June, 2016

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What We Should Prioritize

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

By Bryan Proffitt, Durham Public Schools Teacher, President of Durham Association of Educators

June 23, 2016

My mama had to see my mugshot. It was hard on her. I imagine that one of the most basic hopes a mother has is the one where she never has to see her son’s mugshot. And if she does have to, I imagine she hopes her son looks a little less upset.

I thought about her when they took it. I thought about her and I thought about all of the people who would undoubtedly see it: My former students would see it. My educator colleagues would see it. Thousands of people I’ll never know would see it on the internet and TV.

I thought about all of those folks, and I thought about smiling. After all, I wasn’t struggling with what I had done. I had just been arrested because the Governor of the state I live in is committed to prioritizing:

• Ensuring that wealthy people get to keep more of their wealth

• Enabling corporations to poison our environment

• Legislating discrimination and the criminalization of human beings

• Privatizing our schools

 

And I believe that he should be prioritizing

• Fully funded schools

• A living wage for everyone

• Health care for all

• Clean air and water

• An end to the criminalization of and discrimination against my students, co-workers, friends, and family

I marched two days in the North Carolina summer heat to go see this Governor about what he’s doing to my kids and their communities and make some demands. I marched over 20 miles to meet the man who was denying my people what they deserve.

He refused to meet with us. He refuses to recognize the crisis our state’s young people are in. I, along with some of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know, sat down in the streets to say that we’d had enough and that people needed to be woken up a bit.

I wasn’t struggling with my decision. Nope.

I also wasn’t struggling because of poor treatment. Most of the police officers we dealt with were professional and courteous. Some of them reminded me of a few of the School Resource Officers I have known and respected, and the internal contradictions they must wrestle with every day, as my co-arrestee and friend Dawn (who used to be a police officer) shared with us. Others were unnecessarily rude and provocative, but they were the exception. Many of them expressed sympathy and support for our fight (their kids, after all, are in our classrooms every day). I have no doubt that my profession, my whiteness, my cisgendered straightness, and my relative class privilege shielded me from the dehumanizing treatment that many of my students know all too well. So it wasn’t that. I had a team of folks in there with me. I had a team of folks holding me down on the outside.

I wasn’t overly concerned about my well-being.

A smile might have allowed for more effective communications strategies later. The reason I couldn’t muster it, however, is the same exact reason that I was in there in the first place.

As they loaded us into a police van, I could hear Freddie Gray’s body banging around in my head.

As we got to the station, I watched a 16-year-old who could have been any kid I ever taught being taken out of a police car, alone and scared.

As I watched my co-conspirators be taken into search rooms, I thought about the vicious sexual assault that NYPD officers committed against Abner Louima.

As I watched my friend Carrol, who needs a cane to get around, be asked to walk across a room on her own with no support until one of her team stepped in to provide it or demanded that the police do it, I thought about what it must be like to be there alone and have health problems.

As I watched my comrade Kristin nearly pass out until she got access to her inhaler, I thought about my former co-worker Vicki’s son, and how he died in jail because he couldn’t get medical attention.

As I talked with the funny kid who connected with everybody in there and reminded Woody, Donald and myself of a kid we have in at least every class, I thought about the tragedy of wasted potential.

As I sat in rooms filled with people, Black, Brown, and/or poor, I thought about:

• How my students Kaaylon and Jaronte probably would have landed here had they not been murdered.

• How the people who murdered them have probably landed there or will, or won’t get that far. And how they had been somebody’s students too. And how I have students who have murdered people.

• The time when J tried to stop a fight in my room, got mixed up with a cop, assaulted by said cop, and then taken off to jail for a case that he could never win if he tried.

• How I used to look at the daily mug shot reports in the online versions of the local paper, but I had to stop because seeing my kids’ photos every day became less grounding and sobering and more depressing and angering.

• My first week at Hillside when a fight I had broken up on my own between two girls ended with a 15-year-old screaming, bawling, and handcuffed through a face-full of pepper spray.

Jail wasn’t particularly hard on me. But it felt particularly hard to be in a place that eats up the lives of millions of Black, Brown, and/or poor people, many of whom I know and love. My body felt heavy with the pain and alienation of living in a society that says that some people get to have stuff, but most people don’t. Some people get to live good lives, but most people won’t. And some folks, who never had a shot from the beginning, will be warehoused for their whole lives because the people who run our society can’t imagine any function for most of us rather than the generation of profit for them. If you’re not doing that, they have to hold you somewhere and dehumanize you and contain you so that you won’t revolt.

So jail sucks. Or, rather, jails suck.

