Robust bus

Is the latest corporate education reform buzzword “robust”? Is “robust” the new “rigor”? Or perhaps it is replacing last year’s educational lingo darling “grit”? Maybe it is the perfect fusion of both “rigor” and “grit.” Combining the vigor of “rigor” with the resiliency of “grit.”




  1. strong and healthy; vigorous.
  2. (of an object) sturdy in construction.
  3. (of a process, system, organization, etc.) able to withstand or overcome adverse conditions.

I don’t know why, but in the last two weeks every time I turn on MSNBC, watch the evening news, read an article in Edweek, or hear a statement from a politician or superintendent, the word “robust” is busting out all over the place. Personally, I feel that the word “robust” should only be used if you’re describing something along the lines of an Ethiopian coffee or maybe an Argentinian cabernet. The Ed Tech community seems particularly enthralled with the word “robust.” After the last month, when I found out that two of the major educational software platforms that I spent the last year learning and using (Thinkgate and My Big Campus) were kaput, I can see why the Ed Tech community is fond of the word “robust.” If I am going to bother spending my time learning another software application, I truly hope it will be robust and lasts longer than one school year. With the constant flux in the Ed Tech start up community, is it any wonder that teachers are reluctant to embrace technology?

Educators in Florida and across the nation are now experiencing the joys (sarcasm) of using “My Learning Plan” to register and complete their professional development. It is such a convoluted software program that most educators will need to attend a professional development session just to learn how to register for a PD. Miami-Dade County had their own online PD registration system that seemed to be working just fine until the state decided to audit the program and found out that “gasp” teachers were not applying what they learned at the PD in their classroom. So in the name of “accountability” teachers must now submit four items to be worthy of their master plan points when once upon a time all we had to do was initial a sign in sheet. You must create a “Smart goal” and report back to My Learning Plan after fourteen days about how you achieved your goal. Clearly this software was not designed by an educator and they didn’t factor in that many teachers choose to complete their PD during the summer and won’t have contact with their students for months.

God forbid My Learning Plan goes the way of Thinkgate and implodes overnight taking all of our master plan points with them! Given that the state has never bothered to conduct an audit on district compliance of the class size amendment, would I be too much of conspiracist to believe that the Department of Education only conducts audits of district procedures when lucrative government contracts might be awarded as a result?


When Miami-Dade County teachers logged on to their employee portals this week they were greeted by some shockingly high numbers from the district regarding their “total compensation.”  Teachers may think their $42,000 salaries after twelve years of service aren’t so hot, but once the district starts throwing in your paid sick leave, retirement, disability and health insurance, some teachers saw their “total compensation” sky rocket to almost six figures! Are the district’s total compensation statements a subtle attempt to quell teacher dissent over stagnant wages that are not keeping up with inflation, or are they a bureaucratic necessity with the 2018 Obamacare “Cadillac Tax” apocalypse looming around the corner?

It is probably a mixture of both. The Obamacare tax penalty on luxurious “Cadillac” health insurance plans has been repeatedly postponed due to major elections and is now conveniently scheduled to begin in 2018 (two years after the next Presidential election when the Democrats are going to need the support of the unions who are unhappy with the tax). Many Miami-Dade County health insurance plans might currently be exempt from the tax, but if health care costs continue to skyrocket, teachers may soon find themselves in the driver’s seat of a “Cadillac” health insurance plan and the district may be forced to pay a 40% excise tax on each plan. Right now, your total compensation statement is probably citing a figure close to $7900 for individual plans ((funny how I only receive $1200 for opting out of the district’s plan) and $17,000 for dependents. If those figures continue to rise and surpass $10,000 for individuals and $27,000 for families, the district will have to pay a 40% tax for every dollar in health insurance benefits above those set amounts. Keep in mind that the cost of the health care plan is calculated by adding what the district pays and what the teacher pays, so the actual cost of insurance plans for a teacher that insures their family would be: $7,632.00 (district cost for individual plan) + $16,620 (district cost to insure dependents) + $5,676.00 (employee cost to insure dependents) = $29,928 (this amount would incur a 40% excise tax in 2018). From experience we know that if the district get’s hammered by the Cadillac tax, it’s the teachers that will get nailed in the end.

This leads me to question if teachers would be better off if the union did not bargain for health insurance benefits and let teachers fend for themselves on the Obamacare markets? Will the “Cadillac” tax become another excuse for not giving teachers their step increases? As a teacher who opts out of the district health insurance options, it is frustrating to hear every year that raises could not be offered because health insurance costs keep rising.  The union may come back defeated from the bargaining table when it comes to salary increases, but they always get to claim that they have maintained a zero cost health insurance plan. Since I don’t use the district health insurance, this leaves me asking the union “So what you got for me?” And for those who do use the district’s health insurance plans, once those benefits turn into a tax burden, are they really worth maintaining?

A recent article in Forbes magazine claims that union plans will be hardest hit by the Cadillac tax and unions may wish they hadn’t negotiated such luxurious plans on behalf of their members:

“In reality, it seems likely to primarily hit union plans. Unions that have negotiated for generous health benefits may now wish they hadn’t. Across the board, the Cadillac tax puts pressure on employers to offer less-generous health insurance plans. The 40% tax is imposed on the cost of individual health plans above $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for family coverage. The tax applies at a 40% rate on every dollar above those thresholds.”

Because the Miami-Dade County school district and the union are currently negotiating a three year contract, they must be especially careful of the 2018 Cadillac tax penalty when negotiating health insurance plans. In the Northeast, where health care costs are high and  already fall under the Cadillac tax threshold, School Boards are increasingly becoming aware of the problem:

“Duquette said she spends every weeknight making presentations to school boards and municipal officials who are becoming aware of the tax. It doesn’t take effect until 2018, but employers adopting multiyear contracts with their employees may find themselves running up against the deadline, she said.”

