Tuesday, October 16, 2018

When Former Teachers Make Waves

It's officially been six months since I decided to leave teaching, four months since I've left the classroom, and a month since a new school year started. So, I've had plenty of time to process my decision and a little time to live my new normal.

My plan last year was to not teach full time but still be involved in my old school by substitute teaching. It's really difficult to get qualified subs, especially ones who are willing to work on Fridays. As a licensed teacher who was familiar with the school and county, it would have been a benefit to the school to have me sub. It was a win-win: the school would get a qualified sub, and I would get to be around students and coworkers. Oh, and do you know who's negatively affected when there's a shortage of subs? The students, for one. And the teachers, who are required to give up their planning period to cover others' classes. So, having subs is crucial to everyone's success and sanity.

When I say I am highly qualified to be a substitute teacher, I'm not exaggerating. In order to sub, one must have two years of college. That's basically it. I have my master's in education, my teaching license, seven years of experience, nominations as my school's teacher of the year (and the t-shirt to prove it), three file folders full of letters and cards from former students, and several other teaching accolades and awards. So, like, I wasn't there to just collect a paycheck or let kids play on their phones all class. I LOVED teaching and the kids.

Y'all... there are substitute teachers out there who don't even show up for jobs, who don't follow lesson plans, who cancel at the last minute, who curse at students, and worse. So... yes, I really would've been an asset to the school.

Well, subbing didn't work out, and not because I didn't want it to.

At first, I was livid. I was hurt. I was in disbelief.

But when you choose to write blog posts about some of the issues with the education system, including at the school level, there are consequences, and this turned out to be one of the consequences. 

So, I did what I always do when I'm having a hard time processing: I prayed. God, I do NOT get it. I listened to You when You told me to leave teaching. I felt like You were prompting me to speak out about the truth of my experience...Why am I being punished for speaking being bold and brave? 

And I didn't get a clear answer for a while.

I avoided school events, despite former students asking me to attend, because I knew I was not welcome and that my presence might cause awkwardness. And, honestly, because I'm not used to not being held in high regards by places of employment or former places of employment. I'm a hardworking and competent employee.
But I learned that there is more to doing a job than just being qualified or having satisfactory and exemplary job performance (as all my formal written reviews, observations, and feedback demonstrated)-- there are others' personal feelings to take into account. That's still a bit of a hard pill for me to swallow.

So, this has been a slow processing journey. It's been somewhat daunting thinking about cutting my ties with my former school and even with teaching altogether. As I have always said, I love the school and the people there and teaching in general.

But being bold is worth it.
Doing the right thing is worth it.
Modeling that for my daughter is worth it. 

When I was in the classroom, I didn't speak out or pushed back for fear of retaliation. I tried to ask questions anonymously or by submitting them to our teacher's advisory committee or faculty council. I tried to fly under the radar (unsuccessfully).

This is why I think schools need to create ways for teachers to feel free to share concerns or constructive criticism. Here are just three idea I have, and teacher friends, I'll bet you have more:
1) When a teacher leaves, conduct an exit interview not with the building principal. I actually was never given an exit interview. At all. I followed up and was told I should have received a link with questions to answer. I don't remember receiving such a link, so I asked for it to be sent to me again, and I am still waiting (a month later) for a response to that request.
2) Administer an anonymous staff survey, per the VDOE guidelines, page 28, about principal performance. This survey should not result in additional professional development for teachers, passive-aggressive comments towards teachers, or any other negative consequences for teachers. As a teacher, I was required to give a survey to my students every year and analyze the data and set goals for myself. Therefore, it seems logical to me that administrators should lead by example. And why stop there? What about central office personnel or school board members administering surveys to parents, teachers, students, and community members? Making a Google Form or Survey Monkey is super easy.
3) Give teachers a safe way to ask questions and inform them of the appropriate channels of communication should their first attempt at asking a question not be effective. Having served on the faculty council at my school for two years, I can tell you that we attempted to solve numerous problems, but I was sometimes unsure of how to move up the chain of command if a problem wasn't solved by the people on my campus. This is basically a nice way of saying that, to be honest, sometimes our valid concerns were flat out ignored, and we weren't always sure who to go to next.

I was scared-- terrified, even-- to make waves for a few reasons: 
1) I have an unhealthy relationship with authority.
2) My incessant need to be respected and liked.
3) My fear of losing my job and not being able to get another one in teaching ever again.
4) My fear of being treated poorly by those who disagreed with me.
5) My fear of losing relationships with my colleagues and bosses.

As I've been ruminating on this entire situation, I've thought to myself, What would I want my daughter to do? Would I want her to cave out of fear of others? Would I want her to be silent when she saw things that could be improved, when she witnessed verbal abuse and blatant disrespect, when she saw protocols not being followed? Or would I want her to have the courage to stand up for what she believed was right?

The answer is easy, even if the act of doing it is hard. 

If I want her to speak out, I have to model that. It's one thing to say, "Speak up! Speak out!" It's another to actually do it.
Y'all, if I'm being honest, I wish I'd had the courage to speak up when I was still teaching. I wish I hadn't cared so much about not making waves-- someone's got to drop the first pebble in the pond.

There would have been ramifications, for sure. But I wish I'd had more courage, more fortitude, and a more healthy outlook on my job and my own self-worth. I wish I'd known what channels to go through to be heard and to induce potential change. I regret not doing more. Because if every single teacher spoke out about the things we witnessed, change would have to happen. All of us couldn't be ignored. We've seen this play out across the country in teacher strikes and walkouts and marches. But many of us are afraid to speak up, and rightfully so.

