Sharing from “Cloaking Inequity” a Blog by Julian Vasquez Heilig

I have been railing about the deep pockets of the corporate reformers for a long time and fearful that their money goes beyond common sense or even what we know is right for children. Look at the debate that Mayor De Blasio has generated with his insistence that his first obligation is to the students who attend the public system in New York City as opposed to making sure that charter school operators get public school space free of rent so that they can operate outside the regulations and rules of the rest of the city’s school system. I am clearly not alone in my concern as here is an article that goes to the root of the matter. Thank you for writing this piece, Julian Vasquez Heilig. For readers, feel free to share widely with your colleagues. Maybe it is not too late to shed light on what has been happening the last few years. For the article, click here.

 

More Reflections on Oscar Night

Yesterday I reflected on how nice it might be if teachers had a night like the actors had Sunday night…one where they were appreciated and had a chance to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and achievements along with their contributions to their profession. Today I am reflecting on the deeper messages that were held in the speeches of some of the recipients and it occurred to me that I might share those reflections here.

The first speech that has not only impressed me but many others was made by the beautiful and graceful young new star who won Best Supporting Actress for her stunning portrayal of the young slave, Patsey in the film, 12 Years a Slave. Lupita Nyong’o made a speech that touched each and every listener with its simple sincerity. They were words spoken with humility, authenticity and true graciousness as well as her own consciousness of history. To see the entire speech, watch here.

The whole speech was beautiful, but my favorite line was the very last sentence:  “When I look down at this golden statue, may it remind me and every little child that no matter where you are from your dreams are valid.”

What this says to me is that we owe it to ourselves not to give up on our dreams. Sometimes we do. We think we aren’t smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, just “not enough” to accomplish what our heart urges us to pursue. And so we don’t. We stop ourselves, often before we have even gotten started. As I heard someone say recently, “We do the job of editing our own book before we have even gotten it written.”

So that was my first favorite moment from Oscar Night…Miss Nyong’o’s beautiful acceptance speech which was a reminder about the importance of having dreams and then acting on them fearlessly because they are, indeed, valid.

My second favorite speech of the night came from Matthew McConaughey. I am thinking that if his acting career ever goes on the skids, that man has got a career waiting for him behind a pulpit somewhere. The speech he gave was a cross between an acceptance speech and a sermon.

He spoke of needing three things in his life:  someone to look up to, something to look forward to, and something to chase. For the whole speech, watch here.

I especially liked that he mentioned the importance of gratitude…”It’s a scientific fact [emphasis added] that gratitude reciprocates.”

I also liked that he indicated the importance of his family to him…and finally with regard to “something to chase” he shared that he is chasing his best self as a “hero” in the future–10 years out. He recognizes that he is always pursuing his best self. He also recognizes that he will never “get there.” He will continue the chase because as long as he is living, there will be more to want, more to do, and more potential for being. That is what we are all doing, after all.

Those two speeches were my favorite. There were other nice moments throughout the night, but I believe the message of these two very gracious and clearly heartfelt speeches carried with them the nuggets of wisdom that we should always remember:  Our dreams are valid; we need to be grateful; we need to remember to look up to our higher power; we need to have something to look forward to everyday; and we need to be chasing our better selves recognizing that life is a journey, not a destination.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Teachers Had a Night Like Oscar Night for Actors?

I don’t make it a habit to watch the Oscars. Some years it comes and goes and I hardly notice other than a passing interest in which movie won best film. Don’t get me wrong….I love going to the movies…it is one of my very favorite past times. But I don’t always go to the ones that everyone else thinks of as the “best.” I go to the ones that I think I will find entertaining.

This year, however, I decided I was interested in watching. Ellen DeGeneres is a favorite of mine after all, and I had seen several of the movies that were in the running for best film (12 Years a Slave was my personal favorite). And I always get something of a kick out of seeing the dresses and listening to all the hype. It is an event, after all, and I gather that I was just one of millions and millions of people all over the world that decided to tune in.

What occurs to me today is to wonder how nice it might be if teachers had a night like that? I mean, think about it. We would all get all dressed up…the women in designer gowns, the men in their tuxedos. Reporters would gush all over us on the red carpet. We would wave at one another and enjoy a night dedicated to us and our work…it might be quite nice.

The really phenomenal thing would be that someone would actually be recognizing our hard work and our contributions to the profession. What a novel idea. Not to take anything away from the actors who do so much by entertaining us with their superb performances, but shouldn’t teachers be getting the kind of attention and accolades that actors do? And don’t even get me started on the disparity between what teachers are paid and the salaries of actors–or athletes for that matter.

