I wish I could tell you what was happ’ning in his brain…

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This is clearly the workings of a semi mad-woman.  I’ve had such a difficult time planning trips lately.  I’m not sure what it is.  My anxiety comes flaring to life suddenly and my finger hovers hesitantly over the “complete your purchase” button.  It takes me days to book flights.  When did this happen?  I used to book my travel, not with frivolity, but with much less…color coded paperwork.  Sure I’d make lists of things to do with prices and times, but this slightly obsessive, day planned, google-mapped location saved, color-coded mess of a calendar is not my typical style.

I noticed the difficulty start when I was planning my trip to Southeast Asia this past summer.  I didn’t even book my flights until maybe a month out.  The trip did bring me a lot of anxiety.  Solo travel in countries with total culture shock, I wasn’t sure I would be able to figure it all out.  I kept telling myself and everyone around me, “It’s a backpacking trail.  They will be used to tourists.  I’ll be ok.”  I had never had such profound reluctance or anxiety for a trip.

It’s continued on to my planning for this domestic vacation.  I’m not sure what it is.  I can’t seem to visualize what I want to do or when I want to do it without putting it all on a calendar.  I’ve never “saved” locations on google maps either, but for some reason, for this trip it seemed to be a necessity.  I’m not sure what that is.  Maybe it’s inherent of something that I can’t recognize in myself yet.  Or the effect of something I’ve been digging up in therapy.  I’m glad that I’m still able to push through the anxiety mess and travel.  That’s one thing I’m incredibly proud of.  No matter how scared or anxious I get, I will always travel.  There’s too much of the world to see to spend my life scared and afraid.


I’m going to change gears for a minute, but it still fits within the title so I don’t feel the need to make two posts back to back.

If it isn’t apparent from my other posts, I work in a school.  I have two aides in my classroom who help with the daily running of our room and support my students and myself.  I could not run my room without them.  I could do nothing without them.  A fact which I tell them on a daily basis.  I have spent my year making sure to thank them sincerely and often for their effort and their work.  We’ve developed a good, or what I thought was a good, report in the classroom.  I speak to them openly and honestly about work and our personal lives.

My students run a business and we have a cash register in the room.  I opened it on Monday and it looked weird to me.  My head immediately went to custodial.  I called my co-teacher and had her look also.  She also thought it looked a little short.  We count our money, but we hadn’t since Wednesday of the week before due to a snow day and then being backed up with paperwork and losing track.  I wrote a note to custodial and left it taped to the whiteboard above the garbage cans as I thought that’s where they’d see it.  One of my staff members noticed it and we chatted about it for a minute.  I didn’t think anything of it.  I took Tuesday off.  I got messages throughout the day that it had somehow turned into a bigger deal than it should have been.  All because I had to be a sassy cunt and leave a note.

Wednesday morning, I spoke with my assistant principal.  She told me to pull my staff and speak to them as they were upset.  This was news to me.  What did they have to be upset about?  Turns out, they both think that I passive-aggressively, in front of them, with them in the room, accused them both of taking the money.  One of my staff members somehow interpreted me showing them the register key on my key ring (in case someone purchased a card when I was out) meant that I was offering them to take money from the register for personal reasons and that greatly offended them.  They then thought that the register key was in fact NOT on my key ring…it was.  I didn’t remove it.

Then they thought that I just flat out didn’t talk to them about it.  I sincerely thought we had briefly talked about it, but that it wasn’t a bigger deal because I was clearly thinking it was custodial who took whatever money was missing…again, we aren’t even sure what was missing…or if anything was truly missing…it was just a feeling.  Intuition.  BUT I NEVER THOUGHT IT WAS MY STAFF.

They are both so utterly upset with me and I don’t know what to do.  I’ve apologized twice.  Sincerely and from the heart.  I’ve told them that I respect them as professionals and appreciate their help and never ever ever meant to offend them.  I am flabbergasted that that is where their heads went.  I thought that by mid-February they would know me better than that. I thought that if they were upset, they’d approach me, like I would approach them…instead, I had to be told by my administrator that my staff was angry with me.