Because the public sector and unions seem to be particularly slow to change entrenched policies (unless offered millions to do so by the DOE and Bill Gates, see also “Race to the Top”), one would hope a catastrophic collision with the Cadillac tax could be avoided if we start planning for it in advance.

“While employers in the private, non-unionized sector have already begun changing their employee benefits plans to circumvent the tax, unionized school districts may be limited by language in their collective bargaining agreements.”

Time will tell if Obamacare ends up being beneficial or harmful to teachers in the end, but if Race to the Top is any indication, teachers beware.

 student cellphones

Last week I collected the district issued devices (not all of them, $12,000 worth of devices and accessories is still unaccounted for). Now I can proudly say, “I survived a year in a digital classroom!” It was not an easy year. Much like my first year of teaching, it was a year full of mistakes. Some of the mistakes were my own, many of them were on the part of my district over which I had no control. Since teachers were not given much of any opportunity to provide feedback about their experiences to the district officials in charge of implementing the one to one device pilot program, I will use my blog to outline some potential pitfalls in case the superintendent of technology decides to do a Google search one day.

Mistakes at the District Level

  1. Get over your Techie-Santa complex. You are not some sort of saint for deciding to waste millions giving every student in your district a device. Many students already had their own devices but decided to take a district device because they didn’t want to risk bringing their own to school for fear of it being stolen. I collected many a dust covered district issued tablet and unopened boxes that students proudly declared, “This was under my bed all year” or “I never touched the thing.” Which brings me to mistake number 2.
  2. If you do want to bestow devices upon students, pick something that is lightweight, easy to use, and the only accessory they receive is a charger. Most students decided it was easier to just work off of their smartphones rather than bring a tablet, a dongle, a stand, and a keyboard. The district spent $179 on a rubberized case that was so bulky and ugly most students decided to rip it off at the first chance. When some students heard the rumor that it could be dropped from 20 feet and not break, they decided to try it out for themselves. Some tablets survived, some did not. Luckily no innocent bystanders were hurt. Imagine the lawsuit that would have resulted if someone were killed by a district issued tablet that some stoned fourteen year old boy threw off his balcony thinking it was funny? Speaking of lawsuits, let’s jump to mistake number 3.
  3. Not all parents want their children to have their own devices. Even Google executives send their kids to schools where technology is banned. At my school alone we had several incidents with angry parents coming into complain that their fourteen year old daughter had gotten on a social media site with the tablet and posted semi-naked selfies. All it takes is one angry parent with a law degree to cost the district millions in legal fees. Not to mention all of the angry parents that are about to come into schools once they find out their little darling lost $738 worth of technology. You are not helping low income students cross the digital divide if they end up being saddled with debt because they lost an overpriced district issued device. Our district has a very transient student population and many of those tablets ended up somewhere in Guatemala when the students moved back to their native country or to a different state. Just give your teachers a class set of tablets instead. That way you can eliminate potential lawsuits from parents that did not appreciate Techie-Santa visiting their homes and teachers don’t have to depend on their students to bring in a charged device to give the day’s lesson.

  1. For the love of God and future generations to come, DO NOT IMPLEMENT YOUR DEVICE PROGRAM UNTIL YOU HAVE A SERVER THAT WILL ALLOW TEACHERS TO CONTROL THEIR STUDENTS’ INTERNET ACCESS! Though some in the tech industry will argue in favor of “empowering” students by allowing them unfiltered access to the Internet, having spent the last year trying to teach World History to low level students with unrestricted Internet access I can tell you this is a terrible idea. CNN can also confirm my observations with student test data that showed students performed worse on standardized tests if smartphone bans were lifted, especially already low achieving students

Let’s face it, a fourteen year old boy is a fourteen year old boy and if you give him a chapter to read about Islamic Caliphates in one hand and a photo of Nicki Minaj in a thong in the other hand, chances are he is going to be more focused on Nicki’s behind. That is essentially the learning environment you have created when you disempower teachers from being able to control their students’ gaze with unrestricted Internet access. Maybe I am a failed educator, but I do not want to compete with the Kylie Jenner lip challenge or Wacka Flacka’s presidential campaign for my students’ attention.

  1. Districts need to provide paid training to educators to teach them how to use technology in the classroom effectively and to get them excited about teaching in a whole new way. Teaching in a digital classroom is an entirely different experience and it can either be liberating for an educator or it can make them want to retire twenty years early.

Let’s move on to some of my mistakes during my first year in a digital classroom so the rest of you can hopefully avoid my frustrations and premature gray hairs.

My Mistakes

  1. Allowing students to use smartphones. Since many of my students failed to bring their tablets to class or brought an uncharged tablet or complained that they could work faster off of their smartphones, I allowed them to use their phones. Once their smartphones came out it was nearly impossible to tell if they were texting, playing video games, taking selfie’s, taking pictures up my skirt (see “Female Teachers Beware the Low Snap” blog post or actually working on an assignment. Once students felt entitled to have their cellphones out it became nearly impossible to take them away if you caught them goofing off. I have never had to call security into my classroom so many times because a student would not hand over a phone. One student actually pushed my arm away and quite a few others called me the B word for taking their phones. Something about allowing students to use their smartphones just breeds disrespect. On a similar note…
  2. Allowing your students to use headphones. I thought the headphones could come in handy if students were researching educational youtube videos or I wanted them to watch a video and answer questions at their own pace. Initially, I didn’t even mind if they used their headphones to listen to music while they worked independently. But for every student that knows how to use headphones responsibly, there are five that don’t. They come into class with the headphones on and refuse to take them off. You ask them to remove their headphones when you are giving instructions, other students are presenting, or you want them to watch a video clip and they reply with some stupid comment like “But I wasn’t even listening to anything” or they give you attitude like “How can anything you have to say be more important than me listening to Tupac?” Not to mention that the incessant noise created by students who blast their music is maddening and disrupts other students.
  3. Allowing student Hunchback of Notredome syndrome.  It took me forever to learn my students’ names this year because they were constantly hunched over and all I saw was the tops of their heads. I miss seeing my students’ faces. Make your students use a propped up device where you can easily see the screen. When using a flat lying tablet or smartphone in between their legs, I would have to be a bald eagle constantly hovering over them from above to actually monitor what they were doing on their devices.

