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On Fear

When I was in college, I almost switched my major from English Lit. to Sociology. Part of it was because of my sociology professor: he was one of the best teachers I have ever had. Part of it was because, from a young age, I have been fascinated with social movements and why people do what we do.

The highlight of my elementary school field trip to DC was not the Air & Space Museum or Dorothy’s shoes; it was the Woolworth’s lunch counter from Greensboro, it screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-08-19-pmwas the Lincoln Memorial, it was Thurgood Marshall’s resting spot at Arlington National Cemetery. I chose to research Rosa Parks in fifth grade. I chose to research the Montgomery Bus Boycott in seventh grade for an independent project and again in high school for a long-form essay for a History Day Competition. I won and went all the way to States with that essay.

My all-time favorite undergraduate class was my Social Movements class at F&M with the fantastic Professor Noakes (yeah, the guy in the first paragraph). I learned so much about protests, people’s passions, and the change that can come from organizing around a common cause even when it seems as though every force in the universe is working against you. My passion for these topics eventually carried over to my teaching; I taught middle schoolers and high schoolers about the Resistance during World War II, the Underground Railroad, the Bus Boycott, and so many other important movements that have shaped our world.

When I was younger, I wished I could have joined the Freedom Marches. I was convinced that I would have, had I been alive at that time. I mean, who wouldn’t want to march for equal rights and social justice? Turns out, that answer is me.

ME. I didn’t march at a time when I should have. I didn’t march with the women in Washington. I. Didn’t. March. And I regret it with all my heart.

I’ve been donating. I’ve been listening. I’ve been watching. I’ve been speaking out in somewhat safe snippets. I’ve been proudly donning snowflake art on my fingernails, around my neck, and on my ears. I’ve been supporting those who did march.

But, I declined all four invitations I had to go to DC. We have two young sons, and I knew I couldn’t take them with me for a million and one reasons. I knew that I’d have work to do. I knew that losing those hours would equate to a tougher time paying our mortgage and other bills. This is our reality now that both my husband and I chose to be self-employed… Turns out, I would have lost the money we needed to pay an emergency heating bill had I not been here working Saturday. It was a good decision to stay home.

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-1-11-42-pmBut, it wasn’t. Because when it comes right down to it, those weren’t the only reasons I didn’t go. I didn’t march on Washington because I was afraid. I was afraid of potential violence. I am thrilled that there wasn’t any. (FACT: The violent protests that happened Friday were not in any way associated with the Women’s March. FACT: There was not one arrest during the Women’s March. Not one.)

I was more afraid of the backlash. After all, I started a brand new business in my very red part of central Pennsylvania, and I need customers. My husband has a business in our very red part of central Pennsylvania, and he needs to retain his customers. It isn’t easy being blue here. It’s harder being a snowflake here.

It’s a hell of a thing to admit these things. Just reading it makes it sound like weak excuses from a privileged white woman who has never had to face the injustices and hardships others have faced their whole lives. I am well aware that on January 20, those injustices and hardships became even more real for millions of Americans. And today, after just four days in office, gag orders have been put in place on various government agencies, the ACA and CHIP and Medicaid are on the chopping block (this affects all four members of my immediate family), our environment is at risk with the executive order to pursue the XL Pipeline, Native Americans’ rights are at risk with the same executive order… I should have marched for all of us, and I don’t know that I’ll ever completely forgive myself for not doing so.

A fellow snowflake has a birthday today. And, she challenged all of her friends to overcome fear to make ourselves better on HER day. I wish I had confronted my fear and marched with her in person, rather than just in spirit. I’m done being afraid of what other people will think and say about my beliefs and convictions; let the chips fall where they may. I will use my First Amendment Right as long as I still have one. This post is the first step of my march.

Love you, B! I’m indebted to you and everyone else who didn’t let anything stop you from marching. Thanks for giving me the push I needed to “untether my soul” – you’ve given me quite the gift on your birthday.

Images via Flickr by U.S. Embassy The Hague and Mobilus in Mobili

Wrong Turn?

It’s been a little over a year since I walked away from my teaching career and started freelancing full time. I decided it’s high time to reflect on my so-called wrong turn. Fair warning: it’s a bit long.

It’s a hell of a thing to wake up when you are 34 years old and still wonder what you want to be when https://www.flickr.com/photos/memoryfreak/6511834823/in/photolist-aVqRCc-5MnsCd-aUDBTz-5AN6w4-aW1nnr-5AMnn4-5c62Qb-aH9b9M-5wqPta-7EFnR6-quvGkm-nnGct2-7fNUg1-gHYFC3-dmyfCP-akHicV-5PHjgc-aSiMac-9TGd3J-akKZfS-dTAKAs-9wkRVT-qeRLQt-qeNnXN-akH9hK-akHjQR-akKXtC-akH9XT-bV6Vif-dTAKQL-5PHfun-9PSLHY-52bYaY-5PHfur-5PHfuR-7fP58U-b3Hzjc-apemzB-bqCkMm-3cjrwC-hsbFtQ-dTAKJ9-akHket-akHhmx-akL6hb-akHbtR-akHceM-akHcux-akL1id-akL9ryyou grow up. It’s an even scarier thing when you’re saddled with a gigantic mortgage, a self-employed husband, and two kids who are just now starting school with hefty tuition bills and to play organized (read: who the hell knew it would be this expensive when they’re 3 and 6?) sports. But, that’s exactly where I am. And, I’m the one who put myself – and my family – here.

I had done everything right. I worked hard, got good grades, became salutatorian, got into a great liberal arts college, got on staff at the college newspaper as a freshman, and quickly became assistant features editor. Then all hell broke loose when I decided to transfer to another great liberal arts college to continue with my English Literature degree but get my teaching certification on top of it. I blame the adorable, energetic, eager to learn inner-city kids I tutored when I tagged along to a church to profile the Black Student Union for the college newspaper. They made me fall in love with the idea of teaching, even though I had come from a family full of educators and did not in any way, shape, or form want to become one myself.

So, I continued to do everything right after transferring. I commuted to save money, I increased my credit load in order to graduate on time, I became certified as a writing tutor, I did community service, I got a fantastic cooperating teacher and placement, and I graduated near the very top of my class again. I was hired as a middle school language arts teacher before I graduated, and I was writing curriculum before I knew it. I lived at home to save more money, got engaged, bought a fixer-upper, got married, got a dog, and had a great life.

Until I realized I wasn’t so much in love with teaching as I was with the idea of teaching. The bureaucracy and politics were one thing, the outrageous behaviors of some of the students were another thing, and I was loving my job a whole lot less than I thought I should have been. The bright spots were the kids who loved to read, who wanted to learn from their quirky teacher, and who appreciated my structured and fast-paced classes. I had never failed at anything that I had worked so hard to achieve, and I was struggling with accepting the fact that even though I was excelling at teaching I didn’t love it. I had all of the mugs and shirts about changing lives and not knowing where my influence ended, but I just wasn’t feeling it like I thought I should have been.