How about, instead of building more of them, we just give our kids the food, the shelter, the clothes, the nurses and doctors and counselors, the fun and laughs, the safety and knowledge, the skills, love, and opportunities to wonder and wander and learn self discipline that they deserve?

We have to win y’all. We just have to.

#educationnotincarceration #studentsdeservemore

P.S. We don’t win on one day y’all; this is slow organizing and long-term strategy and work. Please support the work of the Organize 2020 Caucus of NCAE by checking out this link and a) getting on our listserv, b) joining the caucus, and/or c) contributing financial resources.

The Measuring Stick of Education

A group of educators marched from Durham and North Raleigh to the State Capitol on June 14- 15, 2016, asking to meet with governor. Fourteen members of Organize 2020 were arrested on June 15, 2016 after blocking a street when the governor chose not to meet with them. These teachers believe that our students deserve more. Here are their reflections on the 23-mile march, the rally at the legislature and Capitol, and their arrests for civil disobedience.

By Lisa McCool-Grime

Durham Public Schools Teacher,  High School Dir. of Durham Assoc. of Educators, Member of Organize2020

June 23, 2016

My son’s father served in the military for 11 years. When I met him in 2000, I was a teacher to math students at Fuquay-Varina High in Wake County. I loved it. But I also loved him, so when he joined the military in 2003, I joined him as he moved from base to base for the next decade plus. When he left the military in 2014, we wanted to put down roots for ourselves and our son, so we settled near family in Durham and I returned to teaching math students, this time at Southern School of Energy and Sustainability.

With that move, we went from living as a three-person, one-income household funded by taxpayers via the military to living as a three-person, one-income household funded by taxpayers via public schools. Changing that one word from “military” to “public schools” was quite the stark contrast. For example, we gave up no-deductible, nocopay, comprehensive health care. My son, at age 4, had to go to the emergency room when he took a stick to the eye. An eyelid surgeon stitched up his eyelid and we paid that surgeon two more follow-up office visits, but not a single cent. Neither my teacher’s salary nor my health benefits could cover such an accident today. Actually, neither my teacher’s salary nor my benefits can meet the needs of our family of three at all. We lived well on one income in the military. Now that I am a teacher, we cannot make ends meet without other sources of income.

State tests take all the living and learning that happens in our classrooms throughout the year and reduce that to a single number of “proficient” students. So too, we could take my lived experience of different standards of living, quantify it and reduce it to a single data point. Some folks might then want to claim that single data point is a measure of how poorly our culture values teachers. But my lived experience tells me that the truth is much more complicated. For example, I receive the same kinds of thanks and praise when people learn I am a teacher as my son’s father did when he was military. Many of my lived experiences suggest our culture believes that teaching is a noble profession, that teachers offer a valuable service. To better understand my decrease in standard of living, we must hold wealth’s measuring stick out and look at the far end. There you will find a good number of my students whose family members work as many if not more hours than I do, but bring home less money with no health coverage and no thanks for their work from the community at all. One of my brightest seniors this year worked 40 hours per week outside of school to contribute to her family’s income because her mother was sick and could not. Neither her potential to learn the math nor my ability to teach that math made any difference, because she was so exhausted she often didn’t make it to school and when she did, she fell asleep. If we want to better understand my decrease in standard of living, we must also look at our jails which house so many of our children. In the detention center after my arrest, in every room that I sat, I sat jailed with jailed children.

Every day of the school year I sit with young people at the hard end of wealth’s measuring stick. Young people who, if judged by their fierce resilience, would surpass me by far. Young people I am privileged to know and love. I am learning from them that their lived experiences reveal what the data is actually pointing to: we have failed as a culture to value the lives of our poor students and students of color. The struggles that public school teachers face making ends meet–these struggles are just the collateral damage in the systemic devaluing of my student’s lives. If you truly want to support teachers in their work, you must love and support their children and their children’s parents. You must provide for their health and wellness.

McCrory talks of raising teacher pay but stands in the way of our students’ and their parents’ access to Medicaid. He wants to sock away the surplus while school nurses are split between buildings, while school resource officers far outnumber school social workers, while my son’s first grade classroom has over 20 students and no teacher assistant. We are calling him on this. We marched 23 miles to make clear to those in power that our students deserve so much more than our state currently provides for them. And when I say, “those in power” I mean McCrory and other elected officials, but I also mean the public at large. Because what we discovered when we arrived at the capitol with our plan for raising per pupil expenditure and expanding Medicaid was that McCrory did not care enough about us or our students to even greet us. But we also discovered that you, the public at large, did care. You met us with food and shelter at resting spots during our march. You asked us questions and wished us luck. You honked your support and drove alongside us. You not only greeted us along the route we took, but you took the streets with us to clear traffic in protest so that 14 of us could safely lock arms and remain in the street as the symbol of our collective insistence that students deserve more, that we as a body of people are also powerful and that we intend to use that power to get the resources our students need.

