Can we get back to politics? Please? Yo!

I found this article to be incredibly interesting for a number of reasons.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have a hard time with politics; particularly politics as they exist today, and even more particularly, as they exist in this current election cycle.

One of the things I find interesting about this, is the feeling of “sore loser” I get after reading it.  Granted, I don’t know everything that goes on behind the scenes.  Perhaps the system truly is rigged and Trump is being treated unfairly (not that I would complain about that in this particular instance).  I have a feeling however, that it is not, and that Mr. Trump is simply stamping his feet and complaining that life is unfair because he may not win the nomination.  While I agree that our system may need some revamping (I find it interesting – to say the least –  that you can win the majority vote and still LOSE the overall election), I think this instance takes a little retrospective and self-reflection on the behalf of our republican friends.  First and foremost, would they be calling for a change in the rules to suit a democrat?  Unlikely.  Secondly, here’s what really bothers me, you can’t just change the rules anytime something happens that doesn’t favor you or your point of view.

Case in point, the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  “We believe the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president,” Cornyn said Tuesday as he left a meeting of top Republicans discussing how to handle the White House’s promised nominee.  So…the people have the right to decide…except when it comes to whether or not you win the nomination?

I need to stop writing these posts at work.  I have a hard time focusing.  I’m sorry to the one person who may stumble across and read this.

My point is that I can’t stand the hypocrisy of politics now.  What bothers me even more is that people who make upwards of $125,000 a year can shut down the government, put thousands of hardworking government employees out of work for weeks on end, and still make a paycheck, because things aren’t going their way.  Things haven’t gone my way at work all year, but I still show up every damn day and I do my job, because if I don’t…I’m fired.  Point blank.  You can’t just stymie things because you want your way.  Or rather, its seems you can, but you shouldn’t be able to.  It’s infuriating.  My harshest criticism of Obama (besides the ridiculously HEINOUS appointment of John B. King as Secretary of Education) is not that he “allowed” the government to shut down per say (for it takes two to tango so to speak), but that he didn’t say, “Ok.  Y’all want to act like fools and not do your jobs?  You don’t get paid then.  That’s easy.  You want to get paid, sit the fuck down and come to a compromise.  Until then, your paychecks can go to helping the national debt.”

The power of the paraprofessional

Being a teacher of students with disabilities, I work with a lot of paraprofessionals (or teacher’s aides).  A paraprofessional can make or break your experience in the classroom.

One of the hardest things to do as a first year teacher is to come into a classroom of adults (usually older than you), who have been working together and in the same school for years, and to have to ask them to do things your way, or to at least try.  Many are resistant to try new things or you may here a lot of “that’s not how we do things here”.  So what does a new teacher do?

I got very lucky.  I had an amazingly strong paraprofessional my first year.  I’ve heard other people say she was hard to work with.  So how did I make it work?  I tried my best to appreciate where she was coming from and her level of expertise.  I asked for her advice and took it most times, or would at least try.  I would ask her advice and say, “What do you think if we tried this?”  Because I approached her as an equal, we were able to bond and create a level of trust between us.  I knew I could rely on her to take over if I got pulled out of the room.  I could trust her on field trips (hell, I haven’t gone on a field trip since she became a teacher.  She planned every trip I went on for 3 years).  We developed a relationship based on mutual trust and understanding and what was most important I think is that she saw me try.  She saw me come in every day with new ideas and she saw me pick myself up every single time those ideas failed.  She saw me break to.  More times than I’d like to admit.  The DOE has claimed several boxes of snot and teared filled tissues from me.  I’m eternally grateful to her and the knowledge she passed on to me and I enjoy sharing our stories as teachers now.  But what happens to the teachers that aren’t so lucky?

As things stand in education right now in New York City, paraprofessionals are not rated on their performance in the classroom. (This is what comes up when you Google “paraprofessional accountability NYC”). Teachers, however, are.  Teachers are currently not only rated on their own performance but on the performance of their paraprofessionals.  This could be a good thing.  As a teacher/leader, it is my responsibility to engage my paraprofessionals in the learning that is happening in my room.  I am responsible for asking them do perform certain tasks.  That’s part of my job.  I understand and value that.  Not only is paraprofessional management essential to my job as a classroom teacher, but it’s a great skill to have as a professional in general.  Delegating was never something I was good at but over the last six years I’ve learned how to ask for help or how to ask my staff to perform tasks I, in a different situation, would have no problem doing myself.  Again, I am lucky.  I have worked with some amazing staff members who have no problem helping me out, who take pride in what they are doing, or who at the bare minimum like the students they work with.  What about those staff members who don’t?  Who don’t help out no matter how respectfully the teacher tries to engage them?  Who don’t take initiative or who don’t perform some of the basic responsibilities of their job?  Who don’t respond to the modeling and direction you as a teacher give them?  What happens then?

