Thursday, July 13, 2017

Tell your Story

Back to writing. I really love podcasting as a medium to express what I think. I hate to write. It is time-consuming and I always find mistakes after I hit publish. I am never sure if what I have to say is worth someone's time to read it. I have become complacent. I have not written in a while, but the #oklaed chat from Sunday evening (July 9th) was all about telling your story. I thought it might be a good piece to bring me back into the medium in which I ruin regularly. I also find my vocabulary limits my ability to get across my true feelings, but what the hell.

So my story...where do I start. I do not want this post to thrown shade on any person or persons from my life, but mine is not your typical teacher story. I have alluded to getting into this line of work for the summers off, folks that's the truth. Here's the short version...
I hated school growing up.
I was labeled LD and thrown into remedial math classes from 4th grade on. This label defined me. To my peers and to myself it defined me.
In HS I cheated my way through much of the math. Actually, Geometry made more sense than anything.
My primary household had very little governance and even fewer rules and my secondary residence was 6 hours away. It was where I spent 6 weeks of my summer so little could be done from there to help my situation.
Trouble was way too easy to find.
From the 6th grade on, we moved at least once a year.
When I was finally busted for the cheating (12th grade), I was told I would have to come back the year AFTER my senior year to take more math. There was no stinking way on this planet I could face a shaming like that at a time when the world revolved around only me, so I quit.
That was not going to stop me from going to college (1yr late) where all my friends were, so I got my GED.
The GED was my ticket into college admissions. How? I now have no clue. I had never taken an ACT or SAT. They did ask that I take a math remediation class, but at the college and nobody needed to know how dumb I was except the other dummies in the class with me. I had no clue this course was just as expensive as the other classes I was signed up for but had no credit to go along with it.
The state university was pretty nice about letting me in but turns out with little governance in early life and none in college life, they weren't big fans of letting my laissez-faire self, stick around.
Professors did NOT remind you that things were due. There was nobody telling you to get to class.
Eventually, they kicked me out...I could come back, but I had to attend a community college to retake my classes to bring up my 1.4 GPA. I did not know that withdrawing from a course could/SHOULD be done if you decide not to go. So all of those classes became F's.
Here I am in a huge hole. The debt taken on for this decision to go to college, F's making my GPA a daunting mountain to climb, and lack of money or guidance sent me to work.

All of this is a portion, a partial glimpse of my pre-life story.

Something happened in 2003. A boy moved next door to me.
We went on a date and it was determined straight away that this would never work out. We did not see eye to eye on much of anything...except, that we were unexplainably attracted to each other. I was not used to being told no. I was not used to being told I couldn't do something. I was in the throes with life's quicksand and sinking in the struggle, but this boy...he told me I was going about life all wrong.

There's a-whole-nother story here, so I am skipping ahead a bit. You want to know that story and we can go out for coffee. 

I got back into school. I was re-taking all of those stupid classes again. I was going slowly because I now had a full-time job. And soon a baby. And soon a second baby.
I decided to go for an education degree because I had kids and it would be the best degree to let me raise my kids.
It was in these education classes that a professor was teaching us HOW to teach math that a lightbulb clicked on. I was understanding math.
I cried. I cried hard. I felt this conviction. If only it had been taught to me this way would I have struggled?
I was going to go into my future classroom and teach kids how to do something THEIR way. I was going to form relationships with my students and use their passions to teach them. Turns out that something I got into to make my life easier became my second biggest passion in life (family being my first).
Today if you step into my classroom or any of the professional development sessions I am offering you will see that my work centers around the kids, their multiple intelligences, and their passions.
People I know joke that I will put so much work into a project for one or two students that I keep myself busier than I should be. If your kiddo doesn't hate a subject now and can say they get it because of my project, then I feel like my job is done.

This is not my only story. This story does not define ME, but only my role as an educator. We all have many stories to tell. We are the onions of life. We have many layers. We have many stories. This is ONE I needed to tell after the inspiring chat.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Year-end Close Out

The end of the year came and passed. So I can keep myself accountable, this is my theme for next school year, I am going to post my summer to-do list here.

In between these nonpaying side jobs I have this summer, (it seems once the word gets out that you are "off work for a few months, you become a hot commodity) I have made a few goals for my summer. I plan to read several books. The first was Kim Bearden's Crash Course. I started this book last year but put it away when I made myself insanely busy building a curriculum. I loved how she used her students' stories to learn some great life lessons that she then shares with the world. It is a very quick read if you are looking for inspiration as well as so great pointers for ways to teach some of your same old content. The plan from here is fiction, then non-fiction and repeat. Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos is up next. Do you want a book review for each book?

