Friday, September 22, 2006

After Reflection...My Response to the USA Today Article

I’ve been somewhat quiet about the USA Today article seen here because I wanted to be clear in my own mind what it all means to me. I decided to let a few days pass, have a glass of wine, and then let it all pour out.

Greg Toppo contacted me around July 19th right after mother had died. It was a really strange period, but I was more than glad to talk to him. I had to clarify why I had started this site and what my goals were. I agree with what I said at the time that my writing for this site “helps me gather [my] thoughts and speak for myself.” I love to write about social studies curriculum especially historical content when I am able to tie in my experiences in the classroom and from my past. It also doesn’t hurt to see the different viewpoints, check up on the newest research, and simply converse.

Not only is this a place for me to explore my desire to write and perhaps serve as a conduit to another career (Publishers, where are you?), I also feel strongly that this site allows me the opportunity to express the joy, the anger, the frustration, even the wonder at what I do and how people react to my profession. I was quoted in the article saying, “As a teacher, I feel like people don’t listen to me. Parents don’t listen to me, politicians don’t listen to me, the media doesn’t listen to me---but everyone tries to tell me how to do my job.” I could have probably added some other groups in the mix such as some researchers, authors, pundits and the biggie for me…my professional educational organization (union).

In a previous lifetime I was a paralegal. I always felt respected. I always felt like my knowledge was valued even by the attorneys I worked for. I long for that sometimes.

What many people don’t realize is the nature of the process of blogging. Alexander Russo from This Week in Education got it right when he said in the article, “It’s the equivalent of a dispatch from the front lines or letter written in a foxhole.” Mr. Toppo also gets it right when he refers to the “raw and unscripted” nature of blogging.

Well, I certainly proved that point to myself. I had been waiting and waiting and waiting for the article to come out. When it finally did come out I didn’t even know it until 5 p.m. on Monday. I had no idea they were going to link to one of my posts. I was shocked because I had posted it rather quickly late on the Wednesday before and had not proofed my work like I try to do….and what do you know….a typo right there for USA Today to pick up and publish…..not only in the paper, but on-line as well. A heads-up would have been appreciated.

“CRAP”, is not the word I uttered when this was discovered. Apparently only two people were really livid enough about it to actually contact me…one through a scathing comment and one through snail mail (yep, one person took the time to cut out the article, draw an arrow to the error and spent postage to mail it to me at school----thank-you high school science teacher from Atlanta, Georgia). Of course, the two people who wanted to draw and quarter me and burn me at the stake didn’t identify themselves. One was a regular reader who didn’t want to identify themselves but notified me of the error in a nice way….thanks. I fired off a plea to Mr. Toppo about the excerpt from my post “A Typical Day”. He responded “The excerpt was a last-minute addition and I’m sorry we didn’t get the corrected version. I have forwarded your e-mail to editors…” I’m grateful it was corrected the following day. I’m not dismissing the error….but my body of work here at this site and at American Presidents Blog speak volumes of my abilities, my love of my subject matter and my professionalism. ‘Nuff said about that……

Everybody has an opinion about how to improve education, but aren’t we the ones on the front line? Aren’t we the ones who are where it really counts? We are the ones that sit across from the student, one-on-one, witnessing the child’s behavior, witnessing the child’s thought processes, redirecting the child, celebrating accomplishments with the child, and picking up the pieces by changing course to give it a go again when there is failure. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying politicians, parents, the media, etc. don’t have a right to be part of the conversation. They do, but so often we only hear they are right, and we are wrong. I’m the one sitting there with the child. I guess I am supposed to tell the child:

“Gee, hon’, I guess I ‘m seeing imaginary things because you’re mom says you never act like this at home.”

“I don’t understand why you aren’t getting this. I’m using the **** method. It is the approved method by the school system and the top educational researchers. They say if I do this you will succeed.”

“Now, come on dear. Get with the program. Mr. Politician says I can’t leave you behind even though you disrupt my classroom, threaten my life, and haven’t picked up a pencil in three years.”

The picture I’ve placed with this post is Horton. Loveable Horton from Horton Hears a Who. Educators need to get a voice, join ranks and yell at the top of their lungs, “We are here. We are here. WE ARE HERE.” These blogs give us the chance to do this….sometimes in a positive way and sometimes in a negative way. I think either method has its place. Jay Bullock at Folkbum has it correct when he says, "So much of the criticism of education that I read is from people who don’t actually have a good sense of what goes on day-to-day in the classroom.” Jay is on track. How many times have you had a parent volunteer say to you, “Gee, why do you have to do that? I didn’t know this was part of your job.” The general public doesn’t know, and that’s why it’s so important for us to continue with what we do. If it means I have to be embarrassed concerning the use of “I” and “me” in front of the whole world, or if it means I have to show my true self (now you know why I use the cartoon image) in order to be heard I’m willing to do that.

