Pages

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Member of the "Education Establishment" Responds

Nearly everyone (except some legislators) has attended school, and considers himself or herself an expert. 

Last week, following the latest revenue failure, Secretary of Finance Doerflinger made a statement about all the problems he and his colleagues are having trying to create a budget…and how committed they were to finding raises for teachers (because he knows teachers!), and providing other services for our state.

My colleagues Rob Miller and Rick Cobb have both written eloquently and pointedly about the news conference, and I have little to add to their analyses-Rob and I did see red over the same statement.
But..one paragraph from Secretary Doerflinger’s  statement, one, sent me for my blood-pressure pills. In one paragraph he reveals how he really feels about educators, and he dismisses us all, one and all, as greedy, self-serving graspers.  Any good-will his pandering ‘I know teachers’ comment was lost when he said:

“If the agency known as the State Department of Education and if the Education Establishment in general would start coming with more solutions to the problem versus just the answer being solely we need more money, because there are opportunities to realize efficiencies within the common education universe. The problem is that the Education Establishment really is fixated on just maintaining the status quo, which is sick and really disgusting and it doesn’t benefit the children in this state, so enough of that already.”

Two things…three things stand out to me in this statement…”agency known as the State Department of Education.” It’s not ‘known as.’ It IS the State Department of Education. Why the tortured wording? All I can think is he’s trying to deliberately destroy the credibility of the department charged with the public education of our children.

Shall I call the Governor’s office ‘the office known as the Governor?’ Or the official known as the ‘Secretary of so-called Finance?’  Or ‘the so-called Secretary of Finance?’ Words matter and they are chosen to make a point. All I can think is he is trying to delegitimize the entire department… What’s up with the attack on OSDE?

Then he blames all our woes on the ‘Education Establishment.” They are the villains causing all the problems. If they would just stop asking for money to buy books, and repair school buses, and pay the electric bill; if they’d just be grateful for the scraps from his financial table…everything would be just fine. It’s all, obviously, the fault of the Education Establishment.

Who’s the “education establishment?” I guess that would be me. 39 years of teaching in three states, 10 schools. 34 years in Norman – every grade level in public education. Thousands of students, many of whom are still in my life in meaningful ways.  I must be ‘establishment’.

The library media specialist at my Grand’ schools: doing more with less…teaching, planning with classroom teachers, getting to know students and their tastes so well they can say, “Sorry, no new Minecraft books today,” when little Johnnie comes through the door. They must be the education establishment.

Or the principals who’ve gone back to school (on their own dime) to learn more about administering schools, to be more effective.

Or the choir teachers who work with 70+ students at a time, and make magic with all the blended voices singing works they’d never dreamed they could perform.

Or the English interns I work with at Oklahoma State: bright, idealistic young people who are very aware of the challenges that await them in their own classrooms.

You know who else is ‘education establishment?’ Your third grade teacher who works every day with students who may not have the advantages of a stable home, or enough food to eat.

The special education teachers who lose sleep at night trying to find new ways to help their students succeed.

That American History teacher who sees the realities his students face with one or both parents incarcerated. He’s part of the education establishment.

The art teachers who inspire students to believe in themselves and their talents. They’re part of the education establishment.

The counselor at school – who sees the great needs of her students, but she must ignore those needs to plan and implement state testing.

The parents who partners with educators to advocate for their children. 

The Education Establishment is every teacher working in a public school in Oklahoma. Mr. Doerflinger tells us, no doubt with great sincerity, that he knows teachers. He wants teachers to have raises…and then in the next breath attacks all educators as part of the ‘Education Establishment.’ He seemed to be entirely unaware that he both praised and slammed the folks who teach 90%+ of the children in our state.  Or, more likely: he just doesn’t care.

He accuses us of only wanting to maintain the status quo. He must not know what the status quo is in our schools:
  • ·         No new library books in many schools
  • ·         No new electives for high schools
  • ·         Four-day weeks to try to balance the budget
  • ·         Sustained standardized testing and a culture of fear
  • ·         Promising programs being cut
  • ·         Record number of alternative and emergency-certified teachers
  • ·         A-F school grades, punitive accountability
  • ·         Third graders who can be retained on the score of one test
  • ·         Over-crowded classes
  • ·         Students whose needs are not met by over-extended, overworked counselors
  • ·         Smaller custodial staffs
  • ·         Openings for substitutes and bus drivers – and teachers take up the slack
  • ·         Schools losing teachers who take jobs in the prison system, or at high-paying private schools, or out of state
  • ·         More and more unfunded mandates on top of other unfunded mandates.


