Dear High School Senior, …

Good morning.

Let’s state the obvious. This is not how it should have happened. A little over two months left in your senior year of high school and a few things were supposed to occur before graduation – maybe prom, some sports, definitely hanging out with friends.

And now you have virtual classes amidst a pandemic with a “stay at home” order. Furthermore, the State Board of Education voted last Friday to put into place a plan that almost assuredly “ended” elements of schooling on an academic scale for seniors. The inquiries I received just from students over the weekend alone told me that news has already spread.

Yes, this is a bad set of circumstances on many levels.

So, what are you going to do about it? How do you want to remember in the future how you handled this time of adversity? Most assuredly, many of you answered a response on a college application asking you to describe how you handled adversity or a big unforeseen challenge.

I ask because I am a teacher of seniors, and there is a high school senior living under the roof of my home.

My grandmother, who is still alive and remains wickedly sharp, lived through the Great Depression. My grandfathers were overseas during WWII. My mother lived during a war that claimed the lives of many of her childhood friends. I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday.

All different, yet all life defining. So, the question remains – what are you going to do about it?

And I am not talking about academics necessarily (although that could be part of it –  making sure that finish your secondary school education with as much energy and passion as possible).

This could be the time where you can work on so many things that no test would ever be able to measure, but the rest of your life could reap benefits from.

Be a bigger part of your family. Help your parents with things around the house. Pursue a curiosity. Reach out to loved ones. Have meaningful conversations. Write letters. Read great books. Help your younger siblings. Do outside yard work for older people (socially distanced of course). Look into possible college majors. Learn or relearn a musical instrument. Do the house work. Learn to cook or get better at it. Call people instead of text. Exercise your mind and body.

Learn what you have taken for granted and become more grateful for those very things. Be there for people who really need your help and support. Be the person today that you reflect upon later and can honestly say that you did not let this current situation keep you from growing as a person.

When young adults come back to see me during college or contact me after they have started a career, the last thing I ask them is what their scores were in school. I want to know if they are becoming the people that they are proud to be.

And I want them to know that I still care.

The Art Of Letter-Writing Isn't Lost On These Scribblers : NPR

Be the same great person you have always been.

It’s Time To Eliminate The Read To Achieve Program

In 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation for the “Read to Achieve” initiative.

Over seven years later, it has not really achieved.

From an October 2018 Charlotte Observer report:

The General Assembly passed Read to Achieve legislation in 2012. It was modeled on literacy efforts in other states, including the “Just Read, Florida!” program created by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001. The goal in North Carolina was to end “social promotion” by keeping students in third grade until they could read at grade level and providing extra support to help them get there.

But in the years that followed the percent of North Carolina third- and fourth-graders graders passing state reading exams stayed flat or declined. National reading exams showed equally discouraging results.

First, we should never try and emulate anything that Jeb Bush does to “reform” education. Read to Achieve and the School Performance Grading system have done nothing to help our students except funnel money into private hands and create empty excuses for other “reforms.”

Secondly, this is a failure that lies on the part of Phil Berger who was one of its biggest champions when it was introduced as a NC initiative. He needs to own it, but he seems too busy trying to blame others for having no state budget rather than backing up his claims for his #NCSuccessStory.

The scores for those 3rd grade reading tests over the years are eye-popping.


NAEP1That 2018 Charlotte Observer report referenced a comprehensive study by NC State in conjunction with the Friday Institute that found really no success in the Read to Achieve initiative on a state level.


However, on a local basis, there were some local initiatives that showed some promise. Look at pages 23-24 of the study report and see how actually fully funding a reading instruction initiative and supplying those initiatives with effective instructors makes a difference.

“Indeed, we have heard from many practitioners from across the state who believe their localized versions of RtA are having an impact on their students, but because of the sometimes very small size of the group of students impacted in most of the state’s (school districts), we are not able to test these intuitions statistically,” the report says.

