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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.


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.

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Shame game.

Can’t find original source: Family in Appalachia–this could have been parts of my family at times


Our admin treated us to an engaging speaker on Wednesday during a workshop day. Dr. Donna Beegle. She is truly kind of a big deal, and offered down-to-earth ideas and perceptions about poverty, primarily from her personal life story. The only issue I had with the day was the presentation was about three hours long, with one ten minute break, and there was a small ratio of presentation:interaction component. (That’s tough on an old lady like me to sit for so long, and I think between that and the usual “you are not a human being” thing about a teacher’s schedule, I felt terrible and ended up taking a sick day, but that’s irrelevant.)

There were a few things she offered I packed in my ‘creed suitcase’ — those things I may need when I travel outside my comfort zone–reminders of ‘my home’ – where I try to live with students, and staff.  Her story is not unusual–poverty doesn’t know race–it’s embedded in our cultural narrative as old as Jamestown and the Mayflower. She said (paraphrasing) that if one judges, then the possible of communication is nil, an impossibility. And she’s right.

If I could have added anything to her presentation, it would be to add a piece that teachers do this to each other, too. And if you’ve never experienced when someone is judging you, and being hostile/uncommunicative, then you don’t know what it’s like to try to collaborate/create in that environment. It’s not about ‘skin-thickening’ or not being sensitive. (‘Skin-thickening’ sounds kind of gross.) Asking someone who’s naturally empathetic and understanding to switch that off from one’s identity is tough. And that’s what we ask students to do all the time. We ask them to toughen up, get some grit, pull-up-boot-straps and get to it. Bolstering is okay: put-downs and shaming is not. It would seem like this line is mile-wide, but it’s razor thin sometimes.

One other aspect of her lecture, (which I’m not sure others heard, but with my super-powers of subtext hearing), included her discussion about print culture. There is no mystery why it is I can’t have students simply “go read this” -there demands a context and a conversation:

“Constructive criticism” is a middle class concept. A lot of times you see teachers writing information on students papers, feedback to them about how they are doing or whatever. And the oral culture students will say, “My teacher doesn’t notice if I do the work, and they don’t notice if I don’t do the work.” Because that writing is not communicating to them. They need personal, “Sit down, go over it with me, and do it verbally”, and that’s how they get their information.

That is why my most struggling readers have always been the best verbal trackers, consistently. And unless we truly want to help, support, and educate our students experiencing poverty we must bend, break, or trash the curriculum standards that impede this by way of stealing our time, our lesson ideas, constructing intentional planning that allows for talk, even if it’s self-talk, or one-to-one with teachers.

Now the other big subtext I heard was shaming. She used her memory of teachers’ voices chiding students for being late, forgetting books, not coming prepared, having lice, etc. (I wanted to tell her that lice is way overblown, and even ‘rich kids’ get lice. I’ve know a few. And one thing I would love to chat over coffee with her is that most lives are full of many experiences: times of richness, times of hunger. I have those stories. I’m sure you do, too.)

Her point was this shaming of children for things out of their control deflates them, permanently. Why tear someone down who’s doing the best they can?

I’ve seen shaming in my own school. Shaming of teachers who come in late to a meeting because their daycare was late, or shamed because they said something in a meeting, or a lot of “kids these days” comments.

Let’s talk about the dress code.

The other day we were reviewing rules, and one of my fiery young feminists has major issues with the dress code, seeing it as sexist and double-standard. I met her argument head-on, with conciliatory understanding, and my rebuttal (no pun intended) included a conversation about professional attire –my own expectations for boys and girls –I understand the issues of rape culture in our society, all too well, and I see her point. I wanted her to consider that dress codes in a professional environment are not about supporting rape culture, misogyny, sagging/gang culture, etc. It’s just a way to present oneself to the world that is self-respectful, one of those ‘soft skills’ that helps prevent others from pre-judging us. (Remember that judgment thing? Yeah.) The next day or so there was an email from a staff member giving us warning that this student was in violation of the dress code (showing her midriff) and there was no time to get her to change. Is that shaming, or being consistent with school rules? Now I feel the need to talk to this student privately and explain again what professionalism means, and how this should not impede on her personal freedoms. Now, since I didn’t notice what she was wearing, I could see a colleague getting annoyed with me for ‘not being consistent’ in enforcing the rules (I’ve been shamed with this one, too.) It’s not that I don’t enforce the dress code, but my personal philosophy is don’t demand blind rule following: understand the nature and intent, get buy-in, and gentle reminders now and again.

In other words: there are some things that are not a big deal. I propose an end to conflating teacher quality with ability to enforce rules without reason.