While McCrory tries to paint those 14 of us as fringe, his constituents continue to show their support for our message and our plan. He would do well to listen to his constituents. While McCrory slanders us by claiming that we are working for Roy Cooper, he reveals how divorced he is from the way that true public service functions. I work for my students. I walked for my students. I stood blocking traffic and took arrest for my students. The governor’s job is to work for us—the public at large, who stands with public school teachers and their students–and we will hold anyone in that office now or in the future accountable to our children. They, unquestionably, deserve that.

#studentsdeservemore

Public Education: Is it the Great Equalizer?

Jessica Benton, Wake County Public School Teacher

June 18, 2016

When I first started teaching, I was under the impression that public education was the great equalizer. That with a sound education, my students had more choices about how they wanted their lives to play out. All they needed was to stay focused and learn, and the world would be theirs. After 11 years in the public school system, I began to realize that wasn’t that simple.

Some schools had more because the folks living in those neighborhoods had more. Some kids had more because their families had more. Some families had more because the world we live in thinks that they are entitled to more. It began to dawn on me just how unequal our equalizer really was.

We have been saying it over and over. Our students deserve more, but what does that really mean? We have to understand that our students’ lives don’t end at the classroom door.

Some of our kids are not getting what they need when they leave our school buildings. Their parents are working multiple jobs just to get by, so that means less time helping with homework and projects and catch up. Some of my kids are not receiving the healthcare they need, and they literally stay sick from October to March. My kids of color live in a world that criminalizes them and their families based on the color of their skin, even in 2016. Some of our kids are even being yanked from school bus stops and detained because of their immigration status. Some of our kids are being subjected to highly polluted air and water because the poverty they’re living in doesn’t protect them from toxic living environments. And y’all, 49 people were just massacred in Orlando, FL because of their sexuality. And I am not talking pie charts and statistics here. I am talking about real people and real stories.

So when we say students deserve more we’re really saying that it is going to take more than just education to get our kids where they need to be to live self-directed, fulfilling lives. Lives that they deserve like any other. They need healthcare, protection from criminalization, clean water and air, economic stability and education. And it’s going to take all of us, including Governor McCrory and the General Assembly, to get our kids these truly basic needs.

And I am sorry. I know teachers are not paid nearly enough to make it themselves. I know our teachers deserve more too, but just talking about teacher pay raises isn’t enough. That’s only one piece in a much larger problem. We need to be demanding more for ourselves and our families. We are a team. We are that village we so often like to refer to that’s raising these kids. And our students deserve more.

I just marched from Durham to Raleigh with over 50 educators, parents and students. Twenty miles over two days to meet with McCrory and ask for the more our students deserve. We have been asking for three things: 1) to expand Medicaid immediately, 2) to fully fund our schools, and 3) to repeal HB2. I know this doesn’t cover everything. This isn’t everything our students need, but it’s a good place to start.

Don’t get me wrong. I know we have all been asking for more. This is not our first request. How many of you have written an OP-ED? How many of you have called or emailed your legislators? How many of you were lobbying today for more? And what has it changed? We are still fighting to no avail. We’re drowning.

As teachers, we don’t get to give up. We don’t have that option. When our students deserve more, we find ways. But we’ve been dipping into our own pockets, giving our own time, expending our own energy to get more for education and nothing has changed. And it’s clear the political leaders are not listening. The time has come for us to be heard. I don’t know about you, but I am done being ignored while I sit back and watch my students and their families struggle.

It’s time we make our leaders listen. It’s time to be heard. Let’s see if they can hear us. Repeat after me in your biggest teacher voice: Students deserve more. Students deserve more.

*Speech given June 15, 2016 at the Students Deserve More Rally in Raleigh, N.C.

Teacheritis: Are You or Your Children At Risk?

Button-ForSaleby Nancy Snipes Mosley, Wake County Teacher

Symptoms

Teacheritis is a common ailment that afflicts millions of teachers in the United States every year.