Not being allowed/able/welcome to sub at my old school has turned out to be a huge blessing, although it took me a while to see it that way. I'm teaching a homeschool co-op class where I get to use my reading specialist degree and expertise more than I did in the classroom. I now have set days where I can work solely on magazine interviews, phone calls, and writing. I'm more relaxed because I'm not preoccupied with school stress.

Tonight I attended a school event and had a fabulous time reconnecting with old coworkers and students. After next year, I won't know any kids at my former school, anyway, so it'll truly be time for me to move on. But I realized tonight that I'm not going to let fear of someone else's reaction to my presence rob me of the opportunity to see people that I care about or to attend something I enjoy. 

And there is GREAT freedom in that, in realizing I am not responsible for others' feelings. There is great freedom in knowing that my intentions in speaking out about the toxic environment of teaching were and still are pure-- not to slander, not to tear down, but to start conversations so that there can be improvements for the sakes of our teachers and students. If someone else can't see that, that is not my issue. I need to stop worrying about their reactions and their feelings.

So, I write to you tonight free, happy, at peace, and thrilled to spend tomorrow not in a classroom but at music class and then the swimming pool with my tiny human.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

All the Lasts

I was flipping through Katherine's baby book the other day-- well, let me be honest: she doesn't have a baby book. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with it. Instead, I bought a first-year calendar, complete with stickers like "First Steps" and "First Word." I then wrote in significant events like "First High School Basketball Game" or "First Poop-spolosion Diaper." You know, the important things.

The first year of your baby's life is full of tracking firsts. I was prepared for that.

I wasn't prepared for the intense emotion of all the "lasts," though.
Photo by Lindsey Martin Photography 

Last time in newborn sized diapers.
Last nap  in her baby swing.
Last night sleeping in our room in the Pack N' Play.
Last nursing session with a burp cloth on my shoulder or the Boppy pillow supporting her weight.
Last nap taken in mommy's bed with her.
Last car ride in the infant car seat.
Last time being able to sit through an entire church service.
Photo by Lindsey Martin Photography 

The thing about the "lasts" is that you don't always know they're "lasts." One minute you're sleeping downstairs in a recliner or on an air mattress with your baby in a bassinet so your husband can get a full night's sleep while you're on maternity leave. The next you're taking one-year cake smash pictures and trying to figure out HOW your baby is now so strong that it takes your entire body weight to smush them into their carseat and buckle them in.

Photo by Lindsey Martin Photography

The first year of motherhood, of course, flew by. Everyone said it would.

But, if I'm being honest, parts of it dragged. Like the times when I'd spend twenty minutes trying to get an angry, screaming, flailing baby to latch on to my bleeding nipples, tears streaming down both our faces. I totally understood why people gave up on breastfeeding in those moments.
Or the nights when I would pace the room bouncing her, literally counting my steps-- up to 100, then starting over-- numerous times. I totally understood why people let their babies cry it out.

Mothering her through firsts and lasts has both made me so much more confident in the type of parenting we're doing and so doubtful of my abilities as a mom. It's this strange, confusing paradox. And every time I think I've conquered something, Katherine does something new, and we're back to square one.

Realizing that the time flies and everything could be a "last" without me knowing it has helped me cherish the minutes, the events, and the mundane.

It's helped me find peace with letting her nap on my lap as I stare at the mountain of dirty dishes in the sink. I won't be able to hold her forever. Dishes will still be there.
It's helped me not stress about the fact that she's not walking or talking as much as other kids her own age. I mean, it is kind of sweet that she still crawls up to me and holds her hands out so I'll pick her up. Before I know it, she'll be running out the door and not giving me a second thought.

And I want to make these precious, sweet moments we're having last.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Toxic Teaching: Four Myths About Teaching

There are a billion other things about teaching I want to address in my blog-- grading practices, teachers' mental health, monetary waste in the public school system.

But I think it's time for my Toxic Teaching series to come to an end.

I'm going to wrap up this series by reflecting on some of the myths that I've found myself addressing either during my seven years in the classroom or during these past few months since I resigned from teaching.

Myth #1: Teachers shouldn't complain about their jobs. This seems to be a common and pervasive thought. Teachers gets holidays and summers off (let's not even get into the fact that teachers are really 10-month contract employees #rabbittrail). Therefore, people think we (and I say "we" because I am still a licensed teacher in my state) think we shouldn't voice our opinions about our low salaries, ridiculous hours, lack of respect from society, time wasted doing menial and pointless tasks, hours spent preparing our students for insane standardized tests-- the list goes on. 

Teachers complain because we want better. We know the system can be better. For us, for our kids, and for our communities. 

Myth #2: Bad teachers are impossible to get rid of. People seem to think once teachers have "tenure" (which actually isn't a thing in Virginia), they can never be fired. So, they complain about all these "bad" teachers who are "impossible to fire." 

This is simply inaccurate. While the process may be a long one, teachers can absolutely be fired. "Before being fired, teachers are provided with a notice of termination from the division superintendent, a hearing before an advisory fact-finding panel or the school board or both, and then a final decision by the school board. Virginia law says that teachers may be dismissed for incompetency, immorality, noncompliance with school laws and regulations, disability as shown by competent medical evidence, conviction of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, or other good and just cause." - Virginia Education Association

Myth #3: Any time students are off from school, teachers are, too. Let's talk about teacher "work days." Many times, teachers don't get to spend eight hours in their classrooms working-- you know, grading, lesson planning, collaborating with colleagues, contacting parents, organizing their rooms, rearranging their seating, looking at student' data and deciding what to reteach... 

