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. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/gov-rick-scott-tells-fox-news-hes-giving-up-on-tax-cuts-pursuing/2229284

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.

Sincerely,

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 curbed.com, the median rent for a two bedroom apartment in Miami is $2450, making Miami the 8th most expensive city for rent in the nation. http://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/median-rent-in-miami-for-a-two-bedroom-apartment-is-2-450-eighth-highest-in-nation-7602263

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. http://www.ncpa.org/pdfs/2014_Teacher_Pay_Report-NCPA_MacIver.pdf

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. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/09/map-teachers-salaries-by-city

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.

thinkgate-office*1200xx640-360-0-60

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.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/ed-tech-company-folds-after-receiving-millions-in-race-to-the-top-funds/2015/05/06/c637e5aa-f310-11e4-b2f3-af5479e6bbdd_story.html

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.” http://www.wral.com/nc-students-to-take-paper-tests-after-online-exam-firm-closes/14622748/

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 contractors.com. http://www.publiccontractors.com/Thinkgate/20431.html 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).

Pros

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

Cons


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.

WORK ENVIRONMENT

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.

PROJECTS

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.

TECHNOLOGY

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.”

http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Employee-Review-Thinkgate-RVW6259859.htm

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. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/07/presidential-proclamation-national-charter-schools-week-2012 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 http://dianeravitch.net/category/harlem-success-academy/ 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 teachers.com 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, http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/2014/10/05/charter-school-turns-turkish-teachers/16791669/ 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.

russian hackers

OK, I’m lying. Made you look? A bit of yellow journalism perhaps? Who am I kidding? This is a blog. I make no pretenses of having any journalistic integrity. But this headline might not be too far off from the real one considering the cyber-attack excuse Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart made when the FSA writing test failed in March. http://www.fldoe.org/newsroom/latest-news/2010319-fdle-investigating-cyber-attacks-against-fsa-testing-system-.stml

Below is an imaginary conversation between two Russian hackers plotting to take down the computer based Florida Standards Assessment designed by AIR.

Russian hacker #1: The United States colluded with Saudi Arabia to drive down the price of oil and destroy the Russian economy in order to sabotage Putin and our expanding global power. We must get revenge!

Russian hacker #2: Let’s strike them at their greatest weakness, the U.S. educational system. The world knows about the faltering U.S. education system because President Obama and  Prince Jeb Bush keep giving speeches about the failure of U.S. public schools. Even former Secretary of Defense Condaleeza Rice has called the American public education system a threat to national security. Have you ever heard the renowned education expert and media darling Michelle Rhee speak on their cable news networks? According to her, the American teachers are all lazy and terrible because they have tenure. They get a job for life! Reminds me of communism. Only by applying market based incentives to public school teachers can the American achievement gap be erased. Their education Tsar, Arne Duncan, forced states in the last economic downturn to pay teachers based on student growth measures and removed all job security for teachers. This will surely cause American student scores to soar to the top of the International PISA test rankings. We must stop them! If American schools win, Russia loses.

Russian hacker #1: Where should we strike first? Which state will be the most important in the upcoming presidential elections?

Russian hacker #2: You need to stop playing so many video games. Any idiot knows that it is the alligator invested swamp state of Florida that decides U.S. elections. This election it will be even more important because candidate King Bush the III was Governor of Florida and began his test based accountabililty reforms in that state.

Russian hacker #1: But how can we stop them and make sure no American student will ever be college and career ready?

Russian hacker #2: This is where we come in. The new Common Core aligned assessments must be administered on computers. They are smarter and more interactive tests. Not just bubble tests.

Russian hacker #1: America is so rich they have enough computers in every school so that all children can be tested on computers at the same time?

Russian hacker #2: No. Stop watching so many stupid American reality TV shows on Bravo. Those aren’t real Housewives. Not every American woman spends all day lingerie shopping, eating at fancy restaurants, and getting plastic surgery. Only in LA and Miami. The American government is very rich and they could actually afford to give every student a computer but they prefer to spend most of their funds on military contractors that charge $100 for a roll of toilet paper. The Emperor of the World Bill Gates could use his wealth and power to donate devices to school districts instead of further enriching himself by forcing them to buy his crap software but he prefers to bribe teachers’ unions and school districts with his millions in order to implement his crazy education experiments instead. Sometimes I think Karl Marx had a point. By taking down the new Common Core aligned assessments, we will not only take down the greatest Superpower in the history of the world but we can also take down Bill Gates! I hate PCs and MS office.

Russian hacker #1: This sounds like a brilliant plan. What do we have to do?

Russian hacker #2: Stupid and corrupt Florida gave the American Institutes of Research ( a D.C. “nonprofit” with no experience in designing standardized tests), a contract for the new Common Core aligned “Florida Standards Assessment.” This is the same nonprofit that received millions to create an algorithm known as VAM to predict student test scores and then rank teachers based on actual student performance.

Russian hacker #1: An algorithm that ranks teachers based on predicted test scores? How could the tax-payers allow them to waste so much money on such a stupid and invalid idea? They could have just bought a bunch of fortune cookies and given them out to teachers with inserted slips of paper that read “ineffective”, “effective” or “highly effective.”

