Episode 4 – Advocacy 101

Part of being a good teacher is being an advocate for yourself, your students, and your school.  But sometimes, it’s hard to know just where to start.

Angela Scioli (Red4Ed Founder, NCTVN Fellow), Jessica Benton (NCAE, Organize 2020), and Trey Ferguson (WCPSS Beginning Teacher Network Co-Founder, NCTVN Fellow) talk about their organizations and some of the best ways teachers can advocate for themselves, their students, their schools, and their communities.

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NC Teachers are Scared to Speak Out: How to get past your fear and be an effective advocate

By Angela Scioli, John deVille, and Teacher X

If you’ve read Nashonda Cooke’s “Back to School / Back to the Fight” article, you might be fired up and ready to fight to defend North Carolina’s public schools – I know I was!  I was also inspired by Governor Hunt’s recent comment at a Public Schools First NC Event, “Teachers need to understand if this [situation] is going to change, teachers are going to have speak up, stand up, take some risks! “

But, if you are a North Carolina teacher, you might also be scared to speak up.  I’ve spoken to a lot of teachers around the state who are intimidated by the thought of public advocacy.  Let’s review the facts, get past the spin, and bury that bogeyman so we can better advocate for our profession and our students.

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Episode 1 – Part 2

This is Episode 1.2 – “Audi 3000”

In the second part of this two part episode, public school teachers Alicia and Emmanuel continue talking with former educators Meredith and Paul about their decision to leave the classroom.  Besides feeling micro-managed and overworked, they hit on perhaps one of the biggest issues facing teachers today – the issue of teacher pay.

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Episode 1 – Part 1

This is Episode 1.1 – “Audi 3000”

Education Week, March 2015

On the first episode, a hot three teachers talked about what got them into education.  Bringing teachers in is good.  Getting them to stick around is better.  The more experience a teacher has, the more likely it is that they will be effective in the classroom.   What’s more, it’s estimated that teacher turnover costs the state billions.

But why do teachers leave?

Autonomy. This week on the Hot Four Teachers Podcast, public school teachers Alicia and Emmanuel talk with former educators (and apparent cat lovers) Meredith and Paul about their reasons for getting out of the teaching biz.  And the importance of keeping cats trimmed.  And looking good for race cameras.

About the Podcast

Hot Four Teachers was recorded in conjunction with Red 4 Ed NC – an education demonstration in progress – and is dedicated to the goal of amplifying teacher voice.  Red 4 Ed is a special project of Public Schools First NC, supporting North Carolina’s public schools through information, education, and engagement.  Our in and out music, “Believe in Me”, was provided by Ryan Little. Believe in Me (Ryan Little) / CC BY 4.0

You can find Red 4 Ed NC on Facebook or Twitter (@Red4EdNC).  Red 4 Ed is a special project of Public Schools First, NC.  You can visit them online at publicschoolsfirstnc.com or follow them on Twitter @PS1NC.

Back to School, Back to the Fight

By Nashonda Cooke

As an elementary school teacher and a mother of two amazing little girls of my own, I hear the name, “Mom” at least 50 times a day. It is one of the sweetest sounds.

What is the definition of a mother? Merriam-Webster’s latest version offers two interesting entries: (1) a female parent or a woman of authority, and (2) something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale. For example, the mother of all science fair projects.

In the comfort of my own home, I embody both of those definitions. My daughters depend on me for everything. Their meals, bath time rituals, payment for field trips, and a safe and comforting house to come home to are just a few examples. I am their provider and their guide to navigate through this world. I am a female, a parent, and the influence I have over their lives is humbly profound.

That’s really not different from my responsibilities to my students in my classroom. For the past 16 years, over 7 hours a day, it has been my calling to steer students and provide them with the most appropriate and meaningful daily experience possible. I am not the parent in this scenario, but I do have quite an affect on these young minds. I am preparing them with the necessary skills to be self sufficient and positively navigate and even improve society. It’s a huge and sometimes overwhelming responsibility to help them maximize their true potential. My calling as a mother and teacher is to simply do one thing: lead. The same characteristics that have created a caring, giving mother have created a caring and  giving educator. I’m not saying you need to be one to be the other, but the similarities are so obvious. Both are a phenomenal honor.

