Back to School

5 Things Teachers Want Parents To Know

This is the first year, I did not spend the first day of school greeting 120 new students into my classroom, but instead was able to take my own children to school on the first day.

As a high school teacher, I spent my nights grading rather than helping my own kids with their homework. On the weekends I was planning lessons rather than playing at the park. Summers were spent in unpaid trainings to help keep my professional certificates current. While every job has it’s demands, there is no greater responsibility that being in charge of the growth and development of hundreds of children, other than my own.

I left teaching last year for many reasons, and lack of support is a big one. Here are 5 things I wish I could have told my student’s parents:

Back to School

1. Teachers need your help at home

They need you to be there for your kids, in regard to learning, as they are every day. For an hour a day, provide time and attention at home as a teacher would (no phones, TV, etc.). Make a space at home that feels safe and welcoming so they can focus. Take an interest in what your child is learning in school. Look at their grades online, talk to them about the obstacles they are facing, and if you can’t help with school work, don’t be ashamed. Reach out to you child’s teacher for resources such as tutoring, counseling, or online help. Most of the time, an hour a day of parental involvement will stop issues at school.

2. Teachers are NOT your enemy

They want your child to succeed, not just because they care (and they really do), but because many times your child’s progress impacts their pay and school funding. Teachers begin fitting the standards to your unique child on Day 1. If you feel a teacher “has it out” for your child, listen to his/her concerns and find out what interventions or accommodations have been made. Come up with some solutions as a team and work together to help your child.

3. Teachers hold professional degrees 

While the pay is much different, earning a teaching degree can be compared to a degree in law or in the medical field.  In addition to a college degree, teachers must complete 6 months of an unpaid internship and pass two very lengthy, difficult exams in order to be granted a teaching license.  They must earn professional certificates in addition to their degree. These certificates include teaching students with learning disabilities and English Language Learners.  Once hired, all teachers must take classes every year in order to keep up with the current trends and to keep their teaching license current.

4. Busy is an understatement

Think of what it’s like at the worst possible hour in your house and then multiply it by 100. This is what teacher’s endure every day. From planning lessons, to executing them properly for each individual child, to managing behavior, grading papers, lunch room or bus duty, your child’s teacher has an enormous amount of responsibility. A secondary public school teacher interacts with over 200 teenagers everyday, have a little mercy on them when it comes to returning an email right away.

5. There are times your child’s teacher has no control

I have never met a teacher who isn’t teaching BECAUSE of his/her students. While they continue to put their student’s needs first, people of power are trying to fit every child into one single mold and capitalize off education.  New standards, lack of textbooks and resources, mandated state testing, new teacher accountability requirements, all mean added paperwork for our teachers and less time with students.

One parent at open house started yelling at the teacher because her textbook was online.  She didn’t tell the parent the state cut school funds and stopped providing books, instead she defended the accessibility of an online resource.  Most times, teachers cannot speak out and must teach within the perimeters they are given.   Concerns regarding funding, standards, testing, etc. should be dealt with in voting booths, not classrooms.

Teachers and parents both want our children to succeed. We want our kids to go on to be caring, smart, productive members of society, but in order for this to happen, we must start working together.

I have never stopped referring to my former students as my kids, even though some of them have graduated from college and are now my peers. They will forever be in my heart and that is the reward of teaching that I will miss the most.

Prevent Medicine Abuse

5 Ways to Prevent Medicine Abuse

Guest Post By Anita Brikman


Has your teen been hanging out with Dex? No, it’s not a new kid in school. Dex is short for dextromethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient found in most over-the-counter (OTC) cough medicines, which some teens abuse to get high. DXM is safe and effective when taken according to labeling instructions, but teens who are misusing these medicines can sometimes take up to 25 times the recommended dose.

Why do teens abuse cough medicine?

Cough medicine is affordable, easily available and teens often believe that DXM is safer to abuse than illegal drugs. Yet, abusing DXM can have extremely dangerous side effects, especially when abused along with other substances, such as alcohol.

The good news? There are five simple ways you can help prevent medicine abuse:

Medicine Abuse

1. Educate yourself

Before reading this article, did you know that one out of three teenagers knows someone who’s abused DXM to get high? Get the facts and learn about the side effects of abuse. You can also stay vigilant by learning about The Stop Medicine Abuse icon – a helpful visual reminder on the packaging of most OTC products that contain DXM.