That is the reality, the status quo, of our schools. I challenge you, Secretary Doerflinger, to find a member of the ‘Education Establishment’ who supports that list…You and your reformer buddies are responsible for the current status quo…it’s YOURS. And we don’t wish to maintain any of it.

OK, I lied. There are four things in that one statement that infuriate me…I think he just called every educator in #oklaed “sick and really disgusting” and lectures us about what does or does not  “benefit the children in this state.” I can’t even.

And he wonders why the best and brightest teachers are ready to abandon this state.
I’ll see my OSU students Thursday…I’ll look into their eyes, I will read their reflections. I will do everything I can do to encourage them to stay – stay in this profession, and stay in their home state to teach. Because we need them. Our children need them.


I reject the Secretary’s assessment. 39 years taught me what really matters. I believe in my profession, and in the educators who show up – every day – to teach.


Sunday, February 19, 2017

All the Novels I Need to Read



I have brilliant friends, friends who read...some even read more than I do. When I put out the call for books we all need to read during the next turbulent years, it was answered enthusiastically. And I discovered my very brilliant friends had read books I needed to read. Books that could give me that comfort and empathy that books -- especially novels -- have proved to provide for us who read.

The list I present for you today are novels I've NOT read. Novels I will put on my ever-growing 'To Be Read' list. Novels that friends recommend to us all in trying times. And, yes, there are books here that I certainly SHOULD have read...even English teachers can't read everything. Lewis's book, and Askew's, and Hamid's books are physically IN MY HOUSE, on a stack.

Some appear to be those dystopian novels we have all been referencing recently...of 'perfect' societies run by men and women who have all the answers...who brook no disagreement, who control all parts of others' lives.
So, read through the list...find one you'd especially recommend for me...or add a book you don't see.

Reading keeps us human...and it's never been more important to be loving, accepting, reflective, empathetic humans.


Fiction I need to read:

As I Lay Dying -- Faulkner
Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Atkinson
Blood for Blood – Graudin
Blood Meridian – McCarthy
Disc World Series – Pratchett
Echo -- Ryan
Every Man Dies Alone – Fallada
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Hemingway
Howl – Ginsberg
It Can’t Happen Here – Lewis
Johnny Got His Gun -- Trumbo
Junkie – Burroughs
Kind of Kin – Askew
Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro
Station Eleven – Mandel
Super Sad True Love Story – Shteyngart
The Children of Men – James
The Children’s Hour – Clavell
The Circle – Eggers
The Cucumber King – Nostlinger
The Diabolic – Kincaid
The Dispossessed -- Le Guin
The Gate to Women's Country – Tepper
The Hate U Give – Thomas
The Iron Heel – London
The Leftovers – Perrotta
The Light Between Oceans – Stedman
The Mandibles – Shriver
The Plot Against America – Roth
The Reluctant Fundamentalist -- Hamid
They Thought They Were Free – Mayer
Version Control – Palmer
We – Zamyatin
When I was the Greatest – Reynold

Wolf by Wolf – Graudin

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nonfiction for Hard Times



I promised four posts, all with extensive book lists, and here's my second, "Nonfiction I Have Actually Read."

I am married to a reader...no surprise. But, Bob Swisher reads nonfiction. In our 52 years together, I remember him reading two novels: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Killing Mr. Watson. Neither of those made MY list of novels to read during trying times.

He mocks my fiction-reading habits, and I was happy to report to him in the past few years my nonfiction reading equaled my fiction. But, I still prefer stories, so many of the nonfiction books I enjoy are narrative nonfiction: memoir, biography, and just plain-old stories. Creative nonfiction feeds my soul.

Other than narrative, I DO read education policy books. I'm excited to say, I now read the books of friends -- social media friends. Pretty cool to be only that degree separated from authors.

Of  the four lists I will share, this is my shortest...a lifetime of reading novels means I have not caught up.

The nonfiction I share now are all books I have read. I have learned, I have enjoyed. Every one of them has left me a better, smarter, person.

My next two blog posts will be the books my very well-read friends suggested for our bibliotherapy through  tough times.

How many of these have  you read? What would you tell someone about them?