Teachers like First Year Teacher and even our own favorite sub, Mr. Lawrence (He’s only 25? Yikes, I could be his mom) are necessary in this process to remind us that things don’t always work the way they should. This system of ours is broken in so many different places. We leak like a sieve.

Of course, there are others such as my dear, dear friend Dennis Fermoyle who feels that we already have enough black eyes as it is without putting the spotlight on ourselves. The title of his site, From the Trenches of Public Ed., confirms he’s in the same foxhole with us, but he does have a point when he states, “I think sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot. If you’re in public education, you’ve got to understand that when you do things like that you’re really adding to the load against us. Bad things happen, there’s no question, but a lot of good things happen, too.”

Let me refer back to Horton Hears a Who. What finally released the sound so that others on the outside could hear the Whos? Was it one little “yelp” or was it a “yop”? In either case the sound was released and the Whos were saved. Ladies and gentlemen, we need to yelp and yop all over the place!

Want to know what disappointed me most about the whole article? It wasn’t the error, it wasn’t the “you’re a disgrace to the profession” comment, it wasn’t even the one comment I received regarding my appearance (hope you weren’t too disappointed). It has to do with the fact that USA Today came in my classroom to take pictures of me teaching. I made sure I had media releases on each of my homeroom students. I posted our lesson for that day here. The photographer was great…a lovely person. She took so many pictures of my kids. The kids did great…you would have thought they always had a professional photographer in the classroom. I had alerted parents their child might be in the paper. They were excited too. Unfortunately, not a picture was used. I guess that’s how it goes in the media biz.

The best part was sharing the article with my Dad. The man who IF I had ever made all A’s would have said, “Gee, couldn’t you have done better?” The bar was always high at my house. I called Daddy and told him to click on USA Today. He did and followed my directions to the article not knowng where we were going… he at his house on his computer and me fifty miles away on my lap top. His chuckle as he saw his “I’m not overweight, just under tall” daughter was worth it all including the typo. We clicked over to this site and I walked him through various posts I wanted him to see…..we discussed the lovely picture of mom here and he was quick to identify himself by saying "Look at that young, good looking man" when he saw this picture here. Our conversation quickly turned to the frustrations of teaching and Daddy so aptly refocused me….he said, “But, it appears from this site that you are having a ball.” Yes, Daddy….you’ve always been right!

So, I write. I write for me. I write so I can read your writing. I write so others can read my writing and link to your writing. Whether we are positive or negative and whether we want to acknowledge it or not there is an educator out there who feels the same way we do. We are their voice. This became very clear to me in many of the pieces of mail I got this week. I’ll end by sharing this one:

Mrs. Cooper,
As a retired teacher I’m glad to read that you and others are getting your message out. I’m not ‘into’ blogging, so I’m using ‘snail mail’ to add my support. The injustices in salaries, paperwork, and ‘teaching to test’ need to be spread far and wide. So many men and women need to be rewarded by more than the limited GOLDEN APPLES.


Thank you for all of you who support this site by clicking through, by spending many minutes perusing, and thank you to each of you who blog. You are doing more than you realize.

P.S. to Mr. Toppo: Did you have to put the number 44 after my name everytime it was printed….even in the picture caption? Just kidding! :)


Q's Personal Legend said...

I appreciate you. Your students appreciate you. Unfortunately there are some people in this world who feel the need to take their anger out on others. I hate that people are being so petty--I guess they forget that we are human too. Teachers live in glass houses sometimes--everything we do, say, and write is scrutinized. I, like you, try to double-check my spelling and grammar, but sometimes my humanity slips in and I make a mistake. I applaud your courage in 'outing' yourself. If these critics can only find fault in a predicate noun and what not...well, bunk them. Even college-educated individuals make mistakes--I make plenty of them. At least we own up to them and are not bitter.

Basically, I wanted to tell you---


HappyChyck said...

Thanks for the pep rally. The "We are here!" cry is some food for thought for me. One of our local alternative newspapers includes a column written by a school teacher. He always digs up the dirt for the public to read, but for us teachers, we feel vindicated for we know nothing he writes is anything but the truth. No matter how crazy it sounds... However, a few months back, after listing many of the ways teachers in our county get the shaft, he went on to say that sometimes we teachers are victims by choice. It has to do with that "We are here!" cry. Not enough of us do it often enough. And now here's your message today. Ouch. It hits home for me.

