Category Archives: School

Ready to launch

Yes, Kim, I know. I’m fixing to jet to the school house for the students’ first day back. Definitely looking forward to seeing everyone and getting some initial sounds out of what I hope will be a few good ensembles this year.

Also on the schedule is my dual enrollment history class (Western “classical” music from circa 900 through 1940), which I enjoy very much.

I can’t remember a year when I didn’t look forward to hitting that first day — either as a teacher or a student. Subsequent days had varying levels of enthusiasm ;-) but I do love what I do, and can’t really imagine having chosen another career.

I don’t mind when people razz me good-naturedly about having “summers off” (a misnomer). I remind them that my low salary has the last laugh, so all jokes about my cushy life are taken with a smile when I get a notion to gripe about having to get up at 4:45 every morning after a summer of sleeping in until, oh, 5:45 every morning.

What was your favorite part about starting school? Seriously, a huge memory from my childhood was the fall weather. It smelled so good outside. Of course, we never started school in August back in the 60s. I’m not sure exactly when it was, but I’m certain it was well after Labor Day, because I remember going to and from school wearing a coat. Another lasting memory: I loved the way my 3rd grade classroom smelled when we were working with construction paper and glue. My teacher, Miss Rinehart, wore perfume I loved. I liked the (now-unpopular and disproved) round-robin reading time, and always volunteered to read first. (“Let’s give someone else a turn now, OK?”)

I didn’t enjoy recess, because I was afraid of some boys who always picked on me. They were not nice. They’re probably corporate presidents now.

I hope your week is going well, fiends. I’ll check in after the craziness!

Reflection: annus horribilis

I think I’ve finally discovered the reason why I haven’t been speaking to you lately — and by “lately,” I mean with any regularity since last September. I should have noticed it or connected the dots long ago, but at 3:00 this morning, as I flopped around like a trout, unable to shut off my brain, it came to me: I’ve been too sad to write. Too angry, too disappointed, too worried, too wounded — too tired. In short, as I told someone last week, of the 22 years I’ve put in as a public school teacher, this one goes down as the absolute worst. And that can make a person mighty weary.

Writing RtB is an expression of my fascination with life. “Lately,” being me hasn’t been so fascinating, so I resisted writing about it. It’s that simple, and it starts and ends with what’s been happening at work.

I’ve watched my students endure abusive and wrong-headed testing to the point of simply giving up on school and choosing to no longer care. Many of my colleagues — some of the best teachers I know — drove home every day feeling more defeated, devalued and beat down than they ever imagined was possible. I will stop there, as I won’t share any more details in a public forum, but those of you who have walked this journey with me these past months know what I mean. Suffice it to say that the consummate failure of education policy in this country has steamrolled more than just careers. It’s affected everything.

Disasters like 2014-15 can’t help but seep into one’s personal life, but I’m delighted to say that my family and friends are wonderful, proving over and over that they are a safe port in the worst of my storms. They made my time away from school peaceful and fun, which made going into work less stressful than it could have been. Furthermore, in spite of all the poison around them, my students made some great music and gave a wonderfully supportive community two fine theater productions. They persevered, and truly inspired me in my dark hours. And there were plenty of dark hours.

I have struggled with not feeling bitter and angry, because I know it just hurts me. Those at fault couldn’t care less about how I feel (or how any teacher feels), so why am I wasting time and energy allowing them to control my day? That particular epiphany landed hard at around 4:30, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, with increasingly positive mental results. And now, at 6:22 a.m., I’m happy to report that basically, it’s fine. I’m fine. I plan to make 2015-16 the best year possible, and I will begin by completely excising all toxic, negative, destructive forces from my professional life. We can control only so much of our “space” at work, and the goal is to make the best of what I can control, and stop raging so much at what I can’t.

That’s not to say that there’s no fight left in the dog, mind. If I’m an advocate for my students, I’ll never stop campaigning for their fair treatment with regard to people with no knowledge or experience in education making policy decisions, and since I’m now president of my local teacher union (shocked, are ya?), there’s plenty of advocating to do on the teacher side as well.

For now, though, it’s all good, fiends. The real stars of the school year were the kids, who made me happy and proud. A huge shout goes out to their parents as well, and to my fellow teachers. We will weather this storm, and the forces that caused it. Le jour de gloire est arrivé!


Story time:

Friday, I received my first warning of sorts that I, as a faculty member, might be getting too close to the CC high-stakes testing controversy. An anonymous someone put this document from the Ohio Department of Education in my mailbox, as if to say, You’re fighting a losing battle, because there is no law that supports test refusal, so put that in your pipe and smoke it. Well, I sent an all-faculty email, asking for the person to please contact me. You know, because I have information for him/her. Truth is, ODE is having to regroup, which is resulting in scare tactics threatening retention and denial of graduation. The plot is not without precedent: give the people just enough incomplete propaganda, and they’ll acquiesce out of fear. I’ll let your imagination run wild on how many times, and in how many different scenarios, that trick has played out in world history.

