by Jennie Hanna
Looking back on the past 5 days of work stoppage, which is was we have labeled the “Great Teacher Walkout of 2018,” where “no work” was supposed to be occurring, I find I am more tired than at the end of the first week of the new year. The past week spent at the Oklahoma State Capitol fighting for education funding, fighting for respect for this profession, and fighting for the future of the children in our classrooms has been one of the most fulfilling and draining experiences of my career.
As a high school American Literature teacher, every year I get 150 or more new Juniors to teach. We spend the year looking at great works from Arthur Miller, JD Salinger, Lorraine Hansberry and many others, yet my favorite lesson always comes in the spring. As we move into the Post-Modernism literary period, I frame the reading of President John F. Kennedy's 1961 Inaugural Speech and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” around the idea of using voice and action to affect change. To culminate the reading of these two powerful pieces, I have my students select their own perceived injustice and use Dr. King's four steps of a non-violent protest – the “collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action” – to develop their own solution for their chosen injustice. In fact, the last day I was in class with my students was spent watching them share their non-violent presentations. To say that I was proud of not only how seriously they took this assignment but what they were able to come up with as solutions to an injustice that plagues our world wouldn’t be enough to convey just how proud I am of them.
Little did I know last August, while putting together my master calendar for the year, my favorite lesson would arrive in the middle of two important movements that would directly impact my students: the March for Our Lives, spurred by their very own generation in response to gun violence and school shootings, and the current teacher work stoppage, something my fellow colleagues and I were beginning to see more as an eventuality as we approached that April 1st deadline. Little did I know how much this lesson would help them realize Kennedy and King’s words and actions were never more relevant to them as they are today.
Modeling is a strategy that I've implored in my classroom. My students know that I don't ask them to do something I'm not willing to do myself. Every essay, every speech, and every poem I ask them to write or memorize for our class, they know I will always do one alongside them.
This teaching strategy, which I have always relied upon more than others, has perhaps led to this very moment where, as one of my students put it, I have been given an opportunity to not just talk about it or teach about it, but to be about it. This movement at the state capitol has been and continues to be just that – a chance to model for my students the very thing that I asked them to learn through my lesson: that voices banded together can inspire hope and can affect change.
To say that standing amid a sea of educators in front of the state capitol last Monday was inspiring is an understatement. To express how much this one moment has defined me an educator and will impact the philosophy that I have about teaching from this day forward is not enough. However, one of the most inspiring things this week has been the daily increase in the number of youth to get involved. On Monday, the smattering of students sprinkled in amongst the adults outside of the capital was relatively small, but each day their number grows. I've even been lucky enough to take a few of my students up to the capital this week, including my very own son who will graduate and go to college next year.
On Thursday, I came across a teenage girl holding a very simple sign walking with the crowd outside the capitol. Written on plain cardboard with a simple black marker was the phrase “I've had 5 science teachers in 6 months. The class is now taught by a history teacher. We have a problem.” While the crowds have been filled with some of the most creative signs that I have seen, this one speaks the loudest to me. There is a problem in our education system here in Oklahoma and while securing funding may not fix everything, it is a good place to start.
Our students deserve better. They deserve better teachers, they deserve set better supplies, they deserve better buildings, they deserve a chance at a better future. The sooner our lawmakers can see funding education not through the lens of it being a burden or a bill they must pay, but as an investment in future Oklahomans, the easier I think it will be for them to do what's right. As for me, I know I will continue to be up there at that state capitol until this is solved or until my body simply gives out because my students are worth it. Seeing students of all ages up there with us has been the lifeblood that keeps me going and I know that my fellow educators feel the same way. It's one thing for us to say that this fight is about them but it's another thing for them to see it in themselves.
by Summer Boismier
In my almost four years of teaching secondary English, I’ve learned that one of my most valuable tools as an educator is the meme folder I keep on my desktop. Nothing can divide or unite a classroom faster than a well (or not so well)-placed “Bad Luck Brian,” “Salt Bae,” or “Cash Me Outside.” Want to get that student who is totally “not” sleeping in the corner engaged in your lesson on the majesties of the indefinite pronoun? Use a meme, or better yet, ask that student to use a meme to quite literally illustrate what he knows. Memes (and emoji too, for that matter) are flexible formative assessment tools that can help students relate just about any concept to something they perceive as vitally relevant in their own lives, the Internet.