Nonfiction I’ve Read

Devil’s Highway – Urrea
Diary of a Young Girl  – Frank
Dreams from My Father – Obama
Girl Interrupted – Kaysen
Hoosier School Heist – Martin
I Am Malala -- Yousafzai
Ishmael -- Quinn
Man’s Search for Meaning – Frankl
March Trilogy – Lewis
Most Dangerous – Sheinkin
New Testament
Partly Cloudy Patriot – Vowell
Quiet – Cain
Ratf*cked – Daley
Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty – Gorski
Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Manson
Symphony for the City of the Dead – Anderson
Teachers Have it Easy -- Eggers
Testimony – Williams
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack -- Skoot
The Innocent Man – Grisham
The Myths of Standardized Tests – Harris
The Other Wes Moore – Moore
The Power of Habit – Duhigg
The Stories We Live By – McAdams
There Are No Children Here – Kotlowitz
What it is Like to Go to War – Marlantes
Worst Hard Times -- Egan

Zeitoun – Eggers

Monday, January 30, 2017

Message from Choice Summit? "We're Gonna Hurt You Some More"

I am offering my blog to Angel Worth, a Metro teacher who DID attend the School Choice Summit last week. Many educators were refused admittance, with their tickets for the event in their hands. Dr. Rick Cobb, Superintendent of Mid-Del Schools and his wife were turned away with flimsy excuses. Aaron Baker DID get in, and his report of the experience is here...
I found Angel's insights chilling, and I thank her for attending, for asking questions, and for sharing the words of the participants...this gives us a better idea of what the proponents of 'choice' (vouchers) really want.



Into the Lions’ Den
Angel Worth | January 29, 2017



This past Thursday, the Oklahoma School Choice Summit and Expo was held at Oklahoma City Community College. The summit began at 4:00, and after ushering straggling students out of my classroom, grading a handful of late papers, and prepping the next day’s lesson plan, I strode out of the high school brimming with both fire and fear.

Upon arriving at OCCC, I sat in my car for a full fifteen minutes, staring through the windshield at the signs directing the public to the Performing Arts Center. I’m a first year teacher, so feeling out of my depth is no rarity for me. However, the feeling that gripped me as I walked up the sidewalk and into the summit was a different kind of displacement. I’d never really considered the phrase, “into the lion’s den,” until I stumbled over my name at the check-in table and allowed a young, smiling woman to slip a yellow band around my wrist. Dozens of people stood across the lobby. Most were dressed in tailored business suits and dresses, and nearly all wore a yellow scarf draped around their necks. The scarves were handed out as people checked in, but because I did not register in advance, I was not offered one.

After looking over the itinerary I had picked up at the check-in table, I picked the three breakout sessions I was interested in attending, and I made my way to the adjacent building.

Charter School “101”

Brent Bushey, the Executive Director of Oklahoma Public Resource Center, facilitated the “Charter School 101” session. Bushey is a tall, but soft spoken man. He wore a wrinkled navy blue suit, and he shuffled from one foot to the other while clasping and unclasping his hands throughout his presentation. Using charter school jargon, Bushey explained the process for how charter schools are opened, and in the last twenty minutes of the session, Bushey opened the floor to questions.

I searched the room for a friendly face, trying to identify if there was a Public Education ally in the room, but I was alone. The slogan on the banner at the back of the room caught my eye, “Every Child. Every Choice. Every Chance.” I took a shaky breath and raised my hand to ask for clarification on concerns I’ve heard echoed throughout the Public Education community.

“How is the money that charter schools are allocated by the state budgeted, and how transparent is that budget?” I asked. I could hear my own voice quavering. After stating that charter schools are tracked the same way public schools are, Bushey shared a surprising statistic.

“50-70% of charter schools that are closed are closed due to financial problems,” he said.

“So charter schools close most often due to financial mismanagement?” The words had left my mouth before I could bring them back.

Bushey shuffled, “It’s less an issue of mismanagement, and more so financial incompetence.”

Perhaps to Bushey incompetence sounds better than mismanagement, but, as an English teacher, I couldn’t help but be appalled at the connotation associated with a word like incompetence. Is it supposed to be comforting that charter schools across the nation are shut down because they’re too incompetent to properly write a budget? Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, public schools across the state continue to function as their budgets are slashed and their funds are bleeding because of the “incompetence” of our state legislature to do the same thing. That’s a difference between public and private schools that’s worth noting: public schools have the resilience and commitment to their students to keep their doors open, in the face of anything.

Emboldened, I asked another question, “When comparing public, charter, and private schools, the concept of attrition is almost never acknowledged on behalf of charter and public schools. As a public school teacher,” I glanced around the room, “I feel like there are several steps taken before a student is removed from school. Charter schools have much higher attrition rates, which makes me wonder what process do charter schools follow to have students removed from their programs? And what liberties do charter schools take in admitting students with learning disabilities and disciplinary issues?”

Pivoting away from the topic of attrition, Bushey instead decided to address the latter half of the question. Bushey identified himself as a past teacher of students with disabilities and also as a father of a daughter with Down Syndrome. He shared an anecdote of his experience when he first moved to Oklahoma. He called a charter school to see if they would accept his daughter, and they said yes. He then asked them if they had a Special Education program, to which they said no.

