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….”

Yesterday Was a Good Day for Teachers in Virginia

For Virginia and New Jersey, yesterday was an election day that had very different outcomes for teachers in each state. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie was able to pull off a massive re-election effort in spite of his bullying tactics with teachers in that state and his clear disdain for the hard working public school educators who are members of the New Jersey Education Association. I am sorry that he was re-elected, but the good news for New Jersey’s teachers is that he is clearly aspiring to higher office and he will become too busy in the not-too-distant-future to harass them as relentlessly as he has harassed them to date. At least that is my hope for them.

In Virginia, we had a different outcome for which I am very grateful. I worked as a volunteer for Terry McAuliffe for Governor not just because he was the Democratic candidate but because he has demonstrated a clear and sincere interest in public education and even more significantly, perhaps, in public school teachers ever since he first ran for the gubernatorial nomination in 2008. When he decided to run for Governor of Virginia back then, he came to the headquarters of the Virginia Education Association as his first stop to become educated on the issues that he would need to understand if he were to relate well with teachers in Virginia. That was my first introduction to Terry, and I found him to be open, willing to learn, and eager to understand where teachers were coming from with regard to accountability issues, testing, and teacher evaluation.

Since that first meeting, I have had the pleasure of talking with Terry on additional occasions, and this past summer, I was honored to serve on his Education Advisory Committee. In that meeting, I brought up the issue of over testing our children and the need to take a serious look at the entire Standards of Learning program in Virginia. My purpose was not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I certainly believe that we need to use data appropriately to set our learning goals and to know whether or not we are meeting those goals, but the fact of the matter is that the testing companies are currently the only ones who are getting any serious benefits from the current system. The curriculum companies are also doing well while they push the Common Core Standards in spite of serious reservations about their appropriateness.

What I believe about Terry McAuliffe is that he truly cares about teachers in Virginia and that for him, it is not empty rhetoric when he says that education matters to him and that he believes our teachers need to be respected more and that they also need to be paid more. He did not forget to mention teachers in his victory speech last night, and I have to say that I was proud of the way he handled that speech, and I was impressed with the tone and the sincerity that he displayed. He has only just been elected, and he has already made me proud.

It is early, and he will have a tough job ahead of him. We didn’t win nearly enough seats in the House, and the Senate’s delicate balance is in jeopardy, depending greatly on the outcome of the special elections that will need to be held in light of the election, but for now, I am breathing a sigh of relief that Terry McAuliffe is Virginia’s Governor-Elect. The hard working teachers of Virginia deserve to have a true friend in the Governor’s mansion again. We had that in Mark Warner…I believe we have it again. I trust that Terry won’t let teachers down.

Handling Stress at Work

I recently ran across an article by Karen Salmansohn, author of several books on happiness, relationships, and resilience including Instant Happy:  10-Second Attitude Makeovers. The title of the article was “How to Reduce Your Stress Levels at Work.”

In the article, Ms. Salmansohn acknowledges (as do I) that we are all subject to feeling stressed some of the time, and many of us are, unfortunately, feeling stressed much of the time these days. In spite of the fact that we have the luxury of technology at our fingertips–technology which is presumably designed to make our lives easier–more and more employees report that now that they are more accessible through technology, their employers have higher expectations of them regarding when and how they can be contacted and how quickly they are expected to respond. As a result, many of us never feel that we are away from work even if we are at home or on vacation.

Some of the de-stressing tips offered in Salmansohn’s article include the following:

Try Some Deep Breathing: While meditation or yoga can be used successfully to help people de-stress, very often people will complain that they “aren’t very good” at meditation OR yoga which ironically adds to their stress. Salmansohn recommends blowing up a balloon. The action of blowing up a balloon taps into the same breathing benefits received in meditation and yoga, and while you are concentrating on the task of blowing up the balloon, your mind temporarily lets go of the stress that you were facing in the moment. So, keep a few small balloons in your desk drawer, and the next time you feel overwhelmed, take a couple of minutes to try this. The recommended method for blowing up the balloon is as follows:

  • Blow into the balloon with 3 breaths for a total of 3 seconds
  • Hold the balloon’s “tail” so the air doesn’t leak out
  • Catch your breath in 3 breaths for a total of about 3 seconds
  • Then get back to work

Smell the Lavender:  You may or may not already know that the sense of smell is the one that is the most connected to your emotional center. What that means to you is that if you can change what you smell, you can change how you feel. Lavender is widely recognized as a mood relaxer and energy re-balancer. Purchase a lavender-scented candle or a small bottle of lavender oil for your office. When you feel stress creeping on, light the candle or take a whiff of the oil.

