Announcement and Next Steps!

Big announcement time – I’m thrilled to share that I’ve joined The Phoenix Theater Company as Institutional Advancement Manager! I will be establishing relationships with corporate partners in the community and expanding the portfolio of donors through grants and sponsorships. I’m excited to be working with such creative people and to advance an organization I’ve been a fan of for a long time. I can work from home some and work on the incredibly amazing theatre campus, too. My office is steps from backstage so you know I’m in my element! Be sure to stop by my office the next time you see a show or hit the ArtBar and Bistro during the amazing 101st season (when we reopen)! How will this change the focus of this blog?  That remains to be seen but what won’t change is my passion and commitment to public schools, students, and teachers.  Taking a step out of the system may allow me fresh ways to view it and create change in new ways.  I may write more about wellness and self-care and I’m sure I will write more about equity and privilege.  On that note, are you looking for ways to make a difference in the world today? Here’s one: Join your local NAACP chapter. I’m a proud member of the West Valley NAACP. I value the community, what I learn, and the opportunity to grow with people I respect who are committed to change. Join me and let me know when you do. Find your local chapter here. Here’s another: If you are a white person interested in doing more, please consider reading White Fragility. Racism is a structure, not an event. From White Fragility I learned we need to have conversations about HOW our own racism manifests, not IF, and what to do about it.

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 Stay tuned, folx, this is only the beginning! 

The Letter of Resignation I Wanted to Write

From my last blog at Stories from School today…

It’s hard for me to believe, but after twenty years of teaching, this is my last week as a teacher. I wrote my letter of resignation a few months ago. It was a short, simple statement beginning with my intention to leave and thanking the school board, superintendent, administrators, colleagues, and especially, the students I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from.

Here’s the longer version of why I’m leaving.

After years of successful and rewarding teaching, I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer, in good conscience, teach. I am the type of person who needs to feel effective to be fulfilled. I can no longer be an effective teacher under the conditions given, conditions rampant across the nation. I cannot fulfill my vision of good teaching and so I have become a “conscientious objector.” This is not a decision I’ve come to lightly, and from someone who has found personal identity in the title “teacher” for half my life. It is not because I am burnt out but because I am demoralized.

There is a difference between demoralization and burnout. Burnout indicates a lack of resilience. I am plenty resilient – I practice yoga, self-care and mindfulness daily, set boundaries between work and home life, and say no to projects that don’t fuel me. Demoralization is “rooted in discouragement and despair bourne out of ongoing value conflicts with pedagogical policies, reform mandates, and school policies” (Santoro, p 3). Demoralization is a contextual issue, not a psychological one.

I am not alone. Arizona has approximately 95,000 certified teachers, but only about 52,000 are teaching, according to the Arizona Department of Education (Educator Retention and Recruitment Report, 2015). My demoralization fits my context but the truth is universal.

Many teachers who experience demoralization recall it happening gradually over a period of time, not necessarily at a single incident. While my demoralization has crept in gradually over the past several years, it lept in front of me one day this past winter, too big, too loud, and too scary to ignore.

We were delivering yet another round of benchmark tests. It was December, a time in elementary schools when teachers know you need the best, most engaging material in your repertoire to keep your students from climbing the ceilings and walls with pre-holiday madness. Giving them a computerized, standardized test felt like I was torturing my ten and eleven-year-olds. I was feeling literally trapped in my tiny portable classroom, severely overheated and stuffed with 31 5th graders. In an effort to “prepare an environment that mimics the AZ Merit test,” our special area classes were cut for the two days it would take to take the tests.

I was hot, literally and figuratively. But forced to comply, I read the directions to my class aloud (don’t get out of your seat without permission, keep your eyes forward, etc.) and helped my students log-in and begin the online assessment.

After a while, one young man got out of his seat. I became so upset (RULE NUMBER ONE WAS DON’T GET OUT OF YOUR SEAT!) I hissed at him, “What are you doing? Why are you out of your seat?” He replied sheepishly, “Oh sorry, I just forgot.” He glanced back at me with scared eyes as he returned to his seat.

