Concerning the Mental and Emotional Health of Public School Students

To say that our young people deserve the best education possible goes without saying, and with the North Carolina General Assembly’s glossy championing of “reforms” like charter schools and vouchers to promote “school choice,” it can be easy to overlook the reality that faces schools when they are underfunded.

With all of the talk from legislators like Chad Barefoot, Jerry Tillman, Phil Berger, and their cronies (as well as the oblivious state superintendent who did not fight against cuts to DPI), please do not forget that per pupil expenditure when adjusted for inflation is remarkably lower than pre-recession days.

Add to that the refusal to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, a plague of poverty that affects almost one in four public school students, gerrymandered districts, and an unconstitutional Voter ID law and one can see that what has really happened is not just a systematic dismantling of public schools but a weakening of the very students and families who are forced to look to public schools for help beyond academics.

I am reminded of all of the “pro-life” rhetoric of many of our NC lawmakers. Take Lt. Gov. Dan Forest for instance. He once stated on his website,

“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, and I have had the privilege of seeing many pro-life bills passed during my time in office. I am committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us.”

Forest also was quoted during the debacle that was HB2 “Bathroom Bill” (which a version of just was defeated outright in TEXAS),

“We value our women too much to put a price tag on their heads.”

Pro-life means taking care of people outside of the womb as well, and if there is no such thing as needing to put a price on a “head” especially in defense of a phantom menace, then would it make sense to protect our most vulnerable against something that is very real and very present?

In a workshop during pre-planning for this new school year, I was presented with rather disturbing statistics shared by our school’s social worker who works on a variety of campuses within the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County School system.


To summarize, social workers in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County School system served 7,688 individual students for an average of 248 students per social worker. Those WSFCS social workers received 13,995 different referrals and provided 21,716 different interventions – 192 of them were interventions for suicide which is a 53% increase from the previous school year.

Those numbers are for ONE school district in ONE school year.

When students are hungry they cannot learn as well. When students are not healthy, they cannot learn as well. When students are insecure, they cannot learn as well. When students are mentally and emotionally hurting, they do not learn as well.

Yet, people like Dan Forest (who sits on the state’s school board and is a huge proponent of “school choice”) keep championing anemic public school budgets and misplaced priorities when it comes to fully funding schools.

You might be surprised to think that in the school where I work which has the largest student body of all system schools, we have a nurse on campus for only one day of the week. Each guidance counselor in my school has nearly 500 students under his/her care. There is only one school psychologist that serves our school and she has many campuses under her care. And you just saw the numbers that our system’s social workers face from just school-related referrals.

But we have a lawmaking body who believes in cutting teacher assistant jobs, limiting resources, removing class size caps, and holding certain types of classes hostage like the arts and PE that could help the mental and emotional welfare of students all the while touting their “surpluses” and “pro-life” stances.

That’s just plain hypocrisy.

Fully-funding schools means putting an ample number of professionals in place who can help students with any obstacle that could impede his/her personal and academic welfare.

While many in the general public only see academic achievement scores and while legislators seem to care only to see a few people tax dollars, public school teachers and staff members see individuals who sometimes have incredible barriers to learning and growth that must be confronted.

If the trends that our school’s social worker presented show no change in the public school culture that is being fostered by our state government, then those statistics will become even more stark.

And we will lose more of our students to maladies that could have been confronted both in schools and in society.

That’s not “pro-life.”

Too Many Books To Read, So Any Suggestions?

I simply gathered the books laying around the house that are not on bookshelves that I am either reading, just finished or am about to get to when God makes days longer and the hours pass more slowly.

And I got this:


I think that I find some sort of comfort in having a lot of printed material at my disposal. And while I may not get to every book that interests me, I am glad that I always have “company” when needed.

It is rather fascinating to think of my favorite books and ponder why I was drawn to read it in the first place. In the stack above, The Brothers Karamazov is the only one that is written by a person who is dead and is considered classical literature (although a few of these are highly regarded modern pieces).

Three of those books are by authors I consider my favorites. Each was referred to me by another avid reader. In fact, most every book in this picture is in my house because either the author or the book was suggested to me.

So, I would like to know (if possible), what books any of the readers of this blog might suggest to someone who is interested in Shakespeare, religion’s role in society, the evolution of language who realizes this stack has only two female writers, and still has a love for great literature.

Add a comment to this post or message me privately.

Or try telepathy.


Teachers, What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured


Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have an unproven voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. In fact, our state superintendent is a neophyte in education.

The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are sometimes constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the unconstitutional Voter ID law that had to be overturned.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about that our own state superintendent has been a no-show for public schools.
  • Think about what HB2 did to us.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

Dear Sen. Barefoot, Say It Isn’t So!


