Tom Rademacher (Mr. Rad to his students) is an English teacher in Minneapolis, MN, and in May of 2014 was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. He teaches writing. He writes about teaching.


Contact Tom: email: mrtomrad@gmail.com, Twitter: @mrtomrad
Reblogged from misterrad  17,154 notes
misterrad:

The Myth of the Disrupted Classroom
When I was a Junior in high school, my girlfriend was sent home from school for wearing inappropriate clothing.  She was wearing layers of slips on top of each other that, together, broke no established rule of our dress code.  She was told by our principal, formerly the principal of a parochial girl’s school, that her dress was more appropriate “for a garden party,” and therefore inappropriate for learning.  She sat in the principal’s office and told the principal that she was being singled out because her clothes were weird, and because her clothes didn’t cost a lot of money.  She was offered a sweater to cover her arms and go back to class.  She refused.  She got into her gold Cadillac and drove home for the day.
I married that girl.  People should marry those kinds of girls when they find them, and if they can get those kinds of girls to fall for them.
Now I am a teacher.  I went into teaching to, of all things, teach.  I’m not sure I went into teaching to be a Teacher.  Being a Teacher feels like teaching, plus all the other stuff.  I learned a lot from great educators and mentors in my life.  I remember hating most of my Teachers.  I remember Teachers discussing the clothing of students and scoffing and “oh my god did you see”ing.  I say I don’t care what kids wear.  I remember Teachers talking about a disruption to learning.  
I can’t tell you how much I don’t care what anyone wears to school.
I can’t tell you how few times I’ve ever seen clothing of any kind disrupt class in any way.  In fact, let me say this:  I have never seen clothing of any kind disrupt class in any way.
I’ve certainly seen disruption, pretty massive disruption, caused by enforcing dress codes.  Students often, and understandably, react poorly to being told that clothes they have on or body parts they have make them inappropriate for school that day.  There are melt-downs, to be sure, and indignation.  There is yelling and arguing and many things that are massive disruptions to learning.  Sometimes kids go home for the whole day, which is a whole lot of learning not happening.
I’ve seen administrators enter active classrooms, walk around the room sticking their heads under desks to look at the length of skirts and shorts.  Really, in the real world, I’ve seen this.  I’ve seen girls asked to stand up in front of classes, looked up and down and then told, “yeah, I guess you’re ok.  Sit back down.”  I’ve watched administrators leave, and then cared for embarrassed, shamed, angry students.  I’ve seen whole hours and whole days of learning disrupted by enforcing dress codes, and that doesn’t take in to account the emotional damage done to students by a system that should be protecting them.
I’m certainly uncomfortable with the message we are sending.  Kids are self-conscious enough.  Girls especially have enough people commenting on how they look and holding them to an often impossible and moving target of appropriateness, attractiveness, and self expression.  I don’t like the message of a school telling someone that the clothes they put on their own bodies made them a problem for the whole school they attend, so much so that they need to go home, or cover up.  So much so that they need to feel shame.  Shame disrupts learning more than skirts.  I promise.
We’re more comfortable confronting the girl wearing the thing, and not the boys who say the things about her.  We are comfortable putting the blame for the actions of boys onto the girls around them.
We are no one to say what is right or wrong, appropriate or not.  We are no one to say how kids should act or dress or what jobs they should wish for or what friends they should have.  We should give them all the information we have, any information that will help keep them safe and successful and sane, and then we should let them make their own choices.
Schools are not moral authorities.  When we create judgement calls about things like appropriate or not, acceptable or not, we leave room for each teacher and administrator to judge a student against their own moral code.  When we enforce dress codes, we leave room for every staff member to address students that make them feel uncomfortable.
To be honest, I’m not sure why we act as authorities at all.  As a school, we offer something so precious and so valuable.  We offer the skills and ideas, we offer a path to success.  So why do we spend so much time tracking tardies, enforcing behavior and dress codes, demanding silence and a level of respect that is reverential at best and fear-based at worst.
Anyone who knows enough teenagers knows that the more rules you give them that don’t make sense, the happier they will be doing the opposite of what you tell them.  The more you shake your head and act stern, the more they will see you as someone to disobey.
We have this phenomenal power as teachers, as workers in schools.  We control this massive amount of time students are required to be with us.  We control their grades, their access to opportunities, the experience of many years of their lives.  We control great portions of their self image, of their confidence, of their skill levels.
We don’t need to grab any more power than we already have.  We don’t need to feel like we have to control every single thing to maintain the power we already have.  We have important things to do all day.  We don’t need to spend time on other stuff.

misterrad:

The Myth of the Disrupted Classroom

When I was a Junior in high school, my girlfriend was sent home from school for wearing inappropriate clothing.  She was wearing layers of slips on top of each other that, together, broke no established rule of our dress code.  She was told by our principal, formerly the principal of a parochial girl’s school, that her dress was more appropriate “for a garden party,” and therefore inappropriate for learning.  She sat in the principal’s office and told the principal that she was being singled out because her clothes were weird, and because her clothes didn’t cost a lot of money.  She was offered a sweater to cover her arms and go back to class.  She refused.  She got into her gold Cadillac and drove home for the day.

I married that girl.  People should marry those kinds of girls when they find them, and if they can get those kinds of girls to fall for them.

Now I am a teacher.  I went into teaching to, of all things, teach.  I’m not sure I went into teaching to be a Teacher.  Being a Teacher feels like teaching, plus all the other stuff.  I learned a lot from great educators and mentors in my life.  I remember hating most of my Teachers.  I remember Teachers discussing the clothing of students and scoffing and “oh my god did you see”ing.  I say I don’t care what kids wear.  I remember Teachers talking about a disruption to learning.  

I can’t tell you how much I don’t care what anyone wears to school.

I can’t tell you how few times I’ve ever seen clothing of any kind disrupt class in any way.  In fact, let me say this:  I have never seen clothing of any kind disrupt class in any way.

I’ve certainly seen disruption, pretty massive disruption, caused by enforcing dress codes.  Students often, and understandably, react poorly to being told that clothes they have on or body parts they have make them inappropriate for school that day.  There are melt-downs, to be sure, and indignation.  There is yelling and arguing and many things that are massive disruptions to learning.  Sometimes kids go home for the whole day, which is a whole lot of learning not happening.

I’ve seen administrators enter active classrooms, walk around the room sticking their heads under desks to look at the length of skirts and shorts.  Really, in the real world, I’ve seen this.  I’ve seen girls asked to stand up in front of classes, looked up and down and then told, “yeah, I guess you’re ok.  Sit back down.”  I’ve watched administrators leave, and then cared for embarrassed, shamed, angry students.  I’ve seen whole hours and whole days of learning disrupted by enforcing dress codes, and that doesn’t take in to account the emotional damage done to students by a system that should be protecting them.

I’m certainly uncomfortable with the message we are sending.  Kids are self-conscious enough.  Girls especially have enough people commenting on how they look and holding them to an often impossible and moving target of appropriateness, attractiveness, and self expression.  I don’t like the message of a school telling someone that the clothes they put on their own bodies made them a problem for the whole school they attend, so much so that they need to go home, or cover up.  So much so that they need to feel shame.  Shame disrupts learning more than skirts.  I promise.

We’re more comfortable confronting the girl wearing the thing, and not the boys who say the things about her.  We are comfortable putting the blame for the actions of boys onto the girls around them.

We are no one to say what is right or wrong, appropriate or not.  We are no one to say how kids should act or dress or what jobs they should wish for or what friends they should have.  We should give them all the information we have, any information that will help keep them safe and successful and sane, and then we should let them make their own choices.

Schools are not moral authorities.  When we create judgement calls about things like appropriate or not, acceptable or not, we leave room for each teacher and administrator to judge a student against their own moral code.  When we enforce dress codes, we leave room for every staff member to address students that make them feel uncomfortable.

To be honest, I’m not sure why we act as authorities at all.  As a school, we offer something so precious and so valuable.  We offer the skills and ideas, we offer a path to success.  So why do we spend so much time tracking tardies, enforcing behavior and dress codes, demanding silence and a level of respect that is reverential at best and fear-based at worst.

Anyone who knows enough teenagers knows that the more rules you give them that don’t make sense, the happier they will be doing the opposite of what you tell them.  The more you shake your head and act stern, the more they will see you as someone to disobey.

We have this phenomenal power as teachers, as workers in schools.  We control this massive amount of time students are required to be with us.  We control their grades, their access to opportunities, the experience of many years of their lives.  We control great portions of their self image, of their confidence, of their skill levels.

We don’t need to grab any more power than we already have.  We don’t need to feel like we have to control every single thing to maintain the power we already have.  We have important things to do all day.  We don’t need to spend time on other stuff.

Reblogged from misterrad  58 notes
misterrad:


So, You Think You’re a Terrible Teacher

 
 
So, we’re a few weeks into school now.  Let me guess, you don’t think it’s going that well.  You’re through your first mini-unit, the one you planned over the last month of summer, and you’re into your first round of lessons you planned the day before.  Let me guess, it’s not super smooth yet.
Your kids aren’t listening, your kids aren’t learning.  Your kids aren’t excited, your kids don’t like you.  
You are working as hard as you feel like a person can work, and things get better for a day, and then worse for a day, and then there’s a day that’s just kindof ok.  You feel like there’s something you aren’t doing that you should be doing, like there are things you do that you shouldn’t, and if you could figure them out, everything would get better.  You don’t know what those things are.
So, let me guess, you think you’re a terrible teacher.
You might be.
Really, you might be.  I don’t know.  I don’t know you and I’ve never watched you teach.  You might just suck at this.  You might want to figure out something else to do with your life.  You felt like this was the only thing you were ever going to be really good at, and it turns out you suck.  That has to hurt, but it’s probably best to accept it, move on, maybe think about culinary school.  That seems nice too.  Especially if you’re a terrible teacher.
I doubt you are though.
Really.
I don’t think there are that many terrible teachers out there.  I think most of those teachers think they’re doing everything right anyway, which is why they’re ultimately so bad.  I think teaching is just really hard.  
It’s hard for everyone.  It’s even hard for people who are doing it well.  It’s especially hard for people who are doing it well.  I’ve been teaching for longer than I’ve been doing any other thing in my life.  I’m pretty cocky about it.  I think I’m pretty damn good.  
I’m through my first few weeks of my eighth year of teaching, and want to know how it feels?  It feels like my kids aren’t listening, my kids aren’t learning, my kids aren’t excited, my kids don’t like me.  It feels like I’m a terrible teacher.
Why don’t I act like it?  I’m cocky.  I’m stupid.  I probably care less about a couple bad weeks now that I’ve taught a few hundred weeks than I would have when I’d only taught just those first couple.
I’m not a terrible teacher.  It feels like it sometimes though.  Because every year is a new year.  Every student is a student I haven’t met before, even if I taught them last year.  Every student is a mushy messed up human just like me, and we have to figure each other out for awhile.  Every year starts with new-year franticness and sometimes my class just doesn’t rank compared to who’s cute now, who’s going out now, who’s fighting, who’s new, who’s bi, who got into what trouble over the summer.  Also, no matter what I do, some students aren’t ever going to care a lot about high school, which is probably because high school is mainly just dumb stuff you have to do.  Still, I have them nearly an hour a day, and my constant lack of getting them to care makes me feel like a failure an hour a day.  Sometimes, students are just Seniors. 
But I know I’m not a terrible teacher, even though I fail at teaching pretty often.  I know I’m not a terrible teacher, because the test is easy, because I made the test up.  Think you’re a terrible teacher?  Find out.

So, You Think You’re a Terrible Teacher… The Test.
(Check all that apply.  You can check more than one.)

CATEGORY ONE
___   I don’t care about teaching.
___   I don’t care about students.
___   I like making people feel bad, especially young people.
___   I’m thinking about going into Administration.
CATEGORY TWO
___   I care about teaching.
___   I care about students.
___   I try hard.
___   I mess up, then try to figure out why.
___   I try to be interesting.
___   I try not to let myself feel too important.
___   I take breaks.
___   I apologize.
___   Sometimes, I wake up at three in the morning, and I can’t go to sleep, because I’m thinking about some dumb thing I said or some awful thing a student said, and I think about what I could do the next day to make it better in some way.
___   I have fun.
___   I may carry grudges, but I try not to act like it.
___   I know at least three decent jokes.
___   I’m pretty smart.
___   I will go see student performances, even if it’s choir or a musical.
___   I do no harm.
___   I do some harm, but I feel bad about it, and then try to fix it.
___   I try to keep things relevant, even when they aren’t.
___   I see school through student eyes sometimes.
___   I reflect.
___   I’m honest.
___   I’m respectful.
___   I’m trustful.
___   I’m realistic.

So, are you a terrible teacher?  Tally up your score and find out!
CATEGORY ONE:  If you have checked any items in this category, you suck.  Go do something else.  Ok, fine, if you only checked the fourth, but not the other three, be an administrator.  Whatever.
CATEGORY TWO:  Did you check the first two?  Great.  You’re set.  Three’s not bad either.  The rest of the things will probably help, but are wildly biased towards my own brand of teaching.
Teaching is just really hard.  Sometimes you’ll feel like you suck, and sometimes you legitimately will.  Do you care?  You’ll be fine.  Do you care a lot?  You’ll probably be great. 

misterrad:

So, You Think You’re a Terrible Teacher

 

 

So, we’re a few weeks into school now.  Let me guess, you don’t think it’s going that well.  You’re through your first mini-unit, the one you planned over the last month of summer, and you’re into your first round of lessons you planned the day before.  Let me guess, it’s not super smooth yet.