I’ll give you an example.  I was being observed back in October working with a larger than normal group of students (for a special education teacher, I’m talking about 20 students).  We were participating in the Hour of Code.  I had a new paraprofessional helping me out in the club.  She had only been working a few weeks.  She was still getting to know the students.  We were having some MAJOR connectivity issues (a whole other blog post for another day) and so she was sitting with her group of students trying to help them connect.  When things weren’t connecting she was sitting and waiting to see what would happen.  Could she have been asking them questions?  Sure.  Could I have asked her to engage with them on a social level?  Sure.  She was still finding her feet and I was trying frantically to get at least ONE computer up and running so I didn’t have a mutiny on my hands.  My principal walked in to observe.  Everything went as well as can be expected when nothing is working.  When I went to have my post observation conference my principal had nothing but good things to say.  Her one major comment was, “well I gave you an effective here because Ms. ___ was just sitting there waiting.  Why wasn’t she doing anything?”  I explained that she was waiting to see if the connection was working and that she was doing exactly as I asked her to do.  “Well she just looked like she was sitting there so I gave you an effective.”  Ok.  I’m not harping on the issue that my personal rating dropped because I’m obsessed with my score and the appearance of perfection (that answer was probably different several years and no anti-anxiety medication ago).  I’m harping on it because I was rated on someone else’s behavior.  Suppose I HAD asked her several times to engage with the students in the group.  Suppose I had modeled some questioning techniques.  Now suppose I had also met with her several times during class meetings and expressed a need for her to do certain things with students.  Suppose I had all of this documented with her signature.  Sounds like I’ve done everything I should do to engage this person in my classroom.  Can I reach inside her head and make her want do as I’ve asked?  Or force her to take my suggestions?  Or force her to perform her duties?  No.  But even if I had gone through all of those steps, my rating would still be effected by the behavior of this person.

What happens then, when you as the teacher do everything you’re supposed to do?  When you’ve had the meetings, you have the documentation, you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do?  The answer, is nothing.  Nothing happens.  I have a friend who has done just that.  For three years she has modeled, documented, spoken to, had meetings with, asked for assistance from administration and the school coach, about a paraprofessional who, for whatever reason, does not do her job.  This person has watched as students have run out of the classrooms.  She has watched as students have stolen things from other students, has watched the teacher struggle to help a student in crisis, and has sat there.  This teacher has continually been rated lower due to this paras behavior.  Administrations only answer is “well you haven’t done what you need to with her” but then they deny offering more help.

Today, I feel a line was crossed (and was the catalyst for writing this).  This same teacher  (let’s call her Maria for the purposes of this story) was walking in the hall with her students, taking the students up from their bus.  Another student came off a bus and the teacher was asked if she could watch this student go upstairs to her class.  When she looked, back to see the student, she noticed a paraprofessional was with the student.  (As a teacher, we need to have eyes on our students at all times.  After the tragedy of Avonte Oquendo, teachers of students with disabilities are especially careful to make sure we have our eyes constantly on our students.  Not a minute goes by during my day when I am not counting.  Constantly counting.  This teacher looked back, saw the para with the student and for confirmation asked, “Ms. ___, you have this student yes?”  She replied, “Yes”.  The teacher in this story has a crisis paraprofessional (let’s call him Matt) in her room.  He was with her class when this event happened and what happened next is unbelievably unprofessional.

The following took place in the stair way and the hall way, in front of students and staff.  (All names have been changed).

Maria: Ms. ___, You have this student yes?

Para 1: Yes.  Thank you.

Matt: Turn around and mind your own damn business.  You don’t need to be concerned about anything but what’s happening in front of you.

Maria: Excuse me?

Matt: You’re blocking the hall.  You better get out of my way and keep walking and mind your own damn business.

Maria: Matt, I was speaking to ‘Para 1’.  I was checking to make sure she had this student.  Please don’t talk to me that way, I don’t appreciate it.


At this point, Matt shoved his way past the teacher into the classroom.

The teacher was visibly shaken and upset.  She consulted with some of the other teachers who heard the incident and consulted with our school based mentor.  The night before our assistant principal told the teachers that if we have issues with our staff, we should write them up and she said nothing can happen from an administrative perspective unless we write them up.