Look at the Sky for Calm and Inspiration:  Research indicates that the color blue is calming. If it is a pretty, clear day, take a few moments to stare out your window or step outside to just look at the blue sky. In addition to the calming effect of the blue sky, the image of floating clouds, according to researchers, will remind your subconscious about the importance of saying “light.” Additionally, the image of the infinite skies will remind you of infinite possibilities. If it’s a gray and rainy day, trying wearing something blue, and stay clear of the windows for the day.

Listen to Music:  The music of Mozart can calm the mind and may help you think more clearly, but if you have a favorite song or group of songs that would work to pump you up and make you feel stronger and more confident, go with that.

Employ a Little Pet Therapy:  Research is very clear about the calming effect of our animals. Petting a dog or cuddling with a cat can help to de-stress you from an otherwise stress filled day.

Make a List of Your Accomplishments: You have many accomplishments of which you can be proud, and you have been successful in your endeavors; but when we are stressed, it is all too easy to forget all that. Make a list of the things you have accomplished and of which you are particularly proud. Be sure to include things that prove that you can overcome obstacles as they come up. These reminders will serve to shore up your fears and lack of confidence in any given moment. Keep the list around to remind you in moments of weakness that you have overcome problems before and you have what it takes to do it again.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful to you the next time you are feeling stressed, and don’t just save them for work. They can work for you at home as well.

Why Is America Seemingly Giving Up on Public Education?

The question of “Why has America seemingly given up on public education?” has troubled me for a long time. How is it that a country founded in large part on the concept of a “free and appropriate public education” has come to this struggle between public and private schooling? When did the public start buying into the false narrative that our public schools are failing and therefore need to be replaced by private alternatives?

The change in attitude has been slow and insidious. In my opinion, it started 30 years ago with the 1983 publication of the Nation at Risk report that very recklessly made claims that started slowly but surely to erode the public’s confidence in their public schools. Ironically, for decades after that report came out, Gerald Bracey (1940-2009) refuted the claims of the education reformers who had not yet coalesced into a formal group but were beginning the slow and steady drumbeat of accusations about the perceived failings of public education in America. For 18 years, Dr. Bracey oversaw the research that was published annually as “The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education in America” in Phi Delta KappanThat report revealed year after year that while Americans were buying into the negative rhetoric about American schools in general, most Americans reported a high level of satisfaction with their own neighborhood schools. The irony was apparent to those paying attention, but it is no secret that the public at large is easily swayed by media and the biases that are allowed to be mistaken as factual reporting.

Dr. Bracey was also in charge of  EDDRA or Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency, and the year that he died, Dr. Bracey published a book entitled, Education Hell:  Rhetoric Vs. Reality.

Unfortunately, while most of the claims about the failures of America’s schools are exaggerated and highly overrated, the general media (as in journalists and those in a position to actually inform Americans as opposed to pawning off propaganda) have largely failed in their job of digging for facts, doing their homework, and questioning some of the basic assumptions that have become part and parcel of the education debate.

Indeed, unfortunately, we now have only few “champions” like Dr. Bracey who are willing to buck the general trend. Thankfully we still have Dr. Diane Ravitch and Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond on the side of teachers and administrators who know the truth, but the people who seem (at the moment at least) to be winning the debate are the very people who have the most to gain by undermining and dismantling public education in America. Those are the people who are making lots of money by speaking to the problems of public education and claim that the answer is in privatization, vouchers, charter schools, and choice in general.

