of collegiate coursework (minimum), months of internship, hours and hours of continual professional development one in the position (without pay for your time involved), and no overtime pay. That sounds more like a pharmacist or a lawyer, not a nun.

Education is NOT a calling any longer. It is a profession & as such deserves professional compensation reflecting the requirements associated with the position. 

I was too polite to tell that stranger at the store my unvarnished feelings (& I’m still being polite here), but Educators, the world needs to see what your true value is.

…but it won’t until you deny it those smarmy crutch comments like “calling” and “service”.

Chicken Little Out

I thought I knew what I was doing

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I’m a teacher with an undergraduate degree from a respected midwestern university & a master’s degree from another.  I’ve spent the majority of my career devouring professional development – particularly stuff involving brain research. I was named a local university’s “Mentor Teacher of the Year” for 2015 & my teacher evaluations have always been impressive.  I work my tail off to be good at what I do. So when my oldest child started having trouble at school, I thought I knew what I was doing.

I had all this training, right?  Surely I could figure out how to “fix” things to help her be successful.  Don’t get me wrong, I want my child to learn how to LEARN, not just get good scores.  I have this love of reading that I want her to share with me – I have always had these dreams of sharing books together & seeing my kids excel. 

So, we got her glasses when her kindergarten teacher noted that she was squinting.  We took advantage of every after school reading help option we were given.  We dealt with the nightly battles to get the homework done and the 20 minutes of reading every night.  We tried bribery to get that reading done – “read the book & I’ll take you to see the movie in the theaters”, “you aren’t allowed to see the rest of the Harry Potter movies until you read the books”, “read all the Harry Potter books and we’ll take a family vacation (we’ve never done a big trip) to Harry Potter World!”.  Anything, ANYTHING to get this child to read!!!   …and nothing worked for long.  Graphic novels helped, but getting her to go through an extended plot line? No go.

We spent year after year hearing the same things from each of her teachers:

     “She needs to read more” (my God did we try everything under the sun to get her to do this)

     “She struggles to pay attention” (we tried fidget toys, alternate seating, reward/punishment, etc)

     “She has trouble with math too” (drill & practice, drill & practice)
And yet, while she could occasionally score at or above grade level in both math and reading…she was occasionally scoring a year behind.   STAR360 & state exams were always contradictory.  Add in our state’s 3rd grade mandatory retention based on a single reading test & this Momma about broke out in hives waiting to hear how it went. But because she could demonstrate mastery, no help for any possible learning disability & suggestions that she just needed to try more. We pulled every string & favor we knew to try and figure out the magic identifier to what was holding her back.
So, now fast forward to this year. It was August & she’s staring at 5th grade – the end of elementary school & my spouse and I were getting that panicky feeling: if we don’t get this nailed down NOW, she’s going to be that kid that falls through the cracks.  Not because her teachers won’t care, but because she’ll be that kid who does just well enough to not fall into the triage group.  Insert mom pulling the “don’t mess with me” card (not my most proud moment as an educator, but you’d throw that card too for your own kiddo in a heartbeat).  When it became obvious that the district was not going to help her, we started the 504 route…and got lucky.

See, we thought that maybe we might get an Other Health Impairment for some mild variety of Attention Deficit Disorder, but our new general physician noticed a subtle thing with her eyes during a basic checkup: her eyes didn’t converge quite evenly.  We’re talking seriously subtle.  So subtle that not one of the three optometrists who had diagnosed her vision issues over her childhood didn’t note it…not even once. Doc suggested we call around to see if we can get her in with someone who specializes in pediatric optometry – specifically with vision therapy.  Turns out there is one office (ONE) in our large metro area and we got her in to see someone over winter break. BINGO!

My kids had “Convergence Insufficiency” (yeah, it’s a real thing).  Seems that she has a brain communication issue involving her eyes. A totally fixable thing with some therapy, but something that gets missed a lot. It has only recently become a recognized condition & the majority of general optometrists don’t know to check for it.  

Insert teacher-mom guilt here. I checked out the symptoms on the website http://www.convergenceinsufficiency.org& watched a TEDx video (’cause, yeah) & my mind about exploded. Not only is this my kid…this was/is…ME.  %$*#*&&@#!!!!!!!

So, we’re getting the big therapy evaluation & then starting a therapy regime with (hopefully) some pretty valuable results by the end of the current school year. But I know there are more parents & educators out there who have a kiddo just like mine: one who loves to learn, but gets headaches. Loves science & math, but struggles with reading.  Has test scores all over the map and you just can’t get the puzzle pieces to fit on how to help this kiddo.

There is someone out there with answers – keep looking. 

Chicken Little Out

P.S.  Notice how we both have one eye that doesn’t quite seem to focus center?  Big indicator of CI.

1 Wish…#OKLAED

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A few weeks back, a story came across my newsfeed about Parkway School Disrict’s way of greeting students who came to collect their schedules for the current school year.  Using an old-fashioned chalk board and some sidewalk chalk, they had students and staff finish the statement “My Hope…” As they entered campus (see the video here – seriously, it’s super cool!). 

