Sunday, October 15, 2017

The starting line...

Watch this. Just watch it. I am going to write about this amazing video...as soon as I stop crying.


I just sat down at Starbucks to create some curriculum and write some assessments...and I checked my Facebook. My former teaching partner, who I have not blogged about yet...because I always cry when I consider where we are today, sent me the above link to the most important video I have seen in a long time. Shawn is the most amazing teacher I know. We shared five years and hundreds of kids during our time together. It was the most amazing experience of my life. We called it KASHAM. (He is KA and I am SHAM) More on KASHAM later...but this reminded me why I believe what we did for five years was magical. The video was sent with a simple message: "What an honest lesson about life."

Shawn and I made it work for five years because we could have conversations like this one. We could discuss with each other the different experiences our kids had, and that they were all coming from different backgrounds. We both believe that every kid deserves the very best education we can give them, but understand that some came to us with hurdles in front of them, while others had a clear path to the finish line. If you watched the video you know that it shows you very clearly that kids have NOT all had the same opportunities. As teachers we MUST acknowledge this...even if society will not.

"We would be foolish to not realize we have been given more opportunity. We don't want to recognize that we have been given a head start. But the reality is...we have. Now...there is no excuse. They still gotta run their race. You still gotta run your race."
Yesterday I blogged about Operation Common Good. And this video reminded me of exactly why I started OCG over a decade ago. I realized that the kids in my classes were not starting on the same line to begin the race. Some were hungry. Others were worried about not fitting in with their more wealthy counterparts. Why would you try out for cheerleading when you know you can't afford all the swag that the coach will require you to purchase? In a world full of UGG boots and North Face coats, it is brutal for a kid that cannot afford either. My colleagues and I, along with thousands of kids, we made sure that we did our part to help the kids that are already starting behind everyone else.

"Because the reality is, if this is a fair race and everyone is back on that line...I guarantee some of these Black dudes would smoke all of you. And it's only because you have this head start that you are possibly going to win this race called life."

Look at the faces of the kids left in the back when the race begins. Not one of the things that allowed others to move closer to the finish line before the race started was a decision that they made, or a choice that they had. This is EVERY DAY in school. When we start a new unit in our classes, we have to remember that some of our kids are far behind their peers. When I worked with Shawn, I saw every day how he helped kids to get closer to that line. He gave up his lunch just about every day for five years. And by choice, our kids would come in and sit with him and practice math. I have never seen anything like it, or ever worked with anyone more committed to leveling the playing field.

"Nothing you have done has put you in the lead right now."

I would have been one of the kids in the front of the line. I am clear about that. Having never known hunger in my life, and having supportive parents and an amazing extended family, I know what I don't know. I know so many people that believe that the world provides the same opportunities to all kids. They think it is up to individuals to decide whether or not they will utilize those opportunities. I wonder if they have ever looked behind them to see who is starting the race from far behind.

"If you didn't learn anything from this activity...you're a fool."

Every teacher, administrator, parent, child, human should watch this video. And we should all work together to build opportunities for kids that haven't ever been up front when the race begins. For some kids, that is every hour of every day they spend in school. This must change.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Operation Common Good

Every once in a while...you get to be a part of something so amazing, so perfectly perfect that there are not words to describe it. Operation Common Good is that thing for me.

This morning I woke up and I wanted to write. Yesterday one of my most favorite people told me to blog this weekend. She knows I have so much to say and she knows I have to do something to help people...especially kids. I see and feel injustice all the time. I can't pretend it isn't there. I can't compartmentalize my need to fight for people that can't fight for themselves. I have to do SOMETHING. And the world seems to have gone mad, and I see it impacting our kids every day. I want to fight and speak out and make a difference. I kept thinking about what I want to write about. Racial injustice? The treatment of children of color? Legislation that hurts schools? The Pledge of Allegiance? The dismantling of public education? The fact that I came across some sixth graders this week that think Mexico is our enemy? My frustration with people making decisions about classrooms that haven't been in one? Ever?

Nah.

I'll get back to that. Today I want to write about the most amazing thing I have ever been a part of, and encourage anyone that reads this to do something in their own community to help kids that need it. Somebody has to.

Sometimes I feel like I have hit a wall and can't find a way to help kids. And then I remember OCG. And this has to be where I spend my energy. Because what happens when I do??? Hungry kids get fed. Families with chronic lice get the help they desperately need. Seniors living in poverty get to go to prom and 10-year-olds aren't left out of field trips because they can't afford to pay the $15.00 fee. And lots and lots of little kids get snow pants. LITTLE KIDS NEED SNOW PANTS! But when putting food on the table is the only thing parents can focus on, snow pants and boots have to take a back seat. I would love to tell you that our schools are in tune with the needs of children, particularly the most vulnerable of them. But we aren't.



I apologize in advance that I am the star of this video. I prefer to put kids front and center of all things...but in this case, I guess I AM the face of OCG. I am the founder. I am the one that speaks at events and goes out into schools and communities to get support. It works too...but only, I believe, because this is truly an organization created BY kids FOR kids. And often...kids need their teachers to help them save the world. So that is what I do.

Operation Common Good started in 2005 when my 8th grade history class learned about a family I was helping during the holidays. We were learning about the Core Democratic Values, and supporting the "common good" is one of them. I told them about a mother in a nearby community that I was helping. She was dying of cancer and had five young children and no support. Within a couple of weeks, my kids had raised over $3000.00 by carrying a jug around and collecting change. (And some kids asked their parents for checks!) We provided everything on their Christmas wish lists, and then some. And were able to help multiple other families as well.

It was an extraordinary experience. But we soon learned of a family with five children, some our own Warner Vikings, who were living in their car. My partner, Hatty, and I decided we needed to focus our efforts on helping kids in Farmington from that point forward. It seemed that kids living in poverty, but in an affluent community, had greater challenges. They were going to extreme measures to avoid being "caught" being poor, after all, we are Farmington. And most of us have all of our needs being met and then some. We raised money in a jug for years...and got so big that our (AMAZING) principal started nagging us about becoming a legal 501c3. He worried that we may have outgrown our "tin can method." (That was an understatement) Having a principal committed to social justice and supporting kids at all costs allowed us to turn OCG into a big deal (Thank you, Mark, for being our hero and the reason OCG has made such an incredible impact). We are now a legal 501c3 under the umbrella of the Farmington/Farmington Hills Education Foundation.