In order for me to do my job, in order for anyone to do their job effectively, the right tools are necessary. Unfortunately, it is an understatement to say I am not being provided with adequate tools. The North Carolina General Assembly believes I am a miracle worker. While I do believe in miracles and do think I am a pretty good teacher, no one can do their job empty-handed.

In recent years, I, my coworkers, and my daughters’ teachers have been asked to do so much more with so much less. Teacher assistants are disappearing, class sizes are growing, textbooks and objectives are inappropriate and out of date, and technology is lagging.

Testing has taken over true instruction. How can I prepare my students to be accountable for information if I am not given the dignity to deliver the message at a pace that allows them to make connections and gain mastery?

Who came up with the idea of time-bound absolute proficiency anyway? Sometimes a student comes to me not speaking English or maybe he or she is reading well below grade level. Proficiency and mastery in my eyes is the growth they make that year. I celebrate all accomplishments! Big, small, every day, in every way. I do the same with my daughters. My oldest has worked diligently all year growing in her math skills. She stayed consistent and showed improvement. Her end of the year score was a two. We celebrated that two like it was a five. Her effort and resilience means more to me than a number. All our schools and students can benefit from a “growth mindset”.

Who is behind this destruction of one the world’s most vital professions? Who is refusing to fund the schools? Who is firing and pushing the country’s best educators out of a calling? I guess the more important reason is . . . why?

Next question, what can we do about it? I’ll tell you what. Speak out! Keep speaking out. Who better to improve public education than public educators? From the first day of preschool to the very last day of a student’s 12th grade year, who knows their academic needs better? Who knows how he/she would learn best? Who knows what that student needs? The teacher. So why are we allowing legislators make these decisions that have proven to be catastrophic?

We can no longer stand by hoping and wishing. Parents do not give up on their kids’ best interests, and teachers should not complacently stand by and watch our students’ potential sold off to the highest bidder. It’s time to march, make phone calls, write letters and keep doing all of those things and more. Our students’ lives are at stake. Who’s with me?

NaShonda Cooke

North Carolina Public School Teacher and Momma Bear

Hot Four Teachers Episode 0

Red4Ed Mug

This is Episode 0 – “The Test Pancake”.

It is a well known fact that the first pancake, the test pancake, almost never turns out perfectly.  This is our first pancake.  In the inaugural episode of the Hot Four Teachers Podcast, Emmanuel and Angie join me in discussing reasons for getting into teaching and how we rationalize staying in teaching.  We also talk about a few challenges facing classroom teachers that may make teacher retention difficult – one of the main factors being the issue of voice.  And finally, we finish up by talking about what’s making us happy.

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That Time We Made a Podcast


One of the most difficult things about being a teacher is losing your sense of self.   You do your best to maintain neutrality whilst encouraging students to think for themselves.  You keep quiet in public debates, lest you be deemed too outrageous for the classroom – or too biased to weigh in with any validity.  You don’t talk about who you’re voting for with students or parents.  And if your views are not accepted by the wider community, you don’t talk about religion, sexuality, or extracurricular activities.  You don’t share the funniest videos on Facebook.  You don’t retweet someone who used foul language on Twitter.  And, slowly, you begin to lose your sense of self.

Except for with other teachers.

Because other teachers can share your pain.

There are currently not too many outlets for teachers to share, publicly, with one another, feelings about anything other than the latest and hottest in educational trends.  There are the occasional op-eds, though these are decried by voices that are much louder and often much angrier than our own.  There are open letters, though many of those open letters are sent by teachers who are fed up and on their way out – now no longer concerned that there may be a price to pay for their bold speech.  Sometimes, down in the comments on the New & Observer, there are teachers who dare to pipe up. Often, these comments are met with derision by the very people who have legislative power over the institution where we spend so much of our time and energy.

Everybody thinks they know school because they’ve been to school.

They don’t know school.

Red4EdNC seeks to magnify the voices of North Carolina’s educators providing a platform from which teachers can speak to each other and to public stakeholders regarding an educator’s perspective on issues that affect education the most.  Joining together to actively demonstrate, participating in civic events, and writing think pieces that represent one teacher’s well thought out, edited, and streamlined perspective are some ways that the group has set about meeting this objective.

