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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

#UMWFG: Career 2 to Career 1

In Education, Encouragement, Happiness, Using my words for good #UMFWG on November 3, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I used to be an educator. I taught public school for four years after I earned by Master’s Degree in Middle Grades Language Arts and Social Studies. Before I left the classroom, I taught grades 4, 5, and 7.

I hated it. I LOVED my students, and they had great parents. My co-workers were, for the most part, intelligent, funny, and wonderful to work with. Administrators could be rather a mixed bag of both astonishingly capable and astonishingly nonchalant. But, my employer. Sheesh and good grief. Sheesh and good grief.

I’m no longer in the classroom, and I have no desire to go back to the classroom on a five-day a week, eight+ hours a day basis. I volunteer with high school students, and that usually fills my desire to help and teach young people. But, looking back, if I had known some things up front, I may have passed a more pleasant and meaningful time in the classroom–and maybe I would have stayed longer.

1. CELEBRATE. Most first-year teachers get caught up in a whirlwind of preparing classrooms, grading papers, getting into the schedule, and writing lesson plans. Stop each day–if only for a couple of minutes to celebrate where you are. Take before and after pictures of your classroom. Keep a one sentence journal of at least one good thing that happened that day.

Celebrate with your students in small ways. At my first school, some really awesome teachers would give their classes “silent sprinkles” or “spirit fingers.” It was just a small way to celebrate the small learning victories that your students truly will make everyday. Some concepts are really hard. In my field, grammar parsing is a notorious trap of confusion. I gave sprinkles every chance I got, and it really came to mean something good for my students.

Smiling students = smiling teacher = happier days

2. ERASE THE NEGATIVITY OF OTHERS. I clearly remember one of my coworkers trying to have a come-to-Jesus moment with me and reveal to me all the things that I “can’t” do. I listened quietly, simmered internally, and immediately went out and got a hat made that said

SONY DSC

I didn’t realize that so many people in a work environment would be into crushing my spirit. But, that’s about what happened. And, I was unprepared for that so EVERYTHING affected me. The lunch lady who cursed me out in front of my students; the principal who called me into her office for “sitting wrong” during a meeting. More than shutting out that negativity, I should have let each of them know in person that, even though I was 24 years old, I was a professional and a human being. I was not there to make friends or be liked. If any of them had a personal problem with me, I would not have minded addressing it. As it was, I wore my emotions on my face and they each smelled blood, and went for the kill.

My advice to you: address problems like this head on, in person, and in no uncertain terms. Failing to address these problems will not make them go away.

#UMWFG: The Dream Maker

In Education, Happiness, Law School Problems, Lawyer Problems, Somewhat disjointed rant... on October 28, 2013 at 3:23 am

That’s exactly what your brain is: a dream maker of the sleeping, waking, and life-long varieties. As a teacher, one of my favorite things was watching a student formulate a dream and begin to articulate that dream and take steps toward that dream. My 7th graders are now 11th graders, and it is so ¬†cool to see them pursuing fashion, writing, graphic arts, computer science, music, dance, engineering, skateboarding, sports, public speaking, and general happiness. Encouraging and equipping young people to make dreams and pursue dreams is THE most important function of our education system.

But, I digress. The point is to use my words for good. At this moment, I want to celebrate by using my words for good. I found out Friday that I passed the Georgia Bar examination. I get to be an attorney ūüôā I have wanted to be an attorney since at least the fourth grade and probably since the first grade.

I am blessed to say that I didn’t reach this dream by accident, by luck, or particularly quickly. ¬†While I am not insane enough to believe that every human being should become a lawyer, I am insane enough to believe that EVERY human being needs a dream to chase. More than that: every dreamer needs encouragement and the occasional push while hunting down that elusive and nearly invisible dream.

Here are some mental and emotional obstacles that I have encountered on my continuing journey:

1. I AM NOT TOO OLD. “By the time you graduate, you’ll be 32!” They said. But, I was going to be 32 either way, right? Don’t listen to this one.

2. I AM NOT TOO YOUNG. Ok, ok, ok. So, yes. LOTS of young people need to experience life before honing in on THE DREAM. But, I knew in high school that I wanted to major in political science and minor in history. I took a long path trying to make “sure” that the dream I had was the right dream. There is no “right” dream. There is my dream and there are the dreams that don’t belong to me.

3. THERE ARE NEVER TOO MANY PEOPLE. ¬†“There are so many lawyers out there already. Do you really want to be one more?” They said. ¬†Incorrect thought process. There is not another me who is already a lawyer. There is a reason that God dropped a love of politics and law into a 6 year old’s heart. I may indeed be one of thousands of lawyers, but I have a purpose that is unique.