Over the past 12 years we have raised almost $100,000.00 through school and community fundraisers. The above video clips are from an amazing event at the Faith Covenant Church in Farmington Hills. The amazing women hosting that day raised over $8000.00 in one afternoon. And EVERY SINGLE PENNY helped a kid in their community. When I walked in that day, I had NO IDEA what I was about to see and do. I had spoken at numerous events, but this one was different. This was BIG. I realized that day just why so many community organizations wanted to help us. They love that we have no overhead. They love that kids are included and in charge of the fundraising. And they WANT to help families in our own community. The only thing I could think that day was...WOW...my cup runneth over.

We got to the point at Warner where we were able to raise $10,000.00 in one week...thanks to the energy of elementary teachers and the most amazing 10 and 11-year olds. We had it down to a science. Our 5th and 6th graders were raising ALL of the money for a district of 10,000. And they did it with smiles on their faces and kindness in their hearts. But then...just like that....it came to an end. Our school was no longer our school and our platform for fundraising was gone. I learned a lot about the consequences of doing good things just for the sake of doing good things. In an environment that is wrought with competition and focused on adult comforts first, people like me breed resentment. My OCG partners and I have even been invited to present OCG at the National Homelessness Conference. We didn't get to, but it was so cool to be asked. I want the opportunity to share OCG because it is an amazing way to give kids in your community a chance to feel like they are not watching the rest of us from the other side of a glass wall.

Last year, at my new school, a couple of dedicated teachers, my new administrators, and the PTA president found a way to keep OCG alive. We were running out of money.  I had accepted the fact that I could no longer do what I do. I had essentially been defeated. But my new school community proved to me that there are amazing people everywhere. One incredible human being (another principal) even ate a worm to support OCG. Yes. She ATE a live worm. And if I remember correctly we raised over $700.00 just hoping to watch her consume a slimy, squirmy, dirt-covered worm. Great educators (great people) will do anything when they know the result is the ability to feed and clothe a hungry child.

I am exhausted from fighting for equity and basic decency for children in my community. I am exhausted from trying to keep my own name off of my own non-profit so as not to build more resentment. I am exhausted. But I remembered this morning just how energized I feel when I am depositing thousands of dollars into our account, and imagining all of the kids whose lives will be just a little bit better because we took the time to raise money and awareness.

We are almost out of money again. So I am going to commit myself to spreading the word about Operation Common Good. I hope teachers around my own district see this and ask what they can do in their schools. Schools have become fundraising factories, but when you start to ask outside organizations about the percentage of donations that will be spent on overhead, it is disheartening. Especially when the kids could be raising money for their own friends (unbeknownst to them) and classmates that desperately need help. I hope this spreads to more local businesses and organizations looking for a way to give back to their own communities. I hope I get tons of requests to speak at different events this year. I hope kids that are worried, hungry and scared are a little less worried, a little less hungry and a little less scared.

It is starting to get cold. We are going to need help to keep kids in Farmington and Farmington Hills warm and fed. People still don't believe that poverty exists in such an affluent community. But one out of five children in our community is food challenged. And they do NOT want you to know. They just want to feel and look like any other student.

And that is why I do this.


Want to make a donation? Go to http://www.operationcommongood.org/




Sunday, September 24, 2017

To Pledge or not to Pledge? That is the question...NOT.

You may have caught the story in the news over the past week or so about a 6th grade student making a decision to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance at school. And Colin Kaepernick is still fighting for his right to "take a knee" during the National Anthem. In the wake of these small acts of patriotism, it seems that everyone has something to say. POTUS does.

At a rally this weekend, the President of the United States said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get the son of a b**** off the field right now. Out! He's Fired!"

No. No I wouldn't... What I would like to see is a NFL owner or two take a knee. Now THAT would be a true show of patriotism.

I work in the public school district dealing with "Pledge-gate." And the debates are similar to the national debate about taking a knee. Ironically, I wrote about the pledge a couple of weeks ago, before this happened and before the national news media had ever heard of us.  Should kids be allowed to take a Knee?

I do not know the child involved in this pledge incident. I have no idea who the teacher is. I feel horrible for everyone involved. I wasn't going to follow up on my earlier pledge post...but then I started reading the comments on an article about the incident. And all I want to do is scream. This is a little boy. I teach sixth grade, and spend all day every day surrounded by 11-year-olds. They are just starting to formulate opinions about the world on their own. They are inquisitive and hilarious and amazing. And I am just sick about some of the things grown people have written about a little boy. I have only ventured to read the comments on one article. That was plenty for me.

THIS IS NOT OK. 

AND THIS IS NOT OK. 
AND THIS IS LITERALLY INSANE. 
And THIS? Well this sums up the ridiculousness. 

This little boy is 11-years old. He is a baby. And he is an American. You may not like it, but it's true. People post all over the internet about how "these kids" need to show some respect or "go back to their country." So let me get this straight. These adults (white adults...I should point out) want us to teach this kid and every other kid to have respect for the flag, the country and for each other. But they publicly call an 11-year-old boy names, use racial epithets, and suggest he and his family leave this country. "He deserved to be assaulted," one commenter said. "Your family should move back to Kenya," another genius wrote. I could write a book about this right now. I am embarrassed that we believe these things about our own CHILDREN. I am not going to write that book, at least not today. But I am going to write this: 

STOP DEBATING THE RIGHT TO SIT DURING THE PLEDGE OR TAKE A KNEE IN PROTEST DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.  

There is no debate. And no reason for us to fight over it. This decision was made for us all a very long time ago and is right here for all to see. 


And guess what...neither the little sixth grade boy nor Colin Kaepernick owe you an explanation for their decision to take a knee. That is the beauty of freedom and democracy. Their decision NOT to pledge or sing is just that...THEIR DECISION.

I have been in school all of my life. I have said the Pledge of Allegiance a million times. I honor the flag and the freedoms that it represents. I honor every veteran that fought for our freedoms. And until people fully comprehend the First Amendment and every American's right to free speech, I'll be taking a knee in solidarity with everyone that has ever been attacked for exercising their first amendment rights. Now THAT's American.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Teachers, What do YOU make?





I watch this video often. I do it for inspiration.

My favorite part of Taylor's speech is this:

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home...Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven't called at a bad time. I wanted to talk to you about something your son did today. He said, "Leave the kid alone, I still cry sometimes, don't you?" And it was the noblest act of courage I have ever seen. I make parents see their children for who they are and what they can be.

Take a second to remember why we became teachers. Before we get all caught up in the curriculum and all the "stuff" that can take away from our real work...remember why we became teachers and let's do this.

We are about to start a new school year. This is my bit of inspiration for my fellow teachers, and my wish for an amazing school year. Go Super Teachers! You make a DIFFERENCE every single day. Don't you forget it!


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Would you let YOUR kids take a knee?