I am redesigning the inside of my van so the hubs can build it out for our trip to Colorado in late July. For those of you that read my blogs about the Colorado Trail a couple of years ago, we are headed back. This time the boys are cutting out the awful road segments and a couple of the segments that do not offer a grandiose view of the world. So our three-week tour will be cut to two weeks this time around. The girls and I will once again live in the van during this time period. We learned a great deal during the last grand adventure. We learned about what we need and do not need. We added another car battery to the van and purchased a refrigerator/freezer that runs on super low amps. No more searching for ice ever other day. No more coolers spilling over soaking the carpeted floor. But because of these new items to implement, we have to redesign the interior. I am pretty excited to head out into the world of "tiny living" and minimalism again.

I want to build up an amazing set of videos so I can flip my classroom next school-year. I had a blast this school year creating content for my little scholars. The only problem we really ran into was that the students couldn't move faster through the material if their so desired. In our school self-paced is a BIG deal. I made the lessons each week, so working ahead was not in the cards for a few. So over the summer, I plan to make all the videos for each lesson the kids will do for next year.

So there it is. Pretty boring read this go 'round. I"ll spice up the next couple to make up for the lameness of this post. What are your summer plans?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Twitter Witch Trails

To say Sunday night's #oklaed Twitter chat was very upsetting would be putting it lightly.

Question 2:

To which I answer:

A2: 1.)Fatherless Boys, 2.)Parents uninvolved in education, 3.)Bad choices

I was not citing resources here. This is my opinion. But there are many sources out there that I could have used to back up my response. We were asked what we thought contributed to the School to Prison Pipeline. Nobody took issue with my response #1 and #3 in the tweet. But I was called out and blasted for being “accusitory” with my “lack of compassion” and “lack of empathy” for my second contributing factor. I said that lack of parental involvement in education was a factor, i.e. parents of students getting into trouble at school and thus being suspended are overwhelmingly less involved in their child's education. Is this matter here being contested as a fact?

From this moment and the next 20 minutes, I could hardly stay involved in the actual chat at hand. I was playing defense (to many) to my comment. I should have just let these comments roll off my back...but...I responded. Now, let me get this straight...I am in no way, shape or form taking back anything I said...but I would like to make more clear some of my thoughts. This chat was a hard first-time chat and to be limited to 140 characters makes explanations for tweets downright impossible. My tweet was twisted into a blaming of parents for their kids ending up in jail. While parents are not always to blame for every example, the glaringly obvious intention of my tweet was simply to mention the fact that parents are equally involved in this process.

I was poor growing up. I had to start working at age 15 so I could help my mom pay the rent. My sister started working a year later to help out as well. My mom had no degree beyond high school and dad was not around. I am married to a man who is one of 11 kids. 7 of his siblings were adopted out of foster care, so I guess I am bringing into my classroom some implicit bias. This is the bias I took into the chat Sunday. I think with the lack of perimeters and generalizations, everyone had their own different groups or subsets of children on the forefront of their brains. Sunday night a small group of protesters was acting like I was some sort of nutjob for saying parents who are not involved in their child's education were PART (one part) of a problem. Parents are not faultless here. The very minute I became a parent my life became all about creating the best citizen I could. If your child/student cannot obey in school, gets into fights, yells at teachers, paints graffiti on bathroom stalls for any reason other than a diagnosed health issue, then parents - you are a part of the problem.

Teachers for the most part (at least where I am from and with my own experiences) are doing their best to help parents out when it comes to feeding, looking after them before and after school and loving them. Check out Rob Miller's post on Hugging Porcupines. We love these kids, but in my opinion parents on a large scale are becoming selfish with their time. This pushes the problem off on teachers who were hired to teach students - not raise them. We do the job, we love them anyway.

Sunday night I was called "damaging to students" and "worse than a troll because my impact was real", and "unsafe to be a teacher" just because I think parents lack of involvement in their child's lives - WHERE IT COUNTS - is discipline. I have no clue when the word discipline became a dirty word. Athletes have discipline when they work-out daily. A writer has discipline to complete a book. To get a mindful and obedient 4-year-old we keep a schedule and create consequences which equal discipline. When we as parents are selfish with our time and do not follow through with discipline and consequences as well as rewards, a child is learning new behaviors are now acceptable. There are research backed articles all over the web and rows of books in the books stores dealing with this topic. I am not a witch here. I think what I suggested starts at the root of the problem.