“This is where it becomes a matter of school choice,” Bushey said. “I could have sent my daughter to that charter school, but instead I chose a school that was the best fit for her.”

What I got out of Bushey’s story was that a charter school was willing to accept his daughter despite not having the necessary program to ensure her success, which begs the question: what are IEP and 504 programs like at charter and public schools? Are these schools in compliance with IDEA? Do these schools know what IDEA is? *cough cough DeVos*

Advocacy for School Leaders

Before I could ask anymore, the session was over, and I was on my way to a session called “Advocacy for School Leaders.” The session was facilitated by Matt Ball of CMA Strategies and former Representative Hopper Smith of Strategic Resource Consulting. The goal was to teach those present how to elevate those in favor of school choice from “passive stakeholders” to “active advocates.”

Outside of Matt Ball referencing Waiting for Superman as an informative source on charter schools, the thing that caught my attention most took the form of an older man named Charlie Daniels, who I later found out is the Vice President of the Opportunity Scholarship Fund. With both Senator Pederson (District 19) and Senator Rader (District 39) in attendance, Daniels provided scathing criticism of local school boards.

“The school board is the captive of administration,” Daniels said. “Most of them are sinkers; you cannot change their mind with a bomb.”

A few moments later, Daniels went on to say, “You’ve gotta go beyond the local school board. They’re going to be your enemy.”

It was at this point that Hopper Smith became visibly uncomfortable as he nervously laughed and claimed that “enemy is a strong word.” Daniels went on to tell about a time that he spent a day at the Capitol going from office to office of elected officials. He said that one time, he stopped in at a legislator’s office whose district Daniels was not a part of. Daniels told the legislator that he should vote in favor whatever school choice bill was on the docket that session, and the legislator responded by saying, “Thank God. I’ve been getting hundreds of phone calls from Public Education people all day, and now if I vote for this I can say I’ve got some cover.”

It’s good to know that our legislators will disregard the voices of hundreds of constituents in favor of one person’s opinion if it serves the legislator’s own self-interest. In case the legislator has forgotten, their jobs exist to serve use. Their jobs do not exist to serve themselves.

Moving on.

Communities of Color Panel

The next session on the list was one called “Communities of Color Panel.” Before entering the room, however, I had an informative mini-session in the form of a conversation I overheard between former State Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi and keynote speaker Dr. Steve Perry.

I initially became aware of the conversation when the words “Betsy DeVos could be good for us,” came out of Barresi’s mouth, but my favorite part of the conversation was when Barresi complained about the “quality of educators that colleges of education are producing.”

Dr. Perry guffawed loudly and replied, “That whole sentence is an oxymoron.”

It took everything in me not to step forward and identify myself as a public school teacher. Instead, I took deep breaths, pictured the goddess of education that is current Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, and followed Barresi into the next session.

The communities of color panel was comprised of Dr. Steve Perry, Phillip Gover of Sovereign Schools Project, and Marilinda Garcia of the Libre Initiative. I most looked forward to this session because I wanted to see how the panel addressed the research that suggests charter and private schools compound the issue of systemic racism. Instead, Dr. Perry said in his opening statement, “We are taking a system that was designed in 1635 that was designed to keep certain communities apart...and has so effectively done it, that it almost seems natural.”
Dr. Perry went on to suggest that teachers are the hostages of unions to which we pay our ransom (union dues), and that the public school system is too traditional and racist.

Now, I acknowledge that there is inequity in the public school system. Schools that are located in areas of dense poverty are attended by predominately students of color, and these schools often have lower graduation rates. However, the solution is not to open up charter schools so that portions of the student bodies in lower-income schools are pulled out. What about the students who are left behind? The students who don’t make it off the wait list? They’re left to attend a school that has even less funding. In Oklahoma City, in particular, these students would be left in classrooms that are filled with unqualified and uncertified teachers because of a massive teacher shortage. The solution to this problem is not to open more schools, it’s to fund the school that stands, starting with teacher salaries, to ensure quality teachers are present to provide a quality education. As much as the summit reiterated that the student is the most important part of education, they must recognize that students’ education starts with their teacher.

Before the last session dismissed, the room was notified that a protestor, allegedly, pulled the fire alarm in the theater to prevent the second part of the program from happening. Dr. Perry laughed joyously at this.

“I’ve been to a lot of cities, man,” he said. “And ain’t no city where they’re pulling fire alarms. To those protestors: you showed us that we hurt you by hollering. Keep hollering because we’re going to hurt you some more.”

This was met with whoops and hollers as those in the room stood to begin their walk back to the Performing Arts Center.