Last week one of my dear friends and colleagues posted the following video on Facebook:


The caption on the video says: During the 2016-2017 NFL season Colin Kaepernick took a knee in protest of police brutality of African Americans. The league responded by blackballing him. 

The creator of the video goes on to encourage a boycott of the NFL. I watched the entire video and I wanted to do something. A boycott isn't really going to work for me...I don't watch football. I don't buy tickets. I don't even know which team Colin played for. But I do know Colin. I know him because young men of color, just like him, sit in front of me every day while I teach social studies. Because I don't watch football, or follow it in the least, I didn't quite know what was going on last year when a large portion of my class "took a knee" during the daily reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. We say the pledge every day at school. But on this particular day, I saw something I hadn't seen before. When the announcers came on and directed us all to face the flag, multiple faces turned in my direction. Looking for permission for something I didn't understand. The pledge was said during a time of day when the kids in my class were all children of color. Almost all of them were Black males. 

They didn't really know me very well yet, and didn't know what I would do when they made their decision to take the proverbial knee during the pledge. One of my students was the first to make it clear that he didn't want to participate, but he is a rule follower and one of the most respectful kids I know. I remember his face looking right at me, and he saw the confusion on my face. I could tell he didn't want me to think he was a trouble maker. I wandered over and he said, "Do I have to say the pledge?" 

I started to put some pieces together, having heard rumblings about Kaepernick on the news, I had a feeling the two were related. I said to him, "Nope. Your first amendment rights allow YOU to make that decision." 

After a few of us were done pledging our allegiance to the flag, we had an awesome class discussion. They told me about Colin and why they wanted to take a knee. They were genuinely in shock that I wasn't mad at them or forcing them to participate in this daily ritual. They couldn't believe I would engage them in a conversation about the benefits of a protest. They couldn't believe I wasn't mad at them. I was just getting to know this particular group of students, but this was probably what led to the relationships I was able to build with them. From that point forward, some kids pledged, some didn't, and the deal was...you have to be respectful during the pledge. But I was certainly not going to force these young men of color to pledge allegiance to something they felt was in direct opposition to who they were. 

I know some teachers would whole-heartedly disagree with me. I know some people whose blood will boil just reading this. I am really OK with that. Because that's how we make change. We engage in dialogue. We think about how it might impact someone else. We consider the feelings of others that have an experience we can't understand. I have no idea what it is like to be a Black male in the United States right now. From what I have heard and read, Colin isn't even on a team anymore. I've heard he is a great football player (I have no reference point for that) and that doesn't matter because the NFL doesn't want him. They don't seem to mind players that are criminals and have forgiven players for egregious acts. But this kid isn't playing football because he gave a voice to the voiceless. 

Shame on the NFL for building their franchises by employing mostly men of color, but not letting one voice be heard because the white fans and team owners might feel uncomfortable. I want to hear from teachers on this. Would you let your kids take a knee? Would you let them take a stand? Do we fight for a 13-year-old's right to stay silent during the pledge? Do we respect their wishes and let their voices be heard? Or do we force them to pledge allegiance to something they don't believe represents them?

We can't avoid discussions of racism in school. Our kids are feeling it and experiencing it more than ever before. I think about this all the time and I want to do what is right by my kids. 



Sunday, August 6, 2017

Anyone else disturbed by Trump's speech to the Boy Scouts?

It's been over a week since the President of the United States made his grand speech to the Boy Scouts. How hard is it to go give a speech to a room full kids? Just cover the basics. Talk about perseverance and pride. Tell them you are proud of their commitment and their hard work. Give them a little pep talk about all of the amazing life skills they have learned. Tell them they rock at all the boy-scouty-things they do. It's not rocket science.

I know I am late with this post, but I took a break from blogging and reading to go watch my nephew play in the state finals for Little League. I'm really quite glad they didn't secure the president to throw out the opening pitch to the young men of Michigan that worked so hard to get to Charlevoix. I imagine it would have left them all stunned and confused. I imagine that's how some of the Boy Scouts felt after that speech.

The speech has been swirling around in my head for some time. How is this OK? How will it impact the kids in our classrooms? What are we going to say to the kids about sportsmanship and respect? I've taught a lot of social studies during my career. I have REALLY strong opinions about politics. You know who I never talk to about my political opinions??? MY STUDENTS.

It's my job to teach them about the world and let them figure out how to generate their own ideas. It's up to me to give them the freedom to think and analyze, and to decide for themselves what they think. I shouldn't have been shocked my Trump's speech to the Boy Scouts...but alas.

The President of the United States stood up in front of roughly 40,000 Boy Scouts and said some of the most asinine things I have ever heard. He started his speech with some craziness about how the press would say there aren't very many people at the Jamboree. I think someone neglected to tell 45 that the event was not in his honor. They ALWAYS have that many boys. It's a Jamboree. So when he asked the following question, I cringed...

"Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?"

Nobody, sir. But I have a feeling you will anyways. And he did. The vast majority of his speech was about his political issues and recounting his perceived successes. I have just one question. Who the hell starts a speech to the Boy Scouts with WHO THE HELL??? They're BOY SCOUTS!!! I did a little research on the Boy Scout Creed and I found this:


From what I can see...POTUS was unable to get through one speech with any of the Boy Scout values in tact. Instead of friendly and courteous, he was rude and obnoxious. Instead of cheerful and kind, he made backhanded comments and presented himself as a sore winner. And I am not sure what is brave about standing up in front of 40,000 adolescent boys and talking about winning the electoral college, particularly since they were unable to vote in the election. They are kids.

I'm pretty sure he wasn't being exactly "clean" either. He talked to them (again, 40,000 teenage boys) about a cocktail party in NYC that happened decades ago, before they were born. He felt the need to recount his glory days in NYC's high society. Sir...these are BOY SCOUTS.

And have no fear...POTUS proclaimed, in front of 40,000 boys aged 12-18, that they need not worry because EVERYONE would be saying Merry Christmas again. And says, "believe me." And when I heard this little gem I wondered about the Jewish Boy Scouts and the Muslim Boy Scouts, and the Atheist Boy Scouts and, well, you get the point.

The lack of respect 45 has for diverse people, cultures, religions and beliefs is not a shock. I shouldn't have been shocked that he gave a speech like this to a room full of kids. And I most certainly shouldn't have been shocked when he blatantly lied and said the Boy Scout leaders called him up and said it was the single greatest speech ever given at a Jamboree. Boy Scouts are supposed to be trustworthy, and it seems POTUS wouldn't make the cut. He wouldn't even come close.

