Thursday, February 15, 2018

"A Glooming Peace..."

"A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorry, will not show his head:"

I passed an #oklaed school this morning.

Every teacher parking spot was filled. Teachers walked into their schools today, knowing the OK Legislature couldn't compromise to find a budget that included a raise for teachers.

Teachers walked into their schools today, knowing another school had suffered devastating losses...lives, dreams, innocence.

As teachers we know and can empathize with how other educators feel. I'm not in the classroom, but here's what I know happened today in classrooms all over Oklahoma, and all over our countries.

Teachers walked into their classrooms and sat down, praying for some composure before they saw their students.

Teachers looked around their rooms, trying to decide where the safest spots would be to shelter students in an attack.

Teachers tried to plan lessons that would engage their students and distract them all from the impact of yesterday's shootings.

Teachers greeted every student a little more warmly today. They looked into the eyes and the souls of their students and understood how vulnerable they all are in what should be the safest place in our society.

Teachers hugged students a little more closely today. They watched the swarm of students with more gratitude today, and with deep mourning for #Parkland, for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Students were lost: Alyssa Alhadeff, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Jamie Guttenberg, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alex Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang.

Teachers fought back tears...some were not successful.

Teachers worked hard to erase the images from yesterday of classrooms just like theirs, and the carnage. Aidan could have been my student...this classroom could have been mine. In truth, Aidan IS mine. He is every teacher's student. He is every adult's son.

Teachers reflected on the teacher who gave his life:Aaron Feis. A teacher like them. A teacher at school doing his job. A teacher, who, like his students, did not come home last night. And then we learned two other educators died in this massacre: Chris Hixon and Scott Beigel. Teachers like them. Teachers who tried.

The Romeo and Juliet quote always comes to my mind when sad things happen to schools, since the play is so closely connected to high schools. These are among the last lines in the play. But there are more:

"Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things:
Some shall be pardon'd and some punished..."

The time for talking must come...and it must come soon. But that's not what this piece is about. It's about the teachers and students and parents who face today with fear, loss, resolve. And with love.

Teachers took a deep breath...

Teachers reached out and began their lessons.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

OK Legislature Has Filed New Bills

Ok, boys and girls. I've spend nearly a week searching the OK Legislative website for new education bills. I feel like I went down Alice's rabbit hole...My shoulders (and other body parts) are tired. My eyes hurt. I'm sure I've missed something important.

I DID NOT read any of the bills...I scanned some to try to understand, but I know I missed things, and I hope you, Constant Reader, will correct, add, me out.

DISCLAIMER: My organization into negative and positive is my own. Please feel free to question or disagree. And, as always, I expect you to do your own reading and researching.

Here are the education bills I'll be watching.

House –

163 Education-related bills
96 Shell bills with titles, but no language yet
Funding, reform, retirement, clarification of codes, charters, LNH scholarships, salary,OHLAP

Negative bills to watch:
                3689 – Off the Top Revenues Act 2018 – Calvey (shell)
                3586 – Higher Ed. Forming Open and Robust University Minds Act – McCall (shell)
                3543 – Prohibiting school to start until after 1st Mon in Sept -- Caldwell
                3539 – Removes minimum salary schedule – Caldwell
                3486 – Allows placement agencies to refuse placement on faith issues – Jordan
                3311 – Requires Ss to take US Citizenship test to graduate – Baker
                3291 – District Supts can’t earn more than OSDE Superintendent – Eans
                2725 – Higher Ed. Prohibits co-ed dorms -- Russ
                2723 – Barriers to teachers’ organizations representation -- Russ
                2612 – Prohibits OSDE from creating unfunded mandates – Tadlock

Non-education bills of concern
                2680 – Bathroom Guideline Act (shell) – Strohm
                2623 – Legislative approval of immunization list – West, K
                2624 – Immunization and Parental Rights Act --Strohm
                2684 – Prohibiting infant immunization without consent -- Strohm
                2685 -- Vaccination Informed Consent – Strohm

Hopeful bills to watch
                2571 – Charters not sponsored by OSDE after local board rejected – Casey
                2572 – RSA Modifies assessment levels for promotion, retention (Unsat) – Casey
2732 – Private schools taking vouchers must file Sped report – Rosecrants
2733 – Restores NBCT stipends – Rosecrants
3130 – Prohibits OSDE sponsoring charters after local board rejected – Murdock
3446 – Charters OSDE cannot override local board denial – Gann

Non-education bill that could be positive
               2927-- Medicaid Reform Act – Nichols (shell)