2. Talk with your teen

It can be tough to have a serious conversation without being met by a series of eyerolls, but communication with your teen is crucial. Believe it or not, studies show teens who learn about the risks of drugs from their parents are 50 percent less likely to abuse substances. Do you need some help getting the conversation started? Try using relevant pop culture events to break the ice or check out this handy infographic with conversation starters.

3. Safeguard your medicine cabinet

Only 44 percent of parents have taken action to safeguard their medicine cabinet. Properly safeguarding medicines doesn’t mean you have to place every single package of cough medicine in a locked safe, but train yourself to notice the types and quantities of medicine in your home.  This way, you’ll know if something goes missing. OTC cough medicine is becoming increasingly harder for teens to purchase given new laws that prohibit the sale of DXM to minors in some states, and reducing the access is a major deterrent.

4. Monitor your teen’s behavior

Skittling. Tussing. Dexing. These are all slang terms that indicate DXM abuse. Monitoring your teen’s behavior is just as important as monitoring your medicine cabinet. Watch for potential warning signs of medicine abuse. In addition to the use of slang words, behavioral changes including increased hostility, declining grades, different friends and loss of interest in hobbies, can be a sign of medicine abuse.

5. Help educate others

Share your knowledge of medicine abuse with parents, teachers, school nurses and other adults in your teen’s life. When your teen is outside your home, make sure those watching or spending time with your teen are also aware of medicine abuse. The more people that are aware of DXM abuse, the better.

You can get more information at StopMedicineAbuse.org or join the conversation by following Stop Medicine Abuse on Facebook and Twitter.


Anita Brikman joined the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) in 2016 and leads the association’s communications and public affairs functions. As a member of the senior management team, she is responsible for establishing and directing the organization’s communications strategies and goals. Anita is passionate about healthcare issues, with over two decades of experience as a news anchor and health reporter in major television markets making- medicine abuse awareness and prevention efforts important to her. She is also the mother of three teenagers.

 

What You Need to Know About The Sat and ACT

For more than 50 years, colleges have been using SAT and ACT scores for student admissions, but some things have changed over time.  For example, the high scores for both the SAT and ACT have changed due to the writing portion of the test. Colleges found the scoring of the essays to be subjective, and stopped considering it.  Therefore, the new scores reflect a composite number without consideration of the essay.  The essay portion is still offered and some colleges encourage it.  

Students can take either the ACT or the SAT unless the college they are applying requires one over the other (very few prefer one over the other).  Colleges look at these scores regardless of whether the student was taught in public school, private school or home schooled.  Both tests are offered on the computer or paper and pencil and the parent/student pays a fee each time a test is taken.  Both tests are offered 6 times per year, outside of the regular school day.

Here is some information you may need to know regarding the SAT and ACT:

SAT

https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat

  • Cost is between $45 and $57 depending on whether you take the writing portion
  • Testing time: About 3 hours for the entire test
  • There are 154 questions, not including the essay
  • Students are tested in Reading, Writing, Math, and Science and receive a composite score for each category.
  • The highest SAT score is a 1600
    • Florida State University requires a 560/640 on the Reading, Math and Writing portion
    • To find the requirements at your college of choice, click here.

ACT

http://www.act.org

  • Cost is $42.50 without the essay and $58.50 with the essay.
  • Testing time is just under 3 hours
  • The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions
  • Students are tested in Reading, Writing, Math, and Science and receive a composite score for each category.
  • The highest score on the ACT is a 36
    • Florida State requires an ACT composite score of a 25/29  
    • For more information on average ACT requirements for colleges click here.

If you want more information of which test to take, click here to see a comparison chart.

If you’re going to college, you should start preparing for these tests as soon as possible.  The PSAT can be taken as early as 8th grade.  Even though you may not have all the knowledge to take the test by then, you should begin to familiarize yourself with it.  
Best of luck!