  • The most common symptoms are fatigue, headache, raw nerves, forgetfulness, diminished social activity, and intolerance to apathy/BS/ignorance/whining.
  • Many teachers also experience teeth grinding, sore feet and back, fluctuating body temperature, and recurring dreams (forgetting to call in for a sub when you are out sick, not having your lesson plans ready on the first day of school, your students refusing to do anything you ask them to do, etc.)
  • In rare cases, some teachers also develop obsessive behaviors like constant hand sanitizer use, re-reading emails 10 times before hitting send, and counting how many papers are left to grade every two minutes.

Causes

Teacheritis can be caused by a number of physiological and environmental factors.

  • Your risk of chronic teacheritis is higher if you are a new teacher, a teacher with young children, or a teacher who is close enough to retirement to start counting down the years.
  • Teachers with a history of anxiety and depression are more susceptible to teacheritis, as are those with family or medical concerns. 
  • There also seems to be a correlation between teacheritis and the number of workdays lost to inclement weather, frequent changes in state curriculum and testing policies, and stagnant pay.
  • Teacheritis is not contagious, though someone with prolonged exposure to senioritis or adolescent hormones may develop symptoms. Students should use caution when interacting with a teacher suffering from teacheritis, as there have been some reported cases of evil eye and uncontrollable sarcasm. Afflicted teachers will need to take measures to ensure this condition does not cause stress on their partners and children.
  • There may also be a component of Seasonal Affective Disorder involved in teacheritis since it seems to be worse in the fall, winter, and spring and better in the summer.
  • Triggers of an acute teacheritis episode may include events such as: a student misrepresenting you to their parent or administrator to deflect taking responsibility for their own actions, parents enabling their child to be disrespectful and/or irresponsible, 18-year-olds complaining that you don’t play enough games and give them video guides, or a meeting of colleagues where everyone is touchy and defensive because you can’t agree on how to solve the achievement gap or handle the phone cheating epidemic.

Diagnosis

Teacheritis is usually self-diagnosed, though some teachers need to be alerted by a family member or colleague who detects symptoms. Students often misdiagnose a teacher suffering from teacheritis with diseases such as Not Being Chill or Getting Old. A teacher who becomes sick easily or is extremely fatigued, anxious, depressed, or obsessive-compulsive should seek prompt medical attention, as there may be other issues that will get worse if neglected.

Treatment

  • Proper rest, nutrition, and exercise will alleviate the physical symptoms of teacheritis. The most commonly prescribed treatment for teacheritis is stress management – cutting back hours, going to bed earlier, taking a true lunch break. Teachers sometimes resist this course of treatment because they cannot figure out how to meet all of their professional obligations if they take more time for themselves.
  • Some teachers self-medicate by eating, drinking margaritas, or binge-watching shows to relieve the pain of teacheritis, but the relief is temporary and there can be adverse effects like weight gain or setting a bad example for your kids.
  • Other more radical and costly therapies include providing teachers sufficient time, resources, and support to manage all the demands and expectations of students, parents, administrators, and colleagues. Unfortunately, teachers who request this treatment are often denied and this can actually make the condition worse if they feel powerless or hopeless about the situation. 
  • Teachers who have spiraled from teacheritis into something more serious like workaholism or depression may need to try therapy or a support group that helps them learn to suppress negative feelings like guilt and try a different mindset that could promote recovery.
  • One of the most effective ways for a teacher to reduce the symptoms of teacheritis is to focus on the positive: All of the students who tried their best, showed maturity, engaged themselves in critical thinking, were sincere and honest, had positive attitudes, admitted when they were wrong, made you laugh, and gave you hope for the future. The parents who said thank you, the colleagues that helped you make a tough decision, the administrator that encouraged you to set limits and take care of yourself. The family that loves and supports you unconditionally.

Prognosis

There is no cure or vaccine for teacheritis; even after teachers quit or retire they can experience residual pain. However, with the proper support and treatment many teachers learn to manage the condition so that it does not prevent them from creating a positive learning environment, growing professionally, achieving personal health, and being there for their families.

We Need a Paradigm Shift in Education

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By Angie Scioli, Wake County Teacher

I remember learning the word “paradigm” for the first time in college.  The presenter showed us a visual puzzle that was totally perplexing.  He gave us a single word that allowed us to shift our perspective and look at the problem through a new “lens”, and “click!”  – all was clear!

We need a paradigm shift in education.

In my last two articles, I wrote about how education is and is not like business.  While that was a worthy mental exercise, I hope to convince you that we need to throw that whole “lens” out and use a different referencing institution when we think about schools: family.  