Using memes in my classroom allows me as the teacher and meme master to differentiate and enlarge the expression of understanding for my various learners. I’ve employed memes in my teaching at multiple grade levels and for multiple concepts--everything from chapter summaries and main idea to theme and even logical fallacy. My students frequent meme generator tools online and often drag and drop their creations into a Google Doc; however, students can also search Google Images for already created memes or *gasp* draw their own if access to technology is an issue. Moreover, the Oklahoma Academic Standards forefront the multimodal literacies that memes encourage as well as the synthesis and choice that occur when a student applies a meme to an ELA concept or skill, such as a visual depiction of a text structure or passage analysis or characterization or just about anything a little teacher heart could desire.
Ultimately, memes are, as the kids would say, a pretty dank way to elicit and express student learning. Plus, when that corner sleeper later shares a meme he voluntarily made for the rhetorical appeals you’ve been studying, you know you’ve made an impact. It may be an impact predicated on the existence of the “Mocking Spongebob” meme, but it’s an impact nonetheless.
Jennie Hanna is a teacher of English at MacArthur High School in Lawton, Oklahoma and a member of the OKCTE Executive Board.
I’m not sure who told me this valuable piece of wisdom early in my career, but it has served as a central piece of my pedogeological framework. I used to see it only in terms of classroom management. If I permit students to turn in late work, I am promoting being unaccountable. If I permit students to sleep during instruction, I am promoting that participation is not vital. While these are important, I need to remember the hidden messages I send when I make decisions of what will and will not happen in my classroom.
Educational theorists like Henry Giroux and Ruby Panye have outlined hidden curriculum and rules that are inherent in education. As a teacher, I am given a tremendous power to promote what I feel is important for the next generation to learn. If schools are to serve as a place where socialization and experiential education can take place, I need to use that power to ensure diversity and inclusion flow naturally within our learning. Below are some of the things that I work hard to permit within the classroom.
Angel Worth is a graduate of The University of Oklahoma. She is in her first year as a freshman English teacher, and she decided to attend the Summit to engage in meaningful dialogue and better understand those who support “school choice.”
Into the Lions’ Den
This past Thursday, the Oklahoma School Choice Summit and Expo was held at Oklahoma City Community College. The summit began at 4:00, and after ushering straggling students out of my classroom, grading a handful of late papers, and prepping the next day’s lesson plan, I strode out of the high school brimming with both fire and fear.
Upon arriving at OCCC, I sat in my car for a full fifteen minutes, staring through the windshield at the signs directing the public to the Performing Arts Center. I’m a first year teacher, so feeling out of my depth is no rarity for me. However, the feeling that gripped me as I walked up the sidewalk and into the summit was a different kind of displacement. I’d never really considered the phrase, “into the lion’s den,” until I stumbled over my name at the check-in table and allowed a young, smiling woman to slip a yellow band around my wrist. Dozens of people stood across the lobby. Most were dressed in tailored business suits and dresses, and nearly all wore a yellow scarf draped around their necks. The scarves were handed out as people checked in, but because I did not register in advance, I was not offered one.
After looking over the itinerary I had picked up at the check-in table, I picked the three breakout sessions I was interested in attending, and I made my way to the adjacent building.
Charter School “101”
Brent Bushey, the Executive Director of Oklahoma Public Resource Center, facilitated the “Charter School 101” session. Bushey is a tall, but soft spoken man. He wore a wrinkled navy blue suit, and he shuffled from one foot to the other while clasping and unclasping his hands throughout his presentation. Using charter school jargon, Bushey explained the process for how charter schools are opened, and in the last twenty minutes of the session, Bushey opened the floor to questions.
I searched the room for a friendly face, trying to identify if there was a Public Education ally in the room, but I was alone. The slogan on the banner at the back of the room caught my eye, “Every Child. Every Choice. Every Chance.” I took a shaky breath and raised my hand to ask for clarification on concerns I’ve heard echoed throughout the Public Education community.
