Badass Teachers

I became a BAT, which is to say I joined the Facebook group, about a year after it formed. I didn’t know anything about the group, but I thought it would be funny to tell people that I am an official badass teacher.

After a while, I caught on to the group’s mission and decided to hang around. Others I knew left because they thought the group was too hard-core and they couldn’t take the social justice approach that defines BATs.

As of this moment, BATS have 64,757 members. Anyone expecting that every member is in complete agreement on any issue appears as ridiculous as people who think that Rush Limbaugh’s audience are mind-numbed robots waiting every day for noon when they will be told how to think.

Both notions are false. Limbaugh built his audience because he found a way to reach the people who have a consensus about political and social issues. BATs has grown because of all the people who believe in defending, advocating for, and going on offense for public schools.

The social justice aspect gets stickier. In many comment threads upon various posts, people show discomfort with that part of the BATs mission.

A few years back, I was one of them. I didn’t always “get it.” But I hung around because it’s important to listen to people who think differently, look for their reasoning, and determine whether one’s beliefs should change.

For example, white privilege. I first encountered this phrase 20 years ago. It was flung in the face as an epithet, as a condemnation, and a hateful ‘you shouldn’t be allowed to breathe.’ At least that’s how it felt.

BATs helped me learn that when people of color raise issues of privilege and microaggression that it’s not personally directed against me. Because of BATs, I can listen, sympathize, and learn. BATs has made me a better teacher in my classroom.

It’s important to remember that BATs is not a teachers’ group. It is a coalition of like-minded educators, teachers and administrators alike, parents, and community members who believe in public schools and a fair deal for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, and everything else our society uses to label us and divide us.

For that reason alone and the great, long battle we are waging to save our schools, we don’t want to turn into cannibals and eat our own. Bashing parents or students is not allowed.

BATs is not the forum for debate on its founding principles. Thus it has been moderated from the beginning, which means that periodically a protest will arise that the group only allows comments and posts if they fit the particular views of the moderators.

Please don’t confuse first amendment rights with a social media group. The first amendment guarantees that the government cannot prosecute or imprison people for the views they express. It does not mean that people can say whatever they want wherever they want.

Recently, these issues have arisen again in the group. While some may decry the moderators’ attempts to maintain a productive group, sometimes the comment threads can turn counterproductive. It happened over the weekend and then someone posted about suppression of viewpoints and censorship. (They didn’t use those exact words, but that’s the gist of it.)

And again, the comment thread turned counterproductive. Some persons couldn’t resist the personal attack. When I read someone say that ‘you shouldn’t be in a classroom in front of children if you think that,’ I knew another post had to be shut down.

And, despite the protests, a moderator did allow a dissenting and critical post to appear on the Facebook wall.

It’s important to remember that BATs is not a teachers’ group. It is a coalition of like-minded educators, teachers and administrators alike, parents, and community members who believe in public schools and a fair deal for everyone regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, and everything else our society uses to label us and divide us.

For that reason alone and the great, long battle we are waging to save our schools, we don’t want to turn into cannibals and eat our own. Bashing parents or students is not allowed. Or anyone else.  ^0^

Threat Assessment Teams

Among the many provisions enacted into law by the Florida legislature following the tragedy at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School was a requirement that every school establish a Threat Assessment Team (TAT).

In my district, the TAT comprises the School Resource Officer, an administrator, a guidance counselor, and a teacher. I am the teacher appointed to the TAT for my school.

I found out through email when I was ordered to attend a mandatory training, Youth Mental Health First Aid. It was a good training, much of what I already knew but going through a reminder session is always useful.

But other than that, I had no idea of what my exact responsibilities are going to be and how the TAT actually works.

Since then, I have garnered some information and that is what I will share.

  1. The TAT is run by the School Resource Officer because it is a function of our school police department. It is the SRO who schedules the monthly meetings and chairs them.
  2. 9th-grade students will take a test via computer. The results will be scored and used to determine if a potential threat exists. (Oh, Florida! Why is your go-to strategy always a test, a score, and a judgment upon children?)
  3. The TAT will review the scores. (At this point, I’m not sure I really want to be a part of this process.)
  4. There is concern about liability among TAT appointees for false positives (identifying a student as a threat when they are not) and for missing students who are threats and do commit an atrocity.

