Voting Advice

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Hey Oklahoma – here’s some advice for this year’s state and municipal elections – vote conservative.

No wait, that’s not the modifier I was searching for.  I meant – vote conservatively.  Don’t waste your vote. I don’t care if there is an R, a D, an I, or a flying spaghetti monster as their affiliation – don’t waste your vote.

Don’t focus on the candidate who espouses their stance on abortion.

Don’t focus on the candidate who lectures about immigration.

Don’t focus on the candidate who has a position on marriage equality.

Don’t focus on the candidate who even mentions repealing Obamacare.

Don’t focus on those people.  They are red herring in the world of political candidates.  These issues have already been decided on by the U.S. Supreme Court.  Focusing on these issues at this time in Oklahoma’s current climate, in my opinion, is a waste of your vote.  It diverts attention from the issues that are strangling Oklahoma.  There will be time to look at these issues again, but now is not that time.

People who focus on those issues have 2 avenues which will guide their politics.  They will either become subjugated to out of state interests and think-tanks such as ALEC or the Heartland Institute, or they are setting themselves up to catapult into the national political arena.

Make your vote count by voting for the people who make Oklahoma their priority.  These priorities should include:

  1. Fixing the Budget/Economy
  2. Education
  3. Corrections
  4. Health Care
  5. Diversifying Oklahoma’s Industry
  6. Protecting our environment – Drinking water will be a big issue soon.

If your legislator proposes model ALEC legislation, it is worth serious consideration to withdraw your support from that person.  We want Oklahoma laws written by Oklahomans for Oklahomans.  Anything else would be common to the core.

*A list is being compiled at this very moment of pro-education candidates.  I highly suggest you support them.  They know that to fix education, many of these other issues will need to be fixed as well.

 

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Give It Back

This weekend has seen an explosion in articles and commentaries on the recent revenue failure the state of Oklahoma is experiencing. In case you haven’t heard, with the recent bust the oil and gas industry is experiencing coupled with our elected officials legislating us into a hole, our state is being forced to strip even more funding away from services that are essential to Oklahoma.

The most recent tax cut went into effect January 1st.  You can use this handy dandy calculator that the Oklahoma Policy Institute developed to see how much your family will save over the course of the year.

While poring over the articles from this weekend, I came across a statement that struck me. I wish I had written down where I’d seen it.  (If you recall, please inform me so that I can link it here.)

One of the elected officials made a comment that churches and other nonprofits would have to step up to help out.  This was one of those statements that struck me as odd and then continued to stay with me.  I keep coming back to it.

At the beginning of the school year, a couple of the local churches donated school supplies to ALL of our students.  Everything on the list was purchased.  One church spent upwards of $25,000 on our 700+ students so they could have all the supplies they’d need at the start of the year.  They spent $25,000 so that teachers wouldn’t have to make up the gap for those students will never be able to bring supplies.  These churches collected money from their congregations – our former, current, and future patrons – and redistributed that money in an effort to reinforce the commitment to public education.  This is something our elected officials are continually ignoring.

I know what the churches are doing.  I also know that non-profits usually have some sort of grant process to award money for projects and supplies. I have received local grants as well as crowd-sourced grants from DonorsChoose.org.  The problem with these is that they need careful pre-planning – which can be done.  But when you have an immediate need that arises, these sorts of resources are often not very much use.

This is why teachers dive into our own pockets.  Continually.

We are not asking for enough money to have a big screen tv, stand up desks, one to one devices, brand new furniture every time we move to a new room, new playground equipment when our population grows – no, we are asking for enough money to ensure that when the basketballs from the gym won’t hold air, we can purchase new ones.  We are asking that when we want to enter our students into a robotics competition, we don’t have to sell candy to do it.  We are asking for hot water in the staff restroom because the hallways aren’t heated and in the winter, it makes it unbearable to wash your hands. We are asking for the ability to put tornado shelters in all our schools because our children are that important.

No, it is not time to pass the buck on to churches and nonprofits.  It’s not the time to rely on those that work in the schools to put even more of our hard earned money back into them.  No, it is high time for our state government, our ELECTED officials to step up and own this.

