Thursday, February 23, 2017

Smart-i-nator

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?


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Resolve to Be

In 2016 I did not set goals for myself. I felt like I wasn't up for setting some lofty version of my self to try to live up to. I wanted to relax last year and just focus on the work in front of me. I had no time for additional goals.

Well, then life hit. I had back surgery in January. I was the right decision at the time. I feel so much better these days, but it did not come without loss. I was told I could no longer be a runner anymore. Or a mountain biker, that I was a walker now. I was a swimmer. For those of you that know me, that was a major hit to my hobbies. 

In March I attended the most amazing Ed Conference I have ever been to. SXSWEdu is the conference Educators must try to get to at some point in their career. It opened my eyes to the new landscape education is cultivating. This conference showed me that the moving and shaking in education was not happening in administrators offices. It was happening in the classrooms. This was a huge hit to my psyche. I always move up the chain, anywhere I go. I thought I was moving up in the world by heading into admin. But I realized at that conference that I wanted back in with the kids. I hadn't had enough time teaching to make my mark on it. So in June, at the end of the 15-16 school year, I resigned my post and went back to the classroom. I went back but also decided to run several pilots for the school. I went back busier than I ever needed to be. I was only three years removed from the teaching, it was crazy how much you forget while residing in the "Ivory Tower". 

I am now halfway through this school year and the pilots are for the most part going well. In the school systems, it's hard to think about a January reset button. Our resets are typical in May/June depending on the district. Even though it appeared to most that I had it all together, I was flailing about from January to June of 2016. So even though I am not ready for a giant reset, my year is only halfway over, there are a few things I will resolve to do this calendar year of 2017. 

  1.  I will host a once a month dinner party - Want in? Comment below.
  2.  I will go on a minimum of a once a month date with my husband
  3.  I will not miss Skiing on the slopes with Santa and Mrs Claus next Christmas (this year we chose to stay home)
  4.  I will read a minimum of 8 books this year. We got rid of the TV in the living room. So there should be no excuses here.
  5.  I will be kinder. I am a nice person, but I want to be kind too. There's a difference.
  6.  I will learn a new instrument (piano).
  7. Hang out with Anne Beck more in 2017

I think not making goals or resolving to something new left my soul feeling stagnant. I am a shark, I need to keep moving. Maybe not necessarily up, but moving nonetheless. 

8.  Learn to spell necessary without having to use spell check every time. 

So there they are, my goals for the year. Call them resolutions if you must. I may not have all the time in the world, but I am making these 7 statements a priority in the calendar year of 2017. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

Second Generation Survivor

Up front I should tell you, I am a hot mess. I have all of these thoughts and feeling inside of my head that I cannot express without screaming or crying. I just found out some real Deliverance type $h!+ that happened in the family tree and I cannot make heads or tails of it. I will dramatize the names and relationships to protect those that wish to continue to remain blameless and clueless.

Beth was an 8 yr old kid. Her father like any red blooded back woods freak had high aspirations of being a Grand Wizard for the KKK.  Beth being only a child with no mother at home (because the mother selfishly left the home leaving backwoods dad to raise 5 kids) loved her father. The father here, who selfishly loved to hate black people, decided that, to make it anywhere in this sick twisted world of his daughters had to be passed around to the other twisted sickos (that hated all non-white/christian persons) for fun little romp of sexual pleasuring for themselves. You might be asking at this point, "What the Suck?". That's fine. I did the same thing. This is a story you might find from the sequel to Mississippi Burning, but it is actually a story ripped from the therapy session logs of my mother.

Cat's out of the bag.

Ok, a month has gone by since I wrote that last bit. I have had some time to process. And while she would be freaked that this was shared like this...you know, at this level, this story must be told. Once I was married, once I had children, I really hated her. I truly did not like my mother. It was fun to play games with friends about the things we learned from our parents. I always had shock factor for the win, Alex. She took so many risks in mine and my sister's childhoods that could have easily gone so badly. She would always tell us that she did the best she could with what she had. This was always an excuse in my book. It sounded to me like there were no regrets in our upbringing. Was there really no room for improvement or "Im sorry"? It wasn't the absolute worst, but the list of gross oversights and grievances is long. I am not talking spoiled middle class teenage angst type complaints, I just mean needing to grow up too quick type stuff. The level of poor we endured was strength and character building, it was the other stuff. We were like the cockroaches of people I suppose, you know they exist, but don't want to find them around your home.

I told myself when my daughter Tatum was born and I whispered in her tiny perfect infant ear, that I would be better. I would do it so much better than my mom had done it before me. My kids are 10 and 7 now. While they still have a lot of growing up to do and I still have a lot of parental screwing up to do as well, I can say that I have kept this promise.

And then the mother in me realized

If she had said the same thing into my tiny perfect infant ear, then she did it. She made a life so much better for us than her upbringing. While my overexposure to life came too early, I was not passed around at KKK meetings or any variance of the sort. Then the guilt sets in. How could I have been so selfish for so long? How could I be blinded to this sacrifice? Thoughtless and selfish she was, but she did it. She raised two girls as a single mom against all odds. Both of these girls have now blossomed in their own paths. Both girls are now leaders due to the independence she taught us. Both girls knowing what it takes to survive early on. Many kids these days ever know what they are capable of because they have not had to endure. She gave us endurance.

I forgive you mom




Thursday, July 7, 2016

I am a Bully



Hi, my name is Erin and I am a bully. Why the heck can I teach other peoples kids all day long and with the patience of Job, but when it comes to my own children's learning, I reduce myself to tactics that were used against me when I was a child? Those tactics made me angry, mad, sad, defeated, not smart enough. In the act of bullying that is not what I remember. When I am working through the math problems or reading activities and am met with questioning eyes and frustrated glances...all I can see is that some days she reads with ease and some days she is stubborn as hell and for got the sound the B makes. Some days her mental math capabilities are beyond the 1st grade expectations and other days I ask what comes after 46 and tears fill her eyes. My 4th grader can do this to me too...typically I bring both of them to tears once a month though on different days. All the while I am standing over them shouting that she remembered this yesterday.

I did this today. I typically keep my cool, but today was one of those days I had a short fuse and was not willing to compromise. Not until my husband called me out. He is really good at making me see the larger picture. He was pretty sure she was being stubborn too but knew my approach was not going to fix or solve anything. Ouch. I took a breath and went back to the table with a changed approach and we made it through the lesson.

So my question is, does anyone else get this way? How do you combat that double standard? My kids are my students as well, so I know they have never seen me freak out on other students. Why I am I so hard on them? Are you harder on your own kids than your students?