Main Program

It just so happened that I was behind Janet Barresi on the way back to the Performing Arts Center, so I was lucky enough to see her reaction when we reached the doors to find dozens of pro-Public Education people standing in line, waiting to be admitted to the summit.

Barresi rolled her eyes and shared a look with the woman who had been accompanying her, and they pushed their way through the line to get into the lobby. As I had already checked in, I followed.

When I reached the front of the line I realized that those who were waiting to check-in were being turned away. Most of them clutched EventBrite registration confirmation tickets in their hands, and one man at the front of line began to get irate.

I asked one of the summit event’s coordinators why the group of people waiting to get in were being denied access to the public event. He claimed that those organizing the summit had caught wind of a protest group on Facebook, and so they cross referenced the list of people who were associated with the Facebook group and the people who had registered for the event, and the summit’s organizers canceled the group’s tickets.

I found out later, however, that several pro-Public Education people were turned away who had no affiliation with the protest group on Facebook, which leads one to wonder what sources the summit organizers were using to decide who could and who could not attend a “public forum”?

I did not stay for the entirety of the main program that was held in the Performing Arts Center’s theater because I needed to go to the store to buy supplies for the project my students were doing the following day. I did, however, stay long enough to hear Rep. Jason Nelson moderate a panel comprised of Sen. Stanislawski, Sen. Loveless, Rep. Chuck Strohm, and Rep. Calvey.

The panel was essentially five men tossing around school choice buzzwords to incite applause from the audience. I’m currently teaching rhetoric to my freshman, and I was almost tempted to start recording the panel in order to have my students analyze and identify the heavy use of pathos and the noticeable lack of ethos and logos in each of the legislator’s arguments for school choice.

As I drove away from the Oklahoma School Choice summit Thursday night, I reflected on what it means to be a public school teacher in the current political climate. Oklahoma teachers have been fighting the state legislator for many years to protect Public Education, and now that fight might find itself carried to the national level with the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

With every anti-Public Ed proposed legislative bill that I read, I feel my faith in the future of Oklahoma public school’s diminish. After leaving an environment where public school teachers like myself were categorized as union thugs, racist, selfish, and inept, my passion for public school teaching was reignited. Since Thursday, I’ve thought back to Dr. Perry’s words again and again, “You showed us that we hurt you by hollering. Keep hollering because we’re going to hurt you some more.”

Dr. Perry and many of the other speakers at the summit are not from Oklahoma, so perhaps they won’t understand. However, I feel it necessary to warn them not to mistake determination for being “hurt.” Don’t be so foolish as to misinterpret grit for fear. The war on Public Education has been waging in Oklahoma for many years now, and though it’s been trying and adverse, public schools and their teachers have persevered—and we will keep on persevering.


Angel Worth is a graduate of The University of Oklahoma. She is in her first year as a freshman English teacher, and she decided to attend the Summit to engage in meaningful dialogue and better understand those who support “school choice.”

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Books to Read as We Survive Trying Times

I recently saw an observation that when Barack Obama was elected, sales of guns spiked...and now with the election of Donald Trump, we are seeing a resurgence in the sale of books. As a Reading for Pleasure teacher, I find that fascinating...and hopeful. Especially since I surrounded myself with books and readers for my entire career. I was the luckiest teacher in the world.

There are multiple research studies that point out the benefits of reading: This National Endowment for the Arts blog post mentions several: reading literary fiction makes us more empathetic, reading may help us resist the effects of dementia, reading helps reduce stress, and reading just flat-out makes us smarter. I, myself, would love to see a citizenry that is empathetic, stress-free, and as smart as we can be. And as the daughter, granddaughter, and niece of dementia patients, I read to keep my mind strong. So, I am proposing we set about reading our way through the next several years...novels (they, especially, contribute to making us more empathetic to others), narrative nonfiction, and straight-up informative nonfiction.


My idea for this blog started small...two books, in particular, have shot up to the top of the Best Sellers' lists: Representative John Lewis's graphic novel trilogy, March, and George Orwell's 1984. I just recently read book one of Lewis's trilogy and was moved by his memories of the Nashville lunch sit ins, and his training to be a nonviolent demonstrator. And, I read 1984, long before 1984! I decided I needed to revisit the classic, and it's waiting on my to-be-read stack.

I asked my online friends what books they would recommend to others and suddenly I lost control over my own project. NINE pages of titles...books I've read and loved, and many books I've not read...some I'd not heard of before.

My plan is to present four lists -- Novels I've read and agree would be important pieces to read and reflect on...nonfiction I've read and recommend. Then I will share the novels suggested by my friends, books I've not gotten to read yet...some again, on that teetering stack to be read, and finally the extensive list of nonfiction I've not read. The two lists that were largest were the novels I HAVE read and the nonfiction I have NOT read. A perfect reflection of my reading habits.