Because of demands and pressures being placed on educational leaders, most of the days that my students were home, I was undergoing professional development. I was not getting work done. Some of the PD was helpful. Some of it was not. Sometimes I had to drive to another school. Sometimes I had homework from said professional development session. Sometimes it felt like it was merely an activity that was implemented in order to check a box, not something that was designed to be truly relevant or helpful. 

Snow days? Many teachers spend most of the day catching up on work. Yes, they're in their pajamas watching Netflix, too, but they're basically e-commuting and working from home. 

Summer? Y'all, last summer when I was 8-9 months pregnant, I was up at work every.single. week creating my maternity leave lesson plans. Or I was at a three-day conference at a college in the middle of nowhere. Or I was attending a training on trauma informed care. Or I was taking a college class in order to get points to renew my license. Or I was meeting with teacher friends and planning lessons. So yes, teachers get the summers "off" (even though technically we're not on contract during that time), but most of us aren't really "off." 

Myth #4: Criticizing the education system or aspects of it means the teacher is unsupportive or undedicated. 

I don't know of any job, work environment, or employee who is perfect. As teachers, we are constantly asked to self-reflect. We are constantly evaluated, both formally and informally. Last year at my school, we had to videotape ourselves twice and reflect on our teaching. 

So if teachers are open to growth and self-reflection and criticism from others, why are we not allowed to offer suggestions on how to make our schools better places? Why are we afraid to speak up and offer suggestions? 

From what I've heard in talking to other teachers from all around the country, it's hard to get people to take teachers' suggestions seriously. We're expected to just sit down, shut up, and do what we're told. Nevermind that WE are the people on the ground implementing everything that the higher ups want us to. 

Schedule changes? Run those by your teachers-- I'll bet we'll think of variables that weren't thought of by those not in the classroom, saving headaches the first few weeks of school. 

Budget decisions? Those in power should consider asking their teachers for feedback on what would really benefit the students (not just the latest bells and whistles, but actual meat and potatoes of teaching). 

Morale problems? Ask teachers what would help create a more positive work environment.

And then those listening have to be open to what the teachers say. Listen with open ears and an open mind. Don't be immediately dismissive. Don't scoff at the teachers and say, "You don't understand what's going on at a higher level and why that's not possible" (even though that may be true). Reflect their thoughts and feelings, acknowledge that they make a good point, and say it will be considered. Make teachers feel heard. 

The reason I'm writing about the toxic environment of our education system nowadays isn't because I hate teaching, or administrators, or central office, or public school. 

It's because the opposite is true.

I love teaching so much. 

I love the people I worked with, the students I was blessed to influence, the process of learning. The seven years I spent in the classroom were some of the most fulfilling and wonderful years of my life. 

I love it so much that I can't stay silent anymore out of fear (which is what I did for seven years because, let's be honest, there are consequences when you speak out). 
I can't be complicit in a system that's harming our young people and the ones who instruct them through wasting resources, implementing harmful policies, reducing both teachers and students to test scores, failing to build positive school cultures, and more. 
I can't, with a clean conscience, stand by and watch the state of education deteriorate year after year after year. 

So, this post wraps up my Toxic Teaching blog series. I'm sorry I didn't get to everything. But I did address
-Students not trusting their teachers 
-Parents not trusting teachers  
-Society not trusting teachers 

And I may come back to this topic someday, because truth be told, there's a lot more to say. 

But until then, just know that I believe in education. I believe in our students. I believe in the teachers who are the boots on the ground every.single.day, fighting for our kids, praying over them, hugging them, crying tears over them, losing sleep over them. 

Keep fighting the good fight. I may not be with you in the classroom anymore, but I'm always with you in spirit. You're the real MVPs. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Toxic Teaching: The Truth About Discipline

This might be my most controversial post yet, which is why it's taken so long to compose. I have literally been working on this for a month. Here goes nothing... 

Discussing discipline in schools is tricky nowadays. I recognize that zero tolerance policies are not as effective as some may think. As this article by the APA states, many of these policies were developed in the 1980s and required harsh consequences for infractions. 

But, "schools are not any safer or more effective in disciplining children than before these zero tolerance policies were implemented in the mid 1980s. The research also shows that while school violence is a serious issue, violence in schools is "not out-of-control."

Furthermore, the evidence suggests that zero tolerance policies do not increase the consistency of discipline in schools" (Zero Tolerance Policies). 
The APA recommended a number of changes to zero tolerance policies, including the following: 
  • Allow more flexibility with discipline and rely more on teachers' and administrators' expertise within their own school buildings.
  • Have teachers and other professional staff be the first point of contact regarding discipline incidents
  • Attempt to reconnect alienated youth or students who are at-risk for behavior problems or violence. Use threat assessment procedures to identify those at risk

So, as you can see, the pendulum has started to swing in the other direction, as it always does in our society. It feels and seems, to me, like we are swinging from authoritarian to full on permissive sometimes. 

This post is not going to debate the merits of different discipline policies or beliefs. 