What do we say to the kids? How do you explain to your Hindu students that the leader of our country believes that they, too, should be saying Merry Christmas? How can a teacher make sense of this to kids that are 11 years old? How can we be effective in teaching kids to be respectful when Donald Trump can stand in front of a Jamboree and put Barack Obama down and encourage them to do the same?

This Presidency is a game changer for teachers. I'm just not sure what the rules are yet.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Spirit of the Teacher

I am inspired all the time by the people I surround myself with. And they are all teachers. This week, one of my favorite people (Hi Julie!) posted an excerpt from a book I have not read. Yet. And I have been thinking about the words ever since.


I don't know where to start. 

The book is called "For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y'all Too" by Christopher Emdin. I just bought it on Amazon and it is being delivered to my iPad as we speak. If the rest of the book is half as amazing as the one paragraph I have read, we should all read it. Every single one of us. 

I got lucky. Because even though I have been surrounded by my share of unhappy and disgruntled teachers, I have managed to immerse myself in greatness. The disgruntled and unhappy are no match for me. I have had no choice BUT to be surrounded with great teachers. My parents are all teachers. My siblings are almost all teachers. Teaching is what we do. Whether we do it in the classroom, as a principal, or as a superintendent...my immediate family teaches. 

My little sister said something last week that I loved. She was telling us about a colleague that she saw off campus that hadn't really had an opportunity to get to know her. (I hope I get this story right...Alicia you can fact check it and leave a comment if I mess it up) When he ran into her in a different setting than school, he had a chance to find out she's pretty awesome. She's funny and smart and kind. He told her that he thought maybe she was a little "stuck up" because he hadn't spoken to her much while at work. She explained...

She told him that she doesn't always have the time to "chat" while at school, and definitely not when she is with the kids. She said, "The kids are my business. When I am with my kids, I am taking care of my business!" Her words made me so proud. She is almost a decade younger than me. And she has every right to be disgruntled. She will never make the pay she was promised when she graduated from college and accepted her first job. But she maintains the one thing that is most important...the KIDS are her business. The rest of it is just background noise. 

I had no choice but to be the kind of teacher I am. I can't avoid great teachers, they are always right in front of me whether it is during Thanksgiving dinner or out at my nephew's baseball game. I can't escape them. And I don't even want to try. 

My older sister said something to me one year ago that has also stuck with me. She is a teacher and a psychologist, and she said, "We have ten years to transform education." And she meant it. I took her very seriously...and that is my plan. But there are so many obstacles in front of us every day. And one of the biggest ones is ourselves. 



When I read the passage from Emdin's book, so many different faces came to my mind. I remembered all of the unhappy and disgruntled teachers I have been faced with during my 20 years in education. It's easy to be miserable as a teacher in 2017. Every day brings new challenges and laws meant to make our lives harder and our futures more bleak. Just a few days ago in Michigan, our governor signed into law yet another bill that will further gut teacher's pensions and security. The legislation that changed our evaluation system did little more than create a competitive atmosphere and hinder collaboration. It has taken us AWAY from teaching our kids and has us focused on so many other things. 

Avoiding the unhappy and disgruntled is impossible. "Teaching is a profession where misery does more than just love company - it recruits, seduces and romances it." OMG It REALLY does. I am so happy that I cannot understand the resistance to transformation in education. The world is changing every single day. We aren't keeping up and we definitely are not teaching ALL of our students. I, for one, will NOT be recruited, seduced OR romanced in an effort to make me more miserable. I know what kind of teacher I will become, because I know what kind of teachers I surround myself with. Some of them are my sisters, and some are my friends. But they are ALL my people. The people I can count on to understand what I mean when I say, "Is that the best thing for the kids?" 

I have seen firsthand the dismantling of the spirit of the teacher. I have watched it unfold in front of me. I have combatted the attempt to destroy my spirit. I have watched our best and most amazing be silenced and become fearful.  I think the destructive political climate, along with the mean-spirited public sentiment that "teachers are the problem," has made it so easy for the unhappy and disgruntled to lead us. There really is so much to complain about....I couldn't even narrow it down to a top-ten list if I tried. 

The passage from Emdin's book is impactful. It reminded me that while we are managing legislation and anti-teacher politics, we are also battling each other...which makes it so much easier for our opposition to further the narrative about public education and makes it so much easier to make sense of the argument that we are the problem.   

Teachers WILL be the solution. But it is necessary for us to fight really hard so that the unhappy and disgruntled among us don't beat us down and break our spirit. Teaching is awesome. But it gets harder and harder every day. 

My spirit has been challenged time and time again. But it will not be broken. 













Thursday, July 13, 2017

Why I create stuff I can't use...

Recently I was asked about what "stuff" I have created for 7th grade social studies, which is the subject and grade level that I teach every day. I make no secret about my love of creating materials for teachers, and most people that know me are clear: If you are looking for me on my day off...you'll find me at Starbucks. With my laptop. And my Common Core standards. School got out weeks ago and I have been working on creating a "Reader's Workshop" toolkit for upper elementary teachers. I can't really even count up the number of hours I have spent with the standards and looking for the best ideas to help teachers to help kids. 

What have I created for 7th grade social studies? Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch. 

I don't need to. I have time to plan my daily lesson. I teach the same lesson five times in a day. And I have an hour of planning time each day to make sure I am on the right page. I got it. 

I create ELA materials for upper elementary teachers because I WISH someone had done that for me. I recently wrote about becoming a 5th grade teacher against my will. It's so true.  I was ill-equipped and ill-prepared. While I create, I always think back to those days. I would have thought I had died and gone to heaven if someone had given me the toolkit that I am currently working on for teachers. Nobody gave me anything. Except for some Lucy Calkins books. And, well, you may know that I don't love Lucy. What I needed was guidance and materials that I could use right that second. I didn't need lots of theory thrown at me, or the big ideas from people that have never actually done the job I was being asked to do. If someone had shown me the toolkit I just finished for Narrative Reading and Reader's Workshop, I would have paid $10,000 for it. I'm not exaggerating. I would have welcomed the credit card debt that came with that purchase because I would have had exactly what I needed to teach my 10-year-olds to love reading, but also keep them focused on the really important analytical skills they need to grow as readers.  I needed some help when I was drowning. I create things I can never use because I hope drowning teachers will see it as a life vest. 

So I guess I DO create stuff for myself. But I am creating it for myself...circa 2010. And I think the Tera that was teaching 5th grade then would have really appreciated it. I didn't have the time then to create anything. I was drowning trying to figure out how to get from one day to the next. I was teaching reading, writing, math, and science. I learned so much that year. Like in order to take a day off...sub plans will take roughly four hours. And if that day off is because I was sick...make that six hours. Cause I'm sick. And can't focus. 

