Tag Archives: teacher activism

Mixed Messages?

Today, my inbox had two very interesting bits of information.

1. Commissioner King’s “News and Notes” showed up telling me:

 “As you know, the Common Core will not just arrive in the mail in a shiny, new box. (The truth is, the CCSS show up at schools in brown cardboard boxes emblazened with PEARSON!) The Common Core is a comprehensive set of research-based and internationally-benchmarked standards that demands critical shifts in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Since the Board of Regents adopted the Common Core in 2010, the State Education Department has provided extensive and unprecedented resources and supports, including an abundance of instructional materials on EngageNY.org.”

Well, how very lucky for me – these are INTERNATIONALLY BENCHMARKED STANDARDS – and here I was becoming worried that they were national! Additionally, I am so lucky that EngageNY.org exists – because you know, I have no clue with my years of experience about how to read the standards and develop lessons. 

2. Randi Weingarten also sent me a lovely email telling me:

“We are committed to the success of getting the transition to Common Core right. To do that, we must help teachers and students master this new approach and not waste time punishing people for not doing something they haven’t yet been equipped to do. Can you imagine doctors being expected to perform a new medical procedure without being trained or provided the necessary instruments?That’s what is happening right now with the Common Core.”

What the what??? This is a NATIONAL UNION LEADER telling me that we need to get the “transition” to CCSS right. Hey, wait a minute – who even said that the CCSS are RIGHT? Where were the educators in developing these standards? Where is the ‘evidence’ that these standards are in some way better than the NYS Standards? Where is the PROOF that once we transition to them, reform will be done?? 

NYSUT, for their part, is FINALLY coming to the party and hosting a rally on June 8. I hope beyond hope that parents, students, and teachers show up and DEMAND TO BE HEARD! I hope that they shout “NO MORE!”


We’re Only HUMAN

It’s been almost a year since I attended the first “Occupy the DOE” in Washington, DC. I had been feeling pretty good about my own personal “activism” in the past year. That is, until earlier this week when I read a comment on some Facebook page that basically insinuated that unless teachers quit, walk out, strike, or refuse to give standardized tests we are NOT fighting hard enough.

I’m not saying that all of those aren’t good ideas and have merit – but for many of us, that type of action is not an option. Why? Well, many of us are the sole or major income earner for our families. AND, believe it or not, we have kids who need homes, food, clothing and college educations if they choose.

People like me are doing what we can where we are. We are the ones earning the “bad” reputations in our schools. We are seen as the trouble makers, the ones who question everything and the ones who are stirring up trouble. We are the ones passing copies of model opt out letters around our schools in plain envelopes to our colleagues.

We are at school resisting Pearson Test Prep workbooks. We are doing what we know is “good for kids” to the best of our ability. We strive to make our students’ learning meaningful and downplay the “tests”. We are working at breakneck speed to keep up with all the mandates, tests, ridiculous evaluations and standards that are thrown in our laps with a simple phrase : Just do it!  We resist when and where we can – by not giving the Pearson homework, by talking to parents about children and not about test scores, and by approaching our School Boards imploring them to make a resolution against high stakes testsing.

We come home from a day at school – where many of us talk all day to colleagues about standardized testing, CCSS, reforms that are not good for kids – and we power up the laptops to check our favorite “anti-reform” pages and groups. We share articles, we comment on blogs, some of us even write blogs.  We eat, sleep, dream and live the opposition to reform and high stakes testing every single day. We do our best to encourage and enlighten our friends and families. We often do this while our spouses wonder if we will ever SHUT UP about it or  while our kids wonder if we’ll ever give up the laptop for homework.

Some of us have been “targeted” by administrators. Some of us have been told that we shouldn’t attend anything having to do with opting out. Some of us work in one district and opt our kids out in another. Some of us feel the need to use fake names so that we can air our feelings without becoming “targets”.

Most of us have days when we just feel too defeated, too worn out, too much like we’ve been pounding our heads on a brick wall and maybe, just maybe everything would be better if we just quit.

BUT……..don’t forget that second wind!

Just when I think it’s not worth it – when I read a comment that vilifies teachers – I find a parent blog or post that puts the wind back in my sails! I read about another school district that has no problem with students who opt out and a Superintendent who actually supports that action. I read about parent groups forming and holding information sessions. I read shared documents and advice. I find teachers, like me, who are doing what they can.

When I see a child sitting at a computer monitor staring at a meaningless, useless STAR Assessment question, I know that I have to continue to FIGHT in whatever way I can! When I hear the stories of 3rd graders sitting and crying because NYS embedded field questions in last year’s tests, I know I have to FIGHT! When my Occupy The DOE 2.0 T-shirt shows up in the mail, I am reminded of how many more are out there fighting and I know I have to keep FIGHTING!