Your kids aren’t listening, your kids aren’t learning.  Your kids aren’t excited, your kids don’t like you.  

You are working as hard as you feel like a person can work, and things get better for a day, and then worse for a day, and then there’s a day that’s just kindof ok.  You feel like there’s something you aren’t doing that you should be doing, like there are things you do that you shouldn’t, and if you could figure them out, everything would get better.  You don’t know what those things are.

So, let me guess, you think you’re a terrible teacher.

You might be.

Really, you might be.  I don’t know.  I don’t know you and I’ve never watched you teach.  You might just suck at this.  You might want to figure out something else to do with your life.  You felt like this was the only thing you were ever going to be really good at, and it turns out you suck.  That has to hurt, but it’s probably best to accept it, move on, maybe think about culinary school.  That seems nice too.  Especially if you’re a terrible teacher.

I doubt you are though.

Really.

I don’t think there are that many terrible teachers out there.  I think most of those teachers think they’re doing everything right anyway, which is why they’re ultimately so bad.  I think teaching is just really hard.  

It’s hard for everyone.  It’s even hard for people who are doing it well.  It’s especially hard for people who are doing it well.  I’ve been teaching for longer than I’ve been doing any other thing in my life.  I’m pretty cocky about it.  I think I’m pretty damn good.  

I’m through my first few weeks of my eighth year of teaching, and want to know how it feels?  It feels like my kids aren’t listening, my kids aren’t learning, my kids aren’t excited, my kids don’t like me.  It feels like I’m a terrible teacher.

Why don’t I act like it?  I’m cocky.  I’m stupid.  I probably care less about a couple bad weeks now that I’ve taught a few hundred weeks than I would have when I’d only taught just those first couple.

I’m not a terrible teacher.  It feels like it sometimes though.  Because every year is a new year.  Every student is a student I haven’t met before, even if I taught them last year.  Every student is a mushy messed up human just like me, and we have to figure each other out for awhile.  Every year starts with new-year franticness and sometimes my class just doesn’t rank compared to who’s cute now, who’s going out now, who’s fighting, who’s new, who’s bi, who got into what trouble over the summer.  Also, no matter what I do, some students aren’t ever going to care a lot about high school, which is probably because high school is mainly just dumb stuff you have to do.  Still, I have them nearly an hour a day, and my constant lack of getting them to care makes me feel like a failure an hour a day.  Sometimes, students are just Seniors.

But I know I’m not a terrible teacher, even though I fail at teaching pretty often.  I know I’m not a terrible teacher, because the test is easy, because I made the test up.  Think you’re a terrible teacher?  Find out.


So, You Think You’re a Terrible Teacher… The Test.

(Check all that apply.  You can check more than one.)


CATEGORY ONE

___   I don’t care about teaching.

___   I don’t care about students.

___   I like making people feel bad, especially young people.

___   I’m thinking about going into Administration.

CATEGORY TWO

___   I care about teaching.

___   I care about students.

___   I try hard.

___   I mess up, then try to figure out why.

___   I try to be interesting.

___   I try not to let myself feel too important.

___   I take breaks.

___   I apologize.

___   Sometimes, I wake up at three in the morning, and I can’t go to sleep, because I’m thinking about some dumb thing I said or some awful thing a student said, and I think about what I could do the next day to make it better in some way.

___   I have fun.

___   I may carry grudges, but I try not to act like it.

___   I know at least three decent jokes.

___   I’m pretty smart.

___   I will go see student performances, even if it’s choir or a musical.

___   I do no harm.

___   I do some harm, but I feel bad about it, and then try to fix it.

___   I try to keep things relevant, even when they aren’t.

___   I see school through student eyes sometimes.

___   I reflect.

___   I’m honest.

___   I’m respectful.

___   I’m trustful.

___   I’m realistic.


So, are you a terrible teacher?  Tally up your score and find out!

CATEGORY ONE:  If you have checked any items in this category, you suck.  Go do something else.  Ok, fine, if you only checked the fourth, but not the other three, be an administrator.  Whatever.

CATEGORY TWO:  Did you check the first two?  Great.  You’re set.  Three’s not bad either.  The rest of the things will probably help, but are wildly biased towards my own brand of teaching.

Teaching is just really hard.  Sometimes you’ll feel like you suck, and sometimes you legitimately will.  Do you care?  You’ll be fine.  Do you care a lot?  You’ll probably be great. 

THE BUTTONS ON OUR BAGS

There’s a lot of lies that get told about Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a lot of exaggerations and over-simplifications that get told about the reform movement in general.  I hear them fairly often as a fairly visible teacher who is union-active and a proud member of E4E.  There’s a lot of things said about what I believe and why, and they are often not particularly kind-spirited.  I get it.  It’s really easy to fight against something that is obviously awful.  It’s so much harder to seek nuance and humanity in the arguments of people you disagree with.

For me, it’s simple.  I go where teachers are gathering because I like to be involved.  I go where work is getting done because I see a great need.  I don’t believe schools are as good as they could be, and I am energized by new ideas.
Still, I wasn’t surprised when, in an online forum for Minnesota teachers I started this year, a discussion of ideas was diverted for a moment so some assumptions about how and who I work with and why could be made.  At first, I did what I generally do, and tried to re-focus the conversation on ideas, solutions, and opportunities for cooperation.  I was content at first to let the undermining of my work and ideas sit, and offering to meet anyone in the real-human world who’d really like to have that conversation.
As I gathered no response for a face-to-face meeting, I felt myself going through the weekend feeling occasionally icky about the tone and assumptions being directed at me earlier.  As I started typing a response, I realized I had quite a bit to say, and a comment box on facebook was maybe not the best venues for 1500 words of self defense, and so I’m pulling it out of the closed forum and onto my public blog.  So, what follows is my response to the questions asked by one commenter (as a fair representation of the things often said about me) point by point. 
 

“ I wonder how you feel we can “work through our unions” when you have signed an E4E pledge that promises to work to undermine some of the most important gains our unions have fought for,”

Yes, I believe tenure should be a significant milestone in a teaching career (that’s what the declaration says, though I’ve heard time and time again people say that E4E was attempting to eliminate it). I’m not the biggest fan of everything on the declaration, but complete agreement in that declaration has never been a prerequisite for involvement or demanded by their leadership.  I do believe that the tenure/seniority/due-process system could use some work. I also believe that if teachers don’t take control of the reform of these things, we run the risk of losing them entirely.  I do not believe that my belief of those things preclude my ability to be involved and working through my union.  
I’m sure you don’t mean to, but I do feel as if I’m being simultaneously berated for not working through the union and being told that I have no place working in the union (or, rather, that I should always work exclusively through the union and also always agree with everyone there).  
The union is a democratic institution that I pay a fair amount of money to be a member of.  The idea that a teacher would need to prescribe to any particular set of beliefs to be active seems contrary to its very nature.  The union, and all democratic institutions, I believe, are at their strongest when actively encouraging the respectful exchange of many points of view, including people who say, “hey, this thing that we’re doing, maybe we could do it differently.”  To this end, I reject the notion that ideas or actions from union members can be “pro” or “anti” union.  They may be “pro” or “anti” change or evolution, they may be good ideas or bad ideas, or they may just be people who disagree about how to best keep the union strong.
We can disagree and still work together.  Our unions can and should do a better job at including members with a wide range of beliefs, and encouraging respectful exchanges of those ideas.

“When an organization like E4E accepts millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, a corporate powerhouse behind some of the worst teacher-bashing and most destructive policies of recent years:”

It doesn’t really bother me where the money comes from, and perhaps that makes me short-sighted and naive.  The Gates Foundation gives money to lots of groups (including the NEA Foundation and, until recently, the AFT). More than national organization structures and the assumption of secret agendas, I look at the actual work E4E Minnesota is doing, and thus far, they are doing work I am proud to be a part of (work related to the DREAM act, recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching force, QComp, and connecting teachers directly with decision makers).  The voices of its teachers and staff are not all voices I agree with all of the time, but if I waited for a group to come around that agreed with me on everything, I wouldn’t have anywhere to do work in my lifetime.   
I pay my union dues gladly, and am very active in my local and state union, but if I ever stop paying to be there, I will no longer be allowed to participate.  I get that, but it’s nice sometimes to be in a room and talk to teachers who work at private, charter, and parochial schools, who are no better or worse as human beings or as teachers who work at public schools, and who also have important ideas to contribute to conversations about education. 

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a grassroots, teacher-led organization without a larger corporate agenda.”

I can’t promise you that it’s not.  I don’t sit in every meeting, or know the intentions of every person.  I don’t pretend to know or understand everything, which is why I am always open to listening.  What I know is that when I have spoken for E4E at events, I have never been told what to say, not by anyone.  I know the E4E MN team has asked for and used teacher input to not only identify their goals for the year, but how the work will look to achieve them. When E4E released its first policy paper recommending successful strategies for QComp, I specifically asked many teacher members of the team if they felt the final report was an accurate reflection of the teachers who helped create it.  They said it was, and were incredibly proud of the final product.   
My personal, local experience in the last year is that the local team at E4E cares deeply about students and teachers, and actively works to build teacher voice.  I’ve walked away from every meeting energized about the work I do during the day, and have learned things and made connections that have made me better at that work.  If things are ever otherwise, I will do my work elsewhere.

I’m working within my member-funded union to make that change rather than allying with corporate interests bent on busting that union.

I’ve been to a lot of E4E meetings where teacher unions are discussed.  That discussion is based around encouraging members to become involved in their unions, explaining the importance of strong unions, as well as sharing the history of unions nationally and in Minnesota.  I have never, not once, heard a discussion at an E4E meeting or with a member of E4E about making unions less strong.  Never.
Between unions and E4E in Minnesota, the attacks have been one-sided, and when I look my students in the eye, the battle-line drawing, especially among teachers, feels completely ridiculous.  There are bigger battles, battles that need our cooperation.   We share so many goals (better, more rational funding for schools (most especially for early childhood programs and for schools that serve students living in poverty), a more diverse and actively anti-racist teacher force, more professional respect and a stronger voice for teachers), and the achievement of those goals is more important than a battle to beat down each other.  
There’s a huge group of really dedicated, passionate, intelligent teachers, and a very diverse group of teachers (I mean, really, it’s just about everyone the union wishes was more involved), working within E4E.  I think it’s a bad play for any union, local or state, to say, “we don’t want anything to do with that.”
This response is not a call for everyone to come join E4E, but to at least stop demonizing the teachers who choose to, to be open to collaborating with them when there are shared goals, and to understand there are reasons for teachers to be involved in E4E other than that they are stupid, misled, or seeking the destruction of something you hold dear.  Before I am an E4E member, or a union member, I am a teacher, like you, and only doing what I believe will be the best for my students, as I’m sure we all are. 
I hope this answered questions fairly and without the perception of a counter-attack. I hope that you see room where we can work together as teachers.  How sad would it be if we let the energy of working against each other hurt our ability to work for our kids?

THE BUTTONS ON OUR BAGS

There’s a lot of lies that get told about Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a lot of exaggerations and over-simplifications that get told about the reform movement in general.  I hear them fairly often as a fairly visible teacher who is union-active and a proud member of E4E.  There’s a lot of things said about what I believe and why, and they are often not particularly kind-spirited.  I get it.  It’s really easy to fight against something that is obviously awful.  It’s so much harder to seek nuance and humanity in the arguments of people you disagree with.

For me, it’s simple.  I go where teachers are gathering because I like to be involved.  I go where work is getting done because I see a great need.  I don’t believe schools are as good as they could be, and I am energized by new ideas.

Still, I wasn’t surprised when, in an online forum for Minnesota teachers I started this year, a discussion of ideas was diverted for a moment so some assumptions about how and who I work with and why could be made.  At first, I did what I generally do, and tried to re-focus the conversation on ideas, solutions, and opportunities for cooperation.  I was content at first to let the undermining of my work and ideas sit, and offering to meet anyone in the real-human world who’d really like to have that conversation.

As I gathered no response for a face-to-face meeting, I felt myself going through the weekend feeling occasionally icky about the tone and assumptions being directed at me earlier.  As I started typing a response, I realized I had quite a bit to say, and a comment box on facebook was maybe not the best venues for 1500 words of self defense, and so I’m pulling it out of the closed forum and onto my public blog.  So, what follows is my response to the questions asked by one commenter (as a fair representation of the things often said about me) point by point.

 

I wonder how you feel we can “work through our unions” when you have signed an E4E pledge that promises to work to undermine some of the most important gains our unions have fought for,”



Yes, I believe tenure should be a significant milestone in a teaching career (that’s what the declaration says, though I’ve heard time and time again people say that E4E was attempting to eliminate it). I’m not the biggest fan of everything on the declaration, but complete agreement in that declaration has never been a prerequisite for involvement or demanded by their leadership.  I do believe that the tenure/seniority/due-process system could use some work. I also believe that if teachers don’t take control of the reform of these things, we run the risk of losing them entirely.  I do not believe that my belief of those things preclude my ability to be involved and working through my union.  