Don’t Get it Twisted, Kids are Being Tested for Profit

First let me say, I realize that testing is a part of life.  Whether our students want to be lawyers, teachers, auto mechanics or beauticians, they have to pass tests to get degrees and certifications necessary for these jobs.  Who doesn’t remember sitting in a testing room for hours while you take an exam that determines whether you pass a course, earn your degree, or get that certification for the job of your dreams?  I get anxiety just thinking about it.

I am not anti testing, but testing in the state of Florida has gotten out of control.

State tests like the FSA and EOC are used by government officials to grant school funding and measure effectiveness.  Jeb Bush is the champion for Common Core, high stakes testing, and linking school funding to student performance.  It’s no wonder that he personally profits from the use of testing companies, like  Pearson, who give millions of dollars to his campaign.  Politicians have found a way to make public education profitable.

The FSA test cost our state $220 million of taxpayer dollars 

Tax dollars are even paying random people to score the test, rather than professionals (see Craigs List ad below).  Apparently a teacher’s degree and professional certification isn’t good enough to score student tests.   

Meanwhile in schools across the state, students are forced to sit in over crowded testing rooms for hours at a time, missing months of valuable instruction per year.

The disruption to student learning cannot be ignored

It’s not just the FSA that’s causing our students to suffer, over the course of one week my daughter sat in a testing room for 16 hours out of her 30 hour school week to take End of Course exams.  She sat next to a boy from Nigeria who speaks little English yet was required to take the test beside her.  His score also counts toward the school’s grade and toward his teacher’s performance pay.

End of Course Exams are now state mandated and are no longer created by teachers

Since 2014, final exams must now be created by people elected by the District, and made according to state standards.  EOC’s are required for every subject, even those without specific standards.  Teachers are not allowed to see the test and when asked for a review, District refers them to a list of 50 generic standards online.

I administered an EOC English test which students reported 14 errors in either grammar, punctuation or spelling.  One question was worded so poorly, we couldn’t even figure out what they were asking.  Teachers are not allowed to help their students and must stress the importance of these tests, even though the tests are an embarrassment and do not support their instruction.

The FLDOE website shows an average of only 50% of students passing their EOC’s 

This is a problem and our teachers are not to blame.  Students are failing because they are not being assessed fairly.  They are being penalized as each EOC counts as 10% of their final grade.  Students who can’t pass the FSA receive a certification of completion rather than a diploma.  Teachers who spent the year watching and celebrating their student’s growth, are helpless at the end of the year.  All due to poorly constructed, high stakes tests.  

politicians are using tests as a weapon to destroy public schools

Since these ridiculous state tests are not required in private, charter or home based schools, frustrated parents are pulling their kids out of public school at alarming rates.  This is not due to failing public schools, this is due to greedy politicians who want to standardize our students and then penalize them when they don’t fit the mold.

If there were no profit in testing, teachers would still be able to assess their own kids.  They would be treated as the professionals they are with degrees and hours of professional trainings each year.   

Article by Jeffrey Solochek, “Pasco County Teachers Raise Concerns About Fairness of District Finals” Tampa Bay Times May 17, 2017

If there was an actual benefit to the FSA and State EOC’s, all schools would use it, including private, charter, and home schools.  If tests were more than just a tool to deny schools funding and teachers the pay they’ve earned, it would actually assess what the kids are learning, after they’ve learned it.  

I love public education and I will fight for it.  I think public school teachers are the strongest, most caring people on the planet.  In spite of all the political interference, they put our children first.  I believe administrators love their school and want the best for everyone, but they’re afraid.  Afraid that if they don’t follow these ridiculous requirements they will lose everything.

Our schools are being blackmailed and need your help.  Stand up for our kids.  Write your superintendent and your legislatures:

  • Tell them your kids deserve to be tested less and taught more.
  • Tell them to throw out this ridiculous EOC and allow teachers to take back their classrooms.  
  • Tell them their tests do not accurately measure your child’s growth and ability.   
  • Tell them you want tests created by the people who actually teach your kids.  
  • Tell them your child is smarter, and better than their test.

In the meantime, look into opting out of the FSA:  https://www.facebook.com/TheOptOutFloridaNetwork/

Make sure your children are taking the proper tests that count for their future.  The ACT and SAT are still required for college acceptance and students can begin testing in 8th grade.  Requirements for the SAT and ACT have changed in recent years.  If you’re interested in finding out more information regarding college acceptance requirements, click here.