I’m incredibly upset.  I feel like it’s one thing after another lately.  That no one actually knows me.  Or understands where I’m coming from.  That everything I say is wrong, or upsetting or offending someone.  That people that I work closely with on a daily basis, for almost a year now, could possibly think that I would accuse them of anything, especially without talking to them first.

To top it all off, my administration was insistent that I formally write up another staff member who allowed two students who are wanderers/runners to transition independently without her watching them (or with her watching from a great distance, from which she could do nothing if she needed to).  At their insistence, I did.  Today, they told her I am the one who wrote her up.  Isn’t that not a thing that’s supposed to happen?

It’s been an upsetting day.  An upsetting week.  An upsetting month.  And I am not ok.

2/16/17 UPDATE

This is awkward as fuck.  I’m uncomfortable.  Everyone says the awkwardness will fade and that I just have to keep pretending everything is ok until then.  The awkwardness will fade.  I’m sure it will.  But I will NEVER look at these two people the same way.  I will never not look at them and think, “They don’t trust me.  They don’t understand me.  They think I don’t trust them.”  I will spend every minute I am with them walking on eggshells, overanalyzing every single thing I say or do.  I will rethink every conversation we have from here on out.  I will never have the same carefree attitude that comes with perceived friendship and understanding with these two people again.  I don’t know how people move through situations like this.  How do you let it go and forget?  I know I’ll forgive.  That will come.  But forget?  I will never.  Maybe I’ve developed a strong genetic tie to my father’s side’s ability to hold a grudge (for 50 + years I may add).  I will never forget the looks of impassivity and misunderstanding and mistrust.  It will haunt me.

You know how you have moments that will always be there for you?  No matter how much time has passed?  I will always remember the time I opened my car door into a person on a bicycle.  I will always remember the way a dear dear dear dear dear friend slept on the couch not speaking to me after our first and only big fight.  I will always remember missing my flight to Portland and missing that time with my best friend.  My fuck ups stay with me.  They are burned into my memory and they come up and rear their ugly heads whenever a new (even perceived) fuck up occurs.  Taunting me.  Reminding me of my humanity.  Trying to convince me that I’m a worthless nobody.  My sister would say it’s Satan.  My mother would tell me to read the final prayer of the Amidah.  My therapist would tell me it’s related to my childhood.  None of them are comforting statements.

A month into this endeavor, I received a letter…

I needed you last night and you weren’t there for me.  I texted to let you know what happened.  You sent a perfunctory response.  You know how hard it’s been for me.  You knew how hard I’d take the news.

I called a few hours later.  Maybe it was only a few minutes.  I called.  It sounded like you clicked decline after a few rings.  Maybe that’s my perception.  Maybe you just let it go to voicemail on it’s own.

You didn’t call me back.

You tagged me in a post on Facebook.  You made no other attempt to reach out and see how I was doing.

You spent the day at Disney.

I needed you.  I needed you to return my call.  I needed you to reach out in a personal way and check in on me.  I needed your reassurance that somehow, someway, we’d make it through.

You posted pictures about how scary the Rock-‘N-Rollercoaster was.  How scary the Tower of Terror was.

What about how scared I am?  How scary this decision is?

I am furious at you.  I am disappointed.  I am 8 different levels of upset.  I feel irrational.  Unvalidated.  Unloved.

I understand that you deserve, that we all deserve, to go out and have fun.  That you deserve to live the life you’ve worked incredibly hard to accomplish.  I understand that you won’t always be available the minute I call.  I understand that I can be a lot.  That I’ve shown a tendency to catastrophize or fall down a dark tunnel in terms of thinking about the future and what some of these decisions mean.  I know that I cry, loudly, and have a hard time incorporating other perspectives or reasoning.  But I also know that I’m not wrong.  At least not fully.

I know I’m a lot, but I needed you.  Tagging me in Facebook isn’t enough.  That’s not enough to show you care.  That’s not enough to show that you understand my concern, even if I’m approaching it incorrectly.

It wasn’t enough.

I needed you.  And it wasn’t enough.  Is it because I’m not enough?

History has it’s eyes on you.

It was inevitable that I would, at some point in the next four years, title an entry this.  I’m sure this post will be restated by me many times over during the current political situation.

