Friday, July 29, 2011

Save Our Schools (SOS) Day 2

Before I can talk about Day 2 at the SOS Conference I must first give an update about Day 1. Conferences are always exciting because you are surrounded by like minded folks who share your passion and have resources to share. But at the end you're usually left feeling confused about the next step or overwhelmed with all the work that needs to be done. At the end of yesterday's conference I felt inspired. Each workshop included time to discuss what comes next. How do we keep the movement going was a constant focus of all the discussions. This focus on keeping the fight going is not only inspiring but necessary when working with educators who are often isolated and burnt out. Listening to Jonathan Kozol is great but if we are going to enact real change we must spend time mapping out what comes next. Not only do we take the critical time to plan for the future at the workshops, but the organizers of the conference have planned a Congress meeting on Sunday to give participants an opportunity to plan for what comes next. This commitment to change is what makes the SOS a great event.

Day 2 continues to be rewarding and full of exciting workshops and panel discussions. I'm looking forward to screening tonight's film: The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman. I finally gave in and watched Waiting For Superman last night. Although I knew that the movie was a ploy to attack public schools and teacher unions, I felt compelled to actually watch it so I could fairly critique it. Needless to say I saw no value in a movie about education that only included the voice of 1 teacher! Tonight's rebuttal film will hopefully point out the inaccuracies in the original film and remind participants why we must fight to save our schools.

Day 3 will be our rally and march to the White House to issue our demands. I'll be posting tons of pictures from the rally and trying not to get arrested for any acts of civil disobedience!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Save Our Schools (SOS) Day 1

This weekend defenders of public schools are making their voices heard as they fight to Save Our Schools. Public schools and public education are in danger of being dismantled. Teachers and their unions are under attack, budgets are being slashed, and our students are being left behind. The reasons behind the attack vary from genuine, although misguided, concerns about low test scores and low standards to a belief that public schools are dangerous and must be decimated. Regardless of the reason public schools are under assault and this weekend fed up educators, parents, and students are fighting back.

The event begins with a 2 day conference at American University where renowned educators, teachers, and activists will offer a variety of workshops, panel discussions, and films to participants from around the country. On Saturday 10,000 participants are expected to march from the Ellipse to the White House to issue demands that public schools be saved with equitable funding and an end to high-stakes testing.

I'll be blogging the event all weekend to document the efforts of those who are determined to save our schools! The time has come to fight back against the destruction of public education. Our children deserve a public education that promotes learning over testing and teaching over legislating. Education is not a business and it's time we remove the corporatists from the table and replace them with educators, parents, activists, and students. The time to Save Our Schools is now!

This blog will be published in emPower Magazine.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Time To Celebrate

As the country learned of the death of Osama Bin Laden late last night, a furry of emotions was likely felt by many. Happiness, fear, relief, shock, sadness, anger... those are just a few of the emotions that many of us experienced when we heard the news. I expected that there would be those who would use this victory to discredit President Obama because for some there is nothing that man can do to be worthy of praise and respect. I enjoyed the jokes about verifying Bin Laden's "long form" death certificate at the request of Donald Trump, I even wrote a few myself. What I didn't expect, and what ultimately led me to write this blog, was the criticism of those who took to the streets in New York and DC to celebrate the death of Bin Laden.

I actually wished I was back home in DC last night to celebrate the news. You see I was in DC on 9/11. I remember being on the streets near the Capitol when it was being evacuated with all the other staffers not quite sure what was happening as we all ducked when a plane flew above us. I remember two hours later how eerily silent the city seemed to be as people went home to watch the news reports and mourn such a tragedy. I remember the nervous chatter surrounding us on the patio as we drank beers to deal with the shock of what happened. So, you see, if I was in DC last night I too would have taken to the streets.

But last night before I went to bed and again this morning, I read countless posts on FB, criticizing and mocking those people who took to the streets to celebrate the death of Bin Laden. I can understand if you personally wouldn't want to celebrate the death of anyone, but when did it become OK to tell others how to feel?

