And so it begins…

I had planned to start this blog in April of 2015. Having recently attended the 2nd annual Network for Public Education (NPE) conference in Chicago, I was really motivated to start writing. But… you know… the daily things that occur regularly in life just kept happening, darn it! and I never found time to actually do it. I may have also been a bit nervous about actually hitting the Publish button. Now that I’ve quit teaching – you can read all about it here, here, here, and here! – I have some time to think.

So now, I present my original first blog post. At the time, my 14th year in the classroom as a high school English teacher was winding down. Here it is:

APRIL 27, 2015

I have been tossing around the idea of blogging for quite some time now. There are several reasons why I haven’t started this blog earlier. One reason is time. Or lack of time, to be exact. But when I say that out loud, it really just sounds like a lame excuse. Another reason is anxiety. I’m a little nervous about putting my thoughts onto paper (or screen) for all the world to see. Even if only three people end up reading this, it’s still anxiety-inducing. The fear of being judged isn’t so easy to shake off, it turns out. But I’m over 40 now, so I’m trying not to give a damn. The final reason I haven’t blogged until now is that up until this weekend, I didn’t really think I had anything original to say.

I mean, I’m just a teacher. I’m just one of thousands of teachers who do their best and work hard to reach their students. But I’m fed up and tired of wanting to bang my head against the wall every time I read another article about the current state of public education.

A few years ago, I started getting upset about what was happening in education. I started teaching in 1998, so I’ve see the pendulum swing from no standards to state standards to Common Core standards and the testing frenzy we have now. And around 2008, I was starting to get frustrated. Maybe it began before that, but by 2011 I was downright angry. And that’s when I started researching educational issues online and realized there were many others who were feeling the exact same way.

Only I didn’t personally know many of those teachers. I seemed to be the only one I knew who was angry and aware of what was happening in education on a national level. I found like-minded people online, in the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) on Facebook and in the comments section of Diane Ravitch’s blog. But where I worked, I wasn’t encountering many who felt the same way I did at that time.

Even now, there are still so many teachers around me who have no idea of the struggle we are engaged in for the future of public education. They are content to close their classroom doors and shut it all out. Maybe they know but don’t want to face it. Maybe they are quietly seeking a way out of the profession so they won’t have to get involved or be here when it really gets bad. Or maybe they know but don’t know what to do. Many don’t speak out because of fear, and still others just have no idea what is happening outside of their own school or district. But I believe a lot of it is just purposeful ignorance – that they don’t want to know. But once you know, it’s hard to ignore. It’s hard not to be angry and frustrated. Not knowing could be their way of coping. I get it.

I think it is because of all this that I realized I do have something to say. I want to add my voice to the national conversation and help people understand the struggles we are facing in public education.

I’ve been in way too many conversations lately where we are discussing issues in public education, but the person I’m talking to doesn’t have a basic understanding of the problem. Like all they know about this issue might be their two-fold opinion that A) their child’s school is pretty good, but 2) we’re in big trouble everywhere else according to the news (or some other faulty assumption).

In other words, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is “I read Diane Ravitch’s blog daily and frequently find myself wanting to bang my head against the wall in frustration about what is happening with the massive and concerted effort to privatize public education” and a 1 is “Who is Diane Ravitch?,” the majority of people I come across are in the 1-2 range. On this scale of mine, I’m a 10. But there aren’t many other 10’s around me.

Let me be clear – this is not a criticism. It just seems to be what I have encountered. I’m not looking down on anyone. After all, unless you are a teacher or a parent with kids in public schools at the moment, public education may not be in your top ten list of big issues right now. I completely understand that.

So once I realize I’m talking with someone who is a 1 on my made-up scale, I don’t know where to begin. Is it, “So, let’s begin by going back to 1983 when A Nation At Risk was published…” or “Well, basically everything you think you know about public education today is wrong“? I mean, there’s just a cavernous amount of background information and topics to choose from when I’m in these conversations. Most of the time, I try to relax, take a deep breath, and try to quiet the voices in my head (How can you not know what is really going on?! Don’t you see what’s happening?). Then I’ll do one of two things: change the topic to something simple (“Hasn’t it been raining a lot lately?”) to avoid even having to continue the conversation because I don’t want to overwhelm the person (or have them think I’m some kind of crazy conspiracy theorist), or take a chance and continue the conversation.

I might try to ask a probing question to see what part of the iceberg we can start chipping away at first. Charters and school choice? TFA? High stakes testing and the opt-out movement? The role of the Gates Foundation or ALEC or other education reformers in public education? The effort to privatize public education? Teacher’s unions? And then, maybe, I’ll begin educating. I say maybe because I am frequently hesitant to begin a deeper conversation.

