Separate and Unequal (Black-ish Spoiler Alert)

I’m new to the “Black-ish” bandwagon.  So far, I appreciate how the show utilizes humor to discuss real issues.  Like the episode that tackles Columbus Day, which in my opinion, could be used in a cultural competency course.  Most recently, the episode titled, “Public Fool,” which addresses private versus public schools and the dilemma that many families face.

Before I proceed, let me say, “spoiler alert.”  In this episode, Junior gets expelled from his private school.  After failed attempts at gaining access to another private school, Pops says, “You should send Junior to the local public school.  What’s the point of spending all this money to live in this damn neighborhood if you’re gonna turn your nose up at the school that’s right down the street?”  The fictional Johnsons are a wealthy family, led by a mother who is an anesthesiologist, and a father who is an advertising executive.  They can afford to live in an area with quality public schools.

Sadly, this predicament is not a fictional one.  It reminds me of a conversation I had with a parent who said it cost a pretty penny to send her child to a local school.  I agreed, then did a double take because I remembered her child attended a public school.  The parent then replied, “I was talking about the mortgage to live near a quality public school.”

Even 63 years after Brown v. Board, all public schools are not created equally.  As Dre put it, “Black folks got hit with the okey doke,” which Urban Dictionary defines as a scam, an untruth, fraud.   In some areas, public schools look more like private schools.  In other areas…well, let’s just say public schools look nothing like private schools or public schools in more affluent neighborhoods.  The okey doke, indeed.

As an educator who spent my teaching career in Title I schools, this is a topic that is near to me.  Most recently, I taught at a 40-40 school in the nation’s capital, which means that according to district accountability measures, we were one of the forty lowest-performing schools in the DC Public School system.  My favorite section of my classroom was a little corner with a poster that reads, “No matter who you are…or where you’re from…your future is up to you.” I coupled the sign with a Stanford banner, to remind my students that one’s zip code does not determine his or her future.  I’d like to believe this sentiment is true, but it can be hard when there are so many obstacles.  Nonetheless, I continue to believe that it is important to encourage young people to believe and dream beyond their circumstances …beyond their present comprehension.

During a recent visit to my former students as I prepare to move to California, one student that I taught two years ago asked to come with me so she can go to Stanford.  Of course I know how much positive impact our school has on our students and their families, but at times it just didn’t feel like enough.

As I watch this episode of “Black-ish” and type this, I feel guilty that I’m taking a break from the classroom because I feel like my students need me.  Unfortunately, the state of education that results from being separate and unequal is the reason why I felt the need to take a break.  Lack of resources, lack of support, growing demands, lack of time, the emphasis on mastery without celebrating growth.  The list goes on…and on, and on.  These circumstances impact our work as teachers, which then affect our students.

In the end, Junior is a fan of the public school.  For the first time in his educational career, he’s not one of the only Black students, he has Black teachers, and a vending machine with soda (insert side eye).  While this episode was intended to make light of a situation, it sheds light on the state of education.  I believe public schools have potential that has yet to be realized.  Maybe it can be attributed to institutional racism, or maybe it’s merely a matter of not knowing where to start.  Either way, something needs to be done.   

All this to say that we are still separate, still not equal.  But at this point, would equality be enough? That’s gonna be a hard no for me.  We need equity.  

~ Marissa

Hanging Up My Sweater: Why I’m Taking A Break from the Classroom

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Today, as I’ve done for nearly a decade, I’m up around 4:45 and I turn on the TV to catch part of a Law & Order SVU episode.  Then, to have something a bit lighter, I watch an episode of How I Met Your Mother.  Finally, I turn to the news to get an idea of the weather for the day.  It’s starting out cool, which sounds like the perfect excuse to put on a dress coupled with my favorite teaching sweater.  For some reason, I’m all about a good teaching sweater.  After donning my sweater, I hop in my car and prepare to teach the future.  Today, this preparation includes listening to some mellow music, though other days I opt for something a bit more hype.

Going into the profession, I saw myself sitting criss-cross applesauce until retiring, or until I was no longer able to get up and down easily and had to sit in a chair on the carpet.  Either way, I planned to be in the classroom for the long haul.  Regretfully, after nearly a decade of ups and downs that will no longer be the case.

Throughout the current school year, I have gone back and forth about whether I would return to the classroom next year.  Even after the doctor ordered me to take time off from work for a few days due to stress that had manifested itself in a physical way, I was still debating.  I wanted to be there for my current and future students, but I also needed to be there for myself.  Finally, in April I declared my intent not to return.  I’d probably still be debating today (the last day of school) but we must declare our intent in April or incur a fine if we leave.