“How do charter schools budget the money that the state allocates to them, and how transparent is that budget?” I asked. I could hear my own voice quavering. After stating that charter schools are tracked the same way public schools are, Bushey shared a surprising statistic.
“50-70% of charter schools that are closed are closed due to financial problems,” he said.
“So charter schools close most often due to financial mismanagement?” The words had left my mouth before I could bring them back.
Bushey shuffled, “It’s less an issue of mismanagement and more so financial incompetence.”
Perhaps to Bushey incompetence sounds better than mismanagement, but, as an English teacher, I couldn’t help but be appalled at the connotation associated with a word like incompetence. Is it supposed to be comforting that charter schools across the nation are shut down because they’re too incompetent to properly write a budget? Meanwhile, in Oklahoma, public schools across the state continue to function as their budgets are slashed and their funds are bleeding because of the “incompetence” of our state legislature to do the same thing. That’s a difference between public and private schools that is worth noting: in the face of anything, public schools have the resilience and commitment to their students to keep their doors open.
Emboldened, I asked another question, “When comparing public, charter, and private schools, the concept of attrition is almost never acknowledged on behalf of charter and private schools. As a public school teacher,” I glanced around the room, “I feel like there are several steps taken before a student is removed from public school. Charter schools have much higher attrition rates, which makes me wonder what process do charter and private schools follow to have students removed from their programs? And what liberties do charter schools take in admitting students with learning disabilities and disciplinary issues?”
Pivoting away from the topic of attrition, Bushey instead decided to address the latter half of the question. Bushey identified himself as a past teacher of students with disabilities and also as a father of a daughter with Down Syndrome. He shared an anecdote of his experience when he first moved to Oklahoma. He called a charter school to see if they would accept his daughter, and they said yes. He then asked them if they had a Special Education program, to which they said no.
“This is where it becomes a matter of school choice,” Bushey said. “I could have sent my daughter to that charter school, but instead I chose a school that was the best fit for her.”
What I got out of Bushey’s story was that a charter school was willing to accept his daughter despite not having the necessary program to ensure her success, which begs the question: what are IEP and 504 programs like at charter and private schools? Are these schools in compliance with IDEA? Do these schools know what IDEA is? *cough cough DeVos*
Advocacy for School Leaders
Before I could ask anymore, the session was over, and I was on my way to a session called “Advocacy for School Leaders.” The session was facilitated by Matt Ball of CMA Strategies and former Representative Hopper Smith of Strategic Resource Consulting. The goal was to teach those present how to elevate those in favor of school choice from “passive stakeholders” to “active advocates.”
Outside of Matt Ball referencing Waiting for Superman as an informative source on charter schools, what caught my attention most took the form of an older man named Charlie Daniels, who I later found out is the Vice President of the Opportunity Scholarship Fund. With both Senator Pederson (District 19) and Senator Rader (District 39) in attendance, Daniels provided scathing criticism of local school boards.
“The school board is the captive of administration,” Daniels said. “Most of them are sinkers; you cannot change their mind with a bomb.”
A few moments later, Daniels went on to say, “You’ve gotta go beyond the local school board. They’re going to be your enemy.”
It was at this point that Hopper Smith became visibly uncomfortable as he nervously laughed and claimed that “enemy is a strong word.” Daniels went on to tell about a time that he spent a day at the Capitol going from office to office of elected officials. He said that one time, he stopped in at a legislator’s office whose district Daniels was not a part of. Daniels told the legislator that he should vote in favor of whatever school choice bill was on the docket that session, and the legislator responded by saying, “Thank God. I’ve been getting hundreds of phone calls from Public Education people all day, and now if I vote for this I can say I’ve got some cover.”
It’s good to know that our legislators will disregard the voices of hundreds of constituents in favor of one person’s opinion if it serves the legislator’s own self-interest. In case the legislator has forgotten, their jobs exist to serve their constituents. Their jobs do not exist to serve themselves.
Communities of Color Panel
The next session on the list was one called “Communities of Color Panel.” Before entering the room, however, I had an informative mini-session in the form of a conversation I overheard between former State Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi and keynote speaker Dr. Steve Perry.