Dear Sen. Barefoot,

News tonight that you will not seek reelection to the NC General Assembly in 2018 was rather surprising.

Your meteoric rise in the leadership ranks of the state’s GOP hierarchy seemed to be a sign of more to come. At a young age, you became the the co-chairman of the Senate Education and Higher Education Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Higher Education that were instrumental in deciding the allotment for classroom size and for public school resources.

With the release of the new legislative maps, there will be a lot of conjecture as to why you saved your news for tonight. Maybe the new maps that were released (because the original ones that you were able to get elected within were gerrymandered) would hurt your chances to get reelected.

Maybe a”doubling” of your district would hurt your chances to gain another term. However, since the person whose district might merge into yours is also a GOP member, it would not really change the ability for your political cronies to keep a hold of the majority.

In a news report by WRAL, you were quoted (from your released statement that is linked to the report),

“As my legislative responsibilities grew over the past five years, so did my responsibilities at home. I feel now is the right time for me to focus more on being a dad than a State Senator, and so I won’t be running for re-election in 2018” (

I am a dad and a husband – best endeavors I have ever undertaken. And I commend your wanting to focus on that part of your life.

You also said in your statement,

“…we knew when I ran for the State Senate six years ago that serving in elected office might not be something we could do for the long haul “(

But I am going to honest with you. I don’t believe that you are simply going away into the private sector. You will be back in some capacity.

Someone who was part of probably the most expensive state legislation races, who has become a co-chair of two of the most powerful committees in the NCGA, and who single-handedly has crafted some of the most altering legislation to “reform” public education is simply going to leave that behind?

I don’t believe it.

When Sen. Phil Berger said in the WRAL report, ““We’ll miss Chad’s thoughtful leadership in the Senate, but I commend him for choosing to spend more time with his young family and wish him every success,” I heard something else.

I heard, “We are grooming Chad to become better acquainted with other aspects of state-run agencies so that he can be of service to the NC GOP.”

Whether that means state-wide political office (consider that Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest is already ramping up a campaign for governor) or an appointment to a state job in some sort of educational venue (community college?), I am sure that you will be back in a position of lucrative service.

The man who brought us SB599 (alternative teacher pathways), proposed to end Governor’s School and launch a special “Legislative School”, helped slash budgets for DPI, and held “specials” hostage through HB13 is not simply going away that quickly.

Even if you did simply cut ties with political endeavors and state-wide office seeking, you could never really leave. That’s because in your short tenure, you have left an incredibly big scar on public education that will take years to heal because so many actions that have affected us in public schools have your fingerprints all over them. Things like:

  • Teacher Pay still low on national scale
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Misplaced Bonuses
  • Last in nation in Principal Pay
  • Standard 6 and Nebulous Evaluation Tools
  • Push for Merit Pay
  • “Average” Raises
  • Health Insurance and Benefits Attacked
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE)
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

And for that, I will keep writing to you.









When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Like Coach Murphy, The Titan of Titans

One of my first memories of Coach Murphy actually came at a Home Depot in Winston-Salem. I had on a West Forsyth t-shirt.

Murph had on West Forsyth garb as well. He recognized me and came straight up and told me that the football team was going to Asheville the next Friday for a game against A.C. Reynolds. He wanted to know if I was going because he sure was going to be there.

Of course, he was going to be there. He is one of the main cogs of the West Forsyth athletics program.

I was beginning to come to more athletic contests as I had become fully convinced that I was a part of the West Forsyth community and my investment in being a part of the school’s culture was growing. And I got to met Coach Murph in the process.

And when he approached me in that Home Depot on the western side of the Twin City, he had already designated me a friend because he had met me before and knew that I rooted for West Forsyth.

That steadfast loyalty to those he knows at West Forsyth has always amazed me. In 2012,  the Winston-Salem Journal did a story on Coach Murph and what he means to West Forsyth – It’s fantastic.

One of paragraphs in that story did strike me as I read it again.

“Joe Murphy, Pat’s 80-year-old father, said that Pat was stricken with a mental disability at birth. He’s the one who drives his son across the street every afternoon at 2 to the high school, so Pat can get to work.”

As the father of a child with special needs or developmental delays or whatever people call it in conversation, I have come to realization that it may not really be a disability that happens to be identified with Coach Murphy.

Actually, it seems he has an ability that most of us do not have: the intangible gift of lifting others.

Two quotes stand out from that story said by two men whom I deeply respect.

“If you are really having a bad day, just go hang out with Pat a little while. You’ll be all right.”