The podcast aims to record dynamic conversations about these issues, providing opportunities for engagement with the educational community and the community we serve.  There are podcasts about teaching fads and instructional technology.  There are podcasts about inspirational teachers of the past and present.  There are a few podcasts about educational challenges – usually these result in stellar TED talks of some sort.  Thus far, I’ve yet to see a podcast that captures and shares educators having meaningful conversations about challenges within the field of education with the purpose of supporting, affirming, engaging the community.

This is that podcast.

You can listen inby visiting the “Hot Four Teachers” page or by downloading the podcast via iTunes.  If you’re interested in contributing to the podcast, or if you have an idea for an episode topic, let us know!  We’d love to hear your voice.

School Vouchers and the Enemies of Public Education

Button - Wear Red 4 Ed

By Lee Quinn, Wake County Teacher

In his defense of the state’s ill-conceived voucher law, Darrell Allison states that “NC simply doesn’t educate poor children well” and that such children are “victims of an inferior educational model”. I fundamentally disagree. His self-serving reasoning follows that the way to improve our public education system is to abandon it and participate actively in its destruction.

While stating that children in our poorest schools tend not to perform well on state tests, he fails to ask the seemingly obvious question of why students at poor schools tend to struggle most on these tests. In declaring that vouchers are a benefit to poor communities, their advocates reveal their underlying assumption: they believe that poor communities are failing their own children, but that poverty itself must have nothing to do with why.

This highly insulting notion reeks of the malfeasance motivating the actions of political voucher advocates. Communities in poverty have poorly performing schools because their students must overcome greater obstacles and challenges to perform at their educational best. It is not due to some intrinsic fault in those students or their teachers that they don’t score as well on bubble tests as wealthier schools, and poverty certainly isn’t a problem that began inside a school.

Does Allison think it’s a coincidence that all of the so-called “failing” schools in our state have unacceptably high degrees of poverty? Or does he believe that poor communities are unable to educate their children, and that the teachers, students, and parents in those communities are to blame for their difficulties?

We know how the anti-public education narrative in the legislature works: declare that public schools are failing, and then make it increasingly difficult for them to succeed by taking away human and financial resources and by treating teachers like piñatas, so that experienced educators leave and our brightest young people shun the profession. Add to that the privatization of schools with vouchers and the expansion of charters, neither of which have an obligation to serve the entire community as public schools do, and you begin to see how the narrative created by the legislature starts to become reality as the result of their own destructive actions,  thus expanding their rationale for further starving our schools of all manner of resources.

There are no educational standards, teacher training, or staff background checks required for the private schools receiving millions in taxpayer subsidized vouchers. Quite literally anybody can teach anything on the taxpayers’ dime with nary an iota of oversight at voucher schools. This lack of accountability means that students can be exposed to a buffet of outlandish ideas in science and history without any academic oversight whatsoever.  Vouchers have nothing to do with “educational freedom” or choice; parents already have the right to send their children to whatever school, teaching whatever curriculum, that they like.

Unlike our public schools, private schools who receive these millions of taxpayer money are not required to submit to the legislature’s asinine A-F “grading” system for schools. That is because the A-F system wasn’t designed to actually measure school performance; it was designed to give legislators another maliciously-conceived and arbitrary way to condemn public schools in order to pave the way for voucher schemes like this one.

It’s not a coincidence that as $17 million was allocated to unaccountable private schools via vouchers, the elimination of  8700 teacher assistant positions –  the largest layoff in North Carolina history – was set into motion. Both actions by the legislature are in concert; they represent the progress of their plan to eviscerate public education and the teaching profession.

We who do the work of educating our children in public schools realize well that our duty is to all of the people of this state. We know well the legislature’s plans for public education, and we seek to shed light on it. At least so far, they can’t gerrymander teachers. Either Mr. Allison is oblivious to the fact that his organization is a pawn in the legislature’s attempts to dismantle public education as a public good, or he is knowingly complicit in that dismantling. Rather than participate in the improvement of this vital pillar of our democracy for all of our children, he and his organization gleefully celebrate and facilitate its enemies.

The way to improve the schools in our poorest communities is not to tear down public education, but to honestly identify and address the causes and conditions of poverty that created these educational challenges in the first place.



The Real Problem with Teaching in North Carolina, Part II

by Nancy Snipes Mosley

The North Carolina Professional Teaching Standards manual begins, “For every student in North Carolina, a knowledgeable, skilled compassionate teacher…a star in every classroom.”

A star in every classroom.