I'll star books that have especially moved me, and I recommend highly.

So, in alphabetical order by title, is a list of novels my friends and I think would be especially thought-provoking and appropriate for us to read and consider over the next years. Please feel free to recommend others, or add your thought on the books here...would love to start a real dialogue. I love talking about books, and my friends know that.

Novels I’ve Read -- literary novels, young adult novels, popular fiction. 

**1984 – Orwell
A Farewell to Arms – Hemingway
**All American Boys – Reynolds
**All Quiet on the Western Front – Remarque
**All the Light We Cannot See – Doerr
Animal Farm – Orwell
Anthem – Rand
Bell Jar – Plath
Beloved – Morrison
**Book Thief -- Zucak
**Brave New World – Huxley
Catch 22 – Heller
Center Ring – Waggoner
Chocolate War -- Cormier
**Christian Nation – Rich
Cloud Atlas – Mitchell
Dark Tower – King
Divergent  Series – Roth
Dune -- Herbert
East of Eden – Steinbeck
Esperanza Rising – Ryan
**Fahrenheit 451 – Bradbury
Go Set a Watchman – Lee
**Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck
**Handmaid’s Tale –Atwood
**Harry Potter – Rowling
Heart of Darkness – Conrad
**Hunger Games Series – Collins
Invisible Man – Ellison
**Kite Runner – Housseini
Lonesome Dove – McMurtry
**Lord of the Flies – Golding
Lord of the Rings – Tolkien
Matilda -- Dahl
Moby Dick – Melville
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Kesey
Parable of the Talents – Butler
Pinocchio – Collodi
**Poisonwood Bible – Kingsolver
Ready Player One – Cline
Slaughterhouse Five – Vonnegut
**Small Great Things – Picoult
**The Crucible – Miller
The Goldfinch -- Tartt
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – Seuss
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter – McCullers
The House of the Scorpion – Farmer
**The Jungle -- Lewis
The Nightingale – Hannah
**The Reader – Schlink
**The Storyteller -- Picoult
**To Kill a Mockingbird -- Lee
Uglies Series– Westerfeld
**Unwind Series– Shusterman
Watership Down – Adams
We Were Liars – Lockhart
Where the Heart Is – Letts

**Wonder – Palacio

I have starred titles I think are especially important to read and consider. 

Three more lists to follow.

And in case you need more ideas, here is my Top Ten reads of 2016...and my friend Nancy Flanagan's Top Ten for last year. Her lists always mean new books on my TBR stack. 

What books would YOU recommend for us all?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Excu-u-u-u-se Me

Note--this is my 200th post. Others write so much faster (and better if I were honest), but I'm proud of this!


“Vitriol” An interesting word I’m hearing a lot…usually directed to passionate educators who stand up for our profession. The first time recently I read it was on an Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs's post taking several of us education bloggers to task for our bad words and our anger/passion about current affairs in #oklaed. Their sanctimonious pursing of their lips and clucking with disapproval is typical, and I figured I was in great company. So, I checked the link to my own name and found a blog I’d posted: “Fund Us. Support Us. Or STF(lip)U.” Hmmm. I know OCPA thinks ‘fund’ is a dirty word, especially when it applies to funding schools adequately. They will fight tooth and nail to keep that dirty word from supporting the work in our schools. I plead guilty. I used a dirty word. I used another one in "Vote, Dammit." Self reporting!

That's just one of the words and phrases I hear "reformsters" use...another makes me see red, and want to use even more bad words.

“Moral imperative," as “children are our moral imperative.” I agree, but not in the same sense of the phrase. Reformsters use it to push choice, and cutting retirement benefits for teachers. For excusing the lack of pay raises, for cutting funding to schools. I use it differently. 

I taught moral imperatives for 39 years. The moral imperatives who came to school ready to learn, from an intact family, with full tummies. The moral imperatives who came hungry, tired, inadequately clothed for the season. The moral imperatives who faced insurmountable odds in their lives: family poverty, homelessness, abuse, deprivation, ill health, hunger. I taught moral imperatives who were already under the influence of drugs and alcohol…making learning nigh onto impossible. I taught moral imperatives who struggled academically, who couldn’t catch on as quickly as others, who came to me with learning disabilities we worked to overcome.

I don’t need a politician who’ never taught a day to lecture me about moral imperatives. I attended their graduations. I attended their funerals. I attended the funerals of their parents and siblings. I spent 180 days with them, hearing their hopes, trying to assuage their very real pain. I sat with a moral imperative when she described in vivid detail the rape she had suffered at a party. I sat with a moral imperative when she reported child abuse. I held the hands of moral imperatives who told me they were pregnant and were trying to figure out how this would affect their lives, and their education.

