To be fair.

Caution: This is going to get political.

My question: is this all wishful thinking? Should I roll over for Hillary and her status-quo, dynasty style politics? Are African American voters seeing something I’m not? (Or again, is that too much of a sweeping generality?) I’ve been indirectly taken to task for being “privileged” (though I never thought I wouldn’t vote for one candidate if the other didn’t win, I learned some would). And there’s the other side, where those who take a stand make their voices heard.

So in the past week, I’ve been labeled as ‘demonizing, privileged, unrealistic, and lacking diligence.’ Were any of these said to me directly? Of course not. Then why do I hear it? Where does this guilt/conflict/defensiveness dwell? What dog whistles are these that are tuned to my inner ear? (Yes, not only did I just use the passive voice, but the passive-aggressive voice. RIMSHOT!) Probably the same tuning that I hear when a comedian equates a fat person or food with diabetes, or someone makes an ageist comment, as in the NCCE program one exhibitor had a session titled something to the effect “Not Your Parents…..(fill in the blank).” “Not Your Parents” is code for “your parents are old and don’t know how to work with technology, and you’re young and hip and get frustrated when you need to explain things to them.” We hear what speaks to us in that moment: I can safely tune out Pampers ads because those are not on my shopping list any longer. Or like when you get a coupon at the grocery store for cat litter because the past purchasing data shows you once had Mr. Muffins and he’s gone to the great litter box in the sky.

I can’t take on all the misconceptions or confirmation bias when it comes to diabetes or ageism. Not today. I haven’t even made it through a single cup of coffee. But I can report out some things I’ve learned about politics.

I. The Caucus

Yesterday I went to our local caucus, and I am so glad. It was transformative. The area we live in seems to be predominately conservative/red. I joked how our little enclave was keeping things a bit more ‘purple,’ and am still mad that someone stole our Obama yard during his first election. At the caucus yesterday were hundreds of voters –in my little town!! Our particular cohort comprised of about 15 people, and two independent voters began our session with seeking why we were supporting who we were. Both Bernie and Hillary supporters spoke, it was civil, engaged, and thoughtful. There was a range of ages and incomes, but race diversity was not represented. Some of the speakers were more or less educated or articulate, but all were impassioned. One speaker, an older gentlemen, said he worried about Bernie’s age, (74) but was not worried about Hillary (68). He also said he was tired of ‘old white guys’ being president, to which a young woman said gender was not a factor for her.

These were a rough draft of the cohort's resolutions.
These were a rough draft of the cohort’s resolutions. We met in the Spanish teacher’s room at a local school. Note: no one in the room discussed gun issues. Found that interesting.

One thing we all could agree on was no matter what, we would do what it took to defeat He Who Has Tiny Fingers. The delegates from our room were 1 Hillary: 3 Bernie. On the way to our car, a man in a big, white pickup truck asked us how it went and gleefully shared his cohort was 100% for Bernie.

Fascinating.

I think this may be how Hillary’s side is feeling, and to be honest, I get it:

Ohman_berniedriverCLR+copy

II. What is Happening

If I laid bare all my thoughts on a spectrum, to pure lizard-brain to perceived clear, rational thought, I would realize how utterly unqualified I am to think clearly, to move away from the lizard side. I feel stuck. Is it decision fatigue? http://www.npr.org/2015/11/17/455674528/aziz-ansari-talking-modern-love-with-the-master-of-noneParadox of choice? Probably. Everything just feels too damn important not to get this one right. With the last election, we had no idea, at least, I didn’t, the levels of obstructionism and racism that would override all potential progress. A complicated mix of Obama’s “nuanced” negotiating skills (some would say terrible skills) and a Republican side majority in the House and Senate, with a clear directive from Mitch McConnell that nothing the President did would ever go forward, we all feel like there’s an old man with his blinker on in the fast lane. No matter how many distractor issues a politician can muster, it always comes back to money. Do we have a job? Can we get to our job? Can we feed our families? Can we live the American Dream?