Russian hacker #2: Florida is just like Moscow, except much hotter and with nicer beaches. It’s filled with corrupt businessmen buying politicians to pass bills that will reward them in return with rich government contracts. Look at the state’s charter industry. There is no evidence to suggest that charters perform any better than traditional public schools. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. But they are about to pass a bill that will give even more tax-payer money for charter schools to build new schools that are not even owned by the public. The bill was sponsored by a politician who used to run charter schools and whose brother in-law owns one of the country’s largest charter chains. http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/florida-house-approves-construction-money-for-charter-schools/2223111 The same company is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for potential conflict of interests. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1963142.html

Russian hacker #1: Wow, even Putin would be impressed! America is turning into an oligarchy. This all sounds like corporate welfare.

Russian hacker #2: It is corporate welfare but the people are too stupid and too lazy to care. Their media is controlled. Instead of brainwashing them with propaganda, they distract them into thinking Kim Kardashian’s behind is more important than local, state, or federal politics.

Russian hacker #1: The media is very smart. Kim Kardashian’s behind is very distracting.

Russian hacker #2: We will sabotage their standardized testing this spring. AIR has no idea what they are doing. They haven’t even considered the possibility of cyber-attacks. By interrupting state testing they will have to invalidate the test scores and the entire accountability system will self-destruct. No Florida school, teacher, or student will be punished based on bad test scores.  Without standardized testing there can be no accountability. The American economy will be doomed and ISIS members will be crossing the Mexican border in droves. We will be the heroes of Mother Russia!

IMG_1029

As a UC Berkeley graduate, I’ve seen more than a few protests in my day. Coming from San Francisco, land of the professional activist, to Miami, land of the professional club goer and bikini model, I was not surprised by the lack of turnout for the class size protest. Who has time to protest when you need to go the gym, get spray tanned, Brazilian waxed, botoxed, a mani pedi, and a keratin hair treatment just to go to the grocery store? Blame it on the weather. San Francisco’s harsh Pacific wind and misty fog breeds a certain level outrage all year round. Miami’s tropical breezes and blazing sun leave one more inclined to sip a Cuba Libre in a hammock under a mango tree rather than actually attend a protest to free Cuba. Nevertheless, enough committed souls did attend the rally outside of the School Board meeting to get themselves and the district’s class size violations on the six o’clock news. http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Teachers-and-Parents-Voice-Concerns-on-Classroom-Overcrowding-299996631.html The real action was going on inside the School Board auditorium, where a few dozen dissidents did a whole lot of damage. Combined with a Miami Herald article that ran the same morning about district intimidation of teachers and parents that speak at School Board meetings, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article18527573.html the MDCPS district had a very bad day.

Here is a quick recap of an epic School Board meeting filled with one damned good speech after the next. I’ll try my best to capture the spirit of their speeches even though I couldn’t catch every word. People speak really fast when they only have three minutes! Not to mention the fact that my son was rolling around on the floor demanding I wrap him in blankets because he is obsessed with turning into a butterfly, my daughter kept singing Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” to rehearse for the end of the year show at her school, and my husband was threatening to divorce me if I didn’t “Turn that sh*t off.”

If you did catch the School Board meeting today, if you learned nothing else, you learned that one cannot use anyone’s name while speaking at a School Board meeting, especially the Superintendent’s! I’m not sure where this bizarre rule came from, but out of respect for the Board I will attempt to use code names. See if you can figure out who is who.

Feeling some heat from the Herald story, the Board wanted to make it clear how much they respect and enjoy working with parents. One male Board member praised his PTA for their open lines of communication and how they offered solutions rather than just “running to the media.” The Board does not like those types of parents. The parent pleasing propaganda continued as the Superintendent announced they were lifting the minimum homework requirement. Hallelujah! Praise God Almighty! My daughter has been coming home crying every day from first grade because of her thick homework packets filled with spelling words. The Superintendent said he would use “the all mighty power of social media” (tell me about it Bro) to Tweet to students that they would be freed from the oppression of unreasonable homework assignments.

The celebration did not last long as the Superintendent went into his monthly ritual of the doom and gloom budget talks with warnings of apocalyptic health care costs. This is an actual quote, “Every year we are able to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but the hat has shrunk and the rabbit has died.” That would be a really sh*tty magic trick. “Bureaucratic hocus pocus” gone amuck. He followed this with “I am an eternal optimistic.”

While the budget talk continued, a very misleading visual appeared on the screen (previously I have only listened to School Board meetings on the radio), the video antics provided a whole new level of disbelief. The low budget Word document of a visual read “Legislative Priorities.” Much to my surprise, “class size reduction” was one of the School Board’s legislative priorities! But when it came time to discuss “class size reduction” they were talking about SB 818, the bill that will kill the Florida class size amendment. Maybe it was a typo, and someone edited out the more accurate the description of the Board’s legislative priority, “class size reduction and elimination of all fines for failure to comply with the class size amendment.”

The Superintendent then went on to spell out what a $60 million shortfall because of the failure to collect taxes would mean for the district. “$60 million would pay for two steps for teachers or 1,000 teachers.” This is code for you will get a $150 half step increase next January. Consider yourself lucky you still have a job.

He then went on to boast about the many bills being sponsored by Miami Dade County that are sailing through Tallahassee (SB 818 being one of them). The Superintendent lamented that he had not heard a ground swell of support for the Governor’s highest budget and that those in the community that care for public education need to send emails.