So, I decided to try again. I was hired by another school district and felt a new energy in a new building (even though I missed my original colleagues dearly and still do to this day). I had a much better first year. I had kids whom I loved and who loved me, and it was a good feeling to be teaching sixteen year olds to appreciate Shakespeare and Poe. So, I thought maybe it was the switch to high school from middle school that I needed. And then the years went by and the faces changed and I kept looking at myself in the mirror, thinking that I could not do this for another 30 years.

I wasn’t miserable. I loved my new colleagues. I loved my new school. I just didn’t love teaching. And, once again, I felt like a failure. My students were doing well and we had a great rapport and I was looked upon as a teacher leader, and yet, something didn’t feel quite right. Teaching is the hardest job in the world for so many reasons, and when you’re not sure it’s what you want to do for the rest of your life, you can’t do it justice.

I changed roles in my school district, becoming a coach to fellow teachers, and loved it. I didn’t realize how much teaching had strapped me down. You live by the bell, you pee when you can, and you don’t speak to someone your own age for hours at a time. In my new role, I was treated more as a professional, I was asked questions about my teaching philosophy and instructional delivery, and I put my brand new Master’s degree to good use. I attended conferences and mingled and learned and grew professionally more than I ever had in seven years of teaching. But, I was seeing a stronger emphasis on testing and creating a set of skills students should learn rather than a robust curriculum that allowed them to explore and read and discuss freely. I was uncomfortable with pushing teachers to standardize so much. At the end of the year, the funding dried up, and I was back in the classroom. That was when I knew the end was near.

I was giving higher-stakes tests to kids with each passing year. I was sitting in IEP meetings looking at sobbing fifteen-year-old students who weren’t going to be able to take a welding class if they didn’t pass the standardized state test. I was listening to administrators talk about data and results instead of kids and their needs. And, I was being told that we needed to be positive and not put out anything negative to the community while cheering on those blasted tests and their results. The tests were one thing; putting on a happy face and shoving them at kids who needed something else was quite another.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/maduixaaaa/2567638237/in/photolist-4UTPoM-8pdi7D-4YEiod-AGAuv-qw3yq-5KDKgX-6VGpG7-8LWNy-es6do-4BHuFz-cXnQnS-NGu9r-HFzM8-6Qsm5S-aQUzkH-5uYFsX-qFSrEb-8HaxTp-9qZzSr-y5QQo-eEEUtL-5FDb6x-m69ai-r4AkuU-4fjrQ3-6nh2Nf-cAUanG-qhxiz-qF8GP-9TbbpY-4kELbG-9dx56x-6ayisx-8N1kAe-ahHEgA-7vMPcL-rZ2oCr-4AQq9Z-SVozu-7NwdQ-6BWLsL-iSWAj-iS5Ef-yxXYH-6kySLQ-aSFFYK-fn5Sv7-7bsCdk-qERwNJ-6NRXzsI knew I had to get out. I knew I could not continue to teach to a test not only in which I did not believe but which harms students. I had sleepless nights, panic attacks, and endless lists of pros and cons. How could I leave a salaried union job, a tiny yearly raise, benefits, and health insurance? How could I start a job that doesn’t guarantee work, which in turn doesn’t guarantee pay? How could I ask my husband to pay for our new health insurance plan? How could I throw away a Master of Education plus 60 additional credits? How could I walk away from 12 years of teaching?

The girl who never veered from the straight and narrow, the college kid who tutored in the writing center while carrying an overloaded course schedule, the student teacher who taught on her own for weeks while her cooperating teacher was out with pneumonia, the teacher who always did as she was told and whose students excelled, was going to do the unthinkable. I walked away. I took a leave of absence, started blogging and working as a freelance writer, and within two months had written a viral blog post in response to Campbell Brown’s attacks on public school teachers and unions. I was loving my new job, my new creative outlet, and the fact that I would not have to go back to school in August.

There truly was no looking back when my newfound courage led me to write very openly and candidly about some local education issues. I was very honest and had some strong opinions. Teachers were supporting me. Parents were supporting me. My district did not. And, being censored by my district was the last straw. I always taught my students to speak the truth respectfully and to support their opinions with truth, facts, and solid evidence. I would have been a hypocrite if I didn’t do that myself. I resigned.

Now, I am a freelance writer who barely has time to blog. I mostly write web content for various companies, but if you Google my name, you’ll only find my three blogs. I don’t have a by-line for my day job, but it pays the bills and I get to be home with our boys while I work. The problem is, my current position isn’t quite feeding my soul enough yet, either. I’m not naïve. I know most people don’t spring out of bed, bound out the door, and sing happily on their way to work, but writing about electrical engineering and Big Data isn’t quite what I was looking for, either.

So, why reflect on my sordid tale of being a lost 34 year old? (If you’re still reading, you’re a saint.) I know I’m not alone. Just in my small circle of friends, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count everyone who wishes they had chosen a different professional life. So many of my college friends are not working in a field even remotely related to their degree. Tons of them aren’t working the jobs any of us had imagined: one is a veterinarian tech, one helps at a homeless shelter, one gives music lessons to teenagers, one works as a librarian in a small public library, and the list goes on and on.

These are the brave ones who left their well paying professional jobs that match their degrees to do something else. They took a leap of faith before I did and served as my inspiration, but they’re almost all struggling to make ends meet because they chose to do the work that makes them happy rather than the work that makes them money. A noble cause, for sure, but we’ve still got undergraduate school loans and graduate school loans and rent and mortgages and life weighing us down.

Most of us are between the ages of 30 and 50. Most of us don’t regret any choices we’ve made because they’ve led us to where we are now. I am a much better mother and writer because I was a teacher. I am a much better friend because of my teacher friends. But, when I scan LinkedIn profiles to do my day job, I’m shocked to see that people in this age group have had what seems to be an average of at least eight different jobs. Where I come from, you go to college, get hired in your field, and hold that job until you retire. My parents still freak out about the choice I made more than a year ago. Where I come from, you just don’t do what I did.

Maybe this is what we need to be talking about more often. Maybe we need to figure out a way to help people struggling to make the decision to leave a profession or stick with it so they don’t put themselves through the wringer like I did. Maybe we need to help high school and college students with internships and job shadowing and work experiences before pushing them to make life decisions at the tender age of 18 (instead of shoving standardized tests at them that don’t mean a damn thing). Maybe we just need to share our stories so that other people who feel stuck in their profession don’t think they are just miserable people and that there is something wrong with them for not loving their jobs.

I’m still working it out, but maybe my wrong turn wasn’t such a wrong turn after all.