We really have our priorities all screwed up, and I wish I knew what to do about it other than complain. We idolize actors and athletes and pay them millions and millions of dollars while our school buildings crumble, in some cases, around our very ears. Students lack textbooks and paper and pencils while Oscar attendees win gift packages worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars just for being there.

I know I am only offering a hypothetical…but I do think it would be nice if our teachers had an opportunity to feel the kind of love and have the kind of honoring that we witnessed last night. I am just sayin’ “Wouldn’t it be nice….”

For All My Teacher Friends and Colleagues : There May Be Hope

Every morning, I peruse my email, clicking through the dozens (literally, dozens) of emails that have landed in my inbox overnight. I am always on the look out for things that I can share with me friends and colleagues. This morning, I hit upon a gold mine. If you have already seen this circulating on Anthony Cody’s blog, or through GFBrandenburg’s blog like I did, you will have already read this. For those who may not have seen it yet, I had to share. The words in this paragraph resonate so deeply with me that they bring tears to my eyes:

Our schools are being destroyed by politics, profit, greed and lies. Instead of evidence-based practices, money has become the engine of education policy, and our schools are being hijacked by politicians, non-educators and for-profit operators. Parents, teachers, citizens and community elders must arm ourselves with the best evidence and take back control of our children’s public education before it is too late. We all must work together to improve our public schools, not on the basis of profit or politics, but on the basis of evidence, and on the basis of love for America’s children.

The author of these words is James Meredith, the first black student to graduate from the University of Mississippi and a leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. To learn more about the American Child’s Education Bill of Rights, click here. I don’t know about you, but I want to read the book that James Meredith has co-written with William Doyle. The book is titled, A Mission from God:  A Memoir and a Challenge for America. I just ordered my copy.

Those who know me know that I love the notion of teachers “taking back their profession.” It is only too true that our schools have been “hijacked by politicians, non-educators and for-profit operators,” and they have been aided and abetted by our President who seems on one hand to truly care about children and teachers but then goes about showing his care and support in all the wrong ways. The policies that are currently in place are crushing our teachers and they are not doing our children any good either.

I sometimes despair that it is too late. but posts like this one and messages like Mr. Meredith’s give me hope. I hope it does the same for you. Additionally, Mr. Meredith has invited folks to comment on his bill of rights for children. To comment, you may follow Mr. Meredith on Facebook here.

There may be hope. Maybe it isn’t too late. That is my own hope. That is my prayer.

Possible Remedies for Teacher Burn Out

For the last couple of days, I have been following a thread of discussion on LinkedIn. The topic is teacher burn out and what might be done about it. Some solutions that were offered in one article were pretty superficial, I thought. The suggestions included offering a social time for teachers, for example, so they could get together and relax every once in a while. The other suggestions  were okay as far as they went, but they didn’t go nearly far enough in my opinion.

Teacher burnout is a serious issue and it is one that needs to be treated seriously although I don’t think enough people are truly paying attention to it. The fact is, however, that a growing number of teachers are feeling disillusioned about their chosen profession. What I hear on a regular basis from the teachers I work with is that they still love their kids, but they don’t feel like they are teaching anymore. They are, instead, delivering a canned curriculum and then administering test after test after blasted test. The fun has been sucked out of teaching and it is a sure bet the children they are teaching aren’t having much fun either.

I felt compelled to offer some thoughts on the thread and this is what I said:

“While it is certainly important that teachers be offered times to socialize and de-stress, feeding teachers’ souls is a lot more complicated. The teachers I know who are stressed and might be in danger of ‘eating their children’ are overburdened by paperwork, impossible demands at every level, lack of support from administrators and parents, debt because of low and stagnant salaries, feeling berated by people in power like the Secretary of Education who misses no opportunity to criticize teachers, and strangled by policies that have sucked absolutely all the fun out of teaching. I am also a life coach and a stress management coach whose niche are teacher leaders, teachers in distress and teachers in transition. When I conduct my workshops I always run into the same overall theme. Teachers feel overwhelmed, under appreciated and generally maligned. A social hour with colleagues will help to bond the colleagues together, but they need a lot more than TLC to help them feel better about themselves and their profession. They need to feel respected, and they need to be paid a professional salary while they are treated like professionals instead of widgets in the larger system that is doing no one any good…least of all the students they teach.”