BTW, I was so proud to see you and some of my other favorite bloggers featured in a national news story. Despite some of your frustrations, you've represented edu-bloggers well! Congrats!

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

My dear EHT, 44 is a lovely number!

May you never stop writing. We teachers need your voice. Parents and students need your voice. Most of all, the bureaucrats who have never been in a classroom, but who have the audacity to hand down the educational directives that torture teachers and students alike need to hear your voice.

Despite your faux pas, (remember that objective case, my dear?), I remain your devoted fan.

Oh, and did I say keep writing?

Blessings, sister!

Ms. George said...

When I make mistakes, as we all do, I own up to them and move on. Even as teachers, we are not perfect. I believe that our students, and everyone else apparently, need to be reminded of this from time to time.
That said, your blog is wonderful, your ideas are inspiring, and I look forward to continuing to read and relate to the many things you have to share. Keep up the much needed work for all of our sakes, but especially for yours!

KDeRosa said...

one person took the time to cut out the article, draw an arrow to the error and spent postage to mail it to me at school

If there is anything wose than a jackass, it's a pedantic jackass.

Anonymous said...

I was struck by what you said about nobody listening to you and everybody telling you how to do your job. (BTW, we are all listening to you).

I am often amazed at how many people tell us how to do our job. Do customers walk up to bank tellers and tell them they should count the money another way? Do patrons go into the library as tell the librarians they need to catalog to books according to the LoC method instead of Dewey?

I will be back to read some more, and I will never tell you how to do your job.

Congratulations on the article.

Anonymous said...

I was struck by what you said about nobody listening to you and everybody telling you how to do your job. (BTW, we are all listening to you).

I am often amazed at how many people tell us how to do our job. Do customers walk up to bank tellers and tell them they should count the money another way? Do patrons go into the library as tell the librarians they need to catalog to books according to the LoC method instead of Dewey?

I will be back to read some more, and I will never tell you how to do your job.

Congratulations on the article.

EHT said...

Q, from one Georgia girl to another....YOU ROCK too!

Happychyck, Lord knows there are many others who are more qualified that me to speak out, but I agree with your "teacher-columnist" that as a whole our profession tends to be victims by choice.

CTG, I'm YOUR devoted fan. You have handled your recent uncertainty with unbridled professionalism.

Ms. George, you are so right. How can we expect students to own up and show responsiblity if we don't?

Kderosa, I appreciate that...more than you will know.

LadyS, I won't tell you how to do your job either, but you know....a little polite redirection every now and then is ok.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

EHT, this post is an absolute classic! Keep up the great work--at both of your "jobs"! And regarding mistakes, did you notice in my recent post that this high school history teacher misspelled the word Nazi? (It's corrected now.) Everybody makes mistakes. If I had a dime for every bout of cerebral flatulence that I've had, I'd be a wealthy man. And as far as the idiot who was so anxious to point out your mistake goes, I think a scriptural response is in order: Lord, forgive them, for they no not what they do.

EHT said...

Cerebral flatulence....that's a great way to put it Dennis. I like it!

Anonymous said...

Oh man, I totally forgot to send you my congrats on to USA Today article.


EHT said...

Your're sweet, but congrats should be for all of us who are sharing and writing and saying WE ARE HERE!

All of us...those that were mentioned, and those of us who weren't have something special here.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

EHT, Your generosity of spirit shines through in that last comment. Keep shining!

Anonymous said...

Amazing response, there - just to help out, you can borrow that "25" of mine to put after your own name if you want ... somedays, I feel like I warrant your "44!" ;-)

EHT said...

Back at ya', CTG!

Thanks Mr. Lawrence...I may take you up on that. There are many times I still feel like 25....Where does the time go?

TurbineGuy said...

Congratulations. Wooo hooo, by posting here I am only one degree of separation from having my 15 seconds of fame. Seriously, your blog is of the highest caliber. Well deserved kudos.

EHT said...

Thank you Rory. We need more parents like you are willing to get into the discussion and will do what it takes to advocate for your child. That is your number one job!

Anonymous said...

Golly, EHT. I loved reading this post. All I can say is, the profession (not to mention your students) is lucky that you hang in there.

Plus, you're righting is superbe, even with typos. Seriously, you should see what my kids bring home from some of their teachers...grammar errors all over the place...

Anyway, keep fighting the good fight, and keep entertaining me with your reflections.