My biggest issues: corporations are not people, our infrastructure is a disaster, and college loans or educational fees are part of the greater good for the strength of our nation and must be subsidized.

This is a photograph my husband took of a hole in the I-90 bridge that's been there for years.
This is a photograph my husband took of a hole in the I-90 bridge that’s been there for years.

 

She said it all.
She said it all.

In my previous post, Status, I am going to admit writer’s cowardice. Though the post focused on teacher and student status, what I was feeling behind the scenes talking about how I miss my friendship, how it’s changed over the years. And while I would like to have believed that friendships run parallel tracks, alas they run on varying degrees of negative and positive plot points that tend to veer away from one another, sometimes intersecting again.

And do we ever let go of who we think we know the person is, or who they have become?

But this is a very, very good thing: because we have different experiences and paths, we gain understanding from one another that is based on mutual histories, knowledge, and dare I say, love? This is the heart of love: learning and listening to one another. And I love my friend and know she loves me. And I do listen to her, and if she is leaning toward a politician, I listen.

In the post, The Inflationary Defeat of Skittles, I showed a boring little graph, in an antiquated font, looking like something from some 1960s mimeographed page, a chart from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics about how incomes have not only stagnated, but fallen behind.

It’s tough not to hear those inner voices as being personal, and this is why — all of this doesn’t feel objective any longer. I made clear-eyed choices with the information I had at the time, based on what I could see forward on the path. I can’t go back and tell my past self not to marry my husband, nor would I want to. If I had a crystal ball and it said, ‘your husband will have chronic medical conditions, and his career path will be fraught with unscrupulous characters and mismanaged equity funds,’ what would I have done? And if he had come to understand he married an art major with a deep work ethic and creative class shackles, and not uncanny business instincts, would he have opted out? Hard to say. We both hated Reagan’s policies in that moment, and we’re both black sheep when it comes to “I told you so” warnings. My husband is usually right about stuff. My husband is quite frankly, a genius. But geniuses don’t necessarily make over $300k a year. In our country, we often equate money with intelligence. Just look at the frontrunner for the other side.

Here is what my friend researched:

Our conversation prompted me to look a bit more as well, because I have these very intense mixed feelings about the whole issue of income in our country. I feel very strongly that things shifted in a very bad way for our generation, and wages did not rise relative to the cost of a home, healthcare or college. And I think this is very dangerous and wrong. But I also see that the reaction among some is to demonize people who acquire wealth through smart, patient “investments” in terms of post-college education, diligently saving for kid’s college from the day they are born and for retirement the day they start working in their 20s, etc. The “Top 1 percent” starts roughly around $400,000/yr for a household income. The top .01 percent makes $12 million per year. I don’t think we can lump those two households into one group called the Top 1 percent–it’s just not even close to the same experience. An income tax increase impacts people who are receiving income from working, but many of the very wealthiest get their money not from working income but from dividends–wealth investment, and it is taxed at a much lower rate. That’s why it’s possible for someone to make more money than me but pay less in overall taxes. That is a bit odd. But in reality, even the very richest can’t be taxed enough to change life for the bottom 50 percent of earners–the top 50 percent accounts for 97 percent of federal taxes already from what I read. To me, we have to get wages up for the lowest paid workers and we have to figure out ways to make things like housing, college and healthcare more affordable. But not free, in my view. Affordable. And a CEO making 300 times what their employees makes is not good. Those extreme ends need to shift inward. So I guess I am saying there are 3 factors that rise to my mind: some more modification of taxes among the extreme top wealth (not solely income) earners, policies that address housing, college and continued tweaks on heathcare though Obama’s health care plan is a start in the right direction. And then policies that impact the wage disparity and improving basic wages–raising the minimum wage helps but there is probably more in terms of business incentives for addressing wage disparity though I am not sure how that would work. Those are my thoughts {smile emoticon} Let me know what you find.