Personal favorite:
                3149 – House of Rep Sexual Harassment Training – Dunnington

Senate –

88 Education Bills
No shells that I can find
2-year colleges, virtual school regulations, private vocational schools, OHLAP, consolidation

Negative bills to watch
                887 – Schools can use ad valorem funds for teacher salaries – Brecheen
                1055 – Adds two US History exams to graduate – Bergstrom
                1115 – Fines schools for exceeding class size – Sharp
                1159 – Certain licenses to carry firearms on school property – Scott
    1223 – OK Privacy Accommodation Bathroom – Brecheen

Non-education bills of concern
                957 – Guns in churches “expectation of safety” – Bergstrom
                1215 – 2nd Amendment Preservation Act -- Dahm
                                10thAmendment Center
                1250 – Freedom of Conscience – Brecheen
                                Family Policy Alliance
                1345 – Oklahoma State Terrorist Registry Act – Brecheen

Bills I need more information about
                958 – Students can participate in certain extracurricular activities – Rader
                1056 – Removes tax-sheltered annuities – Pugh
                1190 – RSA criteria, terms – Stanislawski
                1197 – Modifies state performance levels – Stanislawski (OSDE ask?)
                1200 – Higher Education Freedom of Speech – Stanislawski

Hopeful Bills to watch
                879 – Charters—OSDE cannot sponsor school if local board rejects -- Sharp
                936 – Teacher pay – credit for Peace Corps, overseas teaching – Bice
                980 – Criteria for teacher licenses with levels of expertise – Griffin
                985 – Studying virtual charters’ graduation rates – Sharp
                1104 – Meal Application – protects kids with debt in cafeteria – Griffin
                1387 – One-time stipend for retirees – Pederson
                1408 – Restores NBCT stipends – Dossett
                1409 – School counselors must document direct services to students – Dossett
                1413 – Organizes classes, tests…encourages ‘complete works in ELA, requires US Govt – Dossett
                1436 – Virtual Charters – removes certain appeals

Oklahoma Watch has a good list of bills to watch also. If you're not already subscribing to their emails, you should be!!


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

My Top Ten Books...and Ten More

Recently I asked my friends on FaceBook to share their favorite read from 2017 – together we created a wonderful list. Judging by the number of the books I haven’t read, it’s obvious I already have a great reading list ready for 2018.

I participate in Goodreads reading challenge, and had set a goal of 150 books for 2017. The first year I retired, I was surprised and disappointed by the fact I actually read LESS in retirement than I did when I was able to teach Reading for Pleasure and read with my students. 150 seemed like a goal I could reach. I did, just barely…finishing the year with 158 books.
My 2017 books by 'shelf' 

I listen to books as I walk, and as I drive back and forth to the Capitol and my new teaching gig in Stillwater (1-1/2 hours one way), so I continue to read with my ears and my eyes.

Each year I struggle with my Top Ten…because I have trouble with following directions, even my own self-imposed directions: choose your top ten reads. And because I view my books like I do my own children and my students…they’re all my favorites.

I have compromised with myself this year by having a Top Ten, a second Five, and a third Five. Yes. That’s 20 books. In my Top Ten.

Top Ten, in alphabetical order:

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – you’ll see her again. Yes, I knew nothing about this until the publicity about the television miniseries. Told mostly in Grace’s voice, this is Atwood’s take on the  lengthy imprisonment of a young woman who may or may not have committed a double murder. The narrative’s theme is quilts and piecing them together…and Atwood has Grace piece her story together, one patch at a time, until we see the whole. But what is it we really see?

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. What if you were literally a crime? Noah was. His mother was Black and his father was White. And he was a crime. He had to be hidden if the authorities came. When he was with his mother, people assumed she was his nanny. This is the background of the clever host of The Daily Show. His mother, in an attempt to protect her son, taught him the lasting value of words and language as weapons.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Alexander Rostov, the epitome of cultured elegance was put under house arrest as a young man, and told if he ever left the hotel he lived in, he would be shot dead on the spot by the ruling Bolshevicks…and he didn’t step foot out of the hotel for nearly half his life…living, dining, visiting with friends…all done in the luxury hotel that was his prison. I listened to this one, and was a bit intimidated by its length. But I fell in love with Rostov and followed him through every corner of his home. This is a study in making the best of terrible situations.