I’m sure you don’t mean to, but I do feel as if I’m being simultaneously berated for not working through the union and being told that I have no place working in the union (or, rather, that I should always work exclusively through the union and also always agree with everyone there).  

The union is a democratic institution that I pay a fair amount of money to be a member of.  The idea that a teacher would need to prescribe to any particular set of beliefs to be active seems contrary to its very nature.  The union, and all democratic institutions, I believe, are at their strongest when actively encouraging the respectful exchange of many points of view, including people who say, “hey, this thing that we’re doing, maybe we could do it differently.”  To this end, I reject the notion that ideas or actions from union members can be “pro” or “anti” union.  They may be “pro” or “anti” change or evolution, they may be good ideas or bad ideas, or they may just be people who disagree about how to best keep the union strong.

We can disagree and still work together.  Our unions can and should do a better job at including members with a wide range of beliefs, and encouraging respectful exchanges of those ideas.



“When an organization like E4E accepts millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation, a corporate powerhouse behind some of the worst teacher-bashing and most destructive policies of recent years:”

It doesn’t really bother me where the money comes from, and perhaps that makes me short-sighted and naive.  The Gates Foundation gives money to lots of groups (including the NEA Foundation and, until recently, the AFT). More than national organization structures and the assumption of secret agendas, I look at the actual work E4E Minnesota is doing, and thus far, they are doing work I am proud to be a part of (work related to the DREAM act, recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching force, QComp, and connecting teachers directly with decision makers).  The voices of its teachers and staff are not all voices I agree with all of the time, but if I waited for a group to come around that agreed with me on everything, I wouldn’t have anywhere to do work in my lifetime.   

I pay my union dues gladly, and am very active in my local and state union, but if I ever stop paying to be there, I will no longer be allowed to participate.  I get that, but it’s nice sometimes to be in a room and talk to teachers who work at private, charter, and parochial schools, who are no better or worse as human beings or as teachers who work at public schools, and who also have important ideas to contribute to conversations about education.



“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a grassroots, teacher-led organization without a larger corporate agenda.”

I can’t promise you that it’s not.  I don’t sit in every meeting, or know the intentions of every person.  I don’t pretend to know or understand everything, which is why I am always open to listening.  What I know is that when I have spoken for E4E at events, I have never been told what to say, not by anyone.  I know the E4E MN team has asked for and used teacher input to not only identify their goals for the year, but how the work will look to achieve them. When E4E released its first policy paper recommending successful strategies for QComp, I specifically asked many teacher members of the team if they felt the final report was an accurate reflection of the teachers who helped create it.  They said it was, and were incredibly proud of the final product.   

My personal, local experience in the last year is that the local team at E4E cares deeply about students and teachers, and actively works to build teacher voice.  I’ve walked away from every meeting energized about the work I do during the day, and have learned things and made connections that have made me better at that work.  If things are ever otherwise, I will do my work elsewhere.



I’m working within my member-funded union to make that change rather than allying with corporate interests bent on busting that union.

I’ve been to a lot of E4E meetings where teacher unions are discussed.  That discussion is based around encouraging members to become involved in their unions, explaining the importance of strong unions, as well as sharing the history of unions nationally and in Minnesota.  I have never, not once, heard a discussion at an E4E meeting or with a member of E4E about making unions less strong.  Never.

Between unions and E4E in Minnesota, the attacks have been one-sided, and when I look my students in the eye, the battle-line drawing, especially among teachers, feels completely ridiculous.  There are bigger battles, battles that need our cooperation.   We share so many goals (better, more rational funding for schools (most especially for early childhood programs and for schools that serve students living in poverty), a more diverse and actively anti-racist teacher force, more professional respect and a stronger voice for teachers), and the achievement of those goals is more important than a battle to beat down each other.  

There’s a huge group of really dedicated, passionate, intelligent teachers, and a very diverse group of teachers (I mean, really, it’s just about everyone the union wishes was more involved), working within E4E.  I think it’s a bad play for any union, local or state, to say, “we don’t want anything to do with that.”

This response is not a call for everyone to come join E4E, but to at least stop demonizing the teachers who choose to, to be open to collaborating with them when there are shared goals, and to understand there are reasons for teachers to be involved in E4E other than that they are stupid, misled, or seeking the destruction of something you hold dear.  Before I am an E4E member, or a union member, I am a teacher, like you, and only doing what I believe will be the best for my students, as I’m sure we all are. 

I hope this answered questions fairly and without the perception of a counter-attack. I hope that you see room where we can work together as teachers.  How sad would it be if we let the energy of working against each other hurt our ability to work for our kids?

THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL


Among many rituals at the beginning of the year, the very last is nearly complete.  With the exception of one friend in San Diego who just had a child and a friend from high school I haven’t spoken to in a few years, every adult I know has now asked me, “how was your first day?”  I have answered, invariably, “it was good.”

The conversation has been repeated again and again in the hallways at school this morning.

“How was the first day?”

“Dude, it was good.”  (I’m not sure why we say dude)

There are many, many things about the first day that were, in fact, good, dude.  It was great to see very many of the kids again.  It was great to feel the energy and enthusiasm of some of them.  It was, if I’m honest, pretty great to feel the resistance and surliness of others.  I was particularly smitten by a picture one student posted on facebook of a sign of the school, the message “welcome back,” and her middle finger filling the foreground.

For my first day, I did an activity with students that identified different personality types (doers, thinkers, organizers, and feelers, roughly).  Then, we talked about the movement in Ferguson and how the movement has grown and sustained itself through the cooperation of different types of people.  It was, for many moments of the day, very good.  It felt good to connect with and hear from kids, to see their excitement in getting to talk about something important.  It felt good to see warmth from students I’ve had, and wary hope from students I was first meeting.  It was good.

But, kids talked a whole heck of a lot to the point that I was already giving frustrated looks at students whose first names I didn’t know.

But, in some classes I talked about Ferguson and kids mostly listened.  In one class, kids were actively interested in talking more, but I kept going with the stuff I wanted to say.
But, in some classes I talked too much, and in some classes I talked more than that.

But, there are kids that don’t totally trust me yet, and some of those kids knew me before.

But, I know some teachers who said, “Dude, it was good, dude,” also went home wondering if they really wanted to come back.

But, knowing what I was doing at the end of last year isn’t really that helpful in knowing what I’m doing this year.

But, really, the thing is, I went home after one day and spent the evening, the night, and this morning thinking and thinking about what I could do so that day two was better.  While adjusting to waking up early, and showering every day, and packing lunches, and matching (mostly) my socks, I have to re-adjust to carrying the weight of my classroom with me all the time.    
So, the first day was good.  The first day of school was an announcement that there is work to be done, that the work of hundreds of humans is messy work that doesn’t always feel great, that this thing I’ve chosen to do is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done and still entirely worth being excited for.

THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

Among many rituals at the beginning of the year, the very last is nearly complete.  With the exception of one friend in San Diego who just had a child and a friend from high school I haven’t spoken to in a few years, every adult I know has now asked me, “how was your first day?”  I have answered, invariably, “it was good.”

The conversation has been repeated again and again in the hallways at school this morning.

“How was the first day?”

“Dude, it was good.”  (I’m not sure why we say dude)

There are many, many things about the first day that were, in fact, good, dude.  It was great to see very many of the kids again.  It was great to feel the energy and enthusiasm of some of them.  It was, if I’m honest, pretty great to feel the resistance and surliness of others.  I was particularly smitten by a picture one student posted on facebook of a sign of the school, the message “welcome back,” and her middle finger filling the foreground.

For my first day, I did an activity with students that identified different personality types (doers, thinkers, organizers, and feelers, roughly).  Then, we talked about the movement in Ferguson and how the movement has grown and sustained itself through the cooperation of different types of people.  It was, for many moments of the day, very good.  It felt good to connect with and hear from kids, to see their excitement in getting to talk about something important.  It felt good to see warmth from students I’ve had, and wary hope from students I was first meeting.  It was good.

But, kids talked a whole heck of a lot to the point that I was already giving frustrated looks at students whose first names I didn’t know.

But, in some classes I talked about Ferguson and kids mostly listened.  In one class, kids were actively interested in talking more, but I kept going with the stuff I wanted to say.


But, in some classes I talked too much, and in some classes I talked more than that.

But, there are kids that don’t totally trust me yet, and some of those kids knew me before.

But, I know some teachers who said, “Dude, it was good, dude,” also went home wondering if they really wanted to come back.

But, knowing what I was doing at the end of last year isn’t really that helpful in knowing what I’m doing this year.

But, really, the thing is, I went home after one day and spent the evening, the night, and this morning thinking and thinking about what I could do so that day two was better.  While adjusting to waking up early, and showering every day, and packing lunches, and matching (mostly) my socks, I have to re-adjust to carrying the weight of my classroom with me all the time.    

So, the first day was good.  The first day of school was an announcement that there is work to be done, that the work of hundreds of humans is messy work that doesn’t always feel great, that this thing I’ve chosen to do is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done and still entirely worth being excited for.

Collaboration is the key to success at Deanna Hron’s Deer River school.
The numbers are clear.  While Minnesota continues to rank among the top of states in overall student achievement, we also continue to have one of the largest disparities in the nation in educating students of color.  Although conversations about racial and economic achievement gaps are often framed as distinctly urban, there are rural districts experiencing similar issues and creating positive leaders focused on solutions.  Deer River is one of those places, and Deanna Hron, a K-5 Math and Reading Interventionist, is one of those leaders.

Deer River is a small district in rural Minnesota with high rates of poverty and, bordering the Leech Lake Reservation, is one of only ten traditional districts in Minnesota with a Native population of more than 25%.  The stories from Deer River are the same kinds of stories I hear about areas of poverty in Minneapolis.  Deanna, however,  talked less about the struggles her school faces than she did about the solutions they are working on.   

Deanna’s story captures the power of collaboration between educational professionals. “From the school board down,” she told me, “if anyone left, I would cry.”

I’ve talked to a lot of teachers from a lot of districts around the country over the last few years, and I’ve never heard anything like that before.  The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that although Deanna’s sentiments were surprising, they should be the norm.  Throughout our conversation, her focus on finding working solutions was reflected in stories of everyone in her district working together with a common goal of caring for kids.  

I maintain that everyone who gets into education cares about kids.  Somewhere along the way, though, we too often let power struggles and politics distract us from doing our work in the most direct way possible.  When Deanna talked about what her school needed and what her school was doing, she did not talk group affiliations, or of political wins and losses.  I was touched by the urgency that she talked about the work, as if it were inconceivable to do anything that didn’t work towards solutions.  She talked about working together, because the work was more important than anything else.

She credited her principal and superintendent for their leadership, specifically highlighting how evident her Superintendent’s care for children was in his action and the tenacity with which he advocated for his schools.  Though the district has no levy and money can be tight, she saw money being directed most often to programs that addressed the needs of its students, including increased mental health and social work support (continued through her school’s summer school programing).

One program Deanna was particularly proud of is the district initiative around data and interventions (inspired by a visit to Pine City).  The school has teams of people that go through test data for each and every student and identify specific areas of need.  The team connects the needs of students to individual interventions.  “Knowing the data is knowing the student,” she explained, especially when the people on the team would mix conversations about numbers with the actual history, personality, and perspective of each student. 

As the year goes on, the continue to check in with student achievement and reflect on the effectiveness of specific interventions with specific students.  There are no cookie-cutter approaches.  In fact, the group refrains from grouping student interventions whenever possible, because they saw fewer positive with more kids.  Additionally, their work was transparent, student-focused, and teacher-directed.

Team members and teachers are empowered through the program the district to suggest and implement interventions for their students.  The group keeps its work shared among teachers so everyone has access to the numbers that are helping to drive the work.  The sharing, she said, also helps other teachers understand how the work their neighbors may be doing could look different than theirs. 

Deanna said that many visitors to her school remarked that there was “just a different feeling when you walk in the door.”  The feeling, she explained, came from a sort of peer pressure to do better among staff.  As opposed to jealousy or individual ownership of success, teachers see the successes of others as inspiration to do better for their students.  The result is a culture committed to teaching and learning.  Teacher support each other in their work and growth while district leaders work towards the goal of having “all the best teachers” in all of their classrooms.

The culture, and the school’s success, is bolstered by district and school administration that actively cultivates, encourages, and trains teacher leaders, and by collaborative relationships between the teachers and administration. It’s the kind of mutual support and cooperation that just makes sense, and results in a culture of trust that allows everyone to reach unflinchingly for success.

(Picture: Deanna Hron on right with then-principal Amy Galatz)

Collaboration is the key to success at Deanna Hron’s Deer River school.

The numbers are clear.  While Minnesota continues to rank among the top of states in overall student achievement, we also continue to have one of the largest disparities in the nation in educating students of color.  Although conversations about racial and economic achievement gaps are often framed as distinctly urban, there are rural districts experiencing similar issues and creating positive leaders focused on solutions.  Deer River is one of those places, and Deanna Hron, a K-5 Math and Reading Interventionist, is one of those leaders.