I really believe that we are in the middle of a serious crisis with regard to public education in our country, and I fear for its future. Just today, I heard a snippet of an interview with Arne Duncan that pertained to what the President might say tonight in his State of the Union speech. One of the things I heard Secretary Duncan say was that we have been making progress…graduation rates are up and drop out rates are down…but he went on to say that the progress we have made isn’t enough and we “need to be changing faster.”

The trouble with Mr. Duncan’s premise is that he assumes that the changes we are currently making will get us where we need to go…that his policies and those coming out of his Department are actually doing anything other than creating more and more demoralization among teachers and students alike. Mr. Duncan loves to talk about our “failing schools” and how we are lying to our students when we tell them they are doing well. He also loves competition, so all of his major initiatives are based on the false notion that in order to promote public education and equity for all we need to make it about racing to the top and innovating around more and better tests instead of focusing on authentic teaching and learning.

If anyone were really serious about addressing teacher burn out…and I don’t think anyone really is serious about it or they would be doing something about it…they would stop telling teachers to “do more with less.” They would lighten up on the testing regimen because there are only so many tests that a child can take that they even have any meaning. They would forget the crazy notion that a child’s test score is a measure for whether or not to keep an otherwise effective teacher on the payroll. And they would stop fighting about Common Core and let a few states pilot it without drastic negative consequences for everyone involved in the meantime.

Public education is a value that I grew up believing in. I grew up poor, but because of educational opportunities and my belief that an education would provide me with an opportunity to thrive economically, I have thrived. As public school funding shrinks in favor of ideological arguments for choice, vouchers, and charters, I fear that the poorest children will get left behind and dropped through the cracks. We are at a real crossroads in this country, it seems to me. While the haves continue to thrive, the have nots are struggling. In the past, getting a solid education was the ticket to a better life. That seems to be growing less and less the case these days.

I know that teacher burn out is a real thing. I just don’t think that offering a social hour is the answer to it.

Anne Holton–A Brilliant Choice for Virginia’s Secretary of Education

Like a lot of public school educators in VIrginia, I have been eagerly awaiting the announcement of Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe’s choice for Secretary of Education. There were many good people from which to choose, I know, but of all the folks I had considered possible candidates for the post, I admit, I hadn’t even considered Anne Holton in the mix. She is, after all, an attorney and a former judge rather than a K-12 teacher or professor from higher education. But the minute I heard the news of her appointment this morning, I was struck by the brilliance in making her the new Secretary of Education for the Commonwealth. In addition to being an attorney in her previous life, she was also a Judge for the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court in Richmond, and I am certain that she saw first hand the result of offering insufficient educational opportunities to students who are currently under served by the system that is in place. She also had a bird’s eye view of the impact that poverty has on young people and their families, and sadly, she had a front row seat to the current school to prison pipeline that is all too real all across the country.

There will be many challenges ahead for the new Secretary of Education, but she is certainly well connected (her husband is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine) and she has the knowledge and background that she needs to do an awesome job in this new post. I can’t say that I know Anne  Holton all that well, but I know her well enough to know that she is passionate and dedicated to the issues that are near and dear to my own heart which include making a high quality public education accessible to all of the children of Virginia. I trust that she will lead her new team in the direction that we need to go and that we will curb the General Assembly’s enthusiasm for charters, choice, and vouchers. Until and unless we can properly fund the public school system so that schools and teachers have a fair chance to succeed, we need not be offering funding to dicey charters and private schools that are not held to the same standards as public schools. I hope that Ms. Holton will hear that message and heed it as she moves ahead and carries Virginia’s teachers and schools with her.

Congratulations to Anne Holton on being nominated for this important post, and congratulations to Governor-Elect Terry McAuliffe and his team for making this fabulous appointment. I remain optimistic that teachers in Virginia have reason to be glad that they helped Mr. McAuliffe win the 2013 election for Governor of Virginia.

Preparing for Another New Year

I am not one to set New Year’s Resolutions. I have tried them in the past, and they are a waste of time. Back when I did attempt to make them, I would inevitably fail to keep them, and then I would beat myself up for being such a slug. Who needs that extra pressure?

Not setting New Year’s Resolutions shouldn’t mean that one does not set new intentions for a better, healthier, and more balanced life in general, however. Everyone needs to be paying attention to their overall health and sense of well-being, whether or not they are doing it because it is the end of one year and the beginning of another.