Beyond this, I am still in the dark. As things become clearer, I will update.

What We Now Know

News moves fast in this world and the 24/7 availability of facts, alternative facts (lies), and propaganda that comes to us via social media when events are happening and people are trying to sort it out …

Legitimate news providers routinely post stories with the above headline as events unfold and they try to keep up with them.

This popped into GOT’s head yesterday as I attended a training in Youth Mental Health and we got into what has gone wrong during our break and lunch conversations.

What we now know:

  1. Pre-K and Kindergarten should be mostly playing. Kids need to play with their peers, get into disputes, and learn how to resolve their conflicts without adult mediation. That happens on the playground. That happens during play. Math and reading can wait. Socialization is the huge priority during these years.
  2. The Common Core and 20 plus years of school reform have forced schools to teach academic skills at these young ages before the children are ready, The tests are coming.
  3. Recess is crucial. Young children need the activity. Much of the ‘hyperactivity’ we see in the classroom is not due to ADD or ADHD, although those are real conditions for a certain percentage of children, but because children need to move. They have to be active. When we deny them those opportunities, it will manifest in fidgetiness and other problems.
  4. Social-emotional learning is the flavor of the day. Can we admit we can’t teach it, it has to be learned through experience, and that takes place on the playground at young ages when kids get into conflicts and have to learn ways to solve their own problems without violence?
  5. For schools to be successful, we have to build community. Restorative practices are not merely intervention or reintegration; they are prevention.
  6. Given the institutional needs of school systems to survive, leaders mandate an all-academics approach. Given the tests that determine who survives and who fails (not talking about the children), all the rest is driven out. If we want to create safe and supportive school environments, we have to give time for children to begin their day in circles to talk about how they’re feeling and what’s happened in their lives overnight.
  7. Elementary teachers report their mandates that their days are so structured they can barely hit all the required minutes in math and reading.
  8. As for secondary schools, these types of circles would work well … in homeroom.
  9. But secondary schools don’t have homeroom anymore. Once the first bell rings, we jump to the lesson. We can’t do otherwise because the curriculum cramming and testing regimes allow no time for that.
  10. We are seeing an increase in mental health issues, distress, and anxiety in our children because of these things.

 

The End of the World as We Know It

It was a tough day for public education in Florida yesterday. Indeed, I don’t know that we are going to survive it. It wasn’t only the continued grip of the Republican party on the executive and legislative branches in Florida. There is much more involved.

But first, the song. I know you want it:

 

But I don’t feel fine. If you want public education to continue in Florida, you don’t feel fine.

Ron DeSantis will be the next governor with the Republican majorities in the legislature to pass the legislation they all want. Expect to see an expansion of voucher opportunities. Expect to see an Arizona law moving through the chambers to give every parent a voucher. No more qualifications needed, every parent gets a voucher to use at whatever school they choose.

The incoming House Speaker, Jose Oliva, already warned us that if we didn’t like the legislation the outgoing Speaker rammed through (Richard Corcoran), we would really hate what he has in mind. I wish I could locate a citation for that, but I can’t. But if you are passionate about public education as I am, that kind of quote sticks in your mind.

But it’s worse, much worse. Despite all the talk about raising teacher salaries to a minimum of $50,000 a year, despite all the talk about providing public education the resources it needs, despite all the palaver about who loves education more and the role of school competition for students and dollars (oops, excuse me, that should read school choice), the reality is that Amendment 5 passed. It will now take a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes, which means like South Dakota, Arizona, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Nevada and Washington, a tax increase no matter what the need and how important it is, and how much the public may support it, is impossible.

Throw in the current legislative interpretation that a rise in tax revenue due solely to property assessment increases in valuation as markets rise is really a tax increase and that millage rates must be cut so that the state cannot take in more revenue, and we have a mess that will have to be sorted out by the courts.

Courts, by the way, who will be dominated by judges appointed by the Republicans, including the Florida Supreme Court, which has three justices forced out by the mandatory retirement age.