Deer River is a small district in rural Minnesota with high rates of poverty and, bordering the Leech Lake Reservation, is one of only ten traditional districts in Minnesota with a Native population of more than 25%.  The stories from Deer River are the same kinds of stories I hear about areas of poverty in Minneapolis.  Deanna, however,  talked less about the struggles her school faces than she did about the solutions they are working on.   

Deanna’s story captures the power of collaboration between educational professionals. “From the school board down,” she told me, “if anyone left, I would cry.”

I’ve talked to a lot of teachers from a lot of districts around the country over the last few years, and I’ve never heard anything like that before.  The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that although Deanna’s sentiments were surprising, they should be the norm.  Throughout our conversation, her focus on finding working solutions was reflected in stories of everyone in her district working together with a common goal of caring for kids.  

I maintain that everyone who gets into education cares about kids.  Somewhere along the way, though, we too often let power struggles and politics distract us from doing our work in the most direct way possible.  When Deanna talked about what her school needed and what her school was doing, she did not talk group affiliations, or of political wins and losses.  I was touched by the urgency that she talked about the work, as if it were inconceivable to do anything that didn’t work towards solutions.  She talked about working together, because the work was more important than anything else.

She credited her principal and superintendent for their leadership, specifically highlighting how evident her Superintendent’s care for children was in his action and the tenacity with which he advocated for his schools.  Though the district has no levy and money can be tight, she saw money being directed most often to programs that addressed the needs of its students, including increased mental health and social work support (continued through her school’s summer school programing).

One program Deanna was particularly proud of is the district initiative around data and interventions (inspired by a visit to Pine City).  The school has teams of people that go through test data for each and every student and identify specific areas of need.  The team connects the needs of students to individual interventions.  “Knowing the data is knowing the student,” she explained, especially when the people on the team would mix conversations about numbers with the actual history, personality, and perspective of each student.

As the year goes on, the continue to check in with student achievement and reflect on the effectiveness of specific interventions with specific students.  There are no cookie-cutter approaches.  In fact, the group refrains from grouping student interventions whenever possible, because they saw fewer positive with more kids.  Additionally, their work was transparent, student-focused, and teacher-directed.

Team members and teachers are empowered through the program the district to suggest and implement interventions for their students.  The group keeps its work shared among teachers so everyone has access to the numbers that are helping to drive the work.  The sharing, she said, also helps other teachers understand how the work their neighbors may be doing could look different than theirs.

Deanna said that many visitors to her school remarked that there was “just a different feeling when you walk in the door.”  The feeling, she explained, came from a sort of peer pressure to do better among staff.  As opposed to jealousy or individual ownership of success, teachers see the successes of others as inspiration to do better for their students.  The result is a culture committed to teaching and learning.  Teacher support each other in their work and growth while district leaders work towards the goal of having “all the best teachers” in all of their classrooms.

The culture, and the school’s success, is bolstered by district and school administration that actively cultivates, encourages, and trains teacher leaders, and by collaborative relationships between the teachers and administration. It’s the kind of mutual support and cooperation that just makes sense, and results in a culture of trust that allows everyone to reach unflinchingly for success.

(Picture: Deanna Hron on right with then-principal Amy Galatz)

Greta Callahan works at the kind of school that gets fought about a lot.  According to the Minneapolis Public School’s website, 100% of Bethune’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch, with many categorized as homeless or highly mobile.  96% of their student body are students of color.  A lot of people have ideas about what Greta’s students need to be successful, and a lot of them get a lot of attention by disagreeing with each other without offering a whole lot of solutions.  For Greta, the problem is clear:

“Our babies are in crisis.”

Greta counted two days this year when every one of her students showed up to class.  Two.  She talked of students who come to Kindergarten knowing no letters, often not knowing their own full names.  With many students coming to her with no pre-school experience, her work at the beginning of the year is based around showing her students that school is a safe, happy, loving place for them.  She told me of students coming to school hungry every day, and the little babies, the little kindergarteners, crying on Friday afternoons because the week was over. 

She talked of teachers having to run their faucets at the same time for five minutes every morning to flush lead from the pipes.  In real life.  I can’t stop thinking about that detail, how inconceivable this would be in so many schools.  

When you hear stories like that, it’s so easy to jump to excusing or blaming, categorizing or “big picturing” until each classroom is an abstraction.  We have solutions that are thought up in meetings rooms no child has ever walked in.  We have numbers that reduce the work of teaching and learning and can pull the conversation from actual students in the rooms.  We have Greta, who in the middle of summer is doing little beyond planning, worrying, and working for the kids she won’t meet for another month, but Greta doesn’t get asked enough about what her kids need.  Greta doesn’t get asked for her solutions.  Often, Greta doesn’t feel she has the autonomy to give her students what they most need.

There is an expectation that every Kindergarten student is learning the same things at the same times, and at the same pace.  The Focused Instruction program sounds like a great way to make instruction consistent and eliminate disparities between what students in different schools may learn.  For Greta, though, the rigidity of the program often means that she doesn’t get to focus on the concepts her students (who often have catching up to do) most need.  “They need love, safety and food and then I can teach them what many people assume all 5 year-olds know. I need the freedom to be able to do this and to be trusted as an educator.”

She does her best to fit in concepts her students need extra time with, like learning letters and spelling first names, that other rooms in the city may need to spend less time on.  When students fall short of district or state goals, she feels as if teachers are being blamed.

“You hear society saying, it’s the teacher’s fault.  We have to teach, teach, teach, but they aren’t always letting us teach them what they need to learn.”

So, why does she stay?  Because of those same kids who come in not knowing their letters. At some point in the year, she gets to watch them read.  There are struggles and frustrations, to be sure, but the successes of the teachers and students at her school are the result of good work for the kids who need it most.  The key, she says, is to love your students, and make sure they understand you love them.  Once she has that bond, she says,  “I can teach them, and when I get them to love school, I have them forever.”

To get them excited about reading and learning, she has made a practice of inviting community leaders into her room to read to her students, including Betsy Hodges, RT Rybak, Robyne Robinson, and Frank Hornstein.  The program brings role models to her students and energizes them about the importance of reading, but she admits there is an alternate goal as well.  “I bring people in so they can see what really happens in my school. I want them to see what is happening in our city. Even I didn’t know before I was at Bethune and I used to teach less than a mile away.”  

Greta was clear on the struggles her school is facing, but positive about the work they do, and optimistic about how much more they could do with a few changes.  There are a few concrete things she sees that would help tremendously, like a morning second-run bus to help pick up students who often cannot find a ride to school if they miss their first ride, and like streamlining the process to bring in donations of money, supplies, or time from outside sources (something that she did as a common practice in her last school, but has struggled to do as effectively within the structure of MPS). 
As she told me her story, it was evident that Greta is a talented and passionate teacher, full of energy and ideas for solutions.  It was evident to me that one of the best things we could do for her students when we are sitting around a table is make sure we are leaving a seat open for their teacher.

Greta Callahan works at the kind of school that gets fought about a lot.  According to the Minneapolis Public School’s website, 100% of Bethune’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch, with many categorized as homeless or highly mobile.  96% of their student body are students of color.  A lot of people have ideas about what Greta’s students need to be successful, and a lot of them get a lot of attention by disagreeing with each other without offering a whole lot of solutions.  For Greta, the problem is clear:

“Our babies are in crisis.”

Greta counted two days this year when every one of her students showed up to class.  Two.  She talked of students who come to Kindergarten knowing no letters, often not knowing their own full names.  With many students coming to her with no pre-school experience, her work at the beginning of the year is based around showing her students that school is a safe, happy, loving place for them.  She told me of students coming to school hungry every day, and the little babies, the little kindergarteners, crying on Friday afternoons because the week was over.

She talked of teachers having to run their faucets at the same time for five minutes every morning to flush lead from the pipes.  In real life.  I can’t stop thinking about that detail, how inconceivable this would be in so many schools.  

When you hear stories like that, it’s so easy to jump to excusing or blaming, categorizing or “big picturing” until each classroom is an abstraction.  We have solutions that are thought up in meetings rooms no child has ever walked in.  We have numbers that reduce the work of teaching and learning and can pull the conversation from actual students in the rooms.  We have Greta, who in the middle of summer is doing little beyond planning, worrying, and working for the kids she won’t meet for another month, but Greta doesn’t get asked enough about what her kids need.  Greta doesn’t get asked for her solutions.  Often, Greta doesn’t feel she has the autonomy to give her students what they most need.

There is an expectation that every Kindergarten student is learning the same things at the same times, and at the same pace.  The Focused Instruction program sounds like a great way to make instruction consistent and eliminate disparities between what students in different schools may learn.  For Greta, though, the rigidity of the program often means that she doesn’t get to focus on the concepts her students (who often have catching up to do) most need.  “They need love, safety and food and then I can teach them what many people assume all 5 year-olds know. I need the freedom to be able to do this and to be trusted as an educator.”

She does her best to fit in concepts her students need extra time with, like learning letters and spelling first names, that other rooms in the city may need to spend less time on.  When students fall short of district or state goals, she feels as if teachers are being blamed.

“You hear society saying, it’s the teacher’s fault.  We have to teach, teach, teach, but they aren’t always letting us teach them what they need to learn.”

So, why does she stay?  Because of those same kids who come in not knowing their letters. At some point in the year, she gets to watch them read.  There are struggles and frustrations, to be sure, but the successes of the teachers and students at her school are the result of good work for the kids who need it most.  The key, she says, is to love your students, and make sure they understand you love them.  Once she has that bond, she says,  “I can teach them, and when I get them to love school, I have them forever.”

To get them excited about reading and learning, she has made a practice of inviting community leaders into her room to read to her students, including Betsy Hodges, RT Rybak, Robyne Robinson, and Frank Hornstein.  The program brings role models to her students and energizes them about the importance of reading, but she admits there is an alternate goal as well.  “I bring people in so they can see what really happens in my school. I want them to see what is happening in our city. Even I didn’t know before I was at Bethune and I used to teach less than a mile away.”  

Greta was clear on the struggles her school is facing, but positive about the work they do, and optimistic about how much more they could do with a few changes.  There are a few concrete things she sees that would help tremendously, like a morning second-run bus to help pick up students who often cannot find a ride to school if they miss their first ride, and like streamlining the process to bring in donations of money, supplies, or time from outside sources (something that she did as a common practice in her last school, but has struggled to do as effectively within the structure of MPS).


As she told me her story, it was evident that Greta is a talented and passionate teacher, full of energy and ideas for solutions.  It was evident to me that one of the best things we could do for her students when we are sitting around a table is make sure we are leaving a seat open for their teacher.

How I Chose a Major

My cousin Alex wrote this letter to his younger sister as she got ready to head off to college.  He’s got a great voice and great message.

How I Chose a Major.

My name is Alex. I am 50% German, 1.6% Sioux, and I grew up in the great land of Wisconsin. I am in college.

Questions that people ask me frequently include: What are you studying? What do you want to do with your education? Is there any beer left?

To answer the first, I major in a mouthful: Supply Chain Management and Entrepreneurship with minors in Social Entrepreneurship and Music Industry. In my free time, I am normally either learning (and subsequently babbling) about environmental sustainability, literally stopping to smell the roses, or playing tunes with Royale [the band] (#indoctrination #shamelessplug #clickhere4tunes). My minors, which take up the smallest chunk of my undergraduate workload, take up the largest chunk of my personal life and are the areas in which I am actually planning career and life options.

Most of the businesspeople and business students I have met through my education are very different from myself. They communicate with professional business courtesies, they are driven and motivated by money, and, without giving thought to many long-term implications, they love when consumers consume.

The people I live with, on the other hand, are exactly like me. They would be more than happy to televisually absorb BBC’s Planet Earth for hours, they conduct scientific studies comparing intoxication level to hangover severity, they take their sweet time moving from place to place, and they love, like I do, to create more than they consume, whether it be music, dance, dinner, community, or anything else that they have the skills to create.

I’m not by any means suggesting that I or my friends are “better people” than the financiers with whom I study or the corporate employers for whom I have worked. Everyone in the world can agree on things like “I want to have a comfortable life” or “I want my children to go to college” or even “We are doing illogical, shortsighted, self-endangering things to the planet, and if we don’t stop, no one will be comfortable or go to college because we will all be quite dead.” However, everyone comes from different life circumstances, has access to different information, and has different ways of understanding and addressing these challenges.

The core reason I settled on my choice of friends is because they share all of my languages: English, science, music, art, environmental consciousness, humor, and ambitions. The reason I chose my major is because almost all of my professors and classmates speak few, if any, of my languages. So , I look at every single day I spend with them as a day of educating myself how to understand other people’s languages: profit, investments, accounting, corporations, politics, and money.

To answer the second question, kindly allow me to ramble a little more.

People usually assume that you go to school to study your passions, then you graduate and hopefully get a job in that field, but I believe that this type of learning strategy in any subject is less well-rounded, less eye-opening, and unfortunately makes people less likely to predict and control their career, their success, and their happiness.

I chose to study things I don’t understand instead of my passions, which I naturally pursue outside of class. Hopefully, I will translate all of that learning into a career through which I convince as many people as possible to consume less of Earth’s limited resources and create more uniquely human achievements like equality, art, literature, music, or community, all of which are unlimited. I want to make a positive, lasting impact on the world through my career and life, but I have realized that if I alienate people that don’t think or interact the way I do, then my impact is going to be limited only to the Alexes of the world.