“He has always been so positive, so kind, and he never forgets things.”

In a country that has expressed itself in such divisive ways of late, it seems that what Coach Murph embodies and shows on a daily level might be one of the saving graces for keeping communities together. And it’s especially good for our young people to see.

Last week, WFMY did a piece on Coach Murph:

In it, the sagacious Coach Snow said,

“He is a major part of West Forsyth, and he’s been a major part of West Forsyth for a long time (26 years to be exact).

I don’t know what we’d do without him,” Snow said. “He gets after the kids, he does the right thing, our kids love him.”

Think about all of the very things that people attribute to Coach Murph:

  • positive
  • kind
  • loyal
  • focused
  • selfless
  • consistent
  • the belief that “we will win”
  • stays through thick and thin
  • friend

I hope someone says that about me someday.

That’s why I want to be more like Coach Murph when I grow up.

Go Titans!





About That Civitas Institute Post On Charter Schools – Comparing Apples to Rocks

A recent post on the Civitas Institute’s website entitled “Research: charter schools improve public schools” is worth the read because while it may have provided the writer some light ammunition to make the claim “Is there a more powerful argument for competition and choice?”, what it really does is prove that many would rather cherry pick research to fit a narrative than actually analyzing what is reality now (

Bob Luebke cites a study conducted by Professor Sarah Cordes of Temple University who writes,

…that the introduction of charter schools within one mile of a TPS [traditional public school] increases the performance of TPS students on the order of 0.02 standard deviations (sds) in both math and English Language Arts (ELA). As predicted by theories of competition or information transfers, these effects increase with proximity to the charter school and are largest among student in co-located schools where performance increases by 0.09 sds in math and 0.06 sds in ELA. In addition retention decreases between 20-40 percent in TPSs located within 1 mile of a charter school. School level responses that might explain these positive spillovers  included higher per PPE  [per pupil expenditure] and changes in school practices such as higher academic expectations, student engagement, and levels of respect and cleanliness at the school, as reported on parent and teacher surveys.”

Luebke also makes sure to specify,

“The research by Cordes is the first peer-reviewed study on the subject and appears in the Journal of Education Finance and Policy.  Cordes analyzed nearly 900,000 students in grades 3-5 who attended traditional public school in an attendance zone that included a charter school serving at least one of those grades between 1996 and 2010.”

To even allow for this research to explain why the charter school expansion in North Carolina is a viable action is careless because what Cordes reports actually goes against what Luebke seems to champion: school choice that is manipulated by legislation to weaken public schools in NC.

Notice that the study concentrates on the years 1996-2010. That’s seven years ago. That’s before a GOP-controlled supermajority in the NC General Assembly began its “reforms.” That’s before the following occurred, a lot of which was orchestrated by the very people (Art Pope) who fuel the Civitas Institute:

  • Teacher Pay still low on national scale
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • misplaced Bonuses
  • Last in nation in Principal Pay
  • Standard 6 and Nebulous Evaluation Tools
  • Push for Merit Pay
  • “Average” Raises
  • Health Insurance and Benefits Attacked
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE)
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Schools
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

And that’s just a small list.

For Luebke to even equate the educational topography of 2017 with the 1990’s and early 2000’s with what is being done today is asinine.

Furthermore, it is rather interesting that Cordes says this specifically:

School level responses that might explain these positive spillovers included higher per PPE  [per pupil expenditure] and changes in school practices such as higher academic expectations, student engagement, and levels of respect and cleanliness at the school, as reported on parent and teacher surveys.

Higher per pupil expenditure?

Higher levels of respect?

In NC, those very things that Cordes says occurred in public schools are the very things that the NCGA is stifling. It’s a total contradiction to what is happening in North Carolina, especially since the removal of charter school capping and the expanse of vouchers, neither of which has produced any empirical data that proves that either is helping our students the way that Luebke would want to claim they are.

In essence, he is using research from a different academic terrain to fit his narrative that cannot be validated because there is no research of what is happening in NC because the very people who want that narrative to exist are controlling the vary variables that would allow for research to provide answers.

And as far as “cleanliness” goes? When you have less resources for a growing student population, then it is hard to keep things maintained. Remember this?

EDEN — A bathroom that doesn’t have toilet paper.

A classroom lacking textbooks.

A copy machine without paper.

In some Rockingham County schools, there’s not enough money to buy these — and other things.

When that was revealed last week during a meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education, it came as a shock to some and a surprise to others (

That’s Phil Berger’s district. His son was trying to open up a new charter school in the area at that very time.

That was in 2014 – not 1996-2010.

Leubke referenced an interview on the study by the education web site The 74. You should check out that outfit.