Okay. Next steps: research!

III. Information and Judgment

So here is the curated collection from me and my husband:

Bernie is unrealistic: http://money.cnn.com/2015/10/16/news/economy/sanders-taxes-spending/

Start Making Sense: Bernie is Bringing the Reagan Era to an End

PDF of Economists who signed a statement of support:
Robert Reich (former Labor Secretary under President Clinton and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies):
Robert Reich: “I’ve known Hillary since she was 19…Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate for the government we should have.”
Senate Budget Committee (Sanders is Chairman):
Bernie’s numbers are actually Friedman’s numbers but Bernie’s being blamed and austerity should not be the new normal:
Closing the Racial Wealth Gap:
Here’s the thing: Hillary has not provided any evidence in her political career she would actually do something to change the economic structures in our nation. She has as much told us all she’s a “realist.”

 

IV. Oh, it’s happening.

In any case–when you find yourself in a political discussion with someone you love who sees things from another side, or articulates clearly and logically, and you’re left mumbling and confused–time for honesty and reflection. I still don’t know what to think. But my take-away is this: after listening to multiple points of view, change is coming, and change is here. To witness the de-evolution of one political party to a freak show, to the standard bearers of the other political party being questioned/challenged by everyone who’s newly voting age to their penultimate election, we all recognize much work needs to be done, and it’s going to be a fight. Not pretty, and not polite. I haven’t had a good, deep political conversation with my friend in years. We’ve been in touch with mostly superficial but loving, exchanges, full of good intentions. If it took two candidates to draw out more substantive reflection, at least on my end, then good. Really good. We live in a time where our confirmation biases go unchecked, and movements take root and suck up energy from wellsprings (looking at you, Anti-Vaxxers), but these movements act as powerful catalysts to get us to think. (And in my case, overthink.) So here’s to change, to thinking, and the grand conversation.

Next: hours of lesson planning for the week.

*sigh*

The work goes on.

 

Graveyard of Jargon

hopesdreams
What educational jargon or bandwagons have you had to bury?

My friend Philip Cummings recently posted something on social media that caught my eye, “Letting Go of Learning Styles” by Amber and Andy Ankowski on the PBS Parents site. This article busts the myth of learning styles, one of education’s most holiest of shrines, and offers much more authentic alternatives. And the Ankowskis have a point: no matter how special our snowflake, we’re all trying to figure out how to use gravity to our advantage during the storm.

Wait–that was a TERRIBLE metaphor. Forgive me. I’ve been doing mom-chores and adulting all day, and I’m cranky. College boy is in town and needed to get him squared away, and the whole tax thing, and now people are arguing, being bossy over one another, and quite frankly, it’s all a little silly. Or in the words of the immortal Mr. Krabs,  “What a baby.” The deal is, we really need to be careful when jumping on bandwagons: they have a habit of gaining speed and being much more dangerous during the departing.

Here are a few of my thoughts/questions:

  • What if a teacher becomes an ‘expert’ in one of these sacred teachings, and then that path is no longer valid or respected? I’m thinking of one educator I know whose expertise is in ‘learning styles,’ and how is she going to feel that others believe that it’s bunk?
  • What about all the backlash and misinterpretation of “grit,” growth mindset,” or gangum style? Whatever. I still dance to it. Just kidding. You know what I mean.
  • What’s next? What about the ed-tech movement, our love of Alfie Kohn, or DON’T EVEN THINK IT: UBD?!

STEP. AWAY. FROM. THE. U.B.D. AND NO ONE GETS HURT.

But back to learning styles, John Spencer noted,

“I feel like the original research on learning styles was flawed (and I’ve never bought into the notion of fixed learning styles). However, almost all of the research “overturning” learning styles relies on flawed metrics. In most cases, the assessments don’t match the instruction. So, a visual style of instruction and an auditory style of instruction both end up with a written test at the end. They do this to boost reliability but in the process, the validity suffers.”