No matter what major you end up choosing, if you want to make an impact in any career, make sure it makes you well-rounded as a person. Realistically, it takes a lifetime to become qualified in any area of expertise. Chances are that I won’t be a qualified social entrepreneur when I graduate, nor will I instantly be a professional musician. Chances are that Simba never would have toppled Scar’s totalitarian regime had he not eaten that first slimy grub. Your classwork and formal education is important as a way of proving to others that you have the foundation for a successful career, but all of your memorable, meaningful education is inevitably going to come from your interactions with other people and your understanding of what connects them.

To answer the third question, let’s examine some key facts.

Fact #1: I am in college.

Fact #2: I am from Wisconsin.

So nope, I guess that means there is no beer left. These new developments lead me to the conclusion that it is time to stop writing and start beer-running.

Enjoy college!

Like They Own the Place

During the last days of school, I did very little but play basketball.  My district was making up cold/snow days from the winter, and had already finished finals, so students had a wide range of choice classes they could attend.  I signed up for open gym because I thought some running would do me some good and help me shake bad habits picked up during cold/snow days.  

Halfway through the day, a student was walked over from one of the K-3 classes to sit.  The other staff member in the gym was the behavior specialist, and the boy was placed in his care.  The boy sat and watched everyone play basketball for about an hour, and then he walked back to class with us.  High school students took turns sitting next to him, being sweet in a way that high school students don’t often get a chance to be.

I have no idea what the student did, but I know he is often asked to do something similar to this.  He’s a rambunctious, wild young boy, but that’s only part of the issue.  There are plenty of wild boys on that floor who don’t end up sitting out of class, but those boy’s wildness is called wild, where this boy’s wildness is read as insubordination. On a few occasions, I’ve heard adults who work with him upset at his behavior, but not generally at any disruptive, rude, or violent behavior.  “He acts,” they lament, “like he owns the place.”

When I heard the comment the first time it raised no flags for me, but during those last days of school, playing in the gym with one of our few black staff members and a good majority of our black students, it hit me how few black spaces there are in school.  It occurred to me that the implication of the comment, “he acts like he owns the place” is that he is absolutely not allowed to own the place, that maybe one of the primary things keeping this boy from a sense of belonging at school may well be his belief that he belongs at school.

I heard the same refrain this year often directed at a student in the high school as well.  I was apt to agree during the year, because I was doing a very poor job of teaching that student.  Imagining that my failure was a fault of her hubris was an easy out, and I should know better by now that cheap wins in teaching often come at the large expense of someone else.

This girl battles with many of her teachers, at least those classrooms where teachers have not bought her good behavior with offers of food and diminished expectations for work.  This girl doesn’t just act like she owns the place, she is very forward about saying so. She takes the pieces that she thinks she needs, and ignores a lot of the stuff she thinks is pointless. These are not bad qualities outside of school, but she acts like she owns the place, and so the reaction of many teachers, and I have been guilty of it, is to make sure she understands that she is not in charge, and so there are battles.  It’s as if, as educators, we believe that teaching and learning must be accompanied by subservience.

The boy and girl are black, and I can’t help but think of comments made about white boys and girls that act like they own the place.  They are our future teachers, future leaders, our little principal, our little president.  Still, I am sure, we would like to believe this isn’t about race.

It’s as if, as educators, we are ok with promoting equity so long as equity is still something we get to give to the black kids.

I know there are more issues here than just the race of the young man.  I’m also not in his classroom, so it’s impossible for me to say exactly what is going on.  Certainly, whoever sent him to the gym would argue that the decision was not about race, and perhaps it wasn’t entirely.  Racism, especially systemic racism, is sometimes hard to spot and easy to ignore because systems are complex.  There is very rarely only one thing going on.

 In conversations about race, it’s important to isolate race, because it’s far too easy to make conversations about race about any other thing. Next time you’re in a room of educators and systemic racism comes up, grab a stopwatch and see how long it takes for the conversation to turn into one about poverty.  Of course poverty cannot be ignored when we talk about making schools better, but poverty and race are different things, and talking about one is never the same as talking about both.  Isolating race is not the same as ignoring all other factors and assuming race is always the only thing at play.  

If we are really anti-racists, and if we are really serious about eliminating racial disparities, then we need to be serious about isolating and addressing the way that race shapes our personal reactions, how the systems we support create or encourage the disparities we are trying to end.  

I notice parallels in the treatment of those students to recent attacks on my school’s principal, a black man.  Again, I don’t think race is the only factor at play in some people’s complaints, but when the group directing the attacks are all white (so far as I know), and when our black families are predominantly voicing strong support for the principal, the program, and the great good the schools do for their children, it’s hard to imagine there isn’t a racial component at play.

There is pushback to policies and cultural shifts that are ever so slightly chipping away at the whiteness of our building.  My principal for years tried to establish that the office was not a place that would simply dole out punishments to students. Instead, he, and the behavioral team, focused on doing what was necessary to get them back in class.  Some staff refused to support the method or even acknowledge the shift in philosophy had been repeatedly communicated and reinforced.  

It’s as if, as educators, we talk big on equity so long as it doesn’t impact our own white space or change the experience of our own white children.  

With staff and administration working with different goals, students suffered with a lack of consistency and a lot of confusion.  In the minds of those speaking out, this was entirely the fault of the principal, and not a problem shared by everyone involved.  This pattern has been repeated again and again over the last few years while a small group of teachers dismisses or intentionally blockades efforts that may by their success make the principal look better, and then places what struggles the school has entirely on his shoulders.  When he shows up smiling, he is cast as smug.  When he is quiet, he is criticized for not speaking, and when he takes leadership, he is decried for taking away teacher voice.

Again and again, we are told of his personal life, but I don’t believe anyone is really upset about that.  Scandal was recognized as a powerful weapon, a means to achieve what bringing their real concerns could not.  And so, to bolster their claims for change in our school, they have focused on casting our principal as an over-sexualized predator.  Still, they would say, this has nothing to do with race.

It was not always so.  In the first few of his years in the district, staff was broadly behind him.  He was new, young, and more unsure in his approach.  As he grew in confidence (read as egotism) and in vision (which often challenged white privileged norms), he found success. Our school, with him as our leader, gained national attention and recognition.  He won a large award, was the subject of a glowing profile in the Star Tribune, was asked to conferences and colleges to speak and teach.  Soon enough, the same call, “like he owns the place” came.  Shortly after came the attacks, the assumptions, the near obsession from some staff of where is he is during every moment of the day, what he’s doing with every moment of his night.  Still, they would say, this has nothing to do with race.

A few staff members and parents formed a group, veiled themselves in anonymity, and began to consistently attack the personal life, intentions, quality of the principal.  The anonymous claims were impossible to verify, and because the accusers kept themselves unknown, there was no chance of debate or discussion, no way to examine their own personal experience, biases, or perspective.  A facebook group was started so that anonymous claims about the personal life and professional shortcomings of the principal could be made publicly.  A reporter took up their cause and began writing articles that read like gossip columns, and a lawyer was hired to do the speaking for the group in public.  So a group of white people from law, media, and others under the veil of anonymity sought the embarrassment and punishment of a black man.  Still, they would say, this is not at all about race.

There’s been so much energy spent on personal attacks representing the narrow agenda of a few staff members.  One reason given for keeping their anonymity is the fear of being branded a racist as they call publicly for the removal of one of the few black male leaders in the region from leading one of the few schools in the country whose primary focus is racial equity. Still, they would say, this has nothing to do with race.

These are not bad people.  These are people who care deeply about the school community they are part of, and are doing what they see is best.  These are not people, to the extent that I know them, that get angry for no reason.  I know some of them to be good and committed teachers, and some of the parents involved have done an incredible amount for our schools over many years of volunteering and support.  The reporter is often a very good one, and a good writer at that.  I’m not calling anyone a racist, because I don’t see what good that does, just like defences of just how not-racist you are do not help to uncover how race may be an important part of what’s happening.

When we play a game of attacking and defending, we’ve stopped talking.

When we look for racism in schools, we so often look at numbers, at disparities in performance, in graduation, in suspension and expulsion rates.  We look at the low numbers of people of color, especially of black men, entering the profession, staying, and leading.  It’s easy to get in a room, to look at the numbers, and to say that this is not good enough.

It is the real and personal ways we treat, we see, and we conflict with black children in our schools create the numbers we wring our hands about and say our pledges to end.  We need to do better at unpacking each part of our day, of understanding the pieces, how economics, gender, and sexual identity play their roles.  But when we are looking to end racial disparities, we need to focus on race, and focus on how race plays a role in the creation of those numbers.

What I see, in my school and in the broader discussion of race in schools, are lines being drawn.  Anonymous allegations from one camp are met with sometimes-anonymous name-calling from another.  I see people so focused on being right and winning they lose sight of the biggest problems we face.  I see people digging in for a battle of bruised egos and absolutes that has little chance of solving anything.

Surely, we are better problem solvers than this.  Surely, as educators, with a product more important than any of its pieces, we can do better than follow the model of not-nearly-enough from places where politics and power games are being played.  Surely, as educators, we can raise our willingness to speak with honesty and respect, and to listen in the same way.  Surely, as educators, we can understand that we all have to own these places together.

Things I’ve Learned at the End of the Year.

In the last few days, I’ve talked to probably a hundred or more teachers nearing the ends of their school years.   I’ve learned many things.

I learned that many teachers are feeling the end of the year.  Those days of infinite possibility and shiny everything from the beginning of the year are long ago.  The days of “maybe this year” or “if we could just…” have become “hopefully next,” and “I guess we didn’t.”

I’ve learned many teachers are tired. Some feel defeated. I know that the day just after the school year ends is one of the easiest to feel productive and successful, but all the days just before are some of the hardest.

I’ve learned that many teachers have a balance sheet somewhere, in their homes or phones or tucked somewhere in their desks.  On one side of that sheet are the kids, the families, the co-workers they know and love.  There’s the sense of duty and possibility inherent in the work.  It’s a hefty, hefty side.  I’ve learned that many teachers are feeling the other side catch up or outweigh the faces of their last year or ten years.  I’ve learned it really means something when teachers decide to leave.  

I mean, really, it means something when teachers decide to leave.  No teacher does so easily, no teacher does so without the weight of it, and no teacher does so for no good reason, and still, at the end of the year, it is on the minds of many.

I’ve learned that the teacher, any teacher, in your life could use a hug.  Teaching would be easy if not for all the humans.  Teaching would be glorious if not for some of the adults involved.

I’ve learned the end of the year is the heartbreak of teachers leaving, the uncertainty of teachers staying, and the exploding pride of students moving on all wrapped in the consuming worry that maybe you didn’t do enough for any of them.

I’ve learned, I knew, teaching is tough on teachers and lives and families.  Teaching asks the impossible of teachers and backs its request with the faces of children who need you.

I’ve learned most teachers are tired not because of the work they did, but because of the walls they and their kids ran into.  I’ve learned those walls are stubborn, but we increasingly have numbers.

I met a group of teachers, heading into the summer before their first year, hungry and frightened and fantastic, talking about capital “E” Education while the specter of their first very own room shook itself, mean and glorious behind their eyes.  

I learned that new teachers remind me of all the reasons I love to teach, of all the possibilities of education.  

I learned that writing about new teachers reminds me of why I stopped trying to write poems, of all the tortured imagery of my optimism.

I learned that new teachers should be listened to, really listened to, because they have things to say.

I’ve learned there is no shortage of good thinkers, but there may be a shortage of good microphones.

I’ve learned, I knew, teaching attracts the very best of us, brings out the very best of us, and only feels easy on the days between the end and the next beginning.  I remembered that my next year is as full of possibility as my first.

Things I’ve Learned at the End of the Year.

In the last few days, I’ve talked to probably a hundred or more teachers nearing the ends of their school years.   I’ve learned many things.

I learned that many teachers are feeling the end of the year.  Those days of infinite possibility and shiny everything from the beginning of the year are long ago.  The days of “maybe this year” or “if we could just…” have become “hopefully next,” and “I guess we didn’t.”

I’ve learned many teachers are tired. Some feel defeated. I know that the day just after the school year ends is one of the easiest to feel productive and successful, but all the days just before are some of the hardest.

I’ve learned that many teachers have a balance sheet somewhere, in their homes or phones or tucked somewhere in their desks.  On one side of that sheet are the kids, the families, the co-workers they know and love.  There’s the sense of duty and possibility inherent in the work.  It’s a hefty, hefty side.  I’ve learned that many teachers are feeling the other side catch up or outweigh the faces of their last year or ten years.  I’ve learned it really means something when teachers decide to leave.  

I mean, really, it means something when teachers decide to leave.  No teacher does so easily, no teacher does so without the weight of it, and no teacher does so for no good reason, and still, at the end of the year, it is on the minds of many.

I’ve learned that the teacher, any teacher, in your life could use a hug.  Teaching would be easy if not for all the humans.  Teaching would be glorious if not for some of the adults involved.

I’ve learned the end of the year is the heartbreak of teachers leaving, the uncertainty of teachers staying, and the exploding pride of students moving on all wrapped in the consuming worry that maybe you didn’t do enough for any of them.