74 1.png

But be sure to understand that it really is not non-partisan. It was founded by Campbell Brown, one of the leading voices of the privatization movement.

And you might want to be sure to see who has funded The 74. That list alone makes the term “non-partisan” a synonym for the “current administration.” At the top of the list is Betsy DeVos.

Mercedes Schneider did some incredible research on The 74 and its funding –

Along with DeVos, there is the Walton and Broad Foundations. And don’t forget to see Brown’s connections with Wall Street and her convenient role on the boards of New York’s Success Charter Schools. In fact, check out this piece on Brown and her “non-partisan” ways –

Luebke’s celebration of Cordes’s research of a different educational terrain from years and decades ago is like a square peg that Leubke is trying to shove into a round hole that he has helped to mold and shape.

That peg does not fit and he’s trying to convince you that it does. That should automatically make you doubt whatever he might have to say about public education.

Dear Sen. Barefoot, The Next NCGA Special Session Should be in an Elementary School Trailer


Dear Sen. Barefoot,

A recent report from WRAL brought again to mind the efforts that you specifically have made to handcuff school districts in meeting class size requirements without fully funding public schools.

The foreseen problems of the folly that was the HB13 bill you shepherded are now manifesting themselves, specifically in Wake County.

From WRAL:

Traditional-calendar students in Wake County head back to school in less than three weeks, but before welcoming kids back, school leaders are trying to figure out how they’ll handle a new state mandate for smaller class sizes.

State-mandated reductions in class size for kindergarten through third grade take full effect in the 2018-2019 school year, and district officials estimate they will need 5,900 new elementary school seats in a county already facing constant student population growth.

“That’s a bunch of seats we are going to have to find,” said Wake County school board member Bill Fletcher (

When that bill was being discussed, you made an interesting comment that I would like to revisit. You said,

“For years, the General Assembly has been sending tens of millions of dollars to districts for new classroom teachers for the purpose of lowering classroom sizes,” he said. “The question we keep asking over and over again is, ‘What did they do with the money? …The data that we have received from the districts varies, and some districts did not fully respond to our information request. What some of the data has shown is that there are districts that did not reduce class sizes with the funding we sent them. Why are they holding art and PE teachers’ jobs hostage for their misallocation of classroom teacher funds?” (

Well, apparently what is about to happen is that districts such as your home district of Wake County will have to use the money to buy trailers and carts.

Back to the WRAL report:

Of the 113 elementary schools in Wake County, most would be able to make changes to create enough additional space, but about 20 schools said they have no room to spare.

Possible solutions for those 20 schools include restructuring the schools or school assignments, adding trailers, moving fifth grade students to middle schools or moving schools to a multi-trackcalendar.

District officials have also considered moving art or music from classrooms to portable carts.

“It is not a preferred way to provide that kind of instruction. It can be done,” Fletcher said. “There are lots of possibilities. Nothing has been decided yet.”

In essence, Wake County will have to change the time/space continuum to make things compatible all while having to deal with a massive budget gap that government officials are not helping with, especially the ones on West Jones Street.

You asked back in the spring, “What did they do with the money?” Well, you can now see what they will have to do with the lack of money and space and resources.

Instead of schools having to report to you, why don’t you be a representative and go to them? Go to those 20 schools that Mr. Fletcher mentioned and see what is having to be done because of your insistence on standing on platitudes rather than dealing with your constitutionally sworn duty to fully fund public schools and protect all classes including the specials.

And before you go, you could maybe try and understand what some of these schools have to deal with.

So the next time that you and your cronies decide to call for another special session, instead of meeting on West Jones Street, meet with your caucus in a trailer “off campus” that has shaky reception for internet, no bathroom, or stable temperature control.

Have some of the members of your caucus sit on the floor because there will not be enough desks. In fact, do it when it is raining.

But before you have that special session, make sure that whoever is leading the meeting turns in a lesson plan that fully implements all provisions of the state constitution and how they are being met. And expect a test on what is covered because it will be over half of the immeasurable data that will go into your approval rating.

And the money that is needed to fund your special session? It will be determined by a body of people who have no idea of what you are doing and actually think that what you do is not important.

Then you might have an idea of what happens when personalities are honored more than principles.

Addressing Charlottesville In Class If School Met Tomorrow


I spent the better part of a seven hour drive today thinking about how I would talk about the events of Charlottesville to my own children. One is a rising sophomore where I teach and she’s bright and perceptive and has a great sense of self.

It took about ten minutes to finish that mental conversation with her. Why? I know her. She knows me and she knows she can ask me anything. Plus, she knows how I feel.

