Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the tag “teaching”

Education and Innovation

For a long while, we’ve been in a rut where we’ve tried to shove a metaphorical square peg into a round hole. The way most kids learn today doesn’t look tremendously different from how I learned in the 80’s and 90’s which didn’t look all that different from how my parents learned in the 1950’s. That is both good and bad.

By nature, I am a traditionalist. I believe in the importance of canonical literature, for example, but that is a very controversial and (these days) unpopular opinion. I can’t help it, though. I can’t help but see the value in art, history, philosophy, literature, and a whole mess of other stuff that has kind of been pushed aside. I’m an English teacher and these days this means “get your kids to pass a standardized test” and “get kids to have basic literacy skills and that is all they need” (in other words, if kids can read, that’s good enough). There’s long been a push (at least as long as I’ve worked in the industry) to help kids gain “21st Century” skills, but I am not sure everyone is on the same page as everyone else on what that actually means.

Original Artwork by Casey Reynolds

My anecdotal conclusion is that when folks generally think about 21st Century skills, they think about technology. Cool. Yep. Technology is completely important and fundamental these days. No doubt.

But, I’d like to argue that real 21st Century skills are not so black-and-white.

I’m not sure it makes much sense to divide up learning into separate subjects like we’ve always done. I’m not sure that Readin’, Writin’, and ‘Rithmatic are all that different or should be all that separate anymore.

Educational startup, Edalex published a cool infographic that demonstrates the most-often needed skills in modern-day workplaces. They include the following soft skills:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Emotional Intelligence

The Edalex website also includes these “hard” skills:

  1. Blockchain
  2. Cloud computing
  3. Analytical reasoning
  4. Artificial intelligence
  5. UX design
  6. Business analysis
  7. Affiliate marketing
  8. Sales
  9. Scientific computing
  10. Video production

You might notice that, indeed, the “hard” skills mentioned are tech-heavy. But, one thing I notice is that NONE of the skills on either list is a class taught to teenagers and only some are taught at colleges and universities. So, my argument is that “English I” and “Algebra” and “American History” and “Chemistry” aren’t necessarily best-suited to exist within their own little corners of education alone. They need to be a part of a larger conceptualization of learning where multi-faceted problems must be solved by considering a variety of lenses, areas of expertise, and “subjects.”

In the biz, we refer to this as “interdisciplinary” or “cross-curricular” education. It isn’t the norm in most places, though there is a cadre of organizations doing this sort of thing online. Most brick-and-mortar schools still have “periods” in a day where student shift from one classroom to another doing work that is largely taught as being completely separate from what they learned in any other classroom that same day.

But, the world doesn’t typically exist within these confines. If I need to plan community infrastructure or evaluate best practices in marketing or build programming for veterans or create solutions to political conflicts, I won’t just use “math” or “English” or even “engineering.” I’d need an interconnected and collaborative team of folks who have more than just niche knowledge in a sub-subject. So, why do we pretend, still in schools today, that music class and geometry class and biology class are so…different?

When I was in school, I was “not good at math.” I was, instead, “good at English.” But, what does that even mean? Now, as an adult, I realize that it meant, at the time, that I struggled to conceptualize theoretical figures and information and that visual forms of data were easier for me to digest. If I had not had English and math separated out and instead had curriculum that intertwined them, imagine how different my understanding would have been not only in those subject areas, but also in my own sense of self-worth.

I encourage you to look more into organizations who are innovating in education. I am not suggesting that you pull your child out of public school right now and send him to a fancy and brand-new cyber academy. But, I mean, you can if you want. But, I actually very much believe in the power and importance of society-building public education. I just wonder if the long-held beliefs about how the public school system as a whole operates might not benefit from taking a look at some alternate ways of doing things.

Some cool folks to check out:

  1. Astra Nova
  2. Prisma
  3. Remake Learning
  4. You Media Learning Labs Network
  5. Quest to Learn
  6. Fuse Studio

On “Saving the Children”

What do we even want from kids?

What is the end goal of parenting and schooling and churning out adult humans…like…at ALL?

“If the answer were simply to push more and more kids into college, the United States would be entering its democratic prime,” writes George Packer for The Atlantic on March 10, 2022. He asserts that the function of school in this country has shifted considerably throughout our history. He writes, “what is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. ‘The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,’ Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told [him]. ‘Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.’”

Photo by Emily Ranquist on Pexels.com

So, sincerely, what is it that we are doing as parents and teachers and…adults? What’s the point of educating young people?

It’s been reported widely that attitudes about how much community members and other non-educators ought to have a “say” in how and what schools teach. Rather famously, a school board in Tennessee banned the inclusion of the World War II graphic novel, Maus, due to NUDITY, of all things, though the book is about the goddamn Holocaust and depicts the true realities of what millions of human beings experienced. The book doesn’t depict any of this as GOOD, mind you. In fact, it recognizes the atrocities of the historical events, yet that context didn’t seem to matter to a 10-person school board in McMinn County who voted unanimously to remove this “offensive” book from its school’s shelves.

WHY?

A great framing of the incident is that “people with the power to shape the education of kids looked at content without context and made a decision rooted in anti-intellectualism and ignorance. Education isn’t about shielding kids from painful truths,” writer Ryan Britt claimed in an article at Fatherly.com. “It’s about helping contextualize those truths. Maus is one of the best examples of how horrible moments from history can be sublimated into profound, life-changing art. And, decision-makers who feel otherwise are edging toward the horrible book-burnings of the Nazis themselves.”

So, I ask again: WHAT IS THE GOAL HERE?

Photo of Birkenau gate by Frederick Wallace on Unsplash

I guess I can at least accept that “protecting kids from scary or grown-up stuff” is AN answer to the question of “why did you perform an Orwellian action of dictating what young people should and shouldn’t know about actual, real history?” But, in the long run, when these young people become older people, what is the hope of who those people will BE? Do we WANT folks who do not have any context for what happened to close to 10 million human beings, 6 million of whom were tossed in the air as infants and shot or sent to die choking, bleeding deaths in gas chambers because of their positions on how to recognize and worship a deity? Like, are we HOPING to create a populace who is “protected” from history to the point that they are not aware of it? British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And, ya know, he was THERE for World War II, so maybe he knows things or something? Or, like he did know things. He was born in the 1870’s, so he’s not around anymore, but you get the idea.

Packer’s article in The Atlantic continues to assert that “education is a public interest, which explains why parents shouldn’t get to veto any book they think might upset their child, whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Beloved. Public education is meant not to mirror the unexamined values of a particular family or community, but to expose children to ways that other people, some of them long dead, think.” So why in the name of all things big and small would anyone be so arrogant as to contend that THEIR PERSONAL feelings about nudity in a freaking Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the planet’s most horrific war should be taken into account, especially when those arrogant people are not, themselves, educators?

If you have ever been an elementary school teacher, you know that even the youngest of kids can learn to get along with others. Elementary school teachers, in fact, demand that as a fundamental rule in their classrooms. So, it is possible for human beings to coexist peacefully. Just ask your average 5-year old. Peaceful coexistence does not happen without some effort, though, and whether you’re trying to cooperate to complete a morning routine at the kindergarten daily calendar or discuss the merits of a certain political system in a college classroom, such collaboration can only be found through mutual respect, common ground, and a desire to behave like civilized human beings.

The banning of books and the takeover of American schools by ignorant and ill-informed, power-driven non-educators is a cyclical nightmare. The less and less people read, discuss, debate, and think, the more and more they will find literature, discourse, disagreement, and contemplation “dangerous” or undesirable. And, in turn, the less and less people will read, discuss, debate, and think.

Perhaps this is the English teacher in me coming out, but as far as I am concerned, reading is one of the most important activities for the human mind and reading about ideas different from your current ones is paramount to building better citizens of humanity.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Reading is different, perhaps, for those skilled in the art of doing in than it is for laypeople. As a long-time English teacher, I get that. I know that I see things in literature that kids don’t see at first. One of my favorite tools is a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. In it, he actually discusses what the purpose of both sex and violence are in books. One of my favorite quotes of his from that book is: “When they’re writing about other things, they really mean sex, and when they write about sex, they really mean something else.  If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that.  Pornography.” This is where the breakdown happens, I think. Maus is NOT pornography. If it were, it would deserve to be banned. But, a NAKED CARTOON MOUSE is NOT pornography and now here we are: a book banned in a backwards school district for what is, really, no good reason whatsoever.

In fact, the delineation between what is LITERATURE and what is a BOOK lies in this differentiation between sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) and that which sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) represents. I created a lesson on this very idea some time ago and I phrased it well then, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel here, but rather quote myself, I guess: “Thomas C. Foster explains, ‘Violence is one of the most personal and even intimate acts between human beings, but it can also be cultural and societal in its implications.’  Think of Macbeth ‘unseaming’ the traitor in Act I of Macbeth.  He must get very close to him.  He can undoubtedly smell the blood.  He’ll get plenty of blood and bone on his own body.  Organs will burst.  He’ll watch life drain from his eyes.  This is personal.  It says something about the kind of man Macbeth is and the kind of patriotism he had — the loyalty he had to his king — before meeting those witches.” So, while some non-educators might attempt to protect teenagers’ virginal eyes and pure minds from the scaries one might find in Shakespeare or Spiegelman or Lee or Huxley or Rowling or Steinbeck or Walker or Morrison or Fitzgerald or Angelou, what they’re protecting those kids from is LEARNING.

Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, literary works — even the “mature” ones — have a deeply important place in schools that hope to build better thinkers, better debaters, better collaborators, better citizens, and better humans. It is only if you are NOT trying to build those things that it makes sense to keep kids from reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple. A 2019 survey by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation demonstrated “why a greater emphasis on American history learning is essential to the nation. The Foundation found that in the highest-performing state, only 53 percent of the people were able to earn a passing grade for U.S. history. People in every other state failed; in the lowest-performing state, only 27 percent were able to pass” (Source: Woodrow Wilson Foundation Finds Only One State Can Pass U.S. Citizenship Exam) In Tennessee, where that ban on Maus was, the study found that 62% of people earned a 59% or lower (a failing grade) on that citizenship exam. Only 3% of testers in that state earned an “A.”

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

“Amid the GOP’s national campaign to purge ‘leftist ideology’ from public schools, local officials across the nation are now banning certain books that deal with race, sex, and gender, from school shelves, writes Jon Skolnik for The Salon in a January 2022 article. In addition to the well-publicized ban on Maus in Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi have ramped up their book-banning of late. That citizenship test I mentioned before? Nearly 70% of Mississippians failed that. The folks of Missouri fared better but still 61% of them failed. Do we need kids in these places to be learning LESS?

The Humanities (literature, history, art) have a place in society-building. Packer’s The Atlantic article goes on to assert that “the best way to interest young people in literature is to have them read good literature, and not just books that focus with grim piety on the contemporary social and psychological problems of teenagers. We sell them insultingly short in thinking that they won’t read unless the subject is themselves. Mirrors are ultimately isolating; young readers also need windows, even if the view is unfamiliar, even if it’s disturbing. The ability to enter a world that’s far away in time or place; to grapple with characters whose stories might initially seem to have nothing to do with your life; to gradually sense that their emotions, troubles, revelations are also yours—this connection through language to universal human experience and thought is the reward of great literature, a source of empathy and wisdom.”