Handmaid’s Tale also by Margaret Atwood. This was a reread—another book I listened to, only because Claire Danes was narrating. After the election of 2016, I felt the need to revisit Offred, to compare this world with the one we were entering. How did Atwood so closely predict so many wrong turns in our world? This continues to be a horrifying cautionary tale.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The Hate U Give: THUG. This is the story of another code-switching young person…living in two worlds, and not safe in either. Starr witnesses her friend’s murder at the hands of a police officer who loses control of a bad situation. She tries to navigate between her father’s deep gang involved life and the walls of her exclusive private school…attempting to keep herself safe.

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. I’ve lived in Oklahoma since 1979, and had never heard of the Osage Reign of Terror until I read this book. The truth of what some Whites were willing to do, to acquire wealth that they had not earned curdled my stomach at times. I was horrified by the truths Grann pursued, and the truth of the cover-ups of these crimes. All for oil. After reading this book, I also read Linda Hogan’s Mean Spirit, a novel (see below); The Deaths of Sybil Bolton, by Dennis McAuliffe, a strange combination of  memoir and nonfiction narrative; and Dreamland Burning, by Jennifer Latham, a YAL contemporary/historical fiction. I spent the summer living and reliving this shameful story of greed and murder.

So We Read On by Maureen Corrigan. This book is Exhibit 1 to the truth of my being a nerdy English teacher. Maureen Corrigan has the pleasure of teaching The Great Gatsby every year to college students. Every year. That would be almost as good as all the years I got to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. I soaked up all her enthusiasms for Fitzgerald and Gatsby and wanted so much to return to the classroom. This was classic English teacher sharing her passion for a book.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. This was my ‘classic I should have read years ago’ summer read with my walking buddy. It nearly destroyed my reading challenge of 150 books – when I finished I allowed as how it should have counted for five books! I’m a character reader, and that is how I attacked this book…the characters. And Tolstoy did not disappoint me. I watched my characters grow, and lose, and love, and learn…The book at times bored me, but mostly, because I could hold onto Natasha and Pierre and Andrei, I powered through the boredom. I discovered the Broadway show, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and was amazing that anyone could take one tiny slice of this story and transform it.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. I read books that have been nominated for our state’s children’s book award, the Sequoyah. This book is in the list this year. It’s a fantastic historical fiction about a young girl living in WWII London, who along with her brother, is sent to live in the English countryside. To keep them safe. But while they are ‘safe’ in Kent, they learn there’s no place safe from this war…I’m hoping young readers loved it as much as I did…I cared so much for Ada and her brother, and the people who tried to keep them safe.

You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie. When pushed to name ONE book that is my favorite, this is it. Alexie’s courageous memoir about his volatile relationship with his mother broke my heart. Another book I listened to, hearing Alexie’s voice break in tears as I felt my own tears drop from my face, brought the book so close. This book is an act of supreme personal bravery…Alexie does not, as many memorists do, paint himself as more perfect than he is. He spares himself…and his mother nothing to tell the story of their love and their struggles. I am overwhelmed still by this one.

My Second Five, in alphabetical order:

Ananzi Boys by Neil Gaiman. You had me at ‘Neil Gaiman.’

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr. I truly think I might read Karr if all she wrote were restaurant menus. Lucky for me she writes books.

Mean Spirit by Linda Hogan. A fictionalized version of the Osage Reign of Terror. Hogan took some fierce criticism by some Native academics for the license she took with the truth.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier. Another re-read, with the added benefit of an online book club discussion that was inspiring and insightful.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Coczy. No, I’d never read this before (another ‘classic I should have…’), but I thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful romp through the French Revolution…romp-revolution. Probably an unfortunate combination of words

My Third Five

Finnished Leadership by Pasi Sahlberg. I keep returning to Sahlberg like you keep returning to a barely-healed wound…just to make myself suffer again. What if the US had used its own research in re-forming our schools? What if we listened to these lessons of leadership?

Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton. Another children’s book. Another historical fiction. But this time the date is 1969, and I was there. So many issues. A great book for girls who want MORE.

In the Best Interest of Students by Kelly Gallagher. Another re-read. Once an English teacher….

Successful Strategies for Pursuing National Board Certification by Bobbi Faulkner. (2 books. One for C 1 and 2; another for C3 and 4). I may have fan-girled when I found these two books. Faulkner has taken the new process and analyzed each Component for candidates and facilitators. Just what I needed.

Waltzing with the Ghost of Tom Joad by Robert Lee Maril. A study of poverty in Oklahoma…years after the Dust Bowl. Tom still haunts our state.