During the time where I was trying to figure out my future in the classroom, I created numerous pro-con lists, talked to friends and family who’d heard my teaching stories, and talked to a handful of colleagues that I trusted.  Some days, I felt relieved at the thought of the quality of life that I would gain by not returning.  Other days, I felt guilty at the thought of abandoning my kids – those I’d taught in past years and who visit me most mornings before going to class, and those I have yet to meet.  Yesterday, I told one of my students from last year that I wouldn’t be returning next year, she hugged me tight and said, “No, you can’t leave me.”  I felt (and still feel) like I needed to be there for my past, current, and future students, and by not being there, I’m letting them down.

I recently read an article that highlighted the problem of teachers leaving mid-year.  I became so upset reading the article and the insinuation that only ineffective teachers leave, or that when teachers leave, they’re not thinking about the students.  The misconception portrayed by the article has become my obsession.  It may be easier to believe that teachers leave because they themselves are ineffective.  It gives us a target towards which to point a finger of blame whenever something goes amiss in the classroom.  The reality, though, is that sometimes good teachers, dedicated teachers, simply cannot take it anymore.  My kids count for about 10 reasons to stay for every con that I wrote on my list.  At the end of the day, though, the cons won.

A major con was getting over the system that has become education in America.  As a teacher, there are so many things that are beyond my control.  Lack of physical resources, deliverables, professional development that’s not differentiated (which is ironic since teachers are expected to differentiate our lessons), lack of time to address social-emotional needs, just to name a few.  There’s only so much I can do since I feel that I have very little control.  Of all the things that are beyond my control, I’ve found it most difficult to meet my students’ needs while meeting district requirements.

I constantly struggle between doing what is developmentally appropriate for my students and keeping my job.  When I moved to kindergarten, I was so excited about the dramatic play materials I planned to buy.  I remember asking a colleague who’d been teaching kindergarten for nearly 30 years for recommendations and she regretfully informed me that dramatic play has disappeared from kindergarten.

When I tell people that I teach kindergarten, one of their first responses is, “Aww, how cute.” Yes, my kids are super cute, however, the art of teaching kindergarten isn’t as “cute” as one may think.  Dramatic play has been replaced by close reading, guided reading, guided math, tracking data, identifying sight words, number sentences, articulating strategies to solve word problems, accountable talk, and weekly assessments.  Anything else is not considered time-on-task or teaching with a sense of urgency.  They don’t have time to just be cute kids, particularly when I know (and am constantly reminded of) what’s at stake with their education.  Kindergarten looks more like first grade.

When I break out something exciting like blocks (which I often reserve for Fun Friday), I make sure I have an exit ticket and pray an evaluator doesn’t walk in the room.  Though it may not look like it, they’re learning through play, which is an authentic form of learning.  They’re building, problem-solving, sharing, talking – this is learning!  But like I said, due to the fear of getting a low evaluation score (which is tied to both my pay and keeping my job), activities like blocks and puzzles are reserved for Fun Friday.

All of that to say, I’m taking a break from a system where I feel like I’m contributing to the problem instead of the solution.  Don’t get me wrong, my kids are learning.  I’ve taught them to read, write, solve math problems, and to be good people, all while building genuine relationships with my students.  Unfortunately, this teaching and learning is not taking place in an ideal environment.  It’s an environment where I’m constantly afraid of who may walk into my classroom and what they’ll say or think upon leaving.

Teachers are often evaluated on rather minimal evidence of our practice.  Maybe on a 30-minute classroom observation or test scores as evidence of students’ mastery of skills and standards at the end of the year.  Some people who are charged with evaluating teachers or determining mandates have unrealistic expectations of what teaching and learning look like, sound like, and feel like.  I maintain high expectations and strive for mastery, but these expectations can take a toll on teachers.  This is especially the case in an environment where the primary focus is a specific level of mastery instead of growth.

For me, this step away from the classroom is also about self-care and preservation, which is a topic that is often overlooked when discussing teacher retention.  While advocating for my students, I find that I am also advocating for myself and my own educational philosophy.  So many times, I’ve fought to have my students’ growth recognized, which (on occasion) had a modest impact on my evaluation scores.  The constant fighting can be draining.  I’m stressed, and more importantly, the kids are stressed.  The thought of a kindergarten student being stressed and knowing that they have at least 12 years of school remaining breaks my heart.  In such a stressful environment, teaching isn’t sustainable.  I’ve realized that there’s no way I can be there for my students if I’m not first taken care of…it’s just not possible.