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are, of course, incredibly important for young people to have access to in education. These areas are where we, as a society, build DOERS. These STEM subjects create problem-solvers, and critical thinkers. But, the Humanities are where empathy, understanding, communication, diplomacy, maturity, and wisdom are built. And, BOTH areas — those appealing to the left-brained AND the right — are responsible for helping folks test ideas, support claims, evaluate thoughts, and draw meaningful conclusions.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So, again, at the risk of being a bit of a broken record here, I ask: WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR KIDS? What is the goal of education? Despite my rant in my tiny corner of the internet, “well-meaning” (mostly white, cisgendered, straight, “Christian” adults) will continue to rail against naked mice, schools of witchcraft and wizardry, and learning that American history is –whether you want to talk about it or not–built on a fundamental foundation of white supremacy. I don’t imagine that Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky (the three worst-performing states on that US Citizenship Exam which, by the way, demonstrated that a huge number of Americans don’t know what a Constitutional Amendment is) are going to start to suddenly embrace Walk Two Moons and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but they should.

It can start with you, though. Consider buying or borrowing one of these books. Read them with your child. Talk. Think. Share ideas.

Most frequently banned books for elementary-aged kids:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  4. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  5. The Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey
  6. New Kid by Jerry Craft

Most frequently banned books for middle-school kids:

  1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  3. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Most frequently banned books for high school kids:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  3. Native Son by Richard Wright (one of my personal favorite books ever!)
  4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Or, if you’re interested, check out these book-ban lists and information about what some states are currently working on:

  1. TEXAS
  2. MISSISSIPPI
  3. OHIO
  4. ALABAMA
  5. GEORGIA
  6. OKLAHOMA
  7. ARKANSAS
  8. SOUTH CAROLINA
  9. FLORIDA
  10. NORTH CAROLINA
  11. UTAH
  12. ARIZONA

What am I supposed to do now?

Social media is an interesting beast.

On one social media site, I am a part of a “group” of folks who are now trying or have recently tried to leave the teaching profession. There are a TON of such groups all over the interwebs and mostly they are comprised of people who are exhausted, terrified, sad, and traumatized and they’re generally trying to support one another as they transition out of the only job they’ve ever wanted to have. Their stories are eye-opening and important and I’d like to give some more public voice to their plights here.

If you talk to teachers about what their biggest problems are in their schools all across America, very few have the same “talking points” as the media has presently. They don’t lament the lack of public school funding or the “learning loss” of kids post-pandemic. They don’t habitually complain about low pay, though they acknowledge that dealing with what they’re dealing with might be more reasonable if they were paid a fairer wage. They don’t gripe about being low-staffed. In fact, most are happy for their colleagues who “get out” of what they refer to as a toxic system. Their complaints, almost exclusively, revolve around poor leadership and a sense of entitlement from both students and parents within the system.

What follows in red is written ENTIRELY from the words of current and former teachers since COVID changed their lives. These are the words of educators in an online group of nearly 15,000 members from all over the world, but our focus here is on the US education system. These are their words. These are their stories. >insert Law & Order sound DUN-DUN here<

“I am at my breaking point.”
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I am at my breaking point. One of the biggest issues is that we are having kids with more and more issues and we are getting no help with that . We are seeing kids with serious psychiatric issues yet there are NO new classes, professionals, etc. to help with this even though it’s increasing every year. There is very little support from anyone in a position of authority whatsoever. Violence is not merely tolerated, but it is, at times, rewarded. In the name of “PBIS” (an edu-babble term that stands for “Positive Behavioral Intervention System), students actually get rewards like lollipops and stickers after they’ve struck a teacher or a fellow student. In an effort to teach them that those behaviors are wrong, they go to a “safe room” after a violent outburst, acknowledge that violence is “bad” and are thus given a treat for that grand revelation. It happens all the time. This is kindergarten through high school seniors, by the way.

I don’t feel I have support when it comes to inappropriate and disruptive or disrespectful behaviors. The kids are given all the power. Parents are the worst part of the equation. Coupled with administration that have no backbone and are terrified of parental lawsuits – the students are allowed to run the show! There is no support for teachers! None! Administrators refuse to treat teachers as professionals and are demeaning, insulting, and completely lacking in empathy or care for us as human beings; they are bullies who retaliate against us when we try to stand up for what’s right; they play favorites with their buddies on staff. There are so, so many reasons just from the admin angle that make me want to get out. That’s not even touching the surface of parent and student issues, workload issues, fair pay and retirement issues.

If I had a nickel for every time I got one of these from a kid…
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

[Since the pandemic began], the biggest shift I’ve seen is the developing culture of disrespect and sense of entitlement. I’m tired of being yelled at, ignored, and undervalued [by administrators]. Schools do not discipline kids anymore. Behavior is out of control and we are supposed to teach the willing-to-learn kids while the others misbehave and disrupt learning for all. There was such a huge push for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline that the pendulum swung so far in the other direction that there is not just no more “policing” of student behavior, there is no attempt to address the behavior AT ALL. So, kids who were violent, disrespectful, abusive, or otherwise out of control five years ago did so and were suspended or expelled or dealt with. Kids do the exact same things today but are just sent back to class. Kids have literally physically assaulted teachers and classmates and they just…go back to class like nothing happened…because everyone is afraid we’ll be called out for “over-policing” kids. No matter what I do or say they carry on [because] there is no punishment. They are allowed to behave this way and we just have to take it.

[I want out because] teachers [are] being forced to retest failing students until they pass [which] seems like setting children up for real world failure. As a parent, I do not want my kids given multiple chances. We LEARN from failures. Not allowing someone to fail, in my opinion, is stunting that person’s growth and development as a human being. [There is a real] lack of support from colleagues, bullying from admins, and children passing regardless of their competency and ability to actually complete the work. A woman told me recently that her daughter just graduated from high school and only after that did she realize that her daughter couldn’t read. And, she went the whole way through the system – passing year in and year out.

I’m finishing the school year and never looking back. The combination of abysmally poor leadership and the fact that parents and kids run the schools these days has created a work environment that is inhospitable. This is a change that I’ve watched happen over the past 3-5 years. It started before the pandemic, but that trying time absolutely sped it up and exacerbated it. I can’t take it anymore.

As I compiled the words of the nearly 50 teachers who responded to my request for their thoughts, I was interested in seeing where the trends were in their responses. I found that a few concepts were repeated more than any others. The single most common word I saw was the word “bullying,” though. But, that term was not used in reference to how the kids interact with one another, but was in reference to how their bosses treat teachers.

If you don’t work in education, you might be surprised to hear about how the hierarchy works there and how, historically, teachers are not treated as professionals by their administrators, nearly all of whom were once teachers themselves. It operates in many places like a fraternity where the teachers are the freshman pledges and administrators are the seniors who haze them.

Of course, low pay (in some parts of the country, the starting salary for the 2021-2022 school year was under $20,000 a year), job insecurity (again, in some parts of the country, teachers are on year-to-year contracts where administrators can decide to renew — or not — at any time), standardized testing, and teacher shortages (I spoke to one teacher who had FOUR coworkers all quit last week from a single high school building) are all problems. But, as the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. So, the epidemic of this teacher exodus is largely related to just not getting what they need from their leaders. Teachers are not well-respected, not treated with compassion, and are not physically or emotionally safe in their workplaces. This is a nationwide epidemic, mind you. Current statistics say that nearly 60% of teachers in this country will leave the profession by the end of this June if they can.

Something has to give.
Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

What’s tragic about this is that every single one of these folks I spoke with is devastated by the idea of leaving. Not a single one of them got into teaching for any other reason than being called to it. The overwhelming concern for them all is: What do I do now? as they all evaluate their options. Most of them feel trapped, unqualified for any job other than teaching, and are terrified about what walking away from a lifetime dream and calling will mean for them. This is traumatic.

It’s an abusive relationship. These folks, mostly women, have loved their students, their subject areas, their coworkers. All they’ve ever wanted to do was share wisdom and guide young people and change the world. And the head of the household (so to speak) keeps berating them, gaslighting them, and generally treating them like absolute shit.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix any of this. I don’t know what to say or what to do or where to go. But, this is big, people. We have to start doing better by the people who care for our kids on the daily.

Before there aren’t any left.

The Death of Disco…and Public Education

Look: you probably don’t know what is going on behind the scenes at your child’s school. You’d have no reason to. Schools only tell you what they want you to know.

But, things have changed… a LOT.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

They’ve changed since you were in school. Hell, they’ve changed in the past 3 years and those changes are significant.

I miss a version of my job that no longer exists. It’s kind of like really liking disco. At one point, I am sure somebody was like, “man, I really love disco” and then the 80s happened and there was…I don’t know…punk music and yuppies and cocaine? I’m not sure, I was like 3. But, anyway, disco died and that person was probably like, “but I LOVE disco!!! What am I supposed to do now?!?!”

That’s how I feel. In the early 80s there was a lot of other cool music to like. Blondie? I mean, yes, please. But, Blondie is not pure disco and if you really loved disco it just wasn’t the same. So, too, is the state of teaching. Schools still exist and they are kinda the same in that there are still kids and tests and detention and the cafeteria and lockers and stuff. But, it isn’t disco.

I follow all kinds of people and groups on social media. These folks are all also searching for some solace in all of this. They are teachers or soon-to-be-teachers or recently-retired/quit teachers and they share their thoughts online. Let me share with you a few things they’ve been saying lately.

“This is for all of the newer teachers out there: Leave while you still have professional confidence.”

ANONYMOUS

The more you see what your children’s teachers are feeling and experiencing, the more you might understand the sincere crisis in education there is at the moment. These are things you likely would not know at all if you were not in education and I am assuming you are not, but what the hell do I know?

“I sit here on a Sunday night and am deeply saddened. Tomorrow I have to go back to that place.”

ANONYMOUS

If you didn’t know what these folks were going through, I suspect your instinct would be to say, “well, leave then.” If teachers hate it so much and are so miserable and your “glorified babysitting job” of “only 10 months a year” is so shitty, you should just quit, right?

Well, they ARE. In enormous numbers, in fact. I just took a look at a document published by the US Department of Education. They cite the MetLife Survey of American Teachers as they report, “Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009…the lowest level in over 20 years.”

From the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, report date: February 2013

A publication from the Brookings Institute reported in September 2021 that “In March 2021, 42% of teachers declared they have considered leaving or retiring from their current position during the last year.” That’s a huge number of people. If you’re not a teacher, do you have a 42% turnover rate…ever?

My guess is that, well, no, you do not. According to EdWeek, this past fall saw about 3.2 million teachers actively working in the profession. I just used that calculator that I keep in my pocket that my middle school math teacher said I’d never have and that little machine told me that 42% of 3.2 million is 1.3 million…give or take. That’s huge.

Add to all of this the fact that colleges and universities are seeing enormous decline in enrollment in teaching majors and several are closing their doors. On February 5, 2022, CNN ran a story which noted that Oklahoma City University was suspending its education program. The article goes on to report: “While some say it’s too early to know the specific impacts of the pandemic, Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) told CNN the numbers already show Covid-19 further dissuaded Americans from going into teaching. In fall 2020 and 2021, about 20% of institutions surveyed by AACTE reported the pandemic resulted in a decline of new undergraduate enrollment of at least 11%. Roughly 13% of institutions reported ‘significant’ declines in the number of new graduate students.”

With fewer teachers coming into the field, I realize that the system has got to change. As I look over my social media accounts, what I’m noticing, anecdotally, is that a large number of teachers who are leaving the profession are doing so with absolutely no backup plan whatsoever. That might seem stupid. Most of them know it is kind of bananas, but this is how bad it is for them. Here are a few reasons I’ve seen cited in just the past few days:

  1. Students are chronically absent and expect teachers to “catch them up” – sometimes from a zero percent or having submitted zero work or learning literally 0% of the material AND ADMINISTRATORS ARE ALSO EXPECTING TEACHERS TO FIND A WAY TO “ALLOW THESE STUDENTS TO HAVE SUCCESS.” (i.e.: pass even if it is a lie)
  2. Student behavior is out of control: fights, disrespectful talk, refusal to follow any rules.
  3. Remember school shootings? Those are still a threat. So, everything sucks and we might get shot, so…
  4. Unsupportive bosses who don’t care when teachers are drowning and only care about their nonsensical initiatives and statistics.
  5. The increasing threat of privatization of public schools (more on that in our next post)
  6. Overbearing parents, many of whom were praising teachers just two years ago when they had to deal with their ONE child at home but who now find teachers, yet again, to be useless wastes of space and, delightfully tell teachers: “I pay your salary.”
  7. A salary that qualifies teachers as “working poor.”