I cried and laughed with my moral imperatives for 39 years, watching life become harder and harder for them and their families. I secretly paid for snacks and books and supplies and lunches for my moral imperatives.

I prepared lessons and assessments to help my moral imperatives grow in their academics. I took hours to respond to their work, creating a dialogue. I created a community of readers and learners with my moral imperatives. I begged them to buckle up, to be kind. To find ways to reach out and help each other. I created a climate of classroom respect and trust where risks were expected, and failure was never permanent.

At this point in my life, I am connected with many former moral imperatives, and we often have conversations about their lives. Several are educators themselves, and we talk about learning, and loss, and how to return to the classroom after those losses. These conversations are rich and real.  And heartbreaking.

So excuse me when I get passionate about defending my moral imperatives…for standing up for them, for marching, for emailing, for writing, for visiting, for calling.

Excuse me if an occasional bad word slips out. I’m defending public schools and my moral imperatives from harm. Harm from uninformed legislators and policy makers with their own agenda. I have an agenda – it’s my moral imperatives.

Excuse me if I am extra assertive, if I share research in this time of ‘alternative facts.’ Excuse me if I advocate passionately for my moral imperatives and my schools.

Education is my family business…we have invested our lives in other people’s moral imperatives. We entered teaching knowing it was not a high-paying profession, but knowing it was a profession we valued. Our own children often suffer because of our decisions…I used to tell my children that I’d used up all my patience on other people’s moral imperatives and had none left for them. My low salary meant our family didn’t ‘have’ what other families had. My family supported my decision to teach, knowing we would never get rich, knowing I was not contributing my ‘fair share’ to our finances. My children didn’t wear the latest designer clothes, or drive brand new cars (the cars many of my moral imperatives DID drive), because their mother chose to be a teacher.

Excuse me if I expect policy makers to pay a living wage to educators. Excuse me if I expect policy makers to provide resources for our moral imperatives’ education.  Excuse me if I demand that every school be staffed with a professional librarian, overseeing a full, up-to-date collection. Excuse me if I expect moral imperatives to have access to up-to-date, dependable, technology, to fine arts classes, to rich electives, to recess.

Excuse me if I become incensed when politicians tell ME that my students are ‘moral imperatives.’ That is exactly how I lived my life for 39 years in the classroom.

As ideas for this blog post were swirling in my mind, a former moral imperative, Lauren Blatzheim, tagged me on a touching link about a teacher who taught all day, and went home to unimaginable hard work at home. But he returned to the classroom, to his moral imperatives, every day, full of love and optimism.

She reflected, in the introduction to her post, 

First, having a teacher in your life who's passionate about What they're teaching--that is an amazing gift. Another gift is getting to have a teacher who enjoys teaching, and a teacher who loves their students, and a teacher who truly takes the time to get down on a personal level with their students. When a teacher supports you, it's hard not to feel capable, to feel infinite even.. but then for him to teach the importance of love. How enlightening to be reminded that we as humans are not just number crunchers and test takers, but that we're all deserving of love!”

“…we are not just number crunchers and test takers…we’re all deserving of love.” They are moral imperatives.

So, excuse my passion and my vitriol. I’m busy defending a generation of moral imperatives from lousy reforms.





Monday, January 2, 2017

Top Ten Reads of 2016

I can never follow the rules on any 'top' followed by a number list, and why should 2016 be any different?

I had to revise my total goal on Goodreads DOWN, after my husband's emergency hip-replacement-replacement surgery, but I still did a lot of reading. 146 books, 49 audible books (love to listen as I walk and drive and do gardening). I rated 33 books five-out-of-five, and have winnowed that list down to ten...well, not ten. Really twelve. Let me explain.

I read two books this year written by friends! How very cool is that to KNOW the author and hear his and her voice in my head as I read? Those two go to the top of my Top Ten (plus two). And since I changed the rules, I'm not allowing myself any honorary mentions this year...see, I am playing fair. AND I did not include any of the 8 books I reread this year and rated 5.

I was surprised that of my top ten (plus two) only three were novels (or a picture book of folk tales). I, the fiction queen, reached out and read more nonfiction...now, I'll admit, most of the nonfiction was narrative -- stories told and analyzed -- but that was a surprise. One Young Adult novel, and two YAL nonfiction books, by the same author. 