Usually, I play “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince to celebrate my final day of school as I’m cleaning up my classroom before leaving for the summer break.  I haven’t decided if I’ll play it today because I imagine I’ll be in a somber mood as I’m packing up my belongings for the never-ending summer.  I will try to be a little happy as I embark on a new journey.  I have always been, and am confident I will remain, passionate about helping young people.  I hope to continue to have the opportunity to do just that through my part-time work, which is also in the field of education.  In the meantime, I plan to kick off my mini-sabbatical with some travel, which is made possible by my frugal tendencies.  It’s scary, overwhelming, and exciting at the same time.  Feel free to follow me as I embark on a new journey.  I hope that this journey will rejuvenate me and that I will make my way back to the classroom at some point.

For now, I will put on my favorite teaching sweater and enjoy my last day in the classroom.  I will reflect on my teaching experience, which was filled with many lessons that have helped me grow as a teacher and as a person.  It has been as much a pleasure to learn from my students as it has been to teach them.  I can only hope that the lessons I have imparted on them have a lasting impact on their academic careers, and equally important, their character.

 

Hidden Figures – Through A Teacher’s Eyes

 

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I saw Hidden Figures for a second time on Saturday.  Seeing this movie as Marissa and as Ms. M were two very different experiences.  During the former viewing, my friend and I laughed, cried, whispered “Yass” coupled with snaps when one character’s future husband said the day they met, he called his mother and asked for her ring.  Seeing it as Ms. M was extremely different.  I found myself explaining vocabulary, asking them to make predictions, feeling proud when they asked questions. The people in the row behind us were probably annoyed…guess there were some similarities to the time I saw it with my friend.

When I saw the movie as Marissa, there were scenes where I experienced anger to the point I was in tears.  As Ms. M, I had to hide some of my reactions because I did not want to shape my students’ opinions.  Kids really do pick up on everything.  At one point, I laughed and one of my kids started laughing.  When I asked what she found funny, she responded, “I don’t know, but you’re laughing.”  All that to say, kids pay close attention to adults and we shape their views, even without realizing.

When I watched the movie with my students, I let their questions guide our discussion.  Yes, we were having mini-discussions during the movie, but we were using level one voices.  Some questions were simple, like what does female mean.  This made me realize I should have front-loaded some vocabulary.  Other questions were a bit more difficult to answer, like what is segregation?  As I briefly explained that one, I started thinking about Brown v. Board and realized that I could probably use my students’ experiences in the school to explain that one.  I didn’t go there, though I could talk for hours about separate but equal aka separate and unequal…but we’ll discuss that in a future post.  We also talked about why they put the colored label on the coffee pot, the significance of knocking down the colored sign for the restrooms, sitting in the back of the bus.

If I had more time, and the ability to pause and rewind, we’d really chat.  We could talk in detail about women in the workplace, segregation, the importance of education, colorism.  That last one may sound a bit random, but it was inspired by a brief conversation between two of my girls after the movie.  I overheard one say she would go to either bathroom because she’s light skin.  Before I could chime in, they were back to skipping on the sidewalk.  I think color in the classroom (and beyond) deserves its own post.

My kids are five, so I know a lot of the content in the movie went over their heads, partially because the movie was kind of long and their attention was fading.  Still, there were some things they got.  In the opening scene, one of them said, “Look, it’s a trapezoid.”  I couldn’t even get upset at the fact that she wasn’t using a level one voice because the teacher in me was so happy that something from our geometry unit stuck.  There was also the moment when one student whispered to another, “Watch, I bet she’s going to the bathroom.”  In my mind I’m like, yes, a prediction!  The moment when one student angrily stated, “He slammed the door in her face.”  Or the scene where Katherine Johnson returned from the bathroom, drenched, and one of my kids asked if she’ll still work there.

I can’t be 100% sure what they understood in the movie, what will stick with them a year from now, a day from now, or even what stuck once we walked out the theater.  The only thing I’m certain of is this, the discussions we had, their excitement…it was worth being Ms. M for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon.

~ Marissa’s Teachable Moments

 

 

 

Reasonable Resolutions

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Photo Credit: The Pensive Sloth

I had high hopes for winter break…grading papers, creating a scope and sequence for the remainder of the year, making anchor charts.  Yea, none of that happened.  Instead, I spent my break catching up with family and friends, and binge-watching Suits.  If I had to do it all again?  I’d do the same thing; it was a much-needed break.  But now I’m feeling somewhat rested and ready for a fresh start.  So, here are a few New Year’s Resolutions that I hope to stick to in 2017.