Images via Flickr by familytreasures and … marta … maduixaaaa

On Registering for Kindergarten and Choosing a Catholic School

I can’t complain. I was fortunate enough to have a summer baby, so I got an extra year with my first baby at home while other moms were standing puffy-eyed and runny-nosed in school parking lots late last August. Instead of sending him off to kindergarten at the tender age of barely five, we are sending him off to kindergarten at the ripe, old age of six. I have read all of the research. Hell, I even did some of the research for my freelancing job. I know there are all kinds of statistics on the values of delaying a kindergarten start, just as there are all kinds of statistics on the evils of “redshirting” your kindergartener. But, I’m a mom who saw her child struggle with speech and some fine motor skills when he started preschool. I’m a mom who saw her son hang back even though he wanted to play and knew the answers but was afraid nobody would understand him if he spoke. I’m a mom who made the gut-wrenching decision to have him repeat preschool and watch his very first friends move on to pre-K without him. So, I redshirted my kid. And, I’m so glad that I did.

Homework by Chris YarzabIn this year of pre-K, my sensitive, bright, quiet son has blossomed. He seeks out kids to play with at school, after happily playing alone during his two preschool years. He now has rich discussions with the school helpers and teachers. In fact, the pre-K volunteer who helps the kids write journals once a week had no idea my son has overcome a severe speech delay. He also recognizes sight words and figures out words when we spell them instead of just telling him to do something (“Please bring me an e-g-g.”) He asks questions and makes connections and watches shows on The Weather Channel and The Learning Channel that I never imagined would interest a five year old. He writes notes to us in church. He helps his younger brother and cousin and pretends to read to them. And, he will start kindergarten in a few short months.

Last night we visited his new school and started the registration process. The principal, faculty and staff, and school nurses welcomed us with open arms and impressed me from the moment I stepped inside. I was more impressed by my son, however. He walked into the kids’ room, answered the brand new teacher at an appropriate volume with clear enunciation, and sought out the action. I wanted to follow him, give him a hug, and tell him that my husband and I would be right across the hall, but he turned and gave us a wave and said, “Goodbye.”

And, that was that. This child of mine about whom I have lost years of sleep is going to be okay. He’s going to be more than okay. He’s ready.

And, he’s going to be in a school that values faith and respect and encourages curiosity. He’s going to be in a school that proudly displays students’ writing assignments (completed in cursive!), creative artwork, group projects, and homework schedules on the walls. He’s going to be in a school that uses short, formative assessments as tools to evaluate students. The one standardized assessment utilized by the school is viewed as a tool to evaluate the programs and curricula, and not to evaluate students. He’s going to be in a school with a principal who stood and answered all of my “I’m a former teacher and want to know what goes on here” questions with honesty and compassion. There was no spin. There were no excuses. I may not have agreed with every single thing that she said, but I know that I will be able to communicate concerns to this principal without being snowballed or told “that’s just the way it is.”

I am going to continue fighting for public education with all of my might. I am a proud product of our public education system, and I was a fourth generation public school teacher. I will more than likely be sending both of our sons to public education for grades 9-12. I believe in public schools and the power of students, parents, and teachers to continue to work to get our administrators, legislators, and departments of education to right the course and get back to the business of teaching and learning.

But, our sons will be attending our local Catholic School for grades K-8 because I believe in small class sizes, strong curricula that includes science and social studies, and an educational environment that puts students, not tests first. I am putting my money where my mouth is, by putting my own child/student first while I continue to fight for others’ children and students.

Image via Flickr by Chris Yarzab

Hayden’s Heart Needs You This February

Of course, everyone knows that February means Valentine’s Day. But, February also is the time to wear red and think about your own heart and the hearts of your loved ones because February is American Heart Month.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Each year, 1 in 4 deaths are caused by heart disease. Fortunately, heart disease often is preventable when people make healthy choices and manage their health.

Hayden's HeartFor many Americans, though, hearts are on their minds year-round. These heart families are all too aware of the devastating effects of congenital heart defects (CHD), the most common birth defect in the country, and the leading cause of all infant deaths in the U.S. One such family, the Dorsetts, have been raising awareness and honoring their son with Hayden’s Heart, a nonprofit foundation that works to help families with their staggering medical and travel expenses. Born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, Hayden died at the age of 5 months, 4 days. Now, Hayden’s family keeps his memory alive and helps other heart families by hosting fundraisers, holding events, and organizing care packages to help others in Hayden’s name.

Right now, you can help Hayden’s Heart by logging on to Sevenly and purchasing apparel. The best part is, $7 from each item purchased will go to Hayden’s Heart now through February 15. The designers created very special options just for Hayden’s Heart, and they’re available this week only.

Make this February more than just about flowers and sappy cards. Do something to help heart families across the country and to raise awareness for CHD. For more information, visit Hayden’s Heart on Facebook or read Hayden’s Heart blog.

Christmas Morning

It is exactly one week before Christmas, and I am worried that I won’t be ready. I think I have purchased all of the presents. I think I have all of the ingredients to bake cookies. I think I have enough bows and batteries. I have plans to clean and bake like a madwoman this weekend, I made arrangements for our five year old to visit with my parents so I can accomplish more while he has fun with them, and I have cleared my work schedule as of Friday, Dec. 19 at 4pm, to give myself time to make Christmas magic happen. My real work schedule, that is. If only I could get paid to wash windows, scrub bathrooms, mop floors, vacuum, dust, and somehow get those Lucky Charms marshmallow spots off the carpet! At least my Christmas trees are up and decorated. A designer of Christmas ornaments and gifts, Patience Brewster helped inspire me to slow down and enjoy decorating the trees and reflect on our traditions.

In the meantime, my poor husband will be assembling toys, finishing the homemade Lego table, and making room for all of the gifts from Santa. He will be in charge of making sure that Cookie, our elf, finds his way to a few more really good hiding spots, and he will have the distinct pleasure of vacuuming our stairs, cleaning our banisters, making our oven and kitchen sink shine, and washing down the walls that are too high for me to reach – picture a 20-foot stairwell wall and a precariously perched ladder.

Christmas Eve will find us, after family dinner and church services and the battle of getting two so-excited-that-they-are-vibrating boys into bed, cleaning up for the final time, praying our angels stay asleep while we make trip after trip from the basement and secret gift closet, loading batteries into toys in gift bags, and preparing the shiny new iPad with games and apps galore.

With everything that I still have to do, I have one thought that gets me through the pre-Christmas chaos: Christmas morning. When it comes right down to it, Christmas morning is the reason I drive myself crazy from Black Friday to Christmas Eve. Truth be told, I have more trouble staying in bed on Christmas morning than our boys do. I wake up before the sun, if I Christmas Morning 004 by dony31even sleep at all, and force my grumbling husband out of bed. I start turning on Christmas lights and lighting candles. I turn up the fire, start filling the cookie trays, and then I just sit and take it all in. It’s the proverbial calm before the storm.

