180 Days: Day 97–Have We Reached the Tipping Point?

My students seemed oblivious to the carnage their peers in Florida faced yesterday. Until we had “the talk.” Where would we hide in my classroom in the event of an active shooter situation? What can we do to protect ourselves? We then proceeded with our scheduled shelter in place drill–one that had been planned since the beginning of the school year, a shelter drill in the event of a toxic release from the neighboring oil refinery (yes, my school is virtually next door to the refinery that exploded three years ago this week–hence the date of the drill).

As more information about the school shooting in Florida trickled out throughout the day today, I became increasingly hopeful that as a nation we may have hit what Malcolm Gladwell describes as “the tipping point.” Today I read an article on Huffington Post attempting to move us beyond the desensitizing numbers in a mass murder by reporting the autopsies of the Vegas shooting victims, by presenting the information as “…a rare opportunity to honestly confront the graphic reality of a mass shooting.” Today marks the one year anniversary of POTUS45 signing a bill making it easier for some with mental health issues to purchase guns, what the White House considered an early legislative success story–yet today, White House Press Office refused to release a picture of the signing and only issued a one-line response to news organizations. And after the president’s victim blaming twitter session in the early hours this morning, this omission from the press office is even more egregious. His tweet read: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” He failed to note that the shooter was on the FBI’s radar and that in this country we can’t arrest someone for something they didn’t do–but he may have prevented the sale of the AR-15 to this teenager if he hadn’t rolled back that Obama-era gun law. And people noticed this failure in moral leadership and failure to acknowledge that the White House’s policies on guns contribute to the problem.

When I watched the angry, desperate pleas of Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter died in yesterday’s mass shooting, it was all I could do to remain composed. I keep thinking, “When will it happen here?” Not “if.” Alhadeff implored, “President Trump, you say what can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands. What can you do? You can do a lot! This is not fair to our families and our children [to] go to school and have to get killed!”

The students at Stoneman Douglas High School have offered the most poignant, yet strongest words of reason. One Stoneman student named Carly replied to right-wing commentator Tomi Lahren’s tone-deaf tweet: “I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life (sic) abruptly ended because of guns.”

These students give me hope for our future, as they are a shining example to my students of the power of that their words and actions can have. And I can only hope that these students have the wisdom to push us beyond the tipping point into a new world.

“The Show Must Go On” by Queen

“…My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies
Fairy tales of yesterday, grow but never die
I can fly, my friends…”

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180 Days: Day 96–And the Sky Wept

Valentine’s Day. My day started with my driving up to see a multitude of excited students carrying balloons, teddy bears, flowers, cards, and candy. It ended with me crying in my car on the drive home. Today marks yet another tragic day in which students and teachers pay the ultimate price for our country’s love affair with guns.

Trying to process the intense loss again–I can’t help but wonder when the madness will stop. I can’t help but fear the sound of our next fire alarm because of the fear of hearing the horrid pop, pop, pop. I can’t help but cry in my heart, down my cheeks, in my soul.

Since our nation turned a blind eye to the slaughter of six-year-olds in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, more than 400 people have been shot in over 200 school shootings.  Our nation’s legislators are derelict in their oath of office to discharge the duties of their office when they refuse to even allow a vote on the floor of Congress for even the most common sense bills–such as banning bump stocks in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shootings. Mass shootings in this country have become far too commonplace. So much so that our citizens grow increasingly desensitized to the immense violence suffered by these victims.

A year ago tomorrow our president rolled back laws making it more difficult for the mentally ill to purchase guns. And he sits silently this evening, not offering our nation any healing or comforting words.  A nineteen-year-old gunman purchased a military assault rifle at age eighteen without a waiting period. He can’t even legally buy a beer. But he could buy an ArmaLite AR-15, the civilian version of the military’s M-16, for less than $1,000 (though accessories can add hundreds to the cost). It is easier for this teenager to buy a gun than it is for him to buy a car or get a driver’s license.

So tonight, I sit and cry as I watch the horrifying footage taken by students on their mobile phones during the event that will forever change their lives. I contacted my friends who were in Vegas last October to make sure they were okay and not reliving their trauma yet again.  But these mass shootings, especially when we see children screaming, shaking, hiding, and running for their lives, tear at the fabric of our great nation. When will we say enough is enough.