Despite all of the problems I experienced my first year in the digital classroom, there are too many positives for me to want to ditch technology altogether. I loved going paperless and feel if other teachers did the same we might be able to save the district money and the devices would eventually pay for themselves. Every time I had to use paper because the Wi-Fi was down or I had a substitute I hated the mess it created with papers all over the floor, papers needing to be filed, and a fresh set of copies destroyed. Even though I felt guilty writing bills for lost devices and accessories, the average textbook obligation is $90 and if the students lost a textbook for all eight classes it would have cost the same money as a tablet. The ability to access educational videos on youtube, charts, political cartoons, articles, and documents all for free on the Internet without making a single trip to the copier is too good to pass up. And even though our online testing vendor went out of business a month before the end of the school year and took all of our tests and student data with them (see Thinkgate blog, ), I still prefer administering tests online to paper copies and scantrons. Another fun thing about the digital classroom is being able to get fast student feedback from surveys. I gave my students a survey about their experience in a digital classroom this year and most of them were positive about the experience despite their many complaints about the particular device distributed by the district. Here is what one student had to say about the district tablets:

“The tablet they, being the school, has assigned us are complete and utter trash, not to mention the Internet itself in this school. Here is a suggestion, instead of wasting money on broken tablets, use the money to improve the already broken computers or improve the bandwidth. Also, instead of using Microsoft’s completely trash tablets, the school could get iPads or something of the sort. Unfortunately the school district is owned by Microsoft, and is leeching money from students if they break these $100 tablets by making them pay $600-$800. In conclusion the tablets had too much security and blocks almost everything, some even for curricular purposes, the tablet is complete and utter trash and is a waste of school funding that could have been used for something actually “useful”.”

So the students all hated the district tablet, but 75% were in favor of using devices in the classroom and 65% preferred using a device over paper. Only 30% actually wanted the responsibility of being given a tablet to be take home and bring to school everyday. Here is a typical student’s comment about bringing the tablets to school, “I didn’t like the fact that we had to take the tablets home. It made my book bag heavier than it already was. Besides no one ended up using them anyway. Everyone ended up using their cellphones to get the work done because it’s faster.”

But there were other students that didn’t have phones and they found the tablet very helpful, “This year, I didn’t have a phone, so I was using the tablet almost for everything (from school), and that helped me a lot for GOOGLE TRANSLATE and others stuff like that. But I disliked the tablet’s weight, for me who was coming with that everyday to school, it wasn’t easy to carry. So if we can have an other kind of tablet next year, it gonna be really cool for me. Sincerely, the tablet helped me this year, unlike others who don’t really care.”

I loved the fact that this ESOL student from the Ivory Coast embraced the tablet and Google translate! Devices and the Internet should surely be able to help our ESOL students even if many of them refused to use Google translate and used their devices to watch La Liga soccer games instead.

So while it’s becoming more and more evident that the digital classroom comes with its own set of pitfalls and challenges, and technology is surely not the educational panacea that some have tried to spin it as

overall, the digital classroom is here to stay.   Hopefully we can learn to embrace the best of our teacher techie tools without being swallowed by an Internet bonanza that leads to an atmosphere of total tech distraction.

Have you survived a year in the digital classroom? Please share your experiences (good or bad) in the commenting section below.


You know it’s the end of the school year in Dade County when the Chief Human Capital Officer sends out their annual email begging ten-month employees not to bombard them with requests for employment verification letters so that they may apply for food stamps in order to feed their families over the summer. The district graciously sends out letters automatically to bus drivers, cafeteria workers and school secretaries, but the rest of you buggers better have a darned good reason for burdening the downtown bureaucrats with your silly little letter requests just so you can eat.

“May 26, 2015

TO:                 All Employees

FROM:            Chief Human Capital Officer

Office of Human Capital Management



It has come to our attention that 10-month employees are requesting employment verification letters from the Records/Transcripts Analysis Department stating that they are not employed in the summer for the purpose of applying for benefits with the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF).  From the large volume of requests for employment verification letters that we have received, it is apparent that individuals requesting these letters are under the assumption that they can qualify for these benefits merely by virtue of being a 10-month employee.

The Office of Human Capital Management is requesting that employees confirm whether they qualify for these benefits before they submit requests for employment verification letters.  Please refer to the DCF website ( for information as to the requirements for qualifying for these benefits.  You may also wish to contact appropriate DCF personnel to make this determination.  Among some of the general requirements for eligibility for the food stamp program are the following:

  • Household monthly gross income (pre-tax pay) must be less than 130% of the federal poverty guidelines.
  • Household monthly net income (after-tax pay) must be less than 100% of the federal poverty guidelines.  This requirement does not apply if one individual in your household is 60 or older or disabled.

Employees who have determined, after appropriate inquiry and verification, that they are legitimately entitled to these benefits, may request employment verification by sending an email request to In order to expedite your request, please reference “2015 Employment Verification” in the subject line of the email.

Food Service Workers and Bus Drivers/Aides do not have to send an e-mail to obtain employment verification.  Letters will be sent automatically on Friday, May 29, 2015 to work locations and may be obtained from respective Food Service Managers, School Secretaries, or Transportation Center Directors.  Employees with questions regarding this matter should contact their site supervisor for further information.

Your cooperation in this matter is sincerely appreciated.”

This email got Kafkateach wondering if other teachers in large urban areas feel financially destitute enough that they need to apply for government assistance to survive over the summer? To be fair, I won’t dare compare a right to work state like Florida to a heavily unionized state like New York. I will compare Florida to another right to work for less state with no income tax, a massive standardized testing regime, a reputation for being ranked in the bottom third of states for per pupil spending, a Republican dominated legislature and the misfortune of once having a member of the Bush family for governor. You guessed it, let’s compare Florida to Texas.