I returned to my desk and sat down heavily, thoughts swirling: What was I doing? What had I become? Had I just whisper-yelled at a student for getting out of his seat? It hit me that I didn’t like it and didn’t want to perpetuate this system anymore. “The dilemma in demoralization is not a question of what should be done; the problem is what should be done is not possible” (Santora, p. 55).

I went home and had a long tearful conversation with my family and decided to end my teaching career. When I reflected on the decision I had made, I felt a huge weight lift. I knew it was the right thing for me to do.

My motto of late has been “Into the Unknown.” But I was inspired by a different song by Elsa, “It’s time to see what I can do – to test the limits and break through.” I will always have a passion for students, teachers, and public schools, and leaving teaching will give me a new perspective and opportunities to advocate. I will take my passion and dedication and direct it in other ways. I will find a way to live a meaningful life in a different context – a context where I can be effective and do good work.

That’s what I wanted people to know. But I wish to express sincere gratitude for the people who I’ve shared so much joy with over the years of teaching, from my first colleagues and mentors at Willow Grove in Illinois, to my fellow Bobcats at Sunset Hills, the AEA/NEA crew, my Arizona and National State Network of Teachers of the Year family, the #amAZingNBCTs, the Arizona K12 Center and the National Board, as well as all of the other educators, administrators and advocates I have worked with along the way. But especially, to you, my hundreds (thousands?) of students. You are all the ones who made it so hard to leave.

Pictures from the class of 2020 in kindergarten!

It’s Been A While

It’s been an entire year since I’ve blogged on this site.  It doesn’t seem possible, but then I reflect on how many things have changed since last May: a whole school year with the usual madness behind us, celebrating my 20th year in the classroom, a successful run of Disney’s  Frozen, Jr. with a cast and crew of over 135 kindergarten through twelfth graders, and, oh yeah, a global pandemic.  I’ll be posting a blog later this week with some big news but in case you missed these:

Here is one of my favorite blogs I’ve ever written, about the resurgence of arts during the pandemic and how that ties to ESSA funding.

Here is a blog I wrote for one of my favorite sites as a parent and teacher, Understood.  It is a goodbye letter to my students celebrating their achievements and growth, even during distance learning.

Here is a blog from Stories from School with reflections and learning from my 20 years as a classroom teacher.

If you want to see other blogs from Stories from School you may have missed, click here.

 

Stayed tuned for some big news ahead!

Teacher Appreciation Week and Blog Season

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week!  We can truly appreciate teachers by paying us fairly, providing reasonable class sizes, allowing for well-paid support staff, etc. Please contact your lawmakers and post to social media with #FundOurSchools and #ThankATeacher.  If you’d like more Teacher Appreciation tips, check out this blog from Expect More Arizona.

I’ve had a number of other blog posts posted over the past few weeks.  ICYMI:

In Ed Week, a blog about my experience with Empatico and how using a compare/contrast sentence stem may change how my city is perceived.

On Educators for Higher Standards, a blog about my disappointment with the Arizona legislature’s $340 million mistake when offering a menu of assessments for Arizona’s students.

On Stories from School an update on the Arizona National Board Certified Teachers Network legislative initiative called Two Weeks of Action.  You can also hear legislative updates from ASBA’s Chris Kotterman and more about Two Weeks of Action on the 3 Peas in a Pod Podcast.

Happy reading and thank you to all my fabulous educator friends out there!

The Hidden Education Crisis and a Missed Opportunity for Arizona to Improve

This blog struck a chord with my fellow educators on Facebook and Twitter.  There were stories of 56 absences from a first grader and of high schoolers getting signed out for lunch and not coming back for the rest of the day.  There were feelings of anger at districts and administration for placing blame on teachers and not doing more to help.  There was anger directed at parents for contributing to the problem and not being held accountable.  There was a call for social workers and truancy officers.

