I was offended years ago, Arne Duncan

I want to know where were the white suburban moms when Bush 2 implemented No Child Left Behind with the help of DFER George Miller?

Where were they when Obama Administration instituted Race to the Top?

Or how about when Arne Duncan made the racist comment about Hurricane Katrina being the best thing to ever happen to education in New Orleans?

When school districts serving mostly urban kids had to make devastating cuts to many programs that those in suburban (read: wealthier) districts often did not, where was the outrage?

And, in being allowed to work in my urban with only an intern credential, when most of the districts around me would not have considered me without a full credential – you know, it’s about race. That is, I can teach kids of color with no experience because really, “what does it matter?”

Or even when Governor Brown proposed to give more funding to school districts that taught more children in poverty and ELL’s and school districts that for years had received more funding or could cover the costs of extras through community fundraising, the reactions from some in the suburban communities (read: usually more white/affluent) were really quite sad and depressing.

When there are harmful policies that impact students and their communities – there should be outrage, regardless of what that student population looks like. Quite frankly, I will be pissed if Arne Duncan loses his job over this comment as it will confirm to me that the opinions of white, suburban moms matter way more than the voices of those who do not look like them.

My response to John Merrow

So for some inexplicable reason, reporter John Merrow has decided that those of us who think that Diane Ravitch is a hero are similar to those who admire the idiot who read Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham.  (I won’t link to said idiot because I don’t want said idiot’s followers to post their idiotic comments on my blog.)

My Reponse:

As a young girl, I remember learning how to read with the help of my first grade teacher. I can’t remember her name because as a Navy brat, I wound up going to over a dozen schools. What I can remember is that it was the teachers who almost always made this perennial new kid feel welcomed and secure.

As a parent, I looked to the teachers that each of my three kids had as the experts. They were the ones that helped me help my children if they struggled over a new concept or informed me of when they needed extra help or support. They were the ones that brought learning to life for my three and helped them become the great young people they are today.

Now as a teacher myself, I look to my own experience as a student and as a parent to help me inform my own practice. I became a teacher later in life in 2001 and in that very short time, I have seen the profession I love and the people that I admire become the targets for every thing that is wrong in education. What the general public seems to not understand is how very little control teachers actually have over their profession. Where once there was respect for our profession as teachers, there is now derision and scorn.

Those of us who choose to teach in low performing, high poverty schools are labeled as failures when our students don’t perform as well as their peers – peers that often live in environments that are more supportive and less stressful. We are judged based on meaningless data that says nothing about the beautiful souls that so many of us feel so very privileged to teach. Kids that we see daily rising above despite all the challenges that are thrown at them, including attending schools that are labeled as failing again based on arbitrary data points that should never define any child, their school or their teacher.

All of this is to say, Diane Ravitch gives us hope. None of us who read Ms. Ravitch are gullible, mindless people. I would argue that many of us fall along the political spectrum not often seen in the US today. We are Democrats, Republicans, Independents and DTS. We are liberal and conservative. The one unifying factor is that Ms. Ravitch has been willing to take a look at the programs she once previously supported with a critical eye, examine her own beliefs and support with research why previously held conclusions were erroneous.

In short, she is a teacher. This is what teachers do.

That is why she is MY hero.

Trying to understand the tragedy of Trayvon

Yesterday afternoon, my husband and I decided to try the new Zachary’s, which is closer to where we live than the one in Berkeley. As we waited for our Chicago style stuffed pizza, I took out my phone to check Facebook and Twitter.

I wish I hadn’t.

There was a part of me in my white privileged world that thought because the jury of six women had not come back immediately with a verdict in the Zimmerman trial that perhaps justice would be served. Justice, that is, in what is supposed to be our so-called “post-racial” world.

My white privilege has caused me to be naive in trusting that the justice system works.

When I saw on Twitter that the verdict had come back and that Zimmerman had been found “not guilty” on not only 2nd degree murder charges, but manslaughter charges as well, I felt sickened and I felt heartbroken.

This decision has crystallized something for me.

There is a reason why many people of color jump to the assumption that racism is at play when a decision is made regarding their child who is being taught by a white person.

It is because racism is something too many experience on a daily basis.

Instead of becoming defensive when I am called racist, I think it is incumbent upon me (and not the person of color) to determine why they might feel the way that they do. I have to think of every past experience that has led to this moment. As upsetting & painful as it is to be called a racist, I am certain that it is no where as upsetting to actually experience it. Every single day of your life.

(This is not to say that I think sometimes the word racist is used as a weapon and like all weapons can be misused. I will explain what I mean by this in Part 2 of this blog post.)

Even a I write this, a white, middle class woman, white as white can be, strawberry blonde freckled girl with green eyes, I worry about stumbling, fumbling as I try to express what I feel because I will never know what it feels like to be black in America.

This is what I do know.