More specifically, let’s compare teacher salaries in the most expensive urban areas of Texas, to Miami Dade, the most expensive urban area in Florida. Given that Miami Dade was recently ranked the 8th most expensive rental market in the country and purchasing real estate is out of reach for most teachers who can’t even afford to save enough money to eat over the summer, let alone a 20% down payment on a house, one might expect Miami Dade teachers to come out ahead of teachers working in Dallas or Houston- then again, one might be wrong, very wrong. Urban Texas teachers come out ahead, way ahead, of urban Florida teachers when it comes to salaries. An alert and loyal reader sent me the following link to the pay schedule for Dallas teachers

Beginning teacher pay is over $47,000 compared to just over $40,000 for teachers working in Dade If you go even further south to Houston, beginning teacher pay is about to be bumped up to over $50,000!  I’ll be lucky to break $50,000 by the time I retire based on our current rate of step increases! So how does Houston plan on paying for these generous beginning teacher salaries? By dumping VAM based merit pay in favor of traditional raises. If only Florida could learn from Texas (did I really just say that?).

So what exactly is in the Florida water that enables school districts to repeatedly screw over Florida teachers so badly? Sure, our azur seas beat the brackish brown waters of Texas hands down. But you can’t live on sand (though many Dade teachers facing eviction notices might be forced to sleep on it for July and August). Somehow Texas manages to pay their teachers a living wage without strong unions threatening to strike. Then again, everything is bigger in Texas, especially beginning teacher salaries!

For those of you who might be tempted to silence teachers by questioning their right to complain because, “they knew what they were signing up for”  (one former Miami Dade teacher who hasn’t worked for the district in the past seven years actually said this on Facebook this morning) my response is this:

When I signed up to be a teacher there were guaranteed step advancements, cost of living increases, raises, class size limits, no 3% contribution for FRS, no VAM, and job security. Now we are faced with no step increases for years, unfunded merit pay, no COLA, a 3% pay cut, baloney evaluations that can get you put on annual contract and fired, something called an “annualized stipend” that is not guaranteed and never leads to a higher salary, large class sizes with no supplements and the 8th highest rents in the US while teacher pay is the 57th lowest out of 60 urban areas. That is NOT what I signed up for in 2003.

champagne toast

I hope you didn’t click on this blog post thinking you were getting a raise. That hope was dashed this week when Governor Rick Scott, or the grim reaper as some refer to him, danced on the grave of every teachers’ aspirations of salary increases by abandoning campaign promises of bringing Florida per pupil spending to record levels and recommending a continuation budget instead.

Considering that Florida is expecting 15,000 new students next school year, a continuation budget is going to mean tough times for Florida public schools with larger class sizes and stagnant teacher salaries.

Enough with the doom and gloom. I realize I may be at my best when I’m feeling grumpy and go on a rant, but for now I feel like celebrating. It’s the end of the year, summer vacation is around the corner, testing is almost over and somehow I have managed to keep my job despite writing this blog, speaking at Board meetings, going on the record with Miami Herald reporters, and getting personally reprimanded by the Superintendent.  Here are a few more reasons Florida teachers have to rejoice, despite a bleak budget forecast:

  • The Opt Out movement and the push back against standardized testing gained major momentum and media attention. The perception of Opt-outers went from 1960s fringe radicals to suburban soccer moms. Miami-Dade’s own Ceresta Smith, a nationally recognized leader of the movement and someone who was opting out way before it was cool, finally got to see the term “Opt Out” co-opted by top union leaders. UTD, the FEA and the NEA all jumped on the Opt Out bandwagon this year and even our own Mr. Race to the Top Superintendent seemed to be retreating from his previous years of promoting test based accountability and spoke out against over testing on various occasions. Having a Superintendent who is the ultimate politician and who has the ability to sway from one end of the pendulum to the other like a Miami palm tree bending with the wind can be a good thing. The powerhouse combo of FEA lobbying, school district lobbying, PTA lobbying and the media spotlight helped to pass legislation which limits the amount of testing in Florida schools, repeals the mandate for remediation courses, and reduces the weight of VAM. We still have a long way to go, but it is a major step in the right direction.
  • Miami Herald reporter Christina Veiga did a bang up job writing articles that exposed some of the district’s dirtier (literally) secrets. Roaches and soap free bathrooms may have come to no surprise to teachers or students, but at least the general public is now aware of the problem. Dade County’s misuse of the “School of Choice” loophole and violation of the class size amendment was revealed. The disruption caused by standardized testing was covered, as was the district’s intimidation tactics of teachers and parents who speak at School Board meetings. More good news, the four teachers who were quoted in the article still have jobs! Somehow Christina Veiga manages to write education articles that teachers actually want to read while simultaneously allowing school district spokespeople to work their spin. Kudos to Christina Veiga for changing teachers’ perception of the Miami Herald’s reporting on education issues.
  • VAM and the entire accountability movement were ridiculed on a national late night television show by a major comedian. I can die a happy woman. John Oliver gave teachers the ultimate gift during teacher appreciation week by exposing the absurdity of NCLB, Race to the Top and VAM to the entire world. I would post the link here but I’m sure most of you reading have watched the clip several times already.
  • Other teachers at my school spoke out about class size and finally began to understand the stupidity of VAM. On Friday, a teacher at my school who was present at a PTSA meeting where I first spoke out about class size and VAM four years ago compared me to Nostradamus. She had recorded that meeting with her cellphone and stored it on her Itunes. For some reason she decided to listen to it last week and realized everything I had predicted four years ago had come true. I’m not sure it’s a good thing to be compared to someone who is best known for predicting the end of the world, but confirmation by a fellow staff member that I was prescient felt good.
  • Teachers across the nation, Florida, and Miami Dade are starting to connect and strategically stand up for their profession and public schools. We now have the national Badass Teachers Association, the Florida BATs Facebook group, a Miami Dade County BAT Teacher Association Facebook group, and the Miami Educator Facebook page and blog for keeping teachers informed . I joined the Rank and File Educators of Miami google group and enjoyed face-to-face conversations with intelligent, caring, well-informed educators who aren’t afraid of being activists and working towards a union that represents the issues that classroom teachers really care about. A protest over the district’s violation of the class size amendment at a School Board meeting was organized by everyday teachers who just happened to connect on Facebook. Two district wide emails went out venting against corporate education reform and standardized testing. We seem to be in the midst of a great awakening of the nation’s public school teachers. It’s a Monday morning awakening, where they really just want to pull the covers over their head and go back to sleep, but they are gradually waking up and for that I rejoice. I used to feel so alone writing this blog at 2 am when I couldn’t sleep. I don’t feel so alone anymore.
  • I finally had a few blog posts go viral with thousands of shares on Facebook. I’m not exactly “breaking the Internet” but not bad for a frazzled middle-aged teacher mom who spends about an hour every week blogging about random topics and then posting it on Facebook. Considering that most of these posts are written while I’m simultaneously trying to cook dinner, empty the dishwasher, and break up battles between siblings, I’m pleased with whatever readership I can get. Despite the fact that I often go into work worrying that writing this blog is going to one day cost me my job, I feel the need to blog on. I keep a quote by my desk both for motivation and for the confirmation that exposing the truth in the face of my own personal fears is the right thing to do. I first heard this quote at a Saturday morning yoga class the week after I was on the front page of the Miami Herald for having 56 students in an AP classroom. I feared for my relationship with my administrators, I feared for my job, and I felt that my coworkers hated me for making the school look bad. At the end of the class the yoga instructor read a quote that remains with me until this day. She prefaced it by saying it was written by her friend’s 22 year old son who had just committed suicide.

