Education, Uncategorized

Safe Space.

Here is a thing I believe:

For kids to know that we are their allies, we have to be visible.

Supportive educators help students feel better about being in school.

One of the ways that I’m being more intentional on my journey back to education and advocating for kids is in how inclusive my practices are. It’s not that I think I wasn’t inclusive before — it’s just that I had my eyes on a prize that ultimately wasn’t the most important thing.

I care far more about who my students are as humans than how they score, I always have. But I’m not sure that was communicated in every way it could have been. This is the message that needs to greet our kids every day. That they are loved, no matter where they’re coming from.

(Oddly enough, students perform better in environments where they feel safe and empowered and valued. Neuroscience and all that.)

Reimagining the classroom, I’ve started to think about what a safe place would look like. For starters, I think it’s crucial that students see their own reflection in the curriculum. For me, this means building a classroom library that includes characters from all walks of life. This means choosing ancillary texts, media, and speakers that represents all of my students, not just the majority. It means that as a teacher and the classroom adult, I represent my beliefs about respect and acceptance through the curriculum, through my classroom, and through my actions. It means that these beliefs are visible to kids.

“Visibility” used to be a term that I’d hear administrators using, and as a beginning teacher, I translated to mean “standing in the halls between passing periods”.

Facepalm.

Visibility is not about an admin requirement. And while it may help, it’s not about stopping fights or misbehaviors. It’s about relationship building. It’s about kids seeing a friendly, supportive face. It’s about how all the students on campus are ours, not just the ones on our rosters.

This post is specifically inspired by the contents of my mailbox today. Look what came!

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This is my GLSEN Safe Space Kit. I heard about it on Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy podcast (so, so good) back on a November episode, and finally ordered it. (Probably a little prematurely, as I don’t have a classroom to speak of. But it’s going on the top of my stockpile.) It came with stickers and posters and a beautiful, clear support guide for supporting LGBTQ students — information on issues, how to support and educate students and fellow staff, implementation on comprehensive anti-bullying and harassment policies, how to promote non-discriminatory polices and practice — the list goes on. It was only $15, but you can also contact the site to ask for one to be donated.

My life overlaps in a lot of circles. And I feel like the next part of this message is necessary.

I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus and I believe in loving people — and I believe that that is the same thing. This topic in Christian circles forever frustrates me, and I am guilty of not having a kind answer sitting at the top of my toolbox for these friends who feel so strongly. Jen Hatmaker, who is secretly my best friend, said it so well, that I’m going to copy and paste it here. I know she won’t mind, with us being so tight and all.

It is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. So great has our condemnation and exclusion been, that gay Christian teens are SEVEN TIMES more likely to commit suicide.

Nope. No. No ma’am. Not on my watch. No more. This is so far outside the gospel of Jesus that I don’t even recognize its reflection. I can’t. I won’t. I refuse.

So whatever the cost and loss, this is where I am: gay teens? Gay adults? Mamas and daddies of precious gaybees? Friends and beloved neighbors of very dear LGBT folks?

Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing “wrong with you,” or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole. Yay for Jesus! Thank God he loves us. He is not embarrassed of any of us. I am not a scandal, you are not a scandal. We are not “bringing down his brand.”

Anyhow, my message to you today is simple, LGBT gang and all those who love you: You are loved and special and wanted and needed.

Our classrooms should be so wide that every last student can jump inside.

 

 

 

 

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Here's Why, Life right now

Don’t call it a come back.

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I became a teacher in 2008. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with the energy of a 22-year old about to change the world.

2008 was the exact year that education in AZ took it’s biggest nosedive.

Since 2008, AZ state legislatures have cut more public education funding than any other state in the nation. Prop 123 only restored 18% of what was actually cut.

We are currently #51 in per-pupil spending (Yeah, 51 –- that includes the District of Columbia).

This school year, 47% of vacant teacher positions remain unstaffed or have substitutes.

My first year teaching, I dove straight in. For $33k, I taught 157 freshman and senior English students. I coached and sponsored and worked about 60-70 hours in a typical week.

I was doing the work I had set out to do: I was changing lives, and those lives were changing mine.

I was nominated for the district Rookie of the Year and made it to the final round. My volleyball team lost a single game that season (after their coach taught herself the sport off of YouTube). Every junior and senior I tutored passed the AIMS exam.

And at the end of that first year, I was told there was a high probability that I would be let go. That our district may not have the funds to keep me.

I was put on the bottom of a list of district seniority (it sat right next to the copy machine in the front office in an ominous black binder) so that I’d know how close I was to losing my job as more and more were eliminated. This went on for about four months before I found out that I was one of the lucky ones that would get to keep my position…

…even though all teachers were getting a 2% pay cut.

I kept at it. Teaching gave me life, even when I was personally stumbling.

My first husband, a teacher, had an affair with a student.