I am not claiming to be an expert in classroom management and discipline. I'm also not arrogant enough to think that I didn't have room to grow in this area. I am also not attacking or shaming teachers or administrators. We all do our best, y'all. But I will be speaking from my own experiences, so here goes: 

1) Discipline takes time. It takes time to address it in the moment. It takes time away from learning. It takes time (that frankly I don't always have) during my planning period or before/after school. 

I appreciate that experts, Central Office, administration, and parents want teachers to be the first point of contact for discipline issues. Teachers SHOULD be the first point of contact, for sure! Instead of immediately writing a student a referral to the administrator, teachers should have conversations with kids, come up with a behavior contract, assign a detention of their own, or do whatever other steps they deem appropriate. 

But in order to do that, teachers need TIME. When I taught, I had one 90-minute planning period every other day. I often had meetings before school, during lunch, or after school (or I was a coach and had practice after school). 

I really didn't mind calling parents or writing up behavior contracts or having a kid in my room for detention. But I needed time to do this. A planning period every day would've been so helpful for discipline (and other things, of course). Or teacher workdays that are ACTUALLY teacher workdays (teachers nowadays have so much professional development and few actual workdays, which many who are not in education don't realize). 

And one reason that sometimes my discipline wasn't followed through, on MY part as the teacher, is because I simply did.not.have.time. I guess I could've made time-- at the expense of grading assessments, making copies, tutoring, sponsoring clubs, coaching... 

2) Reducing suspensions and expulsions doesn't mean kids are behaving better. 

This is a statistic people LOVE to point to: "We've reduced suspensions by ___ percent! Go us! Pat us on the back! Aren't we so awesome?"

But I want to emphasize: this does not necessarily mean schools are safer or students are better behaved. It does not necessarily mean teachers are more effectively disciplining students. It might. But it might not. 

It may mean that a) teachers aren't writing referrals and are perhaps being more permissive or b) administrators are assigning other consequences (such as a verbal warning or a lunch detention) instead of a suspension. Please hear me when I say that those two things are not necessarily bad. 

Also, please hear my when I say I'm not saying we need to suspend kids more.

But I am saying that I've sat in community meetings and heard people rejoice over the fact that suspensions are down.

My question is this: is that really the ultimate goal? Is the ultimate goal merely to reduce suspensions? Or is it to teach appropriate behavior and keep kids in class learning? 

One reason people don't like when students are suspended is because it means they're missing instructional time. I agree with that. I can send the work home, but not having me there to teach the student is a huge detriment to them. I do want to clarify, though: just because the kid isn't suspended doesn't necessarily mean that kid is in class learning. The kid might be present at school but skipping. The kid might be present at school in class but sitting on his/her phone the whole time or not doing any work. So, we cannot make the assumption that JUST because a kid isn't suspended means he/she is sitting in class studiously completing assignments. 

So, don't be misled by statistics about expulsions and suspensions being reduced. I'm not saying suspending kids for every little infraction is a positive thing, by any means. But the goal should not be to merely reduce suspensions and expulsions. 

It should be to address the roots of the discipline issues. 
But that takes time. Resources. A cooperative parent/guardian. Oftentimes a counselor, who may or may not be readily available because of his or her own obligations (because I don't know if y'all realize, but school counselors nowadays do SO much more then just help kids pick classes <3). 

Overall, the education system is trying to do a better job of addressing root causes, and for that, I am excited. I received training in trauma informed care and being an inclusive educator, and those trainings were immensely helpful. 

But if we really want to make a difference, it's going to take more than a handful of teachers being trained. It's going to take time, patience, love, parental support, and teamwork. 

3) We are spending 80% of our time on 20% of our students. 

And this is the most frustrating part of discipline issues for me: I literally spent the majority of my time addressing the same handful of students all year long. 

They have a right to an education, but at the expense of all of my other kids? I don't think so.But as a teacher, sometimes my hands are tied. The system is flawed. The disruptive student who is making poor choices gets to stay in class, and no matter what I try or who talks to him or how many behavior plans we go over or how many times I call home, the student's behavior doesn't change, and class is ruined for 25 kids who actually want to learn. 

4) We are not making the student take responsibility for his or her actions. 
I'll end with this one. 
Too much of the responsibility for student behavior is put on everyone except the student. 

We excuse their behaviors. 
We have low expectations for them. 
We, as the adults, are permissive. 
We make empty threats and don't follow through. 

I am guilty of all of the above. So what I'm about to say isn't pointing fingers at any other teacher out there. It is hard to have consistently high expectations every single day. It's exhausting. We just want to teach our content, and instead we spend a good chunk of time managing behavior. 

As the adults, we have allowed the kids to have too much power. I am ALL about respecting our students as people and allowing them choice, autonomy, and an appropriate amount of power. 

But we have given them too much power and not enough responsibility, and it has resulted in some students feeling entitled. 

This is not beneficial for our kids. And after all, didn't we all become educators for the kids' sakes? 

By failing to have high expectations, failing to follow through, failing to hold students accountable, we are failing them in the long run. There are consequences in real life. If we shelter them from all consequences in school, we aren't preparing them for life outside our classroom walls. 

By failing to hold them responsible, we're also saying we don't believe in them. 
We don't believe they can be better. Do better. Act better. Decide better. We're telling them they're incapable of better. And that is not true.

Teenagers are amazing, y'all. Kids are incredible. They are capable of a lot of we push them to be. 

