School’s (not that) out for summer

My 1st "summer off" included several weeks of professional development, as well as self-driven planning of enriching learning experiences. Not satisfied with the institutional whitish-grey of the walls, I also painted my classroom a more inviting shade of blue.

Here’s another reality well-known to educators and their families, but invisible to those hopped up on Fox Noise News: Teachers work well beyond school hours, including during the summer.

Yesterday, a Washington Post article discussed how teachers spend the oft-envied summer vacation: by working other jobs and preparing for students and the coming school year.

But for many teachers, the vaunted “summer off” is a shrinking season. Although all the teachers interviewed at Patriot had some kind of getaway planned, they were booking around work-related obligations, such as workshops and second jobs, that fill in whole blocks in their planners.

“People always say, ‘Wow, you get the whole summer,’ ” said Theresa Carson, who teaches business at the school. “But there are literally just three weeks when I don’t have something to do related to school.”

(Note to anyone who wants to begrudge Ms. Carson her three weeks: working with youth is a rewarding, but physically draining, occupation. Having worked in both “grown-up” centered environments and kid-centered ones, I can attest to the fact that I definitely burned more calories in the latter situations! Eight hours with dozens of kids is just. plain. more. tiring. Don’t believe me? Give it a try…)

But, as with many other realities educators face in this day and age, we can’t assume that the public will just know we go through, or that we can depend on the media to fact-check each other when myths like “teaching is a part-time job” take root. We have to educate the public in order to create change.

So, in the spirit of the grade-ins and other actions designed to show the public how much work teachers do beyond school hours, I think it would be a good idea to photograph, blog, tweet and otherwise share the work you’re doing this summer.

Any ideas for a hashtag? #SchoolsStillIn? #SummerWork?


Wanted: Lemon meringue.

On several occasions as a pre-service teacher, I was asked to define and reflect upon my ideal/comprehensive approach to classroom management. Reflecting on my goals for students– for them to be joyful, open-minded as well as strong and powerful– and my goals for my own teaching persona, I eventually settled on a food metaphor: lemon meringue.

The key to perfect lemon meringue is finding the right balance between sweet and tart. In the classroom, sweet often looked like cozy reading/thinking spaces filled with hand-sewn pillows, engaging activities driven by students’ interests, and a broad-smiled teacher who was always willing to give a hug or an ear to a student in need of either.

Tart, on the other hand, looked like an insistence on diligent work, consistent enforcement of our (jointly-defined) classroom rules, and an occasionally stern-voiced teacher who could flash her mama’s best “I know you know better than that!” look when needed.

The kids, though they wouldn’t call it that, eventually evolved a similar approach. For instance, “Don’t Hate, Collaborate” was appropriate in cases of simple disagreement. But they would not tolerate bullying.

We didn’t always nail it perfectly. But on balance, we were all headed in the right direction.

Transitioning from education to education politics, and more deeply into the world of politics in general, I think about this pretty often. As a writer and an advocate in a high-stakes environment, I fully agree that it’s not just OK, but necessary to be forceful in defense of important goals. When we’re talking about the future of public education, or our (steadily less) free society, we absolutely need to call out–and eventually push out– liars and bullies who use their access and clout to push unjust or ineffective agendas. Pointed dialogue? Satire? BRING IT. I believe in using evidence, experience and wit to tear down bad or false ideas with prejudice, and when necessary, to isolate those who consistently push them.

But in order to actually get things done, we also need to learn to distinguish the difference between an opponent (someone with whom we have an honest disagreement) and an enemy (someone who actually wishes us harm). Honest disagreement is healthy; it’s how we guard against going too far in one given direction. But it’s not OK to deliberately deceive or intimidate people to prevent them from having an honest and open discussion.

(For example, it’s good to have a reality-based, reasoned, even incisive debate about balancing the rights of individuals vs. the State when talking about adding government programs. It’s bad to spread lies about death panels in order to poison that debate. Discussing different ways to improve teacher quality? Good. Using your power to humiliate people, or spread misinformation about due process and teacher evaluation methods? Bad.)