The Arizona Department of Education missed a big opportunity to help solve this crisis in our ESSA state plan.  It is my hope that our new Superintendent of Public Instruction will put some low-cost, research-based, easy-to-implement strategies in place through the state plan.  Read more on the Educators for Higher Standards blog.

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The Other Opportunity Cost of Teaching

This blog post is a raw one…so raw I wrote the bulk of it a year ago and tabled it because it felt like I was too close to the situation.  It was ready to reveal itself after some editing (thanks, Don), time and distance.

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Since this is my own space, I’ll share some extra detail.  Last year was a particularly difficult year in (then) eighteen years of classroom teaching.

The needs of the vast majority of my 90 students were so intense, I was utterly overwhelmed.  Their reading levels were multiple grade levels below where they should be, they had no willingness to engage in respectful communication with each other or with their peers, and many of them needed serious help for their many ACEs, far beyond what can be expected of a classroom teacher.  I struggled with basic classroom management as if I were a beginning teacher, not a veteran.  Every day was a challenge and I searched high and low for each tiny spark of a bright light.

My student teacher, a long-time decorated military veteran, quit one day, explaining to me in tears that fighting in a combat zone was easier than teaching at my school (I did eventually convince him to stay but it took all my powers of persuasion and the reminder of his proximity to graduation).

Over the months, my stress level soared and took its toll on my body.  I suffered a total physical breakdown that rendered me unable to walk for a week.  My mental health deteriorated until eventually I learned to cope by becoming absent and detached – burnout.

Today, I pass those students on the playground each day as I walk this year’s crop of students to lunch.  At the beginning of the year, I would see them and immediately my heart would race, my muscles clench, and I would feel nauseous.  Over time, the feelings lessened.  Guilt overtook as students came up for hugs and hellos and I begin to realize how far I removed myself from them.  Was it self-preservation? A mild form of PTSD?Trauma?  I don’t know but I’m glad I came out the other side.  This year has been like a gift…a fresh start.

Read the full post on the Stories from School site here.

 

 

A Student of My Students First

I recently reflected on the importance of knowing my students well after a dreaded conversation with my principal.

I’m reading Raquel Rios’s Teacher Agency for Equity: A Framework for Conscientious Engagement.  The book has caused me to question ways in which we attempt to build equity in education.  But no matter what I ponder, I know nothing is accomplished without relationships.  Rios said, “Teaching and learning is an act of truth and authenticity in relationships is required for it to work. It is ritualistic and ceremonial at times but it is also organic and improvised. It is a skill and also an art, it is a science and an act of faith” (p.5). Building relationships with students are all those things.  Read the blog on the Stories from School blog here.

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After that, read Susan Collin’s blog about the difficulty of learning names as an elementary specialist here.

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HELPING STUDENTS ACCESS COMPLEX TEXTS IN ALIGNED LESSONS

I struggle with the lack of aligned curricular resources to meet our students’ needs in reading, particularly our struggling readers. And engaging pre-teens in a text that is more than 200 years old is always a unique challenge!  Here’s how I help my students access complex text, like the Preamble, by adding access points for all students.  Check out my strategies on the Educators for Higher Standards blog here.

 

History Has Its Eyes on You

If you know me in real life, you know I have a *bit* of an obsession with the musical Hamilton.  As in, I regularly perform a one-woman show while driving around the city of Surprise, I’ve seen it live twice (so far) and the call and response in my classroom is: Me: “The code word is Rochambeau, dig me?”  Students: “Rochambeau!”  Me: “You have your orders, now go, man, go!”

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If you’re #Hamfam, you might get it.  If not, I might seem a little off to you, but the combination of history and musical theater just really gets me every time I hear it (which is often).

My friend and fellow NBCT, Susan Collins, find inspiration in the lessons from the Founding Fathers and share part one of a two-part blog post on the Stories from School blog here.