Unfortunately, overall, we have somehow created a system (that goes beyond a specific classroom, school building, or even county) that coddles kids. 

We have to work to change the system so our students will learn to step up and become responsible students and, ultimately, citizens. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Eight Marriage Lessons

People are sometimes surprised to learn that I've only ever dated one person. I won't bore you with the details of my high school social life, but let's just say that I was raised in the purity culture and read Josh Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I was the oldest child, so... no way was I getting a boyfriend until I was 30, am I right? #courtingforthewin

Obviously, since you're all smart folks, you can do the math and figure out that if I've only ever dated one person, I ended up married to that person. He's my best friend, confidant, sounding board, and the most amazing father to our little girl.

But it wasn't always that way. 

I could (and really should) write a juicy book about all the relationship drama we had early on-- crushing on each other, going to homecoming together, ignoring each other for two months, reconnecting on a missions trip in Jamaica under the stars (yes, it was as romantic as it sounds), returning to the States just to ignore each other for five months...

I could go on.

Oftentimes anniversary posts are sappy and glamorize relationships.

But what makes our marriage so incredible is that it was-- and is-- messy. It's real. 

One quick story, and I don't know if you'll find this romantic or creepy, but here goes.

Randy and I officially met when I was a freshman in high school and he was a sophomore. I remember this detail because my hair was really poofy (I didn't need mousse or gel when I was homeschooled) and I had braces. The creepy part is that I knew exactly who Randy was before we even spoke. Fun fact: he played one season-- I think it was just one-- of volleyball, and I had seen him at the gym on my way to practice. I was like 12 when this happened. But I remember noticing him because he was competitive and mature on the court-- I look for the important things, folks.

Anyway, we officially met through a church Easter cantata. My piano teacher was also the music minister at Randy's dad's church, and my teacher asked me to sing in this church's production, and I said yes.

And our first conversation was AFTER the cantata was over at the cast party. I'm pretty sure it went something like this. It was truly riveting:

Randy: So are you new to church?
Me: Oh, no, I just take piano lessons from Mr. McD.
And maybe something about how we would both be going to the same high school the next year.

So, as you can see, we established early on that we were really good at having in-person conversations.

Who knows when our next one was or what it entailed, but I actually started attending his dad's church. Randy and I were in youth group together, and on praise team together, and we were both in choir at the same high school. We had a lot of mutual friends, but if I'm being completely honest, we actually weren't really...friends.

If I'm being even MORE completely honest, in my head, we were in a secret competition for who was the smartest in Sunday School class. Sometimes I flipped my Bible to the necessary verse faster, so I won, but most of the time, he just knew exactly what to say (some things don't change).

And if I'm going to give you all this honesty, let me also confess that he was literally the first and ONLY guy who had ever intimidated me.

Since I knew I was never going to date in high school, I really didn't give guys much thought as dating material. Sometimes I flirted with them, or sometimes I had crushes on them, but it never went any further because I kissed dating goodbye, remember? So, guys never intimidated me.

But, y'all, this Randy kid... he was crazy smart. He was super athletic. He was definitely an introverted slightly socially awkward teenager (but so was I), but he was also incredibly funny and clever. He was respectful and mature.

The next in-person conversation I remember having with him is my junior year of high school. It must have been October of 2005. This conversation also occurred at church, and it went something like this (he may remember it differently):

Randy: Hey Christine, can I talk to you for a second?
Me: Sure!
Randy: So homecoming is approaching, and the football guys said that I have to go since I'm the quarterback. And I've really enjoyed the conversations we've had, and I'm hoping you reciprocate those feelings.

And then he asked me to homecoming.

A couple of highlights:
1) I went to homecoming with the quarterback. Yup.
2) He used "reciprocate"-- SWOON! Be still, my heart! Big vocabularies are uber attractive.

I can't even say, "and the rest is history," because our relationship went through many ups and downs. We didn't even start dating until over a year after that homecoming dance. We broke up twice in college--once was my doing and the other was his. I mean, y'all, we started dating when I was 17 and he was 18. We were BABIES.

But looking back, I now see how every single step those babies took, every mistake we made, every minute of uncertainty in our 17 and 18-year-old selves led us to the beautiful marriage we have today.

I've also learned a lot of lessons from our relationship:

1) Teenagers and young people ARE capable of deep, serious love. Don't minimize their high school relationships, something we adults so often do. Even if teens don't end up with that person, the love is still real. The pain of that breakup is still real. I mean, yes, I love Randy so much more deeply now than I did at 17 and 18 and 21, but that doesn't mean I didn't love him then (oh.my.gosh, y'all, that reminds me-- should I do a blog post about how we didn't say "I love you" for like literally two years?! Aaaaaah I forgot about that). 

2)  Young marriages aren't for everybody, but they can be amazing. People say that you need to "become your own person" before you marry. I guess that's partially true. But it's also beautiful to grow up WITH a person. Do you know how cool it is that Randy and I have almost 13 years of shared history? That we were there to support each other through life's biggest changes, and we are STILL here for each other? It's pretty special.

3) Humor diffuses tension like no other. I learned this one from Randy. When I nag him about socks on the living room coffee table, he replies, "Yeah, I was leaving them there just for you" before picking them up. And then I laugh. And instead of being irritated or potentially fighting, we just move on with life. We laugh constantly when we're together, and I'm forever grateful to be married to one of the most hilarious people I've ever met. He's taught me not to take things too seriously and to not sweat the small stuff.