Next up, UTD. Is that the UTD President in the house? My God, it is. The UTD President has attended a School Board meeting! He has probably been cursing me and my blog the whole time for calling them out for not attending School Board meetings and now he has to sit through this sh*t and actually prepare a speech. It went something like this, “We want to present a unified message between parents, the school board and the union. Thank you for your continuing support of music in Dade County schools. HB 7069 improves the testing situation and gives the district latitude in providing a sensible solution in testing. All well-rounded education is inclusive of arts, electives and vocational classes. We believe our students learn better in smaller classes (OMG! UTD is actually saying something about class size. The code of silence has been broken!). Just because the legislature has watered down class size does not mean our students don’t deserve lower class size. “ Then he said something about being actively involved in social media (don’t mind if I do thanks).

Next up is the UTD Queen Waiting to be Crowned. God help us. I can’t remember anything she said. I got bored and immediately stopped listening.

Then the public hearing begins. Generally, the public hearing begins around 5:30. That’s where the School Board meetings get juicy and actually amusing. So if you’re pressed for time, start watching around 5:30. Shockingly, the Superintendent does not leave the stage when the public hearing begins. The Divine Ms. P politely calls the Audacious Lady to the stand. To quote my students,  “Sh*t just got real!”

Audacious Lady: “I decided to speak at this month’s Board Meeting because I read the blog from Kafkateach (FML, if the Supe didn’t know about my blog before he certainly does now) and heard how other teachers also had issues after speaking at the board. According to the Miami Herald article this morning, the “Wicked Witch of the School District’s Public Relations Department” said people who speak out are all complainers. I should be making $60,000 and I have terrible healthcare. The one thing we should have is respect. We speak out because we are here for the benefit of our children. I can handle all the retaliation for everything that is done to me, other people can’t. There is a teacher with 40 students in her class at Riverside Elementary but they don’t speak up because they are afraid of retaliation. I don’t know who this “Wicked Witch of the School District’s PR department” is,  but if you want to quote teachers as being complainers, you might want to know why we complain so much.”

Next up is the Math Stud teacher who also has a way with words.

Math Stud: “I’d like to continue my speech from last time. My classes are overfilled with students. Last time a Board member stated, “If we are breaking the law, why aren’t we in jail?” It doesn’t require a jail sentence to violate the class size amendment but it’s still against the law. The class size amendment was voted upon twice. It is important that class size be at the class size level. The legislature let’s districts assume responsibility. After my speech last month, a region superintendent spoke harshly to my Principal and asked for my data and how long have I been teaching. I complained that I couldn’t walk through rows of desks and he said I should rearrange my room to accommodate more students. I shouldn’t have to rearrange my room so the district can violate the law.”

Mr. Don’t Mess with Tallahassee is up next. “Speaking about the class size amendment! This is a state law, it’s in the state constitution. You can’t just come out with “Schools of Choice”. It’s a gimmick. My classes are over the limit but adjustments were not made because my Principal did not receive enough money from the district. I have 30 more students than I should. I have 5 classes over the limit. This is not just a Miami Beach High problem. I have a lot of ESOL and ESE students. These kids are struggling, they may not graduate. I’m asking you for the school year coming up to use the additional $276 increase per pupil spending to alleviate class size. Please think of those teachers and kids in overcrowded classrooms.”

The Divine Ms. P calls up Mr. Trouble. She saw him coming from a mile away.

Mr. Trouble: “The lady is passing out a copy of what I would like to share. I would like to title my speech, “A Question of Contempt.” I’m here because I read online about feedback from teachers and parents trying to express concerns. Contempt felt for trying to improve the educational system. Why do they show contempt for the two most knowledgeable experts-parents and teachers? It shows contempt when board members leave the stage when teachers and parents speak. It shows contempt when the district dismisses teachers who speak as “complainers.” It shows contempt when enforced curriculum changes with little input from faculty are imposed on schools as with the Gradual Release model. I am calling for resignation of the Wicked Witch of the School District PR Department for her callous statements about teachers who speak at Board meetings.”

The Divine Ms. P wants to make it clear that we do not use names during Board meetings. She then seems extra flustered when Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL), asks for 12 minutes to speak because 3 people donated their time to her. Then the Board wastes 8 minutes debating over whether Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL) is entitled to two extra minutes.

The Mayor in Waiting decides to throw a pity party, “I want to be clear, we’ve been here since 9 am. It’s a long day. If you could do it in 10 minutes that would be great. We’ve spent all day listening to people (just wait until your mayor honey). The Herald article keeps coming up. That one quote does not encompass everything that was said. We need to stop slandering the Wicked Witch of the District’s PR Department.”

The Lady in Red jumps into the fray, “I’ve heard the speaker ask for minutes from the other speakers. Is this something the board understands, what happened to the other two minutes?”

The Wizard of Oz voice from behind the screen, “Board rule is ten minutes per person.” (Funny, ya’ll just wasted 8 minutes discussing this). Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL) goes into a data backed tirade about everything wrong with corporate education reform in ten minutes. I cannot possibly do her speech justice. We are working on getting it on youtube.

She starts with a quote from George Orwell, “In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act. “ Teachers who speak are bullied. Teachers felt intimidated by Superintendent “insert actual name that must never, ever be mentioned in public.”

The Divine Ms. P interjects, “I would appreciate it if you don’t say names.”