I am the mom of two boys, whom I love fiercely. The human part that I connect with in respect to Trayon is two-fold. First, the anguish that must torment both his parents, Tracy Martin and Sybina Fulton, in recreating in their own minds (as parents are wont to do) their son’s final moments. There is no doubt in my mind that Trayvon fought for his life, he stood HIS ground, and was murdered by his attacker. He fought in the way that I know my own two boys would fight if their lives were similarly threatened. (Of course, my two white sons would never have been approached by someone like Zimmerman because they are white males and thus are not automatically suspect.) Second, over the course of my teaching career, I have taught many young African-American males, who I have thought of often during this whole horrendous, ludicrousness of “standing your ground.” (I would argue Trayvon was also standing his ground & was simply defending himself against a stranger who had no cause to stop and/or question him.)

The part of being black in America, I can empathize, but I cannot truly know on the deepest level of what it really means.

What I can understand is hatefulness and it is in this that I think have a connection.

(Part 2 tomorrow.)

What “we” control . . .

We, as teachers, have seen a continual erosion of what we control. The dialogue has become it is the fault of teachers that our schools are failing. It is the fault of teachers that our schools are not safe and welcoming environments to all students. It is the fault of teachers that a high proportion of our kids of color are suspended or expelled.

However,

We do not control the rules we can use in our classrooms . . . these are now dictated by our district.

We do not control the curriculum . . . this is now dictated by our district.

We do not control the roster . . . these are determined by site administration.

We do not control who we work with . . . this is determined by district administration.

We do not control suspensions or expulsions of our students . . . this is determined by site and district administration.

We do not control our professional development . . . this is now dictated by our district.

What we control?

Very little.

Betrayal

When I first was elected to be president of the local where I work, I resolved to start mending the relationship between my district, the community and my union. It was one of my top priorities and so, when I sat in board meetings, I paid attention to who attended these meetings.

One of these people who regularly attended, I approached and over the course of my past four years, I thought we had developed a friendship.

Recently, developments have come about which has changed everything, which I would rather not go into online. Suffice to say that this community member, a person I thought was a friend, seems hellbent on destroying me personally.

It has been such an act of betrayal of which I’m still reeling from.

I don’t confide in many people. Like most friendships, you want to be able to share both frustrations and celebrations. It is appalling to me that someone you would consider a friend would think nothing of sharing information that you thought was in confidence.

I so want to believe in karma right now.

I need to set the record straight

It appears we no longer live in a country in which we are free to speak out about injustice. This is beyond ridiculous & the idiot who reported him needs to suffer some type of consequence. Karma can be a bitch.

Opine I will

I teach my students that their reputation is the most important asset they own. Your reputation is determined by your actions, your deeds, and also how you are viewed by others. Therefore, it is vital that  you understand that your reputation ultimately defines you. Success is not judged by how much you make, but rather, real success is judged by your character and how others view your actions and deeds.  I believe this with my heart and soul.

Unfortunately, my character was questioned by an unproven allegation. Ultimately it was determined I did no wrong and the allegation was unfounded. I write this posting today as a record of what has transpired over the last two days. I also owe my students and their parents an accurate representation as to what occurred so that they may be fully informed.

My views on the Common Core and high stakes testing,  are…

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When School Officials Bully Students

When School Officials Bully Students.

My son has also been bullied. This is the e-mail I sent this morning to the superintendent & his principal this morning.

It is a a very sad day when the almighty test is more important than the well-being of kids.

This is the e-mail I sent to the Fairfield-Suisun Superintendent and his principal this morning as well. This emphasis on testing started in 3rd grade & because of his teacher then, he experienced extreme anxiety. I can’t believe we are facing almost the same experience now that he is in 11th grade.

Hello Ms. Cottingim-Dias,

Approximately three weeks ago, I notified Mr. Principal that our son would be opting out of the CST’s. This decision was not made lightly and came about after many lengthy discussions between our son, my husband and myself. We believe that the CSTs are not valid indicators of what our son has learned. We also believe and trust our son’s teachers to be able to best assess him and tell us where he is at academically as it is part of their job to do ongoing assessments throughout the school year. We further believe that the emphasis on testing and the pressure that is placed on teachers is taking away valuable learning time, something that has brought frustration to our son who has told me that he sees firsthand the pressure and stress his teachers experience during testing time.

Last week, it was brought to my attention that one of his teachers chose to target him in class. I am still trying to contact this teacher so that I can hear her version of the events. Unfortunately, she has still failed to contact me. Today, in yet another example of targeting our son, my husband received a phone call from Cindy in the Attendance Office at the high school. She told my husband that our son could not be on school grounds during the testing time. When I tried to talk to Cindy, she referred me to Ms. VP who would not address my concern, but instead referred me to the testing coordinator, Ms. TC. This person was not available to talk to me, so I have yet to speak to anyone about why our son could not be there today. He was there yesterday and nothing was said. So, I’m not sure what changed from yesterday, when apparently it was okay for him to be on school grounds for testing to today when all of a sudden it is not okay.