I’ve never been good at confrontation, dissent, or dealing with people who hold tightly to opinions I strongly disagree with.  Can I participate in a conversation where someone thinks that UCONN mens basketball is categorically better than Syracuse mens basketball?  Sure.  And I can even do it reasonably civilly.    But I know they are wrong.  Where I run into trouble is when people have opinions that, to me, are so clearly on the wrong side of history that it frustrates me that they don’t agree with me.  Not only frustrates, that’s too nice of a word.  It angers me.  It makes my blood boil.  I can feel the heat climbing up my chest and face until I can almost feel the steam coming out of my ears.  I’m having a really difficult time reconciling the fact that I truly believe, I have no doubt at all, I am currently on the right side of history, with the fact that millions of others ALSO believe, without a doubt, that THEY are on the right side of history.  That’s the way life goes though isn’t it?  I’m so convinced of my superiority in beliefs that I can’t even FATHOM how small minded someone must be to believe differently from me.

Now I don’t mean I believe that in all aspects of my personal beliefs that I am superior or correct, but in the following categories, I 100% believe that history will prove that I am right:

  • Trump.  Tell me I’m wrong.  Show me evidence that the policies this man is putting into place are good for our country.  Tell me how banning people from 7 predominantly Muslim countries…EXCEPT FOR THE ONES IN WHICH TRUMP HOLDS BUSINESS TIES…is beneficial to our country and our nation’s safety?  swastika-vandalism-w710-h473  This was in the NYC subway system…on February 5th…2017.  Two thousand and mother-fucking seventeen.  I relate more to this brand of hate because it’s the one that directly affects me, a Jewish woman, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s a story floating around the internet of a senior picture at a school in Texas gone awry when a group of around 70 students started shouting “Heil Trump!  Heil Hitler” during their class photo.  The stories, as you all know, go on and on and on and affect everyone who isn’t a white, cis-gender, Christian.  It’s horrifying.  I canNOT incorporate the fact that people, millions and millions of people, think that this man was the correct choice for President of these great, yet broken, United States.  (Photo credit:  http://nymag.com/selectall/2017/02/ny-subway-swastikas-removed-by-hand-sanitizer-in-viral-post.html)

There was a post from Humans of New York that I wish I could find, but I can’t.  A woman was talking about her difficulty with the election cycle and said (something to the effect of), “for me, the line in the sand was the misogyny.  For others, it was abortion.  For others still it was something else. I have a hard time understanding other people’s lines.”  That sums up everything I’m feeling right now.  It unconditionally does not make any sort of sense to me that people could have different lines in the sand.  How can any of the things he said be ok?  How can his stance on business or the fact that he isn’t a life long politician, how can that possibly outweigh ANY of the rest of it?  He would have to hold the secret to ending world hunger and communicable diseases for all eternity to have me even begin to consider voting for him.  How can the fact that the use of a private email server (which, by the way, Trump himself is now doing…hypocrisy much?) be enough to think the current choice is better?  I just, I mean really, I just do not have the capability of incorporating this into any sense of reality.  I just don’t.  Has anyone had success doing this?  Not that I want to try.  But anything? I feel so stuck most days.  I don’t know how to move through a world that exists like that.  Shame on my privileged life that this is my most uncomfortable living setting.  The end of this tunnel seems impossibly far away, and the tunnel could collapse before we even get to the end.