When I was young, my brother and I were not allowed to peek at the presents on Christmas morning until my grandparents arrived. It was torture, waiting for them to arrive, but we always did. I never understood why we had to wait, because I knew that we could just show our grandparents what Santa brought us; now that I am a mom, I understand. Christmas morning is more special for the adults than it is for the children. We get to see the kids’ faces and experience the joy and magic of Christmas through them. They get new toys and games, but we get the joy of being together and spending time in the moment as a whole family. I admit, I have made it a little easier for our boys by ordering my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to be at our home bright and early. The funny thing is, nobody really complains about the early hour.

We open our stockings first and hand out presents to family members. We are not one of those families that takes turns opening gifts, but we do try to keep a slower pace to the opening frenzy. Our boys are still at the age when they enjoy handing gifts to others – and occasionally helping to open them – so we do get to see the surprises hidden in the packages, for the most part. We snap pictures and we struggle to open cardboard boxes and those straight-out-of-Fort-Knox plastic straps that hold down each and every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure and accessory. My favorite part is watching everyone’s faces as more wrapping paper flies and more wishes come true.

After the gifts are open, we start our traditional family breakfast. English muffins, Canadian bacon, dozens of eggs, and stacks of American and cheddar cheese appear on the counter as we make our homemade breakfast sandwiches. My grandmother is in charge of the eggs, my mom is in charge of the Canadian bacon, and my aunt and I are in charge of the toasters. After all these years, it is embarrassing to say that we still have to ask everyone how they want their eggs to be cooked. But, I know my grandmother will gross out everyone by putting jam on her sandwich. I know my brother will drink a quart of chocolate milk by himself. I know our younger son will refuse to eat until he is seated on my dad’s lap. And, I know that it will be another Christmas morning that makes my heart smile.

In the meantime, I just remembered we are going to ride on the Polar Express Sunday afternoon. Who schedules a Polar Express train ride four days before Christmas? What the Hell?

Image via Flickr by dony31

**Announcing TRUTH In Teaching**

I am so pleased to announce that I am undertaking a huge venture and yet another leave-of-absence leap of faith: TRUTH In Teaching, my new website and blog, created especially for teachers. When I wrote “An Open Letter to Campbell Brown from a Teacher on Leave” a few days ago, I never imagined the outpouring of support I would receive. The letter has gone viral, I have received hundreds of emails, and teachers continue to comment and speak out on the original blog post. In all of the correspondence, one thing has become abundantly clear: teachers need a voice but are afraid to speak up because of backlash from the public and their administrators. So, I am thrilled to announce TRUTH In Teaching.

My TRUTH partner and I share a passion for helping teachers in every way that we can to combat education reform, high-stakes testing, and the war on teachers. We know this will not be an easy journey, and we don’t expect to influence policymakers and big businesses who are trying to take over public education… at least, not right away. But, we do hope to keep the discussion that started with the letter going. And, we hope that teachers feel more confident in joining the discussion to get out the TRUTH about what it’s like to teach in today’s public education system, so that parents and policymakers alike can start shifting the conversation back to education and learning and away from the numbers.

So, for those of you who started following this site because of my letter to Campbell Brown, please check out TRUTH In Teaching and follow us there, too. We’d love it if you’d share the link on Facebook to help get out the word to everyone who read the letter, too! In the next few days, we will be adding more content to TRUTH In Teaching including blog posts with tips for starting back to school, lesson plan and icebreaker ideas for the first couple of weeks, and more so that teachers can start this school year on the right foot. We will be devoting as much time as possible to TRUTH very soon.

TRUTH exists solely for the teachers. We hope the resources on the site will be invaluable tools for you in the upcoming school year and that you visit the site often for information, graphic organizers, lesson plan ideas, or maybe just a laugh at a blog post. Ultimately, we hope to create a culture of education that focuses more on helping students and teachers thrive than it does on a standardized test score or teacher or school grade. Teach on!

PS – Those of you who joined the “What the Hell” journey here on Life Under the Ponytail for my take on life and parenting will be happy to know that this new venture will separate my two “lives.” I will be writing the teaching content on TRUTH In Teaching and the life and parenting content on Life Under the Ponytail, which was the original plan for this blog. And, if you’re looking for even more to read, check out my other latest project, The Brewery Blog. Thanks for sticking with me on this unbelievable ride!

The Truth About Being a Teacher Affected by Reform, Part 2

13 Signs It’s Time to Take a Leave of Absence

 I’m a list person. I make lists for everything: lists of things we need to do around the house, lists of things I want to do around the house but don’t think we’ll ever be able to afford, lists for the store (1 per store), lists of things I want to talk about if I ever get another girls’ night out, and on and on. So, it’s no wonder that when I started seriously considering taking a leave of absence a year ago that I made a list of pros and cons. I fit the cons of leaving the profession on a Post-It: namely, I think I’m still making a difference. The reasons to leave my classroom filled pages.

As the deadline to file the request for my leave of absence approached, I used my lists to help me make my decision. There was, “I think I’m still making a difference” vs. 927 reasons to leave. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little. But it was not about the numbers. Making a difference was a huge reason to stay. The problem was with the word “think.” Remember, I’m the English teacher, so words matter. A lot. And when I looked at that Post-It and saw that I made it a point to write “think” when considering one of the most important decisions of my life, it told me a great deal more than the 927 pros.

But, I wanted to be thorough. So, I highlighted the cons that stood out the most to me. Some of them made me cry. Some of them made me ashamed. Some of them shocked me. I was an effective teacher: both by the numbers the administrators like to see in the data reports and, more important to me, by the students who thanked me and smiled at me and worked harder for me than they ever had in their academic lives prior to walking into my classroom.

I promised to post these reasons to walk away from my teaching career again. So, here it is, the second of my very first blog postings that I was told to remove or I could be fired “on the spot.” In the name of transparency, I am posting them nearly identically to the way they appeared the first time around, lest I be accused of “cleaning them up” for my online image or because I’m afraid of testing my Right to Freedom of Speech.

When I published this earlier, it struck a wrong cord with some people. I believe that’s why sarcasm and humor are subjects in my English classes. This is not meant to be taken literally, and all opinions expressed are solely due to my own warped sense of teacher humor when dealing with the very real issues of educational reform, over-testing, under-funding, growing class size, curriculum changes, new standards, new graduation requirements, and increased poverty levels in our district… I’ve often said that if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry. And, to all of you teachers out there – be honest with yourselves while you’re reading. There is a good chance you’ve experienced these feelings, including #2, at some point, whether you have the guts to admit it or not.