“I talked to a gentleman with no college degree today who makes more in two weeks than I made in one month with 20+ plus years experience AND a master’s degree.”

ANONYMOUS
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I do not propose any solutions here. If I had any to offer, I’d be at work right now implementing them instead of typing this. But, I do know that something has to give.

The number of teachers we’re hemorrhaging as a system is not sustainable.

I guess the one thing I can suggest is: please be kind to your children’s teachers. There is so much they’re going through that you don’t even know about.

It’s actually really a scary time in education.

Aside from the obvious woes and the ones listed above, teachers are also facing incredible political pressures and shifts. Depending on the area and the district, teachers are also battling mask mandates (either for them or against them, depending on where you are), whether or not to teach about racism, class sizes of 30-35 students, an overall poverty rate for kids in American schools to be at 25%, unreliable technology to do their jobs, poor student attitudes toward learning and no help with that from their parents, budget cuts, an obesity epidemic among American kids, and much, much more.

So, again, if you can consider sending a nice note to one of your children’s teachers today to say that you know things are hard and you support him/her/them, it would really be appreciated. Trust me: there is not a single teacher in the nation right now who would not welcome such a message.

Please. We miss our disco.

Argue Better: Lesson #6

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So, like, what does it mean to be “right” about something?

We’ve been taking a look at formal arguments, how to avoid flawed reasoning, and how to respond to illogical remarks. But, LOGIC isn’t the only means by which something can be right or wrong. People can argue about morality, religion, politics, ethics, and other concepts where “right” and “wrong” might depend on how you look at things, where you’re from, or any one of a bazillion factors.

It is possible for both opposing parties in an argument, or even multiple parties in an argument, to be “right,” if we’re willing to accept that the word “right” doesn’t always have a clear and singular definition.

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Think about this question: If Jesus went to the US polls in November of 2016, which candidate would He have voted for in the Presidential race?

Trick question. There isn’t a right answer to this. At least there isn’t in the technical sense. So, here is where we get back to that idea that nobody cares about your opinion. You can like or dislike a candidate, you can have personal feelings about politics in general. You can call the Bible the ultimate guide to life, or refer to it all as Christian Mythology. But, that hypothetical question about who gets Jesus’ vote? All you can do there is assess WHY your answer might be what it is.

Part of the problem with healthy debate comes from two opposing sides who try to prove that the other is wrong. But, “wrong” is subjective and neither side is willing to dig into WHY it takes the stance it does. And this is where discourse devolves into a fight.

Instead, you really have to take your personal beliefs out of the equation. When you don’t, you end up with an even worse relationship with your discussion partner than when you started. If I used my belief that cats are all demonic furmonsters, but you loooove cats with all of their fuzzy snuggliness, for example, we might as well just not talk. My “opinion” is irrelevant. And we’ll get nowhere.

And, I might add, that my personal experiences are also irrelevant. I might have had nothing but bad experiences with scratchy, hissy, allergy-inducing cat devils, but my experience is proof of nothing. I can talk about it, but what would it prove? Could I get you to care or change your mind? Would any amount of my sneezing convince you to kick out Mr. Flooferton and go get a goldfish?

This is one reason why climate change, racism, the #MeToo movement, healthcare, college tuition, and so many hot-button social and political issues are so disputed. People have vastly different personal experiences and far too many of those people are using those experiences as proof or justification for their arguments. But, climate change can be a thing whether or not you’re personally hot or cold right now. Racism can exist even if you have “a Black friend” or you have not personally witnessed, experienced or perpetrated it.

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So, our arguments with one another have to stop being about trying to convince someone of what is RIGHT. That will never mean the same thing to everyone. You can’t convince someone that your version of right-ness is best. Instead, these conversations should be centered around how to solve problems, how to work together instead of against one another, and how to leave this planet better than how we found it. Often, arguments, unlike fights, are about listening as much as they are about contributing.

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—-“It isn’t right for people to loot and destroy businesses in their own community.”

—-“But, it isn’t right for the community to stay silent as it’s citizens needlessly die.”

—-“But it isn’t right to violently riot and fight with police because they risk their lives on the job to protect us.”

—-“But it isn’t right for someone to be killed by a police officer due to direct force, especially when he’s been subdued and the potential threat against that officer is no longer existent.”

->None of those above people will ever persuade any of the others if they stick with this “right” line of debate.

Instead the conversation should shift to (and YOU can be the one to shift it!!!):

“What would it look like to have a truly safe community where everyone would live without fear of dying OR being looted?”

“What steps should be taken so that police officers can be more prepared for high-pressure situations without bringing harm to other human beings?”

“How can we utilize the system as it is to leverage better results for crimes both real and alleged?”

“How can we make our neighborhood one where law enforcement has positive interactions with the citizens and the citizens are respectful of the officers’ service to them?”

“Without pointing fingers or assigning blame for past problems, how can all have more peace?”

That’s just a start…

Thanks, y’all. Hope you’ve enjoyed my Masterclass. 😉

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #5

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We want the same things.

Fundamentally, there are some basic things we all agree on (ya know, for the most part). Like, I think we all agree that breathing is nice. And the world can be a better place. No matter your disagreement, there’s always common ground you can find.

In this lesson, I’m going to assume you’re in an argument in its academic sense.

Generally, that’s the perspective for all of the lessons: showing you how to use the power of persuasion. If you’re just shootin’ the breeze about who the best 80s hair metal band is or why cats are better than dogs (they are not, I beg your pardon and thank you very much), seek advice elsewhere.

I’m talking about how to discuss reproductive rights with THAT aunt of yours at Thanksgiving, or how to be taken seriously in a conference room where you’re trying to convince your coworkers that your idea for that new account is the best idea, or how to help someone who has an “opinion” on Black Lives Matter see the error of their ways.

You start with common ground. What is accepted by both sides?

Aristotle is considered the the granddaddy of Rhetoric. His favorite type of spoken rhetoric was called “Deliberative” rhetoric (sometimes called “Deliberative Oratory” when used in speeches).

Deliberative rhetoric focuses on the future. So, you use future-tense verbs as much as you can.

If you dwelled on the past or focused mostly on what has been, the focus is usually to find blame. When we look at an issue, let’s say…institutional racism, we might be inclined to argue about the past. But, statements or claims like “MY family never owned slaves” or “What about all of that black-on-black crime that keeps happening?!?!?!” don’t do anything but antagonize.

When you speak in the present tense, you’re complaining or praising. Examples of this might include that “Many Secret Service Agents [are] just waiting for action” when daring protestors to get nearer to you. Or, another example might be saying, “Laziness is a trait in Blacks” (yep. You read that right. But to be fair, if you did, indeed, say that and a disgruntled and only semi-credible former employee published it in a tell-all book, it would be an example of Demonstrative rhetoric).

Present tense speaking is great for a commencement address or a commendation. But, the biggest problem with it, Aristotle found, was that Demonstrative rhetoric was divisive. It puts people in categories. Consider the difference between the statements “You are an American” versus “You were an American.” Present tense debate is values based: who are you, what do you stand for, how do you identify right here and now?

Future tense verbs used in a discussion make the conversation about problem-solving.

PAST TENSE: Judicial rhetoric (sometimes also called Forensic rhetoric: it’s the language of lawyers and detectives)

—What happened?

—Who did this?

—Who is to blame or praise for what’s been done?

PRESENT TENSE: Demonstrative rhetoric (sometimes also called Epideictic rhetoric: it’s the language of award presenters, pastors, motivational speakers, and supremacists)

—Who are we?

—What makes you one of us?

—What are our ideals?

—What good or bad qualities to you/we have?

FUTURE TENSE: Deliberative rhetoric: it’s the language of peacemakers, policy writers, problem solvers, leaders, and decision makers

—What can we do about this?

—How should we solve our problems?

—Where are we heading?

You can control the direction of your argument by shifting the verb tense. Consider this:

Person A: “Life starts at conception (present tense). Women who’ve had abortions are evil.” (there’s a little past and a little present tense there)

Person B: “I have rights guaranteed as a result of Roe v. Wade. (a little past and present tense)

Person C: We all can agree, though, that we like personal liberties and we’d like to see better healthcare and fewer lives lost in general in the future, right?”

***FUTURE TENSE

Person C shifted the argument to be about something other than when life begins or whether women’s bodies are appropriate to legislate. Person C is finding a platform where BOTH sides can look at how to work toward a shared vision. Maybe both sides can agree to advocate for better sex education, more access to contraceptives, better support systems for young and poor and scared pregnant girls, extensions to Head Start programs, stricter laws on men who abandon their families, or longer and harsher sentences for rapists who attack women behind dumpsters and serve only a few months’ sentence because they’re good swimmers who are blond white boys.

So, there’s my advice. When you go to visit Grandma Helga this summer and you just know she’s going to be all “destroying property and rioting is for hoodlums and thugs,” you can retort with something like, “well, Grandma, sure. Neither of us wants people to lose their livelihoods, so what should be done to make sure what triggered these riots, Black men too often dying in police custody, doesn’t keep happening? If we can think of solutions to end police brutality, we’d also stop those riots and demonstrations.”

I’m honored you’ve attended my Masterclass. 😄

#thanksforcimingtomytedtalk

Be a Better Arguer, Lesson #4

If you’re new here, welcome. And, also, where have you been? Took ya long enough…

But, if, indeed, you are new here, let me catch you up:

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I’m a teacher by trade and a mom by choice. Both of these jobs are hard and I write on this here little corner of the internet about navigating the world of adulthood. Mostly, my niche is in motherhood, feminism, pop culture, and being irritable. But, I also help make the world a much better place by bringing my job skills to you, free of charge.

In 2020, I was forced from my beloved classroom due to the pandemic and I became VERY lonely with nobody to teach stuff to. My kids are getting older and think I’m sooo embarrassing and don’t want to talk with me –let alone LEARN from me– if they can help it. And, my students who are expected to sit and learn stuff from me were all different kinds of missing, disengaged, lost, and asleep on Zoom with their cameras off just pretending to attend virtual class.

So, I started sharing some insight about how to use rhetoric and argumentative skills to be a better speaker, arguer, and internet citizen. What follows here is the fourth in a series of lessons on how to be good at arguing with other people. If you’ve missed the first three, please hit the rewind button and go check them out.

How do you know when you can trust a source? If you’re looking to draw your own conclusion on a debatable topic, where can you go for reliable information?

If this were really a class, it would take waaaaay longer than just this post to give this topic it’s fair due. But, we ain’t got that kind of time, so here’s the quick and dirty version:

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First of all, let me be clear: as someone who is in a constant state of her own learning and who is a veteran in the study and teaching of argumentative writing, I have to tell you that

1. The media is NOT the enemy of the people, and

2. “Alternative facts” aren’t a thing. Those are called “lies.”

Let’s start with the media. This is where most of us are going to get our day-to-day fuel for our argument fires. More specifically, most of us are going to get our information from online media sources. And, you likely already know this, but, they’re not all created equal.