Are you on Goodreads? Are you my friend? Why not? Have you made YOUR 2018 Reading Challenge? Do you have a book to recommend? Let me know!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Resolve to Read!

I'm a shock there. But I have surrounded myself with friends who are also readers. When I taught, my goal was to contribute to expanding my students' reading life. An English teacher/Reading Specialist/School Librarian married to an Academic Librarian...our home is packed with books.

I asked my friends to share with my their favorite book from 2017 -- not the best book...their favorite. My friends came through! We had a lively conversation about books. Several of my former students visited and shared their favorites

A Pew survey from late 2016 shows a quarter of American adults did not read ONE BOOK in the previous year. As one who was raised by readers, who married a reader, who spent 40 years with students and books, that makes me sad.

So I resolve to read! I resolve to share books and to work to inspire others to read. Please join me!

What follows is two lists. One is the list of books my FB friends have identified as their favorite in 2017. I've asterick-ed the books I've read. And a double asterick means that book is on my top ten list for the year, too. You see I have a lot to work on.

The second list is the countdown list from my friend Amanda Kordeliski, School Media Specialist extraordinaire. She does a countdown of the top 25 Young Adult books she's read...and she's read a bunch!!

SO, check out these lists, read a couple, and let me know what you think!

13 Reasons Why*
13 Soldiers
A Dog’s Purpose
A Girl of the Limberlost
A Man Called Ove*
A Monster Calls*
Accidental Saints
Alice and the Zombie Queens
All the Light We Cannot See*
America’s Women
American Town
As Always, Julia
Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Beautiful Miscellaneous
Behold the Dreamers
Being Mortal
Beneath the Scarlet Sky
Bite Me
Born a Crime**
Boys in the Boat
Britt-Marie Was Here*
Brothers Karamazov*
Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years
Creatures of a Day
Dark Lover
Does Santa Exist
Dreamland Burning*
East of Eden*
Einstein: His Life and Universe
From Sand and Ash
Full Cicada Moon*
Game of Thrones*
Girls and Dangerous Pie
Glass Houses
Guns, Germs, and Steel
Handle with Care*
Handmaid’s Tale**
Haunting the Deep
Hawthorn & Child
Hidden Figures*
Hissing Cousins
House of Spies*
In the Country We Love
Invisible Man*
Jude the Obscure*
Killers of the Flower Moon**
Kitchen Table Talk
Lies my Teacher Told Me*
Lilac Girls
Little Fires Everywhere
Magic Tree House
Make your Bed
Manhattan Beach
Mirror Mirror
Mitch Rapp
Most American
Mr. Mercedes
My Absolute Darling
My Family Divided
News of the World
Northern Borders
Not-quite States of America
Orbiting Jupiter
Origin of the Female
Patrick Moore on Mars
Post Graduate
Princess X
Purple Hibiscus
Real Thoughts for Real Teachers
Sing Unburied Sing
Small Great Things*
Snow Crash
Still Life with Tornado
Summers at Castle Auburn
Team of Rivals
Tell the Wolves I’m Home*
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian*
The Alice Network
The Bronze Horseman
The Circle
The Dry
The Expendables
The Gentleman from Moscow**
The Girl with Seven Names
The Glass Castle*
The Hate U Give**
The Husband’s Secret
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
The Leavers
The Long and Far Away
The Marriage Lie
The Mountain Between Us
The Name of the Wind
The Nazi Officer’s Wife
The Power
The Professor and the Madman*
The Shack
The Six of Crows
The Smell of Other People’s Houses
The Sympathizer
The Trial
The War that Saved my Live**
There But for The
Total Cat Mojo
Truly Madly Guilty
Turtles All the Way Down*
Undisputed Truth
We are Completely Beside Ourselves
We Need to Talk About Kevin*
We Were the Lucky Ones
Wheel of Time
Where the Night Falls
Words in Deep Blue
Wrinkle in Time*
Y is for Yesterday
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me**
Zookeeper’s Wife

Amanda's top 25 -- she has supplied authors. I was too lazy to do that with my list.

Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
The Pain Eater by Beth Goobie
(2.5) A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
(3.5) Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham*
Bang by Barry Lyga
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo
American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Allegedly by Tiffany Jackson
Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee
Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
Juan Pablo and the Butterflies by JJ Flowers
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas**
How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana
The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
The Last Thing You Said by Sara Biren
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah*
North of Happy by Adi Alsaid
The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Devils Within by S.F. Henson
Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance*

Here in Oklahoma, it's really cold...time to curl up with a good book. 

Don't see YOUR favorite book of 2017? Add it in the comments!