 

1. I will complete lesson plans in advance

No more waiting until Sunday Funday to do work.  From now on, I will complete my lesson plans on Saturday mornings.  As I was typing, I started to write Friday, but let’s be real…Friday evenings are made for happy hours, Modern Family marathons, and/or sleep.  If you’re like me, that’s an and.  So again, I resolve to complete my lesson plans on Saturdays, which should take away some of the anxiety that comes along with waiting until Sunday afternoons to plan.

 

2. I will add to my craft

When you’ve been doing something for a long time, it can be easy to fall into a pattern, get comfortable.  Checking things off a list becomes second nature.  This year, I vow to make an effort to step out of my comfort zone at work.  For me, that means teaching more science.  While it’s not on the mandated schedule (blasphemy, I know), I will find time to explicitly teach it, not just integrate it here and there.  This will be a learning opportunity for me and my students.

 

3. I will get organized

Yes, I shove things in drawers when I’m short on time, guilty.  I’ll attempt to do better in the new year.  For starters, I won’t let my students’ papers pile up in the finished bin.  I’ll actually review and return papers in a timely manner – not two weeks before grades are due or right before I’m running off to a meeting where I need to show student work.  It will be nice to have a system, know where things are when you need them.  I will also go through my inbox to delete messages.  Just typing that feels so cathartic.  Can you imagine an inbox in single digits?  That hasn’t existed for me since my first e-mail account…think AOL circa 1998.

 

4. I will remember the real reason I’m here

At times, it’s so easy to lose track of the real reason you’ve been called to do a certain job.  When it comes to teaching, I tend to forget why I’m here because there’s such a huge emphasis placed on standardized test scores.  There’s nothing standard about my kids, so I need to keep in mind my teaching philosophy.  My philosophy remains that character is just as important as content.  Obviously, I want my students to learn how to read, write, and do math, but I also need to teach them how to be people.  So when I find myself stressing over the fact that my kids have yet to master 100 sight words, or can’t fluently add and subtract within 10, I’ll ask myself…are they happy?  Have you taught them to help others?  Again, being a good person is just as important as academics, especially when we have things like autocorrect and calculators at our fingertips.  There are no apps that teach you to be a good person, not that I know of.

 

5. I will be grateful

It’s sooo easy for me to recall and harp on the bad things that happen day to day.  But ask me if anything good happened, and I bet I can’t remember it.  I get so caught up in assessments, observations, the kid who knocks over all the books in the library that took forever to organize by level.  But not this year.  I vow to remember the good moments.  Like the student who entered the school year not being able to identify the letters in his name, but now he can identify letters and tell you their corresponding sounds.  Or the funny moments, like the day one student told me she had an upset stomach and needed some “pepto business.”  In the new year, I vow to be grateful for the moments that bring me joy and laughter.

What are your resolutions for 2017?

Happy New Year,

Marissa

‘Tis The Season

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Photo Credit: Teacher Troubles

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Well, it’s hard to be jolly when you’re super stressed.

People in my school building often comment that I’m always smiling and in a good mood.  Little do they know just how stressed I am.  For starters, being responsible for educating 20 plus children is a huge weight on your shoulders.  I know there are people who say, “You only teach kindergarten.”  (Typing the word “only” just now made me cringe).  Kindergarten, like all other grades is super important, so again, it’s a huge weight.  But, that’s not where most of my stress is stemming from these days because I’ve finally accepted that contrary to the number I may get on an evaluation, I’m good at my job.  Unfortunately, teaching doesn’t make up most my job.  I think my most accurate title these days would be a data collector.  I feel like I’m drowning in assessments and paperwork.  And my time to complete the paperwork is being taken up by meetings about the paperwork.  It’s a vicious cycle.

So I guess for me, ‘tis the season to be stressed.  It’s ironic because I was told by multiple sources that my name came up in a meeting saying that I’m not stressed enough.  Not sure why the goal is for teachers to be stressed, but I digress.  I’m plenty stressed but I often get the message that when you walk in the building, you’re no longer a person, and your feelings don’t really matter.  Your sole purpose is to be present for the kids.

Please don’t get me wrong, I love the kids. But how can I be expected to care for and provide for them if I’m not taking care of myself?  You must put your oxygen mask on before helping others.  So yes, I may be physically present for the kids but these days I’m finding it difficult to be mentally present for them, and for myself.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where being busy is cool. Where people brag about being at work for 12 hours a day.  Why do I need to spend half of my day at work to be productive? Some people are more productive in different settings.  But if you don’t meet that minimum you’re seen as not doing your job.  In fact, I was once told that I need to stay late at least 2 days a week.  When I replied that I work from home, the response was, well you need to be seen here.