After eleven years in public education, I’ve decided to take an unpaid leave of absence for the next school year. Mind you, I’m solely responsible for my family’s health insurance and I’m already feeling anxiety and panicking at every turn, but I’ve been approved by our school board, so I’m really doing this crazy, out-of-character thing and trying my hand at freelance writing for a year. The signs have been there all along; no, this is not a pitch for The Sixth Sense. But, I know it’s time.

1. It took weeks to whittle this list down to just 13 publishable signs

I’m not that jaded, overly obnoxious teacher that everybody likes to complain about because I make too much money and don’t work hard enough. Nope, that overpaid-underworked teacher bashing doesn’t fit this girl. Being an English teacher during a time when students are reading less and less and relying on technology more and more has not exactly been a walk in the park. In fact, I have observed students choose to stare at the ceiling during free time, rather than pick up a book. It’s like they think books are radioactive or something. I challenge anyone who still believes teachers are overpaid and underworked to come and spend one day, no – one hour, in my shoes. And, I don’t even have it the worst in my building; I feel for the resource room teachers more than anyone else. Let’s just say that things are much worse after year eleven than they were after year one.

Face it. Anyone who doesn’t believe me is more than welcome to get a teaching degree. It only takes four years, mandatory highly-qualified testing and security clearances (that you have to pay for out of pocket prior to being hired), mandatory credits in a five-year period after earning your degree, patience, thick skin, armor, empathy, flexibility, the ability to hold your tongue… well, you get the point. If you think you’re qualified and don’t mind the fact that your students’ assessment scores will determine your eligibility to then keep your job and perhaps earn raises, go for it. In my experience, though, it’s a lot easier for these critics and bashers to use their mouths than their brains and sit back in their own lives instead of getting that golden teaching degree and taking a turn at the life they think is so simple.

2. I can’t be nice to the stinky, smelly kid for much longer.

There’s always one. The kid who I feel really bad for at the beginning of the school year, who wears the same clothes day after day and who has no model of personal hygiene at home. I report him to the nurse and the Student Assistance team, but we can’t follow him home and wash his clothes and force him into the shower. I get a reprieve when it becomes freeze-your-snot cold and I forget how much he smells. Then, the April heat wave hits. And I don’t know where the best seat for him is. Should I put him by the window, hoping that the smell goes out, or should I keep him away from the window so that the breeze doesn’t blow his stink across the room? Should I put him by the door, so that his odor cloud stays near the exit? And, which kids are kind enough to put near him when I redo the seating chart? And, most of all, how can I stand beside him and help him complete assignments and conference about his writing? Dear God, where’s the Febreze?

3. I say this too many times in one day: I know what you’re going to ask, and my answer is that you may not go to the bathroom, and yes, I really mean it.

Teachers have an uncanny way of knowing when kids are shitting them about having to go to the bathroom. Really. And the fact that I know that you were just in the bathroom last period because you gave a kid in my room the finger while you walked by REALLY makes me less inclined to sign your pass to go to the bathroom during my class. Oh, and the fact that you never raise your hand to answer a question or ask a question, other than to ask whether you can go to the bathroom or occasionally the nurse really makes me not want to let you leave my room. It’s funny, but if you would actually DO something during the fifty minutes you’re in my room, I might allow you to go. Otherwise, you may not go because I’m afraid that you might get inspired to pick up that pencil or flip that book to the correct page while you’re not in the classroom. So, good luck on that assessment that determines my family’s financial stability. You won’t pass the test in the bathroom, that’s for sure.

4. I cry uncontrollably every night for the final two weeks   four weeks  two-thirds of my summer vacation.

At first, I thought that it was because I was nervous about teaching a new curriculum and then in a new district and then in a new building. Or, I thought that it was because our fixer-upper was never going to be done before the wedding and move-in date. For awhile, I thought it was because I didn’t want to leave that precious little person who had my nose and whom nobody would be able to take care of as well as I could; then, I thought it was because I didn’t want to leave that second precious little person who looked even more like me than the first.

Then, I finally admitted that I was a basket case in August because I could not face another year with kids who hated my guts just because I was lucky enough to have them in class and wanted them to understand how much better their lives would be, if they just cracked open a book and picked up a pencil. I wouldn’t turn the calendar to August until the day school started – usually around the 25th. I would refuse to look at the rows of corn in the fields because I could judge how close the beginning of school was, just by the height of those damn green plants. I would search the classifieds and Google my degrees and qualifications, just in case there was a job I could apply for, before I had to walk into that institution of learning one more time. I would beg my husband to look at his books one more time and see if we could afford for me to take a year off after each baby. Not even the copious amounts of back-to-school supplies (about which I get ridiculously excited, even though I hate their purpose) in the bags that I lugged to my second-floor classroom eased the pain and anxiety. I just knew when I couldn’t do this job one more year. One more month. One more week. One more day. One more second.

5. I watch the weather reports religiously and have developed a “snow dance” for two-hour delays and early dismissals from October to April.

I became known in each of my buildings as the “Snow Queen.” I had multiple weather sites bookmarked and considered meteorologists close personal friends. I could track low-pressure systems and pockets of moisture with the best of them. Students would start asking me to make predictions because I had darn good stats. I wouldn’t sleep at night because I would keep checking the radar and waiting for the text announcing a delay or a cancellation. Any break from that place was welcome, even if it were only two hours for a delay. And nobody took more pleasure in those breaks than I did. Other teachers lamented the loss of time and the rewritten and crossed-out lesson plans; I danced a little jig the whole way into school.

6. I can type, take attendance, answer the phone, hand out four pencils, and write a pass to the nurse all at the exact same time, but I can’t remember the last time that all of my students were in class on time or had their own pencils.

At some point, I realized that I was working harder than the students. I was providing pencils and encouragement and extra copies to kids who looked at me like I was the dirt on the bottom of their shoes. I kept track of kids who needed extra help with poetry, literature, nonfiction, writing, and speaking and brought them into my room before school, after school, and during special periods during the day, just to have them not show up on the day of the retests.

Hell, I was working harder than half the people on my floor. Nothing pissed me off more than knowing that I spent hours raking over student data, planning lessons, choosing reading and writing assignments, writing my own student assessments, and knowing that at the end of the year, I would get the same satisfactory rating as the teachers who didn’t even get to their classrooms until after the student tardy bell and whose homeroom students had been standing in the hallway for fifteen minutes or the teachers the kids fight over because they “never do anything and give grades just because they like you.” True story.

7. I am texting and checking Facebook on my iPhone more than the students are during class.

That isn’t necessarily true. I wasn’t on Facebook during class, and I only texted in necessary situations (e.g. text to my husband: “Get rum. Lots of rum.”) during class. But, during my prep period and lunch period and extra time before and after school when those kids didn’t show up for the extra practice that I had spent two hours on, I was on my phone. Those HuffPost stories and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert videos were my escape and my salvation. I had turned into those students who would rather zap their brains with bright images on the screen than pick up any of the books surrounding me in my classroom. I just needed a break. All the time.