If you were asked what you remember most from school, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be testing. Let’s make sure our kids get the experiences and the education they deserve.


For source information click the pictures and links above.

 

The Slowest, Most Painful Way to End the World

The slowest, most painful way to end the world is to deprive people of the things that they love.  In my world, it’s the arts.  Art can come in many forms.  Art is music, literature, dance, and is even found in the human experience.  The beauty and breathe of our world, lies in art and the emotional connection it evokes.  I was lucky enough to have family and teachers who exposed me to art in many forms throughout my life.

My mom and grandmother taught me how to love unconditionally and fight for those who felt unloved.  My dad and grandfather exposed me to the sites of our beautiful nation and taught me to love my country, but it wasn’t until college that I understood why we should love others, and even how to love them.

 

College exposed me to black and white pages that revealed an entire society’s problems and helped me make sense of my own world.  College showed me beautiful works of art that were masterfully made in a way that made me lose myself inside the painting, much like I found myself doing in the lyrics of a song.  

My education in humanities taught me the importance of culture and how our human experiences shape our perception of the world; from Greek history to African American history to stories of our veterans and their personal struggles after war, I discovered that their experiences are woven into my life and color my world.  

Without art, music, literature, and human studies, I would live in a gray world of smog and industry.  If a degree in business, engineering, architecture, etc. focuses on the outside of structures and how they work, the arts focus on the inside.  The arts breathe life into a hollow hole.  As humans, and as an industrial nation, we can’t survive without them.

Our world was not created on the beliefs of industry and if we’re not careful, we can destroy it due to industry.  Just as we balance our personal lives when it comes to work and what we love (family, friends, etc), we must properly balance the love we have for one another and our planet, with the money and resources to protect it.

As more programs that are meant to help people are eliminated, we have more responsibility to one another than ever.  

  • If we can give our soldiers more weapons, we have to keep the programs that help them when they get home.
  • If we build walls out of fear, we have to create art out of love.
  • If we close libraries and cancel learning channels, we need to support more teachers and leaders to share stories that inspire.  
  • If we restrict agencies from protecting our environment we need to ask ourselves why it’s worth saving and start saving it one household at a time.
  • Finally, if we are going to call ourselves a Christian nation, as the new president declared, we have to follow the basic principles of faith; love one another as God has loved us and take care of the less fortunate.  Love and charity are, in fact, the foundation of all of the world’s major religions including Islam and Hinduism.  If we can’t, as a nation, take care of the poor and love more than we discriminate, then we can’t call ourselves a Christian nation.

We will all fall if we place our faith in the hands of fear.  

I’m a proud scholar of the arts, but I also respect the power and industry of our nation. Industry might make us #1 in the world but an athlete can’t compete without her heart.   

There is room in this world (and the budget) for both.  Just as we can make room in our lives for the love of family, and the work we must do to feed them and protect their future, we can find a balance that protects individuals AND our nation’s bottom line.  

If in the end, the value of art, music, literature, and humanities is removed from our nation’s priorities, then it’s up to us to save her heart.  Here are ways we can save the arts:

  • Share stories of artists, authors, musicians, and humanitarians that have made an impact on our world.
  • Share art that replaces dark, violent images with the colors of hope.
  • Share music with messages of love, inspiration, and overcoming challenges.
  • Share pictures of our beautiful land touched only by God.
  • Share the colors of our world and do everything in your power to protect it from becoming extinct.

 

*There are many programs that will be defunded if the new budget is passed.  A little bit of your time can make a big difference in someone else’s life.  If you’d like to get involved in a charitable organization in your area, read  http://expertlyflawed.com/2017/03/5-best-volunteer-organizations/   

 

 

A Teacher’s Final Goodbye

I left teaching on October 21, 2017 and it was the hardest decision I ever made. I left 125 students who looked to me for knowledge, guidance and encouragement.  I’m sure some were happy, but even more shared my broken heart.  My decision has been documented in previous blog posts and I will continue to share my letters, experience and advocacy, but today I was feeling nostalgic and thought I would post the goodbye video my kiddos made for me.