Ms. Know it All (and I mean ALL): “This isn’t a dialogue. I want to say Superintendent “insert actual name” so I am not accused of saying something else. Last I checked I he worked for the tax payers. I am holding up our frozen step chart. We have a lack of adjustments for cost of living. Medical expenses keep increasing. 3% of our paychecks is taken out for our pensions. Teachers today are actually making $12,000 less than nine years ago. Florida is the 44th worst state for teacher salaries. My friend would like to be here but she can’t because she has to tutor. The opportunity to speak out publicly has become a luxury for teachers. UTD? Are you one of those teachers paying $800 a year in union fees. The Union declared our last contract a victory. What a joke! Teachers were misled and voted “yes.” Teachers actually got a pay cut. Let me illustrate with hard data. Teachers received a pay cut of $369. The UTD President saw a pay increase of $8,000 in five years. You are paying union dues for six figure salaries of people who don’t care. Solutions, sale of public lands should be used to give teachers a raise. Stop using public dollars for charter schools. FSA and VAM are all connected. It’s part of a plan to pay teachers even less. If a student fails, so do teachers. It frees up more tax dollars for public charter schools. The VAM determines performance pay. Easy, pass a law, create a business.” She then calls out Miami representative Erik Fresen and the Divine Ms. P makes a feeble attempt to silence her. “Charters equal Big money and little oversight. Solution: scrap performance pay, scrap public charters, scrap VAM, public charters should be given to the public. Job of local School Board is to run the schools. I actually practiced several times. This is the first time my friend has attended a school board meeting. She said there are more pressing issues than dance, how about we discuss some of those. Many teachers have other obligations. Even if they weren’t scared to come here, there are many voices who feel the same way I do. It would be awesome if teachers did not have to fear visits from regional superintendents. After I spoke the last time, the regional superintendent specifically asked for me. Not a coincidence.”

The Divine Ms. P, “No need to say names. You can wrap it up.”

Ms. Opt Out is the next to take the stage, “I’m very concerned. At one point when Hurricane Andrew tore up our district when our schools were destroyed we had to house other students. My administrator said, “I know we’re dealing with a compromised situation, however I’m going to keep our core classes at a minimum. Now I have 178 students. I’m one person. How do you get everything graded? How do you take time to provide the feedback? Even though the state has allowed the school choice, we still have to think about assessments. I haven’t been able to provide feedback with all the interruptions from constant assessments. We have to start thinking with a moral conscience and using our own sense of integrity to make decisions.”

Next the Lady in Red gets presented with an award on behalf of parents and children by the Lady inYellow. The Lady in Yellow called out the rest of the Board, “It would be appreciated if the school board and superintendent did more to reach out to parents.”

Retired teacher #1 takes the stand: “I want to talk about salaries. The Superintendent and the Board have gone to Tallahassee to procure more funding. I passed out a handout of EOC test data. Look at the data for students who did not pass. Look at the absences. 34 students with 50-80 absences. This excludes absences due to sports, assemblies and visits with counselors. I had 14 level 1 ESOL students. I had 11th graders with 5th grade reading levels. How is a teacher to be held accountable when students are not present? How is a teacher held accountable when they don’t speak English? How are teachers held accountable for students who can’t read at grade level? What would happen if you transferred all of Coral Reef’s teaching staff to a lower income school?“ (Excellent question!).

Retired teacher #2: “I’m retired. Everyday is Saturday. I’m going to defer my time to my friend.”

Retired teacher #3: “I taught ballroom dancing on Miami Beach. Merengue, Cha-Cha. Did a lot of things that teachers can no longer do. Large classrooms with 110 students in auditorium with and a TV.  I spoke before this board 15 years ago and I got a Dade county ruling changed in less than ten seconds! I apologize, I mentioned names. I was having lunch with my friend Doug, oops I mentioned his name and the name of the restaurant.”

The Divine Ms.P: “You can mention the name of restaurants.”

“I published a book. (holds up book). I sent it to board members and the Superintendent. I didn’t expect anybody to read it. Somebody complained I published a dirty joke. They wouldn’t mention who said it. I’d like to read it to you, but I’m not going to because I won’t put you in that position. Can I have an extra 30 seconds? 15? Thank you. I’m going to step away when this meeting is over, when we’re off the air. And if you think I published a dirty joke, say it to my face!!”

If you’ve never tuned in to a School Board meeting it can turn into the Theater of the Absurd. No wonder they try to prevent people from speaking.

Not-so Tiny Tim is up next: “I have never had a problem until my assistant Principal yelled at me for making her look bad when I wanted students to be removed from gradebook who weren’t mine. This is fraud. Ever since then her actions showed retaliation. I had to drive to another school to teach a subject I don’t teach. She said not walking around the classroom is effecting my teaching. Maybe they don’t want to be exposed for having a teacher who is teaching gifted who isn’t gifted endorsed and for having a teacher that isn’t ESOL endorsed teaching ESOL.”

The next speaker is the reason why you need to watch Board meetings on TV instead of listening to the radio. A lot of the theatrics are visual. This teacher nailed it! She was holding up a sign with what her salary should have been while wearing a T-shirt with a blackboard on it that stated her actual salary. I gotta get me one of those!

Ms. Overworked and Underpaid takes the stand, “I am an overworked and underpaid public school teacher. I know this number I am holding up is attractive to a 22 year old. I took five years off because it is not possible to pay for childcare on a teacher’s salary (Amen sister!). Each year for 4 years my position was terminated. Some loop hole prevented me from getting unemployment. The starting salary is $40,000, after 21 years I’m making $43,350. Only in Common Core math does 21-5 equal 12! Nowadays I spend most of my time apologizing to students for the ridiculous amount of testing. The only thing common about Common Core is the nationwide failure rate.”

