Taking Matters Into Our Own Hands

In Oklahoma, a third-grade teacher by the name of Teresa Danks stood at a highway intersection panhandling for money to buy school supplies for her class.

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{via mediaweb.fox23.com]

Not long before I heard about Danks, my friend and I had joked about doing the same thing. We envisioned our colleagues uniting–holding signs and strumming guitars–as we found a creative way to raise money for things like paper, printer ink, and toner for the copy machine.

While Oklahoma ranks 49th out of 50 states in terms of teacher pay, Nevada is 49th out of 50 in both education and per-pupil spending, so I understand the frustration that drove Danks to wave that sign at passing motorists.

Here in Northern Nevada, the economy is on the rise, although our schools face a 13-million-dollar budget shortfall. Despite whisperings of teacher layoffs, early retirement incentives, and increased class sizes, the district is still looking for ways to make ends meet.

In the week before the school year began, custodians wheeled additional desks and chairs into my room to accommodate the bodies that would soon sit there. In my classes of honors freshmen, there are 38 eager adolescents. There are 38 students raising their hands. There are 38 kids who have questions they’d like answered. Thirty-eight of them are trying to share their writing or present to the class, and there simply isn’t enough time.

The day I looked at my rosters and saw 38, tears of frustration pooled in my eyes. For me to lose composure at my workplace is rare, but in that moment, behind my back, I felt the ropes tighten around my wrists.

Yet this is just one of the struggles I’ll face this year. Like every year though, I will do my best.

I will sit for hours on a weekend grading essays. I will meet with students before school and at lunch to give them the one-on-one attention they cannot get during class. I will answer their questions via email and text throughout the evening as I cook dinner for my family and make sure my own children get their homework done. I will find innovative ways to arrange my desks so that we can get up and move around without tripping over backpacks and books.

I will give my all till I am completely depleted.

I will vent to colleagues and I will vent to my husband. I will sit in meetings where the mission of “every name and face to graduation” is spouted, and then I will walk back into a room filled with 38 names and 38 faces and I will try to develop relationships and build rapport with all 38. Every day, each time the bell rings, I will do that again for another 38, and another, and another.

The contradictions in education are exasperating. We want students to achieve, but we limit available resources. Despite endless research supporting the correlation between smaller class size and student success, we continue to pour pupils into desks. We are expected to be twenty-first century teachers, yet it is suggested we reach into our own pockets to buy bulbs for projectors or audio equipment that might enable our students to listen to a TedTalk or take part in a Skype session with a guest speaker.

Come May, my wrists will be rubbed raw.

Here is where I could talk about teacher burnout. I could share with you the statistics on how eight percent of teachers walk away from the profession every year, and how hundreds of thousands more aren’t even pursuing it to begin with. Even though I know why they are leaving, and even though I don’t blame them when they do, even though I see how other career paths would be more desirable, I have never regretted my decision to spend my days in a classroom.

Much like Danks though, I have been driven to a place I never thought I would go. I am panhandling for my classroom. Rather than on the side of the road, I have taken to the internet, to DonorsChoose.org.

donorsThrough DonorsChoose, I am asking for contributions towards books for my students. My project, if met, would allow me to place high-interest texts of both fiction and non-fiction into the hands of all 38 students in both of my honors classes. Books that deal with issues like the cultural and social impact of technology on the adolescent psyche, mental health, racism, the immigrant experience, and the achievement gap. Books that they can relate to that will help them to build empathy for others and to make sense of their world.

Because, let’s face it: often our world doesn’t make sense. When I look at education in this country, it most certainly doesn’t make sense. But at the end of the day, I can complain about it, or I can work towards a solution.

DonorsChoose is my attempt at a solution. It won’t change the number of students in my classroom nor will it affect the district’s budget, but what it will do is allow me to wiggle my wrists ever so little, to help this teacher to burn on rather than burn out.

To contribute to my project, visit DonorsChoose.org








Love, Learn, and Eat Crow

We both agreed. We were not going to be those parents who had our kids enrolled in so many activities that we spent our evenings driving from one place to the next, eating take-out in the car, unable to sit down together for family dinner and with little time to spare for getting the homework done.

No siree.

Well folks, for family dinner tonight, we’re eating crow, and my husband and I are both having a plate-full.

This last week of summer break, my daughter finished her first season of golf and began her first season of soccer. Practices were stacked back-to-back. Simultaneously, she is working towards her black belt in karate, and shortly after school resumes, Girls on the Run will begin. This Fall, she’ll likely be at a game or practice of some sort six days of the week.

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We have no one to blame but ourselves. We are the ones who completed online registrations and took her to buy cleats. We are the ones who dropped her off at the golf course and we are the ones who remind her to practice her Heian Shodan and her Pal Gue 2. It is I who will be her running buddy for her 5k in November and her father who will cheer her on as she crosses the finish line.

The little girl who only ever wanted to come home from school and play with her baby sister is growing. Her interests are expanding, and we are eating crow.

One evening, on a trip to Target, my daughter mentioned that she’d like to give soccer a try. She found a pink ball in the sporting aisle and carried it all around the store, so I bought it for her. In the following weeks, she’d kick it around the back yard with my husband and take it to the park. I watched her long, tanned legs dribble the ball and her ponytail swing as she ran after it. She was already signed up for her running program and already involved in karate, but she wanted this experience too. After much discussion and deliberation, we signed her up.

Perhaps it was the what-if that made me agree to a three-sport season. What if this is what she gets really passionate about? What if she goes on to play soccer in high school? What if it earns her a college scholarship? What if I said no?    

So I said Yes. I said Yes despite all the times I hollered from the hilltops that I would never.

One of the many things I have learned as a parent is that anything is possible, so it’s probably best if we stopped speaking in absolutes.

It’s like that State Farm commercial where this couple gets engaged after the man swears to his buddy that he’s never getting married. Then, as they are flying on an airplane with a screaming child behind them, they both agree that they are never having kids. The scene cuts to the woman giving birth, after which the now family of three sits around their dinner table in their swanky apartment insisting that they’ll never move to the suburbs…which they do, along with purchasing a mini-van and having yet another baby, both things they said a firm “no” to in the previous scenes.

Women everywhere are guilty of claiming that they are never going to be that mom, whatever that mom is for them: the mom who is 100% organic or the chicken-nugget-mac-and-cheese-hot-dog-mom. The mom who vaccinates or the one who doesn’t. The mom who hasn’t made it to a single back-to-school night or the president of the PTO.

We’ve all shook our heads and tsk-tsk-tsked at that which becomes our own reflection in the mirror.

Even if I never proclaimed it out loud, I probably thought that I was never going to feed my children Goldfish crackers for breakfast, but that went down on more than one occassion.

We definitely weren’t going to let our children sleep in our bed, and so when we bought new furniture, we stuck with a queen-sized mattress.


In hindsight, we should have gotten that king.

I was never going to make my children a separate meal from what we were eating for dinner, but after one taste of my Cajun crab chowder, I was back in the kitchen slapping together two grilled cheese sandwiches.

Likewise, I thought there would never come a day when we would be putting golf clubs in the trunk while taking shin guards out, yet here we are, and really, it’s okay.

As moms, we have all reneged on parenting choices we once said we would never do.

There’s no one-size-fits-all. What you thought might work failed. Situations and priorities change. People change. Maybe, as in the case of “I’m Not a ‘Crunchy’ Mom Anymore,” life threw something into your well-oiled machine, and as a result, you realize: This is who I am now. You accept it, or you forgive yourself, but either way, you let that shit go because, quite frankly, in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you used cloth diapers on only one of your children, so long as you loved and you learned.