Automatic Top Two:

Center Ring, by Nicole Waggoner. Nicole is married to one of my former students and we have discovered so much in common: English teachers who wanted it all. Center Ring is part of a trilogy, and it's a good thing Nicole included the first chapter of the second book on her webpage...otherwise... Young moms with professional jobs or training, try to balance their lives and commitments. Every woman can relate! 
Capturing the Spark, by David Cohen. I've met David several times at National Board Certified Teacher conferences, and was excited to see his book. He took a year off from the classroom, and visited classrooms around his home state of California. He used those observations to reflect on what schools really need to be successful. I 'visited' the classrooms of several online friends through this book, and his recommendations at the end, while focused on California, would work to improve #oklaed. David's is the only professional book I rated 5.

Countdown of my Top Ten:

10. God Help the Child by Toni Morrison. My walking buddy and I spent our summer reading works by African American women, and I was eager to read this, Morrison's contemporary novel about a black woman and the mother figures in her life. It was so different from her historical fiction, and I found it so much more accessible.


9. Black Eyed Susans by Julie Heaberlin -- a mystery-thriller with a split narration -- the main character as a child who survived a horrific kidnapping and narrowly escaped death, and the adult with second thoughts about her testimony in the case. Since I listened to this one, I couldn't 'cheat' and read the last pages to learn how it ended...so I just took lots of walks!
8. What it is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes. " War is society's dirty work, usually done by kids cleaning up the failures perpetrated by adults." There were so many surprises with this book -- the author's classical academic training, and his analytical investigation of our society's treatment of those kids we send to war, and then abandon once they're back home. We can do better.


7. The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan. Tan is a visual artist, and has created tiny, evocative sculptures for seventy-five Grimm's tales...some familiar, most new. His retelling of the words tells one story, and the sculptures tell a heightened version of the same tale. I pored over these pages, wanting to touch the tiny works of art.


6. Family Romanov by Candace Fleming. I have always been a sucker for books about the doomed Romanov children -- Anastasia, Alexei, and their willfully-blind parents, Nicholas and Alexander Romanov. I hoped, as we all did, that the stories of Anastasia escaping the assassinations were true. Fleming covers the horrible murders, and the forensics of the search for remains with care. No one escaped. 


5. Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of Viet Nam by Steve Sheinkin. I had to find a young adult author to interpret the Pentagon Papers for me...even though I lived through that era. In my defense...I was busy as a mom of a toddler. Sheinkin is my favorite nonfiction author, and I'm thrilled that his books are so assessible to young readers. His research is meticulous and he find the rhythm of the times.


4. The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights also by Steve Sheinkin. This guy...he's got chops. He found a story most of us know nothing about and he's brought it into our lives. Port Chicago was a naval base in CA during WWII. Since African Americans were not able to hold positions of power and responsibility during the war, they were force to do the heavy lifting and dangerous work others didn't want to do. The explosion at Port Chicago was a direct result of neglect and abuse of workers. The subsequent mutiny and its aftermath is something we must all learn about. Sheinkin is a master at telling the stories we NEED to know.


3.  Ratf*cked: The True Story of the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy by David Daley. This was my light Christmas reading...holy...heck! Daley travels the country, interviewing political operatives who took control of redistricting our Congressional (and state) boundaries, as well as victims of that redistricting, and the beneficiaries. This book tirelessly examines gerrymandering, but also the work to gain the power TO gerrymander. He is a harsh critic of both political parties, and he offers some suggestions to possibly save our republic. 


2. All-American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Keily. Ripped, as they say, from the headlines, this story follows two high school boys through an incident of violence that forces them, their families, and friends to face harsh facts of our treatment of each other. The two authors narrate the voices of two young men -- one African American, one white. They must come to terms with the unfair nature of life and news and treatment of our young people. Done with an even hand, this book must be read by all of us.


1. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin Manuel-Miranda. Yes, I am obsessed. I have the Chernov biography in my TBR stack, but this...the story of the show...is a work of art. First the photos...of cast members, and of the production itself. Then, the backstage stories about the making of the show. Then, the analysis of how the music was created, complete with footnotes with sources and inspirations. Then, and most marvelously, there are the lyrics to every story. I sat, read all the background, read the lyrics and the footnotes, and then listened to the song, following along with the lyrics in the book. I know I couldn't have caught half of the creativity if I hadn't taken this strategy. The parts reassemble into a whole that is transcendent, genius. I am in awe. NOW I must see this show in person.






What didn't make my list? Classics-I-should-have-read-before, a new Jodi Picoult, YAL I've known about and never read. I've discovered new favorite authors, including Zadi Smith, whom I met, and Jenni Lawson, whose honesty astounds me. New books that scared me and delighted me. 

What's a book you'd recommend I put onto my 2017 books-to-read?