Monday, December 11, 2017

The "Dirtiest" Word in #oklaed School Libraries

Cherity Pennington is continuing her series of guest blogs here with a discussion of the dastardly secret of why school libraries are facing such troubles in Oklahoma. Surprise! It’s funding.

There used to be school requirements about staffing school libraries, and supplying books for the libraries. But, after 2008, when the legislature began cutting funding to schools, they gave schools a ‘Sophie’s Choice’: you can use that money for library aides, and for books...or you can spend it in other ways. Like to make up for the cuts from the legislature. Some school districts felt they had to do that, even though they knew it wasn’t right.

A couple of years ago I ‘testified’ at a school funding House Interim Study. The big boys talked about the big picture. I tried to make funding cuts in the schools real. I talked about the cuts to funding school libraries and how short-sighted such cuts are. This deregulation of requirements is not a new problem, but as cuts continue, more and more schools are faced with the realization they are running out of options for keeping their schools afloat.

Please read Cherity’s piece here, her first one, and the ones to follow.

School libraries are under attack. Schools are under attack.

Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been making headlines for years now. This year, we have seen a record number of emergency certified teachers filling open teaching positions. These emergency certified teachers come to the profession with a variety of skill and experience levels, but what they all have in common is a bachelor’s degree. Yes, all emergency certified teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in order to fill a teaching position in our schools.

We would be outraged if our schools were allowing people without a college degree to fill a certified teaching position, wouldn’t we?

Prepare to be outraged.

The use of uncertified personnel to fill certified positions is precisely what is happening to many of Oklahoma’s school librarians. Many school districts are replacing school librarians -  certified teaching positions that require master’s degrees -  with paraprofessionals who are not required to have a bachelor’s degree. As I pointed out to a friend recently, communities would be livid if a school filled a science teaching position with a person without a bachelor’s degree. Why do we not have the same outrage when we are replacing school librarian positions with people without the required education?

In my previous guest blog, I explained why it is important for Oklahoma students to have access to a certified school librarian. School librarians not only teach their students necessary technology and information literacy skills, they also help their students achieve more in all other subject areas. The State of Oklahoma has known for a long time this positive impact of school librarians. In fact, Oklahoma even requires its schools to have a certified school librarian on staff.

When I tell people that schools are required to have a school librarian, I am often met with confused looks. It is true, though. Our schools are required to have school librarians. According to Standard VII of the Standards for Accreditation of Oklahoma Schools, each public school in our state should have library staffing appropriate for the size of the school. A small school with fewer than 300 students, for example, must have either a half-time school librarian or a fifth-time school librarian with a full-time library assistant. I teach in a much larger school, so my school is required to have a full-time school librarian and at least a half-time assistant.

So why do so many Oklahoma schools no longer have a school librarian? One word: deregulation.

It has been widely reported that since the recession began in 2008, Oklahoma has made deep cuts to education funding. Many schools, facing this severe lack of funding, are reducing or eliminating school library services. In order to change library services, districts must ask permission from the Oklahoma State School Board to deregulate their school library services. What that deregulation looks like is different for each school. Sometimes, districts deregulate to eliminate the library assistant requirement but still keep the certified school librarian. Other times, a certified librarian will oversee the library programs of multiple schools with assistance from paraprofessionals. Too often, districts eliminate the school librarian position completely and replace with library assistants.

I cannot say with accuracy how many schools in Oklahoma no longer have a certified school librarian, but I know it is many. Almost 50 districts requested school library program deregulation for this school year in the month of November alone. Not all of those districts eliminated their school librarian position completely, but many did. Deregulation of school library programs is a part of almost every Oklahoma State School Board meeting and has been for at least the last two years. One can only imagine how many schools still have certified school librarians.

Please let this fact sink in. Many of these deregulations mean that teaching positions are being filled not through an emergency certification process but through no certification process at all. These accreditation standards are supposed to ensure that Oklahoma’s students all have access to a quality education. The schools that deregulate their school library programs may have official permission to do so, but they are not meeting these accreditation standards, and our students are not receiving the level of education that they deserve.

What can we do to ensure our Oklahoma students are receiving the teaching services of a certified school librarian?

First, I encourage school administrators to examine all other cost-saving measures prior to considering library deregulation. A certified school librarian’s expertise in technology, professional development, and teaching can be a low-cost investment for schools.

Then, I urge our state education leaders to work with school districts to protect the position of school librarians. Help our schools find ways to fund this important teaching position. I also encourage our state-level leaders to require schools that deregulate to have a plan to return to full library staffing in a short amount of time.