As far as news sources go, most American sources will lean at least a little either left or right. But, your goal is to determine which of those sources, despite loyalties to any ideologies, presents information in a means that is as unbiased as possible. If you’re really looking to confirm your position, may I suggest looking BOTH at a slightly left and a slightly right news organization to compare their presentations of the same stories? Attached to this post is a link to what news sources have been determined to be more or less impartial. If you’re looking for a go-to organization who gets about as close the reporting facts without spin, I recommend Reuters and the Associated Press.

There are some other sources that do a pretty consistent job of providing centered news, too. Generally, PBS has a history of balanced published information, and, believe it or not, one of the most even-handed handlers of information is The Christian Science Monitor. Don’t let the name fool you. They’re named as such purposely to be transparent about who pays their bills, but both left-leaning and right-leaning media experts agree that they do a damn good job of being fair.

Let’s now think about some more general advice I can give you. Here’s a short list:

1. Stay in the “news” section of a site, even if you’re looking at media sources that are traditionally a little less-than-center. If the information is from Features, Opinions, Lifestyle, etc., back away.

2. Check to see that your source cited sources. You know how any good argument has data and commentary? (See Lesson #3, if not) Well, news outlets are at their most credible when they, too have data, interviews from industry experts, references to polls, studies, and so on and so forth. If the writer’s “voice” is the only one presented in the article, that’s no bueno.

3. Check to see if the information is recent. What “recent” is depends on the subject matter. Science, medicine and politics, for example, can change fairly quickly.

4. Consider PRIMARY SOURCES first and trust them most. Primary sources are from “the horse’s mouth.” They are the words of the people closest to the story. The information, in other words, comes from the people, place, and time that is the same as the story/event/issue itself. So, Anne Frank’s diary in an article about hiding from Nazis would be a primary source, for example.

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Okay. That’s enough for this quick crash course on media trustworthiness. Let’s quickly tackle “Alternative Facts.”

Coined by Kellyanne Conway when she explained on-camera why Sean Spicer’s claims about the number of people at President Trump’s inauguration were different than anyone else’s account of that event, “Alternative Facts” as a concept was borne out of desperation. But, here’s the deal: there’s only one set of facts. But, there can be different reads of those facts. And one perspective of or interpretation of the facts is not necessarily more “right” than another, so long as an arguer is using good sources for those facts and the conclusions he or she draws are fully LOGICAL. Y’all, “logic” is, like, an entire upper-level college course and you have to talk about Aristotle and Cicero and stuff and I’m not qualified to go beyond what I’ve got here for ya. But, mostly, just ask yourself: does my opponent’s line or reasoning make sense? If not, ask for clarification, support, or a rephrasing. Ask yourself, too: does MY line of reasoning make sense? Can I prove it? If so, cool beans.

Man, I need to come back to this topic and give it an upgrade with more detail later. But, don’t complain. I’m just some lady on the internet. I’m not a machine, people!!!

And, as always, this has been my Masterclass, you know, sort of.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time? I don’t know. Maybe how to nicely tell someone off online? Maybe how to respond to gaslighting? How to debate with someone who is on a different plane of reality? (Hint: you don’t)

I’ll surprise you.

Be A Better Arguer: Lesson #3

“I read somewhere…”

“Studies show…”

“I’ve heard from reputable sources…”

“They say that…”

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Ahhh… the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority.”

This is a logical fallacy (definition: a flaw in the structure or line of reasoning in an argument that renders it invalid). It’s probably the one I see most commonly on social media…where all the “experts” (wink*wink) are.

People on the internet always have opinions, don’t they? But, see, most people are using that word wrong. An opinion, in its truest sense, is an idea based on an appraisal of available circumstances or data. I mean, anyone can have an opinion in the sense that they can have likes, dislikes, faith, beliefs, or interests. But if you want to be in an ARGUMENT, an “opinion” is different and you just gotta have some sources, proof, evidence…ya know…stuff that isn’t just randomness from your own head.

Here’s what to do when faced with someone whose argument is invalid because of the use of the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority” fallacy:

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1. You fight facts with facts. You fight “opinions” with…facts.

To have a quality, reasonable, logical argument, you need to have evidence or data to support your claim(s). Data/evidence can exist in several forms including, but not limited to:

—numbers,charts, graphs, and figures from recognized experts in the field most relevant to the issue at hand

—conclusions, studies, and opinions (in the true sense of the word) from experts in the field (even better is when you can find the same conclusions drawn by multiple experts).

—quotes from reputable news organizations and written by reputable writers (click on the name of a journalist on any article – you’ll be taken to their credentials. If there’s no writer listed, run away. If there are no credentials listed, run away.)

—scientific studies that are peer-reviewed

2. Comment reasonably and intelligently on your data.

Don’t merely provide a list of facts. Explain simply and clearly HOW those facts support your claim. This is actually tougher than it sounds. I consider myself lucky if I can get 75% of my students (who avidly study and practice this) to write good commentary. But, really, if you don’t connect the dots, clarifying what you suggest the data you’ve presented shows about the claim you’ve made, you’re just listing facts. Lists don’t persuade. They bore.

3. Evaluate the potential holes in or objections to your argument. How would a good arguer respond to my words?

If you can think objectively about defense, you can build a stronger offense. This, in turn, can shorten the duration of the argument as a whole and can make it clear that you just may be the only one who came truly ready to play. However, upon presenting a well-researched, supported point of view that’s pretty failsafe, you might be met with an attack on your intelligence, looks, age, etc. That’s another logical fallacy: the ad hominem attack that I covered in an earlier post. Sometimes people just feel the need to have the last word and, “bite me, donkey face” can feel better to them than letting your claims rest without retort.

So, come to an argument armed with facts, science, expert opinions, news sources, and support. And, most importantly, stay calm, stay on-topic, and keep it classy.

You’ve become so much smarter already from my Masterclass, haven’t you? 🤪

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time: “No, Becky, ‘The Onion’ is not a Reputable News Source,” or, “How to Bring Good Data to the Argument”

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I Taught During a Pandemic and Then I Ranted About Shit on the Internet

If you’re joining our program already in progress, let me catch you up…

“Off Duty Mom” refers to being a mom who is tired all the time and thus needing to go “off duty” every now and again. It also makes a reference to what I do when I am “on duty” in the sense that I am getting paid to put up with children. I’m a teacher. I taught during the pandemic. I didn’t love it.

When the pandemic forced us out of schools in 2020, I started blowin’ people’s minds on the interwebs via my personal Facebook account. I started handing out free lessons about how to better argue with people since I wasn’t able to teach that content in school, ‘cuz, like, there kinda wasn’t really school at the time.

This is the second lesson in a series I published starting in May of 2020. It is republished here for your viewing and learning pleasure…

Enjoy.

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Lesson #2

The ad hominem attack

The phrase “ad hominem” translates to “to the man.” When someone attacks you personally, rather than addressing your position, that’s an ad hominem attack. Weak arguers use this logical fallacy mostly because they:

#1 hope to hurt or anger you, or

#2 can’t sufficiently argue against your points.

If you’ve been called “snowflake,” “boomer,” “sheep/sheeple,” etc., your opponent has shown his cards: he’s got nothin’.

These attacks can get even more personal depending on age, race, sexuality, gender, religion, and so on.

Yesterday, in response to a dumb joke I made on a friend’s Facebook page, I was called “sweetheart.” Sometimes terms like these (honey, sweetie, etc) are flung at women perhaps- and I don’t really know for sure- because if we can infantilize a woman, she’ll be put “back in her place.” The issues will be left to the big boys. Silly girls thinking they can say words. Haha.

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Another example might be tweeting about a group of people calling them “THUGS.” This word is racially-charged. Culturally, this term has come to mean “Black men who…cause trouble…mostly by wearing hoodies and…looking SUSPICIOUS.” Other racially-charged words (aside from the obvious) might include “homie,” “brother,” and even “boy” which again, historically was/is used to keep someone “in his place.” A “boy” is not a MAN, after all, and “man,” in a weak debate, is the highest life form (according to those who resort to these kinds of tactics).

Slurs, name-calling, and other personal attacks are attempts to suggest that you are weaker, less-than, or too stupid, too uneducated, too uninformed, or too ignorant to be worthy of speaking to the person slinging the insults.

A word doesn’t have to be a slur to be a demeaning ad hominem attack, either. Consider name-calling and “jokes” meant to poke “fun” at stereotypes: Asian drivers, Rural “hillbillies,” etc., as examples. Unless you’re arguing about whether or not Asian people are good drivers (and don’t argue that, come on), bringing a cultural stereotype into the mix is irrelevant and useless.

Look — this guy is smiling. I’m going to call him “Sam.” Sam looks like he’s enjoying being on the internet. Sam is probably being very nice to people online. You should be like Sam.
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What to do about it?

1. Do NOT play their game. If you’ve been attacked personally, rather than your opponent pointing out flaws in your argument, don’t respond in-kind. He’s dragged you down to his level and then you’re fighting instead of arguing if you do. Don’t just make an insult-fest.

2. Know that if someone has gone this direction, they’re either out of things to say that are valid or are more concerned with hurting your feeling than with having a dialogue. It may be best to walk away. This might prompt more name-calling, but remember how Marty McFly’s responses to being called “chicken” didn’t turn out well. Learn from Marty’s mistakes.

3. Realize that bullying and being a general meatball aren’t, you know, GOOD things. So, resist the urge to escalate the situation. Do not threaten to go to the guy’s house and punch him in the throat. This makes you MORE wrong now. Once you become the bad guy, that’s pretty hard to reverse. And, now you’ve lost credibility. Either go back to your point, calmly, or end the interaction.

In the end, pity the man* who has nothing to offer to the world or to your discussion other than insults. And rest comfortably in the knowledge that you’re better than that.

Thanks for your attention to my Masterclass. 😋

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next topic: when your opponent has no sources, just “opinions”…

*”man” used generically in reference to mankind. Don’t come at me with your “you’re a reverse sexist” bulldoodoo.

Reflections From a Pandemic Teacher: Let’s Learn How To Argue

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Lesson #1: The Red Herring

In any debate of ideas, it’s necessary to stay on-topic, otherwise you’ll never get to any understanding whatsoever. A tactic sometimes used by individuals in an argument is to shift the subject matter in an attempt to make the argument easier on them. The Red Herring logical fallacy happens when one debater mentions an idea, then the opponent pivots in an attempt to make that argument about something else.

It’s flawed logic (well, really it isn’t logic at all) and it’s a sign of a weak position.

For example, leading up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump, in a televised debate with Hillary Clinton, was asked about the statements he’d made that were caught on tape. When moderator, Anderson Cooper, asked if Mr. Trump understood that his comments about grabbing women’s genitals were comments about sexual assault, Mr. Trump first said that it was “locker room talk,” but then said that he was going to defeat ISIS. “Defeating ISIS” was off-topic. It’s a pivot away from one idea to an idea the speaker would rather discuss.

When this happens, if you’d like to respond, you need to insist that the conversation pivot back to the issue at hand. Do NOT begin discussing ISIS in this case.

OMG. I searched the word “idiot” on Unsplash for an image to use in this article, and this came up. I am NOT making this up.
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Here are a few things you could try:

1. Play the “I’m just innocently trying to learn” game. —- “I’m confused, but interested in your thoughts. So, does this all mean you do or you do not understand that you were bragging about sexual assault?”

2. Find common ground and let your opponent win just a little—- “I agree that ISIS is a very big concern, but I would still like to know if you understand that your comments were about sexual assault.”

3. Play dumb (this one works particularly well if you’re already being spoken to as though you are actually an idiot)—- “Hmm… I don’t understand. When asked about sexual assault, how does defeating ISIS figure in to that? I’m so silly. I don’t get it. Haha.”