The Pew Research Center published an article, “Who’s Poor in America: 50 years into the War on Poverty, a data portrait.” Our nation is struggling. And I would like the conversation about poverty and kids to include how teachers are supported, too. How we get our oxygen masks on so we can help others?

And help stop the shaming. If they don’t bring a pencil to class, so what? They’re there. Teach them.

Highly recommend: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson.

So is the judgment of “misusing privilege’ made us ‘lose our capacity for empathy’ (Jon Ronson)? How are we using our privilege for teaching children, and being kind to one another?


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Loss. Love. And Legacy.

John Spencer is one of my first, and lasting PLN colleagues. I read his words carefully, and it was he who over the weekend told of the sad news about Joe Bower. Otherwise, I may not have known, because over the years I’ve pruned my PLN down, and now I realize too far: growing this network again to sustain and provide professional oxygen must be my personal mandate.

During my own journey, sometimes I didn’t understand what Joe was trying to say, or understand how powerful his words are. Perhaps that is one of the cardinal tenets of educator reflection: if you feel uncomfortable, look closer. Stay mindful. I went to read his words again, and now seeing his intentions with clearer eyes, and how he was a guardian and paladin for children is even more profound.

Anyway, if you’re ever conflicted about grading, and wonder how to get the best work out of students, read Joe’s words. Sustaining and loving.

Diane Ravitch, professor of education at New York University: “He was one of those educators that you wish were in charge of an entire state or nation. He was kind, caring, compassionate, and loved children.”

Many of us should be heard, be counted: continue the good fight.

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Purple Unicorns II: Time Bandits and the Case of the Great Umbrage

Here's to your resolutions!
Here’s to your resolutions!

TL:DR ‘be happy in your time management’

Apologies to John Spencer, but dang, he does give me good ideas. He recently sent this great post about how to work a 40 hour week. I have included his words here, verbatim.

Before you hunker down and start reading, I want to point out the first tip, and how it stopped me in my tracks. John has great ideas, and has proven himself to be creative and innovative.

But I can’t get past #1: 1. Use prep time for real prep. Don’t use that time to go to the staff lounge. Spend that time filling out rubrics, planning lessons, and getting your class ready for teaching.

What irritates me about this is the assumption that at any point in time I’m  making a choice about how I use my 55 minutes of prep time, and I can’t imagine that any of my colleagues are allowed the same luxury. I feel like this is one of those Glamour magazine ‘how to please your spouse’ tips that makes no sense to anyone who lives in reality. But that’s my knee-jerk reaction: after I take a deep breath, count to ten, and allow myself to think –‘What’s really being said here?” Perhaps it’s just a simple tip to use the time that’s intended for the purpose of the intention: if it’s prep time, do prep.

Okay– fair enough.

At my school, often there is class coverage. This year’s been different because we have new administration, and people actually want to come to work. To be fair, in the past many staff members have had serious medical issues, and the guest teacher shortage was at crisis levels. This year, I’m expected to attend a team meeting once a week, and oftentimes during my prep I’m running around to the copy room or trying to make sure my two preps are done in one. This year also my projector sported major issues, and just before break the IT department fixed it. That is three months of spotty technology I was dealing with during my prep time.

And like I said, I have two classes this year, well, three, because Humanities is both English/Language Arts and Social Studies, and Computer Skills I elective, so yes, three preps in one. That allows for about 15 minutes per “prep.” For me, it’s setting up the learning targets, success criteria, making sure the room is clean, free of trash, technology is working, I use the restroom (my last chance of the day, and I have morning prep), and reply to student, parent, or administrative e-mails. I don’t go to the staff lounge, in the morning or at lunch –it’s a toxic place, inhabited by a troll, and I’ve learned not to step hoof over that bridge. (I believe that will change as the culture changes at my school, because the admin staff does not broker any nonsense from mean people. But until the troll(s) find their goats elsewhere, I’m steering clear.

Now: I realize I needed to take a deep breath, stow my umbrage: most of the things that are considered duties for prep time I do ahead of time, when I can focus, without interruptions, and there’s a bathroom nearby, so yes, usually at home. Prep time is not meant for actual prep–it’s meant to get my head in the game, as it were. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to use prep time for its original intention, but maybe that’s John’s point: when trying to clear the time clutter of a teacher’s day, be intentional, and do what’s best for you.