In fact, fully funding schools and making sure that there are enough professionals in the rooms with the students are vital in any place. The fact that any success in this depends on the local professionals (teachers, assistants, administration) being able to dictate what can be done and having the faith that required resources will be available simply flies in the face of people like Berger who preach “smaller government” but actually practice more overreach.

Right now we as a state have no budget and all of our schools are closed. And if the state had any sense at all, it would go ahead and eliminate any testing mandated by the Read to Achieve legislation.

And then it should end the Read to Achieve program, take the money it would save needlessly spending for it, and invest it into more early childhood education opportunities.


Dear Educational Resource Vendor, Now Is Not The Time To…

…flood my school email inbox with offers to try a new educational technology that aligns to curriculum for standardized tests.

Not all of my students have the resources to access the technology if I was even in a position to purchase and use it.

Most all of my time now is devoted to just providing what I can educationally to the students I have within the framework of existing technology.

There is no telling what financial burdens are mounting on the shoulders of local school systems and individual schools just to try and make learning accessible while trying to meet the many needs of our students. Remember, we have a General Assembly controlled by people who are holding the budget hostage.

If you have existing customers and clients using your tools and technology, please focus on helping them make the most of what they have for their own students.

Now is not the tell to sell. Now is the time to show support that we as teachers who already use your products will then rave about to others when this pandemic is over and we realize that we as a system, state, and nation may have to re-prioritize how we approach certain aspects of schooling.

In the future, we might have the finances to actually purchase something that we know we will use for a long time and can benefit each student maximally. And teachers will talk about how great a product or customer support really was.

But if you are a streaming service of educational videos, online tutorials, electronic versions of books, or any other supplementary product that students can go to without to much guidance that can be used for free while this epidemic is still occurring, then contact the technology officer at the central office.

That would help tremendously because they would know best how it might fit individual schools.

I need my email inbox for my students, parents, and administrators.

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What This Teacher Misses Most? The Organized Chaos Of School

I am a teacher.

By the third year of teaching, my daily routine outside of school was marked by a schedule that centered around teaching. Bells go off in my head during the summers. No matter what day it is, I naturally awake at the same time.

When there is complete silence, I sometimes have to turn on some sort of background noise.

Mentally, I can prepare for summer breaks, but much of what I do in the summer still revolves around my school because in truth a school never closes.

Two weeks into this epidemic that now includes a “stay at home” order and I am trying to explain to a person who does not teach what I am missing most. I tell him that it is the “organized chaos.” That’s hard to explain to someone who does not teach in a school, and until I had to put what I meant into words, I didn’t really know what it totally encompassed intellectually.

But I sure feel it.

  • It’s the bustling hallways between class periods when students have that brief period of socializing with others at school.
  • It’s the collaborative group work that occurs when students are engaged in an assignment.
  • It’s the crowd at a sporting event supporting students representing the school.
  • It’s the cafeteria during lunchtime.
  • It’s the ten different conversations in a classroom taking place right before the bell rings to begin class.
  • It’s the open area outside the building after school where friends meet.
  • It’s the extracurricular activity that brings people with similar interests together.
  • It’s that frenetic pace that teachers get used to over the years and find comfort because energy is being used to maximize what time we actually do have.

And it’s so much more than that.

Yesterday, I went to my school to collect some of the items and books that I thought I need now that schools have been shut down until at least May and an order to stay at home was to start in the evening. I conducted an online class from my desk with students who would normally sit in the very desks in that same room. When the session concluded and the screen went blank, there was that feeling of complete silence that many would find relaxing.

I didn’t.

I miss the bemused faces of students who are amazed that I find what I teach incredibly interesting. I miss the eye rolls from those who think my jokes are corny. I miss the honest feedback from students and colleagues about what we are doing about teaching and learning.

I am a teacher.

And when that school opens back up after this epidemic, I might be the first one in his classroom.

How Changing Classroom Design Affects Student Learning | Tulla ...


HB17, Deep State, Common Core, Class Wallet, and iPads – The State Board of Education Should Not Listen To Mark Johnson’s Recommendation For Paying iStation

Today at 11:00, a meeting will convene with the State Board of Education to discuss a variety of issues surrounding the closure of public schools in the state and how to offer instruction to students to complete the school year.