All this to say, that I’m stressed.  But if you’re still reading this, I’m sure you already knew that.  I have been fortunate enough over the years to have a close friend who is a clinical psychologist. Just talking to her in and of itself has been a huge relief.  She has shared some very helpful tips with me to help me cope with stress.  Over time I’ve been able to develop some of my own.  Below are some tips that represent a combination of the help I’ve received from her, and some strategies I’ve developed on my own.

1. Take a few minutes for yourself

For me, this usually comes in the morning.  I arrive at work early, but I find that I often sit in my car for at least ten minutes before going into the building.  When I’m especially stressed, the time in my car is greater.  In the past, I was listening to a playlist I’d created, but in my effort to be fiscally fit I canceled my Spotify premium, so I have to settle for whatever comes on the radio.  For those few minutes, my Nissan Sentra is my sanctuary.

2. Phone a friend. In my case, g-chat a friend.

Last week was an especially rough one for me, but it made me realize how super thankful I am for my friends and family who listen to my stories, and offer words of encouragement, after they get over the initial shock.  Though your friends and family may not be able to relate, they can be there for you.  Try not to vent all the time, though.  A little at a time is healthy, but doing so constantly just reinforces the stress. I have to check myself with this one, because I have stories for days.  But I’m sure my friends appreciate a break from those stories and it’s good for me to think about other things, not related to work.

3. Follow a mental health blog.

My friend, the clinical psychologist, also has a blog full of helpful daily advice, which you can visit here. She provides great tips, though I must say that some of them are easier said than done, like take a real lunch break.  It sounds simple.  In fact, I told her I was going to do it.  But, unfortunately, I have yet to take an actual lunch break.  In my defense, my lunch is more of a breakfast since it’s at 10:30 every morning.  And, I have to plan for four different subjects after lunch with no transition time in between. So my lunch usually turns into planning, and my planning is consumed by meetings.  One day I will take a lunch break, speaking it into existence.

4. Make plans

In the past, I was good about making plans so I’d have something to look forward to, something to get me through the week.  I’d write the dates on a white board and write down dates, outings, massages, trips.  These days, I don’t have the time or energy to write stuff on a white board; it sounds like a lot of work right about now.  Still, making plans is an effective way to relieve, or at least manage, stress.  Now if you’re like me, you might make plans then unintentionally break them by falling asleep.  Sorry to all my friends who have been a victim of my naps that turn into a deep sleep.  But, getting some sleep is not to be underrated, especially when one is trying to get rid of stress.

5. Take a mental health day.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around mental health so I know this is easier said than done.  I’m the worst at taking sick days.  In my nearly decade of working, I’ve probably taken a total of 20 days.  Just typing that I realize how ridiculous and unhealthy that sounds.  Work can be physically, emotionally, and mentally draining, so it’s important to take time for self-care.  I’m officially committing to making time for me.

That’s all I have for now.  Seven school days left before winter break (not that I’m counting).  My goal is to achieve a healthy work-life balance.  These days it’s been work and more work, little life in the equation.  What about you?  Any tips to stay mentally healthy?  Please share below.

~ Marissa’s Teachable Moments

Teach the Vote

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A few weeks ago, we read a book that mentioned a president.  Something made me ask my kids the name of our president.  The responses ranged from “Washington, D.C.” to “Dr. King.”  After about ten guesses, one student finally said, “Barack Obama.”  While my students may be too young to vote, they’re not too young to be affected by the impending election.

As adults, we’re in unique positions where kids are watching our every move.  Seriously, I forget how closely they’re watching until I overhear my students playing teacher; my kids even have my mannerisms down.  Since children are impressionable, I feel the need to express the importance of fulfilling my civic duty without compelling my students to adopt my beliefs.  Instead, I think it’s important that we expose them to as much useful and neutral information as possible.  I’m especially moved to do that this year when we have a candidate who spouts lines like, “Our inner cities are a disaster…they have no education, they have no jobs.”  So, here are a few tried and tested ways to talk to your students about voting.

The Sticker

I plan to wear my, “I Voted” sticker on my face tomorrow.  My kids are infatuated with stickers; I don’t understand it, but I plan to use it to my advantage.  I know my kids will be drawn to the sticker, which will lead to tons of questions.