In this country we like to tell people what to do. We tell people how they should live, who they should marry, and when they should have a child. But when did we decide that it was OK to tell people how to feel?

And it's not just the death of Bin Laden and the subsequent celebrations that has led me to feel as though my rights to my feelings are being invaded. I know friends who post on FB about racism and oppression and they often get accused of being angry! When a white privileged spoiled brat from UCLA made a YouTube video insulting Asian Americans I was told by a few people that we should not be angry with her! Why don't I have the right to be angry at an adult who made insulting public statements for the world to see? Why don't people who engage in the struggle against racism and oppression have the right to be angry about what they see happening in the world?

I understand that feelings can lead to a response, a response that could be positive or negative. People were angry after the verdict in the Rodney King trial and their response was destruction and looting. That is not a good response for dealing with anger. Many teens who struggle with their sexual identity feel sad and depressed from being tormented by their peers and sometimes they respond by committing suicide. That is not a good response for dealing with sadness and depression. But don't people have a right to be angry? A right to be sad? A right to be depressed?

Emotional regulation begins with recognizing your emotion and choosing a proper response for dealing with the emotion. So you can feel anger and then decide to respond by writing a blog, or bitching to a friend, or you can take to the streets and engage in a civil peaceful demonstration, or you can destroy property and even hurt someone. But you have to first acknowledge that you are angry before you can choose a response.

So last night people felt a wave of emotions and their response was to join others in the streets who were also feeling a wave of emotions. Did they riot and loot? I don't think so. Did they hurt or kill anybody? Not that I heard. But yet they are being mocked, made fun, and blamed for their choice to express their emotions.

Those who have criticized and mocked and made fun of the celebrations, argue that public celebration can lead to retaliation. Do you think terrorists need a reason to retaliate? We killed their leader... I'm sure that's reason enough, besides the fact they hate America. I've heard arguments that question why we should celebrate death. Call me crazy but the man who masterminded the death of 3,000 Americans and probably would have continued killing people all over the world, deserved to die. So what's wrong with celebrating his death? I've also heard the argument that Bin Laden was trained in the US and those who celebrate his death are ignorant about history. Most people are ignorant about history, but I don't care if Bin Laden got his PhD in How to be a Terrorist from Harvard, that doesn't change what he did. Is the US responsible for him and other terrorist who were trained on US soil, probably but that's not what this is about. Almost 10 years ago one man masterminded the worse terrorist attack this country has ever seen and he is now dead.

I'll be the first to admit that I don't believe in war. I did not then, and I do not now, feel as though the US was justified in invading Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. I think the proper response to 9/11 would have been to go after Al Q'ueda. Can this be done without declaring war on entire country... well it must be possible since we killed Bin Laden in Pakistan! In my opinion the wars were unjustified and probably did more to instill even more hatred of America and produce even more future terrorists.

But last night wasn't about the wars. President Obama didn't send us into war. He worked with our military to engage in a mission that ultimately killed Bin Laden. And after hearing the news people felt a plethora of emotions and some took to the street to celebrate. I will not dare tell any of these people how they should feel. Their response was not violent and did not physically hurt anyone. I will not make fun of them or criticize them for their decision to celebrate the death of a monster.

Osama Bin Laden will NEVER cause the death of another human being. People might retaliate in his name but, he, himself will NEVER hurt or kill anybody ever again. Because he's dead. And I think that's a reason to celebrate.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Discovering the Great Teacher Within

I've always believed that regret was a useless emotion. Not the type of regret that comes from remorse for doing something wrong, but the type of regret that people feel as they get older and look back on their life and wonder if they made the right decision. In my opinion, the best way to live life is to be confident that the choices you made were the right ones at the time and to dwell in the realm of what might of been is not only foolish but dangerous. Although I tried to live my life by this creed, there was always one area where I did wonder if my life would be better had I made different choices.