Why do I continue to create ELA materials for elementary teachers? Even though I don't teach ELA or elementary school anymore? Because I can. And because they need it. And because I want to be the kind of educator that provides real support...not the kind that creates new tasks and rules for elementary teachers to follow...and then calls it support. I think there is plenty of that kind of help already. 

I plan to keep creating. This is my way of paying homage to the hardest working (and often the most undervalued) people I know: Elementary teachers. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Everything we need to know...we can learn from elementary teachers.

During the spring of 2009, I became an elementary teacher...totally and completely against my will. I was just fine teaching 8th grade history when I found out my school was about to be transformed into an "upper elementary" and we would be welcoming only 5th and 6th graders the following fall. On paper...I WAS an elementary teacher. I am certified K-8, but never had ANY intention of teaching anything but middle school. But...I was given no choice...so just like that...I was about to be a 5th grade teacher.

I did NOT know what I did NOT know! I watched a lot of my MS colleagues resist the transition and attempt to hold onto the structure and organization of a middle school. I decided to do the opposite and go ALL IN. It wasn't going to change and I had a choice to either be sad and miserable or become an elementary teacher. I chose the latter. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me as an educator, and the reason I feel so strongly about teachers as leaders.

I have to break some news to my secondary teacher readers and friends...we don't do the same job that our K-5 counterparts do. There may be some people mad at me for saying this...but it is absolutely the truth. Elementary teachers do a job that the rest of us cannot understand. I doubt that I will ever have firsthand experience to back up my next statement...but I would contend that Kindergarten and 1st grade teachers work the hardest. I think they should get paid double. I really do. I am clear that they do a job I could never do. One of my favorite teachers always says that secondary teachers should spend a week with first graders for professional development. I completely agree.

Before we opened our doors as an upper elementary we hosted ice cream socials for our incoming 5th graders. I helped to organize the events and can remember standing outside while kids ate ice cream thinking..."Why did everyone bring their little brothers and sisters? We may run out of ice cream and there are little kids everywhere." And then I realized...those ARE the students. I trembled in fear. What in the world was I gonna do with a bunch of little kids?!? It took me months to come up with an answer to that question, but I finally did. What am I going to do with them? Teach them. I embraced my new life as an elementary teacher and never intended to look back.

Until I had to.

Just like that...after six years of teaching reading, writing, and social studies (I even taught science and math for a year or two) my school was about to be transformed again. And I returned to my life as a middle school teacher. I love middle school. I love middle school kids. But I can see now what I am missing and just what elementary teachers do.

Here is my top ten list of things every teacher can learn from elementary teachers:

1) We teach KIDS. Not curriculum.
2) When they don't get it...you have to teach it again. And again. And again.
3) The kid that challenges you the most isn't leaving when the bell rings. There is no bell.
4) Going to the bathroom is a luxury that you can never take for granted.
5) Parents are a second full time job. And for good reason. We teach their babies.
6) Your planning time WILL get canceled.
7) It's OK to stop everything to sing and dance.
8) You teach everything: math, science, reading, tying shoes, sneezing etiquette, how to cut paper, how to make friends, how to write letters...you get the point.
9) It is entirely possible that the kid hanging off of his chair, upside down, is also fully engaged in your lesson.
10) It doesn't matter what assessments/interventions/paperwork get added to your plate. It WILL all get done. You can't let it take you away from the real work: the kids.

Becoming an elementary teacher against my will was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned the most important things about teaching. My favorite people are all elementary teachers. if you are a high school or middle school teacher overwhelmed by teaching three different preps...well...what can I say? Elementary teachers just call that school.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Teachers WILL lead...they MUST

I saw an article this morning about our illustrious Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos. It will come as no surprise that I am not a fan of Betsy. My biggest complaint about her is not that she has destructive ideas about school choice, or that she wants to filter public money into private institutions, or that she has no interest in civil rights or equity. Although...those are pretty awesome arguments for why this woman has no business leading American education. My biggest argument about Betsy??? Her credentials. Or lack thereof.

Betsy, like so many other educational leaders and reformers, knows not of what she speaks. She has absolutely no idea how her ideas and decisions affect me and my kids. I'm clear that she doesn't care and is in this for the power and ability to make herself and her rich friends even richer. The job cost her well over 200 million dollars to secure. Her campaign donations to her party secured her spot as the Secretary of Education.

Some people might say...you don't have to be a teacher to make decisions about education.

Yes...Yes you do. Because if you aren't a teacher, and you are making decisions about teaching, you know NOT of what you speak. And this phenomenon is happening at a state and local level as well. Day after day, year after year, decisions are made about what I will teach, how I will teach it, and what will happen to me if I screw it up.

I contend that if you have not been in a classroom at all during the past decade, you are NOT qualified to make decisions about mine.


I am not qualified to make decisions about engineering simply because I have been driving a car since I was 16 years old. And I can't apply for a job as a prosecutor because I never went to law school. And no...it doesn't matter that I watch a lot of Law and Order. I still can't try a case. And I know this. I accept it. But this message and expectation has gotten lost in the field of education. Teachers have been put in their place on a daily basis for the past decade. Great educators have left the field and are still leaving in droves. And this is why. We are on the verge of bona fide teacher shortages across the country, and there is no end in sight to the reforms that are ruining the education of our children. 

I can't count the number of times I have been asked, "Why are you still in the classroom?" After all, I have a Master's in Educational Leadership and a Doctorate in K-12 Curriculum and Instruction. I could have begun my climb to the top a decade ago. But I chose not to. I chose to do the most important job. I chose to use my education to be the best teacher I could be. I use my curriculum and assessment skills to help kids and other teachers. I'm so glad that I made that decision. If I had left the classroom ten years ago, today I would no longer be qualified to discuss what teachers and kids need. I wouldn't know what it takes to teach the Common Core. I wouldn't know how to use assessment data to drive my instruction. And I would have no idea what it feels like to be required to do 150 things per minute, all while recording and reporting my student achievement data in hopes that I will be rated as effective. 

The world of education has got to change soon. The pendulum MUST swing back and the only people who can effectively lead us all through it??? You got it...TEACHERS. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Black Lives Matter

Yesterday I woke up and did my quick scroll through Facebook, just for some highlights. I haven't paid really close attention to what is happening in the world because, frankly, I just can't take it. I clicked on one of the links my friend and inspiration Julie Frame posted and ended up watching 10 minutes and 16 seconds of the most horrifying and tragic thing I have ever seen. I watched the video of Philandro Castile's murder. I have so much to say about this video, this world, this idea that it is ok to shoot Black people when they are driving a car with no brake lights. But I want to stay focused on the teaching aspects of all of this. After all...this is a teaching blog. And the implications for teachers are endless. Julie challenged her friends to say publicly that Black Lives Matter. Challenge ACCEPTED.