When our son was in 3rd grade, he went to our neighborhood school. We ended up having to pull him out of school there because of the bullying behavior we witnessed by some of his teachers and the administrative staff. This bullying caused him to suffer extreme anxiety for which cost him a good half a year of learning. This school district is very lucky that my husband and I merely chose to withdraw him and find a school that was willing to work with him – a school in Vallejo with teachers who cared more about his emotional well-being in conjunction with his learning, something he clearly did not experience at our neighborhood school. It now seems like he is being bullied again by those he should be able to trust, his teachers and administrators.

I am hopeful that someone will assure me that any bullying and intimidation that is taking place in regards to the CST’s will cease immediately and that our concerns will be addressed.

Thank you for your consideration.

California Dem’s Resolving not to be suckered by corporate “reformers”

I came back today after spending the week-end in Sacramento at the 2013 California Democratic Convention. A contingent of labor groups, including the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, submitted a resolution titled, “Supporting Public Education and Dispelling the Corporate Reform Agenda”. It not only calls out the corporate reformers, but so-called democratic organization (in name only) such as Democrats for Education Reform and Students First.  This resolution was heard on the floor of the convention today. I’m very proud of the fact that this resolution was passed by a majority of California Democrats. The text of the resolution is below.

Supporting California’s Public Schools and Dispelling the Corporate “Reform” Agenda
Whereas, the reform initiatives of Students First, rely on destructive anti-educator policies that do nothing for students but blame educators and their unions for the ills of society, make testing the goal of education, shatter communities by closing their public schools, and see public schools as potential profit centers and children as measureable commodities; and

Whereas, the political action committee, entitled Democrats for Education Reform is funded by corporations, Republican operatives and wealthy individuals dedicated to privatization and anti-educator initiatives, and not grassroots democrats or classroom educators; and

Whereas, the billionaires funding Students First and Democrats for Education Reform are supporting candidates and local programs that would dismantle a free public education for every student in California and replace it with company run charter schools, non-credentialed teachers and unproven untested so-called “reforms”;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the California Democratic Party reaffirms its commitment to free accessible public schools for all which offer a fair, substantive opportunity to learn with educators who have the right to be represented by their union, bargain collectively and have a voice in the policies which affect their schools, classrooms and their students;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the California Democratic Party send this resolution to all elected Democratic leaders in California, publicize the corporate and Republican funding of these groups and work with the authors of this resolution to dispel the false reforms and support the real needs of the classroom: trained teachers, adequate funding, safe and clean facilities, diverse and stimulating curriculum and access to pre-school and higher education.

Where would I fit in?

I was a Navy brat. My dad served this country for over two decades, finally retiring when I was in my junior year of high school. During my school career, I attended over a dozen schools. Elementary school was relatively easy because during this time in childhood, kids are fairly accepting and the cliques (if there are any) are relatively fluid. It was only during the transition to junior high and high school that being the new kid became more painful.

The one thing I had as the new kid was a deep love of singing. From the time I entered West Junior High School in Butte, Montana (yes, my dad was stationed in Butte – a story for another day) to when I left Benicia High School as a 9th grader, I was involved in school choir programs. It was the one clique that I fit into relatively easily and quickly because I found other kids who shared this same love of singing.

In fact, when I look at the partial year at Marshfield High in Coos Bay, OR and the end of my high school career  at Alameda High, I remember not feeling well-connected to any group. It took me some type to develop friendships, which I know probably had a lot to do with being the new kid as an eleventh grader. However, I have to wonder if this feeling of disconnect that I experienced later on was because of how much longer it took me to find a group of kids that shared similar interests – something that could be found easier when I could be part of a school choir.

This leads me to where we are now in education. The focus is clearly on getting all of our kids college ready. This is whether or not the kids themselves want to be college ready. As a high schooler, I said I wanted to go to college, mostly because I knew it is what the adults around me wanted to hear. However, I did not go to college straight out of high school. I chose to get married and start a family. I found I had to live life in order to truly appreciate my college experience.

With all of this emphasis in California on pushing our kids to meeting A-G requirements and the cuts to music and art programs, it makes me wonder. Where would I have fit in as a high school student? The one class that kept my interest has ceased to exist in many middle schools and high schools.

Our schools need to reflect all of our kids. Sadly, we are only engaging and providing relevancy to a small group of kids who truly have the burning desire to go straight to college out of high school. Those who do not wish this for themselves at this time are being told that what they want is not important and those around them (the adults) surely know better. When will we move past the idea that all of our kids are the same and start providing comprehensive programs that reach & teach all types of kids, including those who are every bit as smart as college bound kids, but simply do not want it for themselves as soon as they graduate?