I initially became aware of the conversation when the words “Betsy DeVos could be good for us,” came out of Barresi’s mouth, but my favorite part of the conversation was when Barresi complained about the “quality of educators that colleges of education are producing.”
Dr. Perry guffawed loudly and replied, “That whole sentence is an oxymoron.”
It took everything in me not to step forward and identify myself as a public school teacher. Instead, I took deep breaths, pictured the goddess of education that is current Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, and followed Barresi into the next session.
The communities of color panel was comprised of Dr. Steve Perry, Phillip Gover of Sovereign Schools Project, and Marilinda Garcia of the Libre Initiative. I most looked forward to this session because I wanted to see how the panel addressed the research that suggests charter and private schools compound the issue of systemic racism. Instead, Dr. Perry said in his opening statement, “We are taking a system that was designed in 1635 that was designed to keep certain communities apart...and has so effectively done it, that it almost seems natural.” Dr. Perry went on to suggest that teachers are the hostages of unions to which we pay our ransom (union dues), and that the public school system is too traditional and racist.
Now, I acknowledge that there is inequity in the public school system. Schools that are located in areas of dense poverty are attended by predominately students of color, and these schools often have lower graduation rates. However, the solution is not to open up charter schools so that portions of the student bodies in lower-income schools are pulled out. What about the students who are left behind? The students who don’t make it off the wait list? They’re left to attend a school that has even less funding. In Oklahoma City, in particular, these students would be left in classrooms that are filled with unqualified and uncertified teachers because of a massive teacher shortage. The solution to this problem is not to open more schools, it’s to fund the school that stands, starting with teacher salaries, to ensure quality teachers are present to provide a quality education. As much as the summit reiterated that the student is the most important part of education, they must recognize that students’ education starts with their teacher.
Before the last session dismissed, the room was notified that a protestor, allegedly, pulled the fire alarm in the theater to prevent the second part of the program from happening. Dr. Perry laughed joyously at this.
“I’ve been to a lot of cities, man,” he said. “And ain’t no city where they’re pulling fire alarms. To those protestors: you showed us that we hurt you by hollering. Keep hollering because we’re going to hurt you some more.”
This was met with whoops and hollers as those in the room stood to begin their walk back to the Performing Arts Center.
It just so happened that I was behind Janet Barresi on the way back to the Performing Arts Center, so I was lucky enough to see her reaction when we reached the doors to find dozens of pro-Public Education people standing in line, waiting to be admitted to the summit.
Barresi rolled her eyes and shared a look with the woman who had been accompanying her, and they pushed their way through the line to get into the lobby. As I had already checked in, I followed.
When I reached the front of the line I realized that those who were waiting to check-in were being turned away. Most of them clutched Event Brite registration confirmation tickets in their hands, and one man at the front of line began to get irate.
I asked one of the summit event’s coordinators why the group of people waiting to get in were being denied access to the public event. He claimed that those organizing the summit had caught wind of a protest group on Facebook, and so they cross referenced the list of people who were associated with the Facebook group and the people who had registered for the event, and the summit’s organizers canceled the group’s tickets.
I found out later, however, that several pro-Public Education people were turned away who had no affiliation with the protest group on Facebook, which leads one to wonder what sources the summit organizers were using to decide who could and who could not attend a “public forum”?
I did not stay for the entirety of the main program that was held in the Performing Arts Center’s theater because I needed to go to the store to buy supplies for the project my students were doing the following day. I did, however, stay long enough to hear Rep. Jason Nelson moderate a panel comprised of Sen. Stanislawski, Sen. Loveless, Rep. Chuck Strohm, and Rep. Calvey.
The panel was essentially five men tossing around school choice buzzwords to incite applause from the audience. I’m currently teaching rhetoric to my freshman, and I was almost tempted to start recording the panel in order to have my students analyze and identify the heavy use of pathos and the noticeable lack of ethos and logos in each of the legislator’s arguments for school choice.
As I drove away from the Oklahoma School Choice summit Thursday night, I reflected on what it means to be a public school teacher in the current political climate. Oklahoma teachers have been fighting the state legislator for many years to protect Public Education, and now that fight might find itself carried to the national level with the nomination of Betsy DeVos.