Here is the link to the NYTimes article on the shooting.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/20/us/police-shooting-castile-trial-video.html

The video shows the entire thing as it happened. The police pull the car over and explain that the brake lights are out. The driver, Philandro Castile, was a black man from Minnesota. He told the officer that he had a firearm in the car. Within seconds, the police officer is unloading his gun into Mr. Castile's body...in front of the passengers...including his girlfriend and her young daughter. She is the person I want to talk about today. The little 4-year-old girl taken out of the car by the other officer is the reason for this blog post.

If the video of the event is too difficult to watch, watch it anyways. And stop right at the 1:10 mark. The officer has just been informed that Mr. Castile has a firearm on him. A legal one. Within seconds seven shots are fired and you can hear the officer yelling "Get the baby girl out of here!"

That baby girl may be in Minnesota, but she is MY student. She is YOUR student. She is ALL OF OUR students. While I will likely never meet her, I MUST know that she exists, as do countless other children that have seen and experienced things that no baby ever should. She is going to need teachers that understand that she has experienced unthinkable trauma and that her life will never be the same. I stopped the video for a few minutes when she was pulled from the car and just sat in disbelief. I imagined her as a 7th grader, sitting in my classroom, with a chip on her shoulder. I thought about what teachers will likely say about her. I thought about all of the kids I have had throughout my 20 years as a teacher. I can't count the number of times I have been frustrated with a student and then had to remember what my job really is...to teach them. And that doesn't just mean the curriculum. We get so caught up in teaching our curriculum that we forget to teach the kids. We forget that they may be acting out for a reason. We don't always think we have time to sit down and get to know them, or ask them how they are doing. But we must.

I've heard teachers complain about students more times than I can count. I've complained. We get sick of kids that talk back or refuse to do our work. We get exhausted by the kid that rolls their eyes at us, or questions our judgment when we make a decision. Why do some kids have a hard time conforming to some of our basic expectations? Because some of them are that baby girl.

What can we do when we know that a students is struggling in school? There is one simple answer...kids need to know that you care about them. They need to know their experiences and feelings matter. They need to know that they matter. Kids will do ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING for a teacher when they know you love them and when their voices are heard. We are in a situation right now where Black children are navigating a world the rest of us cannot understand. This is not a world where they feel safe and it is playing out in our schools every single day. They have to hear the argument about ALL lives matter, knowing that if that police officer had pulled over a white man with a gun, this never would have happened. This has to change how we teach. Of course ALL lives matter. It's such an ignorant retort to the message of the Black Lives Matter movement. We aren't experiencing a dramatic increase in violence against white motorists. White motorists aren't getting pulled over only to lose their lives. Black parents have to teach their children things that the rest of us have never considered.



Not only are African-American children more likely to be victims of violent crimes (at alarming rates) but they are also far more likely to have witnessed a murder. One study of seven-year-olds living in an inner-city showed that 75% of them had heard gun shots. I am 45-years-old. I have never heard a gun shot. I have never actually seen a handgun, other than one carried by a police officer. But 75% of little kids in the inner-city have seen or heard gunshots. This changes their lives, and requires that we, as teachers, pay attention.

Kids experiencing trauma like this will lose their sense of safety and trust. Kids that have seen or experienced violence are also far more likely to experience withdrawal, school issues, engage in high-risk behaviors, and display aggression. Of course they are. But there are things we can do as educators to support them. Kids falling behind in reading may not benefit from yet another reading intervention, but they might benefit from an opportunity to connect with an adult, or build a relationship that provides a safe space for them in their school. We have to do this. Test scores are only one measure of a student's abilities.

Teachers: Talk to your kids. Get to know them. Make sure they know you care about them as people. You'll be surprised to see what they can accomplish and become with the right schooling experience.

The little girl taken out of that car, telling her mom not to argue so she doesn't get shot too, is going to be in your class one day. And she is going to need a whole lotta love and a whole lotta patience and understanding.

Next time one of my seventh graders rolls their eyes at me (which makes me crazy) I am first going to seek to understand. It's not acceptable to roll your eyes or argue with a teacher, and it certainly isn't acceptable to fight at school or break the rules that exist for our safety. But sometimes, we can change behaviors...and lives...just by asking a few questions and letting them know that you care about them and will give them what they need. All the reading and math interventions in the world aren't going to turn kids into readers and mathematicians. Loving them, and letting them know you do....will.

To be clear, lots of children experience trauma, black, white or otherwise. And we have to reach out to all kids to find out how they are or what experiences have made them who they are today. But a lot of our Black children are in crisis right now. And for good reason. We have to change it. And I double down on Julie's challenge to say it publicly. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

SUMMER.

SUMMER VACATION HAS BEGUN.

We did it. We survived another year. I just finished my 19th year as a public school educator, and when I think about how much school has changed since the first time I walked into my very own classroom...I get whiplash. But one thing hasn't changed...the joy and necessity of SUMMER VACATION. Soon...I won't know what day of the week it is. That's how I know summer is really underway.


Yesterday I went down to the front office to sign my teacher evaluation paperwork. I got stuck on the date...I knew it was June, I knew it was Friday and I knew it was the 16th. For the life of me I couldn't remember what year it was! My principal laughed and said, "That's not usually the one people get stuck on." I laughed out loud and added the 2017 to my signature line. And today...I am sitting in Starbucks beginning the process of recovery from the best job on the planet.

People sometimes complain that teachers have the whole summer off. I get it. I love to rub it in the faces of my friends and family when I am not required to go anywhere or set an alarm. That is one of the benefits of teaching! But I know people that work out in the real world have no clue how absolutely necessary summer vacation is. It's OK. We know that you have no idea what it is like to wake up on the first day of summer and know you can go to the bathroom whenever you want to.


These are the simple pleasures of being a teacher. And the things I am celebrating today! I might just get up and go to the bathroom right now. Just because I can. I can sit down and eat lunch in a restaurant instead of running to the microwave during the 25 minutes the kids are not with me. I can slow my brain down. I can stay up late (although I probably won't), and sleep in every day (I definitely won't).


ATTENTION TEACHERS: It's time to be human again. It's time to slow down and stop stressing. You can read ANY book you want! You can even write your own! (That's what I plan to do...) I'm going to spend my summer making teacher stuff, blogging about teacher things, and hanging out with my teacher sisters. I never leave the world of teaching, but I will soak up the sunshine and fresh air and when September is upon us...I'll be ready once again.

