August, 2015

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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 Teacher assistants are disappearing, class sizes are growing, textbooks and objectives are inappropriate and out of date, and technology is lagging.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

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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.