With every anti-Public Ed proposed legislative bill that I read, I feel my faith in the future of Oklahoma public school’s diminish. After leaving an environment where public school teachers like myself were categorized as union thugs, racist, selfish, and inept, my passion for public school teaching was reignited. Since Thursday, I’ve thought back to Dr. Perry’s words again and again, “You showed us that we hurt you by hollering. Keep hollering because we’re going to hurt you some more.”
Dr. Perry and many of the other speakers at the summit are not from Oklahoma, so perhaps they won’t understand. However, I feel it necessary to warn them not to mistake determination for being “hurt.” Don’t be so foolish as to misinterpret grit for fear. The war on Public Education has been waging in Oklahoma for many years now, and though it’s been trying and adverse, public schools and their teachers have persevered—and we will keep on persevering.
by Ranee Stats - Secondary Language Arts Coordinator - Putnam City Public Schools
My freshmen were given a very unique opportunity to submit essays, poems, or stories for the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. My students were excited for the chance to actually have their words in at that time a well-known published series. I was happy for the seriousness and excitement to which students took to the task.
Since the students’ writings had to be mailed to California, there were strict deadlines. I, of course, stressed the point that no late writings would be accepted. Even the teacher had deadlines to meet on this project!
On the day the final copy was due, I had a call from the main office informing me I had a visitor. Waiting to speak with me was a grandparent of one of my freshman, JD, who just so happened to be absent that day. JD was new to our school his freshman year. He was a quiet, very reserved, average student who seemed to prefer to be left alone. As his grandmother and I talked, she clutched a large, manila envelope. She shared with me some history about JD, a history in which I had absolutely no idea.
She told me how JD did not want to go to school this day, but he knew how important it was to submit his paper regardless. I smiled. My message got through to at least one student! His grandmother began to tell me about the content of JD’s paper which she held securely in her hand. My students’ assignment was to write a story, poem, or essay that had to fall under specific categories for the requirements of the book series. He choose to write under the category Death and Dying. JD wrote about the events of April 19, 1995 in Oklahoma City.
JD’s mom worked in downtown OKC at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. JD was only 10 years old in 1995. He wrote about how excited he was that day when he was sent to the office to go home early with his grandfather and his aunt. In his elementary student mind, he thought it was a special surprise to go out to lunch, but he noticed they had been crying and both of them looked upset. They took him to his home where he met several family members all gathered around the television watching news updates and local, live broadcasts of the event that forever changed his life and his family.
He noticed his mother was not in the room with the family. As he watched the news and saw the rubble that once was the building in which his mother worked, he realized there was a chance his mom would not return home. He saw people of all ages pulled from the wreckage on stretchers and his family desperately looked at the scrolling list of names at the bottom of the screen that reported people who had been rescued.
His mother didn’t come home that Wednesday night or Thursday night, or the night after that. It was over 2 weeks after the bombing and JD’s family finally received news she had been found. JD’s mom worked on the seventh floor of the Murrah Federal Building and she was discovered on the second floor 2 ½ weeks after the bombing. His mom was one of 168 people who did not survive the domestic terrorist bombing of the federal building in downtown Oklahoma City.
When his grandmother finished telling me about JD’s mom, her daughter, and the contents of his paper, we were both in tears. I weakly explained to her that there were other categories he could have selected from to write for the assignment. JD’s grandmother said he assured her he wanted to write about the event; it was something he felt he needed to do, and she expressed how it had been a strengthening experience for him. His counselor for the last 5 years agreed. She handed me the brown, manila envelope as she left. I knew I would see JD differently now because of his strength and this tragedy he experienced at such a young age.
Several months later, I received official notice some of my students’ stories made the final selection for the book Chicken Soup for the Pre-Teen Soul. JD’s essay was one of them! We were both so very proud that his healing words would be a part of the publication. JD and I both received autographed copies from all the authors of the book that contained his essay. This autographed copy is one of my prized pieces from one of my students and his work.
Life Changing Lessons... How I found myself standing on a table, blaring the Mission Impossible theme song, while wearing a police hat.
by Katie Kinder, Kenneth Cooper Middle School in Putnam City Schools
OKCTE values the voices of educators from across the state. Occasionally, we will invite an educator to contribute their stories and thoughts.