  • LGBTQ rights.  Again.  Tell me I’m wrong.  You who claim that your version of G-d makes no mistakes.  Who claim that to live your life as G-d like as possible is the only way.  You who claim that the path to righteousness is to follow the teachings of a man who spoke about unconditional love and understanding.  Go ahead and tell me again how G-d made mistakes and that people who fall anywhere in the vast queer spectrum are wrong.  A favorite comedian of mine once said, “The mere fact that there are gay people born in the back woods of Alabama is enough to prove that being gay isn’t a choice.”  Why would someone chose to be gay in an area where they will be ostracized, abandoned and the target of mass hate?
  • Abortion.  Please.  Let’s go back to a time where 5,000+ women died annually in a fight to have autonomy over their own bodies.  Tell me again how you, whoever you are, get to decide what is right and what I can or can’t do with my own body.  Tell me again how you, who fight so hard for an unborn collection of cells will then turn around and fight when I request government assistance.  How you will call me a whore, a thief and a liar who lives off the teat of the government and the hard work of other Americans.  The collection of cells only matter until they are born huh?  Then you could care less about them.
  • Education.  Continuing the theme of “these cells only matter until they are born”, let’s talk about education.  How is it even a little OK that a man, who openly mocked people with disabilities, is in charge of appointing someone who will have an impact on my students?  Not only that, but the person he picked?  And we all thought John King was bad.  How in the world is it feasible that a woman WHO HAS NO IDEA THAT THERE IS A FEDERAL LAW PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES, not to mention her atrocious and extremely dangerous belief in taking federal dollars away from Title 1 schools for “school choice” is one small Republican Senator away from being official?  I cannot.
  • Immigration.  Let’s face it people, unless you are a Native American, you are, in some way, shape, or form, an immigrant in this country.  Do we, as a nation, need to make sure that we vet people?  Yes.  But guess what?  We already have a strenuous vetting process to enter this country.  Asking people their beliefs on the President before they enter the country and denying them entrance based on that?  Seriously?  I travel abroad at least once a year.  If they ask me my beliefs, I doubt I’ll be let back in the country.  Do we need to protect ourselves?  Yes.  We do.  Does that mean that anyone with a weird (to us) last name, a hijab, a turban, a burka, or brown skin is inherently evil and a terrorist?  No.  Throughout our history, people have been openly discriminated against based on where they came from.  How many of your relatives came over during one of the immigration waves and changed their last names at Ellis Island for fear of discrimination?  Again, yes, I understand that in the extremism of the post 9/11 world that we live in that we need to protect ourselves as a nation, but this immigration ban is unbelievably un-American.
  • Dakota Access Pipeline.  The crimes we, as Americans, have committed agains the Native Americans is nothing short of genocide in my opinion.  We have pushed policy after policy after policy through to oppress the Native population of this country.  We have marched them from their tribal lands.  We have lied.  We have stolen.  We have raped.  We have pillaged.  We have shrunk a population of people down to it’s bare bones but that’s still not enough for us.  Now, instead of responsibly harvesting energy, we are, as is the norm, taking the shortest (and in this case most destructive) path to victory.  We care nothing for the fact that in refusing the shift the location of a pipeline, we are creating the potential to completely destroy the drinking water for the reservation.  (I am aware that despite a mountain of reading, I may be getting some facts twisted.  If you notice any profound inaccuracies, please respectuflly let me know if the comments below).

The other problem I’m having today is centered around the Superbowl.  Such a silly thing to be up and arms about, when you first read the sentence but hear me out.  I’m not talking about the stunning Patriots comeback and could give two shits about whether or not Brady and Belichick are cheaters (as the evidence strongly suggests that for at least one Superbowl, they were).  What I’m talking about is Lady Gaga’s performance.  I, personally, enjoyed performance.  She did what she always does.  She put on a phenomenal show with a strong message about inclusivity and LGBTQ rights.  That’s been her platform for a while now.  But guess who else put on a killer show with a strong message that’s been in line with their platform?  Beyonce.  That’s right.  But all of a sudden there is article after article and statement after statement about how it was Lady Gaga who taught Beyonce a lesson in bringing America together.  Why?  Because Lady Gaga’s message was about people you could imagine as white?  Because fighting for LGBTQ rights is inherently less “dangerous” than fighting for the rights of people of color?  Because it’s “less” offensive to be gay than it is to be black?  Because we refuse to take a look at our police and we refuse to hold them accountable for murder?  (This in and of itself could turn into a whole rant about how we hold every other profession – mostly – accountable for mistakes – hell…teachers a essentially burned at the stake if they don’t hit a certain criteria for test score).  White people are so unbelievably scared of the concept of ALL people being equal.  If I can no longer oppress people who are black or gay or Muslim, than what does that mean for me as a white person?  Clearly raising someone up to have the same full rights as me means I’m less than right?  Because that’s what it seems like.  We seem to be so convinced that if everyone has equal rights, that really means that we won’t.  There have been so many articles written about why saying “All Lives Matter” is a crock of shit.  Do you homework and go read them.  Whitenonsense Roundup is a fantastic resource.

Ugh.  I’m so annoyed.  And out of time.  I’ll write more tonight if I can remember, or I’ll update tomorrow morning if any new feelings arise.