SBOE meeting

Hidden in that agenda is a request from State Superintendent Mark Johnson to pay iStation $1.2 million dollars to prolong the use of an unpopular reading assessment tool for elementary school students based on a questionable procurement process.

Remember that HB17 launched a lawsuit that took money away from the state coffers and ultimately hindered the State Board of Education’s role in the budget to give over to an educational neophyte, unproven leader, and a political puppet.

Remember that that same political puppet used his office to run a failed campaign for higher office based on claims that he would rid the state of Common Core.

Remember that that same unproven leader  procured contracts with vendors based on unilateral decisions that were unpopular with teachers and local administrators and were ethically questionable.

Remember that that same educational neophyte said he was in Raleigh to root out and fight against the “deep state.”

Remember that that same individual bought a bunch of iPads because… well, we really do not know why.

The State Board of Education should not spend any more money on Mark Johnson’s recommendations if it is within its power.






Spend $1.2 Million On The Program We Didn’t Like Or Use The One We Do Like For Free? More About iStation

Dr. Chelsea Bartel has been following the controversy concerning Mark Johnson’s unilateral decision to purchase iStation and exposing its lack of transparency longer than most anyone. She posted this tweet today.


iStation wants $1.2 million for us to keep using their platform during the prolonged school closures. Amplify is offering theirs for free.

Justin Parmenter just released a great post about the agenda for tomorrow’s State Board of Education meeting in which will consider Johnson’s request to pay iStation. Take a look at it.

Dr. Bartel is right. No more red capes.


Except in fiction or on Hulu.





Four Years Ago Today This Blog Began

1461 days.

1733 posts.

700,000+ hits.

And not stopping now.

If I could ask for one thing that you can do, it is to share with others the advocacy for public schools that I hope this blog helps to do.

And if you could invite others to read and engage with what this blog produces, then I would consider that beyond what could be asked for.

Thanks to all who encourage. Thanks to all who question.


Shakespeare & Social Distancing

King Lear is the most referred to play of Shakespeare’s on the third question of the AP English Literature and Composition exam. Not Hamlet. Not Macbeth. Not Othello.

It’s complex and one of his greatest works.

And he wrote it while quarantined from the plague. Shakespeare knew something about social distancing.

Our own modern “Masters of Revels” have shut down the “playhouses” and order us to stay away from crowds, but that does not mean that we can’t have Shakespeare performed.

The sonnets of Shakespeare alone would mark him as one of our greatest literary icons. As a leading form of poetry of the Renaissance period, Shakespeare even created his own rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG. Reading them aloud was a form of entertainment in olden days (and still is), but what Patrick Stewart has started doing on his Facebook page is helping bridge the chasms of social distancing.

Every day he is posting a recording of his reading a Shakespearean sonnet. 


I don’t feel as isolated after listening.

Shakespeare spans time and space.

And that accent.

Dear First Year Teacher, You Are No Longer A New Educator

letter writingFor me, it’s Year 22. Three schools. Two states. Between two to three thousand students who have come through my classrooms. Tens of thousands of essays graded. Multiple curricula adoptions, evaluation tools, administrative changes, over twenty proms, and more sporting events than I can count.

Yet, never have I had to teach remotely in this kind of situation where we all students and teachers were sent home to wait out a viral epidemic. In this case, it seems that you and I are both in a new situation at the same time. But you are more equipped to handle this than I am right now. Instead of my mentoring a new teacher, I find myself looking to the new teachers like you for guidance on how to trudge this new way of helping students.

I graduated from graduate school with my teaching certificate LAST CENTURY – almost before many a novice teacher was even born. The technology that I had mastered compares to nothing that we have now. I have a daughter about to graduate from high school, and I did not start having children until my 30’s.

The changes that you have had to undergo to adapt to virtual instruction are the same as mine at least in the eyes of the public, but you have a more keen sense of how today’s students amass knowledge, communicate with their peers, and use technology. In that regard, you are more of a veteran than I am.