Once this happens, the person I’m talking to usually looks at me in a bewildered way, like Really? I had no idea! And if they are interested, I’ll keep going. At some point, I suggest they get Diane Ravitch’s book Reign of Error or her recently updated The Death and Life of the Great American School System. And sometimes, I see the fire being lit in their eyes that shows me they want to know more. This doesn’t happen often (though it’s been happening more and more lately), but when it happens, it’s awesome. That’s what knowledge does – it lights a fire that will keep burning so long as you keep feeding it. And I’ve got plenty of firewood to add to that fire.

So that’s why I’m starting this blog.

I’ve never written publicly before. Actually, I can’t say I’ve ever really written like this privately either. I’m not usually a journal-keeping kind of person. So I know I will struggle to find my voice. But I hope to hone it over time. I teach English, so when I write I have a tendency to have my English-teacher-voice speaking in my head, making me a little more cautious than I hope to end up being.

I’m hoping this blog will be a collection of my thoughts about public education. It will include my own thoughts and insights, reflections on my experience as a teacher, and a collection of what other great writers have to say about issues in public education. Over time, I may develop a more singular focus, but for now it seems like this will be a hodgepodge of things related to public education in some way.

I am a little scared of putting myself “out there.” Of inserting myself into the conversation. Of being exposed on the interwebs. So this blog is also a leap of faith in the hopes that I’ll gain more confidence in my own voice. But I’m at the point now where I’m going to explode if I don’t get in the game.

And so it begins…

36 thoughts on “And so it begins…

    1. Good for you. If we do not get involved we have no right to complain AND the stakes not just for teachers but for the U. S. itself jave seldom if ever been higher. There is so much propaganda out there by people with a vested monetary interest, again – not just in education but milking the larges of the U. S. no matter the consequences that people MUST speak up. I really do not know how much effect any blog will do. Dr. Ravitch has been at it for some time. BUT again without people taking a stand nothing will change. There has been some noise that the Berniecrats are working now, carrying on his agenda. MAYBE that will happen and make a significant difference.
      I retired a quarter of a century ago, have written letters; to the editor, to the president, to politicians who “represent” me with seemingly little results. We need a ground swell of people to scream about what is happening, not just in the education field itself but in ALL aspects which affect our children AND our children’s future. As educators, we should EDUCATE. At one time teachers views were respected. Politicians have usurped that. Propaganda supplants research. Our country is divided terribly now. Divide and conquer.
      Enough of my ranting.
      You write beautifully in my book. Keep it up.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Who said “The only thing to fear is fear itself’?

    There are even 100 Bible Versus about fear. The most popular one at Open Bible. info is:

    “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

    One doesn’t have be religious to learn from the Bible and find strength.

    By the way, it was Franklin D. Roosevelt who said “Only thing we ave to fear is fear itself”

    He said this in his first inaugural address. FDR served as president of the U.S. longer than any other president because the people kept electing him.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Re “I mean, I’m just a teacher.” We need to work on your self talk. Do you hear NFL Quarterbacks say “I’m just a quarterback” or lawyers say “I am just a litigator” or neurosurgeons say “I am just a doctor?” As a teacher who retired about 10 years ago I would conclude that you are a warrior! High school English! Wow, takes balls! (Sorry, trying to pump you up, not trying to be sexist.)

    How many other professions involve a 35-40 hour work week and then 2-4 hours of work from home every day? How many require … require a postgraduate degree? How many require the patience of a saint, even when you want to strangle the little boogers for being slackers and not caring?

    And so it begins … but start strong because you are a teacher (not were) and people have things to learn from you!


    Liked by 5 people

  3. I was also struck by the wording ‘just a teacher.’ It was always one of the first things I told student teachers to never refer to themselves as just teachers. We touch the future and therefore carry great responsibility. We are never just a teacher.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re welcome. I taught mostly English for thirty years from 1975 – 2005 and it didn’t take long for me to get angry and I ran on anger for most of those years because of micromanaging administrators that managed from the top down and made teaching difficult to impossible at times. It didn’t matter how much success a teacher had, the teachers that complained and/or didn’t do what the micromanaging Donald Trumps of this world wanted, then those same top down fools made live miserable for those teachers often driving them out of the district or out of the profession.


  4. One of my principal’s told sternly reprimanded me once: “NEVER say you’re just a teacher!!!!!”

    She was right. We might not have a voice and we might the standard scapegoat of the past two or or three decades but we change lives and we save lives.

    True, we don’t reach all of our students and we’re not always remembered, but there is such leverage for good in that each year, each class, we can be a force for good.

    As a high school CS teacher, hundreds of students have come back to thank me for what I’ve done for them. Some joke that I might be the guy who’s had the most influence in the tech industry who has the least influence.

    So many teachers have done similar and more.

    I started blogging because I finally decided I had something to say and something to offer beyond the classroom . part of it was, as you said, not giving a damn.

    I write about pedagogy, tech education, and more and more policy. I’m pretty certain my voice is ignored by those driving the current STEM Ed bus but it’s still important to say our piece.

    I look forward to adding this blog to my regular reads.