I always liked Howard Gardner, and even he said learning styles was misused. His “multiple intelligences’ are NOT learning styles. That’s always the way, isn’t it? Someone has a good idea, does mountains of research, draws conclusions, and adjusts and flexes thinking, and then some bureaucrat gets a hold of it and takes all the flavor out. While becoming a teacher, of course I applied all the things I was learning about to my own young sons. The older one was the musician/mathematician, and the younger one (I was sure) was destined to be the next Jane Goodall with his love of nature. But again I think we confuse interests with concrete, fixated means of functioning in a classroom. We label, box, and shelve. We forget we are complex, adaptive systems, capable of multiple approaches to something. The concept of content becoming the focus makes sense: I wouldn’t learn about how to throw a ball from seeing a picture of someone doing it as well as just doing it. Moreover, I wouldn’t learn how to write a solid rebuttal from an interpretive dance (however much fun that would be).

There is just some stuff we need to know– like how to throw a ball, or write a great rebuttal. And we have teacher-experts in those areas who are more than capable and desirous of teaching those skills.

And then we come to the big tests that only focus on ‘reading’ and ‘math.’ And the ELA and math teachers seem to be the only ones who get their names tied to those scores.

I am predicting that ‘close reading’ is going to be next on the list of educational movements to at least catch a cold, if not completely buried in the Graveyard of Jargon. Close reading is great, and though everyone’s been cautioned not to overuse it, guess what? It’s being overused. And when something is overused it loses its effectiveness and provides diminishing returns.

But damn, that poor woman who spoke about grit. Bet she’s sorry.

What educational tropes do you think are about to expire and meet their maker in the big classroom, where St. Dewey watches over all of us, just smiling to himself?

Ah well. Enough of this. Time to dance!

I don’t care what anyone says: this is still fun to dance to.

Status Update.

 

IMG_0261

When I think of it, if I turn on podcasts for my commute I’m usually a happier person than if I listen to the news. This requires a mindful moment when I plug in the Bluetooth and hit the podcasts. It takes about two extra minutes before I peel out of the parking lot. I think I’ll remember to do this more because the other day I horrified myself when I witnessed my disembodied hand subconsciously reaching to turn the volume up to listen to a well-known, polarizing, and certain orange-tinted demagogue.

At least I caught myself just in time.
 Yup, need to take a break from the news.
In such a listening mode, a This American Life episode #573: Status Update caught my attention. Lately, I’ve been thinking about friends and their lives now: some friends I’ve known since I was four years old, and many others since I was 13. These are women who have experienced many big, and little events in life. There is no small sense of melancholy when I confess that when I see pictures in social media of how they still connect (many live in other states) it reminds me of what I don’t have, or missed out on, in my own life. It’s not so much jealousy or envy: those connote a “me too and not them” idea.
It’s just: this time in life I’m coming to terms with where things have landed.
One of the markers in the new-ish evaluation system is an indication of ‘student status.’
Here is one thing that’s not mentioned, but has an impact: students are constantly comparing themselves to one another, and are on the look-out for others’ status in terms of diminishing their own. Even a few weeks ago a student said something to the effect, “Oh {blank} is your favorite and you will do what {blank} thinks is a good idea.” There was some truth to that: “Blank” is incredibly precocious and creative. It’s difficult not to respond to his ideas and momentum. We all look at those with that “it” factor and unfairly compare ourselves.
So how do we elevate the status of each? Not so much a special snowflake disparage, but in terms of how do we recognize that our paths are our own?
One thing that’s disappointed me this year is how many students simply will not share their knowledge or questions. I know there’s lots of tricks and tips to get them to create accountable talk — a term that makes me bristle (and I’m not sure why)–perhaps because it sounds so bean-counter-ish. Perhaps it’s time to have students determine and reflect on their own status and check their personal biases.
Any suggestions or media that would suit this purpose? I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Spent.

via GIPHY

Yesterday’s post concerned time: today’s post is all about…you guessed it…money.