Finally, I urge the school librarians in Oklahoma who still have their jobs to tell everyone about the important work they are doing. Our communities will not understand why school librarians are important unless our school librarians teach them. OKSL invites schools and school librarians who have been affected by library deregulation to share your stories with us.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

School Librarians-Teachers First and Always. A guest post by Cherity Pennington

I will be devoting my blog to Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of Oklahoma Library Association, and especially friends, Cherity Pennington and Amanda Kordeliski, school librarians extraordinaire. You'll learn about what school librarians know and do. You'll learn about the deep neglect (MY word) our policy makers have showered on our school libraries and librarians. 

I've been a school librarian and know my training helped inform my work in the classroom.

So, let me introduce my friend, Cherity. She has an assignment at the end. Please do your homework.

Anyone who has been in education for even a short amount of time knows that teachers often teach a new concept more than once before their students completely learn it. Reteaching is not a sign of failure; true learning usually takes some repetition.

I had to remind myself today that I am not a failure, but I do have to do some reteaching.

You see, one of my goals when I became the chair of Oklahoma School Librarians this year was to make sure the stakeholders in Oklahoma education understood the role, the purpose, and the necessity of school librarians in every school. Because if our stakeholders - the administrators, teachers, students, parents, legislators, community members, etc. - completely understand what school librarians do, then these same stakeholders will become just as concerned as I am about what is happening to school librarians in our state.

Bear with me, then, as I do some reteaching.

First, school librarians are teachers.

Yes, school librarians are certified teachers. In fact, if I may be so bold, school librarians could be viewed as super teachers. In Oklahoma, school librarians must possess a master’s degree before they can become a school librarian. Most other teachers may be certified with a bachelor’s degree.

What causes many people pause when I declare that school librarians are teachers, though, is that many people are blinded by the stereotype of the school librarian. The stereotype is that school librarians sit behind a desk, check books out to students, and shush students who are too loud in the library. Occasionally, the stereotype might emerge from the circulation desk to put some returned books back on a shelf. The stereotype, though, is nothing like the truth.

The truth is that school librarians are teaching vital skills to the students in their schools. School librarians are teaching students how to find information from a variety of information sources, how to evaluate that information for trustworthiness, how to be safe online, how to use advanced technology tools, how to adapt to changing technology, how to read information sources critically, how to read and evaluate fiction books, and how to collaborate with others. School librarians also work collaboratively with the rest of the teaching staff in a school, so, in reality, school librarians support and teach all academic standards in all core subjects.

In the next few days in my school library, I have plans to help eighth grade students create a commercial with an iPad and a green screen so they can practice their persuasive writing skills along with their speaking skills. I am helping a drama class complete a research project and teaching students how to cite information sources. I am working on lesson plans with a fellow teacher for another research project for a group of sixth graders who are learning to summarize and evaluate editorials with opposing views. I will continue teaching more than 20 students who are choosing to create a project for National History Day and are in the midst of intense historical research. Along with these teaching opportunities, I will also find time to help install a classroom projector, work on three grant proposals for my school, and, yes, check out books to students.

Second, students and teacher succeed with a certified school librarian

Multiple research studies show that students who have access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian have higher test scores and have a better chance of being college and career ready upon graduation.

Other teachers benefit from having a certified school librarian on staff. Certified school librarians are usually professional development leaders in their schools. Fellow teachers may benefit from the technology and information expertise of the school librarian who leads school wide professional development training. Research also indicates that students succeed more when classroom teachers and school librarians collaborate and teach together.

Third, school librarians are not administrators nor support staff.

Yes, I have already established (I hope) that school librarians are teachers. Why, then, does the distinction among these three titles matter? First, allow me to point out the difference among the three titles, and then, I will explain why the distinction matters.

Because school librarians are certified teachers, they are paid on the same scale as other certified teachers who possess master’s degrees. The only exception to this pay scale is for those school librarians who work additional hours or days in their contract due to the high demands of the school library. School administrators are typically paid much more and have supervisory status over multiple employees or programs within a school or school district.

In the world of education, the support staff title is associated with the personnel in a school who are essential but who are not required to possess a college degree, such as a paraprofessional, school secretary, custodian, nutrition services worker, etc.

Now, this is why the distinction among the three titles matters. Recently, Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order that calls for consolidation of administrative services of public school districts that spend less than 60% of their budget on instruction. However, as Sen. Ron Sharp explains in this blog post, some specialized education positions, such as school librarians, are classified as non-instructional or administrative despite the instructional impact they have. Therefore, if we do not make the distinction between school librarians as teachers and not as administrators, then school librarians could lose their jobs.

