Friday, January 9, 2015


I used to say it wouldn't happen to me. I thought I would be that inspired, go-getter, make-a-difference, teacher for my whole career.

I was the teacher who stayed late, coached basketball, did the yearbook, created a community garden, ran detention, did school murals, or just hung out after school to talk to my students.

I did not get paid for most of this. I didn't even really care. At that point, I was newly married, but had a husband who was working late anyway, so I would just stay with my students and try to be as involved in improving my "at risk" school community as possible. When I had no children of my own, my students took over that part of my heart. I gave them all I had.

I've only ever taught in poor and urban districts. (Tucson, Allentown, and now here in Philly) I don't say this for accolades, but just to highlight the extra difficulties and lack of resources that come with the environment. This leads to burnout very early on for many new teachers.

I pushed through. I would go home and cry for the stories my students told me. I would ask family and friends for extra resources. I wrote in for grants to get materials or to bring people/speakers/events to the school.

I never did summer school so that I could come back fully recharged to take on a new year with all my heart and soul.

I used to spend hundreds, many hundreds of dollars, to make sure my classroom could function as I wanted it to. Teachers get to write off $250 of expenses on their taxes. I know my receipts far exceeded that.

I went back to school right away for my M.A. and to get more certifications. A few years in to my career, I also completed the National Board Certification process.

Again, this is not to pat myself on the back, but to make that point that I did this as a real calling and career. I did not choose teaching for getting the summers off, or because I thought it would be an "easy" job.

It has been anything but easy. I've been frustrated with a broken district...with apathetic and disrespectful people from the leaders to yes, many students and parents....but when I had those few gems each year, those students who shined so brightly through their circumstances, that I knew I had to keep going. Starfish theory. I would remain in a broken situation to be a part of the solution, no matter how small.

I've seen many unfortunate issues with racism, it plagues this district. I've had many things stolen and broken, including a laptop. I've been to the district physicians because of breaking up a fight between 8th grade boys....etc, etc, etc. I say to people, "Remember 'Dangerous Minds' and 'Freedom Writers'? Yeah, it's really like that."

And, it's true. But like in those stories, there are beautiful moments. I have learned about our society in a way I never imagined possible from my safe, suburban upbringing. I have looked into so many dark corners of my own heart and mind, and have come to realize who I am, and what my purpose is. My students are a huge part of this personal growth, and I will forever be grateful.

Last year I started an entirely new journey, teaching Life Skills. My students are all labeled with Intellectual Disability, and some are also Autistic, Non-Verbal, Emotional Support, etc.

I have found that I really enjoy this too. And it has proven to me, that really, I just love teaching. You can pretty much throw me into any classroom and I'll find something to love.

But something has turned off.

The continuous lack of support for teachers has really caused a lack of morale, even for the most hopeful of us.

I can also fully admit, that having my own child changed me drastically. She comes first now. I'm a mom and then a teacher. I used to put teaching first, so nothing came between me and my students.

As soon as my priorities shifted, it's like a veil lifted, and all the things that could have caused my early burnout, finally came into plain sight.

I still love what I do. I still do all that is required of me from 8:00-3:04, but that's all I have in me to give most days.

An issue occurred this week, a few minutes after dismissal, with one of my students. I had already gone home for the day, but theres' a part of me that feels guilty for not still being here. I remember the teacher I used to be. She would have still been at school.

But then I think. At least I'm still here from 8:00-3:04. I know so many people who have transferred to "better" districts, or have changed careers for more money.

My principal was clearly disappointed, and I know it wasn't really towards me, it was towards the atmosphere in general. She said, "I know people can leave right at 3:04, I just wish it wasn't really like that."

I just nodded. I too, wish it wasn't like that. But it is. I wanted to say it, but I didn't. She knows the situation. We haven't had a raise or our traditional "step increase" in 3 years. There is less and less money for classroom supplies, yet we are expected to do more. We keep losing teachers so class sizes are increasing. They keep talking of actually cutting our benefits and salary.


So yes, when it's 3:04, I want to go home. I want to go hug my own child.

I'll be back at 8:00, greeting my students with a smiling face and will love them the best I can for those 7 hours.

I'm very doubtful now that this will be my life-long career. I don't know how many more years I have left in me, and it will certainly be bittersweet if and when I make the change.

