Sunday, December 30, 2012

Guns in Schools? "Teachers Shouldn't Have to Go to Boot Camp to Teach Romeo and Juliet!"

NOW, the letter I really DID send...hopefully it's respectful and professional. The other was for fun...or for venting.

Dear Representatives McCullough and Shorty:
I’m writing to you and copying to the Education Committees to express my deep and abiding opposition to your proposed bill intending to arm public school personnel.

I’m a career teacher with over thirty years of teaching in Oklahoma, at every level in public education, K-12. I’ve also taught at both OU and SNU. I’m a fourth-generation teacher. I have spent my entire adult life in classrooms, so I hope you respect my perspective.

I believe your motivation for the bill is pure – you want to protect our children. I also believe your solution to keeping students safe is the wrong one.

Many experts emphatically state that liability issues in arming teachers would be prohibitively expensive. The potential for accidents is high. Who will pay the insurance? Who will pay the damages when a student overpowers a teacher and grabs a gun?

Who will pay when a teacher with a weapon, in an attempt to protect students, accidentally injures or kills a student? Who pays when a child is caught in the crossfire? Who pays when an armed teacher becomes a target because of the weapon? Will your bill make provisions to hold teachers ‘harmless’ from any legal action? What about the schools who allow teachers to carry guns? Will they also be held harmless? Will irate parents sue the state instead? Will they sue you?

 I understand the CLEET training your bill requires is more intensive than typically available, but even highly trained law enforcement officers and soldiers make tragic mistakes in the heat of battle. They kill each other. They hesitate and are killed. If this happens to professionals, I guarantee teachers will make more mistakes. And the mistakes will injure children, kill children.

I have spoken to parents of school-aged children who emphatically say they’ll move from the public schools or even from the state if this bill passes and if their children’s teachers carry weapons in the classroom. Parents do not want armed teachers…will you listen to them?

Attacks like Columbine, Aurora, Newtown, were sudden and horrifying. Even law enforcement officers on site would be hard-pressed to respond quickly and accurately in stressful circumstances. I’ll tell you, my school, Norman North, has two armed officers on site, ready to do just that.

When compared to the precious lives of our children, a discussion of cost seems crass and petty. But there will be costs involved with the enactment of your bill. Who pays for the teachers to be trained? Right now our OSDE won’t even pay for training teachers in the new evaluation model which will be used to possibly fire us. Who pays for the weapons teachers bring to school? Who pays for the ammunition? The lock boxes? The holsters? If a teacher brings a personal weapon, does that liability fall on his or her shoulders?

The past few years have made me cynical when policymakers talk about education. My cynical self wonders about this bill…

Why not a bill requiring an armed guard at every school, like Norman North currently has?

Why not enhanced facilities and support for families struggling with mental health issues? With troubled members of their family?

Could the answer be that crass cost element? Could there be an element of ‘solve it cheap’ instead of ‘solve it right?’

Superintendent Kevin Burr of Sapulpa Schools estimates the cost of an armed security guard in every school in Oklahoma to be $15 million.  Are you unwilling to invest this amount in our children and are you hoping enough gung-ho teacher will jump at your offer?

Are you hoping you can then wash your hands of the problem of school violence and school security? Are you planning to say, “Well, we gave those teachers the chance to carry a gun. Not our fault if they killed a student, or didn’t stop the bad guy…we tried”? Are you planning to blame teachers if future attacks aren't thwarted?

Are you hoping to give the appearance of caring about our children, while doing it on the cheap?
Are you hoping parents DO desert the schools so you can label us failures?

Classrooms are sacred places for teachers and students. We create community; we laugh and learn. We celebrate and grieve. We create a climate of trust so learning and teaching can occur, so risks can be taken safely. Guns in this sacred place will not make any of us safer. It will destroy our climate of trust.

One of my former students, in a FaceBook conversation about gun control told me this. I want Nick’s words to be the end of my plea to you.