And boy oh boy is this a touchy subject.

Let’s let go of the trope that teachers get summers’ off and don’t make enough and-and-and…I’m just looking at the nickel-and-dime new microtransaction model of economics. “What’s a ‘microtransaction‘?”,  You innocently ask. You know those times you’re playing Candy Crush, and to unlock the next level you need to spend .99, easily done from your PayPal account to the finer purveyors of CC, and voila! Your level is unlocked. Or, instead of simply spending $99 to buy Microsoft Office, and then upgrade every few years, it’s on a subscription fee basis, so you end up spending a little every month, but much, much more over the life of the software.

  • Prezi: $20/month, $240 year
  • Animoto $200
  • VideoScribe subscription: $144
  • WordPress subscription for fan-fiction blog: $99
  • Screencast-O-Matic upgrade: $96
  • Thinglink subscription: $120
  • Evernote subscription $50 (personal sanity)
  • Edublog upgrades for class blogs:
  • Doughnuts for class prizes spent this year so far: $120
  • Supplies for projects: $100
  • Special prizes for writing contest $200
  • New classroom books: $400
  • Graphics Fairy subscription $72 year
  • Misc. apps $50
  • Teachers Pay Teachers misc: $60
    • Subtotal for doughnuts and art: $1002

Yikes.

YIKES!!!

via GIPHY

I hope my husband doesn’t read this.

As much as I enjoyed Leslie Fisher’s gadget roadshow at the NCCE, many of the things she discussed cost cold, hard cash.There was one gadget, a wireless document camera, and that was ‘on sale’ for $154. Yeah, not going to happen.

This is quite a revelation to myself, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not the only one who does this, one who loves the ‘new shiny first-adapter’ feeling, that ‘new tech’ smell that comes from the promise and hope of new, engaging means of delivering instruction. And that doesn’t take into account the time to learn the software, collect sprites,* storyboard, edit, etc. I have no idea what the costs are for Comcast, printer ink, web hosting, etc. I can rationalize most of these purchases, and therein lies the rub. I am masterful at rationalization and need to flip this skill with penny-pinching miserly ways. Somehow other teachers muddle through without Animoto or VideoScribe presentations.

So now that I know the numbers, what’s my plan? What am I going to jettison off this money boat to keep it afloat? Probably VideoScribe and Animoto, and will not renew those subscriptions. I have one year, and then if I don’t see amazing results or enjoy using them, they’re gone. Prezi is too damn expensive for teachers, but I’ll probably keep that one. Thinglink is super fun, and I’ve just begun to tap into those possibilities.

As I look at my grey hairs and neglected haircut, my shabby couch and dingy bathroom, and unpurchased plane tickets to destinations of home and love, it’s time to seriously rethink how I spend our money. And word to these educator tech companies: please stop trying to make money off of teachers. I’m spent.

And no more doughnuts.

 

*I’m calling anything that is collected or curated a sprite from now on.

Tick.

Hope my boys forgive me for using their photo in this post. This is from Mothers' Day last year.
Hope my boys forgive me for using their photo in this post. This is from Mothers’ Day last year.

Tock.

Time’s up.

A colleague recently posted this article by “Someone’s Mum,” Teaching: a ‘family unfriendly profession.’ I am not sure if she was posting it as evidence as to why she may not be planning parenthood for herself, or if that’s why she may consider leaving the profession if or when she starts a family. It doesn’t matter. These choices are hers and hers alone. But boy oh boy did it resonate.

Colleagues who are young mothers of infants, toddlers, and elementary school aged children post about time spent away from sick toddlers, or working late into the evening getting ‘caught up.’ (I know the dad-teachers are feeling it, too, but their posts tend not to state being home sick with a baby, or how guilty they feel when they go to work and not stay home. In fact, I don’t see a lot of guilt being flung around dad-work posts at all. Hmmm. Interesting. I’ll check my confirmation bias and do some further research.)