4. This is dangerous territory and I don’t necessarily recommend it because it may lead to a fight rather than and argument, but call the speaker out—- “Excuse me, sir, but I think we’ve gotten off-topic here. Let’s get back to the question of whether you understood your words to be about sexual assault or not.” *note the use of “we” since there are two people in the debate. Sure YOU didn’t go off-topic, but “we” is gentler when we’re trying to have a rational and civil discussion.

This is my Masterclass (my version of it, anyway, but mine’s FREE, y’all!). 🤣

This “Masterclass” I built was the product of my weariness from missing my “on duty” job as an English teacher in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic ripped our profession from us. Check back soon for more!

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next up: when someone makes an argument personal…

Reflections From a Pandemic Teacher

In March of 2020, you may or may not have heard, a global pandemic made its way to the US and pretty much upended, well, everything.

Within a few months, my life as a teacher was completely unrecognizable from anything it had been in the years prior. In this time, I missed the world as it had been. I think a whole lot of us felt the same way.

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When I am “off duty” as a mom, I’ve mentioned that my “on duty” work is as an English teacher. When I found myself missing that work in May of 2020, I wrote some thoughts on social media. I’ll share them with you in the coming days.

What follows is the first in a series of posts I did then where I attempted to soothe my teacher pain by droppin’ knowledge to my friends. It occurred to me, though, that this information might be useful and welcome for other folks, too, so…here you go…

FROM May 29, 2020:

I’m a teacher. I teach a few different courses, two of which are Debate and a course in argumentation and rhetoric. We’re doing this distance-learning thing and I miss being with my students. So, I thought I’d offer you all some lessons to help me feel as though I’m doing more good in the world than I’ve been able to in these trying times.

On social media, you might see someone write about a crazy idea and then claim something like, “well, that’s just my opinion,” or, “this is a free country and I can say what I want.”

I teach my students that you are NOT entitled to your own opinion. Nobody cares what you think. Like, at all. Maybe, if you were an expert in the field about which you speak, we’d love to hear from you. But even then, you have a burden to bear. Your responsibility in any dialogue is not to have an unwarranted opinion, but to have CONCLUSIONS you’ve drawn after careful consideration of sources, relevant experiences, study, and fact-checking. So, welcome to my MASTERCLASS. 😋

I’ll be showing you, in some upcoming posts, how to argue with others effectively.

Lesson #1 “argument” and “fight” are not synonyms. You fight to win. You argue to come to an understanding. Next lesson: what to do when someone isn’t responding to your views with relevant counterpoints. Stay tuned.

#thankyouforcomingtomytedtalk

Bleeding Out

When I decided to go by “Off Duty Mom,” it was through inspiration from my own mom who, in the evenings of my childhood, would sometimes pick up a book and lie in bed in an attempt to have just a bit of time to herself, declaring that she was “off duty.” As an adult, once I had children of my own, I realized the importance for moms to go “off duty” every now and then.

When not on duty as a mom, I’ve spent a few decades as a high school English teacher. There were days when I didn’t know which job — mom or teacher — was more rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, illuminating, and/or indicative of my very identity. Both jobs have had their ups and downs.

You may have heard through sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Washington Post, and, you know, everyone you personally know in education right now, that teachers are quitting in astronomical numbers. And, they’re not just quitting their jobs, but they’re quitting the entire profession and giving up on years of training, years of dreaming, and years of just KNOWING that being an educator was their “calling.” Something is happening and it is bad, people.

I first realized that my own mental health was in decline just before the pandemic forced me out of my classroom. I remember a conversation I had with an assistant principal where she and I talked off-the-record about morale being low in our building. This is something that can just “happen” from time to time, though, so at this point, the very fact that she just sort of listened to me, heard my concerns about general dissatisfaction, and tried to be supportive was enough for me. But then a dear friend and colleague of mine quit — perhaps not suddenly, but it did unfold fairly quickly — and on that very last day of his, my administrators came over our PA system to let us know that we ought to take our work home with us over the weekend of March 14, 2020 since schools would be closed come Monday.

As schools closed that spring, many districts across the country took vastly different approaches to how they’d handle serving their communities. “Fairness” was an issue of particular concern for a whole lot of schools all over, especially when it came to taking care of the needs of Special Education students. Some schools realized that Zoom-learning wouldn’t really allow for Individualized Education Programs to be met fully which can violate federal law, so that was pretty bad. In order to have “equity” or “fairness” for all students, some schools chose to push through and go all “CDC-be-damned” and stuff to stay open despite, like, several million people dying. Others decided to educate NOBODY because that, too, was “fair” in that everyone was being equally shafted.

During the multiple months that followed, this “fairness” and “equity” remained pretty buzzy. It isn’t for no reason, either. Teachers had a glimpse into students’ home lives and realized that tons of stuff we never even realized was happening behind those closed doors was causing barriers to student learning. Some kids showed up to classes online with their younger siblings on their laps, being primary caregivers AND full time students at once. Some teachers saw a variety of conditions of homes, relationships, boundaries (or lack thereof), supplies, wi-fi reliability, noise levels, and all kinds of trauma-in-the-making. Some kids went fully MIA for the entirety of the time of remote learning. One parent came to an online meeting regarding her son’s pending failure of a course that was a graduation requirement for him while she was actively moving a table from one room of her house to another — huffing and puffing and screaming at her family members while (sort of) talking with me about whether her child was going to get a diploma or not.

The truth was that kids were dealing with all kinds of shit and teachers had a front-row seat. Of course, teachers themselves also had more than they’d signed up for on their own plates. We had to reinvent our entire profession from scratch, learn technology new to most of us, and figure out how to do the non-academic parts of our job with pretty much no help from anyone. Who could even help if they wanted to, anyway?

Things were NOT “equitable” for kids. They had all kinds of levels of support, love, affection, kindness, peace, responsibility, expectation, money, and ability. We always knew this, but it was another thing to witness it.

What happened was that expectations for school systems rose and accountability for students fell. The general consensus was that kids’ differences in preparedness for school wasn’t their “fault” (and it, indeed was not), so we, as a system, had to level the playing field for them. Makes sense on paper. But, of course, the root issues causing these unfair circumstances weren’t going to change for the better and we weren’t attempting to (or able to) fix any of that, anyway. The only thing we could do was “do better” for kids.

I do NOT disagree that “doing better for kids” is both warranted and vital. But, it certainly is stressful.

Art installation titled “Can’t Help Myself” by Chinese artists, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

Have you ever seen that art installation of the dying robot? Well, there was this robot that constantly leaked hydraulic fluid and was programmed to sweep it up to return to its own system. At first, as the story goes, the fluid leaked at a rate that was manageable for it to contain and return to itself. Over time, though, the moments of “rest” for the robot became fewer and farther between and it was eventually in a situation where it did nothing but clean up this leak literally at all times. The leak was never fixed. It just kept cleaning up, over and over, never able to stop the root cause but instead just in a perpetual cycle of futile efforts to save its own life.

That robot “died” after the spills and loss of fluid became greater than its physical ability to clean up the mess and carry on. I had heard later that the irony of it all was that it wasn’t even a hydraulically-powered machine. Though it was programmed to “believe” that it had to perform this task to save itself, it actually never needed the leaking fluid in the first place. And yet, it died anyway.

Such is the state of education.

When does stress just become unbearable?

I’ve heard the saying, of course, that you “can’t pour from an empty cup” and so, I’ve decided to take a brief hiatus from teaching. Attempting to sweep up all of my leaking hydraulic fluid has left me exhausted and physically unwell. I’ve had heart palpitations. Depression. Anxiety. Stomach all tied up in knots. Sleeping too much. Trouble sleeping at all. I’m on 6 different medications a day like an old lady and half of them are for issues related to stress. So, I get it. That mass exodus of teachers: I get it.

The system is bleeding out. Hemorrhaging, even. And, there are underpaid, undervalued people who are working to stanch that flow every day. In return for their efforts, they are asked to do more: improve test scores, attend more meetings that could have been emails, close the racial performance gap, provide trauma support, get yelled at by parents, have the public refer to them as “glorified babysitters,” shift effortlessly between online learning and in-person as needed, wear masks, get tested, get vaccinated, break up violent fights, prepare for a mass shooting at their workplace, differentiate instruction so that each individual student gets a unique and tailored educational experience, do paperwork nobody reads, give standardized tests, and, well, you know, I am just tired of listing things so I have to stop.

I might add, though, that to the other teacher-moms out there: I know that being a mother is also unforgiving, thankless, and just damn hard, too. And it is hard in ways nobody ever told you about. I mean, we all knew there’d be diapers. But, when you have to deal with bullying, or mental health problems in your kids, or talking about sex and consent, or online predators — well, that was just not what I was thinking about when I was pregnant and people were all, “It’s hard but you’ll love it!” I do NOT enjoy worrying about an adult pretending to be a 13-year old girl to get a kid to meet him “IRL.” Give me a thousand diapers instead, actually.

What’s the moral to the story here? Hell if I know. I wish I had a perky call-to-action to end this rant. Or, a positive “however” statement to make here. I do not.

How many more empty teacher desks will it take before crisis truly sets in?

The world is changing. I guess that’s all there is to it.

If you’d like to read more about this nationwide teacher crisis, here are a few articles you might want to check out:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/10/18/teachers-resign-pandemic/

https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teachers-are-not-ok-even-though-we-need-them-to-be/2021/09

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/01/04/why-education-is-about-to-reach-a-crisis-of-epic-proportions/?sh=fcd302178c7b

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2022-01-06/more-teachers-than-ever-are-considering-leaving-the-profession

https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-are-quitting-and-companies-are-hot-to-hire-them-11643634181

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/09/05/we-need-to-stop-talking-about-the-teacher-shortage/?sh=472c6924494c

https://thejournal.com/articles/2022/01/19/survey-finds-teacher-shortage-exacerbated-by-bans-on-classroom-discussions-of-race-and-gender.aspx

Grrrrrrrr…

Today I hate people.

Admittedly, most days I hate people.  I’m an introvert and I like quiet.  And, you know, NOT being around…people.

And, if this is your first time visiting this blog you might be surprised to know, given my general distaste for humanity, that I am a teacher.  Of teenagers.  Pretty much the worst people of all people.

I actually really seriously dislike children.  I mean, mine are cool, but yours suck.  No offense.

I kid only sort of.

On a serious note (for once), I actually tremendously love working with high school students.  I like talking with them.  I like helping them with their ridiculous dramatic bullshit.  I like talking to them about Star Wars.  I like watching them “get it” for the first time.  I seriously fucking love my job.  I am truly an introvert and I prefer quiet to parties, but my favorite thing of all of the things is discussing Hamlet with a group of hungry AP English Literature students.

But, today, I had to cover a 7th grade Math class.  Just let that sink in:  I hate numbers more than I hate people.  And, remember I hate children, but not teenagers.  Seventh graders are CHILDREN.  Don’t talk to me until you’ve made it at least one full day past your 14th birthday.  Even then, I don’t really want to talk to you for very long periods of time until about halfway through your freshman year of high school.

Seniors?  Give me all of the seniors all of the days.  Love ’em.  Lazy sons-a-bitches.  Those kids are my jaaaaam.

Sure, my piss-poor attitude today is colored by the fact that by 8:00 this morning, I had dealt with two students who were ethnically intimidating a Middle-Eastern refugee student and one student who told another to “eat balls.”  This week, I have been trying to stop a small group of boys in their attempt to mercilessly and evilly bully a weaker kid.  I’ve been failing at this miserably since the bullied kid is so bullied that he is too terrified to admit to the bullying so we can proceed with assistance for him.  I’m trying desperately to get a student scheduled into all of her appropriate classes for her junior and senior years because her parents do not speak English and they cannot advocate for her at school here.  So I do.  I’m trying to encourage a kid I’ve been mentoring for four years to finish all of the credit recovery programming he’s been working on so he can have enough credits to graduate in June.  He probably won’t make it.  I’ll be devastated when/if he ultimately drops out of high school.