8. I swear in class and try to convince myself it’s to get the kids’ attention, but I know it’s because I’m secretly hoping to just get fired.

I always wanted to be the upstanding, professional woman that I emulated when I was in high school. She never raised her voice. She never swore. She could knock down an entitled, cocky athlete with one lash of her tongue. Yet, I have been swearing more and more in class. Nothing X-rated, and certainly nothing R-rated, but cursing nonetheless. Sometimes, it works when expressing attitudes about a text that the kids are struggling to describe without the dreaded curse word. Other times, it adds emphasis. And sometimes, you just hope the wrong kid will hear it and tell his parent and you’ll get suspended. Or terminated. And some days, that doesn’t sound like such a terrible thing.

9. I count down the days until Christmas break after the first week of school and I count the days until the last day of school as soon as we’re back from Christmas break.

I used to complain about the teachers who had the countdowns on their chalkboards (and then white boards) when there were still eons stretching before us. Now, I secretly have a countdown on my calendar. And when things get to that I’m-going-to-tear-out-my-hair-if-you-don’t-just-do-what-I-ask-you-to-do-today stage, I count days between sick days and personal days to see if I can make it to the next weekend or if I need a break. NOW. I used to fret about missing school and being really sick and saving days for when our sons were sick; since, it has turned into counting how many more days I can make it without a break, and let’s plan a sick day for THIS day.

10. I lie to my older son every night when he asks how my day at school went. I want him to love school and not be scared by my horror stories.

Every night at bedtime, my older son and I talk about our day. The good parts, the bad parts, the fun parts, the silly parts, all of it. He is a very sensitive kid, so he can tell when I’ve had a bad day, and he’s been known to offer to come and “kick their butts” when I tell him the kids were especially “bad” that day. He’s also been known to tell me to have the principal call their moms and make them take them home, which is pretty astute for a four year old because the principals have trouble figuring that out at times. Anyway, I realized that he may start thinking that school is a “bad” place or that he doesn’t want to be around those “bad” kids, so I started lying to him. I told him that we celebrated because everyone remembered their pencils; I told him that the kids who started to be disrespectful apologized right away and were kind for the rest of class; I told him that I loved school that day and couldn’t wait to go back tomorrow. He smiled each time and said that he’s glad things were going so well and that he is happy the kids are being good. And, the entire time we are talking, I am trying to decide what I am going to do when it is time to send him to high school. Things drastically must change before I will subject him to this place. That’s all there is to it.

11. I am ready to take a baseball bat to the copier. And beat it to a pulp. And then dance on the pitiful electronic remains.

Right or wrong, I emailed documents to my mom so she could copy them for me at any one of the three elementary schools in which she teaches. Our copiers haven’t worked – neither well, nor at all – since the second week of school, and that’s not an exaggeration. Atypical for me, I know. Whether it’s because of the teacher who runs thousands of copies a week because he doesn’t teach, he “packets” kids to death, or because of the teachers who run copies without giving the machine a break, is beyond me. I just know that the copies that I need truly are necessary for class; I am attempting to teach my aliterate students (see Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide) to annotate texts and interact with words, and the only way to do that is to give them copies they may actually write on and mark up with abandon. Nothing can ruin a day, a lesson, a teacher’s very level of effectiveness faster than a lack of resources. I’m not asking for an ELMO or an iPad for every student; I simply am asking for copies so that my students can read and I can teach and we can all be prepared for that damn standardized test. Ugh! There goes another quarter in the swear jar. I think I may be a thousandaire now!

12. I wonder how I could be in a horrible accident, without really getting hurt, but still not be permitted to go to school. I think it’s called insurance fraud. And that option sounds better to me with each passing day.

Don’t call the authorities, my husband, my mother, or my doctor. I’m not depressed (not any more than the teachers who actually are on medication – I am not… yet) and I don’t have a death wish or a suicide plan. Well, unless you consider my walking into a building where I am disrespected, despised, and taken advantage of every day a suicide mission. Then, I definitely have a problem! But, I do wish there were a way that I could get out of this place and still support my family. I’d be thrilled to write curriculum, lead teacher trainings, or rule the district for awhile. I think it’s the classroom I need out of. STAT!

13. I cannot tell kids the importance of ALL of the assessments they take because I don’t agree with them. At all.

At the end of the day, none of these things are totally new. There always have been assholes in my classroom. There always have been apathetic, ineffective administrators and principals. There always has been a lack of curriculum, direction, and discipline. What TRULY have changed are the assessment-obsessed government leaders and teacher-bashing politicians and evaluation-based-on-student-assessment practices. All in eleven years. All of the viral resignation letters that have touted assessment as the number one reason teachers have left the profession are true. Kids are assessed more than they are taught. Our own superintendent admitted this fact at a school board meeting and then in the next breath said that we can’t teach if we don’t know where students are. Well, we can’t teach when we have to give a dozen assessments per marking period that tell us where students are. Doctors don’t give test after test after test to diagnose a problem once they already know the answer – they get the information they need and then they act. Teachers should be given the same leeway with their instincts, knowledge, and training.

Some assessments are in order, and some standardized assessments are, I suppose, necessary. But the kids don’t see the value in or the need for those assessments. These kids can’t even pass their driving permit tests the first (or sometimes third or fourth) time, and they actually study for those and WANT that permit. At least this year’s freshmen need to pass the tests to graduate, so they may see some value in their assessment results, but I still see freshmen every day who don’t bring pencils to class, who don’t open their books, who don’t take notes, who don’t stay awake. Teens are unable to grasp the gravity of the assessment situation. They are not wired to understand that at fourteen years old they are charged with passing a test that will determine their graduation status in four years. They can’t even understand why they shouldn’t take provocative pictures of themselves and post them online.

So, after eleven years I’m taking a year off. It’s important to note that the next-to-the-last school day is upon us, and I’ve been asked to sign a few yearbooks and even told I’m the “perfect” teacher. I wish I could find more of these bright spots in the abyss of the school days when I’ve had three kids tell me off, two parents question everything I am doing to their cherubs, and at least one colleague comment on how “tough” I am on the kids. Maybe a year to reflect on those times will reenergize me and help me to refocus for the 2015-2016 school year. We can all f&*#ing dream. There’s another quarter. Damn!

Don’t feel sorry for me. Don’t get mad that I’m being painfully honest in a time when teachers need to be careful about everything they broadcast to the world of education reform. And please don’t send me hate mail. I don’t have time to read it, anyway.