A beautiful 12 year old girl takes the podium next: “I want to speak to the frustrations of an average 12 year old. I have perfect attendance. Recently I missed three days for science field trip. With these accomplishments you would think school was a breeze for me. When I was out for three days, I missed a lot work. I had to miss more class because I missed the FSA. We did not have enough computers to take the test. Why does the state require us to take a test on computers when we don’t enough computers? My critical thinking teacher was never given a curriculum, and doesn’t know what to prepare. Why do we need so many tests?”

Mr. Do the Right Thing is up. “The reason I’m hear to speak is because I spoke about class size in November and about the violation of the class size amendment because of the “School of Choice” loophole. Increasingly large class sizes impede our students. As a result of speaking out we feel we have felt retaliation and intimidation. I was labeled an “ineffective” teacher soon after speaking to the Board. I was placed on support dialogue twice. I was criticized for reviewing an AP human geography exam. Due to my union activity, I face hostile activity. I was accused of sending an email about sick out last week even though I had nothing to do with it. My wife is in graduate school. I cannot afford to lose my job because I speak out. My Principal threatened the student that speaking at the Board would have consequences for the student and myself. The article today in the Miami Herald said we always complain about everything. You should thank us, not mock us. We want the will of the Florida voters to be respected. Why do you insist on packing classes? We should care more about our students’ learning environment than saving money?”

Another student speaker takes the podium: “We know yesterday our governor signed a revised testing law. We want to ask that you meet and review changes to this law.”

The Black Mold Lady Wearing Black takes the stand and makes the mistake of using the Superintendent’s name. The Divine Ms. P cuts off the Black Mold lady because of a pending lawsuit. Black Mold Lady manages to recall the Superintendent’s tweet when the story of mold in the juice boxes ran a few months ago, “Nobody should ever be retaliated against for speaking out, not on my watch.”

The Divine Ms. P breathes a sigh of relief, “This ends the public hearing portion to of the School Board meeting. We listened and we’ve been doing what we’re supposed to do. Listening to what people have to stay to us.”

Let it be known that on tax day, April 15th 2015 the MDCPS School Board meeting became a showcase of dissent. The Board was forced to listen to the people. May there be many more just like them.

***Kafkateach will be working to get video clips of the speeches added to this blog when they become available. My transcription cannot do the amazing job done by these speakers today any justice.***

teachers-cartoon 1st grade

Monday: I don’t remember anything about Monday. I am so mentally exhausted by Friday that Monday may as well have been three years ago.

Tuesday: The only reason I remember anything about Tuesdays is because there is always a faculty meeting to remind me of how little educators’ time and opinions are valued. This Tuesday was extra special because it started with a bomb threat. There is never a dull moment (save for faculty meetings) in the life a public school teacher. In what other profession does one have to immediately drop what they’re doing and be herded into an auditorium because of an unattended box? The timing of this event was spectacular. I just started teaching the Cold War and my students were having a good laugh over an old Duck and Cover PSA video I showed them when all of sudden the school cop bursts in and tells us we had to move to the auditorium because of a bomb in the bus lane. Said “bomb” turned out to be an empty chicken nugget box but it made my lesson more relevant as I could link the paranoia of an atomic bombing during the Cold War to paranoia over unattended packages in the present War on Terror. After spending my planning period in an auditorium filled with 1,000 teenagers, I dreaded the additional waste of time at the end of the day faculty meeting. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2015/04/3_reasons_why_faculty_meetings_are_a_waste_of_time.html?intc=es

Here is a quick run down of what educators must endure at the end of their school day twice a month:

  • We were greeted with a proctoring form which we had to sign promising not look at the state test or we would risk losing our teaching certification. The form still said “FCAT” on it so it might not stand up in court anyway.
  • We were told to submit our IPEGS documentation by April 30th. This includes providing evidence of professional development as well as “communication with stakeholders” dating back to August.
  • Next we were handed a 70 page packet printed on expensive yellow card stock paper which listed which planning periods we would have to give up during the next two weeks because of FSA testing and listed the names of 9th and 10th grade students who would be testing over the next two weeks.
  • Feeling demoralized yet? Not quite done making us feel like a common criminal, we were reprimanded for our “classroom kitchens” which violated fire codes. Funny, I thought 60 kids in a room violated fire code too but the district seems less concerned about overcrowded classrooms than with teachers trying to get a cheap caffeine fix or heat up a Lean Cuisine. One teacher stood up and questioned if perhaps we could move the expired textbooks out of the planning rooms built in every hallway which teachers have never been able to utilize because they have always been used as storage rather than a place for teachers to collaborate and warm up a hot drink or meal. He was quickly made to feel like a grumpy old man and sat down. He violated the educator conduct code of never, ever saying anything during a faculty meeting.
  • Normally we might be subjected to a Union sales pitch at the end of a faculty meeting. Today our faculty meeting was sponsored by a local private university who felt they had the right to waste ten minutes of our time selling us on the merits of their expensive advanced degree programs even though 90% of our faculty already has a Masters or Doctorate. I’m sure graduate degrees in education are a tough sell these days but at least they could have brought cookies. Teachers will sit through almost anything for some free food.
  • After the faculty meeting the teacher who stood up to complain about not having anywhere to warm up a cup of coffee, expressed his dismay that I did not back him up during the meeting. Apparently, people view me as their designated griper who must express outrage at anything a teacher might want to complain about. I don’t drink coffee, I eat the school lunch, and I don’t have a “classroom kitchen.” So, frankly Scarlet, I don’t give a darn! Nobody has ever bothered to back me up when I’ve opened my mouth at a faculty meeting about something important to our profession like class size or VAM. I refuse to be your Che Guevara for a cup of coffee.
  • The bomb scare, coupled with a particularly horrendous faculty meeting, reminded me of an oldie but goodie blog post by Mr. Teachbad where a teacher fakes a bomb threat to end a faculty meeting. Possibly the best teacher blog post ever written.  http://teachbad.com/2010/12/28/teacher-fakes-bomb-threat-ends-faculty-meeting/