Also, because school librarians are certified teachers, their positions should not be filled by a person qualified for a support staff position. Again, support staff positions are vital in our schools, but these positions typically do not require certification or advanced degrees. Unfortunately, many school districts are replacing certified teacher librarians with support staff members who are not qualified to be teachers. Examine the agendas and handouts of recent Oklahoma State School Board meetings, and you will find numerous instances of school districts asking permission to do just this. For example, the Nov. 16, 2017, board meeting handout shows multiple districts requesting to replace their certified library media specialist positions with full-time paraprofessionals.

I originally began this writing by stating that I had to remind myself that reteaching does not mean I am a failure. I, and many other Oklahoma school librarians, have been working hard to get the word out about what it is that school librarians do and why these teaching positions are important for our students’ success. Today, I read a school district’s Tweet about its teacher of the year who happened to be a school librarian. Congratulations to that school librarian and to her school because that school understands the amazing teaching that school librarians do every day. Unfortunately, that announcement was almost immediately followed by someone else complaining that school librarians are not real teachers. We obviously have more work to do. We must reteach.

So, here is your assignment.

If you are a teacher or administrator, get to know your school librarians. Work with them and reap the benefits. If you work at a school without a school librarian, tell your decision makers why it is so important to have one. If you are a legislator, spend some time with a school librarian so you can witness what these teachers do each day. Prepare to be impressed. If you are a school librarian yourself, keep being your awesome self and keep teaching your school community why your students and fellow educators need you.

Cherity Pennington is the current chair of Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of the Oklahoma Library Association. She is halfway through her 19th year of teaching in Oklahoma public schools and her 7th year as a school librarian. She was the 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year for her school district. Contact her at or on Twitter @cherity7 and @OKSLlife.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Couple of Jokes -- One of Which is HB1019X

I did not have the heart or the will to watch the debate and vote on HB1019X today. Everyone with a brain knew the outcome, and the outcome will not be pretty for any of us who have friends or family in our state.

I DID watch on my computer (after my husband shut the door to my guest room/office...I watched the debate and the vote. And I wept bitterly.

I tried to take notes and characterize Representatives' arguments clearly. When my mouth would not be still, I added my own commentary in italics. 

FORREST Bennett, NOT to be confused with the no-taxes Bennett: (Against) He had to reclaim 6 seconds for his debate because his colleagues were being rowdy. Chair reminded the House of the need for decorum in the Chamber and reminded them to disagree with dignity and respect. If they can't do that, maybe they all need to go back to school and work on their people skills.

Rep. F. Bennett said he felt duped and deceived, taken for a ride by the leadership. They had said they wouldn't cut funding, and this bill cuts funding. He pointed out that after the failure of HB1054X, this bill mysteriously appeared...all ready to go. He urged a NO vote to hold the House accountable to voters..."You can do better if you have the will to do better."

Matt Meredith: (Against) He said the House is playing games with people's lives. He reminded the body that the Speaker promised the minority party that if THEY could deliver 75% yes votes on HB1054X, it would pass. The minority party delivered over 80%, but the bill failed when 12 Chairs, including the Chair of the Common Ed Committe, voted NO. He apologized to teachers, to the County Commissioners who came to advocate, to elderly and to children. He called the O&G employees who were bused to the Capitol for the debate last week, "paid protesters." I will add paid protesters who had a cushy ride from and back to work. He decried the weeks of time wasted in the Special Session and said the Senate was their only hope.

Collin Walke: (Against) He promised he wouldn't yell, and I can testify to the fact he did not raise his voice; he still brought his passion. He reminded the House that he told members the cigarette tax bill they passed in session was unconstitutional - BEFORE they voted. He reminded them he said it was a bad bill. They passed it any way. He evoked the Speaker, 'who dares not darken the floor of the House.' He did not yell.

Cyndi Munson: (Against) spoke eloquently about meeting students from a public school honor society. She spoke of her own alma mater, UCO, and told the body that 1500 A and B students have left the university before completing a degree. She warned that scholarships will be withdrawn because the funding is not there. She ended by saying Oklahoma deserves better.

Josh West: (For) He complained that others had called him a bully. Not sure about the context at all. He said his wife works in mental health...Then began decrying bureaucratic waste...In a swipe to the County Commissioners, I assume, he said their choice was people or asphalt. I wondered at his last sounded like a threat to any counties represented by members who vote NO. Surely not.