Why I MUST Occupy

I am going to Washington DC to join other activists at Occupy the DOE 2.0 because:

  • Try as I might, I cannot gain a lot of traction here in my little town. I talk and talk and talk, but for the most part, I feel like I’m talking to myself. Oh, my colleagues “get it”, but with declining enrollment, looming observations, and all the meetings and paperwork – they just don’t seem as fired up as I am about the current state of public education. I need to go to re-charge my activist batteries and return home energized to keep talking.
  • My students DESERVE better than the paced curriculum that NYSED is pushing on them. THEY do NOT need a teacher reading from a script, but a teacher who takes into account their individual differences and does her damnedest to make her classroom where each of them can progress at their own pace.
  • Our NATION deserves better. We cannot allow the likes of Michelle Rhee, Wendy Kopp, Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates and Andrew Cuomo to control the narrative about what “good teaching” and “good learning” are. We have to STOP the Race to the Top!
  • I will have the opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded people who are informed, passionate and looking to organize in a way that my Union doesn’t seem willing to do.
  • I have to show my own children the importance of standing up for those who need help – whether they are children in rural communities or urban areas, I have to be the voice of the voiceless. My own kids need to know that being a citizen means you look out for others, and you speak up when you see injustice.
  • It’s just the right thing to do…………I hope you join me.


Won’t Back Down

The story of teachers in two schools in Seattle, WA who are refusing to give standardized tests, as well as the story of teachers in Hamburg, NY who refused a flawed and unfair APPR plan are stories that inspire me. I KNOW that it is mass resistance like this, and the Chicago Teachers’ Union strike that will have lasting impact on changing the course of the ridiculous high stakes testing mania in public schools.

I read and watch very public resignations by veteran teachers who are fed up and refuse to be part  of the testing machine. I share their stories, I talk about them to colleagues, and I secretly wish I could be one of them. Maybe you’re a teacher reading this and wishing you could be one of them too. Maybe you’re a parent or grandparent reading this and wondering why more teachers won’t do the same.

The reality is that for many of us, our incomes are the primary incomes for our families. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can sit back and say “Well, how nice for them, but I could never do anything like that.” Maybe we can’t quit – maybe our families need us to keep working in a system that is broken. Maybe we think that because we can’t do those things, we can’t do anything. NOT TRUE!

We CAN resist from within. We CAN start talking to our colleagues about the testing madness. We CAN refuse to spend our days subjecting our student to endless, mindless test-prep. We CAN refuse to send home packet upon packet of test prep material over a ‘break’. We CAN plan projects and lessons that aren’t scripted. We CAN have honest discussions with our administrators expressing our concerns about what our students are losing out on because of test obsession. We CAN find one other person who agrees and attend a rally, a meeting or stand together at a union or faculty meeting and speak the truth! We CAN refuse to let any data that the school collects define our students for us or for their parents. We CAN write letters to the editors of our local papers. We CAN meet with parents and discuss NOT test data, but what we know about their child and development. We CAN tell parents that it’s a great thing to opt their children out of high stakes testing. We CAN close our doors and let the little children PLAY! And, let’s face it, we CAN make any lesson or any activity ‘fit’ the CCSS if we have to. We’ve all done those “dog and pony show” for our observations, haven’t we? We CAN accept that if we are deemed “developing” instead of “effective” based on a ridiculous rubric, it’s not the end of the world. We CAN start talking about curriculum and textbook decisions with the power of what we know – what is developmentally appropriate for our students. We CAN say that we will NOT standardize our students or our teaching to meet anyone’s demands – especially the writers of the CCSS. We CAN demand that our state and national unions start supporting what’s good for our students and not what’s good for the corporate agenda.

Remember, every drop in the bucket fills it a bit more. You may be one drop compared to the CTU or the teachers in Seattle or Hamburg or those who have publicly quit, but you CAN be one drop that keeps filling the bucket of resistance!

Occupy the Department of Education – April 4-7

I have just learned that my family plans for Spring Break have changed from a trip to a jam-packed Disney World to a visit with family in Washington, DC! I understand if some of you reading this don’t understand why on earth I would be excited about this – opting out of sun and warmth for a DC spring? I am SO EXCITED! Not only will I have the chance to spend time with extended family, but I will now be able to attend quite a bit of the Occupy the Department of Education!!

I was there last year. I was forever changed. I found that there were people like me who felt it necessary to say out loud that Race to the Top, emphasis on high stakes testing to evaluate kids and teachers, and narrowed curriculum are WRONG! I cannot wait to be in that group of like minded folks again!

Wondering what all the fuss is about? Check out all the details here!