Tomorrow, I will be writing my check to the school where I teach.  I will, once again, #GiveItBackOK to my state.  This is my choice of protest.Give it back

It’s Fair Time!

This time of year, you might assume that I’m referring to the Great State Fair of Oklahoma.  I’m not.

I’m directing your attention to a mainstay of many southern elementary classrooms – the Reading Fair.

Being a teacher in a different state can often afford one the opportunity to experience even more facets of the craft.  From the traditions, to the school menus (HELLO, red beans and rice for lunch and grits for breakfast), there are things that deserve a place in more schools in other states.

One of these traditions is the Reading Fair.

Here’s how it works.

1 – A student reads a fiction book.  Picture books usually work incredibly well for this.  I encourage my 5th graders to choose whatever speaks to them, even if it is a picture book.

2 – The student then identifies the bibliographic information and story elements.  These include title, author, illustrator, publisher and date, setting, main characters, author’s purpose, tone/mood, conflict, solution, and a summary.

3 – Using a trifold board, the student creates a display to showcase the information in such a way that people want to seek out the book and read it.

That’s it.

Now, here’s the cool part.  In Mississippi, where we once lived, the SDE hosts a state-wide competition.  It starts off in the local school.  The winners progress to a district competition.  From district, they advance to regionals, and then on to state.  While I was teaching there, I had a couple of my class projects progress to regionals.  The kids really eat this up.

This weekend I had the honor and privilege of organizing and judging the projects that were turned in to my school’s fair. This is what I saw.

I saw projects completed by a first grade class that were so amazingly cute (The Day the Crayons Quit). I saw a ton of 3rd graders’ projects – you could tell who worked with their parents and whose parents took the opportunity to teach their kid a new crafting skill. I saw projects that enabled students to say, “No, Mom.  I’ve got this.” I saw projects from advanced readers who looked at books in a new way.  I saw struggling readers begin the project with much trepidation and turn it in with the confidence of a lion.  I saw projects where small groups of students teamed up to read, discuss, and plan.  Then they had to cooperate and manage their time to complete the work.

I’ve seen some pretty amazing things this weekend.  While the projects are spectacular – I tear up when I see them, I get goose bumps when I talk about them – the best part is seeing the sparkle in the students’ eyes as you tell them what a wonderful job they’ve done.

(The following photos are from previous years’ projects.)  I’m more than happy to share how to hold your own Reading Fair.  Feel free to e-mail me! tegansexton@mooreschools.com

Cowboy and Octopus Gargoyles How to Train Your Dragon Januarys Sparrow Nicholas Flamel

I didn’t choose this

The challenge was placed before us this week.  What made you want to be a teacher?

I don’t want to write about that. The reasons I fell into this profession aren’t important.  What is important is that I am still here.

The battles from the last few years in education have been daunting.  Like so many of my peers, we’ve advocated and fought, and still we remain.

We’ve maintained our classes, suffered losses and bad test scores, changed schools, had new administrators, achieved the impossible, and still we remain.

Why?

Follow me on this one…I’m a sucker for office supplies.  The smell of freshly sharpened pencils, the heat that emanates from a newly laminated poster, the eternal quest to make sure that the supplies on my desk coordinate with the theme in my room.  Yeah, office supplies.  To the person who created the paper clip corral, I sincerely hope you made a million with that.  You saw a need, you filled a need. To every single person who has ever made an improvement to everything above the piece of lined notebook paper, you knew that there was a need for better organization, better style, and better quality.  You may not have invented your creation for the school set, but it has found its way onto our lists, and the children love getting to play with Post-it notes, compasses, and the like.  Oh, and to the person who invented Ticonderoga’s, well let’s just say, there is a special place in my heart for you.

My entire career has been spent in an elementary classroom.  Do you know what is so great about elementary kids?  They are easily distracted.  You may scratch your head at a teacher saying she likes distracted kids, but there is a very good reason for this.  I am a distracted adult.  I consider myself a lifelong learner.  I seek out new worlds and new civilizations.  The kids are poised for this.  They want to get off topic and follow the rabbit down the hole.  We learn together, and I always figure out a way to tie it back to what is mandated we do. 😉

If you want to have a club, you make a club.  Set some basic ground rules and go!  Robotics has been the latest infatuation, and with resources like Botball (http://www.botball.org/OK), the kids and I are learning computer coding as well as ways to tinker.  Seriously, I cannot say enough good things about Botball and the support from their staff!