Many things become abundantly clear the older that I become. One is that being around teenagers helps keep my heart young. Second is that I was a lot “smarter” years ago than I am now. Third is that no matter my age, I am still capable of learning if my ego does not get in the way. And teaching public school for twenty plus years and raising a couple of kids will erode a fragile ego and can make anyone more teachable.

Quantity is really a bad indication of quality in many circumstances. What I have seen from some of you new teachers this year and these past couple of weeks takes away a lot of doubt about the quality of teaching in schools after I retire.

But it makes me want to do a few things after this whole epidemic is over with and we can go back to our actual classrooms.

I want to fight more for graduate degree pay, retirement health benefits , and due-process rights for new teachers more than ever.

What you have been through this year and what you have successfully responded to cannot be measured by any evaluation tool.

I hope that you get enough of the respect you deserve for you to stay in the profession.


Saving The World By Staying “Half A World Away” – Some Hope From R.E.M.

Self-quarantine. Stay at home. Social distancing. Shelter in place. Isolation.

Keeping yourself “half a world away.”

One of the starker realities of this COVID-19 epidemic is that my neighbors and my family in other states are all literally “half a world” away. That possible human exchange and interaction that fulfills the need of belonging can’t be satisfied unless we take an uncalculated risk.

Our president seems more worried about saving the Dow Jones Industrial average rather than lives. A Lt. Gov. of a state that shall be named – Texas – says the patriotic action to take is for older people to just die to keep the world as it is unchanged for the younger generation.

They are “half a world away.”

The richest, most advanced country in the industrialized world cannot produce enough resources to handle this epidemic because the battle over saving lives has taken a back seat to saving financial bottom lines.

Our priorities are “half a world away.”

Almost 30 years ago, R.E.M. released Out of Time. I was a junior in college here in North Carolina transplanted from right outside of Athens, GA. Listening to R.E.M. was a way to keep from being “half a world away” from home, not that I was overwhelmingly homesick, but I wanted to stay connected and always have that possibility of freely traveling home. Now I am confined in my house that literally is two miles from that very dorm room where I first listened to the song “Half a World Away.”

Probably like many other people, I thought of the song describing a couple breaking up due to distance and having grown apart. Now as I listen to it, a whole new meaning takes shape. Great art has a way of molding its meaning around reality, even when that reality changes over 30 years of life experiences.

Instead of focusing on the “saddest dusk I’ve ever seen,” I am now drawn to the “miracle” and possibility of what can transpire from this prolonged event: reprioritizing our country’s needs, learning to help others more, expanded healthcare coverage, a new president, and a congress that tries to empathize with people.

“My hands” will get more “tired.” I may have “too much to drink.” I will find myself in a “lonely deep sit hollow” feeling like I may have to “go it alone.”

But…I can “hold it along and hold, hold.”

Being “half a world away” right now is painful, uncomfortable, irritating. But if it lets me keep those in this world that I never wanted to be away from in the first place, then I will “haul it along.”

And listen to good music, both through the speakers and through the open windows, especially at “dusk.” That’s when the blackbird sings its evening song.

It’s beautiful.

half world away

“Half A World Away”

This could be the saddest dusk I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle, high-alive
My mind is racing, as it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away here
And I had sworn to go it alone, hold it along
And haul it along and hold it
Go it alone ‘n hold it along

Oh, this lonely deeps and holy way
Half a world, half a world away
My shoes are gone, my life spent
I’ve had too much to drink
I didn’t think, I didn’t think of you
I guess that’s all I needed
To go it alone and hold it along
And haul it along and hold it
Blackbirds, backwards, forwards and fall

Oh, this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes, high-alive
Blind eye that turns to see
The storm it came up strong
It shook the trees and blew away our fear
I couldn’t leave it here
To go it alone, hold it along
Haul it along and hold it
Go it alone hold it along

Go it alone and hold it along
Haul it along ‘n hold it
Blackbirds, backwards, forwards and fall

Oh, this could be the saddest dusk I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle, high-alive
My mind is racing, as it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away to go