That’s a part of my story I’ve yet to brave or find a place to tell, but it is exactly that: part of my story. (There’s a lot of brave people out there speaking out. I’m so proud of these people every time they share their stories. I’m getting there). We separated when something was obviously wrong. I reported him when I discovered what was going on. He and the student’s mother lied to the police about it, and then he was turned in months later.

A single mom from 2012-2014, making ends meet on an Arizona teacher’s salary was a joke. Carter’s insurance alone through the district was just over $700 a month (about a third of my income). I picked up a 6/5 schedule to help, but it was still nearly impossible.

None of that came with me to school. That melted away when I was in my element, in the classroom. After years of creating a safe place for students, I found out that my classroom was actually just that for me.

It was about that time that I decided to go back to school and get my Master’s. Education opens doors. I chose Curriculum and Instruction in Gifted Education after a night of watching my then two-year old read me bedtime stories. (Carter Patrick, you have always shown me how to grow.)

Life hasn’t slowed down. These past years have been the highest of highs and the saddest of sads. I married Jesse in the spring of 2014 and we had Jack in January of 2015. Megan was killed three weeks later, and my Master’s graduation was in May. I remember finishing that final semester in a blur of sleepless nights after losing her, rocking Jack to sleep at all hours and thinking, over and over “Why does all of this even matter?”

I don’t have the answer for all of that, not in word-form. I just know it does.

All of what we do and know and speak matters because life keeps going, and because things can get better. I know that because I’m married to the person who spurs me on towards greatness and cuddles me when it gets too hard. I know that because we made a life for the three of us after Jesse married me and Carter.

I still remember the days that I prayed for just that, if only that. Looking back at that is like standing on top of a mountain and pointing to where you started. Cheesy and true — plus the air just tastes better up there.

And that was before adding Jack and the twins. It all still takes my breath away. Even with my hands full of bottles and diapers and a never-clean-enough house and trying to keep up on Gifted and now Autism and infant twins and and and — whenever I can hold still enough to find my anxious breath, I always exhale hard and let it get taken away.

I know that this life is impossible. We’re never going to get it all; we’re never going to get it all right. I also know that every one of us is a boat full of stories. And I know that’s why I started teaching. Because I wanted to learn stories and tell stories and open eyes, hearts and doors — because that’s what learning does for me.

So, I’m coming back. This year, I’m looking to dip my toes back into education. I know that I’m coming back to fight for kids and for teachers and for Arizona. I don’t know yet what that’s going to look like, but I can feel what it feels like, and it is all sorts of good.

 

 

Uncategorized

Hello, Summer.

Hello, old friend — bringer of warm gulps of hose water and poorly executed games of sand volleyball. Greetings, wine for dinner on the patio, grimy flipflops, and seatbelt buckle burns. What’s up, itchy Bermuda grass and warm, coyote-friendly nighttimes?

One day, without a word said to anyone, you showed up ready for a fight. You coulda warned us you were coming with such a vengeance. You mighta mentioned you were feeling extra surly. Suddenly, the sidewalk scalds my bare feet and a tank top is suffocating. Now you’re here, and you won’t stop talking about what so-and-so’s doing for vacation and bragging about the wildfires you started and making people dye their hair blonde. Not to mention you stink like chlorine and hotdogs.

But, oh, we do so love you. It’s been a busy kickoff to summer. We’ve been walking often in the evenings, hitting up the parks, seeking shade in Targets and yoga studios and movie theaters, and drowning in iced tea when the day is too hot to look a plate of food in the eye.

Summer, you bring celebrations and birthdays, fireworks and parades. For us teachers, you begin with the end: graduation. Every bottom-of-May for the past five years (and probably much longer, but that’s as long as I’ve been in on it), my friend Kelly goes on (and on, on, on) about how (insert expletive gerund, because that’s how she rolls) fabulous graduation is. It’s her favorite day. Even though her optimism is catchy and I’m excited for the students, I have to admit I could take or leave the pomp and circumstance. But I do like hanging out with friends  and celebrating another year biting the dust. And I like pancakes, and there’s usually some of those, too.

I have high hopes for this summer to be busy and adventurous and peaceful and restorative. I’m looking forward to lots more of the view seen above, and far less of this one, though I will be teaching summer school this year. Now that I’ve caught up with Game of Thrones, I’ll be needing suggestions to fill my before-bed time. There’s only so many iPhone word games a lady should play.

The most calming part of summer is that time slows down just enough that it’s easier to see life in snapshots — still frames captured in my mind, first behind my eyelids and then buried deeper, awaiting a quiet moment. I know one when I see it. Don’t move! I need to remember this, just like this.

And so Summer, come on in. Fill up the next weeks with your indulgences, namely popsicle-eating, night-owling, pleasure-reading, and beach-combing. Bring on your relay of record-breaking heats and monsoons. Squeeze us tighter with every breath. And take your time.