4) Marriage isn't as much about finding the right person as it is about being the right person. I feel like some marriage expert said that, and I don't mean to plagiarize them, but the sentiment is so accurate. Neither Randy nor I necessarily believe in soulmates (though I grow more convinced he's mine every year). The idea of a soulmate takes the responsibility off the parties involved. If I "fall out of love" or "decide he's not the one," I have an easy out. A love where you are actively, constantly CHOOSING someone over and over again is much more real and powerful, in my opinion.

5) It's okay to marry someone who has terrible taste in football teams. I didn't know a Redskins fan could marry a Cowboys fan and both could survive more than one football season, but we are proof.

6) Marriages go through seasons, and that's okay. In one season, I was working full-time while Randy was in school. In another season, he was working and I was going to school. It's okay for the norm to change.

7) Don't get a cat. It will disappoint you by loving your husband more than it loves you, even though you're the one who wanted it. Rude.

8) Marry someone who was a cute baby. Because even if you carry the child for nine months, endure morning sickness and sciatic nerve pain, withstand labor and delivery, and nurse the child from your own breast... the baby will probably look like your husband. Thanks, universe.

I've only ever dated and loved one person, and on July 31st, we celebrated eight years of marriage. We had pre-marriage years of late night AIM conversations when we weren't sure we were even going to date. Post-marriage years of sleeping on an air mattress because we had no money for furniture. Years of trying to have a baby, losing a baby, becoming parents to the world's most adorable baby. Years of supporting each other through school and career changes and injuries and illness. Years of falling asleep holding hands. Years of texting each other memes about Lavar Ball and The Office and Tony Romo.

I hope and pray for many, many more sweet years together. Because otherwise whose dirty socks will I pick up from the living room?

Song of Solomon 8:6-7a

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Toxic Teaching: Not Trusting Your Teachers, Part 3

In this third and final post about not trusting your teachers, I'm going to address a third group of people that fail to have faith in educators.
In post one, I talked about society in general (and hinted at administration and the higher-ups). In post two, I discussed parents. 

The third group? Students.

As usual, let me preface this by saying that in the seven years I taught, the students were the absolute best part of the job. So many of them were kind and funny and want to make the world a better place. Some of them have grown up to become my friends (because they're like almost 25 now), and we meet for lattes and talk about life. Some of them babysit my daughter. Some of them come to my house for dinner. Some of them text me or call me now that they've graduated to vent or ask advice or just catch up.

The students are why I love teaching, why I will miss it so much, and I mean that sincerely with my whole heart. 

However, that doesn't mean they were perfect or that they weren't conditioned to behave a certain way. Yes, conditioned-- we as a society, as an education system, have conditioned our kids to be the way they are.

Perhaps it was just the way I was raised, but growing up, I did not question authority figures unless they asked me to do something that violated my personal beliefs or something I thought was wrong. Even if I thought a lesson was stupid or a worksheet was pointless, I trusted that my teacher had a reason for me completing that task. I may have questioned it internally. A couple times, I questioned teachers privately after class (and always, I think, respectfully).

But that was not my experience as a teacher.

I was questioned CONSTANTLY. Daily. Multiple times in every class. About my teaching tactics, about why something they were learning was important, about why they couldn't be on their phones or listen to music, about why they had to have assigned seats, why I didn't accept late work, why I marked them tardy if they walked in after the bell, why I expected them to write a research paper, why they had to learn MLA format... you name it.

Let me also clarify: questions are GOOD.
Authority shouldn't be blindly followed in certain matters or certain arenas.

I understand that giving student choice and collaborating with students is an excellent way to help them develop their own critical thinking skills, decision making skills, and sense of autonomy. VERY few times did I say, "Do this because I said so and I'm the boss." Usually the conversation was something more like, "I am telling you do to ____ because ___. It's okay if you don't agree or like it. I respect that. If you still have questions, please talk to me after class." I'm pretty sure most of my students would vouch for me in this area... at least, I tried very hard to reason with them and provide explanations for my decisions.

But I truly believe that we have created an environment in which students have too much power and freedom and not enough responsibility. That is unhealthy. It is detrimental to them and their development, both as people and as learners.

Students, here's what I need you to know about trusting me:

1) I am a trained professional. In order to be a teacher, I had to jump through all sorts of hoops and pass all sorts of tests. I possess knowledge in pedagogy, in adolescent psychology, in my content area (English), in trauma informed care, in positive discipline, in teaching reading effectively, and in a multitude of other areas.

If I am asking you to do something, it is best practice, or I have some research to back it up.

I'm not just a warm body in the room. I know how to teach, and I'm trying to use my expertise to help you learn.

2) Your success and learning is more important than your comfort. Y'all, it would be easier for me if I just let you have your phones out. If I just let you listen to music. If I just let you pick your seats. If I didn't mark you tardy and if I accepted all your late work.

But based on research and based on my own experiences, I choose to fight those battles because I believe they will help you be successful.

It's actually a lot more work for me to come take your phone, talk to you in the hallway when you refuse to give it up, give you a detention or referral when you have your phone out again, confiscate it, call your parent, etc. It takes mental energy to keep up with the number of tardies you have and follow through with consequences.

But my job as the adult is not to take the easy way out. It is to ensure that you have all the tools necessary for success. And if I kowtow to you...if I make choices about my classroom based on what you want to be more comfortable, then I don't really care about you.