Jason Dunnington: (Against) He talked about one-time funding and deficits every year. He reminded the body they do the same thing every year. He challenged the House: next Session, beginning in February, members should not file any bills unless they include recurring revenue for the state. "We are the problem." He said they must be hyper-focused on recurring revenue, not social issues.

Scott Fetgatter: (For) Says we must choose between jobs, roads and bridges, and elderly and disabled people. People are losing services without this bill.

Johnny Tadlock: (Against) He told the body that it will be hard to go home and tell the people he voted for a bill to cut funds and services. Warned members they will return in February in a worse position than they're in now. He said he was going to be real about his vote.

Chuck Strohm: (For) Told members this bill IS the compromise. The only solution that protects state agencies. I may have cursed at the screen...just a bit. Rep Strohm only likes the bill in my mind because it cuts...cuts...and cuts. As a proud Grover Norquist no-tax-pledge signatory, he is not as interested in protecting agencies in my mind, as he is in never raising taxes.

Cory Williams: (Against) He called up the ghosts of OCPA and OICA as the big winners in this bill. He admitted he took heat on his vote last week. I might have brought my own blowtorch. He said a yes vote was doing 'more of what got us to 50th in the nation. How can we tell Amazon to invest in us if we don't invest in ourselves?' This is not a compromise in his mind.

John Bennett: (For) He began his debate with a story of a husband and wife who were charged with shooting the other to death. I got lost in the metaphor. He said this bill helps them make hard decisions...that it satisfies needs until next session. That it is the only alternative without taxing Oklahomans to death. Then he went on the familiar 'audit-audit-audit' rant. My eyes rolled into my head...I lost the thread at that point. He returned to his other favorite talking point: HB1017, the biggest tax increase in state history. He claimed 'total' state spending has increased. He called all opposition "scare tactics." Then, as I've come to expect, he went off the rails, accusing OU of encouraging abortion, of wasting money on monasteries. NOW he cares deeply about the vulnerable in our state...this from the man who called state agencies 'terrorists' the last time he debated. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along.

Todd Thompsen: (Against) Rep Thompsen is a Republican who also brought up the fact that his own leadership voted against HB1054X...'our leaders were not jumping on.' He also reminded Democrats that their own leadership voted against the former bill. He sounded like a very reluctant NO vote, but a NO vote. 

Jon Echols: (For) The Floor Leader said he'd looked up the debate rules and could not call others liars, but he could say they lied. "I looked it up. I can say that." He said, "The truth is not in you. I cannot call you liars." He reminded the body that Department of Health would not be able to make payroll at the end of the month without the bill. This must have been in response to several others who asked the members to keep working on a better bill -- he warned that we are out of time. I'll admit, I got lost in this commentary. Never was sure who were the people-lying-who-were-not-liars. I think I missed a few seconds due to a glitchy connection.

David Perryman: (Against) He began by saying OCPA never saw a government program they didn't want to kill. He warned that the cuts in this bill would create long term problems for the state. He asked the body to stand up for people not corporations. He said that this moment was a natural result of years of neglect.

Kevin Wallace, Chair of Appropriations and Budget: (For) Chairman Wallace, who had just stood and answered an hour of questions about the bill with good humor and respect closed the debate. He reminded members that the failed cigarette tax, recently deemed unconstitutional by the Court, is the reason we are back in Special Session (Actually, I learned on the first day, it's called an Extraordinary Session). He said 12 agencies where held flat in this bill, with no cuts...Common Ed is one he mentioned. He didn't mention the fact there are MORE students for the same dollar allocation. That means the state invests less on each student. So, that is a cut. He warned the members that we are all racing toward a cliff, and said this bill will save us.

Someone in debate told one of my favorite jokes about digging into a pile of poo...the optimist does it with glee, because 'there's a pony in there someplace.'

They voted. It passed (no new revenue, so it only needed 51 votes). There was no pony.

Now, I'm going to go write thank-you emails to the NO votes. They seem to have more faith in our ability to truly help our fellow Oklahomans than the people who voted yes. My head hurts.

Eight Weeks. Eight. OK, Seven and a half . And THIS is the plan??

Update -- The sky has officially fallen. Governor Mary Fallin and I agree on something...she doesn't like this bill any more than I do. My question all Extraordinary Session has been:Why is the Speaker flying in the face of the Governor's wishes? I know she's a lame duck at this point...but to so completely ignore her intentions...It mystifies me.