What do stars need to shine? Science is my weakest subject, so I looked it up. The simple answer is energy. When all the elements that provide energy to the star are exhausted, it collapses.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is not providing the elements teachers need to fulfil the “New Vision of Teaching” laid out in our curriculum and standards. Because schools haven’t been given enough resources to meet changing demands, teachers are increasingly pressured to coordinate and train each other. To achieve the highest evaluation ratings, teachers must agree to be exploited and work countless hours outside the classroom. It is exhausting to make so many changes in so little time and demoralizing to be held to such high standards without proper support and compensation.

To be very clear: I applaud the new vision of teaching and learning laid out by the state of North Carolina. I believe in the greater focus on diversity, critical thinking, collaboration, literacy, and other 21st century skills. If you want a teacher to advocate for this with great enthusiasm, just ask me to explain how much better this is for my students.

Here’s an example of how my classroom has been revolutionized using my Civil Rights unit in American History II.

In the past, my students would read the textbook to chart different groups, events, and accomplishments. They would watch a documentary on the 1960s that included civil rights information, and then they would compare a few major leaders.

Now my students are given direct instruction through a Powerpoint with corresponding video footage of protests, riots, interviews, speeches, and debates. They are assigned a person from a diverse pool – famous/grassroots, young/old, black/white, male/female, Republican/ Democrat, rural/urban, Christian/Muslim, gay/straight, nonviolent/militant. They partner up and compare perspectives. They analyze primary and secondary sources, participate in a seminar by debating from their person’s point of view about strategies and government powers, create a museum display that includes written and artistic expression, and then go on a scavenger hunt to find others in the exhibit that compare to their person and themselves.

This took a lot of time and energy, but it was worth it.

While changing how I teach, I also increased involvement with colleagues to help implement changes in my department and school. I have led my Professional Learning Team, joined School Improvement Team, revitalized our Model UN team, given technology workshops, and mentored two student teachers. Though important and rewarding, it has also been a drain on my family time and a distraction from things I could be doing for my own students.

So, how is this reflected in my teacher evaluation? Let’s consider just two of the six Standards. Despite the extra contributions I just listed, my Leadership rating has not increased much because the highest scores in that area are reserved for teachers who make a bigger impact on the whole school or district. For Facilitating Learning, my rating has gone up significantly over the past few years, but it has taken a toll and I still fall short in some areas. I have had long conversations with my administrator and believe my ratings are accurate and fair based on how the instrument is written. My issue is with the rubric (click picture below to enlarge the relevant excerpt) and the message it sends.

For example, there are 50 check boxes for the Facilitating Learning standard. For mastering all of the things that take place with students in your classroom – like critical thinking and problem-solving, instructional methods, technology, and collaboration – you would receive mostly Accomplished ratings. Based on the formatting of the instrument, “accomplished” practice lands you right in the middle column of the form. Suddenly, accomplished feels very…average.

evalu rubric pic

This communicates that the “best” teachers do more and more outside of the classroom on donated time. An instrument that is supposed to be aspirational is actually demoralizing and draining. Going above and beyond feels expected, not appreciated.

Making North Carolina’s new vision of education a reality would be well worth the investment, and our students deserve it. But it will take greater investment in schools. Exploited teachers will eventually burn out. Give teachers the “fuel” to shine – more time and resources. And use an evaluation process that makes teachers feel recognized for their efforts. These changes will make their devotion of extra time and energy sustainable, and we will come closer to the goal of having a “star” in every classroom.

The Secret Time and Energy Drain in Our Schools

Students’ inability to regulate their own behavior is sapping our schools of valuable time and resources. By focusing on self-control, and tracking it by the time students are in high school, we could alleviate a significant administrative burden in our schools.

I will share a few vignettes related to my claim: My mother-in-law works at Target. She reports that young employees have a range of problems related to an inability to regulate their own behavior. They hide drinks at their cashier stations even though it is against policy. They don’t meet dress code; they can’t seem to stay off their phones. They go to the bathroom often and stay gone for too long.

Fast forward to a few days ago; I’m in the main office during first period. One of our front office administrative assistants is frustrated. It’s her job to enter the names and information of all the students who are late each period so they can be assigned a 20-minute lunch detention. Every day, she reports, she has a stack of about thirty to enter, for first period alone.