Read that last line again.

It's true. You may not think it. But it's true.

3) You don't always know what you need. So often I hear, "Why am I learning this? I'm never going to need this."

How do you know? 
Do you have a crystal ball? 
How do you know you'll never have to research something, create a presentation on it, and present it in front of an audience? Because I live in the real world, and that's a skill I need.
How do you know you'll never have to suck it up and do some pointless assignment in the real world? Because let me tell you I have had to do that at every job I've ever had (end of year poster: I'm not 12; why am I making a poster?)

I was an English major, but thank God I was competent in math, because my first year of marriage, I supplemented our income by tutoring a high school student in algebra. I also needed math in order to take the GRE to go to graduate school and get my master's degree. Not to mention, the year I cried my way through precalculus and emerged at the end with a "C" taught me so much about my inner strength and my resilience.

You don't always know what you need in the moment. 

Maybe you don't need to know how the difference between iambic pentameter and trochaic trimeter when you're reading poetry. BUT do you need to know how to problem solve? How to persevere? How to do something that makes you uncomfortable? YES. WITHOUT A DOUBT.

And THAT is what we can learn from "pointless" classes and "pointless" assignments.

I'll concede that some of what we teach in school-- some would argue most of what we do-- is useless in the real world. But I also know that it's the process, the journey, that is infinitely more important. It's learning how to be disciplined. It's learning something just for the sake of having knowledge and being a well-rounded person. It's broadening your horizons to become a more educated, empathetic person.

You don't know what you need all the time. You're 16.

It's not necessarily my job to tell you what you need-- I don't know for sure, either. But it is my job to expose you to everything that I can possibly think of that might help you someday. 

Again: I know that not all teachers have the same expectations or rules.
But I do know that the vast majority are TRULY just doing what we believe is best for you, our students.
We may not see eye to eye. And if you don't trust a decision I made or a rule I enforced or whatever, that is something we can discuss respectfully in private. 

That's not something for you to yell across the room during a lesson.
That's not something for you to email to me from your iPhone in an email that looks like this: "why i got a zero on my paper i turned it in on google classroom and you aint put the grade in"
That's not something for you to complain about on social media (fun story about that: one time a girl asked me for a letter of recommendation, but I had seen on Twitter earlier that year that she had put me on blast...so, I didn't write her the letter: don't bite the hand that feeds you).

Trust that sometimes adults are wiser than you are.
That most of the time, we want you to be successful.
That it's okay for you to be pushed outside of your comfort zone.
That it's healthy for you to be held to high standards.

Because if I didn't have high standards for you, it'd be because I didn't believe in you. I expect a lot from you because I think you're capable of a lot.

Trust me.
And trust yourself.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Toxic Teaching: Not Trusting Your Teachers, Part 2

Last week, I explained this blog series I'm doing and wrote part one of "Not Trusting Your Teachers," which you can read here.

Today I'm going to address another aspect of not being trusted. It's not just the general mistrust by society. Today I'm going to speak particularly to parents, the group that we are so afraid to call out. Because parents can go straight to the principal, Central Office, the media, heck, the School Board itself and get teachers and schools in more trouble than anyone. In the education system, we are scared of the parents.

On the one hand, I respect that-- these are their kids we are educating, and they're our primary stakeholders. On the other hand, I have seen how detrimental this is-- parents are rarely questioned by higher-ups and therefore can claim anything, exaggerate ridiculously, and flat make stuff up, and their word is treated like gospel.  At least, that's been my experience

(I mean, I had a parent forward my emails with her to Central Office, and I thought I was following proper protocols [correction: I WAS following proper protocols because I went back and found said protocols in writing after the fact] and being professional, and the next thing I know, I'm called into the principal's office for a chastising session and told that I have to let this student retake a vocab quiz she knew about for six weeks and just didn't study for, among other things... I wonder what we're teaching our kids when we go fight their battles for them and refuse to put responsibility on them for the choices they make...). 

I'm convinced that if enough parents just complained, SOL testing would go away, cafeterias would all have Starbucks and Paneras inside of them, and students would sit in velvet thrones instead of plastic chairs in the classrooms.

Let me preface this by saying that overall, I have had incredibly supportive parents. Most of my parents were appreciative and quick to support me when I had to contact them about issues, positive or negative. They weren't helicopter parents, and they trusted me to do my job.

In the seven years I taught, however, I unfortunately did deal with a few instances of parent mistrust and tense parent relationships. And, in talking with other friends, I think that parents at other schools or parents of younger students are perhaps more guilty of not trusting their teachers.

So, I'd like to address that in this second "Not Trusting Your Teachers" post.

1) I am not out to "get" your student. I have had some parents over the years question their students' grades, or the fact that they didn't get into National Honor Society, or the fact that they got cut from the volleyball team. Some of them have attributed that to the fact that I didn't like their student and I am engaging in personal warfare against them.

Let me acknowledge that I am human. I am biased. And I don't like every student I teach, advise, or coach. It's true. Some of the students I have taught have been nasty, rude, vindictive, violent, and disrespectful.

This is why I use rubrics-- for volleyball tryouts, for grades, for National Honor Society acceptance. For everything. It is a good "CYA" move on my part, but it also helps me keep my own feelings in check.

I am an adult professional. I try to put aside my personal feelings to teach, coach, or advise your student because your student is a human being, and as such, they deserve my professionalism. Please keep in mind that your teenager's perception of an event, a grade, or an encounter is just one side of the story.

