“I’m sorry; there must be some mistake. I’m a high school English teacher … not a social worker … not a physician … not a Sunday school teacher …”

We’re ten weeks in now.  Year eighteen teaching high school English.  Year fourteen with tenth graders.  YES!

Honors English has just completed our reading of my beloved novel of all time, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.  Students are polishing essays and practicing presentations. They have chosen symbols, themes, or motifs to examine at work in this novel.  They will share a creative product portraying such while highlighting the writing accompanying this project.

For example, two young ladies are commenting on Harper Lee’s acknowledgement of the impact of racism through a sort of “taste-testing” of rice crispy treats: some the natural, beige color and some obviously treated with red food coloring.  Another young lady is demonstrating Atticus Finch’s denial of the traditional beliefs of the impossibility of black and white working together as she leads the entire class in a team-building activity.  Twenty-three students must all touch a bean-bag globe, in order, within a one second time frame.  Impossible?  Actually, no.

What is impossible, tragically, is the translation of this amazingly genuine and creative learning to my English Regents classes.

I have always considered my career as a high school teacher as one I value and appreciate and approach with integrity.  My role is public.  I am not only an educator; I am also a mentor, a role model, a nurturer, a listener, and a lifelong learner.

However, what I am not is a social worker, a physician, a Sunday school teacher, … a behavioral therapist.  I am ill-equipped.

Typically, my Regents classes experience much of the Honors classes yet with less depth and at a slower pace.  More and more, however, this is not possible.  With budget cuts that have not been restored in Public Education and thus the elimination of more individualized learning programs targeted for particular needs, students who benefited from such resources are now floundering in classes with little to no appropriate support.

Public schools do not have many options.  And, we teachers who have perfected our craft in a particular area are beginning to raise our voices stating, “I’m sorry; there must be some mistake.”

Young people have progressed to a tenth grade, general ed. setting with reading levels that hinder basic plot line, class discussions.  Extremely anxious students and students who require constant reminders of etiquette for large group gatherings monopolize class time leaving fewer and fewer opportunities for moving the learning to the creative, analysis and application phases.

Impossible?  Sadly, many days, the answer is yes.  I, needless to say, am no Atticus Finch.

Please, help me J.A.M.!

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I’m back: Reflection of Teaching Year 17. Will you follow me, again? Let’s JAM!

School Year 2013-14. Teaching Year 17. English 10 Year 13.

A successful year of learning and teaching. A year that transformed from demoralizing mandates of pretests, benchmarks, and forced midterm exams to wiping this slate clean in favor of instruction and the student-teacher relationship. A year that saw a leader basically retire into the shadows while a beloved former leader re-emerged with gratitude, love, and healing arms.

The autumn saw several opportunities for voices to be heard at Common Core Forums. The spring brought wonderfully validating and sky-rocketing numbers of parents who opted-out students from Grades 3-8 Assessments in New York State. Then, the school year ended and summer began with serious threats to the Teacher Tenure Laws in both California and New York.

‘Tis the season of the roller coaster, right?

Let’s JAM in terms of students and families. I just experienced a year like I never have before of extremes with students and families.
Extremes of brilliance with student participation and analysis and the willingness to extend responsibility with the learning process. But, as well, extremes of apathy, disconnect, and physical and mental burdens from stress.

As a beloved leader and mentor offered at the final day of the 2013-14 school year, it is now a time of thanksgiving. Indeed. I am incredibly grateful for the learning and the giving. Our kids and our profession are continuously giving; it is quite humbling.

I do hope, additionally, we can also enjoy the summer as a time of reflection. A time of questions and discussions. This is what I would like to accomplish over the next couple of months here with this space. Will you JAM with me?

How are we going to define the following? How are they defined currently? Does your understanding differ from the more widely held views?
–Public Education
–College and Career Ready

Let’s JAM!

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The Outrageous Costs of Testing Associated with Common Core. Why are we Americans allowing this to be the case for our children?

PARCC Test Cost: Higher for Nearly Half the States

July 22, 2013  by Catherine Gewertz



So, on this beautiful, summer day, I sat down at my laptop thinking I would search some current events articles to enrich our novel and poetry units this upcoming school year.

Look what I stumbled upon.  As an educator, I constantly feel like the Common Core Curriculum Standards are lurking in the shadows, stalking me.