Colleagues who are more in my demographic, of high school or college-aged children, tend to post a wistful longing for more time. And I guarantee I am not projecting on this sentiment. It’s real and raw.

The ‘time conversation’ isn’t cute or funny anymore. There is this undercurrent of veteran teachers and administrators whom, I sense, give off the vibe of “yes yes dear, it’s hard, I know…” in that patronizing way. It’s a dog whistle. Time management and leadership must take into account time, and guard by teachers’ time. It has very real financial costs (if that gets your attention) versus the invisible costs of depression, anxiety, and resentment, all leading to burning out.

I have seen my planning time taken away, my contact time increase, my pension reduced, and my school’s budget cut. But I keep giving. We all keep giving, in the face of our time, our resources, our rights, even our sanity being taken away. I have been treated for stress and anxiety and witnessed colleagues suffer similarly.

For every district planner, or curriculum concept, or new adoption committee, every test maker or assessment giver, there demand criteria of time management, too. Most educators do not have a background in project management or traffic management. I do, and I know. For each person’s role in the implementation and execution of current and new ideas/innovation, it requires multiplied time. It’s very easy to disconnect from the actual work that’s involved. And work is time. This disconnection may be one significant shift in my attitude during my ten years: I am very diligent about how I spend my time and am guarded and wary of how others want me to use it. It’s a pure cost/benefits analysis. 

Teachers do not have many opportunities for upward salary growth. Paying for test scores is not the answer. It never has been, and never will be. Paying someone for arbitrary factors that are out of their control is wrong: benefits that come from things within their control is feasible and equitable. The only answer is to allow administrators to recognize when something is important and fundamental. Fortunately, our administration team this year understands and respects the staff thoroughly. Its vision and knowledge of what it takes to get stuff down make all the difference in leadership styles, and for that I’m grateful. But this should be standard practice to hire, and keep, highly qualified teachers.

It’s important to recognize when folks get it right: when district leadership listens, demonstrates with agility and responds. Perhaps a starting place for the dialogue about how teachers spend their time should include protocols/norms:

“It” is whatever curriculum, change, adaptation, adoption, workflow, time constraints, etc.

  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it someone’s personal agenda/vision?
    • Does this agenda align with the district, state, and Federal mandates/goals?
    • Does this agenda/vision build a sustainable infrastructure?
  • Is it change for change’s sake?
  • How much time will it take? (then multiply it by 3)
  • How does it meet learners’ needs of the climate and culture of that particular school? (This may be especially applicable to large districts.)
  • Does it meet the current life goal needs of the teachers, be it personal or professional?
    • What stage of life are they in? Is there a family issue to be considered–birth, death, divorce, marriage, travel/exploration, professional goals (such as the PSWP class I take almost every summer out of my own time/money)
    • Are they involved with other professional development, such as National Boards or other organizations that support their pedagogy and practice? Are they given a forum (voice) for sharing this knowledge in a collegial way?

Folks ask me if my mind ever quits, and no, not really. But that’s a good thing. If I am creating and supporting, I’m in the zone. I’m happy. Contrast to last year when I was fighting for my professional life. I have other things to think about than my job, however; we teachers just need more damn time. That’s it. Perhaps a formula for those of us who work in high-impact schools, our workshop days need to happen with more frequency and less outside demands. Teachers speak of differentiating professional development all the time, but that change can’t happen fast enough for me. I want to advocate for my colleagues with small children: I want them never to give it a second thought if they need to stay home with a sick child, or for that matter, not give it a second thought if they need to stay home and play with a well one. Also: if we want to put in a few hours, get caught up, create something new, etc., we should do that guilt and judgment free. It’s okay to be happy in a job and as a mother parent. And it’s okay if you are not a parent and have outside interests besides teaching. We only get one time around this wheel, and it goes by fast.

Believe me.

Postscript: Here is how I spent some of my time yesterday.