I watch what is happening in North Carolina with dismay. I worry about what will happen to the children in Detroit as it goes bankrupt and in Philadelphia and Chicago where mass school closings are taking place. I worry about other large urban centers where the education infrastructure is being allowed to be dismantled, schools are being closed, and children–and their teachers–are being displaced. I am concerned that many children are being relegated to schools with ever dwindling resources, larger class sizes, and the bulk of the financial resources going to testing companies and companies in charge of aligning curriculum with the last fad (including Common Core) instead of teacher salaries and safe buildings because their political leaders are being paid off by groups like ALEC and individuals like the Koch brothers who only care about profit margin, free enterprise and dismantling government involvement in anything and everything from roads to schools to public safety.

Unfortunately, too many have bought into the false narrative that all of our schools are failing and ironically, because they have bought into the false narrative, the very parents who could have (and should be) helping to make our public schools stronger with their support are looking for alternatives and in some cases at least, we are fulfilling the very prophecy which started out as pure fiction. Everyone has heard the phrase, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes believed and then becomes the truth.” I fear that we are fast approaching that sad juncture.

I haven’t given up hope completely, however, that we can still turn this around. I take heart at the formation of the Bad Ass Teachers group that sprang up just a few weeks ago. I know that the teacher leaders who are working hard through their associations (NEA and AFT) are working hard to combat the false narrative and to turn the public opinion tide to one of support for public schools. In the end, I believe that most Americans still believe that we need a system of quality public education…but to date we have too few who are willing to fight for it. Everyone who cares needs to start attending school board meetings and speaking out. Everyone who has a child they care about needs to pay attention to what is happening and to take an active stand in supporting a public option because it is just not going to be possible for enough private options to educate every child, and we cannot afford to let a single child fall through the cracks. We need every child to be given an opportunity to learn, achieve, and succeed. Our parents did that for us. It is our turn to do it for our children and our grandchildren.

Diane Ravitch Shares the First Review of Her New Book: Reign of Error

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a huge fan of Dr. Diane Ravitch. She has been a fearless spokesperson for America’s public schools, and she has been candid and outspoken in her criticism of the harmful policies embedded in No Child Left Behind which was enacted by the George Bush Administration and has been exacerbated by The Obama Administration and Arne Duncan’s Department of Education. I am a proud owner of an autographed copy of her book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, published in 2010. I got to hear Dr. Ravitch speak about her thoughts from the book’s contents at a Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York City, and I have become a devotee who reads her blogs daily, shares content freely, and comments often when I feel so inspired.

It will be of little surprise to anyone, then, that I eagerly await the publication of her newest book which is due to come out in September. In fact, I plan to use it as the primary text for the course that I will be teaching at the University of Richmond in the fall. The new book’s title is Reign of Error:  The Hoax of Privatization and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In one of her blog postings this morning, Diane revealed that the first review of the new book is out. Kirkus Reviews sends out advanced reviews of new books to journalists, librarians, and others interested in the publishing industry. The review offered of Diane’s latest work may be read here. The reviewer offers that the audience that will find this book most interesting are “…policymakers, parents, and anyone concerned about the dismantling of one of our democracy’s great institutions.” Diane also commented that the book review was accurate in its review and got the most salient points of her book.

I share this by way of encouraging those who read my blog and follow my Facebook commentary and Twitter accounts to watch out for the publication of this book and grab a copy at your first opportunity. Its publication date is scheduled for mid-September.

Furthermore, if you are in Virginia or within driving distance of Richmond, VA, you might want to plan to attend the Fall Instruction and Professional Development Conference being planned by the Virginia Education Association in November as Dr. Ravitch will be the keynote speaker and I am sure she will be sharing her insights from the book and will answer questions that readers might have for her by then.

I, for one, and looking forward to reading her latest work. I believe that she is a staunch supporter of public education as am I. Because of her work and the support that she continues to garner, I am more hopeful than not that people (policy makers and parents in particular and the public in general)  will soon wake up to the harm that the privatization movement is causing. If we are to deal with the social justice issues that cry out for relief, we must have a fair and equitable system of public education in place. Privatization does nothing but aid in the re-segregation of our schools, and we simply cannot tolerate that as we are well into the second decade of the 21st century. We have come too far to let our society slide back to pre-1954. Teachers, parents, and policy makers who still believe that a system of public education is one that deserves our support must do what we can to get the millions of dollars which are currently being funneled into testing, teacher evaluation, and curriculum companies back to the schools to pay for professional teachers and proper resources for the students who are going to be the leaders of our next generation of thinkers.