I’ve learned, I knew, teaching is tough on teachers and lives and families.  Teaching asks the impossible of teachers and backs its request with the faces of children who need you.

I’ve learned most teachers are tired not because of the work they did, but because of the walls they and their kids ran into.  I’ve learned those walls are stubborn, but we increasingly have numbers.

I met a group of teachers, heading into the summer before their first year, hungry and frightened and fantastic, talking about capital “E” Education while the specter of their first very own room shook itself, mean and glorious behind their eyes.  

I learned that new teachers remind me of all the reasons I love to teach, of all the possibilities of education.  

I learned that writing about new teachers reminds me of why I stopped trying to write poems, of all the tortured imagery of my optimism.

I learned that new teachers should be listened to, really listened to, because they have things to say.

I’ve learned there is no shortage of good thinkers, but there may be a shortage of good microphones.

I’ve learned, I knew, teaching attracts the very best of us, brings out the very best of us, and only feels easy on the days between the end and the next beginning.  I remembered that my next year is as full of possibility as my first.

Be Good to the Weird Kids.

Be good to the weird kids.  Teachers, be good to the weird kids.

Because it’s hard enough to stand out, hard enough when peers feel the need to point or exclude, to say in so many ways, “you are different, you are different, you are different than us.”

Because a kid who dresses in all black isn’t broken, and neither is one who dresses like the bad kids on tv, or like no one else in the world. Because mental illness is not the only thing going on with anyone.  Because it’s ok to be ridiculously into something that other people don’t understand.  Because disabilities don’t define.  Because ‘weird’ often means ‘you don’t fill my expectations of you,’ which is often really a good thing.

Because sometimes kids are pregnant.  Sometimes kids are a different skin color than everyone else, or just different than you.  Sometimes kids speak different languages or speak the same language in different ways.

Because being a gender queer kid with short hair and a feminine name is hard enough, and holding hands with the only kid who gets it is sometimes a political statement, and sometimes is just the very human need for affection and acceptance, and neither is a reason to be yelled at.

Because if teachers were honest with themselves, they would admit they enforce more rules on kids who make them uncomfortable, especially when they don’t notice it.  Because maybe the kids who so often have to stand up for themselves need us to stand with them.

Because being loud is ok, and so is being quiet, and so is being awkward or ridiculous or goofy or serious.  Because there is no way to be that is the best way.

Because the thing that makes them weird may be the thing that makes them feel comfortable in their skin.

Because students read our reactions and take our cues, and without realizing it, we can encourage kids being awful to each other when we smile at the right time, dismiss someone at the wrong time, let things go that need to be addressed.

Because teachers can encourage bad behavior when they talk about kids bringing behavior down on themselves because of the way they dress, talk, or act.  Because there are no people who deserve to be treated poorly because of who they are, and sometimes that gets forgotten in our hallways and staff meetings.

Because check your job description, and check your judgements, and check your privilege.  We get tired and when we get tired students look less like a whole lot of humans and more like a single problem, and outliers are issues.  We have students who need us to care about them, even when they make it hard to do so.
Teachers, be good to the weird kids, because it’s easy to be good to the good kids but they may not be the kids who need it most.

Be Good to the Weird Kids.

Be good to the weird kids.  Teachers, be good to the weird kids.

Because it’s hard enough to stand out, hard enough when peers feel the need to point or exclude, to say in so many ways, “you are different, you are different, you are different than us.”

Because a kid who dresses in all black isn’t broken, and neither is one who dresses like the bad kids on tv, or like no one else in the world. Because mental illness is not the only thing going on with anyone.  Because it’s ok to be ridiculously into something that other people don’t understand.  Because disabilities don’t define.  Because ‘weird’ often means ‘you don’t fill my expectations of you,’ which is often really a good thing.

Because sometimes kids are pregnant.  Sometimes kids are a different skin color than everyone else, or just different than you.  Sometimes kids speak different languages or speak the same language in different ways.

Because being a gender queer kid with short hair and a feminine name is hard enough, and holding hands with the only kid who gets it is sometimes a political statement, and sometimes is just the very human need for affection and acceptance, and neither is a reason to be yelled at.

Because if teachers were honest with themselves, they would admit they enforce more rules on kids who make them uncomfortable, especially when they don’t notice it.  Because maybe the kids who so often have to stand up for themselves need us to stand with them.

Because being loud is ok, and so is being quiet, and so is being awkward or ridiculous or goofy or serious.  Because there is no way to be that is the best way.

Because the thing that makes them weird may be the thing that makes them feel comfortable in their skin.

Because students read our reactions and take our cues, and without realizing it, we can encourage kids being awful to each other when we smile at the right time, dismiss someone at the wrong time, let things go that need to be addressed.

Because teachers can encourage bad behavior when they talk about kids bringing behavior down on themselves because of the way they dress, talk, or act.  Because there are no people who deserve to be treated poorly because of who they are, and sometimes that gets forgotten in our hallways and staff meetings.

Because check your job description, and check your judgements, and check your privilege.  We get tired and when we get tired students look less like a whole lot of humans and more like a single problem, and outliers are issues.  We have students who need us to care about them, even when they make it hard to do so.


Teachers, be good to the weird kids, because it’s easy to be good to the good kids but they may not be the kids who need it most.

My favorite section of the Teacher of the Year application materials was the “Additional Evidence.”  After a student reached out to me at the beginning of the year to tell me my English class helped him on a path to some awesome physics work, I asked him to take a picture “in front of some physics stuff.”  Word got spread, and I got to hear from very many fantastic former students.

I’m Not A Reformer

I have a student, a sophomore, who has been at times victim to a racist system that does not expect or support her brilliance, to sexist policies that do not value her strength, to homophobic bullying, to disengaged teaching, to threats of violence and the violence of invisibility.  She is one student, and she does not need school reform.
She is one student, not an amalgam of many.  She is a real person, the person I see when I dedicate myself to staying in the classroom, the person who I say, “just until she graduates.”  She is one in a line of last ones, and there are more that will be there after that keep me in the classroom, keep me engaged, and keep me angry.
I have students who are asked to participate in power struggles with adults that hold the power of the building they stand in; a building that should exist solely to give opportunity to that student.  
I have students asked to convince the adults around them of their full humanity, and students who stand up, and students who are still ignored.  Those students don’t need reform. 
I have a student, I have ten and have had a hundred students who look to school to be the only safety, the only stability, the only warmth in their lives.  I have students with promise, with intelligence, with creativity who are failing.  I have students who have schools that make them cry, who have schools that do not recognize their gender, their sexuality, their culture, their family, their language; who have schools who tell them they don’t talk right or dress right or act right.  My students don’t need reform. 
I know teachers who are struggling and teachers being made to struggle.  I see a system that requires too much ridiculous before you can get to things that makes sense.  I see teachers struggling towards distant solutions that are already long overdue.
It’s so easy to feel like I’ve done nothing, or not nearly enough, which is good.  If I felt like I was doing enough with so many problems left to fix, I’d be fooling myself.  I’d be complicit.  My room is a universe will conflicts and accomplishments on the scale of angels and monsters, of armies and gods.  It is large enough, too large perhaps, to fulfill me professionally, to provide challenges and rewards enough for a career and a life, but it is a piece of a building, a piece of a district and a state and a country whose systems shape the room I teach in and the students I see.  My universe is enough for me, but focusing on my room alone is not enough for my students.  
The thing is there’s this job we do, this calling we have, and there’s a profession to steward, and there’s this world of education, and at the center of all those things, there’s these kids.
Fighting for the schools that kids deserve means fighting battles on many fronts while making sure your room fulfills the promise of your convictions.  Don’t worry though, it’s actually harder than that sounds.
We need teachers who are revolutionaries, which is much less hard than it sounds, because teaching is already a revolutionary act.  Each act of true teaching, of nurturing, educating, inspiring a mind to do a thing it has not done before is a revolutionary act.  We need that, only that, every day, all day long, from everyone.  That’s all, except it’s not.
Teachers do so much, incredibly so much work, but we need to do more.  There’s too many battles out there that need to be fought, and teachers need to be there.  Teachers need to look out of our classrooms at what shapes our student’s experience with the same kind of intensity, intelligence and reflection that we use to create experience in our own rooms, departments and schools.  We must be agents and not recipients of change.
My students don’t need reform, and so I am not a reformer.  My students don’t need reform, they need schools that deserve them.  My students don’t need reform, because reform is not enough.  They don’t need reformers in their classrooms, in their hallways, in the front offices and district offices of their schools. My students don’t need reform, they need a revolution.

I’m Not A Reformer

I have a student, a sophomore, who has been at times victim to a racist system that does not expect or support her brilliance, to sexist policies that do not value her strength, to homophobic bullying, to disengaged teaching, to threats of violence and the violence of invisibility.  She is one student, and she does not need school reform.

She is one student, not an amalgam of many.  She is a real person, the person I see when I dedicate myself to staying in the classroom, the person who I say, “just until she graduates.”  She is one in a line of last ones, and there are more that will be there after that keep me in the classroom, keep me engaged, and keep me angry.

I have students who are asked to participate in power struggles with adults that hold the power of the building they stand in; a building that should exist solely to give opportunity to that student.  

I have students asked to convince the adults around them of their full humanity, and students who stand up, and students who are still ignored.  Those students don’t need reform.

I have a student, I have ten and have had a hundred students who look to school to be the only safety, the only stability, the only warmth in their lives.  I have students with promise, with intelligence, with creativity who are failing.  I have students who have schools that make them cry, who have schools that do not recognize their gender, their sexuality, their culture, their family, their language; who have schools who tell them they don’t talk right or dress right or act right.  My students don’t need reform.

I know teachers who are struggling and teachers being made to struggle.  I see a system that requires too much ridiculous before you can get to things that makes sense.  I see teachers struggling towards distant solutions that are already long overdue.

It’s so easy to feel like I’ve done nothing, or not nearly enough, which is good.  If I felt like I was doing enough with so many problems left to fix, I’d be fooling myself.  I’d be complicit.  My room is a universe will conflicts and accomplishments on the scale of angels and monsters, of armies and gods.  It is large enough, too large perhaps, to fulfill me professionally, to provide challenges and rewards enough for a career and a life, but it is a piece of a building, a piece of a district and a state and a country whose systems shape the room I teach in and the students I see.  My universe is enough for me, but focusing on my room alone is not enough for my students.  

The thing is there’s this job we do, this calling we have, and there’s a profession to steward, and there’s this world of education, and at the center of all those things, there’s these kids.

Fighting for the schools that kids deserve means fighting battles on many fronts while making sure your room fulfills the promise of your convictions.  Don’t worry though, it’s actually harder than that sounds.

We need teachers who are revolutionaries, which is much less hard than it sounds, because teaching is already a revolutionary act.  Each act of true teaching, of nurturing, educating, inspiring a mind to do a thing it has not done before is a revolutionary act.  We need that, only that, every day, all day long, from everyone.  That’s all, except it’s not.

Teachers do so much, incredibly so much work, but we need to do more.  There’s too many battles out there that need to be fought, and teachers need to be there.  Teachers need to look out of our classrooms at what shapes our student’s experience with the same kind of intensity, intelligence and reflection that we use to create experience in our own rooms, departments and schools.  We must be agents and not recipients of change.


My students don’t need reform, and so I am not a reformer.  My students don’t need reform, they need schools that deserve them.  My students don’t need reform, because reform is not enough.  They don’t need reformers in their classrooms, in their hallways, in the front offices and district offices of their schools. My students don’t need reform, they need a revolution.

Reblogged from misterrad  94 notes
misterrad:


HACK YOUR SCHOOL
A guide for students, from a teacher.
Helpful hints from within the system of how to change your school for the better.
DISCLAIMER:
Actions have consequences.  Challenging existing power structures is not an activity often met with ice cream parties and awards.  You may have people frowning at you.  I cannot promise there are not punishments that go along with some of the things I will present as options.  It’s on you to do things right, to know your school and its rules, and to act in ways that you are ready to accept responsibility for.  Hopefully doing the first options of change well will remove the potential “you’re in trouble mister” options from the table.
This information is intended for (and, really, only useful for) positive action to create a better school for students.  Schools are not perfect places, and sometimes can be wholly awful places.  Though it should not be the student’s responsibility to fix things, sometimes nothing will happen until the wisdom, energy, and organization of young people make it happen.
Know Your Power
When I was in high school, I was a pain in the ass, and I was loud about it.  Some things I did well and were helpful, and some things were annoying enough to distract and deter from the intended goal, but both were important times to learn and grow.  Now, I’ve been teaching for a decently long while and wish I could send a letter to that kid with the pink hair writing articles and organizing protests in his friend’s basement.  That’s what this kinda is.
Let me tell you a secret that I doubt is really a secret.  Schools are scared of kids.  Kids make schools difficult places to run, difficult places to work in.  Kids are so human, so full of feelings and histories and constantly evolving lenses through which they see their world.  Teaching would be easy if there weren’t people involved, but, every day, there they are leaving their backpacks in weird places and falling in and out of love and hate and getting in actual tickle fights with the person next to them and then looking at you like, “well, why aren’t you teaching?”
I think teaching high school is pretty hard.  I’ve written about 50,000 words of a book in the last few months that, so far, could be titled, “teaching high school is hard, plus jokes.”  Teaching is tiring and frustrating work, but it’s work.  It’s a place I go to and a place I leave.  I think about teaching a lot when I’m not at school, but I don’t really need to.  So, teaching high school is pretty hard, but going to high school is a whole heck of a lot harder.
Going to high school means being surrounded by high schoolers, plus teachers, plus administrators and parents, all with a thousand expectations on how to act, dress, feel, think, not to mention what to read, what to write, and when, and how.  When you leave the school building, most of those expectations are still there.  Except for summer and select exceptional weekends, school is an unfairly large chunk of your whole life.  So, it’s worth having a school that you like.  Sometimes, that means screwing with the school that you have.
Also, you should understand that you have the right to a school that does not suck.  School sucks sometimes because it’s school, and because you’re a teenager, and because life.  Sorry.  That said, you do have rights.  Here’s a list of rights I think students have. Feel free to make your own better one.