Tonight, my heart stands in solidarity with my colleagues across the nation from me. Tonight, my prayers reach out to the families in this community.

Tonight, my words, my actions, and my dollars will continue to fight for common sense gun laws to be enacted in this country. Because adding 17 more names to the tragically long list of school shooting fatalities is unacceptable.

The Sky: Wept

by Isabella Francis

I remember the day,
Our ways diverged,
Our tears tumbled,
Into the lake and united.
The day we left hands,
Our feelings met.
The day we cried
And the sky: wept.

The air hung with moisture,
The sun under cloud cover.
The moon hid,
The clouds shed tears,
Tears turning to water.
I’ll never forget the day
Along with us, when,
The sky: wept.

(Note from Isabella Francis on this poem: The author of this poem is Ms. Prachi Agrawal.It was originally written in Hindi by the name ‘Roya Tha Aasmaan’ and is translated to English by me. This poem has been published here with her due permission taken by me personally)

“Like a Stone” by Audioslave

“…On my deathbed I will pray
To the gods and the angels
Like a pagan to anyone
Who will take me to heaven
To a place I recall
I was there so long ago
The sky was bruised
The wine was bled
And there you led me on…”

180 Days: Day 95–When Tuesday Is Monday

I really dislike Tuesdays because they always feel so rushed with teacher collaboration time in the morning and shorter class periods all day. But when my Tuesday is actually my Monday because my district takes both Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays as local holidays, I don’t really care how frenetic Tuesday can be. I made some fun yesterday with some of my colleagues as we visited a local tea shop for a British-style High Tea. Tea helped me be mentally prepared for today as we finally started Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar today. We made it all the way through one and a half scenes.

I approach reading Shakespeare as a visual experience–so we watch a film adaptation scene by scene, line by line. We made it about 10 minutes into the movie (1.5 minutes was opening credits)–the 1953 Marlon Brando/James Mason classic version. Kids always fall in love with Brando–they connect with him and understand him far easier than Heston for some reason. When I use film in class, I stop constantly and explain sequences or ask students to analyze what they see–why is this in the scene? Is it in the text? Why would the director include this? etc. And I always move slower at the beginning than I do later in the text. I want to ensure I’ve properly scaffolded and set students up for success in understanding and owning the story.

“Beware the Ides of March” The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (1953)

 

“Tuesday Morning” by The Pogues

180 Days: Day 94–It’s Sorta Like Groundhog Day aka Today Looks Like Yesterday

Today was a day to tighten up loose ends as we move into a new text next week. We finished taking notes on Elizabethan England so that when we start Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Julius Caesar on Tuesday (yes, we have a three day weekend–yippee!).

So the brevity of this post reflects the continuation of a two-day introduction to Shakespeare–and my students continued love affair with all things Tudor.

So for some fun, here’s some Fakespeare (no, he really didn’t say these things despite them being contributed to him in a viral online world) to take you into the weekend:

 “Love me or hate me, both are in my favor…If you love me, I’ll always be in your heart…If you hate me, I’ll always be in your mind.”

“What a Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the french I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be
Don’t know much about geography,
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra,
Don’t know what a slide rule is for
But I do know that one and one is two,
And if this one could be with you,
What a wonderful world this would be
Now, I don’t claim to be an “A” student,
But I’m tryin’ to be
For maybe by being an “A” student, baby,
I can win your love for me
Don’t know much about history,
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book,
Don’t know much about the french I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be
History
Biology
Science book
French I took
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me, too,
What a wonderful world this would be

180 Days: Day 93–Kids Listen When the Fat King Sings

King Henry VIII is pure poetry to the ears of 16-year-old kids who love drama. So I share the famous Tudor king’s dramatic life in painting a picture for my students of Shakespeare’s world order as we start our unit on The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. If I started the class with The Great Chain of Being, their eyes would glaze over. So I start with eye-popping intrigues like marrying your brother’s widow, forming your own church to divorce her to marry your pregnant mistress and all the other juicy details. Kids love it! And it makes introducing a simplistic version of the Great Chain a far simpler task. By the time we get to Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, the kids are peppering me with questions and eager to know more about Shakespeare’s world. Little do they know that later in the unit they will be looking up a lot of what we touch upon today with more detail. But hey, if turning history into a “stranger than fiction” telenovela of sorts grabs their attention, then that’s what I will do. Luckily, with the Tudors, it’s not a stretch to do so.