“Teachers make the commitment to further lives every day they go to work. To ask one to end a life is not only contradictory to their soul, but it would be unfair to MAKE them have to choose.
Post a Marine at the doors, put a cop in a janitor uniform, or something else. I may not have the answer, but I do not think teachers should have to go to boot camp in order to teach Romeo and Juliet.”

The Letter I Won't Send

Representative Mark McCullough and Senator Ralph Shortey, in response to the horrific school shooting in Newtown, are set to propose a bill the the Oklahoma Legislature allowing teachers and administrators to carry guns in school. What I've written here is the letter I WON'T send to them. I've a more measured response I will send, but this is what bubbled up first.

Seriously?? Seriously? Have you just gone around the bend? Are you nuts?? Do you really think this is the Wild West? Have I gone to sleep and awakened in Crazy Town? Merciful Heavens. You really want teachers to carry guns? In school?

You really think the solution to crazed, military rifle-wielding murderers is arming teachers? Let’s see…teachers are responsible for teaching…for generating mountains of data on testing. We’re responsible for students’ test scores. We’ll be fired if test scores don’t increase. We’re expected to align all our lessons to PASS now, while revising them to align with Common Core. We’re supposed to get kids ready for tests that haven’t even been written yet. We’re supposed to do all that, grade, plan, contact parents. 

We’re to continue our own education--at our own expense, buy snacks for our students, provide our own supplies and computer ink. We’re supposed to learn all the new technology in our classrooms, use it, and supervise our students’ use. We’re supposed to create learning climates that respect every child and maximize his or her learning. We’re supposed to be available for after-school meeting and before school meetings. We’re expected to differentiate for every child while simultaneously leading whole class lessons using books that are at or above grade level. 

Teaching is already full to the brim with stress and anxiety…and you want to put a gun in every classroom? Classrooms that contain stressed teachers and stressed students?

We’re supposed to do all that, and tote a gun?

Will I be evaluated on my marksmanship? Will that be part of my value-added measure? “Totes a gun and ain’t afraid to use it?” Will that be a line in my evaluation? Seriously?

Exactly how do you think guns will improve the climate of a school? Do you think third graders, already ‘under the gun’ to read proficiently or be flunked, will smile benignly at the gun at their teacher’s back? Do you think this will, as some have cynically suggested, help with classroom management?

If I had wanted to carry a gun to work and participate in gunfights, I would not have trained to be a teacher. I’d’ve gone into the military…where even trained soldiers often don’t take a kill shot, and too often kill their own troops in friendly fire.

You don’t trust me to be accountable in my classroom. You think because I belong to the OEA I’m a union thug. You choose to pay me far less than other comparably educated professionals. You take away my rights of due-process. You require more and more. You support me less and less. And now you want me to jump at the chance to play gunslinger? 


Pray, tell. Who’s going to pay for the gun training? The weapon? The ammunition? Who’s going to pay for the lock box to keep the weapon away from my students? Who’s going to pay the astronomically high liability insurance? If past experience is any indication, I do believe you will expect ME to pay. 

Again, I ask, ARE YOU NUTS?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Reading All a-Twitter

This week my Reading for Pleasure students have read (no writing -- a fundraiser for our all-school project let students buy days of reading bell-to-bell with no Reading Logs) and talked to each other. They've teased,  recommended books, asked questions of each other.

The have also interacted online with authors of the books they're reading. They've gotten a glimpse of the social power of reading, something they did not believe when they entered my class in August.

So many teens believe reading is a nerdy, solitary activity of people who have no lives and can't interact with others. They don't understand a reader's very real need to talk to someone about a book she love. We can and do talk to each other in each class, but I've always searched for a better way for all of my students to talk to each other about books.

I'm still new to twitter and I know I don't understand all the power of this site, but I've begun using it for my own purposes.

I tell my students my mission in life is to prove to the world how brilliant they are. But I need their help.