I’ll go home today to a car with only three working tires.  My kids will need help with their homework.  I will have to cook dinner — from scratch because I am trying desperately not to pour a bunch of food additives, processed garbage and sugar into my family’s bodies.  I’ll care for my aging dog who was diagnosed yesterday with cataracts.  I’ll probably not get to the gym though I consider this a “gym day.” I’m not trying to get into a bikini or impress anyone, but I am trying to get stronger and healthier and today that will have to wait.

It is hard to be a working mom.

That’s it.  This is hard.  And I hate people.  And I’m tired.  And this is hard.  And I love it.  And hate it.  And…this is hard.

 

Generation Zombie

Because Google completely failed me recently, I feel inclined to rant.

Here’s what happened:

1. I am a teacher.  I freaking love my job.  It is rewarding as hell and I don’t care that it makes me poor.  I love working with young people and helping them better understand our world.

2. No amount of love for young minds changes the fact that kids can be little shits sometimes.  I happen to have well over 30 students of this particular variety all in one classroom.  For 80 minutes.

3. In an effort to figure out how to better manage them and keep them from doing the following…

–eating Hot Cheetos in class even though I have asked them not to eat anything in the room on about a million occasions

–talking incessantly with other students far and near even though I constantly move around, ask them repeatedly to quiet down and have moved seats over and over again

–saying the following (and this is not an exhaustive list):  suck my dick, shut the hell up, fuck you, go to Hell, oh shit, rape is funny, titties (I could go on and on)

–staring at me when I have told them to write notes

–forgetting pencils, papers, laptops, chargers, pens, notebooks, folders, etc.

–getting up and walking around the room freely

…I have been searching online for strategies to help me “up” my teacher game.

4. I have taken to Google (and, frankly, a number of sites associated with professional development for educators) to try to learn what other teachers might already know about wrangling 9th graders.

5.  I came up with squat.  Most educational resources out there are focused on little kids.  All of the suggestions do not relate to someone who has 30-40 students in a room in a major public high school, cannot punish anyone with a loss of recess time, and has students big enough to kick her ass.

 

So, now, here I am.

 

No one on the internet can tell me a goddamn thing about how to manage these hooligans.  I am a 15-year veteran teacher.  I have taught some of the absolute toughest kids on the planet.  Criminals, even.  If there were a yearbook of my former students you would find in it a convicted child molester, a murderer, several drug-dealers, a kid who was lucky to have been tried as a juvenile after he slit another kid’s throat (the victim lived, by the way), two assholes who got into a hallway fight that was so bloody, there was red sprayed up on the ceiling, and at least three strippers who may or may not take “extra” cash for “extra” services at their places of employment.

I am no stranger to tough kids.  But, this is something different I haven’t seen before.  This is just total disregard for other humans.  They are completely apathetic.  They don’t fear their parents; they don’t fear detentions, suspensions or tongue-lashings from a principal; they don’t care if they pass the class; they don’t have any interest in gaining new knowledge; and they certainly don’t care about anything I do or say.  I am at a loss.  They just don’t fucking care.  I am flabbergasted.  I have not seen a group of people care so little about anything.  I have tried rewards, positive behavioral reinforcement, a variety of punishments and consequences, changing seats, giving them ownership of their own learning, empowering them to make decisions about the class, offering incentives.  I have tried just about every traditional teacher trick.

They all fail me.

And, of course, this makes me feel like a complete failure myself.

As I mentioned, I am not weak.  I can handle shitheads.  But these kids are their own kind of craptastic.  They are just vapid.  They openly choose nothing over something.  When I asked a student who sat empty-handed with a blank stare today if he was opting to take a “0” for his work, he said, “I forgot my backpack today.”  This was the 4th day in a row he forgot a backpack.  He didn’t care to borrow a pencil, ask a classmate for some paper or write in marker on the back of his fucking hand.  He just figured he’d sit for 80 minutes and stare.  If I gave him a “0” for today’s assignment, that was okay.  I guess.  Eeyore.

This is no “Dangerous Minds” shit.  These kids are GOOD kids.  At least that is what we call them nowadays because they don’t do drugs, they don’t get into fights and they don’t join gangs.  They manage in some classes to get adequate grades.  Some of their parents care a little.  Most of their parents actually care a ton.  Most of their parents have good jobs and they live in the nicer parts of town.  Our school is known for good test scores and great teaching.  But, this one class of students just seems to have so much apathy and I truly fear that there is a serious generational shift I am witnessing.

Everyone hated Gen X because we were supposedly so lazy and apathetic.  This makes the graduating class of 1991 look like motherfucking rocket scientists.  The kids I see each day are empty.  And they do not wish to be filled.

I am certain that I can work to fix this if only I could build a personal relationship and rapport with each of them individually.  You work hard and behave well for people you trust, respect and connect with.  But, by the time I do that with this many kids, it will be time for them to move on and be zombies for some other unsuspecting teacher.

As parents, I don’t know what we ought to be doing, but we need to be doing SOMETHING to make our children care about anything.  One kid today in my class shaded an entire notebook sheet dark gray with pencil.  Meticulously.  Then he “wrote” his name by erasing some of the scribble.  Another young lady had to be asked to return to her seat 9 times.  9 TIMES!  What was she doing all of those times?  Just seeing what other kids in the room were up to.  I was lecturing at the time.

Please join with me to build a better generation.  I don’t know what we must do, but we must do something here.  Your suggestions are more than welcome.

The Penis: Mightier Than the Sword

I feel as though we live in a culture of “I Want.”

Because “I” want, then I steal, I cheat, I antagonize, I rape, I fight, I bully, I kill, I throw a temper tantrum, I oppress, I hate, I flee, I yell, I abuse, disown, I hurt and I neglect.

Today, I decided that everyone pretty much sucks.

At work, we had a faculty meeting. Teachers totally love those. The only things we love more are professional development sessions and parents who claim that they pay our salaries.

At this meeting a colleague stood up and told a long story about how she had overheard some other teachers
talking badly in the hallway about a student, but, you know, “I’m not gonna name any names.”

Fuck you and your motherfucking passive aggressive bullshit. If you have a problem with an adult colleague, you act like an adult and approach that colleague as if you were an adult.

Also today, a parent demanded to meet with me so I could explain why his son was crying last night over his falling grade in my class. Dude, the fact that your son sleeps in class, refuses to do homework and actively opts out of all class work, indeed, might just be my fault. I mean, most things are. Totally. Let’s meet about it.

Also today, only 60% of my students (high school freshmen) came to class prepared to do the presentations they have been working on for 5 weeks. One even looked at me and said, “What are we supposed to do if we are not done yet?”

Please tell me how you would have answered that question. My own answer was sarcastic and a little pissy.

Also today, a core group of my colleagues were excused from our dreadful faculty meeting so they could meet privately about a course that was being mismanaged and has been, frankly, an embarrassment to our school. I was not permitted to leave this meeting to talk with our guidance counselor about devising a plan to provide homebound instruction for a student who is recovering from a virally-induced heart failure.

Next time I want special treatment, I will be sure to screw up at something first since apparently an acceptable excuse for leaving a meeting is “‘cuz I gotta clean up this shitstorm I caused.”

And finally, today, I found out that I got edged out for some professional perks I had been vying for by a teacher with less experience and who isn’t even fully qualified to receive these benefits.

Fuck me.

And there it is. That’s what I said to myself, “Fuck me.”

In that moment, everything shifted. My worldview cleared like those Claritin commercials.

Why is something that gets “fucked” a recipient, often of aggression or violence? To get “fucked” or even “fucked up” or “fucked over” is to be duped, shamed, victimized or beaten.

If Tupac says, “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker,” it is an insult because it is supposed to be emasculating to the owner of the “bitch.” The woman in the scenario is just an object or receptacle to accept the “fuck.” Very rarely do you hear a woman say that she fucked a man, suggesting that she had asserted her dominance over him. Actually, I don’t know if I have ever heard that.

And here I am. I ponder what it means to be in the world of “I Want.”

“I want to dominate.”

“I want to degrade.”

“I want to show you I am better than you are.”

“I want to do whatever the hell I want.”

“I want to insult.”

“I want to have power– take power– assert power.”

“I want you to know you are beneath me and that I will fuck you, fuck you up, fuck you over, or fuck this shit until I prove it.”

If a penis (real or metaphorical) can do all of this, then indeed..

The penis: mightier than the sword.

Things I Can’t Tell You

I am an English teacher in an urban school with a diverse population of students who are, for the most part, really terrific.  I love my job even though I have been known to complain.  But, I complain because, you know, it’s WORK and that sometimes just sucks because it is, you know, WORK.

I am a mom, too.  This should come to no surprise to you, the person who is reading an entry on a blog titled “Off Duty Mom.”

But, my kids are still pretty small.  My oldest is in Kindergarten.  So, while I work daily (and have for hmfhmghph years) with teenagers (and, yes, actually enjoy the company of teenagers), I haven’t had the privilege yet of raising any teens of my own.

And, you’d be surprised the shit I hear as your teenager’s English teacher.  You’d be disgusted, embarrassed, shocked, terrified, enraged, and/or more than mildly amused at the things I both overhear and am told absolutely directly.

Here are just a few of the things I have dealt with in my time in this line of work:

*A sophomore student was once so high, she couldn’t spell her own name right.  I sent her to the nurse since that is our protocol when we suspect drug use.  She was back in my classroom a few minutes later because the nurse could not determine the cause of the student’s unusual behavior.  She then bragged (supposedly) out of my earshot about how much weed she had run through that morning.

*A group of 18-year old students had never heard of the Beatles.  Or Tupac.

*Last week I tried to get a 14-year old male student to stop cutting himself.  Last Thursday, he e-mailed me at 12:30 am apologizing for not being able to keep this promise.  He was treated at a nearby hospital for his self-inflicted injuries.

*For the past two months, a 9th grade boy I know who is a fabulously top-notch student has been dating one of the worst human beings imaginable.  He is an athlete, he’s well-liked, he is a straight-A student.  He is articulate and personable and handsome.  His girlfriend and her mother have been taken to court twice for the girl’s truancy.  She has failed every single one of her classes every quarter since the beginning of the year.  When she is in school, she does very little actual work and mostly just casts her head downward, looking at teachers and classmates above imaginary glasses the way a Bond villain might.  I can’t tell this boy’s mother that his girlfriend is a bad influence because this would be considered inappropriate and a breach of the girl’s confidentiality.

*A Freshman boy asked me why everyone was so sad in the 20th century.  He was referring to the Great Depression, I figured out from talking with him for a few minutes.

*A 15-year old boy today just proudly announced that he was off his ADD meds.  The class looked at him, puzzled.  He, I think, was hoping for applause.

*A 16-year old boy has been confiding in me for months that his alcoholic mother physically abuses him and his father (the parents are separated) steals from him.  Yes, I have notified my superiors.  The boy and his family have been to court.  The courts have found that the boy is in a “safe” environment.  Since the abuse and thefts have started, the boy has been arrested 5 times for lashing out at others violently.  No one gives a shit if I think that this is a behavior he learned from his mother who beats the living crap out of him when she’s on the bottle.