I always look forward to a brand new school year.  I consider this rejuvenation a perk of the job.  I know I will always harbor this excitement, especially as I receive class lists and then greet and meet new young people entering our classroom.  However, there is now a strand of dread within me because of the country’s direction in Public Education with THESE Common Core Standards.

I am not against federal guidelines and expectations nor am I against accountability and assessment.  However, we parents need to see through the rhetoric of this proposed panacea for our students.  Not only are there unnecessary and outrageous financial costs, but more importantly, please consider the human capital costs of measuring every unique child with the same criteria.

We truly are in the fight of our lives for this generation of our youth!

Let’s J.A.M.!

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If it reads like a script and sounds like a script…


Thank you, Chris Cerrone: The “Parentucator.”

As Diane Ravitch has continued to plead, these Common Core Standards are not research-based and have not been proven effective by any brain-based research, for instance.

Why then is there SO much hype over these standards? Come on! $$$$$$$$$$$$$

Why are teachers then utilizing the standards and “reading the scripts?” FEAR!

Parents and community members, teachers and our students NEED YOU to become informed.
Is “a script” — and only one script — really the most effective method of educating your children?

Teachers and administrators, our profession NEEDS YOU to write letters of your experiences to local media outlets. Voices need to be heard.

Thank you.

Originally posted on @ THE CHALK FACE:

The New York State Education Department has been aggressive with its reform agenda over the last year, including a new teacher evaluation system (APPR) and implementing the Common Core.   The process of adopting the Common Core has been pushed forward at lightspeed giving educators a feeling of helplessness.  Last spring’s state assessments were Common Core aligned so teachers and local administrators were left scrambling to prepare their students for this new curriculum.

Educators had few options as the state assessments loomed in the spring to align instruction with the Common Core. Many districts decided to purchase corporate produced *Common Core workbooks to meet their desperate need for curriculum materials. As the modules were slowly released on the EngageNY website, districts and teachers started to look at the materials provided piecemeal by the state with a critical eye.   Some schools decided to use the modules “as is” since time…

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My response to the response of the initial response on the @aftunion “survey” @rweingarten


Fellow Blogger and Educator,
I salute you and your dedication to the truth! This takes more courage, at times, than most actually consider. I could not agree more with your thoughts and your passion for seeking what is right for our profession and for our youth.
This past spring, I wrote an email to both Mr. Dick Iannuzzi, President of NYSUT, and Ms. Randi Weingarten asking them to consider resigning on their own terms if they are not willing to use transparency regarding the CCCS and to actually begin to steer us away from these corporate-driven, scripted standards. Ms. Weingarten, to this day, remains silent to my plea. Mr. Iannuzzi, at least, has been in contact with me and we were able to briefly talk in person, as well.
Although I did indeed feel that Mr. Iannuzzi was listening to me and am appreciative of his time and most of his leadership, I was very discouraged about his seemingly sincere belief in “the potential” of the CCCS.
With this said, I must confess I can understand that as large organizations, this past year, with so many rapid changes coming from our NYS Commissioner of Education and from our US Secretary of Education, priorities such as the obsession with testing would drive the PR jargon and action steps, ie. the June 8th Rally in Albany, NY. Now, however, it must be the membership, perhaps with grassroots origins, demanding our leadership take the next step with transparency and the truth about the devastation NOT the potential of these corporate-driven CCCS.
We teachers must take to the streets to demand our voices are heard and our expertise respected! Get ready! Please do not allow summer vacation to become a respite from the truth!

Originally posted on @ THE CHALK FACE:

I can’t do this on Twitter. I just can’t.

I wrote this yesterday about the AFT survey. My concerns in that post were not necessarily related to the methods of Hart. That’s already been addressed.

I was responding to a Facebook comment, whereby an educator referred to the survey as “proving” 75% approval of the CCSS from teachers IN GENERAL. Again, not AFT’s fault, certainly not. But this conclusion is understandable based on the AFT’s deceptive presentation of what may have been an admirable attempt at polling AFT membership. For instance, collapsing strongly and somewhat approve into one bar, aggregating that, and then claiming overwhelming approval for the CCSS, which is there they got their 75% approval value.

Ms. Weingarten, to her credit as an accessible public figure, responded to me and I want to very briefly, but less brief than Twitter permits, to respond.