It’s also not OK to just be ornery for being ornery’s sake. There’s a fine line between intelligent critique/satire and just plain old being mean, which we don’t always toe successfully when dealing with hot-button issues (I’ll cop to this one, too). I get especially tired of seeing people I like, who should be allies, savagely eating some of our own because they disagree on tactics or strategy. As even my fifth-graders understood, it’s possible to disagree/be a critical friend without being a jerk. In-fighting, and being mean without proving a point, only helps your enemy.

Sigh. I wish more grown-ups would ask themselves before tweeting, speaking, or writing: Am I dealing with a friend, an opponent, or an enemy? Or, going back to the pie metaphor: Is this too tart– even sour– or just right?


Today in Real Reform & Innovation, 1/23/12

1/23/12: What happened in the #realreform Twittersphere? EduTweeters weighed in at ASCD’s #LILA12, @NickKristof got an eye-ful, the Parent Trigger continued to spread, & more, after the jump. Read More


We’re all Somebody. Let’s act like it.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead

Taylor Mali addresses the crowd.

I’ve always believed in the power of ordinary people to do extraordinary things, and the days of action that occurred in connection with the Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action are a perfect example of that. In less than a year, we (and in this ‘we’, I include the Organizing Committee, Information Coordinators, volunteers, donors and marchers who made the events possible) managed to unite thousands of diverse, previously isolated individuals and groups in support of four broad, simple, yet elusive demands.

Despite the sweltering heat and humidity, between six and eight thousand people came out to march in DC on Saturday, July 30th, and thousands more participated in events from Seattle to Sacramento to St. Louis and beyond. I couldn’t be prouder to say I played a part in making that happen.

Yet when Sunday, July 31st came around, I was too exhausted and worn out to do much more than sleep.

*   *   *

A lot of people have had a lot to say about what SOS Marchers have done in recent days. There were plenty of people who were energized and inspired by the event, I’m happy to say (and I still feel so honored and inspired to have connected with so many!). And there were also those who reflexively dismiss anything beyond the Gates/Walton/Broad/Duncan agenda as a defense of the “status quo” (…and I still wonder which teacher they’d like to blame for their complete failure to understand that term!). There were those in the mass media who couldn’t see beyond Matt Damon (who has earned a permanent place among my personal heroes for his humility, empathy and willingness to actually listen to teachers, two qualities rarely observed in the rich and powerful).

But for me, the biggest take-away was this: I’ve heard far more supportive comments than negative ones, most especially from people who couldn’t be at any of the scheduled events, and wish there had been something going on where they were. I find this both exciting and frustrating.

Exciting, because it represents widespread and growing awareness of the threats to our public schools, as well as hope for a better way forward.

Frustrating, because it reveals that too many of us are still stuck in “Somebody should do something about that!”-mode.

Remember, the small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who put this together are regular people, with all the same everyday stresses and difficulties as everyone else. Some of us moved houses during the planning. We had personal losses and difficulties. Almost all of us had other, full-time jobs. We also have families, and obligations, and health concerns, and what-have-you. But ultimately, we decided to take this on, because we believed in it and knew it needed to be done.

If you wish something had happened close to you, ask yourself: What, exactly, stopped you from getting a few other people together to plan something in your hometown?

Obviously, some people have more demands on their time than others; some have more energy and some have less. But everyone can do something. And the going would be a LOT easier–and less exhausting!– for all of us if everyone did

As we go forward, if you’re someone who is still wishing (or worse, complaining!), I urge you to start working. Yes, I know– you already work all day. We do, too.

Children are our special interest. What's the Koch Brothers'? Or ALEC's?

But we don’t have any other choice. Margaret Mead was only half-right: while small groups of thoughtful, committed citizens can absolutely make a difference, we’ve got to be much more numerous than we are now to stand up to well-financed, well-connected ideologues and special interests.

This work will continue, because it must. If you’re not already actively involved, resolve to become involved. Look for organizations to join, or actions to take. If there are none in your neck of the woods, create an opportunity. Maybe you can’t plan a rally and march– no worries! What about a film screening, or teach-in, or flash mob? How about volunteering for a fair-minded, under-funded school board candidate? Whatever you do, please remember– SOS is not just a March. It’s a Call to Action.

What actions will you take?

I always used to say, ‘Somebody should do something about that.’ Then I realized, I am Somebody.
-Lily Tomlin