Recently, I have been teaching teachers how to manage and reduce the stress in their lives by setting new intentions around six key practices. They include (1) staying properly hydrated; (2) eating nutritious whole foods instead of highly processed ones; (3) getting restful, uninterrupted, and adequate amounts of  sleep; (4) engaging in adequate and appropriate exercise; (5) having FUN by pursuing a hobby or past time that is relaxing and rejuvenating; and (6) engaging in a practice of mindful prayer or periods of meditation. Getting present in the moment can be an important key to putting things that are happening in your life in proper perspective; and practicing gratitude for the many blessings you already have may help, too.

These six practices can be extremely helpful in reducing and managing stress in proactive, healthy ways. If you are interested in learning more, contact me at admin@teachersintransition.com for a free 25-page report on why these practices are so important and how to go about incorporating them into your life in the new year.

In the meantime, Happy New Year. May it be all that you wish it to be.

Robert Freeman on the Formula for Wrecking Public Education

Today’s post is a sharing of Robert Freeman‘s article posted on Common Dreams. The title of the post is “How to Destroy Education While Making a Trillion Dollars.” The post can be found here.

I really don’t have anything to add. Freeman, a history teacher in Los Altos, California and one of the founders of One Dollar for Life, a non-profit organization that helps American students contribute toward the building of schools in developing countries through student donations of one dollar, has,  I believe, summed up the situation clearly and quite expertly.

Please read and share widely if you believe in the value of a public education and are concerned that the privatizers are about to destroy something that needs to be saved, repaired, and promoted as a key foundation of our democracy.

 

Steve Nelson Has it Right

Today, instead of writing anything new myself, I have decided to share with readers the newest blog post and Huff Post contribution of  Steve Nelson, the Head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, a private school, led by an obviously progressive thinker. Thanks to Diane Ravitch for sharing part of his message this morning. Otherwise, I might not have seen it. I am glad I did. The title of his post from December 16th is “Education Isn’t Broken, Our Country Is.” I couldn’t agree with him more. At at time when food stamps for poor people, including thousands of children are being cut; when the safety net for thousands of unemployed folks is being eliminated because we are ruled by a privileged class of mostly white men who apparently have little empathy for anyone not directly related to them; at a time when, in education circles, test scores have become more important than the teachers who teach or the learning itself…something is terribly wrong. Mr. Nelson asserts what I have believed to be true for a long time. We are not coming up with the right answers to the education dilemma because we are making the wrong assumptions. We are asking the wrong questions. No wonder we are in such a fix.

Please read this and share widely. I hope it goes viral. It deserves to.

Might New PISA Results Point to Need for New Policies?

Kudos to AFT (American Federation of Teachers) for creating this video explaining the results of the PISA report  that came out a few days ago creating quite the stir among some educators and many policy makers. U . S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s take-away from the report was in part:  “So, the big picture from PISA is one of educational stagnation, at a time of fast-rising demand for highly-educated workers. The mediocre performance of America’s students is a problem we cannot afford to accept and cannot afford to ignore.” (ED.gov)

“Educational stagnation” may be one way to characterize what has been happening under Secretary Duncan’s leadership, but I would offer that it may be far more intertwined with a stagnant economy that has held millions of children in this country in poverty with little real hope of escaping. The current policies including Race to the Top (which was just a double down of No Child Left Behind) and others have done nothing but to throw the public education system in the United States into turmoil and to provide the kind of churn and chaos that lends itself to people wanting to throw their hands up and walk away using the current problems as the excuse they need to further the cause of for-profit charter schools and virtual schools. If students aren’t performing up to snuff, Mr. Duncan, it may be because many of them are hungry, angry, and dejected. Their teachers have been subjected to all sorts of psychological abuse, and they hear about “failing schools” from every reporter who offers a story on the topic of public education in America. The wonder isn’t that our students aren’t performing up to par in competition with countries where education is valued and teachers are respected…the wonder is that they are doing as well as they are given the current sorry state of affairs.

If I were Mr. Duncan, and I were as sure as he seems to be that the current policies are not working, I believe I would start to question whether the current policies are the right policies. Alas, however, I fear that that may be too much to hope for. I don’t get that Mr. Duncan is all that self-reflective. If he were, he wouldn’t so frequently stick his foot in his mouth as he is so prone to doing. As far as evaluating current PISA scores, however, I think Mr. Duncan and his department folks would do well to step back a moment and do some serious self-evaluation.