But, DO think about this: If a teacher who is a leader among her peers and is helping her students achieve more academic growth in one year than they were predicted to can feel this way over the course of a year, what does that say about the state of education in this country? I am not the best teacher who ever taught; but, I was damn good at what I did AND I felt this way at some point during the school year. Things need to change before all of the good teachers are gone.

The Truth About Being a Teacher Affected by Educational Reform, Part 1

In the name of the TRANSPARENCY that I championed in my “Open Letter to Campbell Brown from a Teacher on Leave,” and to test that theory about teachers truly not having their right to Freedom of Speech, I am republishing my first two blog posts from June, with a few tweaks because I ranted a bit too much the first time around. These are the ones that I was advised to take down, or I could be fired “on the spot.”

This is the first of the two, originally written in February 2014, when I was learning that teachers in my district were going to be tasked with writing SLOs and creating portfolios as part of our evaluation process, on top of everything else we already were doing. We were in the “Countdown to the Test.” We were near the end of a marking period. We were enduring schedule changes because of snow days and cold-weather days and two-hour delays. We were hearing more and more about the impact of the budget cuts and the possibility of the state changing the graduation requirement for the Keystone Exams. I was watching students give up after making it through so many weeks because they were hearing too much about THE TEST and not performing well on the practice exams. It was a bleak time. Even with all of my success and achievement in the classroom, and all of the students that I knew I had helped and made a connection with, I just wasn’t feeling it the way that I had in the beginning of my career. I found myself in the middle of weighing the decision to take a leave of absence to pursue this writing and blogging adventure and couldn’t bear the thought of not having health insurance for my family, but also knowing that I couldn’t bear the thought of another year in the “educational reform” clime. I came home, more on edge than normal, and after our boys were tucked in, I wrote this, wondering if it may appear on my blog some day:

The passion is gone. No, I’m not referring to my marriage. Heck, we’re going on ten years and things are better than ever. Unfortunately, I’m talking about my job. I’ve been a teacher for eleven years. You know, the job where you have to force teenagers to do something they absolutely hate for at least 50 minutes a day, 5 days a week, and make them so good at doing it, they can pass a test that determines your relative worth as a professional with a Master’s degree – all brought to you by government officials who have not set foot in a classroom or earned a teaching degree themselves.

But, I digress. Teaching is hard. No, teaching is damn hard. Teachers who actually put in the time to learn and hone their craft – rather than use the same lesson plans for decades – those who care about their students’ progress and success and mental health and wellbeing, who lend a helping hand or a supportive glance or a listening ear when all they want to do is FINALLY go to the bathroom, they’re the ones who know how hard it is to get out of bed and face an unsupportive, uncooperative herd of hormone-ravaged teens armed to the hilt with technological devices that allow them to text, Snapchat, Instagram, Tweet, update statuses, and Vine all about how much they hate YOU and your boring class.

But, again, I digress. In order to face those hordes of hormones each day, you have to know your purpose. You have to have a burning desire deep within your core to want to make them better, to want to make them reach their full potential, to want to make them actually read that 400-page novel that you just KNOW will change their lives if they would open themselves up enough to the words on the page. You have to have a passion for those kids and what you do on a daily basis, or you will turn into the person who can’t talk about those kids (and, yes, they are STILL kids at the high school level) without sounding bitter and disgruntled (or worse).

You see, I have spent hours upon hours upon hours on lesson plans. And games. And activities. And hands-on tasks. And technology-based assessments. And grading mountains of papers and then analyzing the scores and data from my own classroom assessments to find strengths and weaknesses and designing learning activities to build upon those and creating learning groups to help those who were struggling. I never did those things with a smile on my face, but at least I knew – or at least thought – that it was worth it. The kids would learn, I’d have another stellar score on my evaluation, and I’d have connected with more kids and helped them to see the value of a Mrs. Shawley education. They were damn lucky to have me!

Now, I have to follow ten-week plans to push kids into proficiency (and beyond, God willing!) on a test that I know is above at least ¾ of their reading levels. I have to convince kids that taking a three-hour-test that doesn’t determine their graduation status but does determine how I am evaluated actually is worth their time and mine, and that they should take it seriously and do their best. I have to attend data meetings with teachers who don’t have to give the high-stakes assessments, and so they nod and smile about being a team, but who know damn well their asses aren’t quite as on the line as mine is, thank you very much. And, I have to make all of the kids – all 100% of them – pass that test in three years, or I’ve failed, they’ve failed, our school’s failed, and our district’s failed. Forget that they came to me in August not knowing how to write a thesis statement or what a paragraph really is or what I mean when I say that they need to have evidence from the text to support their ideas. Forget that many of them have not read a book cover to cover (and don’t intend to, “so don’t even think about handing me a book this year”) since they were in third grade. Forget that so many of the reading materials in our curriculum are so far over their heads that we might as well make and fly paper airplanes all year. This is what my job has become.

The worst part about all of this is, if MY passion is gone after earning a BA in English literature and then a Master of Education in Educational Design, just imagine where the kids’ passion levels register. They’re the ones who have to sit through all of those standardized tests that mean squat to them in the long run. They’re the ones who have to take all of those practice assessments that REALLY don’t mean squat to them in the long run. They’re the ones who have to take double periods of math and English because they weren’t proficient the year they were supposed to be. Can’t read or write or do math well enough? Okay, we’ll make you do MORE of it. That’ll definitely make you good at it, kiddo!

So, I finally figured out that I should be asking myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” And I’m fairly certain I’m leaving my teaching career behind… at least for the duration of my one-year leave of absence.

Was every day like this? No. But, we have to realize that we are losing passionate, effective teachers in droves because too many of us feel this way far too often. Maybe we are not having all of these thoughts every day, but we are having enough of these thoughts on enough days that we wonder why we put ourselves through it. And, for veteran teachers, we leave and play right into the hands of the lawmakers and reformists and Campbell Browns who want us out of the profession. How’s that for a Catch-22?

On the Issue of Those Pesky First Amendment Rights for Teachers

Teachers are people, too! I’ll never forget going to the grocery store with my mom, who is a teacher with 36 years in the classroom under her belt, and realizing they not everyone views us that way. By the way, she will tell you that it hasn’t been 36 full years, because she was hired part-time and didn’t achieve full-time status for awhile. I say the woman has been in a classroom or elementary library since 1978, and that’s 36 years.

Anyway, we were grocery shopping, and a little boy looked at her with eyes as big as saucers and ran to his mother. He was pointing at my mom and mumbling something. I thought my mom must have reprimanded him at some point in the library to have traumatized him so, but the poor kid actually was so shocked to see her outside of the library that he thought she was looking for him to get back a lost book.

As the daughter, granddaughter, niece, great-niece, and great-great-niece of educators, I didn’t know that kids thought their teachers lived in schools. I just thought it was weird that other kids said their parents were going to work, and my mom said she was going to school. But, apparently, kids think their teachers live, eat, and sleep at school; thus, they don’t realize that teachers are real people.