Henry-VIII

“I’m Henry the Eighth I Am” by Herman’s Hermits

 

180 Days: Day 92–Genre Searching in the Library

My sophomores are assigned to read an independent reading book and complete a simple report to turn in at the end of each quarter of the school year. So at the beginning of each quarter, I spend half a period with them in the library searching for fun, age and content appropriate books for them to read–books that are of high interest to them to read for pleasure.

I love these days because I get to spend part of my day with our school librarian, a spunky lady who has read so many of these books and gives fantastic book talks. This is a day where we team up to teach kids in real time how to use an electronic card catalog, how to differentiate book subjects by genre. We focused on sports, horror, and science fiction with books pre-selected for book talks for the kids. Regardless of genre, one author students love is John Green. So his new book, Turtles All the Way Down, was pulled for the students as well.

Turtles+All+The+Way+Down+transparent

And it’s also a day where I can easily identify the nonreaders from the readers from those who are at least willing to try. Most of my student fall in the latter group, but they love these days in the library. And most leave with a book in hand excited for the chance to try yet again. It’s a day where I can reinforce the notion that some reading is work and some reading is fun–and it’s a day where the hardest work we will do is read the cover of a book.

“The Book of Love” by Peter Gabriel

 

180 Days: Day 91–At An Impasse; It’s Time to “Undig”

Boy, did I miss my kids today.  They are so much more fun than our administrators who refuse to work with us teachers to solve problems impacting our work lives and children’s learning lives. Instead, they enjoy playing the authoritarians, lords with their fiefdoms. And I feel lucky that I get to see my students tomorrow after the sh*&show that was today. Being in the classroom with my students is chicken soup for my soul and my home away from home. I spend hours upon hours in that room each and every day, week, month, and year. And I really, really will be happy to “go home” instead of staying another minute at a negotiations table with my inflexible “my way or the highway” employers.

As you may be able to tell, I spent today in negotiations with our district–the 13th session over the past year and a half. And today the district declared that we were at an impasse refusing to negotiate with us further. In other words, neither side is willing to move on the items that remain on the table. Our side is willing to move on every item except one. The district is unwilling to discuss movement on any issue without that one. Hence, we have a stalemate.

So now we head into a zone of unnecessary hostility and division over one single issue that has little impact on students in the classroom but speaks largely to how dismissed and disrespected our teachers have felt over the past few years under this administration. This one item was at the heart of our teachers voting down the tentative agreement we reached back in October. The district refuses to budge from what was offered on that initial agreement that more than 60 percent of our members rejected. They have dug in. The negotiations team of which I am a member have no option now except to spend the next few evenings working on our message to our members and the public at large. We now have to go global and go hard with our message, as the board of education continues to ignore and dismiss what they hear from us while insisting we give them the one thing they want for nothing in return–no addressing of our members’ issues. We must find a way to force them to “undig” and work with us.

This declaration of an impasse is an ugly paradigm shift in our district which prided itself on interest-based bargaining. Now the only interest-based anything the district does in its own interest and not the interest of its various stakeholder groups. It’s a sad shame.

quote-when-negotiations-are-at-an-impasse-when-states-dig-their-heels-in-it-is-time-to-undig-alfred-maurice-de-zayas-117-45-22

“Can’t Get There From Here” by REM

 

180 Days: Day 90–Romantic Poetry and Perspectives

My seniors have finished reading Pride and Prejudice, so as we work on finishing up the film adaptation and discussions about director choices, we are simultaneously working on Romantic Poets. We started last Friday with William Wordsworth and today we looked at William Blake.