(But Amendment 6 raised the minimum age to 75. Can the three judges now not retire? The courts will have to sort it out. Somebody challenge it quick before January. In the greatest of conflicts of interest ever, maybe these judges can rule on their mandatory retirement. Brian Kemp (Georgia Secretary of State overseeing his own election as governor,) let Florida show you how it’s done!)

It is possible that Florida courts will interpret Amendment 5 as prohibiting any increase in school funding via taxes, even by local initiatives like those passed by Palm Beach and Dade Counties.

Revenues cannot increase even as the years take their toll through slow inflation of prices and wages. There will be no money for increased teacher salaries. Eventually, no one will be able to afford being a professional, certified teacher as salaries remain fixed at current levels while the CPI doubles and triples.

Without teachers, there will be no schools.

Death by the cuts already made. Death by the choices of voters now cemented into the state constitution.

Florida, in the next five to ten years, you won’t recognize your school system.

Restorative Practices (part 2)

It’s always interesting to read reactions when I blog a piece and share around the internet and social media. You won’t find direct comments on this blog, but the gist is that the ‘teacher’s lounge’ shared some conversation in various groups about how restorative practices failed at their school.

Here’s the first piece: Restorative Practices.

Let’s hear from Howard Zehr (The Little Book of Restorative Justice) about what restorative practices (RP) are not:

  • RP is not seeking forgiveness or reconciliation. Hopefully, that will take place, but it is not the primary focus or else victims and offenders will feel coerced into a process that they do not agree with and will not follow through on whatever is decided.
  • RP is not a return to the past environment. That is not possible. What has happened cannot be undone. We cannot pretend that an offense did not happen. What we can do is move forward into a transformation that will bring about a better world.
  • RP is not mediation. It is not about bringing the offender and victim together to work out their problem. Sometimes that is not welcome to one or the other; in severe cases, it can be detrimental.
  • RP is not about reducing the chances that the offender will do it again. RP often does reduce the rate of new offenses taking place, but that is not a goal. RP is about acknowledging the harm done and putting that harm right.
  • RP is not a prescribed set of programs. Good guggamugga, aren’t we tired of the next, best panacea in education? We are told to do the program because some high muckety-muck got an all-expenses-paid vacation to a nice resort and they have to justify the expense. RP is a set of principles that guide each setting to fashion practices that are culturally relevant.
  • RP is not restricted to low-level offenses. That is not to say that a careful construction of RP and expert supervision is not needed in the worst cases, but RP should not be seen as something for only minor offenses.
  • RP are found in cultures around the world. They are not a Western or U.S. innovation.
  • RP does not subvert traditional discipline systems. It will not solve everything and there will be a need for traditional discipline, most likely in cases where the offender will not acknowledge the harm caused, will not take responsibility, and will refuse to be accountable.
  • RP is not a cure-all.

Restorative practices are often condemned along the lines of “we tried that and it didn’t work.” Yet I know of no case where RP failed of its own merits. The cases cited are those where it was not sufficiently supported by school administration/the school district or it was not implemented appropriately. The comments I have read fall along those lines.

It takes time, it takes patience, and it takes fortitude to get it right. Not only for the adults to shift their mindset, but for students as well.

First and foremost, restorative practices depend upon building community: that we all belong to one another and harm to one is harm to all.

Pittsburgh and Parkland

Less than one week past the latest incident of domestic terrorism, a mass shooting (the definition of which does not depend upon the body count but the intention of the shooter to kill as many people as possible), the politicians trotted out their answer: armed guards for houses of worship.

The same dreary answer as the response to Parkland; to stop mass shootings, we need more people with guns.

The irony, nay the stupidity, of this response boggles the mind.

In Florida, we now have armed personnel, whose guns are discretely covered by vests, patrolling elementary schools.

Yet Parkland had an armed school police officer, one who was too cowardly to go into the building and stop the shooter.

Do our politicians want us to believe the problem was too few guns on campus? in the house of worship?

More guns, more guns, more guns. Yet the shootings continue.

In many discussions across the course of the last nine months with many persons of many political stances and diverse opinions, I have found that all agree upon two things:

  1. No one wants to end gun ownership rights under the second amendment.
  2. Everyone wants sensible gun laws regarding background checks, past history of mental illness, and a limitation on the firepower of weapons that civilians should have.