Bulletin boards.  Okay, when you’re busy, bulletin boards kind of suck.  They also suck when it is dictated how often they should change.  When left to our own devices, bulletin boards are an amazing creative outlet.  I once painted an 8 foot tall Jimmy Buffet to celebrate famous Mississippians (when I taught in Mississippi)!  They can be frou frou, or they can be to the point.  They can follow a theme, or they can put students’ work on display.  They are whatever you want them to be.

Some people may roll their eyes at this one, but I secretly adore a good PD.  If I’m being read powerpoint slides, send me home.  If you are welcoming my opinion, engaging me, inviting me to create, I am all over it.  As a matter of fact, one of the absolute best PDs I have ever attended was in an EdCamp format.  There.Was.No.Agenda.  No grant money or otherwise specified funds dictated the drudgery we would have to sit through.  No, we got to pick and choose what to discuss and learn.  I sat in one “class” for over an hour as we discussed passion.  Probably one of the most engaging conversations of which I’ve ever been a part.   If you haven’t been to one, join me at then next one!

Human beings have a natural desire to form bonds.  Sometimes these bonds form around an idea that is greater than ourselves.  What goal could be greater than seeing our children succeed?  The camaraderie that educators form are worth their weight in gold.  We may disagree on things, but we all strive to do what is in the best interests of the whole child.  The more I’m around kids, the more my heart grows.  I’m staving off the crotchetyness of old age by filling my heart with these amazing humans.

On the flip side of the amazing little humans, I am getting to see the unconquerable sense of spirit.  More and more my students are experiencing horrors in their home lives.  Horrors.  These people come to me, learn to trust me, learn to love me, and for a while in their day, they learn and play and grow.  I provide consistency, a safe place, and fairness – things that are sometimes severely lacking at home.

My days are filled with heartbreak and elation, awesome office supplies, opportunities to learn and grow, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Get in Queue

Those wonderful days of summer…you know the ones I’m talking about.  The ones where your schedule isn’t wrapped in routine, you can actually take your time doing things, and you can take a few minutes for an adult conversation.

I recently had one such day as I dropped my son off on the north side of town at a friend’s house.  As luck would have it, another friend and his mother, Jenifer, would be arriving within moments of our car.  It was that opportune moment when you could actually spend some time reconnecting with others.

The topics of conversation ran the gamut, but there was one story that stuck with me.  Jenifer began describing her time as a television journalist on assignment in Russia.  The setting was a Russian airport. She described the language barrier, the lack of organization, the overall manic situation, and the frustration of it all.   She described how she just wanted to stand up and direct people where to go, help them form lines, ease their frustrations.  Reflecting on the conversation, I wondered, what does this say about us as Americans?  What does it say about us as creatures of habit?

Fast forward one earth rotation to a lazy afternoon on the couch as the novel turned movie plays on repeat – a work of classic literature, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  Among the outstanding characters, contradictory plot lines, and comedic genius is the line, “Leave this to me.  I’m British.  I know how to queue.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTartgZ6n9Q

That’s two references about standing in line in as many days.

Why do we stand in line? I’m an elementary teacher.  There is absolutely nothing innate about standing in line.  We are selfish creatures.  We see something we want, and we want it immediately.  Over the years, we learn that we have to preserve the order.  It keeps it safer for everyone involved if we wait our turn.  There’s no need to rush the water fountain – we can count to five for the person in front of us, and then we can have our equal turn.

Eventually, all this standing in queue gets us frustrated.  Like the cunning beings we are, we begin to devise ways to thwart the system.  Eventually we learn that yes, we can tolerate waiting on others, but there is one position that is to be coveted.  That position is the last in line.  The person who is last in line has preserved the order, but has learned how to work around the system.  There is no one to count to five.  They will get a turn that will be longer than everyone else.