Talk About It

It’s okay to talk to children about the election.  In fact, I tell them that I like to make informed decisions so talking about it will help them be informed.  Talking about it will look different for parents and teachers.  As a teacher, I am very careful not to push my beliefs on my students.  Still, provide information, answer questions, and encourage them to talk with their parents.

Rock the Vote

Lead by example.  Take your kids to the poll.  During the primary election, I ran into a student from my first year of teaching at my polling place.  It was great to see her there, watching her mother cast a vote.  Children often follow our lead, so why not set an example of casting a vote.  I still remember going to the polling place with my mom as a kid; it’s something that sticks with you.

Rock the Vote, Again

Tomorrow I’ll be reading Duck for President, which has proven to be a hit for eight years running.  My students will then vote on measures like, extra recess, pizza toppings since we recently earned a pizza party – you know, important stuff.

Another good read if time permits, Grace for President.  Then you can have your kids cast a vote for the candidate (Grace or Duck) of their choice. If you choose to read this book alone, it can be used to discuss the significance of “A girl president,” as Grace calls it in the book.

Okay, that’s all I have for now.  Even though we gained an hour, daylight savings time is not my friend right now.  Plus, I still need to get ready for my job, which just so happens to entail educating “The African Americans” and “The Latinos” in an inner city.  Note: Please read “the” with extreme sarcasm.

So, whether you’re #WithHer or looking to get #Trumped, happy voting,

Marissa’s Teachable Moments

My Students’ Lives Matter

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It was time to pack up for lunch and I called, “Hands on top.”  My students immediately froze, put their hands on their heads, and responded, “That means stop.”  Not sure where I learned this, but it’s an attention-grabbing strategy I’ve used for years now.  Yet when I used this technique the day after learning that yet another Black man had been killed at the hands of the police, my heart sank.  When I started writing this piece, it was the day after learning that Terence Crutcher had been shot and killed.  Not even two weeks later and Keith Lamont Scott and Alfred Olango suffered the same fate.  It made me wonder, how many times will my students hear, “Hands on top” in a different setting, just because of the color of their skin?

I teach 5- and 6-year olds, so I shouldn’t have to worry about teaching them that Black lives do indeed matter.  However, in our current climate, I believe that I have a responsibility to do so.

Perception is reality.  Unfortunately, the reality is that even at a young age, my kids, especially my boys, are perceived as a threat.  This is not hyperbole.  The perceived threat can be seen in disproportionate suspension rates, or the fact that in some of the schools where I’ve taught, there have been significantly more security guards than school counselors.

According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, Black preschool students are 3.8 times more likely to receive at least one out-of-school suspension than White children.  This statistic is especially startling considering the fact that according to the data from 2013-2014, Black students represent only 19% of preschool enrollment but 47 % of suspensions, compared to White students who represent 41% of preschool enrollment but only 28% of suspensions.  I am not a proponent of any preschool student being suspended, but if we are to use such suspension rates as a benchmark, my word, the contrast speaks volumes.  What’s more, the data corroborates that this difference continues in K-12 settings.

All of this data suggests that during childhood, students are already being treated differently based on their skin color.  Some might say that perhaps the Black students are acting up more or are doing more to get suspended, but in my experience it is not the behavior that is different, but the response to the behavior.

So how do I teach my students that their lives matter?  How can I help them survive outside of the four walls of my classroom?  How can I follow the curriculum and teach the unit on community helpers who are there to keep them safe, knowing that we live in a society where people who look like my kids are being gunned down at an alarming rate?

I almost feel that in units where we focus on poetry, I have to teach my students to personify themselves.  It seems that Black people are seen as objects, so I have to teach my students to give human-like qualities to themselves so they can be viewed as humans with lives that actually matter.  If they encounter the police maybe they need to say, “I’m a student.  I’m a brother.  I’m a sister.  I enjoy taking walks outside.” Anything to make themselves seem like less of a threat.

The burden shouldn’t lie on my students.  Maybe the people who are trained to keep us safe need some training on cultural competence.  Maybe we need to address the effects of implicit biases, starting in the classroom.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the answer is.  I do know that I’ll continue my quest to make my classroom a safe space where students feel welcomed, accepted, and comforted knowing that their lives matter to me.

Signed,

A Concerned Teacher Who Doesn’t Want to See My Students’ Names After a Hashtag

(N)SFT – (Not) Suitable for Teaching

Before I begin, I’d like to remind you that any views expressed in this blog do not reflect the opinions of any particular school or district, they’re merely views from Marissa.

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I was planning to stay away from this conversation until I attended a conference and a fellow educator asked me, “Being a beautiful Black educator, how do you feel about the body shaming going on right now?”