Edit: The person contacted me, and all is OK.

ODE is banking on the assumption that parents will not question this edict, and they’ll just “go along to get along.” Whether or not that will happen in my district has yet to be seen, but quiet obedience is not cutting the muster in other areas, and you know, stuff like that tends to develop a life of its own. It wouldn’t be the first time a band of citizens rose up to fight the Billionaire Boys’ Club.

The fact remains that while some tests are validated and distributed for good cause, the endless days of mindless drilling for PARCC and AIR and dozens of other ill-begotten, inappropriate, unnecessary acronym tests are hurting children (especially those in the elementary grades), while blind eye after blind eye turns away. For over a year now, I’ve been borderline silent — at least overtly, publicly — about it. In fact, this is the first time that I’ve really released the Kraken on the subject. So, when I press “Publish” on this post, I guess it’s on. Let ’em come after me, because I won’t back down. Common Core and HST are bad for kids. You may not notice it now, or even a year from now. But let these kindergarteners process through the system, and check on them when they’re juniors. You do it, because I’ll be unable to bring myself to look.

I read an op-ed yesterday that described the inappropriateness of CC as “outrageously wordy micromanagement.” That about says it all for me, and I’m not even a victim of CC — yet. I predict my swan song will be written when I patently refuse to insult and degrade my students and my art in the name of profit any further, and somebody high up decides that choral music is too much of a non-event in the big scheme of getting kids “college and career ready,” and needs to be put in the dustbin with the rest of the creative processes that used to happen at school. Because what can’t be counted doesn’t count. Anyone who supports Common Core/HST and disagrees with that statement is lying, either to you or to himself.

I also predict that many unlovely comments will be made about me — both in secret and to my face — on this issue. It’s all right; I’m ready. Because, to quote Bill Shakespeare, truth will out. I just hope I’m around to see it.

Hopefully, many will join to take up this sword and fight to save our neighborhood schools, because frankly, continued silence only indicates compliance. The fight against CC/HST is not a conspiracy; it’s a national emergency.

On the warpath

As if I don’t have enough plates to spin nowadays, I have once again taken on — for good or ill — the serious armor of the higher cause. It’s hung in the closet for a while so I could get through the fall musical and Christmas concerts, enjoy some family time over the holiday, and spend time with a friend before she moved 2600 miles away. But now I’m back at it. Goody for all of us, right? ;-)

Over the next few weeks, it will be (one of) my (several) life mission(s) to expose and hold up to scrutiny the ridiculous, abusive nature of the high-stakes testing element that accompanies the Common Core State Standards. Not sure how and where CCSS came about? This will be an informative 30 minutes. If at all possible, get a coffee and watch; learn. After that, if you’re interested in what havoc private billions can wreak upon a 200-year-old public entity, rent this. (I have it on DVD if you want to borrow it.)

What’s the difference between what I’m doing now and what I’ve done in the past, you ask? We will wait and see. We’ll wait and see. Suffice to say that I’m madder now. As Jake gets closer to third grade, I’m getting more and more concerned. Here is a boy who’s exceptionally bright and inquisitive, and who loves to learn. And what is the #1 complaint from parents where CCSS testing is concerned? “My kid, who used to love school, now hates everything about it.” In fact, I just heard that, in person, from a parent, three days ago.

Fiends, it’s go time. Join me? Ask me how.


Why? This is why.

Why am I so angry about the government’s all-out assault on public education? This is why. It will take you an hour to read this article (I was up at 3 this morning, so I had time); therefore, I’m going to hit the main parts for you, and if you want to read further, you can. Believe me: should you ever need to have the “money trail” point driven home, this is the one to read.

I’ll begin with the bottom line: What happened (and is still unfolding) in Newark, New Jersey can also happen in Newark, Ohio, Newark, Illinois or Newark, Maryland. Education “reform” is the new pandemic sickness, and it’s coming to a town near you — unless we all do something about it.

Until we acknowledge and address the problem of what kids deal with at home (domestic violence, drug-addicted or otherwise incapacitated parents, homelessness, and most importantly, poverty), we will never solve the problems that plague them at school. Yet, teachers are now being held accountable for higher test scores, even though myriad issues in students’ personal lives are completely outside their control. Worse, if they can’t make the magic happen in three years, they’re out of a job.