The remainder of the students begin to notice that others are vying for the last position.  Some will pick up on the rationale immediately and will do the same.  Others will ask why it’s so important to be last, and there will be those who simply don’t care.

The adult in charge will notice the commotion and will do one of two things: assign spots in line to maintain a firm rule, or work with the students to better assess their needs when they are at the fountain.

I think these last few years teachers in Oklahoma have become fed up with standing in the queue.  The longer we’ve been in the position, the more we’ve noticed how restrictive the rules have become on our actions.  We’ve had iron fists double down on maintaining order, and we’ve had some stellar leaders jump out of line and head to the rear in an effort to retrain our focus.  I think the effort from the line hoppers is working.  We have state leadership that is willing to better understand the needs of public schools, the students and teachers.  We have district and site leadership that is willing to push back quite a bit more when policies and procedures aren’t in the best interests of the students.  Lastly, and probably the most important, we have associations of parents who are willing to raise their collective voices to announce the need for change.

As your school year begins, it might be time to ask yourself, where do you want to be standing in line?

My Choice

I never purposefully set out to become a teacher.  I graduated from college and promptly became a stay at home mom, supporting my husband as he supported our country.  He was a part of the government in the form of the Air Force.  In the Air Force, there were rules and regulations.  There were deployments and TDYs.  There were duties to be performed to support the mission.  There was conformity. Everyone was treated the same.  In the eyes of the government, neither gender nor race, marital status nor sexual orientation matters.  Everyone conforms to meet the needs of the mission.

Through all of our service commitment, I treasured spending my moments with my sons.  I realized how much I loved seeing my little guys experience and learn.  Teachers call these occasions “lightbulb moments”.  With kindergarten on the horizon, I knew I could finally go back to school myself.  If I loved seeing the wonder in my own child’s eyes, imagine how amazing it would be to share that experience with other kids.  It took a while, but I found the place where I belonged.

Teachers are an incredible variety of people.  We thrive on helping our students overcome their struggles.  Sometimes that struggle is academic: a learning disablilty, a medical problem that hinders traditional learning, a lack of sufficient vocabulary, an entirely new language.  Sometimes that struggle is personal: parents in prison, abusive homes, lack of food, no water/gas/electricity in the home.  We juggle the bureaucracy in such a way that we can find resources to help.  We connect local churches and charities with those in need.  We offer our ears, our shoulders, and more often than not, we offer our finances.  We give and give to our students not to take over as their parents, but because sometimes their parents aren’t in a position to provide their children a better start.  While we have a certain amount of conformity, we also have a certain amount of leeway to construct rules that best serve our individual students and our communities.

That’s why I am so baffled.  Popular news/entertainment shows have started to rename public schools “government” schools.  Books are written about them.  Politicians throw the term around.  It’s never done with a positive connotation.

When I hear the term “government school”, images of North Korean children with one of their 28 state prescribed haircuts come to mind. When I hear the term “government school”, images of strict lines and formations of uniformed children marching in unison are produced.  And following Godwin’s Law, when I hear the term “government school”, I am reminded of the students who were forced to participate in programs such as Hitler Youth to brainwash their minds and their bodies to accept the horrors that were to come.  I do not mean to equate our current educational climate with either of these, but I’m fairly certain that those speaking the loudest in our culture don’t mind if you make those connections yourself.

I do not think of these things when I see my own classroom.

I must assume then, that this is the goal of the talking heads, the think tanks, and the multi-millionaires that Citizens United has enabled. We are operating on fear in this country right now. We cling to our ideologies for fear that someone, something, some entity will strip those ideologies away from us.  We don’t want our children to become mindless drones in a government school.  For those that seek to sell our nation’s treasures to become a money making enterprise, this fear is something that should be capitalized.

I didn’t choose to work at a government school.  I chose to work at a public school.  “Government” insinuates an unyielding, overbearing, big brother.  “Government” means lack of local choice, lack of local control.  “Government” means uniforms and doctrine and thought control.  “Government” means once you’ve made the commitment, you are in for life.