*I suspect that a student of mine is on the Autism spectrum.  I cannot suggest this to her parents as I am not a certified medical practitioner and cannot legally make any determination or even suggestion about her health.  I referred her to a guidance counselor for evaluation, but because the young lady was already being tutored, the parents chalked up her bad grades to a basic need to step up her tutoring and denied any further evaluations.

*A 9th grade student asked me if the book we were reading took place in the time of slavery.  It was set in the 1950s.

*After spending 25 minutes explaining a research paper assignment in class one day, a student raised his hand and then asked me, what are we doing today?  Ummm… WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER?!?!?

*Today a teenage boy wrote his name on a paper to sign up to do a presentation for the class.  He listed only his first name and his last initial.  The “period” used to denote his initial was placed before, not after that letter.

*A senior student who was a “person of interest” in a crime that involved a throat-slashing sat in the front row of my class a few years back.  For legal reasons, my administration was not permitted to let me know that this young man may have been involved in this attempted murder.  When I found out about it from a colleague who had a relative in the police force, I could not share the information with anyone, either.  She was risking her job secretly warning me.

*Three students in my career have “come out” to me privately.  Since they were not a threat to themselves or others, I was not permitted to share this information with their families or friends, but was allowed to share it with the guidance counselor if that seemed appropriate.  She couldn’t share it with their families or friends, either, though.  Ordinarily, I would say that this type of privacy is a necessary thing, but when a mother called me crying about her son needing psychological care, I had to pretend that I knew nothing and couldn’t let her know that he wasn’t likely suffering from a serious disorder, but was simply gay and didn’t know how to talk to her about it.  She had him go through in-patient therapy and the doctors eventually determined that this was, of course, a complete waste of time and energy, as even the boy had insisted.  He wasn’t depressed as she had insisted he was.  His doctor finally “outed” the kid to his mom.  They no longer speak.

*A significantly troubled Autistic teen openly masturbated once in class.  The girl sitting next to him was obviously fairly traumatized.  The other students went through varying degrees of freaking-the-fuck-out depending on how much they saw/heard.  Teachers were not permitted to discuss the situation with the parents of these children other than to tell them that an “incident” had happened and that it was being “handled.”

*A 10th grader did not know that the following countries existed:  Trinidad, Austria, New Zealand and Tibet.

*An 11th grader did not know that Canada was in North America or that Hawaii was a state.

*Most of my students are shocked to learn that I read books before I teach them.  The vast majority are downright shocked when I tell them that I read most books I teach more than once.

*(I think) I talked a 16-year old out of quitting school last week.

*Today a student asked me if the bike I rode as a kid had one giant wheel on the front and a little one in the back.

*There is a student in my school who is severely depressed, but we are not supposed to know about it.  He only showers maybe a few times each month.  If we’re lucky.  We are not supposed to discuss this issue with him or with his family.  We are not supposed to make contact with Social Services.  We can only notify and re-notify our guidance department.

*I suspect a student is dyslexic.  I am not allowed to say that to her parents, though, because my degrees do not include School Psychology or an associated field, nor have I administered any diagnostic exams to suggest that she has a Learning Disability.  I can refer her generically to our Special Education Department and/or our Guidance or Social Work Departments, but if the parent calls me directly and asks me what I think her child’s problem is, I am not allowed to say.

*A parent called me to ask my opinion on a new girl who has been calling and texting her son.  I cannot tell her that this girl is a whore.  No, really.  She was cited for accepting payment in the form of designer accessories for offering blowjobs to fellow students in school.  I have to let this mother fly blind on this one.

 

All of the world’s secrets are safe with me.  Some should be.  Some are awfully damn hard to keep.

What do you think about all of this?

Guest Post

Why I Do Not Think a Five Year Old Should be Labeled ADD

by Rachel Thomas

Our daughter is seven years older than our son and she started out in public school and excelled pretty much all the way through school. She is a very controlled, structured person and not very social because of it. She found that about grade five things were changing, the boys thought the girls had cooties and no longer wanted to play with her,and the girls just wanted to talk about boys and clothes; something she had no desire to do. So she sort of just pulled herself out of the social scene and generally had one friend at a time.

Our son on the other hand was extremely social and because he was customarily around women (his sister, grandmother, and mom) he knew how to treat the girls from the get go. He had a hard time sitting and staying on task and from the time he was in Kindergarten the teacher were telling me they thought he was ADD. Being the parent of only two children, one which was extremely controlled and calm, I had a hard time accepting this. He was a happy, funny, outgoing five year old who made friends easily. He was not a behavioral problem; he just could not sit in one place for too long.

My solution was to put him back in Kindergarten again to see if he would mature enough to be able to sit still but it did not seem to help. Plus the fact that he was in a private school with an accelerated curriculum did not help. The teachers told me he could not keep up and because they were a private school they did not have any programs or after school hours to give him extra help, which frankly puzzled me. I know there is a lot more to it than I am aware of but you would think that if you were paying for a school there would be extra help.

Anyway, I struggled with what to do about the situation. I was determined to get to the bottom of this myself and not just rely on the opinions of the teachers. I, like all parents, loved my son dearly and upon their suggestion of putting him in public school because they have programs and funding for needs such as his I plotted out a course of action. Since we did not have a ton of money I talked to as many learned people as I could and found out ways I could get help. I found that our local university had a program with professors and students studying learning disabilities. I wanted to be sure what we were dealing with so I decided to take him in for testing. It was such a good experience; everyone was so helpful and kind. They tested his eyesight, his hearing, and checked for any learning disabilities; he was six at the time. They told me he did not have any learning disabilities and was brighter than average in many areas.

Next I took him to see a psychologist to check him for ADD/ADHD. He put him through a series of tests and gave us papers with questions for Mom and Dad and teachers to answer about his behavior and abilities. He came out borderline ADD. I decided not to put him on the medications at the time. He stayed in private school through first grade and part of second when I realized he needed much more. In our area we can put our children in any school in the district with permission from the principal if they are not overcrowded or the student does not have behavior problems. We studied the schools in the area and found the one we thought would be best.

They certainly did make way more provisions for him at the public school. They gave him a quiet place to do his work away from the other students when necessary and gave him more time as well if he needed it. The teachers were more than willing to work with us to help. Again, they were sure he had ADD, something I am not sure of to this day but I can see how they would come to this conclusion. I knew how my son worked, how if he did not want to do something he would not do it, and if that comes under the title of ADD then I guess he is. I would be more likely to put it under the title of pig headed and stubborn but what do I know?

The second grade teacher made sure that he was directed to the best third grade teacher. At least she made a recommendation which the principal accepted. The third grade teacher was a jewel, very strict but very loving, which is something my son needed very much! I was actively talking to the teachers all the time and keeping up with what was going on. I wanted to let them know how very important my son was to me. I believe this is so important when it comes to our children and especially so when they are having trouble in school. She told me that she did not want my son to be pigeon holed into special programs and labeled for years to come. They had been sending him to reading specialists and giving him other tests to try and get him into the right special help groups. This third grade teacher knew he was bright, just like I did, and she also knew he was determined not to show it.

They called me into talk about our son and I listened. They wanted to put him in speech therapy for a slight lisp which was fine with me; that could not hurt. And then they told me they wanted him to go to a special reading class during school everyday, which I was assured was not a special education class. I was thrilled with that as well. When any topic came up on special education classes I told them I was not interested and then I brought in my paperwork from the university studies that were done on my son to show them he did not have learning disabilities. That stopped the conversation post haste and because I had his teacher’s support as well they dropped it. That year his grades came up one to two letters in each subject and his reading improved immensely. The extra help in putting him in quiet corners or going to the library in a cubicle to do his testing really helped. The extra reading help and the encouragement from a strong yet loving teacher was another great advantage for my son.

I am not saying that no child anywhere needs ADD medicine; I just do not think it is the end all and be all of answers for every child that can not sit still and does not want to do their work. I would be thrilled if someday they had a different class for boys than they do for girls or one for active kids versus the ones that can sit and be still because all of us learn differently and at different rates of speed.

What I am trying to say is that as parents we should do all that we can to ensure our children are put in the right programs and taught in the most effective way. If we do not get deeply involved they will get lost in the system. I know that we can not all afford expensive testing for our children on our own but I do know that if you do just a little research you can find free testing like I did at the local university. I did use insurance for the psychologist but I am sure there are ways to get a child tested outside of the school system so that you will have all the information to present to those special needs committees that you may be called in front of regarding your child.

Meeting with their teachers and being a participant in their education costs you nothing but time but lets the teachers know how much you care and that you have a desire to help and not let your child get lost in the system. Sometimes this will require a change of schools or it may require home schooling in parts of the country where there are no other options. But as for me my child is worth all the extra work and investigation into alternatives. He is now a young adult and has successfully gotten through high school and has even thanked me for getting him extra help with reading because he is a beautiful reader and feels sorry for those kids who are struggling. But at the same time he gets a bit miffed at me because he graduated at age nineteen because of his two year stint in Kindergarten. He asked me, “What did I do wrong? Put the wrong peg in the wrong hole?” And then he grins and it makes everything all worth while.

 

**Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.

The People They Interview on the News Have Children

If you haven’t read everything I have ever posted, why the hell not?

good teacherJust kidding.

Sort of.

But, indeed, if you haven’t read everything I have ever posted, you might not know that I am a teacher in my spare time from being a mother.

I engage in the rampant arguing about the worth of the education professions mostly just in my own mind, but I did want to share something for all of the anti-teacher assholes who troll blogs and websites lurking and waiting for the opportunity to fill up precious lines of “reply” spaces spewing hatred and complaints about “overpaid” “babysitters” and worthless union stooges.

I suppose even those of you who are in support of your local (and not-so-local, too) teachers can listen up as well, though.

Everyone loves to talk about whether teachers are worth their salt.  Opinions are like assholes, though, right?  Everybody’s got one.

Instead of opinion, I thought I would offer you some facts.

1.  Two days ago, I attempted to call the parent of a failing 14-year old student in my class.  She didn’t answer and I left a message.  She did return my correspondence, though, just a few minutes later with an e-mail.  She apologized for not being able to get to the phone in time since she was in the “laboratory.”

2.  In a meeting with a parent about her son’s poor behavior in class this fall, the mother smacked her son in the back of his head and told him to “stop be bein’ so ignant.”  I assume she meant “ignorant,” but even then, I could have used that example to prove the same point.

3.  During a field trip, a local businessperson spoke to a group of high school students, but apologized that she wasn’t normally very good at public speaking.  She said that she wasn’t very “ellocant.”

4.  In a meeting with a parent about why it was important to encourage a high school student to read her English assignments at home, the mother argued that the teacher (a colleague of mine) needed to “settle the fuck down” because there was no point of talking about that “Julia Caesar stuff like it was real or somethin’.”

5. At my former job, two parents were once called in to the main office to pick up their children who had been involved in a pretty nasty fight in the hallway.  In the middle of the office, these two mothers (adults, mind you) got into a fistfight of their own.  They were arrested by local police.

6.  At a park a few summers back, I was near enough to a family reunion happening in a pavilion nearby to overhear a group of what seemed like aunts and uncles teaching a 4- or 5-year old boy to say hilarious things like “back the fuck off me, bro” and “don’t be a pussy.”  They laughed raucously (which was the primary reason my attention was pulled in their direction to begin with).

sign7.  When a coworker called home last week to explain that a freshman student would be receiving a referral to our school counselor for masturbating in class, the boy’s mother yelled at the teacher (a coworker of mine) that her son “don’t do dat.”

Sadlly, I could go on.

But, I feel bad about the world right now, so I am not going to.

When I see a child for 42 minutes a day for 188 days in a calendar year, but he is exposed to all of THAT for much of the rest of the time in his home and in his community, I am not sure how to counteract the damage.  It’s like running at an exploding volcano with a sand pail and then having people traipse all over the internet later talking about what a fucking douche you were for not doing “your job” right in cleaning up the mess.