When I was a senior in high school I was accepted to Trenton State College (which is now the The College of New Jersey) to purse an undergraduate degree in education. Trenton State was a good school and I was excited to get accepted. My acceptance did come with some conditions. I was admitted in to an Equal Opportunity program for first generation minority college students. In addition to tuition assistance I was required to attend an 8 week summer program prior to the start of my freshmen year. At the last minute I decided that I would rather hang out with my friends then go to the summer program so I turned down my full ride to Trenton State. As a result of this decision I ended up taking 7 years to get my undergraduate degree. I spent time at two community colleges and worked in numerous restaurants before finally getting my BS in early childhood education. I was 25 by the time I graduated and started my first year of teaching.

One year later I was in graduate school full time. I applied during my senior year of undergrad and deferred for one year so I could get some teaching experience. Turns out I didn't like teaching kindergarten as much as I thought I would so going to graduate school was a relief. As I spent time in graduate school I began to worry that my lack of teaching experience wasn't a good thing for someone in the field of education. Especially when most people in the field quantify their experience by stating proudly how many years they have been or were a teacher. I did my best to not let it bother me because there was no point in regretting my decisions but as I get older it has become more and more difficult.

Recently I connected with some high school friends and when discussing what they've been up to, one was quick to point out how many years he worked as a public school teacher. This time I couldn't shake the feeling of regret lingering in me. I began to doubt all that I've accomplished in my life. I haven't finished my dissertation so I'm still technically in graduate school and after getting my undergraduate degree I only have one year of teaching experience... what's there to be proud of? I knew why I did not have years of teaching experience to brag about to old friends. My decision to blow off Trenton State resulted in me taking 7 years to get my undergraduate degree instead of 4. Had I went to Trenton State and done well, I would have graduated in 1999 and would have likely taught in a public school for 4 years before going to graduate school (assuming that I would have still went in 2004). But I didn't. And during those 7 years of working and going to school off and on I gained life experience but not career experience (except for waitressing).

The more I thought about it the more I realized the reason I don't have more then one year of public school teaching experience is because I didn't like being a public school teacher. Had I loved my job I would of looked for a teaching job in Indiana and went to graduate school part-time. But I made the choice to go full time because it only took one year for me to realize that teaching in pubic school was not for me. I used to tell people that the loneliness of being a teacher is what killed the dream for me but now I realize it was more then just feeling like no one understood what I did every day. What I hated about being a teacher was the expectations of what a teacher was supposed to do. As a teacher I was expected to control the behavior of 23, 5-6 years old all day long. They needed to be quiet in the hallway, calm in the lunch room, and attentive in the classroom. This is what I was evaluated on and needless to say I failed miserably. My kids were the loudest in the hallway and exploded in the lunch room (after drinking all that sugar and eating all that processed food). In the classroom I did a little better but not much. They could be attentive at times but usually they got so excited they couldn't sit still or wait for me to call on them or keep their hands to themselves. I did my best to keep them engaged but I was not good at controlling their behavior or getting them to behave the way everyone else expected. I tried implementing reward systems (which I didn't believe in), I tried yelling, I tired begging, I tried everything but nothing worked. By the end of the year I was fed up and thrilled to be returning to college and escaping the world of behavior management. So I decided to pursue graduate school full time and focus on the things I did liked about education like research and advocacy.

And then I discovered that I am a good teacher. I am a great teacher when my students are older and know how to manage their own behavior. You see in the college classroom I only had to control my students behaviors for 3 hours a week instead of 7 hours a day. With college students I was free to teach and not worry about their noise level in the hallway or their behavior in the lunch room. And when I was free to teach, I did it well. I know this because my students tell me all the time. Not just the ones who like to suck up to their teacher but all types of students. Those who struggle, those who excel, and those in between. I have a gift and a passion for teaching that comes through when I am expected to teach.

So do I regret my decision to blow off Trenton State for I don't. I made the right decision for me at the time. Do I regret my decision to not continue teaching full time while I was in graduate I don't. I don't know what would of happened if I continued teaching in public schools, but I do know that my passion for teaching comes from discovering that I was good at it, and that didn't happen in the public school.

So the next time someone tells me that they've been a teacher for X number of years, I won't feel any regret. I taught kindergarten for one year but I've been a successful college teacher for the past 6 and that's something to be proud of.