Think about it, honestly.  The people who teach your children – you KNOW them. You see them in the grocery store. You may even attend the same church.  Your kids play little league together.  You share MANY of the same values.  You are helping each other grow your community.

This is why the narrative needs to change.  Recently at an EdCamp, Barbie Jackson, Claudia Swisher, Megan Cabe, and Christie Paradise came up with an idea to help achieve this goal.  It’s a whisper campaign.  Educators, administrators, parents – Facebook or Tweet with the hashtag #1CoolThing.  Tag your legislator.  Show them that our schools are NOT “government” schools.  Our schools meet the individual needs of the communities they serve, and we serve the public.  We are doing great things in our classrooms every day.  We are expanding learning experiences every day.  We are meeting the kids where they are and guiding them to where they would like to be.  We are doing all of this while still complying with each and every federal and state mandate handed to us.  We are doing all of this while being called failures.  We are doing all of this while having our hands and feet tied behind us with deeper and deeper funding cuts. We are welcoming each and every single child with open arms.  We are celebrating our differences in order to celebrate our similarities.  We are thriving despite all that has been handed to us.  Please help us change the narrative.  Visit a local school.  Find how you can volunteer.  See for yourself – we are doing great things every day.

Queen for a Day!

It seems that lately I’ve been referring to myself on social media in the third person – @teganridesabike and teganteaches5th.wordpress.com. I’m not sure how well this speaks to my psychological well-being, but I’d like to think that I’m doing okay.  I’m a 5th grade teacher in the midst of testing season.  In Oklahoma, that means that my kiddos get the pleasure of experiencing their first major testing month.  We’ve already completed the writing assessment, now just 4 more to go!

On tonight’s #oklaed Twitter chat, it was suggested to have a writing prompt blog post.  Now here I am preparing to write about what I would do if were queen for the day.  I think the topic fits my brief social media narcissism. 🙂

At the local level, school boards work in conjunction with district administration to craft the best plans of action for our students.  Local needs, state and federal mandates, personnel and staffing, and budget issues are taken into account, and vóila, we know how to proceed.  It may seem simple, but our community elects a TEAM to work with our educators and administrators (many of whom “grew up” as both students and teachers in the very same district).  We know those we serve.  We know the goals of our community.  We greet each other on little league fields, and we know how to make sure we work through our differences amicably more often than not.

Would it be such a stretch then to apply this to the state level?  If we could elect the state board, could we then shift the balance of educational power to this entity and the state administration?  Could this actually enable the will of the people?  If the state board members were elected, would educators come out to vote in higher numbers?  If we were to choose our “bosses” would we be more engaged?

Funding, of course, would have to be approved by our legislators. This could lead to a better system of checks and balances with our state’s governmental structure.  As it stands right now, we have a legislative body that says jump, and we jump.  We have to wait until their terms are up or we can try to defeat them in an upcoming election.  According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the state’s budget in 2014 had K-12 education taking up just over 1/3 of the state’s total budget. http://okpolicy.org/fy-2014-budget-highlights We are entrusting a little over 1/3 of the state’s budget to a group of people, while well-intentioned, who do not have a background in education or school finance.  They don’t have the time or experience to navigate federal mandates.  For them, it becomes a matter of convenience to vote party line or to compromise in order to pass other legislation.  If we granted the state board and state superintendent the capability of regulation and guidance of #oklaed, would we have a better outcome?  I’d like to think so.

Some of the moves made by the governor’s office and the legislature make me a further believer that public education, in the political sphere at least, is nothing but a power grab with extraordinary amounts of money available to be exploited.  And all of this is on the backs of our children.

Perhaps I’m growing into a populist, but I truly think that with this much of the pie at stake, we either need to have very responsive legislators, or we need to cede the decision making to a TEAM who is inclined to keep education at the forefront of all of their decisions.  As queen for the day, I declare it so.

I’m at 600 words exactly. 🙂

Challenge!

Wow!  Another fast paced chat on Twitter tonight.  There is definitely a fantastic group of educators and supporters in the #oklaed community!  Mrs. Waters @watersenglish had an idea to have a blog writing prompt.  I love a good challenge, so here I am!  It looks like the first challenge has been set.  I’m on it!