Wednesday: the revolution will not be televised, it will begin on district email. Somebody actually had the balls to use the district email to call for a sick out on April 15th. I liked their strategy. They used a fake name on a gmail account and systematically went through the search feature in Outlook finding group email addresses by plugging in the school codes. Slick, whoever you are I hope you don’t get fired. Of course some teacher ratted them out, and by morning the mysterious “Blue Flu” email had mysteriously disappeared from our Inboxes. The only reason there is any record of the sickout email is because another self-righteous teacher responded to the email complaining about the insensitivity of choosing April 15th. There have been two district wide emails from frustrated teachers who are calling out the privatization of public schools this year. Each time the only response from teachers is critical. Teachers actually choose to gripe over a few grammatical errors rather than commend a fellow teacher for standing up for our profession and public schools. We are dooming ourselves by such petty behavior. Here is a link to the original “Blue Flu” email in case you missed it https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1TEO563R6ywVVdRWmpRdVFEekk/view?hc_location=ufi

(I would start forwarding important emails to your personal account or printing them out now that we know the district is capable of deleting our emails without our knowledge of consent). The Chief of Staff sent a warning email against teachers calling in sick or boycotting tests the next day:

SUBJECT:    UNAUTHORIZED DISRUPTION OF WORK ENVIRONMENT

“It has come to the attention of District Administration that an unauthorized email has been sent to many of our instructional personnel advocating a “sick out” on April 15, 2015, to allegedly protest state testing of our students.  Further, this email advocated a “testing boycott” on April 16, 2015, urging teachers to refuse to administer tests.

It is important to note that a disruption of the work environment of this type is not legal.  As educators we understand your concerns regarding over-testing and the affect it has on student learning, but the education and safety of our students is our first responsibility.  We urge you to let your voices be heard in a different manner by writing your legislator or becoming involved with groups trying to influence public policy. “

Fair enough. If any Dade County educators would like to become involved in groups seeking to influence public policy in a legal manner there will be a protest over the district’s violation of the class size amendment outside of the School Board meeting next week on April 15th. Teachers will be wearing blue in solidarity with the Blue Flu “We Are More than Test Scores” people. As noted in the blue flu email, April 15th is tax day and all teachers should feel that public tax dollars being funneled to private corporations instead of being spent in public schools is worthy of protesting.

Thursday: received my second new student of the week in my class of 32 (now 34) regular World History students. She is the fourth student in the class that doesn’t speak any English. Not only does she not speak English, she is deaf. I wrote an email asking how I am supposed to accommodate this student and did not receive a response. Apparently, my only obligation is to wear a microphone so I can speak really loudly in a language she doesn’t understand.

Friday: TGIF! It was a fabulous Friday since most of my students were out on a district field trip called “Take Your Child to Work Day” a.k.a “Stay Home and Play Video Games.” I didn’t mind. I needed a day to get caught up and a chance to visit the benefits counselor. I needed to look into district health insurance since the premiums on my husband’s plan kept increasing. Maybe the district’s health plan would be more affordable than my husband’s small private company’s plan? Wrong, still more expensive. How can the largest employer in Dade County not be able to negotiate lower health insurance rates? Housing is supposed to be one third of your monthly budget, not health insurance!

At lunch I spoke with a Miami Herald reporter doing a story on district intimidation against teachers that speak at board meetings. I would really rather not be in this story at all, or be in any Miami Herald story again, but she felt my interaction with the Superintendent after I spoke at last month’s meeting was important. Looks like I might not have another week as a public school teacher after the story runs. C’est la vie. My students tell me their relatives are making $300 a day as Uber drivers.  I might even be able to get me one of those cheap Obamacare health insurance plans.

 school board logo

In case my readers missed the School Board meeting on March 18th because they were too hung over from St. Patrick’s day, on an early flight to Cancun for Spring Break, or just had one hundred more enjoyable things to do (like getting a root canal) over listening to a School Board meeting, here is a summary of events and a transcript of my speech to the Board regarding class size. I would love to post a link to the video (actually this is a lie because I really don’t wish to hear or see myself speaking), but apparently you have to go down to WLRN in person, pay $40 and then try to find a way to post it on youtube.

If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I hate meetings, especially School Board meetings. It was with great angst and reluctance that I signed up to speak at the School Board meeting. I only did so because the parents at my school have been working incredibly hard to fight against SB 818 and the district’s Schools of Choice designation that uses school wide averages to measure class size. I felt they needed to see teachers speak out on the issue so they knew we cared just as much as they did.

I’ve never been in the School Board auditorium but a wonderful janitor gave me a personal escort to the auditorium and the ladies room. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, school janitors are the best people you will meet working in the public school system! Always friendly and kind, they manage the impossible by keeping our public schools clean even though our students treat our classrooms like giant garbage bins.