4. MY DREAM IS NOT THE ONLY DREAM. There’s no need to trample someone else’s dream. That’s just rude. I have no right to do it to another any more than that other has the right to do it to me. It all comes down to the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

5. SOMEONE ELSE’S DREAM IS NOT AN INDICTMENT OF YOUR DREAM. “Oh. A lawyer? Well, that’s not my thing. I’m perfectly ok with ______.” A few times when I told others that I was quitting my job and going back to law school, I was met with a chill. I don’t think that law is the best profession. Law is simply the best profession for me. The fact that I chose law doesn’t mean that I think that anyone else should choose law. Be careful of people who meet your dream with this reaction; before you know it, you might begin to think that your dream is TOO big, TOO impossible, and TOO impractical for you to chase.

6. DREAMERS NEED COMPANY. But, not just any company. I had to surround myself with like-minded dreamers. Dreams are tiring, exhilarating, elusive, and tangible all at the same time. That roller coaster can put pressure on partnerships and friendships if both people don’t know first-hand the weight of a dream. I lost friends and made friends during law school. The making of friends felt great. The losing of friends was wrenching.

7. SHORT TERM SACRIFICE IS CONTINUALLY IN THE WINGS. Dreams are time-consuming and/or money-consuming affairs. Before I started law school, I was focused on paying down my loan from getting my master’s degree and also with saving money in general. So, no fancy handbags; no new cars; no elaborate vacations; no fancy crib. I didn’t have time to plan all my meals. Regrettably, I ate many meals from the snack machine. I didn’t have the money to get the AC in my car fixed right away, so I hot-boxed my way through town for a few weeks. I had to cut down on my church commitments. But, now I know that none of it was permanent. I can lose weight. I got my AC fixed (eventually). I have more time now to spare, and I have learned that new cars, vacations, and houses are not the causes of happiness but are rather the least important symptoms of success. Fancy handbags, I must admit, are my weakness.

8. LIFE IS A WONDERFUL EXPERIMENT. There is no guaranteed outcome for which every human being should be gunning. When I was teaching, I would spend my weekends grading papers and being angsty. Monday morning was a bad time, topped only by the first day after Christmas break. I was overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time. To put it bluntly, I was unhappy. Not because teaching is a bad career–but because I wasn’t meant to be a teacher for any longer than the 4 years that I did it. There is nothing sinful in changing directions. There is no shame in admitting that you need to make a new choice.

9. IT’S RARELY ABOUT THE MONEY. I won’t say never. But, I never cared much about being filthy rich. I’m not sure why, it just never was something I was into. I didn’t go to law school to make piles of money (though, to be sure, if was not blind to the fact that I could make piles of money). When the economy tanked and legal jobs were hard to find and salaries fell to bargain basement levels, I wasn’t *quite* as disappointed as I might otherwise have been. Pablo Picasso, Sigmund Freud, Marie Curie, Thurgood Marshall, Nelson Mandela, Shirley Chisolm and Coco Chanel didn’t chase their dreams for the money (though money several of them made). Money is just a symptom of chasing and catching the dream. Money itself isn’t much good–unless (obviously) you plan on having a Scrooge McDuck-style money tidal pool.

10. TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE. Don’t change your dream because of someone else’s actions or words. Don’t fail to change your dream because of someone else’s actions or words. Your life is entrusted to your keeping alone once you reach adulthood.

A Moderate Black Woman Stands Her Ground

In and other uncomfortable topics, Education, R[evol]ution, Somewhat disjointed rant... on July 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm

First, allow me to apologize. I apologize to all of the people who are either angered or attracted by the title of this post. I may not say what you think I am about to say. I further apologize for my use of humor. I do not mean to make a joke of the entire situation, but I use humor as a defense mechanism. Needless to say, I feel like I am on the defensive right now.

If each person on this planet had a baseball card, the back of mine would likely contain the following stats.

  • 5’9.5″ tall, 175 pounds
  • Hometown: Decatur, Georgia
  • Socioeconomic status of birth: Working class
  • Age: 32
  • Race: Black
  • High School: Columbia High School; Decatur, Georgia
  • College/University: Agnes Scott College; Decatur, Georgia
  • Graduate school: Georgia State University (Master’s Degree in Education, 2006; Juris Doctor Degree, 2013); Atlanta, Georgia
  • Religion: Christian
  • Politics: Bleedingest of Bleeding Heart Liberal
  • Gender identity: Female
  • Sexuality: Heterosexual
  • Current occupation: Studying for the Georgia Bar
  • Friend group: Diverse

I think that many people who know me would identify me as moderate to liberal on most issues. In the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin and the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, I have had to dig for the most compassionate, balanced, moderate stance that I could muster. But, that still leaves me angry, sad, and worried. Yes. The most moderate stance still means I am angry.