I created a twitter hashtag for us to talk to each other about books: #northr4p. I encourage cellphone use during class IF kids will tweet about their books. I retweet each entry, thus proving to the world, at least the world that follows me on twitter, that my kids are brilliant. Students tweet quotes from the books, their progress and responses, and they tweet pictures...of the room, of their books, of them reading their books. They share pictures of their favorite lines in books.

I follow several authors on twitter and will copy the authors on the conversations we have about their books. Ellen Hopkins had a long conversations with Shaylee and me about our favorite was a rich back-and-forth discussion with a hero. Shaylee told me she tried to explain to her mother how very special it was to talk to Hopkins by asking her how SHE would feel if she could talk to Nora Roberts! Mom got it.

Daniel and I tweeted back and forth in class as he finished MockingJay by Suzanne Collins. We talked about how we felt about the ending, and if it was appropriate. We were in the same room, but having a great conversation. Ryan, who happened to be next door replied to both of us that HE wanted to join the conversation too! Now, my students DO have permission to tweet in class...I doubt if Ryan's teacher knew he was attending one class, talking about another.

Cheryl Rainfield can be counted on to respond with pleasure and honesty to my students. Logan was touched that Rainfield was excited that she'd finished her book.

Recently I attended National Council of Teachers of English and brought home 65 pounds of books. Among the treasures was an Advanced Reading Copy of a book that won't be published until April: Barry Lyga's Game, chilling sequel to his book, I Hunt Killers. Several of us had read the first book and gobbled the second. As we shared, in class, and on twitter, more students became interested in the series and put themselves on the waiting list for Killers. Alas, I only had one copy. JT saw it, with Kylie's name on it and begged to read it during class. He dutifully returned it, and is waiting his turn.

There started a funny running exchange on twitter between one student in first hour, another in fifth, their teacher, and the author. JT exclaimed to the world that I took the book away from him...I replied, copying Kylie and Lyga, telling her to read fast and him to write fast...that we needed the third book. Lyga replied to us all coyly, pretending there won't be a third.

When I got a copy in the mail Friday, I took a picture and showed JT he'll have his own copy Monday. Kylie has challenged him to a race.

Hopkins and I talked last night about text complexity in her books, and our frustration with Accelerated Reader programs that reduce literature to numbers.

Twitter has added an element to my classes that was totally unexpected. Kids talk to each other, to me, and to the authors of their books. Some authors respond; many don't. But we still reach out. The immediacy shows students reading is totally social...that we DO talk about our books, and now that exchange can include the authors who are so generous with their time.

This semester will be over in a few weeks...a new group will come into my class. I absolutely KNOW we will continue talking on #northr4p, now not just across class periods, but across semesters. I know it because former student, now out of school, are tweeting their books to us. This will be my reading community, even after I retire.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

National Board, Still Under Attack in OK?

I recently attended a workshop hosted by Education Leadership Oklahoma, the steward in our state for all things National Board. The authors of Teaching 2030 attended, shared their courageous vision of what the profession could look like in the future, and helped us brainstorm our own barriers to that vision, and some steps we could take here.

In attendance were National Board Certified Teachers -- not many of us, since attendance at meetings is such a problem around the state. Schools don't have money to pay for subs, and those that do, don't have subs. Also attending were representatives from Oklahoma State Department of Education, officials from our State Regents office and professors from several university education departments around the state.

Barnett Berry, Jennifer Barnett, and Cindi Rigsbee were enthusiastic and inspiring as they shares the four emergent realities of teaching in 2030: teaching and learning will move beyond the four walls of existing classrooms, there will be seamless connections in and out of cyberspace where teachers and learners meet, pathways into the profession will be differentiated, as well as career pathways, and teachers will invent new ways to lead from the inside of the profession. I'm paraphrasing, because as dynamic as their presentations were, they aren't the story that emerged from my day.

I came with a friend, another NBCT, and all of us NBCTs had ribbons on our name tags -- it's important to my story to know we were easily identifiable.. My friend and I  sat at a table with three other women; one knew my name from a mutual friend in Oklahoma Writing Project. We visited for a moment and then settled in to the presentations. I realized half-way through the morning that all three were from the OSDE. Given the history of this administration's dealings with NBCTs, with ELO, and with our entire program, I was wary...but determined to play nice.