“Give me the strength to be real and true to myself.

Through the truth, God lives in me.

All things are love and peace and light!

Embrace it fully right now, because now is the only time.”

-Elliot Castellano 1989-2011

For some reason, I googled his name when I went home and it turned out he attended the school where I teach. I took that as I sign that I was on the right path and that if I continued to tell the truth everything would work out in the end. So far it has.

bored student

I started this blog four years ago as a means of giving teachers a voice in the national debate over education reform. Actually, it was never much of a debate but rather a constant badgering by billionaires and their buffoons blasting the nation’s public schools and public school teachers. If there is anyone who has had even less of a voice as to what goes on in American public schools than the teachers, it is the students. My school doesn’t even have a student newspaper anymore. I would like to use my blog today, on a day that I spent proctoring a test rather than teaching, to give our students a voice. I would like for the public to hear the words of an actual public school student, the same students heralded by craftily named legislation like “No Child Left Behind” and corporate education reform organizations like “Students First.” This is what the national obsession with accountability and standardized metrics has done to our students.

Please read this letter written by a student while waiting almost three hours to log on to her Pearson generated computerized assessment. She wrote it on a piece of scratch paper provided to her. I didn’t tell her to write this letter. In fact, she told me later that she always writes these letters on the scratch paper provided during testing just hoping that some day, someone will read them. It is being printed here with her permission.

Dear Whomever it May Concern,

The excessive instability brought upon by the dysfunctional assessment tests that students are being given is proving nothing but detrimental to Florida’s education system. I am appalled at the lack of organization and professional development coming from the state’s elected officials. It seems to many of us that students are being used as pawns in a corrupt effort to collect funds through the constant creation of unnecessary examinations.

The level of dysfunction in regards to these assessments is unjust and disrupts the development of the young mind. The simple fact that whether or not we would be taking EOC exams for every class was not certain until the final quarter of the school year, is absolutely unacceptable. This school year, everything was “up in the air” in terms of testing, which probably resulted in unnecessary stress, and low academic performance.

As a student, I can say with all honesty, that this is not a complaint derived from lethargy. My concerns as addressed in this letter are valid, and an accurate representation of the feelings of all who are involved in the education system-students and teachers alike. I can tell you with my fullest and most genuine confidence that we all stand against the current system of testing, and believe that the academic well-being of the students is not the interest of those administering the exams.

Given the amount of time put into testing, the level of school-wide disruption that it causes, and the copious levels of unnecessary stress pushed upon both teachers and students, it is clear that a more stable and well-intentioned system of testing is long overdue.


An anonymous 11th grade student who is a proud product of the public school system and not only knows how to write in legible cursive without a single mistake, but can also use the word lethargy correctly in a sentence.

OK, she didn’t really sign her letter that way but I did not want to use her name. I happened to have taught this student her 9th grade year and I knew she was a good writer (by the way, she scored a 1 on the standardized test she had to take as a freshmen in my class). This student was not even scheduled to take her EOC in the room where I was proctoring. Whether by chance, or by divine intervention, she ended up in my room after there were not enough functioning computers in her original testing room to take the exam. She then had the misfortune of selecting a computer that repeatedly booted her out of the exam without even letting her start it. She had to wait hours for a computer technician to arrive to fix her exam. As the saying goes, “Out of the mouths of babes”….

baby money

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to dedicate this blog post to all of the Dade County teachers who dared to reproduce. After a Teacher Appreciation week filled with token robo calls and mass emails expressing words of gratitude, I’m done with sentiment and I want to deal with some cold hard facts. The fact is, that if you choose to become a teacher breeder in Dade County, you are also choosing a path to poverty. This is especially true if you happen to be a single parent teacher (of which I know many) whether it be through circumstance, death or divorce.

According to the Miami, the median rent for a two bedroom apartment in Miami is $2450, making Miami the 8th most expensive city for rent in the nation.

Miami rent

This becomes an even more depressing economic figure for the teacher breeder when you take into account that Miami ranks 57th out of 60 urban areas for teacher pay.

You can check out this interactive map of teacher salaries from Mother Jones magazine if you would like to find a city somewhere in America where you might be able to continue your career as a teacher and still be able to afford to reproduce.