This is not about George Zimmerman. Something in my heart tells me that Mr. Zimmerman has had (and will continue to have) an unenviable life. This is not about him. This is not about the verdict in this case. The moment that this situation was submitted to the American legal system a verdict of not guilty became a part of the “what if” spectrum.

This, like a great deal of the things swirling in my head, is about me.

I am angry. I’m angry because all lives do not have the same value. The American legal system tells me that. The American education system tells me that. The American political system tells me that. The American employment system tells me that. I do not have empirical proof of that. I do not have scientific studies to back me up. I have the lowliest of all evidence: narrative proof. As a Black Woman (double whammy), I know and I have heard and I have told numerous stories.

I am angry because I looked at the crime scene photos. That’s right. I steeled my heart and looked at Trayvon Martin, sprawled out lifeless in the grass. Tall, lanky, handsome, clean cut and with his pristine Jordans on. Looking so eerily untouched; looking as if he could have blinked his eyes and stood up with the uttering of a simple “Lazarus, come forth.” But, he wasn’t untouched. He didn’t blink his eyes. He didn’t stand up. And, no one uttered “Lazarus, come forth.”

That’s not fair.

That’s not fair for Trayvon’s family. It’s not fair for the thousands of other families with young, brown sons and grandsons and nephews. Yes, brown. Not just African-American. But, there is a rub. This is not about racists with white hoods or pitch forks or slurs dripping from their mouths. They are easy to denounce. They are obvious. This is about an insidious, subtle little thing.

The thing that makes me go inside of my house quickly and lock the door and stay away from the windows whenever I see a sleek Mercedes driving my street at night.

The thing that makes me shake my head whenever I see a Black woman get into a car with a White man at the check cashing place at the corner of Austin and Glenwood.

The thing that makes me lock my car doors any time I, alone in my car, pull up to a red light next to a truck with a gun rack and a confederate flag displayed.

The thing that necessitates me walking into Neiman Marcus with my head held high, my eyebrow raised, and my back impossibly straight.

The thing that made Trayvon Martin, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, Matthew Shepard, and Kathryn Johnston (despite the tragically different inhumanity of their deaths and the frighteningly arrayed motivations and identities of their killers) easier targets for violence.

Stereotypes. We all hold them and use them. And, we rarely challenge our own pet stereotypes and the prejudices that underlie them.

I have no right to assume that a Black woman getting into a car with a White man at the check cashing place is a prostitute and that he is up to no good. I have no right to assume that the Mercedes is driven by a coked-up, gun happy drug dealer. I have no right to assume that the people in that truck will drag me out of my little Honda and lynch me. The associates in Neiman Marcus have no right to assume that I will steal any of the (surprisingly tacky) clothes they have on display.

And, here is where I stand my ground. I will not retreat. I will not go to the wall. Regardless of what you say, I believe what I am about to say is right with every fiber of my being.

Every time I, personally, am afraid when I see a Black man approach me and I don’t challenge my own fear and examine it and debunk it: I am making it a little more possible for another family to lose their tall, lanky, handsome, clean cut son. Every time I, personally, think that a woman with a short skirt and a good body looks like a slut: I am making it a little more possible for someone to think that she “deserves” to be raped. Every time I, personally, snort and shake my head when a (frankly, very brave) young Black woman admits she has difficulty reading cursive: I am making it a little more possible for the American education system to justify the abandonment of more young Black people.

I already know the reaction I will get. Those deaths are not related! A self-defense murder and a brutal rape and murder and a homophobic attack on a young man and a mistakenly tragic execution of a no knock warrant? Absolutely unrelated, one might think. But, those needless deaths are all grounded in stereotypes that were petted and fed and nurtured and allowed to grow and then those fully-grown, flesh-thirsty, vicious stereotypes were used in different ways.

This is not about George Zimmerman. This is about me.

My obsession with the Klan

In Education, Encouragement, R[evol]ution, Somewhat disjointed rant... on February 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm

You read that right. And, yes. I DO mean THAT Klan. The Ku Klux Klan. I find it/them fascinating. Since my days at Agnes Scott College, I have been doing primary and secondary research on the history of the Klan. Some people find it odd that I (a reasonably sane Black woman from the South) actively search for ways to research and write about the Klan.

They stand for death, for hatred, for an era that most would care to forget, and for attitudes that many wish did not exist. That is precisely why I research the Klan. In touching their old literature, in viewing their brutal pictures, in reading accounts of their ghastly activities: I feel that I have faced the ugliness of the past and it has not and will not destroy me. I have pulled the sheets away and revealed the ghost to be little more than humans cowering behind the color of their skin. I have exposed the deathly underbelly of the American identity, but I still believe that there is room in this country for justice.