Now, in case you’re not into social media…1. Wow, that’s impressive. 2. How Sway? 3. One teacher has been deemed the “Sexiest Teacher Alive” due to her wardrobe.  So, what’s my take on the woman who is now being referred to as Teacher Bae?

Okay, so here goes…Her attire doesn’t affect her ability to teach. Whether she’s rocking a dress, skirt, or slacks, she can still teach her students about multiplication and division, or whatever it is students learn in fourth grade.  These days, they’re probably learning the quadratic formula. Either way, what she wears does not impede her ability to do her job.

Maybe she buys clothes with a multi-purpose mindset.  She is living on a teacher’s salary after all.  If she’s like me, she buys clothes that she can wear in multiple settings.  I hate shopping, and I’m frugal, so when I purchase clothes, they have to transition from day to evening seamlessly, (perhaps with a sweater between the two…see pic above).  All that to say, maybe her wardrobe is a product of her salary.

Furthermore, her attire wouldn’t be an issue if she didn’t have a body type where she’d check curvy on a dating app.  Shame on this woman (insert sarcasm here) for eating healthily, going to the gym, or whatever it is she does to feel comfortable in her own skin.  What do people expect her to do?  Wear a trash bag?

Now, I had a friend who asked, “Would you wear those outfits to work?” My simple answer, “No, because I don’t have the energy.” I wake up, watch Law & Order SVU and/or the news for at least an hour then finally roll out of bed and get ready for work in like 30 minutes, tops. Plus, half the time at work, I’m sitting criss cross applesauce on the carpet with my students and getting up and down is a struggle, so I need to wear clothes that allow me to maneuver.

Or maybe the reason I don’t wear certain outfits to work can be attributed to the time years ago when I was walking in the hallway and a third grade student from a different class quoted Nicki Minaj. In an effort to keep this PG, I’ll just say he replaced my name with Nicki’s and asked me to put something on his sideburns.  All that to say, my personal choice is not to wear anything that might elicit similar lyrics.  But on that infamous day, I was wearing loose slacks, a shirt, and my go-to-teacher sweater, so guess it really doesn’t make a difference.

Playing Devil’s Advocate, my friend then said, “Given the reality that you’ve had kids who say adult things, should teachers dress with that in mind, across the board (whether they are curvy or not)?” Let me start by saying, I don’t want adults to pose questions with the use of Nicki Minaj’s lyrics.  Now that we have that cleared up, he had a valid question that really made me think.  For me, it’s not just about the things my kids say, but it’s the fact that they’re always watching and processing.  Kids are extremely observant and quite impressionable. So, I do feel a sense of responsibility to set certain examples for my students.  But again, I see nothing wrong with Teacher Bae’s wardrobe; what she wears is her prerogative.  My personal preference, I’ll rock slacks and a college shirt instead of a dress any day of the week. But, that’s just me.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where people sometimes pay more attention to what you look like than what you’re able to do.  Maybe we need to focus less on this teacher’s attire and more on the fact that women (especially of certain cultures) are often sexualized.  If a muscular man wore tight-fitting shirts to teach, would we be having the same conversation?  Probably not. We might ask why he’s wearing a smedium shirt, but we probably wouldn’t question his professionalism or objectify and sexualize him.

What are your thoughts?  Are certain outfits NSFT?

~ Marissa’s Teachable Moments

 

 

 

5 tips to survive the first week of school

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Is this kindergarten or The Hunger Games?  I’ve asked that question a few times, especially near the beginning of the year.  The first week of school is great, but between meetings, putting the final touches on your classroom, observations, oh yea, and teaching your students, it can be a bit overwhelming.  So to my fellow Careers (a person who volunteers for the games after training his/her entire life), here are a few tips to help you survive the first week of the games, I mean school.

 

1. Make a plan

I like to have lesson plans on deck to guide me through the week.  You can find my go-to plans here.  I don’t read from my plans word for word, but I’d rather be over-prepared than under.  So, make a plan but…

 

2. Don’t feel married to the plan

Like many teachers, I know that plans don’t always work out.  You have to be flexible (figuratively, and sometimes literally, depending on the grade you teach).   You might not get to everything on your lesson plan, that’s okay; in fact, it’s great!! You know the idea of rollover minutes? Well, welcome to rollover plans.  Save those plans for the next day.  My first year teaching, I was initially disappointed when we did not get through the entire plan.  But I quickly realized it takes time for students to master concepts, so I had to rollover bits and pieces of my plan into the next day.  Learning how to transition from the table to the carpet in one day? Nope, now it’s two days (and that’s being generous).