Because I’m dealing with cold hard facts, I am going to attempt to illustrate how the teacher breeder living and working in Miami-Dade County is on the path to financial ruin using some basic math. Since we teach in the era of Common Core math, this will have to take the form of a word problem.

Teacher A is a young single teacher with no children. As a first year teacher in Miami Dade County their annual salary is $40,000. After taxes, their take home pay is $3200 over ten months. In order to survive over the summer they will have to save $500 a month. This leaves Teacher A with $2700 a month for expenses. Teacher A is renting a small studio apartment or possibly has a roommate and is paying $1200 a month for rent. Teacher A does not have to pay for health insurance since they have no dependents. Teacher A chooses to live near their school and rides a bike to work. Teacher A eats a lot of ramen noodles and spends $200 a month on food. Teacher A has a second job at a restaurant and makes an extra $500 a week. How much money does Teacher A have left over at the end of the month?

Answer: $1800

Teacher A, who is young enough to have no responsibilities and enough energy for a second job, is thinking “Woo-hoo! This teacher gig is pretty good!”

Fast forward ten years. Teacher A has now become Teacher B (B is for breeder). Teacher B reproduced with an Argentinian bus boy who has since been deported and pays no child support. After ten years of teaching, Teacher B is making an annual salary of $42,000. Their take home pay after taxes is $3400 a month over a ten month period. They have to set aside $700 a month to survive over the summer. This leaves Teacher B with $2700 for monthly expenses. Teacher B pays $2400 a month for a two bedroom apartment. Teacher B also has to pay $700 a month to insure their child. Oops! Teacher B is already in the hole and they haven’t even paid for food! Teacher B bought a used Honda civic in cash with the money they saved when working an extra job before they had children. They still have to pay $200 a month for car insurance, gas, and tolls. Teacher B’s child is young enough to be in day care at a cost of $800 a month. Teacher B’s child is still in diapers leading to a monthly grocery bill of $500 a month. How much is Teacher B in the hole at the end of every month?

Answer: -$1900

Teacher B is running a monthly deficit of $1900. Teacher B, who is now middle aged and doesn’t have the energy or the looks to make $500 a week waiting tables, is now contemplating a move to back to their parents’ home in Oklahoma.

Of course there are some teacher breeders who married well (you can tell who they are by the car they drive). In that case, $42,000 a year is a decent secondary income. The reality is that the majority of Miami Dade teacher breeders are not married to doctors or lawyers and some are even married to, God forbid, another teacher. Many teachers chose their profession because they love children. It is a sad irony that if these teachers want to continue to work in Miami Dade County Public Schools, they may have to make the economic decision to forgo having children of their own.

On a cheerier note, a very happy Mother’s Day to all of my teacher breeder readers! Our little bundles of joy are way better than those fancy European vacations some of our childless teacher colleagues get to take every summer.


Teachers and school districts across Florida, North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Ohio were in for a rude awakening last week when they went to administer an online assessment or dig into their student data to plan a “data driven” lesson only to find that the link to Thinkgate, an online testing service that received millions in Race To the Top funds, suddenly shut their doors-taking droves of district, state, and teacher generated assessments and student data with them.

In Miami-Dade, we received an email suggesting that we download our assessments and data within 48 hours because Thinkgate was doing a data transfer. Since they did not say that Thinkgate was going to implode within the next 48 hours, and since there was no way I would have time to suddenly sit there and try to figure out how to download all of my assessments in the two day window I was given in the middle of the school week, I didn’t save anything. This week when I went to set up my final online assessment of the year, poof, the site no longer existed.

After having spent a day of my summer vacation getting lost in the labyrinth of West Hialeah so I could attend a Thinkgate training for which I did not even receive a token $100 stipend, nor 15 master plan points to renew my license, you could say I’m a little bitter. I spent countless hours trying to figure out Thinkgate’s clunky software for creating my own assessments thinking in the end it would save me time and save my school money on copies and scantrons. Thinkgate’s software was so user-unfriendly that even after creating ten assessments, it still took me multiple attempts to remember which icons to click (I don’t feel too bad anymore now that I know that the CEO of Thinkgate could not even create an assessment in his own software program, see ex-employee review below) . I am not one to learn software programs by sorting through a 500 page manual. My strategy is to madly click on every icon until I find something that works. Unfortunately, Thinkgate’s icons were incredibly cheesy and random. If you never had the misfortune of using Thinkgate, think back to the software programs of the late 1980s with black screens and yellow font. Thinkgate was a software platform that screamed “Developed for the sole purposes of government bureaucracies. Not to be sold on the free market under any circumstances for fear of consumer ridicule and competition.”

Even though Thinkgate’s software was cumbersome and unattractive, it worked. Since the district never full-filled their promise of installing a server to restrict our students’ Internet usage, I relied on Thinkgate to curb student cheating during tests since it did lock them out if they opened another browser. And since our students have been raised in a world where information is just one click away and gratification immediate, it was nice to be able to let them know their test scores immediately. Now, with one month left in the school year, teachers are left holding the bag.

“Charlotte-based Thinkgate has provided testing software used to administer 150 tests for about 500,000 students statewide for the past five years.

Teachers are now preparing to give students paper tests rather than online exams.

Debbie Parrish, career development coordinator at Broughton High School in Raleigh, said the change will mean a delay of a day or two in getting student scores back.

“In the long run, as teachers, we’re used to making adjustments and making things work,” Parrish said.

Thinkgate’s contract, which paid the company $7.2 million over five years, was to expire at the end of June.”

Two things stand out to me from this article. One, teachers have become so accustomed to failures at the top, that scrambling and picking up pieces at the last minute have become just another part of the job. Two, the state of North Carolina was paying $7.2 million over five years for 500,000 students but the Miami-Dade School District was paying $2 million annually for approximately 300,000 students. Seems like we got a bum deal.

The Miami Dade public school system was Thinkgate’s largest customer according to public At first I thought this site was for the purposes of government transparency. But a quick look at the advertisements on this site holding up money bags and stating “81.5% of government purchases are completed without a bid or RFP. Use smart procure to find businesses that others don’t see,” reveals that the purpose of the site is to entice other businesses to discover the untapped gold mines of lucrative government contracts.