 

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.

Matt: (voice escalating)  I SAID MIND YOUR OWN DAMN BUSINESS.  I’LL TALK TO YOU ANY DAMN WAY I PLEASE.

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.

“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.” – Malala Yousafzai

John-King-Jr-blog.jpgPhoto credit: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2015/10/meet_john_king_acting_secretary_of_education.html

Meet John B. King.  The new Secretary of Education; confirmed by a Senate hearing on March 14th, 2016.

Mr. King brings with him an impressive resume.  To see the full details of it, go here.  On paper, he makes an impressive statement.  He seems well put together.  He seems like a man who fights for students, parents and teachers.

In my experience, he is not.  At all.

My first opportunity to interact with Mr. King, came in the form of a panel, sponsored by the education policy group Educators4Excellence (E4E).  While I have many a thing to say about E4E, some favorable, some very much not, I will do my best to leave their involvement in my opinion of Mr. King out of this post.  If you’re a teacher and you are reading this, go check them out.

At this panel, Mr. King was speaking about the initial role out of the Common Core Learning Standards.

Before I get into further detail, let me digress again and just say this, “I believe in the Common Core and I believe in the NEED for the Common Core.”  To read more on my opinions about where the core is failing read this (a report I helped spear head and write about how the Common Core should be adapted to better service English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities).

Back to the topic at hand…At this E4E sponsored panel, I heard Mr. King speak about the Core and why teachers needed it and what he thought could be improved upon in terms of rollout (Core rollout in New York City was particularly disastrous).  I was able to submit a question to Mr. King; a question which I still have, which was the basis for the paper linked in the paragraph above.  I asked simply, “What are you and/or the department of education doing to look at the Core and adapt or adjust them for students with severe disabilities?”

An easy enough question no?  You are rolling out education policy that affects all teachers and all students.  Surely you’ve thought of all teachers and all students when writing and rolling out this policy!

His response is something I will never forget, and as a defining moment in my career as a young teacher, I can quote him with confidence.  “Well, those students really only make up about 1% of the population here in New York City, so we aren’t really concerned with them.”  Thinking about it now still boils my blood.  This man, this coward, looked a room full of 250-300 teachers in the eye and said, I only care about this chunk of kids.  Keep in mind that 1% of the student population in New York City is still a whopping 141,553 students (Statistical summaries as of 10/31/15 from the DOE’s website) not including those students who attend private or charter schools.  While I don’t remember my immediate reaction, I have it on good authority that I looked quite like I was going jump the aisle and hop on stage to have a word with good old Mr. King.  I did not however.  I sat.  I thought.  I stewed.

Several months later, E4E let me know about an open forum Mr. King was hosting at an elementary school right across the street from Pace University in downtown Manhattan.  They asked me if I wanted to speak.  They knew, and rightfully so, that there would be many parents, teachers, and students there, emphatically protesting Common Core.  (Again, the rollout in NYC was disastrous and many parents, teachers and students have a problem with what they perceive to be the Core.  If you read the Core and you hear their arguments, which are valid, the issue stems from not the Core themselves, but the curriculum people are selling “based” on the Core which specify a specific way to teach things.  The Core themselves do not do this.  For more information on what the Core actually say, go here.)

I wrote my speech, I proclaimed that I agreed with the need as a nation for the Core, and then I went for blood.  “When I last spoke with Commissioner King, I asked him how he was planning on adapting the Common Core for those students in D75. He stated that D75 students only accounted for 1% of the population of NYC DOE students. That 1% is 140,000 students. 140,000 students who are being marginalized DAILY because of an untested system that has yet to be differentiated to meet every child’s needs…” I had at least one other paragraph after this one but I stopped…because Mr. King rolled his eyes and looked the other way, his body language clearly saying, “Here’s another liar, come to yell at me through a microphone.  Isn’t it time to go home yet?”  While I did call him out on previous behavior, I did nothing but speak to facts.  I was in the room when he said those things to me.  So were 250-300 other teachers.  I’m not sitting here screaming at you to get rid of the Common Core.  I’m not spouting and making up crazy facts.  I am repeating things you have said directly to me.