I know Philadelphia is not alone in this situation. I wish there was something that could change the dynamic. I wish poor and struggling districts were given more energy and attention, not just more mandates and tests.

I wish that the motivated and inspirational teachers and administrators stayed. I wish for a lot of positive energy that isn't present. But sadly, I'm hitting that point I never thought I'd hit. I'm burning out.

I'll bring the positive vibes to my classroom for now, and until I leave. My starfish. That much I can still promise.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's about so much more than football....

I finally had a chance to watch "We Could be King" last night. It's a documentary about the merger between Germantown and MLKing high schools, and their football program this past fall. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Yes, it's mostly about football, but through that lens we see the issues facing urban education and the young people who attend these institutions. Most importantly, it showcases the need for positive role models. The coach was touching with his repeated message of "humble and hungry" and how often he told the students that he loves them.

This completely resonated with me, and I was tearing up while watching the film last night. I have only ever taught in urban schools (Tucson, AZ; Allentown, and now Philly) and have always felt the need, as did this coach, to tell my students that I love them. I was also a basketball coach, and can understand that bond that comes from teaching teamwork and persistence in a setting other than the classroom, as that is not the area where many of these students are very comfortable.

I remember a few times, where I was really trying to teach my middle schoolers some tough life lessons, and saying "I don't know if anyone else has told you they love you today, but I'm telling you"....and then I would proceed with what we needed to discuss. I know this made a huge difference in the dynamics in my classrooms over the years.

There are times, many times, where teaching in Philadelphia is emotionally draining. But when I see our world put out there like inspires me to keep going. I see successful stories like this everyday, and we've got to believe in the starfish theory, or we can easily burn out.

Not too long ago, there was another news piece done by Diane Sawyer on Strawberry Mansion, but that left a bad taste afterwards. It was perhaps well intended, but to me it seems that it just exploited the problems and lives of the students for some drama and attention. And though there is certainly not always a happy ending for our students and our schools, that piece didn't really even seem to offer solutions or positivity. "We Could be King" very much does this.

The film has been playing on ESPNU for the past few weeks. Find it if you can!

Here is the link to the trailer:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Report Card Conferences

It's 1:06. No parents yet. Conferences are from 1-3 today and tomorrow, as well as 6-8 tonight.

I have report cards and student folders prepared, sitting next to me, while I work on my room (and sip my coffee and dance a bit to 88.5, but hey, an empty classroom is a glorious thing; I love my lil home away from home).

I know that most Philadelphia high schools are no longer "neighborhood" schools, so parents can not just walk a few blocks and come meet with us. I also realize that by high school, not many parents feel the need to come anyway.

However, since I teach Life Skills Support this year, I would think that parents of students with special needs would be eager to come talk about their child's progress and their transition goals. Maybe even just call to talk during this time (I gave my personal cell # to all families)??

I sent letters home in their daily folders, to remind them about conferences, and also sent this information home on the school-wide calendar for the month.

I love what I do. I love my kiddos. I love teaching. I would love to feel like more of a team with the parents of my students.

1:19. Still just me.

Please, parents, change this!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Professional Development Conversation...How are things at your school?

Hello to all my Philly Education people!

I started a new position this year, and returned to a full-time Special Ed. position. It's been a little hectic getting settled, but I'm back in the swing of things.  (Sidebar: Who created EASY IEP? And WHY is that the program the district chose?!? It's not very efficient.)

Anyway, I'm truly thankful to be at a school that seems to have made the school-closure-and-budget-frenzy transition smoothly, but I know there is still much work to be done on behalf of our schools and students.

Here at my high school, we have been keeping track of issues which have been difficult (or impossible), and other incidents that appear to be mainly due to the constraints made to staff and resources.

In the interest in getting a district-wide conversation going over the next 2 days while we have PD time to digest some things....please share along with me here or on Twitter.

What has been going on in your school now that things have taken form this year?

What are the greatest needs? (COUNSELORS seems to be the #1...but I know there are so many more)

What has gone well despite the cuts, and might not have been so important?

What resources/materials would most benefit your school?


Happy November, talk soon!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Color Me Surprised

It was announced yesterday that Mrs. Jenkins will in fact be the prinicpal to replace Mr. Brandt when he leaves at the end of the school year.

This is such amazing news for the school and its community!

I wish I wasn't so surprised by such news, but this was an unexpected result. Everyone that I have talked to who has been in this district for a long time, (including administrators at other schools) said that the placement of principals seems to be a completely arbitrary and subjective decision by the "powers that be".