The lobby outside the auditorium was filled with suits and the amount of cologne and perfume in the air almost made me gag. It makes one wonder what exactly they are trying to cover up with all of that synthetic fragrance? Reminded me a bit of Lady Macbeth. I was happy to see that one of the district’s chief financial officers was wearing the same dress I bought at Ross the other day. Even district higher ups have to bargain shop!

I entered the auditorium and sat next to the parent teacher contingent from my school. The Superintendent soon got up from his seat and hovered over us. One of the district officials (out of three) who called me the day after I signed up to speak, positioned herself right next to me and my fellow teacher whom she had also called about his concern over the class size issue.

The meeting dragged on as they always do. At one point the SchooI Board members were presented with what looked like goodie bags for a 4 year olds birthday party. I tried to control my desire to run from the room. There was a big ceremony to honor the work of our top rated magnet schools, which I agree are amazing (I believe most of them have small class sizes by the way). There was literally a song and dance put on to honor the arts and then Superintendent launched into a long speech about the importance of electives and the arts. This speech was clearly set up right before we spoke as a method of making us look bad. Here are a few excerpts from the Superintendent’s speech which essentially stated that if we honored the class size amendment in core classes that we would have to fire every art and music teacher in Miami Dade County (I made sure to include elective classes in my speech because art and music teachers deserve manageable class sizes too).

“If we were left to our own devices we would follow a strict interpretation of rules that would lead to singularly paying attention to math, science, and English. We don’t do that. We take pride in our school system are reflective of teaching the whole child. All of those academies involve the hiring of teachers that the state does not pay for. The state does not pay for music or art. (I FIND THIS STATEMENT HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE). The state pays for a basic education program. What is bottom line? A well-rounded education is something we value. If you want a superintendent that over values the core, you have the wrong guy. The day you put the trumpet down is the day you end public education. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” (I googled that last line to see which politician said it first and couldn’t find the answer because apparently every politician has used that line to pass a bad bill since time immortal).”

The district then went on to outline their budget and even though Governor Rick Scott promised to restore education spending to historic levels, Miami Dade Schools will still experience budget shortfalls with the looming threat of Medicaid expenses.

Next, UTD leadership were called to speak but not one of them was present. We pay these people six figure salaries and they can’t be bothered to show up for a School Board meeting?

The Superintendent then goes on to list the many, many, many, many….awards and recognitions Miami Dade schools have received. He then sets the stage again to make the PTA class size moms and teachers look bad by saying,

“We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” “(I googled this line to see which politician said it first and couldn’t find the answer because apparently every politician has used that line to pass a bad bill since time immortal). They expect perfection for their neighborhood instead of their district. We won’t miss the forest for the trees. One person’s gain is equivalent to another person’s loss. You tell us the teaching of math, science and English is important. We didn’t fire a single teacher during the recession. Broward squeezed one end of the balloon and 1,000 art teachers popped out.”

Now that Superintendent set the stage for every elective teacher and art loving parent in the county to be fearing for their jobs and paintbrushes, he conveniently removed himself from the stage and the entire auditorium when it was our turn to speak. “

Much to my dismay, I was the first person to be called to speak on the class size issue (I dread public speaking almost as much as I dread School Board meetings). Of course they butchered both my first and last name, but I’m used to that. This is what I said (see if you can guess which line would get me in trouble with the Superintendent as you read). If you don’t have time to read it, skip my speech and read ahead to what happened after the my speech which was far more interesting.

“Good afternoon, I would like to address the Miami Dade School Board in regards to their current use of the “School of Choice” categorization in determining class size compliance by using school wide averages rather than individual classrooms as well as their current lobbying efforts in support of Senator Garcia’s bill (SB 818) in Tallahassee which would use school wide averages for all public schools across Florida. Although I understand that the intent of our School Board is a good one, in that they do not want to see tax payer dollars meant for public schools being wasted on penalties for violating the class size amendment, I also understand that using school wide averages to determine class size compliance essentially nullifies the twice voter approved Constitutional amendment ensuring small class sizes for students and teachers in Florida. Using school wide averages rather than actual class size allows school districts to, in essence, wave a magic wand and “BibbidiBobbidiBoo“” make average class size 22. School wide averages are nothing more than bureaucratic hocus pocus which mask the reality of large class sizes faced by students and teachers across the district. The fact that I have one class of 22 students, does not alleviate the lack of personal attention I can give to students in my class of 32 regular world history students, one third of whom are ESOL students and other types of struggling learners.

When questioned about class size, the district likes to bring up the dilemma of the “26th student.” What are they supposed to do about the 26th student? Most teachers I know are not worried about the 26th student, but rather the 36th student, the 46th student, and in my case a few years ago in a freshmen class of Advanced Placement World History, the 56th student.  The school year after the Florida Legislature decided to exempt Advanced Placement classrooms from the class size amendment, I soon realized that without a regulated limit, sky would be the limit.

I know the District is investing a lot of time, money, and resources in implementing the student centered Gradual Release Model of instruction and as a teacher who has always used collaborative groups in my classroom, I can tell you with some authority that student centered classrooms with collaborative groupings requires small class sizes. Most classrooms cannot even logistically put desks in groups if the class size is over 30. Group work requires close monitoring of the students to ensure students are on task and most students will require instructor assistance in deciphering complex historical documents as well as in the production of original writing and creative projects.

In the likely scenario that Senate Bill 818 becomes law, I call upon the United Teachers of Dade and the School District to negotiate maximum class size caps and maximum student loads at the district level in the upcoming negotiations. If the School District truly respects teachers and students, I’m sure they will want to provide a safe, productive and personalized classroom for all students and teachers, including electives and Advanced Placement teachers, in Miami Dade County.  Thank you.