So, if you will excuse me, I need to go put my feet up, collect a giant paycheck and do my nails while your kids play Candy-Pet-Makeover-Farm-Saga on their iPhones until dismissal.

Is it June yet?

Tgood teacheroday, I shall further my rant about teenagers.

In case, you haven’t caught up with my blog in a while, or…um…ever before, you might not know that I am a high school teacher and a proud momma of two little ones.  I have always said that I do not understand kids at all until they turn about 13.  Most other parents likely cringe at the thought of their children going through the teen years, but I honestly have no idea what to do or say to most 3-year olds.  I just don’t have that piece of DNA in me that makes me want to sit on the floor and play with Play Doh.

I “get” teenagers.  I don’t always like them.  But, I get them.

However…

It is nearly June.  And, if you have never taught you don’t know how much you just kinda want to get away from these kids by this point in the year.

I spent some time in a “real job” in an office.  I hated it.  HATED IT.  But, I have to say that I never wanted to get the fuck away from my coworkers with quite the same desperate passion as I truly want to get away from students after 9 months together.

Indeed.

Indeed.

My coworkers never complained that “someone farted.”  And, they never broke my box fan during a before-class wrestling match that involved a disagreement over a purple pen.  They also never surrounded my desk and yelled my name at me over and over again even though I was clearly talking with someone else.  Their parents never called me to scream at me, threatening to have me fired since they “pay my salary.”  I never broke up a fist fight between my coworkers.  My office was always air-conditioned.  I got an hour for lunch at my office (not the 12 minutes I end up with by the time I microwave leftovers, find something to drink, go down the hall to the lounge and sit down).  I could pee whenever I wanted.  I never had to repeat what I wanted others to do, like, a MILLION times.  My day started at a normal time, not 7:06.  No one ever threatened to slash my tires.  No one ever looked me in the face and said, “I am going to fucking kill you, bitch.”

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I 100%, without question love my work.  There is absolutely nothing I would rather be doing.  I did some soul searching while at that terrible office job.  I bought a book called “What Should I Do With My Life?” in the hopes that it would tell me what to do with my life.  It didn’t help one damn bit.  But, I did end up back in a classroom and it was the best goddamn decision I have made in a very, very long time.

ftsMoms and dads may complain about their children.  This does not mean that they do not love them.

I happen to have 102 children.  I complain about them all the time.  But, I do still love them.

But, now it is your turn to deal with them for a few months.  Get me outta here.

Parenting a “Difficult” Child

I am a teacher.  And a mom.  So, my days are full of “Be nice!,” “Go get a tissue!,” and “Keep your hands to yourself!”.

And, mind you, I teach high school students.

But, I am also the mother of two spirited little boys.  The older of the two is in preschool right now.

Now, I am going to sound like a total asshole here pretty soon.  Feel free to stop reading right now if you are easily offended.

In my career with high school students, I have tackled subjects from eugenics to Descartes to anitdisestablishmentarianism.  We’ve discussed psychology, faith and String Theory.  We read Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Orwell.

"Your little 'angel,' Prudence, colored on the wall today.  You don't LET her do that at home, DO YOU?  Please make her stop coloring on walls."

“Your little ‘angel,’ Prudence, colored on the wall today. You don’t LET her do that at home, DO YOU? Please make her stop coloring on walls.”

Now, I do not believe that my job is necessarily more important than that of an Early Childhood educator.  I don’t even know enough about Early Childhood to even speak intelligently about what it is that they do all day, though on more than one occasion I have snobbily remarked that they pretty much just pass out crayons.

But, my experience has led me to conclude that teachers of children of the ages 4 to about 7 just may try to blur the line between authority figure and parent a bit more than I find comfortable.

Whew.  That was better than I thought it was going to be.  First Grade teachers everywhere are probably a little pissed, but I am proud that I managed to keep my assholery to a minimum so far, though.

Let’s dissect a bit, however.

Personally, I do not feel as though my child’s teacher has the right or the responsibility to help me to “learn” to parent “correctly.”  Now, believe you me, I would love to tell a few parents of a few ninth graders I know about how to do a better job at home.  I’d probably be fired for saying some of the things I’ve been thinking.  So, I am not sure why the teacher of a preschool student, for example, should be offering “advice,” either, really.  In fact, I find it to be pretty inappropriate.  And, frankly, if I want your fucking opinion, I will be sure to ask for it.

In the past year, my son’s teacher has done a phenomenal job of developing curriculum, keeping academic rigor high, and allowing him to develop intellectually to his own potential.  She has also managed to send me “helpful” articles, suggestions, and daily “updates” that discuss the minutia of his behavioral “issues.”  She has also lassoed our part-time nanny into picking him up early from school on days (which I have paid — a whole lot — for him to be present) when she finds his behavior too trying.  Two days ago, she called the nanny 15 minutes into the school day to warn her that she may be calling to have our son removed from school that day.  She did not end up requiring him to leave, though.

Before I had kids, I always sort of wanted parents of my students to know when their kids were real dicks.  I’d write down the blasphemous, racist, insensitive, vulgar, sexist bullshit they would spew word-for-word on detention forms.  I wanted to quote those little snots.  I wanted parents to know that they were raising animals.  I wanted some smug mom to know that her baby wasn’t the angel she thought he was.

Sounds right to me.

Sounds right to me.

Now, as a mom, I now realize that we all know that our kids aren’t perfect.  We all realize that WE aren’t perfect, either.  I suck at math.  But, I am pretty bomb at Wheel of Fortune, for example.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

So, I feel now as though a child’s perceived weaknesses need not be recapped, reiterated, written about, reviewed and discussed freaking constantly.

TEACHER:  “Your kid doesn’t really always play very nicely with others.”

ME:  “Neither do I.”

And, yet I find myself concerned about the potential stigma for my child and for me if he should be labeled (albeit secretly in a faculty lounge somewhere where ladies in holiday-themed sweaters, gossip about MY kid, repeat the crazy, out-of-context weirdness he learned from his father and me, and share strategies on where to buy the best scented ink-stamp pads) “difficult.”

"You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being 'line leader.'  I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario."

“You know, Little Felix has not been able to take turns being ‘line leader.’ I totally credit your inadequacy as a parent in this scenario.”

Am I parenting a “difficult” child?  I don’t think so.  He is his own little man and his ideas don’t always mesh with mine.  His needs and desires don’t always align with mine.  His interests don’t always connect with mine.  And, every teacher isn’t going to think he is fabulous (just like every teacher isn’t going to think he’s a ghoul, either).

I go on the Super Nanny website.  I have “house rules.”  I set boundaries.  I have clear and pre-defined consequences for negative behaviors.  I have instituted a positive behavioral reward system.  I have consistent expectations and have regular talks about respect, kindness, teamwork, sharing, calmness, taking turns and showing love.  My husband is very much a co-parent in all of this, too.  My kid is absolutely getting a united front before him.

We’re doing things right.

And, now I see that many, many, many parents of the “difficult” children I have taught were doing things right, too.  It wasn’t my fault as a teacher that a kid failed a class or misbehaved in school any more than it was the parent’s fault.  Our kids are all given tools to survive in the world.  They choose, willfully, if, how, and when they will use them.

You are not parenting a difficult child.  Neither am I.  And, don’t let a teacher, healthcare worker, therapist, or judge tell you otherwise.  But, when problems seem consistent, something we’re doing to manage our children’s behaviors and abilities isn’t working.

And, you should feel free and welcome to ask the appropriate experts for their advice on how to approach things in a more meaningful and potentially successful way.

But, no one really should feel the freedom to provide you with that “advice” if it is not solicited.

Feel free to tell your teacher that you would love to have a phone call at work if your child is, say, bleeding from the head, projectile vomiting, fist-fighting in class, or making terroristic threats to other youngsters.  He or she should not call you at the office, though, to tell you that your daughter seems to need more structured playtime, your son should learn to share his toys, or your twins cannot stop pinching each other.

And, as a teacher, it is my JOB to deal with your crazy kids between the hours of 7:36 and 3:06.  It is unacceptable for me to tell you to come get your kid at 8:00 because I just can’t deal with her anymore.  I am paid to deal with her.

Labels are always wrong.  Except on Campbell’s soup.  We need those.  I don’t like surprises.  But, labels don’t belong on our kids.  Unless I ask you how you’d label him, you should keep your judgmental attitude to your damn self.

We all know that there are crappy parents out there.  Some of that bad parenting MAY cause some of our schools to contain horrifying little monsters.  But, we should be clear that it is not a teacher’s job to judge a parent’s worth or ability.  We can THINK anything we want as teachers.  But, under no circumstances should I share my opinions of your shortcomings with you.

Even though more parents than I can count have shared THEIR opinions about MY teaching shortcomings with me…

To be (myself) or not to be (and bake cookies from scratch insead)

Since becoming a mother, I have grown.

I mean, I haven’t grown UP, per se, nor have I really become a better person, truthfully.  But, I have learned a thing or two about a thing or two.

Several months ago, I came to terms with the kind of mother I really was, regardless of the kind of mother I might hope or wish to be.  And in the time since, I have found great humor in re-learning over and over (sometimes the hard way) who I really was.

Totally.

However, I find myself still wondering how to reconcile who I am versus who I think the world wants all of us moms to be.

Before having kids, I worried that I would make a lousy mother because I never really liked to play in the yard, get dirty, crawl on the floor, make baby talk, design handprint turkey paintings or use Play Doh.

It turns out that I still don’t like any of those things.  I mean, have you ever SMELLED Play Doh?  Jesus.

But, I really feel as though I will rock at tailgating for varsity football games, hosting sleepovers, chaperoning dances and giving advice to wayward teenagers whose own moms aren’t cool enough to tell about experiments with Zima and Jolly Ranchers or about brewing girl feuds on Instagram.

I don’t know why the Universe didn’t just allow me to give birth to 14-year olds.  I don’t know what to do with my children until that point.  Right now they are running around the room using a remote control and an old telephone to “zap” one another in some sort of faux galactic war.  I don’t really know how to take part in this.  But, they seem fine without me taking part in it at all.  Some piece of my heart, though, tells me that I am supposed to pick up that hairbrush over there, tell them that it is the ultimate celestial laser launch rocket that was invented to destroy the galactic war once and for all, run after my tiny fighting space pirates, and declare my interstellar victory as we all fall, laughing, into a pile of pillows and stuffed bears.  I could pretend, but in the end, this is just not who I am at my core.

So, I wonder if I am supposed to fake it.  Or if I am supposed to just go ahead and be me.  I want to be the awesome fun mom who dresses in a superhero cape or mentions building a snowman before the kids do.  But, I wonder if this is contrary to what I have been teaching my children about how to be honest about themselves.

IS this really what most be “above all” else?

The lessons I teach my children about being true to themselves, I believe, is one of the most critical lessons I can give them.  Am I supposed to follow my own advice or do a “better” job at being “better” with kids?  And, what does that really mean, anyway?

I know that no matter what I do, my children will eventually end up blaming me for something in some therapy session years down the road.  That’s what we all end up doing, anyway, right?  But, I would like to think that I did everything I could to send the right messages, be the right example and provide the best childhood for them that I could.

That’s a Wilde thought for ya.

Until then, I am going to go find my youngest kid some rainboots so that we can all go for a walk and splash in puddles.  I will probably whine on the inside that I am cold and dirty and cranky.  But, the kids will have smiles.  And, tomorrow, I can figure out whether I need to learn how to make Christmas ornaments out of pipe cleaners and Cheerios or not.

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