 

3. Check out library books early

Omg, I cannot stress this point enough. Every year I say I’ll check out library books in July, then August rolls around and they’re all checked out. Back to school books are popular and apparently we all want the same ones. Go figure. This year, I checked out my books the first week in August.  Too little, too late.  I planned to read First Day Jitters but all of the copies in the city were checked out. So I ordered it on Amazon, only to find out that it would arrive on Tuesday; it’s not called Second Day Jitters. After calling around, I lucked out and found one at a bookstore, about 30 minutes from me. I got the LAST copy of the book the day before school started, but all that to say…check out your books early!

 

4. Reassure yourself

Sometimes, you have to give yourself a pat on the back.  You are a Career after all.  You’ve been training for this, you’re an expert, you know what you’re doing, you’re ready!  So relax, enjoy your students, enjoy the journey; you’ve got this!

 

5. Make a plan (again)

I’m not talking about a lesson plan this time.  Make a plan to do something on the weekend.  Think of something you enjoy – a drink with friends, a massage, working out (oh how I wish that was at the top of my list) – and do that.  Anticipating something makes it easier to handle the hustle and bustle that is the first week of school.

 

What about you? Any tips you live by to survive the first week of school? Please leave any and all tips in the comment section.

 

Happy teaching and may the odds be ever in your favor,

Marissa’s Teachable Moments

Back to School Without Breaking the Bank

Back to school – the most wonderful time of the year (just not for my wallet).  It’s the time of the year when we’re thinking about lesson plans, our new students, and all the things we need to buy to set up our classrooms…all while sitting in meetings.

To help me spend my time laughing instead of crying as I mourn the end of summer, I look to @bored_teachers.  Seriously, if you’re not doing so already, please go to Instagram and follow @bored_teachers or click here to follow their blog; they’re like my spirit animal.  Case and point, this meme…

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My initial response was “yass,” followed by the realization that I’m not alone when it comes to this dilemma.  By the time August rolls around, I really start counting my coins – I’ll pass on an appetizer, opt for water instead of juice aka wine…those dollars can be used to buy supplies for my students.

Going back to school doesn’t have to mean breaking the bank, and it definitely shouldn’t mean skipping out on a meal or an experience (been there, done that).  It’s only taken me eight years to come to terms with this fact, smh.

Here are a few tips I follow to avoid breaking the bank when going back to school:

1. Make a list, and check it twice!

It’s so easy to get caught up in the dollar section of stores (ahem, Target).  Too many times I’ve gone in looking for pencils and I walk out with my cart filled to the brim.  So step one, make a list and stick to it.

2. Don’t feel pressure to make your class the most pin-worthy room in the school.

I know, this is very hard.  But trust me, your kids will learn just as easily in a class where you spend $50 on decorations as they will in a class where you spend $300.  Plus, your bank account will thank you later.  In recent years, I’ve decided to purchase the bare minimum (pencils, cutouts, jumbo letters after hastily ripping them off the word wall or bulletin board at the end of the previous year, border when it was too tattered) to complement what I already have, which brings me to the third tip…

3. Recycle!

Maybe it’s the California in me that makes me such a huge proponent of recycling, or maybe it’s the fact that I’m frugal…the jury’s still out on that one.  Anyway, recycle your decorations, borders, themes…at one point I considered recycling name tags with the use of duct tape (to date, I’ve only done that once –when I got a new student in the middle of the year).  I like to change my theme every other year, though I admit my scholars have been the Kindergarten Bees for two years running…they say the third time’s a charm. Anyway, recycling saves money and it’s good for the environment.

4. Use durable material.

I can’t take credit for this one. Years ago, one of my friends suggested I use cotton sheets as the background for my bulletin boards.  He suggested this because when it comes to putting up butcher paper, my struggle is far too real; seriously, I have a hate-hate relationship with the stuff.  I’ve continued to use sheets for my boards because I can use them year after year and they pretty much fit with any theme, especially when I buy with a color-scheme in mind.

5. Finally, like everything else, we know there’s an app for that.

I recently downloaded Flipp. In a nutshell, it’s an app that allows you to put in your location and it locates coupons near you.  I found a coupon for, wait for it…dry erase markers.  So, I will be purchasing dry erase markers AND eating, too.  Sounds like a win-win to me.

What about you? Any tips to help you save money when going back to school? Please leave any and all tips in the comment section.

Happy (What’s Left of) Summer,

Marissa’s Teachable Moments