I thank Dr. Ravitch everyday for her contributions. I applaud her for her zeal and dedication and commitment. I support her in every way I can. And I am taking this opportunity to urge you to do the same.


When an Award Winning Veteran Teacher Quits, You Should Know That Something is Very Wrong

Hundreds if not thousands of young teachers decide to quit teaching after only a few years, and hardly anyone takes note. The reasons for their departure varies from individual to individual, but research shows that most young people say upon their exit from teaching that it just wasn’t what they thought it would be. They entered the teaching profession eager to share their joy and enthusiasm for learning in the same way some teacher or teachers had shared with them as they came through school; but things have shifted in a major way since those days. The modern classroom is less about learning these days and more about the regurgitation of information that can easily be found on any handheld device, smartphone, or computer,  and more about high stakes testing, making students feel that they are little more than raw test scores while their teachers are held accountable using arbitrary mathematical calculations that don’t hold up in the light of any sort of serious mathematical scrutiny.

Of course, there are a myriad of other reasons that young teachers give for leaving their jobs after only a few years…they didn’t like the paperwork; they didn’t have time for a personal life; they didn’t feel supported by their administrators; and/or they felt stymied by the lack of professional mobility and stagnant salaries. For the most part, no one questions these motivations, for they are each and every one, valid reasons for looking for job satisfaction elsewhere.

When a more veteran teacher quits, however, one should wonder what’s up? Why, after over 30 years in a profession that one professes to love would one be willing to give it up and walk away when they are so close to retirement? A resignation of a teacher–any teacher, but especially an award winning teacher–after a 33 year career is noteworthy.

Ron Maggiano is an example of just such a veteran teacher. An award winning  social studies teacher from Fairfax County, Virginia, Mr. Maggiano tendered his resignation which was recently re-printed in the Washington Post.

Mr. Maggiano offers that he can “no longer cooperate with the standardized testing regime that is destroying creativity and stifling imagination in the classroom.” He goes on to say that he is “sad, angry, hurt, and dismayed by what has happened to education and to the teaching profession.”

I understand Mr. Maggiano’s decision only too well. A year ago, I had the option of returning to my school division after having served as the President of the Virginia Education Association for four years, but the thought of going back into the classroom and subjecting my students to the rigid and sometimes ridiculous requirements that my state and school division have imposed made my heart sink at the mere prospect. After many sleepless nights and lots of thoughtful contemplation and heartfelt prayer, I decided that I simply could not do it. So, much sooner than I had ever anticipated, I decided to opt out and take retirement. It was not an easy decision, but in the end, I know I did the right thing for me; and I trust that Mr. Maggiano has done the right thing for himself and his life.

Mr. Maggiano cites in his letter of resignation that “critical thinking skills and analytical problem solving have now been replaced with rote memorization and simple recall of facts, figures, names, and dates. Educators have been forced to adopt a ‘drill and kill’ model of teaching to ensure that their students pass the all-important end-of-course test. Teaching to the test, a practice once universally condemned by administrators and educators alike, has now become the new normal in classrooms across the country.”

He offers that it is “time to say enough.” and I could not agree with him more. Our students deserve better than they are getting, and our teachers deserve better too. It is time for the righteous indignation which teachers in general have been feeling for years to be given a legitimate voice in the ongoing debate about what is in the best interest of our students and our public schools. For too long, teachers have been left out of the debate by the politicians and policy makers who have been making the rules and shifting the debate in the wrong direction. That needs to stop, and if it is going to, it will require that courage be incorporated and teachers stop being afraid to speak their truth. It is time to stand up and stand together and let their voices be heard.

My heartfelt good wishes go out to Mr. Maggiano and his family. I suspect that he will be just fine, and I know that he will now wake up with a clearer conscience, know that he is no longer contributing through silent compliance with a system that he knows is not serving the best interest of his students.