My other child has a developmental delay. Children with Down Syndrome sometimes process events differently. But ironically, he seems to instinctively know the concept of love, tolerance, and inclusion better than anyone I know. In fact, he teaches me daily.

He also has a unique understanding of seeking to be understood and advocating for oneself. Because he still is trying to develop his oral communication skills, he resorts to a variety of ways to communicate with me and his family his needs. There is sign language, tone, facial expressions, actions, lack of action, pointing, rise and fall of voice, and sometimes physical contact.

All of that involves the use of language in a variety of forms.

I primarily teach a rhetoric and argumentation class. If school actually convened tomorrow, there would be no way that class could carry on without touching on what occurred this past weekend.

I begin each first class of the week with what I term “The Items of the Week.” It is a list of topics that made headlines, political cartoons, printed ads, and possible video clips that highlight what happened the past week in the world.

“Charlottesville” would be the first item. It may be the only item.

AP English Language and Composition invites students to consider the world around them, especially the part of the world that is not within the close confines of their own environments. It is a course that examines how people use language to convey a message for a purpose considering audience, style, tone, and strategies.

And what I mean by language is many times beyond the verbal.

So, we as a class look at why the items of the week made news and how those events could be interpreted by a variety of audiences. Political cartoons are visual arguments as are ads and we talk about intent and appeals.

But in this case, it would seem as if one event (or series of events that occurred in one locale) would dominate the “Items of the Week.”

And I would let it. For the whole class if needed.

It is not my job to tell students what politics they should have or how they should feel about certain things. But it is my job to allow them to voice their concerns and discuss openly anything that may be pertinent to their learning. And in my class, this certainly qualifies. It is also my job to expose them to how language can be used to achieve a purpose. Again, this qualifies.

When I  became a public school teacher, I took an oath to teach whomever came into my class regardless of race, creed, gender, religion, etc. and maintain as best I could an atmosphere of safety and tolerance. If someone posed a threat to that, then actions had to be taken. The idea of community is sacred in my classroom.

When I became a parent, I took an oath to teach my children the best I could between right and wrong and how to treat others and to be part of a community.

And as a teacher and parent, I have a responsbility to stand up for people and to stand against hate.

That’s why “Charlottesville” would be the first and only item on the list for tomorrow’s hypothetical class.


Maybe, I would show them the variety of statements made by people in power concerning the events from this past Saturday and make a list of the charged and weighty words they used like “white-supremacists” and “bigotry.”

Maybe, I would show them news accounts from different news outlets and let them see how the same events could be interpreted and presented in a variety of ways. What CNN posted and what Fox&Friends talked about his morning were almost polar opposites.

Maybe, I would show them interviews of eyewitnesses.

Maybe, I would let them read commentary or op-eds from a variety of sources.

Maybe, I would remind them that they had all read books that dealt with hatred like Night by Elie Wiesel.

Maybe I would show them tweets and Facebook postings.

Maybe, I would show them a list of people who had not issued statements concerning the events who normally make comments about almost all events. Our current president comes to mind. Amazing how loudly silence speaks.

But I would not field any comments or invite discussion until I had the class do one thing.

On a piece of paper that I would not take up or force them to read in front of the class (unless they wanted to), I would ask them to define the word “HATRED” – its connotations, denotations, and actions associated with it.

Then we would start class.








A Request To Former Students From Me As I Enter Year 20 of Teaching 

Actually, it’s more than one request. 

Officially, pre-planning for the 2017-2018 school year starts next week. And yes, I am looking forward to it. I love what I do and where I get to teach. 

In the nineteen years that I have taught, I estimate that I have taught upwards to 3000 students, graded tens of thousands of essays (AP Lang will do that), taught over a 200 different novels, plays, and longer works of nonfiction, and written hundreds of unique college recommendations. There is not a grade level that I have not taught – remediation to advanced. 

I would do it all again. But I am in a place of  reflection and I would like some perspective from those who have been in my classes. 

So I want to see if any of my former students would let me know the following if you are willing to offer your answers in the comments of this blog post or on Facebook or any other means. 

What work of literature or nonfiction was your favorite that you have never forgotten its impact?

What assignment still stands out as one that really made you think and extend yourself? 

What skill did you learn from class that has served you well?

Do you remember where in the classroom you sat?

I am thinking of posting on my blog the “Items of the Week” every Sunday night for those who know what they are (AP Lang students).  Do you think that would be a good thing?

Again, do not feel you have to answer but I would like to know. And if you would be so kind to share with others that you know who might have had me as an English teacher. 

I sincerely appreciate your help, feedback, and time. 

But mostly, I am grateful to have been a part of your lives.