I believe zero tolerance policies are not discipline, they are laziness on the part of adults. I believe we should practice more patience with students. I believe that the fact that children of ethnicity and children in special ed are more likely to be suspended, is a huge problem. I believe that teachers are getting shorter and shorter fuses due to the lack of respect, pay, and general pushing around by the government. This in no way shape or form should rear its ugly face when we are dealing with a child, but the fact is, it does manifest itself when a child acts out. I do not believe this makes it right. I believe that diversity training and school to prison pipeline should be talked about more often. I think discipline and classroom management should be regularly trained in schools. I believe we should do a better job at giving constructive feedback to parents and offer solutions to help them develop the citizens we want beyond school years. All of these biases shape me being a teacher. I have to think through my biases before I speak and act. If you were to ask my students, I am confident they would tell you that they all feel loved.

Lastly, I asked for clarification. I put myself in a position of vulnerability and begged for the right words if mine were so wrong. I was told by my accuser that it wasn’t her job to educate adults. To this I say, Mahatma Gandhi told us to be the change we wish to see in the world. It is now evident that we are not on the same team. My team is trying to make changes for the better rather than pointing out problems and refusing to offer solutions or even give a shred of evidence behind the claims. This was nothing more than a very sad witch hunt and I'm saddened by the evident preference of this group to simply be angry. To do this we need to have conversations (even with adults) until our voice no longer works. Hope is not a strategy here.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. -Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, February 23, 2017


Ladies and Gentelmen,

There has never been a more perfect match for me than my husband Travis Barnes. No, he didn't hijack my laptop. I am truly saying this. The guy is my senior editor. I will let posts fly through the publishing process without him (like this one, because ehe will hate the piece). These unedited version will be many flaws to them, misspellings, un-conjugated, structurally unsound sentences. I am NOT a linguist. He knows the in's and outs of language and is just good at getting his point across. I am a full on Brian Regan stand-up act when I speak or write.

So I hand my latest email over to Trav to be edited. He and I watched a lot of Phineus and Ferb when the girls were younger, so I call him my smart-i-nator.

He can change my words from Brian Regan to C.S.Lewis...from 4th grade to grad school. I told him today that i was quitting. He makes me feel so dumb so often when he edits my work. He told me to shut up. That if anyone felt dumb it would be him. He said I regularly made him feel dumb. I asked him when do I, of all people, make him feel dumb. He told me when I start saying thing like i just added that to the Google classroom, and now it's flip flopped teaching and we can do about 5 more of those in then next 10 minutes. Did you check the Google Classroom for that?

So why am I spewing all of this you you here? Because we all have the things we are good at. For me, it is NOT writing. I butcher words and language. I have no idea why all two of you read every post I throw up on here. But you do. Trav tells me that while I am right, I do have the vocabulary of an uneducated sailor, that the ideas are what keep people coming back. 

I am a teacher and it is so easy for me to forget. We have artists, athletes, craftsmen and women, we have all kinds that make up our classroom, or offices, our teams. We need to remember we all have strengths and weaknesses. A favorite quote of mine, attributed most often to Einstein is, 
 “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” The question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “What is your genius?”

I do not mean this to turn into a cliche post, but how many times do we in our classrooms ask students to do the same stuff or turn out the same work? Something to be mindful of with what little time we have left with them this year. I am not smart in the same why Trav is smart, but that doesn't mean I should quit putting out these excellent pieces of literary genius. 

Team Work

I found a new group on the Twitters the other day. It was a group of people talking about complex systems. On a deeper dive a ran into this article about Teams. Yaneer Bar-Nam identifies teams as a largely useful necessity in the future of the world. I thought that his insights were adept, but I could't help but have a bad taste in my mouth when I think about teams, teamwork, or group work. In college, I was always the one pushing my team through and making sure everyone pulled their weight and ultimately finishing up the slackers work and making it look consistent. In grade school we were placed in pods and had group work...again, I would tend to back off of my ideas for the greater good of just moving with the team and getting the job done. As I read through his first post, I kept thinking I don't agree, but then into the thirst post, I started thinking about the only team I ever fully felt worked and worked well together. It was my team.