Sadly, it was also said by more than one person, that the trend tends to be that they don't like being "told" what to do, and often will not take recommendations into consideration for that very reason. I would think it would be the opposite, that a good leader would look to input from a community.....alas, much of what makes sense to many of us, does not seem to happen when the district makes decisions.

But, surprised or not, I'm thankful that it's a reality. As someone who works at both Germantown and Roxborough, I now have more hope that the transition from the Germantown closure will go more smoothly.

I do believe that an active alumni association, a community that was willing to speak up, and Mr. Brandt's willingness to fully disclose in his official letter that he recommended Mrs. Jenkins made a difference. Sometimes you really have to be enough of a "squeaky wheel" so that decision makers notice, and want to quiet things down. It should have been a easy decision though, simply by seeking the advice of a principal they respect, and following through.

Here's hoping that genuine respect and fair consideration is given in all other school closing/merger situations in the coming weeks.

I would LOVE to be pleasantly surprised by the district all summer long. Positive progress would be a wonderful thing!

Wishing nothing but the best to both Mr. Brandt and Mrs. Jenkins!

Friday, May 31, 2013

What has really changed?

Just some food for thought this morning... 

I work out of the library at Germantown High, and as they are closing, it's interesting to see some of the old books that are hidden in back rooms come to the surface.

This is a collection of books on education from the National Society for the Study of Education.

It appears they came out with a collection of "yearbooks" on various important topics in education.

The collection at Germantown is from the 1950's and 60's.

The topics were as follows:

Social Deviancy Among Youth
The Dynamics of Instructional Groups
Education for the Gifted
Art Education
Individualizing Education
Social Forces Influencing American Education
Child Psychology
Development In and Through Reading
Personnel Services in Education
Mental Health in Modern Education

In briefly skimming the contents and introductions of the books, much was said about the need for re-examining public education in the post-war society. Multiple times, I saw mentions of "values" that were changing, and it seemed to be the mission of these yearbooks to look at ways that schools could step in to continue creating productive citizens of this country.

So, I wonder, 50 plus years later, what has really changed?

Are these not the very issues that are at stake today, if we don't provide quality public education for all?

It seems the main difference, is that the teaching profession was given much more reverance for its role in creating these productive citizens. Schools were taken seriously as institutes of teaching and learning. Yes, there were awful issues on other fronts in terms of segregation, but let's also be real about that please. How much diversity is in the 99% African American high school I'm sitting in today? How much diversity was in the 99% white high school I attended?

So, instead, how about we take the students, whatever they look like....and educate them? Without cutting services for the important items listed above, from art education to mental health services.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sad News at Roxborough High

Principal Steve Brandt just announced to staff and students this morning that he will not be returning to Roxborough next year. He is leaving the district, and made it clear that it is due to not being able to work under their current philosophies and ways of operating.

This is awful news for so many reasons.

Selfishly, yes, I want to see him stay. Roxborough has been a bright spot in my travels between high schools. It is BY FAR the best school climate I have seen in 3 years of traveling the district, and is miles ahead of where other neighborhood high schools are.

This school has turned around in his few years here, and he completely deserved the Lindback award for principal of the year.

I simply do not understand how a district that is struggling as ours is, cannot do more to keep one of the best and brightest young leaders that it has.

How can we ever expect to change things if this is how we operate? Forget budgets and contracts and school closings for a minute....take a look at what type of people you want here. It doesn't make sense.

Sorry, this is by the seat of my pants this morning, as I was floored with this announcement, but I'm apalled.

Steve is a product of this district, graduating from Roxborough himself. He really cares about this place. He poured his heart into this school.

And now, he's given his recommendation that Ms. Jenkins, his assistant principal replace him. This would be a great transition. She understands this building and what makes it work. However, the tone seems to be that this recommendation doesn't matter. The understanding is that the district will place who they see fit into this position.

I question, based on what exactly?!?! If you care about these students, and see how far they've come in a few years, why on earth would you possibly change that for them? This is an especially unique situation, with students pouring into Roxborough next year from the Germantown closure.

School District of Philadelphia, open your eyes. Save one of your neighborhood schools next year, by maintaining some continuity for the students and staff.

You are already losing an amazing principal; please don't throw away an entire school as well.