In consultation with the school based mentor, the mentor told her to just leave it be.  “Nothing will happen but a slap on the wrist and saying something will only make it worse.”

The assistant principal talked to Matt for 2 minutes and sent him back to the room.  Maria went and spoke to the assistant principal.  The AP told her nothing could happen.  Now here’s the kicker.  This man is childhood friends with our principal.  And there in lies the problem.  No man in my building can do wrong.  They are all tied in in the intricate web of old friendships and family.  This teacher has been cursed at in front of staff and students.  I’ve been sexually harassed multiple times.  Nothing happens.  Nothing.

So what do we do?  Perhaps there’s an option I haven’t fully explored.  Nor are all the details of our placement brought to light in the last 1738 words.  It’s a very complicated system we are entwined in.  It’s complicated and convoluted and filled with more twists and turns and incestuous relationships than Game of Thrones.

The point in relaying all of this is just to say, what can we as teachers do to move our profession forward while finding a way to hold other adults responsible for their actions.  If there is no system of accountability for these professionals, what can we do?  Paraprofessionals have a job and earn money.  Most other professions have accountability structures built in.  Performance reviews.  Performance based pay.  Etc.  Education for those not teaching, does not.  Hopefully one day this will change.

We have not come into being to hate or to destroy…

I have a problem.  Well, let’s be honest, I have a few.  My current struggle in the last few days has been surrounding the  Facebook profile picture filters for both Paris, and more recently, Brussels.

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I have been to both places.  I have been to Paris several times and it is a beautiful city.  When I’m there, I can see history unfolding before my eyes.  I hear Enjolras call his peers to arms.  I hear Javert cry out in frustration.  I hear Christine crying in the arms of Raul, terrified for her life; and yes, I see real documented history too.

Brussels is also a phenomenal city, filled with life and flowers and laughter and amazing beer.

My point in recounting my travels is simply to state that I have been to these cities, thoroughly enjoyed my time there, and have great respect for the people there.

My problem with these Facebook profile pictures is two fold.

First and foremost, as has been stated multiple times by many people before me, these filters have only shown up for Paris and Belgium…two Western European countries.  Not once has a filter shown up for Nigeria and the Boko Haram attacks.  No filter showed up for Pakistan and the recent Easter attacks.  Why?  Because they are black and brown?  Because they are developing countries?  Why don’t “we” (as Westerners) relate or feel the need to “pray” for these people?  What makes them unworthy of the outcry of support from social media?  Or rather, why does the outpour of support only come for Western/developed tragedies?

My second issue with these filters is simply this, why?  Do the people who use these filters change anything about the way they live their lives due to their use?  Do they study and learn and try to make the world a better place?  Do they read articles and try to better understand some of the racial and religious tensions happening in the world?  Or do they immediately turn on a filter and say, “Well, I made enough of a difference today.  Time to immediately pretend nothing has happened”.  I don’t understand these filters.  I’m terrified by the things that have happened in Paris, and Brussels and Lahor and all over Nigeria but instead of putting up a filter and hitting play on my most recent Parks and Rec binge, I read any article I can find to help me make sense of what is happening.  I reach out on every form of travel social media I participate in and open up my home to potentially stranded travelers.  I reach out to my many friends and family who live abroad and make sure they are ok and if they are stranded I try to hook them up with people I may know where they are.  I do try to reach out and let these communities know that they are not alone.  But I also celebrate their resilience.  They don’t need our prayers.  They need us to have our eyes wide open.  To change the way we interact as humans.  To celebrate the life and vibrance of these cities.  To be unafraid to continue to travel and expand our minds and our views of the world.

Is my method perfect?  Clearly far from it, as am I.  I just feel like these colorful little lines across our Facebook faces will do very little but make those of us who use them superficially feel like we’ve made a difference.  I choose to try and do more, to do better, to learn and continue to grow and to admit to my fears, anxieties and mistakes.

EDIT (July 5th, 2016)

Several days ago there was a bombing in Turkey that left 45 dead.  A few days later, there was a suicide bombing in Bangladesh that left 21 dead.  I did not see a SINGLE flag overlay for these countries and these people.  Why?  Because they are people of color?  Because we have a perception that a lot of them are Muslim?  Because it is a poorer country?  Because we think “Well they should be used to it.  It happens to them all the time.”  Why?  THIS is one of the major reasons why these stupid Facebook filters are stupid.  They only happen when it’s white, Western Europeans.  Apparently Facebook, and the rest of us (for where was the outcry on social media that these two events weren’t honored?), don’t care about anyone but the white, western world.  And that is a travesty.


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