Unfortunately, it seems as though many of those misguided children grow up to be lawmakers, lobbyists, judges, and Campbell Brown. These people don’t realize that teachers are, in fact, people who are capable of having thoughts and opinions. Worse, they don’t think teachers have the same right to express those thoughts and opinions publicly. First Amendment, be damned!

I have first-hand experience with this. When I started this very blog in June, the initial two posts were about how I knew it was time to take a leave of absence from teaching, even though I was in the prime of my career. I may have been a little harsh in my language and brutal with my honesty; however, to the best of my knowledge, I broke no levels of confidentiality, I used no names (in fact, most of the anecdotes contain characters who are blends of students and colleagues and administrators I’ve encountered in eleven years in the trenches), and I ran the posts past some of my union leaders prior to publishing them online. I was received with mostly positive responses and more encouragement than I had expected. In fact, friends of mine who teach in other districts in a couple of states shared it with their colleagues and union leaders; they actually asked for permission to share my posts at their end-of-the-year festivities because they were so entertained, yet moved by my story. Nearly every teacher who read those first posts said it was as though I had been inside his classroom or inside her mind while writing. And, most of the educators who read those posts encouraged me to keep telling the true story of what it’s like inside public education today.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I received a phone call advising me to take down the blog. I was told that I could be terminated “on the spot.” In my mind, I simply was exercising my First Amendment right; in their minds, I had overstepped some sort of boundary that forces teachers to keep everything under our hats. In the end, I complied because I didn’t know where this new freelance adventure was going to take my family’s finances, and I could very easily need to return to the classroom. It was a very difficult decision and I was beyond livid, but I realized that I had to follow the advice, at least for the time being, for my family.

I then changed the direction of the blog to family and parenting and observations of life under my ponytail, all the while wondering how my audience would have grown if I had left the posts as they were. I also wondered how many other teachers would have responded positively about someone finally being able to tell it like it is.

Then, I saw the Campbell Brown interview with Stephen Colbert. I couldn’t keep quiet about that. I was angry and insulted and disgusted by her insinuations, her spin, and her less-than-half truths. I sat down and penned the open letter thinking that I would feel better once I got it all out. I walked away from it and tried to go back to the writing job that is paying the bills. But the thought of leaving the letter off the blog, too – of not being able to share my opinions and thoughts and feelings as a professional in the education field AGAIN – was too much. I closed my eyes, hit “Publish,” and went to bed.

The response has been overwhelming for someone whose blog was getting between 50-100 hits a day (other than those initial education posts that were getting more hits than expected for a blog that had been up and running merely for two days). When it hit 1,000 views, I was thrilled. When it hit 5,000, I was in tears. When it hit 10,000, I was stunned and shaking. It’s still going. And, the responses to the letter are equally as overwhelming.

Teachers are sharing stories with me that are breaking my heart. They have lost their unions, their pensions, their classrooms, their autonomy, and for most, their dignity, as politicians, corporations, parents, and people like Campbell Brown come after them day after day after day. People are asking me to share their stories, and I can’t do that in good conscience when I’m afraid to share mine. The repercussions are far too great. I’m still researching cases in which judges are ruling against teachers’ First Amendment rights. Facebook statuses are getting teachers fired, even when they aren’t breaking any confidentiality, laws, or contract obligations. Yes, teachers always have been held to a higher moral code, and some teachers push the envelope with their language and overabundance of personal information and other things that in all honesty should be actionable. This is not why unions exist, and this is not why tenure exists, and teachers need to be smart about what they share.

But, teachers are people, too. They should have equal protection under the First Amendment when they want to add their voice to “education reform.” They should have a voice when governors slash education budgets by millions of dollars year after year after year (don’t forget, I live in PA, with arguably one of the worst governors in relation to education in the entire country). They should have a voice when administrators bow to parents because they are afraid of losing kids to charter schools and cyber schools that are draining desperately-needed resources from the majority of kids in public schools. And, they should have a voice when they decide to leave their profession for a year because they know they need a break.

I WILL be publishing those initial blog posts in the next couple of days, with a few tweaks. I am a person, too. And I have First Amendment rights, just like everyone else. We will see whether I actually do or not. In the meantime, I’m going to try to do some more research about it, so if anyone else has links to those recent cases, from anywhere in the U.S., please send them my way.

In Response to the Open Letter to Campbell Brown Response

As of 11PM, August 2, 2014, 11,100+ visitors have viewed my Open Letter to Campbell Brown 12,300+ times, and it has been shared on Facebook more than 4,000 times. I am overwhelmed by the amount of support and encouragement I have received today. As a teacher, I never thought of myself as a teacher advocate because my circle of teacher friends always does all we can to support one another every day, even if that means offering a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen when the classroom, standards, and criticism become too much.

Today, I am being labeled one, and I hope to live up to that moniker in the days and weeks and months to come. I have been receiving links and studies and information that I will have to ponder in the next few days. I have been thanked and cheered and, yes, even criticized. A few friends and my husband were worried about how I’m handling the criticism. One of the best things teaching has given me is thick skin, so I’m just fine. I understand Campbell Brown is blocking people on Facebook and attempting to control the discussion; her apparent lack of thick skin simply proves that she doesn’t belong in this discussion of education. I also understand that people have been taking to Twitter in droves about the letter and the interview. I’m going to be honest. I’ve handled the discussion through the comments on my blog and a bit on Twitter because the letter pretty much covers everything I have to say about her appearance with Stephen Colbert.

When I wrote the letter, I was venting my frustration at Campbell Brown and attempting to bring a voice of the teachers to the discussion – a counterpoint to her interview, if you will. Of course, she is just one in a cast of thousands attacking teachers and unions and tenure and, let’s face it, public education, in this country. Today has been bittersweet because I’m being thanked by so many people who are too afraid for their positions to be able to speak up themselves; this issue of educational reform has spun so far out of control that teachers are afraid to exercise their First Amendment right. (FYI – Several people have forwarded me recent cases in which judges are siding against teachers who exercise their First Amendment rights, and that’s another issue I’m going to start researching soon.)

I sincerely appreciate every single person who took the time to reach out to me through email, Facebook, and Twitter today. I understand why so many teachers have chosen to contact me privately. I’ve done my best to respond to everyone while continuing to be a mom and a wife today, and I will continue to answer as many people as possible. I may need a bit of time to recover from this sudden social media presence I seem to have created for myself, but I will have much more to say soon.

In the meantime, think about the teachers who are starting school soon without a contract, without a union, without a voice. Think about the students who are starting school soon without adequate supplies, prior knowledge, or support at home. Something does need to change in this country, but it doesn’t seem to me that teacher tenure should be at the top of the list.