Segue to my classroom. Despite having assigned a student multiple detentions (and in the process contacting his parents and documenting the incident) he cannot compel himself to put away his phone, and I am not allowed to take possession of it. When I see it, I sigh, and tell him I will be doing another detention assignment and referral. It will take twenty minutes to do all the necessary paperwork and emails. An exchange like this happens multiple times a day and the administrative burden adds up quickly.

Last week, I discovered that two students plagiarized an essay. They were assigned two days of in school suspension, and both were provided an opportunity to resubmit the essay so their grades would not be significantly impacted. The email exchanges with both sets of parents, documentation for administration, and writing of individualized lesson plans for in school suspension took at least two hours of my time.

What do these vignettes have in common? They are all a sign that our young people are lacking a key attribute that will affect their future success and the health of our nation. That attribute? Self-regulation.

Self-regulation is also known as self-control, and includes the ability to act in your long-term best interest. Increasingly, it seems that our students are relying on external controls to manage their behavior. These external controls involve an increasing share of the time and energies of our school personnel, and they sap our morale. In fact, many teachers have been so overwhelmed by the increasing amount of time and energy it takes to regulate student behavior that they have decided it is just easier to look the other way.

I participated in just such a “selective attention moment” just the other day, and a parent who witnessed it was indignant. At lunch duty, I stopped a group of students from going off campus. I followed them at a distance to make sure they went in the front of the school instead of bolting to the parking lot. As I firmly reminded them to turn right, a student in the group yelled over her shoulder, “Kiss my a**, b**tch!” In the midst of dealing with the fallout from the cheating incident I mentioned before, I did a mental calculation. It went like this, “Huh. It is the end of my lunch duty and I have 45 minutes before 4th period. I need to eat lunch, respond to those parent emails, and work on the behavior referrals I already have for today. I do not know those girls and I don’t know which one yelled that. I could follow them, try and stop them, figure out who said what (maybe) and then complete a referral and do detective work to figure out how to contact her parents – and miss lunch and have more to do tonight- or I can just shrug and keep walking.” I chose the latter, and a parent who saw the exchange approached me in disbelief. I fully understood her point of view. She is a wonderful advocate for teachers and she was mad that the girl was going to get away with talking to me like that. But, we are bumping up against the limitations of relying on external controls to manage student behavior. We need students to manage their own behavior.

There was a time when students were able to self-regulate. It is evident in class pictures from the 1930s and 40s. I stare at them in disbelief when I realize there were 40 or more kids in each class. Today, our academic classes in high school strain under the weight of 24 students. How can we re-create the conditions of the past that equipped students with such significant powers of self-control?

First, we must inform parents about how it is fostered in young children. It is cultivated through free play; it is not developed by exposing kids to stimulating technology. Parents should be restricting screen time, limiting how many hours of the day their children are in adult-led, structured activities, and ensuring their children get adequate sleep.

Self-regulation can and should be explicitly taught in preschool and kindergarten. One program, called Tools of the Mind, has developed a range of activities that encourage students to regulate their own behavior. They plan their play, can sustain their play for much longer periods of time, and research is showing significant improvements in students’ self control and behavior. Throughout elementary school, teachers can build on those early foundations and explicitly teach skills and dispositions that extend students’ self regulation abilities.

In high school, we should elevate self-regulation to the same plane as academic performance. Self-control might actually be more important to students’ long-term success and health. Students and parents are focused like a laser on GPAs and SATs. What if we created a similar score, called a self-regulation score (SRS) that would be reported on a student’s transcript? Each  time a student comes to school late, uses profanity, skips class, inappropriately accesses a digital device, speeds in the parking lot . . . their self regulation score would reflect the incident. I imagine the number of such incidents would drop, and teachers and administrators could spend significantly more time being proactive in their jobs (creating new lessons, closing the achievement gap) and not documenting, and reacting to, misbehavior.

An SRS score could be extremely useful to colleges and employers seeking to admit and hire the best candidates. How would you consider a candidate with a 4.0 GPA and a 2.3 SRS, as compared with a 2.3 GPA and a 4.0 SRS? Interesting to imagine.

Once colleges and employers begin placing an emphasis on the SRS score, it won’t be long before parents and students will make self-control more of a priority. And maybe our schools can focus more on teaching and learning, and less on trying to manage unruly behavior.

Angie Scioli

Wake County Social Studies Teacher

Founder, Red4EdNC

Public Schools First Advisory Board