STUDENT RIGHTS:
You have the right to a positive environment.
You have the right to be free from embarrassment, shaming, or screaming in your school day.
You have the right to have your identity, your passions, and your personal history affirmed.
You have the right to be heard.
You have the right to good classes, good teachers, and work that is good for you.
You have the right to be weird and still be treated like you belong.
You have the right to use changing your school as practice for changing the world.

If you feel like any of those things aren’t happening, then you have the right to ask and then demand and then work for and then jump up and down and stomp your feet until those things happen.  Here’s how.
Understand Your School
Before you start making change in your school, you need to understand as much as possible about how your school works.  This means understanding how the system works, what you can expect as far as support and resistance from people in different roles, and, above all else, understanding just how much power students have, so, let’s start there. 
It’s easy to imagine that students are at the bottom of the power ladder in a building.  They are subject to more rules with less input than anyone else, which is why there is so much work that needs to be done.  Students have things like detention and suspension, they are subject to grading, and as individuals need more from their school than their school needs from them.
A single student may struggle, but a group of students is the most powerful entity in a building.  Really. I promise.  It’s true, and schools hate when students start to figure that out.  Schools are given exactly the amount of power students collectively allow.  
Like I said, I was a pain in the ass when I was in high school.   I started an underground school newspaper that was critical of school policies (plus jokes).  I organized protests against deteriorating art budgets and fought the school on the censorship of materials in the library. In a high school of around 1,000 kids, about half the members of my school board knew me by first and last name, and I don’t think it was because they liked me very much.  Still, I didn’t push nearly as much as I could have because I was scared of what they would do to me.
Looking back from inside that structure, I realize now I could have done one whole heck of a lot more.  When it comes down to it, there’s almost nothing your school can do to you unless you break a rule or a something or attack someone.  Don’t do those things.
Really, seriously, don’t break stuff or hurt people.  I’m not discounting the whole history of violent rebellion in the world, but as much as your school may suck, your school is not a tool of fanatical fascism.  Your school is not stealing your family or cutting off any of your limbs, so long as you don’t break the big rules, and especially if you can manage to stay polite and keep a smile on your face, your school can do almost nothing but frown at you.  You can’t be suspended for disagreeing.  You can’t be suspended for asking questions or raising issues.  Your school should treat you fairly and respectfully.  If they don’t, fight (but not really) until they do.  Sometimes, that fight is easier if there are adults on your side.
It’s unfortunate and ageist and ridiculous, but sometimes one parent in a principal’s office is worth ten students.  It’s important to have parents behind you so that if the school is calling home with grumpiness, they have your back.  It’s important because parents may have easier access and a different audience if you can recruit them to your cause.  If your issue is the right sort of issue, you may find a friend in your school’s PTO, and certainly they should be interested in your side of whatever story needs to be told. 
Teachers are pretty restricted in terms of open rebellion.  This is my cop-out paragraph, and it’s going to be full of the same sorts of cop-outs you will likely hear from teachers.  Many teachers have family and mortgages.  It may be harsh, but they are not willing to risk those things to fight their bosses on hat rules.  When I was in high school, I had a few teachers that I knew were friendly to my various goals, and those teachers were profoundly helpful in talking through my plans with, in coaching my language on letters, and at least pointing me towards maps of the system I was trying to navigate.  When I asked them about their bosses, they would often smile, say they loved their bosses and every decision their bosses made, then show me a picture of their house with their family standing in front. 
In my high school, our fight was often with admin. Your situation may well be different though, and those bosses, the administration, may end up being a great help to you.  In fact, if you’re planning on being a student activist, it is not a bad idea to seek a positive relationship with your administrators along the way.  I’ve worked with some really brilliant people who run schools, and those people love to hear student voices and student concerns, and love to work with those students.  Principals are people too.  Reach out to them, be respectful and calm and informed.  Trips to the principal’s office are one heck of a lot better when you’ve asked to be there in the first place.
Once you’ve understood the school you’re in and the people around you, it’s time to pull a chair up backwards with a cup of hot chocolate and have a nice healthy chat with your very own special self and whatever minions you’ve gathered to your cause.  If you are angry, upset, offended or passionate about your cause, your instinct will be to sit and complain about said thing.  It feels good to say something is wrong in front of a group of people, and it feels even better when people in the room nod their heads.  Don’t get too caught up in this.  You have work to do, and your first job is to ask the best possible questions.
Ask the Right Questions
What is the root of the issue?
Lots more questions.  Is someone not being heard?  Not being represented?  Does the problem stem from mistreatment or from opportunities being limited?  To really fix something, you have to know more than what it is, you have to know where it’s coming from.
What do you want?  
Don’t stop at what you think is dumb, or what you think is wrong.  Come up with a plan for how things would be better, or how things could be instead.  Imagine the meetings you may have.  Will you be focused on solutions?  Will you bring new ideas to the table?  People shut down quickly when all you are doing is telling them they’re wrong, even if they are wrong.  People get defensive when you tell them they’ve screwed up, even (and especially) if they screwed up.  If you don’t need to establish past problems, don’t.  Focus on moving forward.  If all you’re looking for is an apology, you likely won’t get it, and if you do, an apology to you won’t help the next kid.
Will what you’re doing get you what you want?  
Anger feels righteous, and breaking rules is pretty fun, but will it accomplish your goals?  When I was a teenage rabble-rouser, I always wanted to jump first to whatever action was the most dramatic.  Sometimes those things worked, but often times it took a lot longer and a lot more compromise to change things after a loud, messy first attempt.  Keep your goal in mind, and make sure your plan is pointed at achieving that goal.
What is the scope of the issue? 
Is this a classroom problem, a building or district problem?  Is this regional, national or global?  If this is something just happening in your school, or just happening to you, you should look around and see if there are larger issues at play you can ally with.  If this is a global issue, finding global support may be easier, but you also need to figure out how you can make your issue personal and local to the people you are trying to convince.  There is no problem too big or too small for good work to be done, but you should be aware of the size of the problem at hand.
Does everyone have all the information?
If students are taking issue at the actions of a single teacher, great.  Before you move forward with massive protest, does that teacher know?  Does their boss?  Do they know, and do they know the whole story, and do you?  You have strength in your truth, but you compromise that strength when you only share it in pieces, or when you tailor it to different audiences.  Collect and distribute information to all stakeholders.  Doing so may just make everything move that much better as you move forward.  Information may solve the problem all on its own.
Take Action

Low Level Rucussing
Get Organized:
You can do this alone, I promise you, because you’re a beautiful magical snowflake and everything is possible.  Still, you should figure out if you have any support, and you should bring those supporters together.  Start a facebook group, an email chain, a twitter hashtag, whatever works for the people you are bringing together.  You could also, if people still do this, meet, like for real, so you can talk.  Organize your allies, your ideas, and your plan of action before you start.
Your group needs to decide:
1.)  What is the problem?
2.)  What needs to be done?
3.)  How should we do it?
Don’t do anything until everyone involved knows the answers to those questions and how you came to them.  Communication is organization, and organization is power.
Schedule a Meeting:
There are few great, productive options when you start agitating for change.  This means, like all great revolutionaries in history, you have to ask for a meeting. First and foremost, you need to give whoever has the ability to fix the problem a chance to fix the problem.  Figure out who that person is, and then make sure that person knows who you are.  That person may be a teacher, a staff member, a building administrator, a superintendent, the school board, or someone in the state government.  When I was your age, you little whipper-snapper, that meant writing a letter to a person who talked to the person who might be the person you want to talk to.  Now, you have e-mail, and e-mail kicks the ass of all but the most ridiculous bureaucracies.  Email someone in charge, introduce yourself, say a bit about the thing you are interested in changing, and ask for a meeting.  If they don’t respond in a day or two, email again.  If they don’t respond again, or respond in the negative, find out who that person’s boss is, and email that person instead.  Wash, rinse, repeat as necessary.
When you get a meeting, be sure to use it well.  The person you will be meeting with will most likely be a professional-meeting-being-atter.  They will want to drive the meeting to fit their needs.  Walk in knowing exactly what you want to say and not say.  Come with a plan, and look for resolutions, and don’t spend too long establishing there is a problem unless they need extra convincing.  Don’t waste their time, and don’t expect that everything will get fixed instantly.  They may need some time to think things over and talk to other people, and if you represent a group of people, you should make no final decisions without consulting them. There may need to be follow up meetings, which may sound super awesome, but be careful.  It’s very easy to confuse having a meeting with actually doing something.  Keep your eye on your goal, and keep working until it’s done.
Meeting To Do’s:
1.)  Know what you want said.
2.)  Be confident in your message.  Be courteous in your delivery.
3.)  Listen to what they say.
4.)  If they promise to do something, write it down and remind them later.
5.)  Keep pushing. 
Go Public:
If meetings aren’t working or the people involved refuse to have them, it may be time to take your message public.  The advantage of trying to settle things quietly and civilly before you go public is that all those emails you have unanswered are now ammo to prove you’ve done things right and been ignored.  If you aren’t getting heard in private, go public.  
Going public can mean lots of things.  It may be that news media is already sniffing around the school and all you need to do is raise your hand and step forward, or it may mean you need to contact them.  The problem with jumping towards the media first is that you are ultimately not in control of what they say.  Someone’s genie wish gave us the internet (bless their heart), and you should use it.  Write blog posts, start a Twitter or Facebook campaign.  Be funny, be satirical, use art, use your brilliance.  Make sure that anyone who can hear you knows you’re someone who should be listened to.  Sure, sometimes those people may also be media members, but unless your issue is, “I’m never on the news,” getting interviewed is not achieving a goal.  You need to make sure it helps you get there.
Talking to the media is dumb, because the media is pretty dumb, and also full of its own agendas and biases.  In order to help them helpful, you should make sure you (and anyone in your group who may get a microphone shoved in their face) have some talking points.  What are the crucial things you want to say?  Make it simple, and say them over and over and over.  Video and print media need to pick little clips of what you say, and your hour-long interview will be condensed down to 15 words you only kind-of said unless you give them those 15 words over and over again.  
But what if your 15 words are great, but no one will listen?  Well…
The Nuclear Options
Walk Out:
There’s a lot of reasons that Walk Out’s are dumb.  Really.  I’m not just saying that because I’m an adult and adults always tell kids not to be loud and ridiculous.  They don’t work because kids walk out and have no idea why.  That kid, that one with the hair thing and the shirt and stuff, that kid?  That’s the kid the news is going to talk to, and there’s no way that kid is going to say anything about your issue.  That kid just hates Biology.  I’m not saying don’t do a Walk Out, I’m saying if you’re going to do one, you better work your butt off to do it well, or it may just make things worse.
Sit in/Occupy:
Like a Walk Out, if you’re going to go here, you need to have all your ducks in a row, and then you need to be ready for your ducks to get in some serious trouble.  If you’ve gotten this far and nothing has worked and the only way to fight the system is to disrupt it, fine, but do everything you can to think of a better way first.
Make Change
Disruptive protest is a beautiful thing when it is done for beautiful reasons.  If there is great injustice, fight it with greatness, with fierce courage.  If the best brains around you are working with you, you can think of a better way to protest than ripping off the 60’s.  Go big, go loud, go brilliant and creative and wonderful.  Celebrate the beauty of human voice and experience in the faces of those who would restrain it.  Don’t be scared of work, because there will be work. Don’t be scared of set-backs, because you’ll get your share. Don’t just advocate for change - that’s what adults who are scared of losing their jobs do.  Make change. 
Push and push until the wall gives way.

misterrad:


HACK YOUR SCHOOL

A guide for students, from a teacher.

Helpful hints from within the system of how to change your school for the better.

DISCLAIMER:

Actions have consequences.  Challenging existing power structures is not an activity often met with ice cream parties and awards.  You may have people frowning at you.  I cannot promise there are not punishments that go along with some of the things I will present as options.  It’s on you to do things right, to know your school and its rules, and to act in ways that you are ready to accept responsibility for.  Hopefully doing the first options of change well will remove the potential “you’re in trouble mister” options from the table.

This information is intended for (and, really, only useful for) positive action to create a better school for students.  Schools are not perfect places, and sometimes can be wholly awful places.  Though it should not be the student’s responsibility to fix things, sometimes nothing will happen until the wisdom, energy, and organization of young people make it happen.