This may explain the sudden demise of a company that was created for the purpose of cashing in on the millions in now expired Race to the Top funds. A business model that relies on exploiting stupid government legislation is bound to fail. Now that the evil DOE bunny has run out of carrots and school districts are left holding the sticks, legislation is being passed to circumvent previous Race to the Top grant money inspired legislation. I think it’s more than a coincidence that Thinkgate’s last tweet was sent out in early March, when the Florida legislature was in the midst of passing a bill that would limit the amount of annual testing and eliminate the need for district generated End of Course exams. No doubt the Thinkgate CEO could see the writing on the wall and made plans to dissolve the company. It would have been nice if the company could have at least honored their contracts until the end of the school year. One has to wonder if Thinkgate’s financial situation was so bad it just couldn’t afford to keep its doors open one more month, or if it was a deliberate flicking of the bird to school districts for cancelling future contracts.

This review from a former Thinkgate employee  might provide the best insight on why Thinkgate collapsed. It also simultaneously outlines the inevitable failures of organizations led by incompetent and unethical leaders who’s top down approach ignores both employee input  and the needs of the clients they serve. His review might sound familiar to anyone working in a large public school district (except for the part about free snacks, beverages galore, and new office furniture).


Unlimited free snacks (candy bars, granola bars, popcorn, nuts), beverages (soda, fruit juice), and coffee. Newly furnished office.


This has to be one of the most dysfunctional places I have ever worked. While this company does have a good vision; that being building software to empower educators; it quickly stops there. Most of the issues in this company start with the CEO. During my several year tenure there I watched him make countless unethical and tactical decisions that left you scratching your head. Disregarding suggestions from subordinates he constantly went in a different direction thinking his way was the right way. Unfortunately, under his direction he has lead the company into a negative financial situation, built a toxic work environment, an incredibly high employee turnover rate, and frustrated his customers who are leaving in droves.


Thinkgate used to be an environment that was filled with talented people who cared about each other and their work. However, due to the CEOs constant firing of the C-level executives, mass company lay-offs and the resignation of many key employees this environment no longer exists. The people that are left are either untrustworthy, unethical, and politically motivated individuals or the few of the talented individuals whose spirits have been broken. Many current staff members who have the luxury to work remotely no longer come into the office because of how toxic and depressing it has become. Most remaining managers frequently will be positive to your face while saying negative things behind your back.


Most work is generated by the CEO and sales team as they continuously over-commit and over-promise what the company can realistically deliver. Many people have mentioned “they bite off more than they can chew” and this is what happens. Sales deals are signed and then project work is given to the development teams with no realistic means to deliver the work on-time. Excessive hours are worked by team members to get features developed and tested, but, corners are continuously cut in order to meet the unrealistic deadlines. As staff members get tired of this and attempt to push back on the CEO they either resign or are fired.

To make matters worse most of the projects I worked on had little or no benefit to the end customer. When the feature is released the support teams are then forced to support a product that the customer does not want to use or in most cases is useless. However, in the end the company receives a paycheck at the expense of their employees and customers.


Due to years of constant cutting of corners in order to meet sales deadlines the software platform has incurred a technical debt beyond belief. The software is slow, difficult to use, and expensive to maintain. Development managers and teams have attempted to address these issues, but, are eventually stopped by the CEO who would rather push new functionality and instead of resolving open issues for customers.

What is most painful to see is that the C-level executives don’t even know how to do one of the basic fundamental actions in the software, i.e. make an assessment. If they took the time to understand the product they could possibly see how their aggressive and tactical decisions have led to the current state of the product and how in turn it hurts the customer.

Advice to Management

The issues in this company start at the top. Immediately replace the CEO and CTO and replace them with more competent executives that practice strategic thinking instead of tactical decision making. Next direct the focus of the company on the needs of customers. Those being the teachers, superintendents, school administrative staff, and especially the students. Let the customers and their valuable educational experience drive the product and work on helping them instead of hurting them. Finally, implement a better work-life balance that helps employees and their families instead of the current environment that tears them apart.”

Charter Schools - Eva

One has to wonder if it was an innocent oversight when President Obama declared “National Charter School Week” the same week as “Teacher Appreciation week,” or whether it was just another turd on top of the already stacked poop sandwich served up to teachers by the Obama Administration. It’s almost as if it was a double dog dare to Mitt Romney. “Hey look at this Mitt. I can force teachers to race against each other, judge them by voodoo metrics known as VAM, shove some Common Corporate standards down their throats, remove all job protections AND take their one week out of the year to celebrate charter schools! Those fools will still vote for me over you! And, of course, that was a bet President Obama would have won. Thanks in part to continued national union endorsements of politicians that know they can slap teachers in the face and still get endorsed by the teachers’ unions because they happen to be jackasses (I don’t think it’s considered cursing when you are referring to the animal) of the Democratic party. In case you missed it, last week Diane Ravitch published a letter written by a former charter school teacher who worked at the much heralded and hedge fund financed Success Academy in New York If you don’t have time to read her whole letter, or the accompanying New York Times article, here are a few of the highlights:

  1. The theme of the letter is “misery.”
  2. Teachers are constantly in the bathroom crying.
  3. Eleven-hour work days are the norm.
  4. Teachers are continuously ranked against each other based on test scores.
  5. High teacher turnover and high student suspension rates.
  6. Teachers being called by the Principal at 9 am if they dared to call in sick a single day.
  7. Administrators with no education background taking over the classroom in the middle of the lesson.
  8. Teachers fired for speaking up at faculty meetings.
  9. Miserable, imprisoned, and traumatized children.
  10. Secretaries praying for teachers and students because of “dark clouds hanging over the building.”