In simpler times (think hunter gathering / farming economies), education was mostly handled in the family unit (here’s how you hunt, here’s how you preserve food, etc.)  It was only with exploration and  industrialization that we began outsourcing the education of children to formal schools.  Increasingly, and yet strangely, our schools have come to resemble businesses more than families.  We think of parents as consumers, student as products, and we seek to quantify what “value – added” outcomes students will demonstrate by matriculating through an orderly, standardized, age-based processing system.

That system worked well for an industrial economy, but in a post-industrial context, the limitations of this approach are becoming evident.  Increases in technology, communication and transportation have created a population that demands more individualized and efficient ways of learning.  At the same time, we are struggling to close an “achievement gap” and deal with students who are difficult to educate because they are absent, don’t speak English, have experienced trauma, or suffer from food insecurity and/or homelessness.  

What would a family mindset look like in education?

You don’t take an exhausted child to Disney World.  It doesn’t matter how engaging and entertaining the setting, there will be a meltdown.  Parents know they must first make sure a child’s most basic needs are met:  they are fed, they are rested, they feel safe.

We bring exhausted, hungry, scared kids to school every day.  We’ve convinced ourselves that if their teachers are entertaining enough, or if the subjects are interesting enough, that they will magically forget about their aching tooth, their rumbling stomach, or their anger about what they have seen too soon.

We must first attend to students’ most basic needs, emotional and physical, before we can proceed with the wonders of learning.  We need more therapists, we need wrap around services that provide basic health and dental care, and we need social workers.  We must show kids that they are valued, and that school is a place they can come to find safety, nutrition, peace of mind and care.  And we must do these things first, as no environment, even Disney World, can overcome a child’s basic needs.

A second key aspect of family is acceptance and negotiation.  I sometimes look around at family gatherings and think what an odd and random family assortment we make.  My classroom is the same.  We are rapidly becoming a very diverse nation.  A random mix of students show up on day one, and we struggle from that day forward to accept, accommodate and negotiate to make our time together as productive and affirming as possible.  But that progress is built on a foundation of mutual respect, acceptance and encouraged by the fact that we are “stuck” together.

Navigating both of these contexts requires a sizable serving of emotional, social and soft skills.  It involves communication, anger, expectation and conflict management.  I’ve been aided by studying EQ (emotional intelligence) models, mindfulness, constructs of gender and race, and personality types.  As a result, I’ve learned how these skills are of increasing importance to our professional and personal satisfaction, but they are not explicitly taught in school.  Meanwhile, more and more of us are burying our faces in electronic devices and ingesting a steady diet of digital media.  Entertaining for sure.  Preparation for real life and relationships?  Hardly.

We need to make relational studies a central element of being an educated person in this society.  We need to make isolation less common, strengthen the social fabric of our communities, and make the long-term relational health of “our” kids our highest priority.   Schools and families can and should unite in that vision.  

The final elements that are key to family are commitment and stability.  Long term investment in an institution leads stakeholders to make different decisions – they tend to pursue their own self- interest less, and consider the health and viability of the whole.  Currently in education reform, we are pursuing policies that create “free agents” out of teachers.  With the end of tenure, the rise of charter schools and ideas like differentiated pay, we are suggesting to teachers that they might switch into a business / corporate mindset and simply pursue their own self interest.  Teachers will be one of the last categories of workers to break out of their “institutional” mindset and join the grand “talent shuffle” that is so common in other fields.  These reforms are touted as ways to get rid of weak teachers, but I wonder if many people have considered what fundamental shift it is creating among all teachers.

We need to pursue policies that will attract the best teachers we can to the classroom, and we need them to stay there, at that school if at all possible, for a very long time.   It took me about ten years to become a good teacher – to know my subject, to understand the developmental level of my students, to understand the community context of the school.  It takes considerable time to build trust and understand the personalities of your colleagues so you can collaborate and know where they are coming from.  Teachers that are committed to a specific school sit in meetings with a different mindset – they are invested in the decisions that are being made.  They buy spirit wear in the school colors, their reputation and the school’s are entertwined.  They teach siblings, they get to know families – they  care deeply.  And students can see that, they sense that, and that is a very different dynamic than the one we are creating through most educational reforms today.  Students want to know that their teachers are invested in the long-term well-being of the school family, just as they seek stability and commitment from their parents.  

So, we need to pick up a new set of lenses to see our schools.  Let us set down the business frames, and pick up the family mindset.  Let us remember the primary job of our schools:  to nurture children, to help them come to know themselves and others so they might better understand the world they are inheriting, and let’s be sure they are in the hands of committed adults that have their long-term interests in mind.  Loved, nurtured, accepted and secure people can figure out most problems together.   Strong families always do.

Make our schools more like strong families, and they will serve us, and our future, well.