Know Your Power

When I was in high school, I was a pain in the ass, and I was loud about it.  Some things I did well and were helpful, and some things were annoying enough to distract and deter from the intended goal, but both were important times to learn and grow.  Now, I’ve been teaching for a decently long while and wish I could send a letter to that kid with the pink hair writing articles and organizing protests in his friend’s basement.  That’s what this kinda is.

Let me tell you a secret that I doubt is really a secret.  Schools are scared of kids.  Kids make schools difficult places to run, difficult places to work in.  Kids are so human, so full of feelings and histories and constantly evolving lenses through which they see their world.  Teaching would be easy if there weren’t people involved, but, every day, there they are leaving their backpacks in weird places and falling in and out of love and hate and getting in actual tickle fights with the person next to them and then looking at you like, “well, why aren’t you teaching?”

I think teaching high school is pretty hard.  I’ve written about 50,000 words of a book in the last few months that, so far, could be titled, “teaching high school is hard, plus jokes.”  Teaching is tiring and frustrating work, but it’s work.  It’s a place I go to and a place I leave.  I think about teaching a lot when I’m not at school, but I don’t really need to.  So, teaching high school is pretty hard, but going to high school is a whole heck of a lot harder.

Going to high school means being surrounded by high schoolers, plus teachers, plus administrators and parents, all with a thousand expectations on how to act, dress, feel, think, not to mention what to read, what to write, and when, and how.  When you leave the school building, most of those expectations are still there.  Except for summer and select exceptional weekends, school is an unfairly large chunk of your whole life.  So, it’s worth having a school that you like.  Sometimes, that means screwing with the school that you have.

Also, you should understand that you have the right to a school that does not suck.  School sucks sometimes because it’s school, and because you’re a teenager, and because life.  Sorry.  That said, you do have rights.  Here’s a list of rights I think students have. Feel free to make your own better one.

STUDENT RIGHTS:

You have the right to a positive environment.

You have the right to be free from embarrassment, shaming, or screaming in your school day.

You have the right to have your identity, your passions, and your personal history affirmed.

You have the right to be heard.

You have the right to good classes, good teachers, and work that is good for you.

You have the right to be weird and still be treated like you belong.

You have the right to use changing your school as practice for changing the world.


If you feel like any of those things aren’t happening, then you have the right to ask and then demand and then work for and then jump up and down and stomp your feet until those things happen.  Here’s how.

Understand Your School

Before you start making change in your school, you need to understand as much as possible about how your school works.  This means understanding how the system works, what you can expect as far as support and resistance from people in different roles, and, above all else, understanding just how much power students have, so, let’s start there.

It’s easy to imagine that students are at the bottom of the power ladder in a building.  They are subject to more rules with less input than anyone else, which is why there is so much work that needs to be done.  Students have things like detention and suspension, they are subject to grading, and as individuals need more from their school than their school needs from them.

A single student may struggle, but a group of students is the most powerful entity in a building.  Really. I promise.  It’s true, and schools hate when students start to figure that out.  Schools are given exactly the amount of power students collectively allow.  

Like I said, I was a pain in the ass when I was in high school.   I started an underground school newspaper that was critical of school policies (plus jokes).  I organized protests against deteriorating art budgets and fought the school on the censorship of materials in the library. In a high school of around 1,000 kids, about half the members of my school board knew me by first and last name, and I don’t think it was because they liked me very much.  Still, I didn’t push nearly as much as I could have because I was scared of what they would do to me.

Looking back from inside that structure, I realize now I could have done one whole heck of a lot more.  When it comes down to it, there’s almost nothing your school can do to you unless you break a rule or a something or attack someone.  Don’t do those things.

Really, seriously, don’t break stuff or hurt people.  I’m not discounting the whole history of violent rebellion in the world, but as much as your school may suck, your school is not a tool of fanatical fascism.  Your school is not stealing your family or cutting off any of your limbs, so long as you don’t break the big rules, and especially if you can manage to stay polite and keep a smile on your face, your school can do almost nothing but frown at you.  You can’t be suspended for disagreeing.  You can’t be suspended for asking questions or raising issues.  Your school should treat you fairly and respectfully.  If they don’t, fight (but not really) until they do.  Sometimes, that fight is easier if there are adults on your side.

It’s unfortunate and ageist and ridiculous, but sometimes one parent in a principal’s office is worth ten students.  It’s important to have parents behind you so that if the school is calling home with grumpiness, they have your back.  It’s important because parents may have easier access and a different audience if you can recruit them to your cause.  If your issue is the right sort of issue, you may find a friend in your school’s PTO, and certainly they should be interested in your side of whatever story needs to be told.

Teachers are pretty restricted in terms of open rebellion.  This is my cop-out paragraph, and it’s going to be full of the same sorts of cop-outs you will likely hear from teachers.  Many teachers have family and mortgages.  It may be harsh, but they are not willing to risk those things to fight their bosses on hat rules.  When I was in high school, I had a few teachers that I knew were friendly to my various goals, and those teachers were profoundly helpful in talking through my plans with, in coaching my language on letters, and at least pointing me towards maps of the system I was trying to navigate.  When I asked them about their bosses, they would often smile, say they loved their bosses and every decision their bosses made, then show me a picture of their house with their family standing in front.

In my high school, our fight was often with admin. Your situation may well be different though, and those bosses, the administration, may end up being a great help to you.  In fact, if you’re planning on being a student activist, it is not a bad idea to seek a positive relationship with your administrators along the way.  I’ve worked with some really brilliant people who run schools, and those people love to hear student voices and student concerns, and love to work with those students.  Principals are people too.  Reach out to them, be respectful and calm and informed.  Trips to the principal’s office are one heck of a lot better when you’ve asked to be there in the first place.

Once you’ve understood the school you’re in and the people around you, it’s time to pull a chair up backwards with a cup of hot chocolate and have a nice healthy chat with your very own special self and whatever minions you’ve gathered to your cause.  If you are angry, upset, offended or passionate about your cause, your instinct will be to sit and complain about said thing.  It feels good to say something is wrong in front of a group of people, and it feels even better when people in the room nod their heads.  Don’t get too caught up in this.  You have work to do, and your first job is to ask the best possible questions.

Ask the Right Questions

What is the root of the issue?

Lots more questions.  Is someone not being heard?  Not being represented?  Does the problem stem from mistreatment or from opportunities being limited?  To really fix something, you have to know more than what it is, you have to know where it’s coming from.

What do you want?  

Don’t stop at what you think is dumb, or what you think is wrong.  Come up with a plan for how things would be better, or how things could be instead.  Imagine the meetings you may have.  Will you be focused on solutions?  Will you bring new ideas to the table?  People shut down quickly when all you are doing is telling them they’re wrong, even if they are wrong.  People get defensive when you tell them they’ve screwed up, even (and especially) if they screwed up.  If you don’t need to establish past problems, don’t.  Focus on moving forward.  If all you’re looking for is an apology, you likely won’t get it, and if you do, an apology to you won’t help the next kid.

Will what you’re doing get you what you want?  

Anger feels righteous, and breaking rules is pretty fun, but will it accomplish your goals?  When I was a teenage rabble-rouser, I always wanted to jump first to whatever action was the most dramatic.  Sometimes those things worked, but often times it took a lot longer and a lot more compromise to change things after a loud, messy first attempt.  Keep your goal in mind, and make sure your plan is pointed at achieving that goal.

What is the scope of the issue?

Is this a classroom problem, a building or district problem?  Is this regional, national or global?  If this is something just happening in your school, or just happening to you, you should look around and see if there are larger issues at play you can ally with.  If this is a global issue, finding global support may be easier, but you also need to figure out how you can make your issue personal and local to the people you are trying to convince.  There is no problem too big or too small for good work to be done, but you should be aware of the size of the problem at hand.

Does everyone have all the information?

If students are taking issue at the actions of a single teacher, great.  Before you move forward with massive protest, does that teacher know?  Does their boss?  Do they know, and do they know the whole story, and do you?  You have strength in your truth, but you compromise that strength when you only share it in pieces, or when you tailor it to different audiences.  Collect and distribute information to all stakeholders.  Doing so may just make everything move that much better as you move forward.  Information may solve the problem all on its own.

Take Action

Low Level Rucussing

Get Organized:

You can do this alone, I promise you, because you’re a beautiful magical snowflake and everything is possible.  Still, you should figure out if you have any support, and you should bring those supporters together.  Start a facebook group, an email chain, a twitter hashtag, whatever works for the people you are bringing together.  You could also, if people still do this, meet, like for real, so you can talk.  Organize your allies, your ideas, and your plan of action before you start.

Your group needs to decide:

1.)  What is the problem?

2.)  What needs to be done?

3.)  How should we do it?

Don’t do anything until everyone involved knows the answers to those questions and how you came to them.  Communication is organization, and organization is power.

Schedule a Meeting:

There are few great, productive options when you start agitating for change.  This means, like all great revolutionaries in history, you have to ask for a meeting. First and foremost, you need to give whoever has the ability to fix the problem a chance to fix the problem.  Figure out who that person is, and then make sure that person knows who you are.  That person may be a teacher, a staff member, a building administrator, a superintendent, the school board, or someone in the state government.  When I was your age, you little whipper-snapper, that meant writing a letter to a person who talked to the person who might be the person you want to talk to.  Now, you have e-mail, and e-mail kicks the ass of all but the most ridiculous bureaucracies.  Email someone in charge, introduce yourself, say a bit about the thing you are interested in changing, and ask for a meeting.  If they don’t respond in a day or two, email again.  If they don’t respond again, or respond in the negative, find out who that person’s boss is, and email that person instead.  Wash, rinse, repeat as necessary.

When you get a meeting, be sure to use it well.  The person you will be meeting with will most likely be a professional-meeting-being-atter.  They will want to drive the meeting to fit their needs.  Walk in knowing exactly what you want to say and not say.  Come with a plan, and look for resolutions, and don’t spend too long establishing there is a problem unless they need extra convincing.  Don’t waste their time, and don’t expect that everything will get fixed instantly.  They may need some time to think things over and talk to other people, and if you represent a group of people, you should make no final decisions without consulting them. There may need to be follow up meetings, which may sound super awesome, but be careful.  It’s very easy to confuse having a meeting with actually doing something.  Keep your eye on your goal, and keep working until it’s done.

Meeting To Do’s:

1.)  Know what you want said.

2.)  Be confident in your message.  Be courteous in your delivery.

3.)  Listen to what they say.

4.)  If they promise to do something, write it down and remind them later.

5.)  Keep pushing.

Go Public:

If meetings aren’t working or the people involved refuse to have them, it may be time to take your message public.  The advantage of trying to settle things quietly and civilly before you go public is that all those emails you have unanswered are now ammo to prove you’ve done things right and been ignored.  If you aren’t getting heard in private, go public.  

Going public can mean lots of things.  It may be that news media is already sniffing around the school and all you need to do is raise your hand and step forward, or it may mean you need to contact them.  The problem with jumping towards the media first is that you are ultimately not in control of what they say.  Someone’s genie wish gave us the internet (bless their heart), and you should use it.  Write blog posts, start a Twitter or Facebook campaign.  Be funny, be satirical, use art, use your brilliance.  Make sure that anyone who can hear you knows you’re someone who should be listened to.  Sure, sometimes those people may also be media members, but unless your issue is, “I’m never on the news,” getting interviewed is not achieving a goal.  You need to make sure it helps you get there.

Talking to the media is dumb, because the media is pretty dumb, and also full of its own agendas and biases.  In order to help them helpful, you should make sure you (and anyone in your group who may get a microphone shoved in their face) have some talking points.  What are the crucial things you want to say?  Make it simple, and say them over and over and over.  Video and print media need to pick little clips of what you say, and your hour-long interview will be condensed down to 15 words you only kind-of said unless you give them those 15 words over and over again.  

But what if your 15 words are great, but no one will listen?  Well…

The Nuclear Options

Walk Out:

There’s a lot of reasons that Walk Out’s are dumb.  Really.  I’m not just saying that because I’m an adult and adults always tell kids not to be loud and ridiculous.  They don’t work because kids walk out and have no idea why.  That kid, that one with the hair thing and the shirt and stuff, that kid?  That’s the kid the news is going to talk to, and there’s no way that kid is going to say anything about your issue.  That kid just hates Biology.  I’m not saying don’t do a Walk Out, I’m saying if you’re going to do one, you better work your butt off to do it well, or it may just make things worse.

Sit in/Occupy:

Like a Walk Out, if you’re going to go here, you need to have all your ducks in a row, and then you need to be ready for your ducks to get in some serious trouble.  If you’ve gotten this far and nothing has worked and the only way to fight the system is to disrupt it, fine, but do everything you can to think of a better way first.

Make Change

Disruptive protest is a beautiful thing when it is done for beautiful reasons.  If there is great injustice, fight it with greatness, with fierce courage.  If the best brains around you are working with you, you can think of a better way to protest than ripping off the 60’s.  Go big, go loud, go brilliant and creative and wonderful.  Celebrate the beauty of human voice and experience in the faces of those who would restrain it.  Don’t be scared of work, because there will be work. Don’t be scared of set-backs, because you’ll get your share. Don’t just advocate for change - that’s what adults who are scared of losing their jobs do.  Make change.


Push and push until the wall gives way.