I have said in the past, but I will restate for the newbie readers...I want what I want, when I want it. I have no patience. I am a bit fussy when I don't get it right now. No, NOW.

A few years ago, I in my first real year in admin for Epic Charter School, a new department was created around me. I had no idea what a blessing it would be to interview and pick a team from scratch. I knew my strengths and I knew my weaknesses. I was able to hire 4 individuals who would be able to overcome my weaknesses, While allowing me to grow in both areas. We spent two and a half years working to be the most efficient group (at the time) in the school. We were so versatile that we could to move to other departments when help was needed. We were a well oiled machine. I had never been in a role of leadership like that before and I was really able to spread my wings with that group. It was the first time I had ever been in a group where we all worked equally as hard on tasks some the same some different. When someone felt like they were pulling more weight than others, we discussed it and usually came to the conclusion that everyone was still pulling their own weight. The personal growth that came from this experience was huge.

I guess what I am saying here, is that teamwork often gets a bad stigma when teams are put together haphazardly. I hated teamwork and even going into writing this post I had a bad taste in my mouth. But teamwork can be great. Teachers, when building your pods or groups during the year, be thoughtful. I know some of you probably are very thoughtful. Know that best friends dont always make for the best teams and students dont know how to pick teams without best friends.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Watch it Oklaed

Watch it #oklaed. Our youth are watching you. You are their educators. Some of the things I saw intelligent, witty, and honorable people saying yesterday on social media were not intelligent, witty or honorable. If you have an opinion that's fine. If you want to protest thats fine, but please make sure you are keeping your cool and being smart. Stay classy in all you do. Even if you oppose  and despise that fact America must face for the next four years, keep your head. You are smarter than that and you are charged with making sure the youth is following your example.

Say you just became the principal of a new building. You wanted that job because in your opinion, and lets face it many of the people in the neighborhood too, you see the school falling apart and its running down your city. You want to get in there and change up the culture. You get the job only to find your teachers are throwing toilet paper down the hallways and flooding the toilets because they wanted someone else.

Say you are a teacher who just accepted the job in a school you wanted to be challenged in. You wanted to take a job in a school that may be lower performing in your opinion, but the students wanted the same dang thing they have been doing before. They don't want you for various reasons. You walk into class and they have set your desk on fire. They ripped the pages out of your books and put your face on a naked pinup at the front of the class.

Teachers - don't spray paint the walls of your students minds with anarchy. Form your opinions and give them, but keeps your wits about it. #notmypresident? Well, guess what...he is. If in four years he is doing a bad job...don't vote for him again. Rise, don't stoop.

That is all.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Epic the Red Headed Step Child of Education

For all of my readers out there that are red headed and also step children, please know I aim not to offend you. This colloquialism is commonly used and means:
 With red hair being rare, a child born to non red headed parents was often assumed to be the child of an affair. Thus was treated badly. 
Many of you know I work for a charter, a virtual charter at that. I and all enrolled at or working for Epic must therefore be passed over, like the colloquialism suggests, when it comes to anything that matters to anyone. EXCEPT, hello! We matter too. Anyone that attends or works for this school matters like other teachers and students across the state. Just because we are different doesn't mean we are less.
Every teacher working for the state of Oklahoma this year just got a survey from the OK Dept of Ed...even Epic teachers. It is a survey that wants to know about teaching methods and all sorts of other things. The first question asks the teacher to choose a county. I chose Creek as that is where I reside and work. Except Epic Charter School is not in the drop down list for schools within Creek County.
Ok, so I back up and chose Oklahoma County as it obviously means county on file in which the charter must be written. But no, Epic isn't available to choose from there either.

Let's get this straight:
Epic is now the 14th largest school in the state of Oklahoma - Check
Epic has students in all 77 counties - Check
Epic has students of every single socioeconomic background found in Oklahoma - Check

So why is it that we are still not being taken seriously?

To be fair, several people from the SDE got ahold of me and let me know that going forward things would change. Everyone is so quick to bash us, but nobody is really tracking us or paying much positive attention to the school at all.  They still have us listed in the system with Graham-Dustin. This is the district that housed our charter 3 years ago, before the Oklahoma Virtual Board took over those duties. Many in #oklaed are really starting to open their minds to this school, but it's because I have had to have many one on one conversations. People are so quick to read and believe articles printed in the paper.

We are here. We have been here and are in our 6th school year. We have close to 10K students in our school. We are really working hard over here. Why must there be a hurdle at every single turn?