We read “The Chimney Sweeper” from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and “The Sick Rose” from his Songs of Experience. Both were found in our Perrine’s text as examples of irony and allegory respectively. The students struggled to identify the irony in the innocence poem, so tomorrow I will give them a packet with both the innocence and experience versions of the “Chimney Sweeper” poem–especially since this was a poetry FRQ on the AP exam a few years back. The packet will also feature “The Tyger” and “The Lamb” which should give us a fun bit of class discussion. My students definitely haven’t seen the last of Blake. I may still yet bring in a comparison piece for them: Proverbs by King Solomon and “The Proverbs of Hell” by Blake. That’ll make their heads really explode.

“The Sick Rose” by William Blake

“The Rose” by Bette Midler (live from Divine Madness)

 

180 Days: Day 89–Logical Fallacy Fun

My students had a great time today examining logical fallacies in advertising. I always start with the one logical fallacy they tend to all remember and understand: The Bandwagon Fallacy.

We started the day skimming the list of fallacies. Then I showed them this old XBox 360 advertisement featuring a flash mob and the tagline “Jump In.” It was pure Bandwagon (with a touch of Glittering Generality) and the students recognized it right off. And of course, each class had to mimic and laugh for a few minutes afterward. So having tapped their prior knowledge and motivation, I could now move on to other fallacies they were less familiar with.

Overall, my students took a second look at advertising and began to peel the ads apart looking for their fallacies. After examining some ads with my guidance and direction, each table group drew a fallacy from a basket. Once the groups had their fallacy, they were tasked with finding examples so they could teach their fallacies to each other. Since bandwagon was my sample fallacy, no group had the bandwagon fallacy. I also kept snobbery out of the mix as I followed up with the old 1980s Grey Poupon commercial as a second example. But they learned terms like non-sequitur and red herring quickly.

XBox 360 Ad (the ad was banned in some countries for supposedly promoting violence–which prompts a whole other sidebar conversation with students about censorship)

Grey Poupon Ad from 1981

“Fake Tales of San Francisco” by Arctic Monkeys

 

180 Days: Day 88–A Crisis of Adequacy

I spent half of today at the District office in a meeting with stakeholder groups and representatives from our state assemblyman. This meeting was to discuss legislation sponsored by our district and other members of our state’s education coalition to add to base funding for all schools under our state’s fledgling Local Control Funding Formula, a formula built primarily on equity and not the adequacy of funding.

The need for such a meeting speaks to the crisis that public education finds itself in across the nation. Decades of attacks from those who wish to privatize education have born fruit. Enrollment in teacher education courses is down nationwide. Many of our best and brightest students do not consider teaching a viable occupation–there’s too little incentive to join the profession in the current climate of teacher bashing, steep budget and job cuts, increased data collection and workload, and decreased pay, benefits, prestige, autonomy, and academic freedom.

My adoptive state (I moved here 20 years ago) currently ranks near the bottom in per pupil funding, so the assemblyman’s upcoming bill to attempt to bring us closer to the middle of the pack is welcome news. I know that I will be working with him and his office to pass this key piece of funding legislation this spring. And we are a state that is considered friendly to public education, so that should be a signal as to the dire state of public education funding in our nation.

I can only hope that the discussion on the need to adequately fund public education can work its way back to the forefront of our national dialogue. I’m not hopeful with anti-public school folks like Betsy De Vos at the helm in the Department of Education, but I do have hope for statehouses across the country to address the issue. My home state of Oklahoma has been especially hard hit with funding and teacher shortages due to years of trickle-down policies coupled with austerity budgets. Last year’s state teacher of the year famously left the state for better pay. Oklahoma, one of the reddest and most poverty stricken states in the union, has a long way to go to address their funding issues that leave many districts with four-day school weeks and high teacher turnover. But the revolution of teachers running for public office and forcing the dialogue will hopefully bear fruit in the long run even if it hasn’t worked in the short run.

Thomas Jefferson supported the notion of locally controlled public education in its infancy. He and his fellow intellectuals from the Enlightenment believed that knowledge was essential to maintaining a free society. He even founded the University of Virginia on a parcel of land owned by President James Monroe (along with help from President James Madison and a few others) to develop the “illimitable freedom of the human mind.” It’s time we started living up to the lofty ideals of our founding fathers.

“Be True to Your School” by The Beach Boys