You know how they say not to mess with a mama bear trying to protect her cubs?  You will be hard bent to find someone who loves and tries to protect her students more than I do.  I damn near lost my mind.

Leaving the rest of my speech to die on the paper in my hands, and completely ignoring the poor woman in front of me holding up the “30 seconds left” sign, I became that person at the forum.  The one who is no longer rational.  Who sees someone who is now actively trying to deny and hurt my children.  “How DARE you roll your eyes at me sir!  I am not here to thump a book and speak false truths!” (I believe I actually said, “bible thump…”)  “This is what you said to me, and this is when you said it and you said it in front of hundreds of other teachers.  How DARE you tell me that my students don’t matter.  They deserve a voice.  They deserve a quality education that thinks of them and takes their unique needs into consideration when education policy is written.”  I doubt I was actually that eloquent.  I can’t remember all the details of what I said, but I can tell you I was fuming.  When I finished my say, or more likely, when I could no longer hold the mic due to shaking, I put it back on it’s stand, grabbed the rest of my things, and walked out.

Lucky for me, I was followed out of the room by Patrick Wall, a reporter for what was Gotham Schools News and is now Chalkbeat.  He took the time to sit with me and several other teachers of students with disabilities and write this article about our concerns.  He listened where Mr. King failed to.

Mr. King did many other things that night.  I can’t say I was the most eloquently spoken person in the room, but I did attempt to engage Mr. King in an open discussion, coming from a place of “maybe if he hears this point, he’ll take a step back and reevaluate”, instead of a place of “you son of a **** look at what you have done to my child!”  Mr. King (you too Ms. Tisch, don’t think you get off free here – Merryl Tisch was the director of the Board of Regents in New York…another heinously disengaged person), sat there and actively disengaged themselves from the entire proceedings.  Their only answers seemed to revolve around remaining positive that they had done nothing wrong.

Here’s a great (and I think fair) article by the Washington Post about Mr. King’s time as New York State Education Commissioner.

And despite all of this, Mr. King has been confirmed as the benevolent overlord of education in our nation.

I had the opportunity to also submit questions to the Senate for Mr. King’s confirmation hearing.  I have no idea if any of them were asked or if they were, if they were answered, so I’ll leave them here for you to read and ponder. (Thank you to those who helped me compile these questions).

–       Current assessment protocols only address academic content areas.  How do teachers maintain equity in meeting the educational needs of those students with the most severe and multiple disabilities, especially in reference to other measured standards such as health, physical education, family and consumer sciences, and career development and occupational studies?

–       What do you anticipate future programming and assessments for low incident students including multiply, physically and emotionally disabled students to look like and how to you anticipate conceiving and implementing those programs and assessments?

–       The roll out and implementation of Common Core, specifically in New York City, was admittedly a disaster and students with severe disabilities were left out of policy decisions.  What do you plan on changing or doing to ensure past mistakes are not repeated?

–       The “Every Student Succeeds Act” does not contain any provisions or adaptations for students with severe disabilities.  What do you plan on doing to expand or adapt this act to be more inclusive to those unique student populations?

–       There are many examples of people with disabilities succeeding in the workplace such as Paper Clouds Apparel (Phoenix, AZ, Austin, TX, and San Diego, CA and Beaus Coffee (in Wilmington NC) as well as many others across our nation.  What will you do to create and enact policy that includes provisions for these students to succeed and gain function and vocational skills?

–       Many New York State teachers and parents feel as if their trust in Education Policy and the system has been broken.  What do you plan to do, if anything, to rebuild trust and to openly engage teachers and parents in future education policy?

–       Do you have any investments in New York?  If you do, are any of those investments profiting from the ESSA policies?

 

Dear teachers,

Yeah you.  All of you.  The ones struggling through the days wondering why spring break is so late.  The ones who stay up way past a reasonable hour and wake up much before the rest.  The ones who commute hours and hours a day from the far reaching ends of Long Island, New Jersey, Connecticut and West Chester.  The ones who are spending their paychecks on supplies even before the check as cleared.

You are amazing.  You are appreciated.  You are doing phenomenal things for your students that no one else can do.

Keep getting out of bed.  Keep adapting.  Keep loving your students.  Keep making a difference and keep fighting for their voices to be heard.

With love and solidarity.