HAVE A HAPPY AND PEACEFUL SUMMER, TEACHERS!!! And make a comment below and tell me what you plan to do this summer that you can't do during the school year!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Bloom and Maslow

I woke up this morning and checked Facebook. One of my favorite people (I love you, Julie Frame!) posted this picture/quote. And I love it. It is such a good reminder that I want to shout it from the rooftops. While kids all over the country are taking hours and hours and hours of assessments, while balancing lots of homework, projects, extracurriculars and all of the other things kids are busy with in these last weeks of school...there are some basic realities that we have to remember. For teachers it may have been a while since you talked or read about Bloom and Maslow...but it is well worth being reminded. We get so caught up in getting as much curriculum in by the end of the year, because we are told we must get those scores UP. BUT...jamming in months worth of curriculum just to say you finished it is not worth the stress it causes the teacher and certainly isn't worth the stress it causes kids. 



The Bloom's Stuff is all the learning. The more we learn, the higher  level thoughts we have. At the bottom of Bloom's taxonomy is the basic understanding and ability to recall facts. As teachers, we are trained to understand these theories (in college mostly...unfortunately I haven't heard anyone refer to Bloom or Maslow in a while). As you move up the taxonomy the skills get harder. The thinking becomes more intense and learners start to make decisions about information they have attained at the lower levels of the taxonomy. We should be striving for students to reach that top level. I contend that we have lost that ability with the inundation of educational reforms and the lack of skills related to those making decisions about teaching and learning. If you are in a race to teach your standards...your students are likely to remain at the bottom of the hierarchy....just jamming facts into their brains...temporarily...so they can perform on an assessment.


We probably all want to be able to say our kids are able to analyze, evaluate and create. But they sometimes can't make it past the first level of basic fact recalling. I think this is our fault. Well...I know it is. We haven't done much to address the thing we REALLY have to address in order to make the learning stuff work. And educational reformers and those writing laws about public education have no idea what they're talking about and never require us to figure out how to help a kid in crisis. Enter Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.

Maslow said that human needs are levels of a pyramid. He believed that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and that we are innately motivated to achieve the next level of human need once a level is fulfilled. The very bottom and most basic of needs are food, water, warmth and rest. These ARE our basic needs. You can't move to the next level until you are not fighting to have your basic needs met. A hungry kid is never going to reach self-actualization when their focus is the basic need of food. And all of Maslow's stuff has to be in place in order to deal at all with Bloom's stuff.


What does this all mean? Before you can teach kids about geometry, to write literary essays or physics...they need to be fed, feel safe, have a sense of belonging, feel confident and know themselves as learners and people. We can continue to deliver instruction and then test kids all day every day...if we don't take care of them and their needs, we can forget about achieving top levels of Bloom's taxonomy.


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Dear White People...

The African-American kids need YOU to start speaking UP and speaking OUT. We've been talking about the "achievement gap" in this country for long over a decade and it only grows. It grows because it is not an achievement gap. It's far more than that. Our African American children (especially the boys) are not getting a fair shake at school and we all know it. The curriculum is designed to cater to white learners. The texts are not culturally relevant, and we are all so focused on our curriculum and assessments that we have neglected to build strong relationships with the kids. And let's all stop pretending that white children and black children are following the same set of rules. They aren't. And WE are the only ones that can make a change for kids that deserve better. If we don't, the disparities will continue to grow. It's not easy to stand up to the dominant power structure that exists in our world, but it is absolutely necessary. This is a serious crisis and it's OUR voices that have to be heard. Silence isn't working.

REMINDER: If YOU have the power to change something you know is wrong, and you CHOOSE not to, you are complicit in perpetuating injustice. 

I am fully aware that this blog post is gonna make some people really uncomfortable.  I'm ok with that...I've been making people uncomfortable for quite some time.  In all likelihood, I am going to continue to make people uncomfortable with all my talk about equity and differentiation, and the issues that arise when we build racist structures in our public school systems. It isn't my intent to make people feel uncomfortable, but I am hard wired to advocate for those at a disadvantage...even when there are consequences for me. (We will get into what that is like at a later date...)



I am nearing my 20th year as a teacher. There is one thing that has remained constant during my career: the disparity between what is provided to white children and children of color. I started my teaching career in the inner-city. I didn't have a single white child during my time there. We also didn't have a library, a gym, transportation, or adequate resources. It was the best four years of my career, and where I learned to teach. I've also worked in a low income district, a district with almost no children of color, and an affluent district with more diversity than you could ever ask for. My own schooling was in a place where I was one of the brownest kids I knew. I had everything I could have ever needed: amazing teachers/principals, well-equipped facilities, safe transportation and updated resources. I know what my world of white privilege has afforded me. It's only recently that I found out that my own privilege is limited. My sister and I talk about our "not-quite-white" status. Most of my life I have lived in the throes of white privilege, but learned recently that it is limited, based on what I can only assume is my status as a brown girl. 

Teaching is my passion and I intend to make educational equity my life's work. I have been to two separate events in the recent past regarding the education of African-American children and closing what we call the "achievement gap." One was hosted by African-American kids and the other by African-American parents. BOTH times I was one of maybe three white people in the room. And BOTH times the conversation took a turn to a discussion about what KIDS and PARENTS of color should do differently to get better results for their children in our public schools. And both times I spoke up about who should be doing something differently, and the answer is: EDUCATORS...especially white educators. It's time to flex our white-privileged muscles and make a real difference.  If you think there is no such thing as white privilege, get your head out of the proverbial sand. And do it now. 

The event hosted by African-American parents was advertised as a "STATE OF EMERGENCY" and yet the room was relatively bare compared to other community events. I was there. I didn't even know it was happening. My BFF called me a week prior. She is a white mother to three white children, but knows it is our COLLECTIVE responsibility to teach all kids and teach them well. She was the only white parent in the room that didn't have black children. There were only two school administrators present, both African-American women. The only classroom teacher in the room was me. This is simply UNACCEPTABLE. 