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 9.31.24 AM


It’s possible that Hart…

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I am worried about Public Education; thus, my optimism must be fueled by advocacy and solidarity! Thank you, colleagues!

Rally For Public Education


So, loyal blog followers, you may have noticed — I do hope you noticed — my absence for almost the entire month of June.  I must confess, the absence was not simply the typical, crazed, end-of-the-school-year madness all teachers experience.  I succumbed to the negative energy of so many decisions that defy all common sense and logic that we professional educators value for not only our practice but also for our students — our kids.

Nothing made sense.

The sad truth is that I know you, my followers and/or my fellow colleagues, can totally relate.

The messages from our leaders in Public Education right now are loud and clear:  we do not trust you and you are not valued.

Teacher: you are the expert, but you may not grade your own students’s exams.

Teacher: you are trusted by your students as you develop relationships based on respect and care, but, be ready, as you will administer pre-assessments in September on material students have never been introduced to before — in other words, you will lie.

Teacher: you are educated and are the professional, but you must simply accept the Common Core because our leaders and policymakers claim, “Because I said so!”

I am afraid nothing is going to make sense for a bit.  I am worried about Public Education; thus, my optimism must be fueled by advocacy and solidarity.  I believe in our youth; I believe in our profession.

As we can sometimes harbor a concern for our students regressing during the summer months, I fear we who are fighting for what is right with Public Education may lose some of our momentum as well.

We must keep reading and learning and watching and questioning: The Washington PostThe New York Times@ The Chalk Face Knows Schools MatterThe NationCity Newspaper [Rochester, NY], NYSUT.org, etc.

I implore you to consider writing to major and local media print outlets.  We all have a story to share.  Public Education touches all of our lives.

What has also helped me try to empathize with the human side of policy and policymakers is the realization that many right now in leadership positions may feel just as “stuck” as many of us in the classroom as policy and “reform” have been implemented so quickly and without much critical thought and examination.  Many may be asking themselves about the consequences of speaking out.

As I reflect on this past school year and try to look forward with cautious optimism, I know one thing for sure: advocacy and solidarity are crucial to right-siding the paradigm we call Public Education.  Please join us!  We need your voice!  We need each other!

The truth will find its way.  We are on the right side of Public Education.  We cannot give up on what we do.

In Solidarity,

“Let’s J.A.M.!”

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@ The Chalk Face Knows Schools Matter: from Maya Angelou’s “And Still I Rise”

And Still I Teach….

JUNE 23, 2013 BY  3 COMMENTS

In the past 6 days, the Badass Teachers Association has grown from a handful to over 12,000 members. Earlier this week, Dr. Mark Naison, one of the founders, put out a challenge to all the BATs to take a stab at recreating Maya Angelou’s “And I Still I Rise”. With permission from the author, Sue Doherty, I give you:

And Still I Teach
You may paint me as a union thug
who’s nothing but a leech.
You may say I’m dumb and greedy
but still, with love, I’ll teach.

Does my experience upset you? 
Why are you filled with such hate?
‘Cause I don’t need your manuals
to hook students with canned bait?

Just like Socrates and Montessori,
with the certainty of each,
just like Annie Sullivan, with passion,
still I’ll teach.

Do you want to see me standardized?
Head bowed, voice monotone,
following a corporate script of
knowledge stripped to the bone?

Does my individuality offend you?
Don’t you let it get you down, 
‘cause I teach like H.D. Thoreau’s
residing in my crown. 

You may smear me with your media lies,
you may displace me with your foundation’s reach,
you may diminish my voice with your money piles,
but still, with truth, I’ll teach. 

Does my honesty upset you?
Does it dismay you to know
that I’m a thinking human being
who sees through your selfish show?

In neglected and isolated country schools,
I teach.
In leafy and high pressure suburban schools,
I teach.
In overcrowded and decaying city schools, 
I teach.

I’m a wise ocean
in tune with the sun,
ready to save my students
from a tornado or a gun.

Straining under constantly changing mandates and high stakes tests,
I teach.
Stepping into my classroom where youthful energy never rests,
I teach
Knowing that learning is messy and social and sometimes wild,
in my room, I’m the guide and mentor for every child.
I teach,
I teach,
I teach.

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