No, I'm not out to "get" them. Frankly, I don't have time for that. If I'm gonna "get" anyone or start a personal battle with anyone, it's going to be with George R. R. Martin for killing off all my favorite Game of Thrones characters or with Steve Carell for leaving The Office.

2) If I say your student is struggling, they're struggling. One time, I was in a meeting with a parent who insisted that her son was smart and capable but he was just being lazy. In fact, the opposite was true. He worked hard in class. The truth was that he was reading well below grade level, which I attempted to communicate to her. She was having none of it. I offered tutoring, resources, and my expertise as a reading specialist. She didn't trust my evaluation and wasn't open to having him evaluated by the school. Well, this student failed the Reading SOL test (which in my opinion actually isn't a terrible indicator of reading abilities) multiple times and almost didn't graduate the next year. He literally passed the test, like, the day before graduation. I wish the mom had listened so that I could have gotten him some extra support and resources and so that he didn't have to take that SOL test ten times.

I wasn't picking on this kid. I wanted him to succeed. But sometimes parents are afraid of a diagnosis or afraid of a label and refuse to get their kids the help they need. As my undergrad professor Lori Price told my class, "Labels are not boxes to put kids into. They're doors to open to get the kids the resources they need."

Please trust me. I'm trained in this area. If I flag your student, it's because they're struggling, and I want them to succeed. I know we all want to think our kids are "smart," but we have to remember there are different kinds of intelligences, and unfortunately, only certain types are emphasized in school. We also have to remember that not every student can be average or above average-- some have to be below average. And that's ok! It just means they need a little something extra to be successful, and that's what I'm here to provide. But denying it doesn't make it any better for your child.

3) And if I say your student is capable, they're capable. This past year, I had the most awkward parent conference of my entire life. A mother berated her daughter in front of me. Like, to the point that it was truly bordering on verbal abuse. I was so very uncomfortable-- I was shaking, and my heart was racing because I was SO angry the mom was speaking to her daughter that way. I spoke up and redirected the conversation because it was highly inappropriate, and frankly, her daughter absolutely did NOT deserve to be treated like that.

Anyway, the mom turned to me and said, somewhat aggressively, "So why did you recommend her for Honors? She has a D in your class. That doesn't say 'honors kid' to me."

Now, ultimately, what classes a kid wants to take is up to the parent because they have the ability to override my decision even when they sometimes shouldn't.

But I knew this girl had a D in class because she was missing some work. I also knew she was a ridiculously fast reader, strong writer, and deep thinker. She was BORED in my regular class and needed a push, especially if she wants to go to college as she says she does.

And I said all that to mom. I hope her mom trusted me and left her in honors.

4) "He/she never acts like this at home." My favorite line. As if I have time to fabricate a story about your student cussing me out and then take twenty minutes out of my day to write the referral and call/email you about the incident.

Maybe your child doesn't act like this at home. Maybe that's because you can actually assign consequences to him or her (this is a topic for a different post and a whole 'nother can of worms). Maybe there are stimuli and situations that aren't present at home.

And while there are two sides to every story, of course, if I take the time to write a referral and call you, something happened. I'm not making it up. I don't know why your kid acts like this at school or at home. But please trust me... your kid is not a perfect little angel, and it takes a pretty major event for me to take disciplinary action. And if you have questions or you want to get your child's side of the story, please do so. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle.

But please don't act like your child isn't capable of cursing or horseplay or skipping. We all have the capacity to make poor choices given the right circumstances and influences. Your teenager is no different.

5) If your student doesn't have the grade they want, they're not doing the level of work necessary to earn that grade. This year, I had an honors student who had a 78 the entire year. He begged me multiple times to give him two points so he could get a B. He harped on the fact that I was his ONLY class he had a C in, and it was keeping him from making Honor Roll.

His mom contacted me about it. She was not happy, and I understood and reflected her concerns. I also broke down his entire grade, did the math on paper, took a picture, and sent said picture to her. I never heard from her about his grade again.

Because what the breakdown showed is that yes, although he did well on tests and average on quizzes, he didn't complete his homework and hadn't completed several essays and projects.

It's really amazing to me that parents questioned me about their students' grades so frequently. I never remember my parents doing that. Ever. If I got a "C" on a test, it was because I didn't study. I didn't go to tutoring. Or the test was just really hard and I didn't grasp the material.

We have created a society in which parents and students think that merely DOING the work should earn them an A or B. We teachers keep trying to explain that we need QUALITY work to earn high grades. And sometimes, that falls on deaf ears.

If you want your kid to have an A or a B, I am happy to tell you exactly what they need to do to earn that grade. I don't give grades. I don't curve. I don't give a lot of extra credit. I want your students grade to be an accurate reflection of his or her academic ability and work ethic. I don't want it to be inflated because your kid brought in five boxes of tissues and some hand sanitizer.

Now... I acknowledge there are some bad teachers out there who maybe do treat some kids unfairly. In my experience, they are very few and far between. Perhaps your experience is different. If it is, I am truly sorry. Your child deserves better.

I don't have TIME to make up stories about your kid, write them up, call you, and follow up. I just don't. I believe every kid, even the ones I don't particularly like, deserves to be respected and deserves an education.

And most of all, I believe that parents and teachers have the same goal: they want the student to learn, to be a better person, and to be a better student. If we can keep that in mind, we can have an amazing partnership.