 

Why The Boy in the Hoodie Needs Public Education

 

Somewhere there’s an AP Lit teacher dressed as Shakespeare so that he can greet his Seniors at 6am and get them excited for learning.  Somewhere there’s a theatre teacher who just turned the lights to her classroom out at 9pm just to turn them back on at 6:30am.  As she walks to her door, she sees a student sitting there with the same hoodie he wore yesterday, the same hoodie he wears everyday, earphones in and a look of darkness and despair.  She feels herself get heavy as she approaches him, a little because she has so much to do and can’t leave students in her room unattended but more because every morning he’s waiting by her door and every morning she lets him in, only to be greeted by coldness and silence.  Today he actually speaks, just to complain he has to start a Shakespeare unit in English, why does he have to learn about a guy wrote stupid love stories over 300 years ago?  The teacher gives a passionate response that includes themes and lessons and the fact that The Baird actually has a lot of provocative innuendos for those keen enough to pick up on them.  A smile cracks his lips as other students start to filter into the room.  

Ready or not, the show begins and the drama teacher puts on a 6 hour performance…. That’s what teaching is, or good teaching anyway.  You are on stage period after period giving the audience what they need and feeding off their energy to make it the greatest performance of all time.  The main difference between broadway and classroom teachers, is that every day there’s a new show with very little rehearsal time in between.  

 

After school the AP Lit teacher stops by the drama classroom to talk about the student.  He had his hoodie up and his earphones in all period, does this happen to every teacher or just him?  The AP Lit teacher goes on to explain how lively the lesson was, he was all dressed up for goodness sake.  Maybe he took it a little personal that this kid showed no interest but he was going to call home and speak with his mother.  Both teachers agreed that he should not be in AP classes if he’s not going to do the work and that his disconnected behavior is concerning.  They rang the number on file together but there was no answer.

The drama teacher thought about the boy in the hoodie all night.  She talked to her friends about him over dinner.  About how tired she was and how busy her mornings are, yet she finds herself consumed by him.  When her mother called, she mentioned her conversation with the AP Lit teacher… “I just don’t understand why he even comes to school if he doesn’t care!”  

And then, lying in bed thinking of ways to get through to him, it came to her.  He comes to school because it’s all he has. The boy in the hoodie met the drama teacher at her door at 6:30 the next morning.  She let him in as she always did and he had the usual tormented look.  She asked him about Shakespeare.  He told her that his teacher dressed up and it was really cool.  Cool?  He also mentioned that they would be reading the play Hamlet and that he actually liked plays.  Maybe he could be in her next production, behind the scenes or something?  He doesn’t have anything to do after school and he’s always there early.  “Yes,” was all she could say.  

The boy in the hoodie was her most reliable student and although she didn’t get her copies made every morning, and often had to listen to him go on about his other classes, she felt being there with him served a purpose greater than having a perfect lesson.  She always preferred the impromptu lessons anyway.  

The boy was socially awkward and often got bullied for wearing the same hoodie everyday.  He still put his earphones in and often got in trouble by his teachers for defiance.  His grades slipped and he failed all of his state tests, simply because he refused to take them.  Yet he was the drama teacher’s most reliable stagehand.  He arrived early (albeit too early) and she actually had to kick him out every evening.  He came to school everyday because it was better than the life he faced at home.

His father was an alcoholic and his mother left 3 days before the school year began.  His father lost his job, due to alcoholism and spent the day passed out, when he was actually home.  There were times he left for days at a time and the boy often wondered whether he would come back at all.  There was nobody to take him to the store and buy food for him and he had no means of washing his clothes.  He once stole money from another student’s backpack to pay the utility bill.  This is what he told a social worker when his case was finally investigated after no parental contact was made all year.  

The boy in the hoodie would continue to fight but school made him feel safe.  His drama teacher gave him a warm classroom to enter through everyday and through his role in the play, he had a purpose.  His AP Lit teacher made him smile and even when he was getting in trouble, he felt cared for.  School was his escape and his teachers were his saviors.  
This is what public education is for.

The Value of Teachers

Once, on vacation a friend asked me why teachers always seem to complain.  He knew I loved teaching and the question seemed to come from nowhere, but it stung.  “If you only knew,” I thought.  A million responses rang through my head; lack of support and resources, ridiculous evaluations for teachers and students, massive workload without compensation, but instead I said,

“I guess because they feel undervalued.”