Next, the wonderful women from my school’s PTA (though apparently the district has referred to them in a not so wonderful way) spoke about their support of their neighborhood school and conditions faced by students and teachers in the overloaded classrooms. Thankfully another teacher from a different school in Dade County got up to speak about crowded classrooms because the district has been trying to spin this as an issue unique to my school. Then the School Board actually went on at great length addressing our concerns. The last time a student and a teacher spoke about crowded classrooms they were brushed off in thirty seconds. For some reason, another teacher at my school who signed up to speak about class size was not called to speak with the rest of us. After having received several angry texts from my husband who had stayed home with three kids all day so I could speak at the meeting, I decided I needed to get home in time for dinner. I left the auditorium and ran into the PTA mothers in an intense conversation with a district official. I stuck around to listen to the conversation. Then I heard the other teacher from my school speaking and I ran back into the auditorium, or what turned out to be for me the lion’s den.

I was standing quietly in the back of the auditorium when the Superintendent walked by and said, “Who is this “insert my name”?

I said it was me. He then pointed his finger angrily in my face and said,

“Let me ask you a question. What do you mean by “bureaucratic hocus pocus”? That was a real cute line. I bet you practiced that a lot.”

I said, “No. Actually I didn’t have any time to practice my speech.” (I intended to practice my speech during my planning period but I had to cover another teacher’s reading class who was proctoring a test instead).

“What is bureaucratic hocus pocus?” he repeated.

I said, “When you use averages to mask reality.”

Then he said he doesn’t violate the law. I said the law is meant to be followed on a class by class basis. He said he follows what they do in Tallahassee. I said Tallahassee doesn’t follow the law.

Then he asked me if I was good at math.

I said “No. I’m bad at math. That’s why I’m a history teacher.”

Then he asks me if I ever took a statistics class and I replied, “That’s the only math class I ever liked.”

He asked me if I understood what averages were and I said I did and I explained how averages don’t reflect what is actually going on in the classroom. You might have a teacher who doesn’t teach any students, like our student activities director, and they get averaged in with other teachers. ”

Then he questioned his aide about whether this was true. She was standing next to me shielding this encounter from my colleague who was trying to video tape it on his cellphone. She confirmed my statement and tried to calm the Superintendent down realizing he was not looking very good berating me in a very in a room with plenty of witnesses.

He denied having any connection in Tallahassee with regards to SB 818 and told me I should go talk to Superintendent Runcie instead. (One of Garcia’s aides told a fellow teacher that the Superintendent asked Garcia to sponsor the bill but I cannot independently confirm this. The PTA mothers who ventured all the way to Tallahassee to speak against the bill actually witnessed one of the assistant Superintendents from Dade County speaking in Senator Garcia’s office. It is no coincidence that the Senate version of the bill came out of Miami and the House version came out of Broward.

After a little more back and forth and me getting in a line about trying to cut back on district waste so I could get more than a $300 raise, I thanked the Superintendent for letting me speak and walked out of the auditorium. I was a little rattled but not really. I found the encounter more humorous than anything else.

I managed to get out of bed the next day and slop on a pair of jeans and some flip flops. It was the last day of school before Spring Break. Vacation mode had set in. Thankfully my grades were done and I had a full lesson planned despite the pleas of my students, “Come on Miss…can’t we just watch a movie?”

I was looking at my Facebook feed during lunch when one of the teachers who spoke about the class size issue the night before posted that he had just received a visit from the region Superintendent who couldn’t find anything wrong with his classroom but left the room with a Terminator-esque “I’ll be BAAACK” statement. Two seconds later the teacher next door poked his head in my room to let me know the Superintendent was at our school. A few curse words escaped my mouth as I realized I was in jeans and flip flops. After a nerve racking 90 minutes with one of my goofball classes who were trying to refuse to do any work because it was the day before Spring Break, I got the message that the coast was clear. He visited the classroom of the other teacher who spoke about class size from my school but he never visited mine. I was actually hoping he would come in my classroom so he could see all those tablets in use (and I told my kids to use them to video tape whatever happened if he did walk in). Forget the FBI, students are the real experts in surreptitious recording. Ironically, my lesson for the day was about Fascist states in World War II.

So what’s the take away? The leader does not like to be questioned, especially in a very public forum which he would rather use as a PR event and for endless hours of self-congratulatory adulation.

Later that afternoon, teachers who have spoken out at School Board meetings and experienced district intimidation tactics as a result, united on Facebook and organized to fax in their speaker forms together and gather outside the next School Board meeting on April 15th at 4 pm in protest show and to show the district that teachers will not be silenced. I encourage as many teachers and parents as possible to also fax in their speaker forms and write “educational issues” in the subject line to show them we are a unified force. If you do not wish to the receive phone calls from the district after faxing in the form, check off the box that says you speak some obscure language like Tagalog as another teacher suggested. You don’t have to actually speak but if you show up you can actually donate your three minutes to another speaker from the group. Those three minutes go by fast! Parents are also encouraged to sign up to speak at the meeting or just to show up in support since you are the ones the district actually fears. Here is the link to the form to sign up to speak at the School Board meeting http://forms.dadeschools.net/webpdf/6314.pdf

Happy faxing and a happy Spring Break to Dade County teachers! There are still a few perks left to this job.

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