In the meantime, here are some other tips he provides, as well as Angela Watson’s post. Let me be clear: in no way am I a martyr or ‘service to others’ kind of personality. That is not my style. But I am very conscious of how I spend my time, and go by the rule if it’s not giving me some kind of satisfaction or joy, then let it go. By following that simple rule I’ve learned I don’t need to clean all the time, and I’m not a perfectionist. Heck, don’t believe me? Ask my husband how many times I’ve gone to the grocery store this year. The other factor to consider is at what stage the teacher is in — now my sons are older, more independent, and that alone is freeing and joyful. Sure, do I miss toddler kisses and big sloppy hugs? The secret is big 18-year-olds still hug their moms, and 21-year-olds still inspire with grand conversations. I don’t come home tired anymore, and I look at the first year teachers who are so exhausted in, and this is a harsh truth, there is a certain amount of dues that must be paid before any educator learns how to do the work/life balance. It sucks, it’s painful, and the best way is to get through it.

Well, there, I just sucked ten minutes out of your life with this post.

Five years ago, I made a crazy New Year’s Resolution. I decided I would do less. I was exhausted as a teacher. I spent hours late into the night grading papers only to arrive the next morning fueled by fatigue and a heavy dose of caffeine. I was running on fumes, inching closer than ever to burnout.

See, I wanted to prove to teachers that I was a great teacher. I heard about “those teachers” who showed up right before contract time and left right when it ended. “Those teachers” were the burnouts. They were the babysitters. They were the ones just phoning it in. See, I believed I had to be a martyr to be an effective teacher.

Then things changed.

I made the New Year’s resolution to stick to a 40 hour a week schedule. I began showing up at 7:30 a.m. and leave at 4:00 p.m. I no longer felt stressed, exhausted, and overwhelmed.

And I didn’t feel guilty about it.

See, I knew that I loved being a teacher, but I also loved being a dad and a husband. I loved writing books. I loved blogging. I loved reading. I loved playing catch with my kids in the backyard or building pillow forts in the living room without worrying about the massive pile of papers stacking up.

How It’s Possible

1. Use prep time for real prep. Don’t use that time to go to the staff lounge. Spend that time filling out rubrics, planning lessons, and getting your class ready for teaching.
2. Deal with discipline issues relationally. It’s amazing how much time you save by not writing referrals and detentions. If a student acts up in class, simply talk about it in the moment. It’s a relational, conversational approach that works — but also one that means less time chasing kids down and managing a system. If you need to document the discipline, create a simple Google Form and submit it in the moment.
3. Grade less but assess more. Encourage students to do self-assessments. Choose fewer assignments to grade. Spend less time filling out your grade book. Teaching isn’t supposed to be a data entry position.
4. Assess during class. If you’re walking around seeing how students are doing, you might as well use that time to add comments to student blogs or pull kids aside for one-on-one conferencing.
5. Cut out the fluff. I never decorated my class. I left that to the students. Something as small as that can make a huge difference in terms of time.
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Fair is fair.

Mrs. Love's Big Themes of How the World Works Exploration
Mrs. Love’s Big Themes of How the World Works Exploration

Did you ever think to yourself, “Just what are those OTHER teachers doing?”

Yes you have. Be honest.

Say you’re a language arts or math teacher, two of the most scrutinized, analyzed, dissected, and “held accountable” of all the content areas–did you ever wonder how your students are ‘being supported’ in other classrooms, or are the other teachers basking in the glory and luxury of simply teaching their content areas, bohemian in freedom and reaching the teacher-movie trope levels of ‘student engagement?

Well, let’s flip that question around. What are you doing to support the other classes? In social studies, are you providing economics lessons and true costs for raising a family, or the war on the middle class, to support Family and Consumer Sciences? Are you introducing famous paintings throughout history with literary connections to support the arts? Did you explain the nature of health and how current Physical Education practices have changed with new knowledge?

An alternative may be to have one of those difficult conversations of what our students’ full day look like, otherwise it is my contention we will continue to lack progress. And I don’t just mean higher test scores–I mean fail in helping students be able to tackle their whole lives. We can’t do it all, nor should we. Instead of a language arts or math teacher asking the elective teacher how she is supporting their content area, perhaps they needs to flip that question to how they can support the elective. Narrowing the scope, and not providing authentic learning experiences stunts growth. We all need purpose, and practice, with our knowledge.

Often I’ve wished we could take the needle of the record –postpone big tests–just for one year. Just one. Just to get our bearings, see the big picture, and feel enlightened and inspired not only for our own content area, but make connections with other colleagues and collectively share our expertise in a meaningful way, not just some PD that glosses over these issues. Find out what others are doing, and showcase their talents.

I know I’m not the only one who thinks about this, but it sure would be great to hear from others, too.


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