For Black Southerners, the Klan is a resonantly eerie and threatening reminder of how far this country has come in terms of race relations and how far this country has yet to go. Yet, in my heart while I research and while I write, I recognize that I am. Regardless of their marches, their parades, their lynchings, their beatings, their violent words, and their threats: I exist as a mixed-up conglomeration of brown-ness. That hatred does not negate my existence. That ugliness does not change the beauty of my own family’s history.

Former Teacher RANT

In Education, Somewhat disjointed rant... on December 4, 2012 at 12:48 am

I was bitter when I left education, but I never talked about it.¬†I had great colleagues, great students, and great parents. I would never want my frustration to diminish the greatness of what I learned and the people I met and taught.¬†What I lacked was a good employer. I worked for a school system in the state of Georgia. I direct all of my frustration at my former employer. On days when I’m not quite sure why I’m in law school, I think about all of the legally deplorable situations that I was in as a teacher–and suddenly, I become William Wallace. Let me explain why…

1. School systems cleverly pay teachers a salary, rather than paying them by the hour. The fact that I was paid a salary meant that I was due no overtime. Teacher conferences, PTA meetings, school events, plays, teacher workdays, and time spent preparing my classroom for students was not compensable EVEN IF IT EXCEEDED 40 hours per week. Even though I was essentially an hourly employee, with no ability to work flex time (I couldn’t come in an hour late and stay an hour longer, for instance). I once had a principal explain to me that all of that was calculated into my base salary. Right. Oh. Ok.

2. I never felt that I got the disciplinary support that I needed. I ¬†had a student call me a man…several times…to my face. I once had a student rummage through my personal belongings. I experienced several instances of students bullying each other. None of these students (Manly, Rummagey, or the Bullies) were ever suspended or even sent to in-school suspension. I was once told that I CAN’T expect students not to do things like that. BUT, my employer expected me to be able to teach 3 courses to 2 grades at the same time (for the record, I was teaching SIX different subjects each with its own academic standards EVERY day). CAN’T? Right. Oh. Ok.

3. When I tried to institute my own disciplinary procedures, I got in even more trouble. Yeah, I said it. TROUBLE. Indeed. The students weren’t called to the office; but I sure was! Boy, oh, boy. I got called on the carpet for yelling; for things that I said to fellow teachers; for things that I should have said to fellow teachers; for being absent too much; for not sitting in chairs properly (really happened). But, when I send a student to the office for physically hitting another student? Naaaaaah, send him back to class. He’ll be just fine. Right. Oh. Ok.

4. Teacher’s contracts are terrible. Believe it or not, they’re about two pages long. They always refer to some blasted addendum. What ADDENDUM? It’s available upon request? I don’t know about that; now, I’m not a contracts law genius or anything but, it seems to me that the addendum should be furnished to each person who is in the acceptance process. Oh, it would cost too much to produce that many addenda? Well, maybe you should STOP TRYING TO PULL A FAST ONE ON YOUR EMPLOYEES BY SLIPPING EVERY ACCURSED THING INTO THE ADDENDUM. For me, not signing that last contract I received was a feeling of freedom like no other. There’s a copy of the addendum in the media center? Right. Oh. Ok.

5. Pay teachers a living wage. Period. Many of my colleagues had second jobs and side hustles. Being a teacher COSTS a lot of money. From markers, to transparencies, to posters, ¬†to educational games, teachers buy and/or make a lot of things in their classrooms. That’s money that they will never see again, because it’s not like anyone is going to buy all of that stuff from them. Teachers who retire or leave the profession do the same thing I did when I left: I GAVE THINGS AWAY. Was all that captured in my salary, too? Right. Oh. Ok.

6. IEPs are a serious thing. Students who need individualized education plans deserve the same quality of education as every other student. I’m not quite sure how a triplicate form with check-boxes on it could be individualized, but let’s pretend that such ¬†a form is individualized. It seems to me that the teachers who teach the student should have an overwhelming voice (along with the parents) regarding which boxes are checked. But, no. An IEP (in my experience) is not collaborative document of a collaborative process. It is a mere CYA formality so that the employer can say: HERE IT IS. All the while, however, the teachers are left with very little support to help a student who needs and deserves help. But, it will all turn out ok in the end! Right. Oh. Ok.

If I seem frustrated and angry, that’s because I am. My employer treated me terribly, and expected me to thank them for it. I was sad to leave the kids and my colleagues. But, now, the school systems of Georgia can do nothing to me; I know all of their tricks; I’ve seen all of their cards; I am familiar with all of their mis-truths. I am outside of the box. But, justice is calling.

First AND LAST warning (on a slightly unrelated note): HOW ABOUT YOU SCHOOL SYSTEMS POST A PANEL OF PHYSICIANS WHERE TEACHERS CAN SEE IT?