    1. I agree! Sometimes it does feel like we are “just” teachers though. That’s definitely a perception I’d like to change.


  5. As someone who has felt for the last 30-odd years there was something unpleasant going on in public education, but who only realized the scope of the war in the last year, I understand your frustration. And welcome you to the world of tertiary education—enlightening the oblivious public they’re on the lip of having yet another public service handed over to corporations.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ehuff
    I can identify so well with your scale of 1-10. When teachers that I work with blame our local school board for things that were brought about by the reformers and the big-money people on a national level, I am appalled that they know so little about the currant affairs. I’ve suggested reading Diane Ravitch’s blog so often, I feel I need a printed card to hand out!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Good luck on this new adventure. How does raising one of Taylor’s BFFs shape your thoughts on this massive American issue? I’m glad you will find your voice in this (if you haven’t already). In the mean time I can confidently say it will be better than some other blogs that wind up in my work inbox (hint, hint… who could be that author?), as I know it will offer up more solution orientated rhetoric. I will still be pleading to my students to give me their voice as i teach them the subject they think they are not good at.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Chip! 🙂
      Being a parent has definitely added to my perspective. And I love your point about hearing the student voice – it’s one we don’t hear enough in the bigger discussion about education.


  8. I had someone close to me tell me I should concentrate on the kids. It was intended to be a compliment, that my strength was in working with the kids. I was not to worry my brain about policy matters on which I would never have an impact. Needless to say, I no longer share what is going on in the big wide world with certain people who no longer have a vested interest in the schools and think my continued interest despite being retired is unhealthy if amusing. So write on, Mary, and I’ll read.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you Mary. I too have been a frustrated teacher for many years and you may have inspired me to begging blogging. I could bring a science teacher perspective to add to the many English teacher blogs out there. I have read everything that Diane Ravitch has ever written and try to get colleagues on board with limited success. I look forward to reading and sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for taking the leap! I understand the feeling of hesitation. I’m about to explode, too, with being a 10 and only talking with others who are 1’s and 2’s. Retired teachers have to step up. Those who are still in the classroom have their hands full already. I’m concerned that retired teachers are not staying in touch with what is currently happening. Be the warrior!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much Mary. You have articulated what I’ve felt for so long when talking to others about what’s happening in education. People get that glazed look and I know I need to change the subject. They think I’m some sort of conspiracy theorist. This blog post is the only place I’ve ever heard anyone mention this. It’s lonely to have my fellow teachers, friends and family avoid a topic because they just don’t want to know. Keep writing! I can’t wait hear your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Excellently written and very understandable… as a novice blogger myself, I can completely understand the tumultuous dilemma between the desire to write something and the nervousness of actually writing something. They should name a paradox after this. ^^

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Parents need to be more active in caring for their children’s education. Teacher’s could be more successful in education children if parents would work with them at home. Good Luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. “That’s what knowledge does – it lights a fire that will keep burning so long as you keep feeding it. And I’ve got plenty of firewood to add to that fire.” <– Love the analogy!

    And yes, I could not agree more about the importance of public education. I've traveled quite a bit around countries that have great public education systems (Europe, and recently parts of Asia), and its quite obvious that investing in public education is one of the single greatest long-term ways to increase the productivity, and hence welfare, of a nation. The issue is that nations are not likely to see a benefit from that investment for many years, if not decades.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m a teacher too. And it’s tough. The pressure the society and the government put on us is stressful. The demands are not normal. So there should be more people like you – with their voices put to good use. I’d rather be too loud than too quiet.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. As a mother I’ve navigated some sensitive subjects; trying respectfully to avoid alienating administrators and educators while advocating for my children’s education. There’s so much happening that I applaud, so many hardworking teachers and support staff who engage beyond the red tape. There are also some nobel curriculum goals that get muddled in poor communication and inconsistent application. It’s a huge topic. Thank you for being brave enough to add your voice to the conversation so that we can learn together.

    Congratulations on clicking “publish” and being discovered!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. I can so relate about the tentativeness in “putting yourself out there,” but without people like you taking the steps to put REAL information out there…how can we hope to change people’s thinking? And without influencing people’s thinking…how can we change the world?! It starts with each of us, being brave, sharing our thoughts and our knowledge. You’ve started well…keep it up!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Good to hear from a teacher who is dedicated to her profession and ready to enrich some students’ lives. America’s Public School System will never be perfect, but as long as those involved keep trying to give kids the best experience they can have every day, there will be excellent results. I found the work of Nel Noddings very helpful when I was working on my teacher certification. You’ve probably heard of her, she focuses on the element of caring and dialogue in the learning process, it’s powerful stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Please put yourself out there. I accept what a doctor tells me because she or he has the knowledge. Yet so many of us claim to have expertise in education which we do not have. Diane Ravitch has written some great information but her earlier days during the
    Reagan administration were not so well informed. We need to trust our teachers and elect people who believe in Public Education .

    Liked by 1 person

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