It moved me.  I think it was the combination of something so simply done with such a powerful step towards building rapport right from the get go.  A quiet, yet glaring, “we CARE” type of thing.  And I wanted to duplicate that for my own students.

Fast-forward to Day 1 with my students.  I did my usual #TLAP Playdough-and-PIRATE intro, but this time I added a Post-It and marker to every desk next to the container of Playdough.  Kids were certainly intrigued by the strange arrangement and my added, “No syllabus today” probably helped perk that interest a bit more.

After giving my introductions and warming them up with a goofy Question of the Day about an outrageous scenario involving money, the toilet, and lunch ladies; I asked them to write on their Post-It 1 Wish for 2017.  My only parameter was that it be honest and pertaining to the timeframe between that day and the end of May.  No names on the Post-Its, just their wish – here’s a pic of our finished board:


As you can see, many of them wrote academic goals, which are good…but those become a better person/friend/family member ones?  Chills, right?!?

Turned out to be a great activity & for days, the kids would spend that last minute or two of passing before classes start reading each other’s responses.  Even cooler, right?  But it still didn’t feel complete.  I wanted the kids to feel like they were WELCOMED – you know, wanted as individual students with all their quirks and stuff.  

So, I tossed the idea out there to do a version of this with the staff & my boss approved.

Tomorrow, my school district is having “Choose Your Own Adventure”. The idea is kinds of a pseudo-EdCamp where staff members can choose professional development sessions from a variety of choices offered/requested by fellow staff members.  We’ll be kicking off with the entire district’s collection of certified staff members filling the stands of my campus’ Field House – a perfect opportunity!

Guess what I was doing before I left campus today?  Yep, I coerced a coworker to help me slap up a place, right at the entrance, for staff to write a wish for our students this year.


Not the most fancy of products, but I’m pretty excited to see what staff members write (and a bit anxious that they don’t just walk right by it).

Now, the #OKLAED challenge (thanks @MrJoshFlores for the idea):  click here to add your “1 Wish” for your students of 2017. My hope is to cull a great list of things for us to look back at when we need a reminder of what really matters – the KIDS!

Oh the Feels!!!!

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The following was posted on social media by my best friend & fellow teacher @lkevke. It was her gift to her son’s kindergarten teacher.

Dear Mrs. *****,

          We told you at conferences that we have been saving the rocks that come home daily in B****’s shoes, and that we would be sending them back at the end of the year. Somewhere between the second or third fundraising packet and the fourth or fifth rock sucked up into my poor vaccuum, it became a running joke in our house that if everyone saved the rocks they wouldn’t need to hold fundraisers (I know school’s need money – no judgement!). Weeks later, as the rocks filled the smaller container and we had to move them to a larger one, they began to take on new meaning.


          Each day as the rocks were emptied from the shoes and added to the jar it became clear that these weren’t just rocks anymore, they represented bits of knowledge that he brought home with him each day. Some days they were handwriting skills or learning to write his last name and other days they represented sight words and counting by tens. It’s now the end of the year and his jar is full of these little pieces of knowledge that you and other teachers at *******  have enriched him with over the past 9 months. For that we are very thankful.


          What you do with the jar of rocks is up to you. One option is to keep it in your classroom as a reminder that you are making a difference each day in the lives of your students’ one rock at a time. You are also more than welcome to throw them back out on the playground for your new students to take home in their shoes next year (the playground is bound to be running low). Whatever you choose please know that we are forever thankful for the “rocks” that he came home with each day!


Enjoy your summer,

 B***** & Lori K***** (and little B*****)

     Now, I know I’m biased. I have loved this woman as the Sister-of-My-Heart for more than twenty years. But this…is just beautiful.

     I could bore you with their family story, but let me just say that this family knows perseverence in the face of difficulty & Lori’s creative (and heart felt) way of showing her appreciation to the teacher who has had the responsibility of her son is what a few of my local law  and policy makers could use a dose of remembering: we are not a business, we are caretakers. 

   This past Monday I had the true pleasure of reading names at graduation. I teach at my state’s largest high school & having 1,068 names on that list was a bit daunting for my fellow name readers and I. Toss in a crowd of close to 20,000 & my stomach was certainly in knots as the show got started. Yet as the evening progressed, I realized I had the COOLEST job of the night: I was in a position to get to personally congratulate half of the seniors as they walked past.

   From high-fives, cheeky grins, & a few quick hugs between names… It Was Awesome. The kids were so proud! And nervous. And just adorable.

   So bless you parents who get that we grow to love your kids too. And thanks for  the notes like Lori’s that we mushy types keep to remind us of that love when things get tough. 

     

#OneWord – Community

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In an effort to meet my chosen resolution to up my blogging for 2016, I wanted to answer an #oklaed challenge. Little did I know that the first one of 2016 would hit me right in the feels.

