Monday, April 17, 2017

The Next Generation


One of the best parts of writing Literally Unbelievable has been the wonderful people I've met. When I was teaching, I was often so stressed out and exhausted that I felt completely isolated, as if I was solely responsible for the welfare of all the kids in my class, and even in the school. I worked with some amazing teachers, but also a lot who were less than amazing. And almost universally, we were all so overwhelmed that, although there were people I would have loved to collaborate with, the feeling was much more one of survival, every teacher for herself.

Now I am starting to realize how many people care about educational inequity and under-served kids and just how many of them want to help in any way they can. The most exciting groups for me to talk to have been college and graduate students. Last week, I was able to Skype in to a school counseling prep program at Sacramento State, and talk in person to future special ed teachers at Dominican University. Both groups left me humbled and grateful that these people are the near future of our children. They're facing some very large obstacles, but I could hear their passion and I am hopeful.

That same week, I was able to speak at Ignitus, put on by Cal Rotaract (the college version of Rotary). These amazing undergrads spent their Friday night learning about different forms of service, and how to give back to the community. They were professional and organized, and even gave me flowers at the end. My favorite part though, was talking to students after the event. I didn't even realize that I stayed for an hour after the event, just chatting about inequity, education, racism, and life in general. 

I haven't felt this hopeful since Election Day. And now I kind of want to teach college students for a living...


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

It Was Already Broken (Originally Published on Medium)

Originally published on Medium.


Let me start by saying that, to my knowledge, I’ve never been more qualified than a Secretary of Education before. I have by no means agreed with or approved of everything they did, but at least on paper, they were qualified. Not so with Betsy DeVos.
We all know by now that she didn’t attend public schools, that her children did not attend public schools, and that she’s never worked or even volunteered in a public school. We know that she donated large sums of money to many of the Senators who voted to confirm her. We know that she doesn’t appear to know the first thing about standardized testing, proficiency vs. growth, or whether grizzly bears or guns pose a larger threat to public schools.
Remember, though, that public schools needed help before Trump was elected or DeVos was appointed. No Child Left Behind punished the most under-resourced schools and students, and was a major part of why I left teaching, as the job became more and more about teaching to the test, and certain schools were set up to fail. At one point, the expensive consultant that our school hired just told us that it was, at that point, statistically impossible for our school to succeed under NCLB.
Parents and teachers of children with learning differences are nervous, and rightly so, but they’re used to fighting. Even the services that are legally mandated for children under IEPs are only provided after a struggle, and only to families who understand their rights and advocate for themselves.
DeVos is not the beginning of what’s wrong in American public schools. She’s one more step along the way, and she’s obvious in how biased, corrupt, and unqualified she is. However, she’s also the wakeup call we need.
So, what can we do? Talk to your local and state representatives, and learn more about your own local education system. Find out what donations your neighborhood public schools need and help out — teachers spend a lot of their own money on basic needs and school supplies. Volunteer in a public school on a regular basis — make copies for teachers, tutor a child in reading or math, or help out at recess. Make sure you know what is happening in education on a local, state, and national level and speak out for the students who don’t have a strong voice.
Betsy DeVos may have more money than many of us, but I am confident that those who care about public schools and the students who attend them far outnumber her. Let’s use this as a push to stand up for all kids, not just our own.