It’s like firing the TV meteorologist because of a continued drought — and makes about as much sense. From the article:


Decades of research have shown that experiences at home and in neighborhoods have far more influence on children’s academic achievement than classroom instruction.


But let’s not allow pesky facts to get in the way. There’s money to be made, friend. Just ask the mighty triumvirate of the Newark parade of fools: Chris Christie, Cory Booker and Mark Zuckerberg (for the record — a Republican, a Democrat, and an Independent, respectively), who got together a couple of years ago and asked, “How can we purport to save the Newark schools, while making our friends rich and ourselves richer, so we can look like Christ on a pony and ride all the way to glory in Washington?” (OK, that was me quoting me. But you get the drift.) Young Zuck, ever the radical idealist, pledged $100 million to “fix” the financially ailing, violence-plagued Newark district. And of course, “fixing” the system meant spending millions upon millions in places other than the classrooms:


More than twenty million dollars of Zuckerberg’s gift and matching donations went to consulting firms with various specialties: public relations, human resources, communications, data analysis, teacher evaluation. [There were] other programs in the tight-knit reform movement, and a number of them had contracts with several school systems financed by Race to the Top grants and venture philanthropy. The going rate for individual consultants in Newark was a thousand dollars a day.

Booker has maintained a public silence about the Newark schools since being sworn in as a senator. Christie has been trying to salvage his Presidential prospects. Almost all of Zuckerberg’s hundred million dollars has been spent.

[Christie’s people have not] acknowledged how much of the philanthropy went to consultants who came from the inner circle of the education-reform movement.


Said one concerned administrator, “Everybody’s getting paid, but Raheem still can’t read.” And my favorite Christie quote, famously uttered after parents and community members protested the vast expenditure of time and money, and the fact that school children were not seeing any hope of benefit: “I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark, not them.”


It doesn’t matter what or who you blame; the fact remains that the entire school “reform” movement — lock and stock — is based on the insatiable thirst for profit, using public school students (and their parents and teachers) as unwitting chumps in the scheme. I call out Bill Gates, the Walton (Wal-Mart) family, ALEC, Pearson, Battelle, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whackadoodle Michelle Rhee, Teach for America, the Rand Corporation, Eli Broad, the entire US Dept. of Education, and every single politician who stands to profit from the systematic dismantling of neighborhood schools through the fist-down-the-throat tactics of Common Core State Standards and its high-stakes testing component. You’ve all been bought and sold, and now your sights are set on American kids.

You’re the wolf posing as the sheep. So I hereby declare you excommunicate and anathema. I cast you into the outer darkness. I judge you damned with the devil and his fallen angels and all the reprobate, to eternal fire and everlasting pain.

I totally stole that from one of my favorite movies.  :-) But again, you get me. This isn’t about a 21-year veteran public school teacher trying to save her cushy pension (Ha! Just typing that made me laugh.). It’s about someone whose grandchildren are now approaching school age, and will be subject to this and so much more (I haven’t even started to rant about data collection). It’s about my friends who teach core subjects, wondering how the Value Added Model is going to affect them, when they’re being judged by the test scores of students they haven’t even met yet, using a formula that no one understands.

All we can do is vote out people who sleep with the corporations that fund this vulgar enterprise. In Ohio, that’s John Kasich. He has to go. I don’t care what party affiliation you espouse; if someone in power is prostituting the children of your state to the first entity that dangles a possible Washington office key, it’s time to go. I don’t care what he says — I’m convinced everything that comes out of his mouth with regard to public education is a lie. Voters just have to wake up and realize it.


I guess we all have our pet causes, and this one is mine. And it’s impossible to encapsulate it in one rambling, incoherent treatise on a Wednesday morning when I have a concert tomorrow and craziness for the next 14 days. But I hope it somewhat clarifies why I get so jacked up when I read of yet another school district capitulating to the BS that the corporate-controlled Department of Education is spewing today. I would feel rage for any victim, but I have to admit: it’s worse when the victims are kids, and elementary principals are calling Pearson on testing day, asking what to do with test booklets on which freaked-out fourth graders have vomited. It’s worse when kindergarten teachers are forced to retool their lessons because they have to think about their six-year-olds as “preparing for college.”

It’s worse when one of those six-year-olds is my grandson, Jake.

So this, in part, is why I’m mad today. Today, and every day. Fortunately, I can put the mad in a drawer for however long I need it to stay there. If I didn’t, I’d be a raving banshee all the time, instead of just…well…now. :-D


Addendum: Immediately after I pressed “Publish” on this post, I read that Newark had just elected a pro-public-schools mayor, defeating an opponent who’d been bankrolled by the education “reformers” of Wall Street to the tune of $3M. One for the good guys.