See, I’m a fairly recent transplant to OK. My family was one of the founding immigrant families in St. Louis, MO.  From Dogtown & Tower Grove Park, to Spanish Lake & (most recently) Eureka, my rather big extended family has rooted themselves into the fabric of that city’s growth. While I’m enjoying my new home in Oklahoma,  STL still spells “home” & we bleed Cardinal red and Blue Note blue, not Crimson (OU) or Orange (OSU)…at least for now.

This past week, my hometown experienced a catastrophic level of flooding – 12 inches of rain over a short time led to nearly 40 feet of flood water. Record levels that even the “experts” couldn’t quite predict.  Or prevent.

I felt helpless watching the news and social media coverage of rising flood waters as they crept up to and over the businesses and homes of people I knew.  I was frustrated as my plans to come back and help friends and former neighbors evacuate areas never meant to flood were thwarted as Interstate 44 closed outside of Springfield, Rolla, Fenton…and Eureka.  I was in near constant contact with my brothers and my best friend since grade school regarding their ability to access their homes…and in Lori’s case, I prayed the train tracks next to her historic home in Pacific, MO would act as a levee.  She was lucky – they held back for her what wasn’t held back from my niece’s home just blocks away.

As what I saw unfold via text & social media became state, then national, then international news I saw story after story of these people I grew up with banning together. #EurekaStrong, #OnceALionAlwaysALion, & #PTown were sayings-turned-hashtags that have been used before to describe the sense of community for this collection of small towns a few miles west of the larger city of St Louis.  But this time it felt different. This time, I was 350 miles away & stuck.  This time, I read about my former teammates showing up in droves to help clean up my former coaches’ home, about how the guy I sat next to in Mr. Robinson’s Chemistry class at Eureka High School back in 1997 was offering to show up with his truck to whomever needed help evacuating, and I read posts where my former co-workers were offering to put up evacuees and those who couldn’t get to their homes.  This was their town and they were ready to care for those who live in it.

Then the waters receded and the help…expanded.  Fox High School was so overwhelmed with donation that they had to cut themselves off as a donation site. Communities dealing with flood devastation, but had clean water, sent pumper trucks to neighboring communities with contaminated sources.  Businesses that had started in these town but had moved on were back to help with the clean-up of their former neighbors while other businesses opened their door to feed and resupply the volunteers.

I had found my word for the challenge.  My #OneWord – Community.

Because no matter what gets thrown their way, these towns bounce back.  Stronger than ever, because they know that the whole is stronger when its parts work together.

“You show up”.

Funny. It was only a few months ago when I used that phrase I heard so often growing up to explain my offer of help to a new coworker dealing with the loss of a parent.  She was surprised at my offer to come over and cook/clean.  To me it was simple. That’s what we do in my home town – we show up.

As 2015 closed and 2016 is dawning, I want that feeling for #oklaed.  I think we’re still young but we certainly know that the community test is here (hello budget/teacher shortage/etc.).  I believe we have the talent and the heart – I see that same look in my fellow educators’ eyes that I see when I run into the folks of my hometown. You’re ready to grab your gear – you know it’s time.

So many well known #oklaed bloggers have written some really elegant, well researched, and content specific blogs on the issues Oklahoma is facing in 2016.  No way am I ready for that level, but I can offer a #OneWord goal.

Community – because when the *stink* hits the ceiling, this group knows…you show up.

 

Chicken Little Out

 

Dear Legislator,

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It’s time to stop the rhetoric, the blame games, the sleigh of hand…all that junk.  You and I each have a job to do – create a better future for the next generation & we need each other to do it.  We also need to rebuild some trust in each other.

I’ve met a few of you and I know you’ve met a few of my coworkers; I get the impression that neither of us left that situation feeling the warm fuzzies.  You saw the educators are unreasonably demanding & whiny.  The educators saw through your double-talk (many of us do deal with teenagers on a daily basis).  In the end, the conversations we had did little to fix the problem of what’s to come.

The reality is this – we’ve reached the crisis point.  In our state, we don’t have enough qualified people in the classroom.  This is frightening.  We’re filling classroom teaching positions with under qualified, ill prepared, and (in some cases) the very people our neighbors ran off.

“So what?” you say.  SO WHAT?!?!?!?  You are OKAY with putting your children in this scenario?!?!?!? I, for one, an certainly not okay with this.  Not as a teacher, not as a parent, and certainly not as a responsible member of my community.  Do you not see that by having to desperately snag anyone we can to fill positions means we increase the risk of multiple incidences of “that teacher from the news” showing up…in a classroom…in YOUR child’s classroom?!?!

Stop and let that marinate for a bit.  Have you noticed the number of stories on “that” teacher have been rising lately.  Ever consider why that is?

There is nothing.  NOTHING more important to me than my children and, I adopt yours when I have them in my classroom. Honey, you can point whatever finger you want my way. You can ridicule my profession, question my methods, and call me all kinds of names…but when the scary people come out of the woodwork, I’m exactly the one you hope is there with your child. I’m your 5’6″ ace in the hole. Because those kids are MY kids.

We all agree that we want future generations to further and better the community, nation, world.  We agree that your best shot at making this happen is by being educated.  So fund education – it truly is that simple.

John Green Pays School Taxes

Chicken Little Out