Today, a teacher’s value revolves around accountability and data; It’s formulaic.  Teachers are expected to teach a specific way, using a framework chosen (and paid for) by their state.  If they don’t use this framework, they receive low evaluations which not only affects pay but public shame by being published on the internet.  They are given standards to teach, often scripted using resources also paid for by the state.  Finally, students are given tests, chosen and paid for by the State, which are supposed to align with those standards.  

Let’s put aside the validity of these tests and evaluation measures; who makes them, who edits them, who scores and derives data from them.  Let’s even turn our heads for a moment, to the politicians and stock owners who have found a way to profit off the intended failure of our students and teachers.  Instead, let’s focus on what happens to the value of a teacher under this model.

Do you remember the teacher who sat at her desk while you completed scripted worksheets?

Do you remember the teacher who kept a sterile classroom?

Do you remember the teacher who facilitated test, after test, after test?

Most people remember the teacher who brought lessons to life with passion and enthusiasm.  Who went off script and got them to care about issues outside of the classroom walls.  Most people remember the teacher who was well liked by current, former and even future students for being involved in clubs and activities that enhanced their school experience.  Students remember teachers who had warm classrooms, who cared for them and helped them, not because they were told to, but because that’s why they became a teacher.  It’s who they are.

You can’t tell a teacher to care less about her student’s individuality and more about standardizing them.  You can’t turn their passionate lessons into scripted workbooks.  You can’t take them away from their students just to redesign curriculum that inspired, changed, or motivated them to believe in themselves.  You can’t turn classrooms into testing labs and teachers into robots.  You can’t turn their students into numbers.

A teacher’s value lies in her students. Teachers are complaining to defend our nation’s kids, not their jobs.  Under the present model of profit through evaluation and data driven results, our schools become factories, our teachers become robots, and our kids become a product.  A numerical value resides where individual worth, importance, and usefulness once did.

 

Why You Must Defend Public Education

Three months ago, I quit my job as public school teacher… Not because I had tough students, because I did, and THEY WERE MY WHY.

Not because I had too many papers to grade or lessons to plan, because I did, but the growth of many, meant more than my personal time off.

Not because I wasn’t getting paid enough, or because my insurance benefits barely covered my health care, or because I felt undervalued…

I quit because education is no longer about our students, it’s about funding and profits.  

While many government officials argued for charter schools, Arne Duncan, President Obama’s Secretary of Education, fought for public education. Unfortunately, this meant more regulations and public schools scrambled to train teachers on the new Common Core Standards and accommodate the testing required to show growth.

The tug-o-war for growth versus proficiency was literally fought in the classrooms of teachers trying to understand what exactly was expected of them.  Students suffered because teachers constantly had to adapt to these new changes sent down from politicians and lawmakers.  Teachers suffered because they were a one man dog and pony show and ultimately deprived of their pay raises and schools suffered as many didn’t receive funding.  

To say public education needs some help is an understatement, but the value of public education is strong.

The value of education comes from providing a safe, stable environment where our kids are taught by highly qualified teachers who lead them in creative, intellectual lessons necessary for college and most importantly, for life.  

No matter their background, students with varying abilities, from many religions and cultures are entitled to a free education in the hopes that our society will be better off due to an educated, civilized youth.  While students now seem to be becoming better at taking tests than engaging, we need to find a balance between accountability and preparing our kids for life.  

Defunding public school and replacing it with unregulated charter schools is not the answer to our problems in public education.  This has been proven time and time again, but most prominently by Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary.  In her home state of Michigan, Detroit’s shift to charter schools under the promise of “more choice” has left students without a stable place for education as many schools have closed taking parent and federal money with them.  Students at her Detroit schools have shown lower literacy rates, many reaching the 8th grade before they can read.  More options have meant shifting schools more than 20 times for primary students who are only seeking stability and qualified teachers.  Finally, students have been denied due to disabilities, both physical and intellectual creating civil rights violations.  Allowing schools to be selective is the definition of discrimination and will result in segregated schools again.  We cannot move backwards!  

Education is about opportunity.  We must defend public education and ensure that it continues to be a shelter to our passionate teachers and their students who are our future.