Here are some facts that may help you to decide to get loud about equity:
  1. U.S News reports that the U.S. Education is still separate and UNEQUAL, even 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education ended legal segregation in schools. 
  2. Because of societal disparities, Black children are more likely to start school already behind their white counterparts. They have a different starting line. 
  3. Characters in children's books are overwhelmingly white. 
  4. Black children are retained at far higher rates than white children.
  5. The school-to-prison-pipeline is a REAL THING. 
  6. Black children in American schools are disciplined (suspended and expelled) at THREE TIMES the rate of white students. 
  7. Schools serving primarily children of color have less money, more inexperienced teachers, and fewer educational opportunities including STEM, the arts, and other important course offerings 
  8. 94% of public school teachers at the high school level are white. 
  9. Black children are more likely to experience trauma or be the victims of violent crimes.
  10. Poverty and hunger continue to plague the lives of African-American children in the United States
This is my call to action for other white educators to speak out and be loud about changing a system designed for only a segment of the population. Black educators have been speaking out for a long time, and nobody listens. It is OUR turn. We can do this. We must. 






Sunday, April 2, 2017

Why you can't understand Spring Break unless you're a teacher.

I am sitting in a Starbucks in Vero Beach this morning...because I am on Spring Break! Woohoo! We made it to Friday...I made it to Florida...and the first thing I can think to do is?!? Blog about teaching.

How many times have you heard someone say that teachers have too many breaks, or that we only work nine months out of the year? I can say with 100% CERTAINTY...they have never been in charge of a classroom full of kids for any length of time. Spring Break is not a gift. It is an absolute necessity. When the countdown to spring break begins, it is a little bit like holding your breath. The week prior you just hold on for dear life and hope for the best...



Once you make it to the last day before break, there is nothing like it. There is a buzz all around you all day long, as kids and teachers watch the clock, waiting for the freedom that comes with this much needed break from school. When the bell rings for the day...and the kids have been sent safely on their way, you might see something like this:


It doesn't hit you right away. Whether you are leaving for a warm destination (like me!), or having a relaxing stay-cation, it doesn't always hit you right away that you have a full week to recover and regroup. But on the very first morning...the reality of spring break crystalizes. There is no feeling like it.


People that work in the "real world" have no clue what a break means to a teacher. You can eat when you are hungry. You can go to the bathroom whenever you need to. You can think about something other than school. You realize that your brain is about to get a minute to recalibrate, and you won't answer the following questions 478 times per hour: "Can I use the bathroom? Can I get a drink? Can I have a pencil? Can I call my mom? Where is the tissue? Where is the stapler? Can I switch seats? What do I do when I am done? Where do I turn this in? Is there any homework? Why can't I sit by my friends? When is lunch?" People with regular jobs in offices can not understand, would never survive, and should NEVER judge us.




Spring break is about to fly right by. I know this. I am prepared for it. When it is time, I will be right back in my classroom...answering the 478 questions per hour. Even though the answers are always the same. It's what we do. But if I didn't have this break...I might BREAK when answering "Where should I put my work?" because the answer is...in the same spot you ALWAYS put your work. The BIG BUCKET with the number for YOUR HOUR labeled with a BIG NUMBER. And in the SAME SPOT it has been for 8 months.

So what is the point of my blog post today??? To remind you that next time you talk to a teacher on vacation and feel just a little resentful that we have a week off...or two...or ten...remember that if we didn't have that time, the wheels would fall off of the proverbial wagon. Teaching is exhausting. It's the best kind of exhausting, and is not meant for the faint of heart, but exhausting nonetheless. I have seven more days in paradise before I get back to the grind. I will be ready for the final miles of the marathon. But there is only one reason I will successfully survive the last two months of school: SPRING BREAK.



Thank a teacher today. 

Meanwhile....if anyone needs me....I'll be in my office:

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Day Without Heat & Light

Earlier this week...the high winds took out electricity for almost a million homes in southeast Michigan. Including mine. This is just plain awful. My days have been so crazy and I haven't been able to function without power. I slept in my house on the first night, and woke up to go to work when it was around 58 degrees in my bedroom. I had no hot water. All of the food had been compromised in the fridge (let's be honest...there was nothing in there). I was frozen to the core and couldn't even take a one-minute shower without fear of turning into an icicle. For the first time in probably 30 years, I left without showering and headed to school.

Every hour I started my classes by asking my kids who was "electricity-challenged" to raise their hands. I could already tell who they were...just by looking at them. I recognized that "deer-in-headlights" look that I was also feeling. We told our stories of our triumphs and our disappointments as we worked to survive in our powerless world. We all connected around how much we miss our wifi and our TVs. It was like a mini-support group for the light-less.

By the end of the day...I was weathered. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and gasped. My hair looked a little like Kramer's (OK...a lot like Kramer's). My eyes had dark circles under them. I was decidedly disheveled. I was as grateful as a person could be that I had a personal day coming up because I didn't think I could manage another day of getting ready for work without heat and light.

Today my kids are all at school. I am sitting in Starbucks (SHOCKER) writing...because I have an appointment later that I just can't miss. If I didn't...I never would have taken this day off. Never. Because my kids and I were ALL a hot mess yesterday. I feel like I should be there to hear their woes. But alas...I didn't have to get up and brave the day without a shower.

I was laying in my cold bed last night congratulating myself for surviving two days without heat and light. I thought of all the things I couldn't manage because I didn't have my basic needs met. And then I remembered...

Lots of kids show up in our classrooms EVERY DAY having none of their basic needs met. We expect kids to manage seven different teachers a day. Seven different assignments. We expect them to take a big test...or present a big project. And what I remembered is that some of my kids (and yours!) feel like I feel today all the time. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

They may not always be without electricity or heat, but they are without so many things that we take for granted. They feel like THIS all the time. And I think too many of us forget THAT too much of the time. Teachers can get so caught up with teaching curriculum and getting through their standards, that kids, especially the most vulnerable kids we serve, get left in the dust.

I am no good to anyone today. I am freezing. I haven't had a hot shower. I had to dig for clothes in the dark. I am totally and completely discombobulated. Some of our kids feel like this all the time. The last couple of days was a good reminder for me about the basics. And just how hard it is to function when you're worried about the basics. Electricity. Heat. Food. Water. Clean and dry clothes.

And often the kids that ARE worried about these things...have the hardest time trying to keep it together in school. I did...just yesterday. And I only had to endure a couple of days in the dark. And I really didn't have to endure...I could have easily just stayed with my sister. Not everyone has that luxury when they are cold and hungry. And understandably, they act out. Or shut down. Or fall asleep.


I'm still freezing as I sit here drinking my $7 latte. I  may even still whine later to my sister. And get her to feel sorry for me so that she will cook me a nice warm dinner while I use her hot shower and heat and cope with my "situation" by using her wifi and watching her cable. But I will try to remember how miserable this made me so I can help a kid to feel less miserable when they are sitting in my classroom. And I will do whatever I can to meet some of their basic needs so they can enjoy school. Even if it's just a little bit. 

My days without heat and light have not been for nothing.