During this Teacher Appreciation/National Charter school week, public school teachers might want to take a few moments to appreciate the rights they enjoy as a unionized workforce compared to their beleaguered colleagues working in the unregulated trenches of charter schools. Perhaps the best way to stop the charter-ization of the American public school teacher would be for teachers to simply refuse to work in charter schools. Judging from the fact that 90% of the job opportunities I receive from are for charter schools, it seems the charter industry is struggling to find and keep teachers. If teachers refused to work in charters, it would certainly be hard for them to operate. Then again, they might just resort to the human trafficking of desperate teachers from other nations like the Gulan charter chain, Most American parents, however, will probably still prefer that their child’s teacher speak fluent English. With the proliferation of charter schools, one might wonder if the next generation of indentured servants will be teachers serving the charter industry? In the past, our hemisphere brought in desperate migrants to cut sugarcane and tobacco. Will the 21st Century equivalent of  indentured servants be foreign teachers brought in to slave away in American charter schools until they can one day be freed to become traditional public school teachers? Or will the charter industry lobby state legislatures to even the playing fields between working at a traditional public school and working at a for-profit charter school?

***A reader alerted me to the fact that it was actually President George Bush who was the first to proclaim Teacher Appreciation week, National Charter School week in 2002. This makes perfect sense since his brother Jeb was busying opening charter schools in Florida and implementing his education reforms as Governor of Florida.***

40 candles

The following is a stream of consciousness (forty years on this earth and I still can’t spell that word) reflection on turning forty.

I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror. I seem to be growing facial hair on my upper lip. Great, Bruce Jenner is transitioning to a woman and I’m transitioning to a man. Forty feels just like thirty-nine. It’s Friday and I’m exhausted. I should be excited about the prospect of spending the weekend in the Florida Keys but instead I’m worried about how the household chores will get done. Despite my best cleaning efforts every weekend, by Friday my house always looks like it should be declared a natural disaster area. I’m horrified by what my friend will think of me when she drops by my house to walk my dog over the weekend. I hope she doesn’t call animal rescue or child protective services on me. How old will I be before I can afford a maid? I think about cleaning the dishes but the dishwasher hasn’t been emptied and I refuse to empty the dishwasher on my birthday. I’m running late for work even though I woke up at 5 am.

I walk into my classroom anticipating a semi-relaxing day as I purposely planned a test on my birthday to give myself a little break. Wrong. I grab one of the tablets only to find out the district has disabled the Wi-Fi because they don’t want to jam up the network and risk interrupting the state Algebra II EOC. I scramble to find a last minute lesson plan. I dig through my files but can’t find a class set of anything because I recycled all of my old copies thinking I would finally be able to go “paperless.” I have one stack of old magazines. They’ll have to do. The kids are worse behaved everyday. They have had enough and so have I. One of them has the nerve to ask me if it’s that time of the month. It is. Bring on the menopause.

I have to give up my planning period to cover another teacher’s remedial reading class while she proctors a test. This is the sixth time in one month I’ve been asked to cover another teacher’s class during my planning period because of testing. No break on my birthday. I depend on my ninety minute planning period to keep me sane. It is the only 90 minutes of peace and quiet I have in my day. It’s the only time I can have a clear and complete thought. Otherwise, it’s a fifteen hour marathon of “mommy, mommy”, “Miss, Meez”, “mommy, mommy.”

I’m forty and still a teacher. Does this make me a loser? Is the district out to replace me with some cheap young newbie? Oh, wait. I only make two thousand more than a first year teacher after 11 years of teaching. If they want to replace me with somebody cheaper it will have to be with a robot that doesn’t ask for a raise or health insurance.

The bell finally rings at 2:20 (it doesn’t actually ring anymore because we can’t have any bells during testing, too distracting.) It’s five more weeks to go before summer vacation. I just found out the district cancelled the World History EOC I’ve been threatening my students with all year. Our Superintendent is being hailed as a national anti-testing hero even though five years earlier he headed the state’s Race to the Top application committee, which mandated all of the tests in the first place. I guess I won’t need those two extra weeks of review that I planned for. I only have three chapters left in the book. Not sure how to fill the extra time now.

My friend sends me a text inviting me to the beach after work. It’s the neighborhood Friday family wino fest on the beach. The parents get drunk and pray the kids don’t drown. The last time I had two sips of a cucumber agave detox martini and I couldn’t even make my kids Kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner. It took me three days to recover. It’s my birthday. I decide to go.

In honor of turning 40, I decide to wear a one-piece bathing suit instead of a bikini. It takes ten minutes to go the bathroom when you are wearing a one piece bathing suit. Now I know why I never wear these things. Looks like I’ll be one of those Miami grannies in a teeny bikini.

The TV is incessantly reminding me that tonight is a “Farewell to Bruce” on 20/20. I research what time the two-hour special starts. It doesn’t start until 9? A two hour special starting at 9 pm? On a Friday! I’ll never make it. I ask my husband to DVR it. I’m forty and still can’t figure out how to use the DVR. I notice the next episode of  “The Real Housewives of New York” is called “The Art of Being a Cougar.” Oh, God. There’s an art to being a cougar? When the Bravo housewives series first started I thought those women were so old. Now I’m one of them. Time for some injectables!

I’m not ready for knives. Are your forties the decade of needles? Collagen injections, Botox, Brazilian butt lifts which suck the extra fat out of your belly and pump it in your backside. Sounds like a win-win!

I’m OK with not looking 25 again. I just want some more energy. My administrator recommended Vitamin B12 injections. Swore it was like drinking a case of Red Bull. Even Red Bull has no effect on me anymore. Other than my planning period, the highlight of my day is crawling into my tempurpedic bed and falling asleep after watching five minutes of whatever Bravo show is on at eight pm.

It’s only the end of April and the high is in the 90s. The air is becoming increasingly sticky, the vegetation more lush and the evening skies more pink. Summer in Miami is fast approaching. I jump into the ocean with my son and daughter. At five my son has finally overcome his fear of the ocean. We frolic together in the waves. White cruise ships launch in the distance. I feel 32 again.


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