The woman closest to us leaned over during the morning to tell us that her son had had two NBCTs as teachers and they both were "horrible" teachers. After a  moment of stunned silence, my friend and I both asked for evidence (we are, after all, NBCTs, and know how to provide evidence in our profession). She told us one teacher didn't let her son go to the bathroom when he asked, and the same teacher (the other?) was angry that he knew his multiplication facts before he got to her classroom.

Neither my friend nor I pointed out that this evidence does not necessarily lead to the pronouncement of  a 'horrible'  teacher. We probed for more information -- another trait of teachers. What had she done to solve this concern? Had she gone to the principal? Oh, yes. Her righteous indignation by now was clear. She was deeply into the anger she felt.

I asked if the principal had taken any steps...I pointed out to her that if the teachers were truly horrible, the principal has tools at his disposal to get rid of this teacher. In fact, our Superintendent of Public Education is very proud of her new law that strips even tenured teachers of some of our due-process protections. Didn't point that out. I did say that if a principal does not take steps to protect young people from horrible teachers, he is not doing his job.

At that point she bizarrely changed the subject. She proclaimed that soon the 'great equalizer' would be in place in our schools and problems like this wouldn't happen. Her great equalizer? Common Core! By now my friend sat, prudently silent. I could have kept my mouth shut too, but, "We'll see." popped out before I could help it.

I turned my attention to the speakers, but the woman did lean over and tell my friend one of the strengths of Common Core will be the fact that there will be no special education modified tests available for teachers to hide behind.

There is more, but what I learned was in the confidential small group setting later in the day. Suffice it to say, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is no friend or supporter of teachers -- National Board or not. and the representatives feel free to say that -- to teachers.

This whole experience had me reflecting -- another skill in the toolbox of NBCTs. I see two lessons. One, is the deep suspicion, deep distrust, our OSDE has for teachers, and for our NBCT program. I knew that, given the two years of playing with our program, but this is different. This official felt the license to tell two NBCTs that she doesn't believe in our program, that she thinks it hides 'horrible' teachers. She felt completely comfortable talking to us that way. Her message was loud and clear: "teachers are horrible; NBCT teachers are horrible." And this woman works with teachers! How can you truly advocate and support a group of professionals when this is your attitude?

And that led me to my other epiphany. Every teacher understands that perception, to parents and to students, is reality. We've all been trapped in a situation where what a student thought we said or did isn't exactly what we did or said. We've also been victim to the fibs kids will tell parents (or altered perception with them as hero or victim) to avoid an uncomfortable situation at home. We've all seen parents believe every word from their child, and attack us without all the facts. That's part of the job. I get that.

But as educators, as public employees, we must teach every day, aware of how our words and actions could be interpreted. We need to hold ourselves to the highest standard of behavior. If we tell a child he can't go to the bathroom, we need to explain why, and tell when would be a better time. We have to take that time to explain, to respect (yes, even that kid who asks every five minutes, and that kid we know is just bored and wants to wander, and that kid who wants to go create a scene in the bathroom...and that kid...and that kid).

We must be better communicators with parents. We' must anticipate their concerns, their frustrations. We must present ourselves as partners, allies. We must think about how our words can be used against us by angry people. If we accidentally step into a problem, we must use our people skills, those soft skills that benefit us in the classroom, to find common ground with students and parents.

I only have control over the words I say (and write) and the things I do. I cannot control this woman's animosity toward my profession. But I can make sure what I say and what I do in my classroom, and with my parents, and in my community communicates my commitment to my students and their education. I can own my words and actions -- and make sure they make me proud.

I'm closing with the words of my very smart FB friend, Michale. Another skill teachers have is to cut through the noise and focus on what's important: "...then I get to go back to what matters every day and sit on the floor with little people who trust me to teach them...and that is awesome."