Finding My Teacher Voice

I am a proud product of the public education system.  I attended public schools for 12 years, and earned, with the help of a large group of caring teachers, what amounted to a full academic ride to Texas A&M University.  I went on to work for an oilfield services company, ending my 19 year career there after a 6-year run of being a corporate trainer, teaching geology, geophysics, and seismic processing to highly educated individuals from all over the world.  I come from a family of public school teachers, and after 19 years in the oilfield services industry, I now find myself joining their ranks and teaching in one of the classrooms I sat in almost 30 years ago.  

It is difficult.  It is exhausting.  It is nerve-wracking.  It is sometimes rewarding.  It has taught me some home truths about humanity that escaped me in all of my years working in industry.

The biggest truth it has taught me is that people assume that just because they sat in a classroom for 12 years, that they are experts on public education.  Heck, I assumed that for years.  I was a successful product of that educational system, how could I NOT be an expert?

Boy, was I wrong.  And if you think you are an arm-chair expert?  So are you.  

Teachers who might be reading this are nodding their heads.  Every day they deal with their professional opinions being questioned by a myriad of people who haven’t set foot in a classroom in years.  They are questioned by both those who blame every teacher for the bad experience they had in that one chemistry class fifteen years ago and by those who hold every teacher to the impossible standard of an astounding teacher they had 30 years ago who was magically able to spend three hours with them after school every day until they understood fractions.  They forget that the bad teacher was dealing with other issues, or that the good teacher didn’t have to spend 10 hours a week on paperwork and data calculations.  And that is not to say that those extremes don’t exist anymore, but for the most part, the people I see every day are dedicated to helping children reach their potential.  They work long hours, spend their own money on supplies, and agonize over teaching methods that might help the kids who aren’t on reading level or haven’t managed to learn their multiplication facts by grade 6.  And they do it for a low salary and ever-diminishing benefits.

And these people, including me, are under attack.  

It has become fashionable among politicians to heap blame for society’s ills on the public education system.  And since teachers are the people that most of the public sees, it all becomes the fault of the local teacher.  Not the unfunded state and federal mandates.  Not the unqualified politicians making education policy.  Not the lobbyists that are always looking to sell a costly quick fix to people who haven’t seen a classroom aside from photo ops since the 1980s.  Or 1970s.  Or maybe 1960s.  People who harp on how it was ‘in their day’, who have no idea how our schools have changed in both demographics and scope.

Currently, Texas teachers are under attack by a very vocal part of the Republican Party, led by Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.  Along with their friends at groups such as Empower Texans, Patrick and Abbott are leading a well-funded war against public education.  The easy things to point to are the public monies they want to divert to private, charter, and home schools via tax credits and vouchers.  Strangely enough, Tim Dunn (one of a cadre of about 7 wealthy donors who fund these folks and chairman of Empower Texans) founded a private religious(sorry, ‘classical’) academy in Midland.  I wonder why he’s so interested in funneling public funds to private schools?  I would think someone who is purportedly so invested in the study of western civilization would have read our founding fathers and their thoughts on public education.  Thomas Jefferson wrote,  “A system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so it shall be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”  

John Adams agreed, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Now let’s talk about public expense.  Over the past fifteen years, the state has been shifting the cost of education back onto the local districts.  The percentage that they pay per student has dropped from 65% to around 35%.  That money has to be made up somehow, so Texans have seen local school and property taxes rise in order to make up the shortfall.  Politicians like Abbott and Patrick then tout that they have trimmed the ‘fat’ off our state budget, all the while blaming education for the rise of property taxes, and making the specious argument that by electing them, Texans are choosing leaders who will ease their tax burdens.  

If you have not seen or read the statement made by Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley condemning the practice, please do so.  In his investigations, he read the latest budget, which was written with the assumption that the cut in education funding would be made up by an increase in local taxes.  Crowing that you’ve balanced the budget and neglecting to inform the public that they will have to make up the funds on the local level is negligent at best, and more likely to be deliberate misinformation .  

And now they want to take even that state contribution and divert it away from public schools and into private and charter schools.  Schools that are not charged with educating every student.  Schools that are not under the same restrictions as public schools and who do not face the constant pressure of the state coming in and taking control if their results do not meet an arbitrary standard.  They are playing a shell game with our children’s futures, and like any good street hustler, they are doing everything they can to distract us with the left hand while the right one dips into our pockets.

We are fighting back though, those who love and value public education.  We are using our Teacher Voices to fight back, countering the misinformation on social media, in our homes and churches, at the grocery store and club meeting.  We are organizing, and we are mighty.  

And if the push-back is any indication, they are scared.

They are all over social media and the editorial page condemning teacher ‘unions’ as being left-wing shills.  The thing is, there aren’t teacher unions in Texas.  We have professional organizations like many professions have, but we are unable to collectively bargain.  This isn’t a union.  This is a tidal wave.

They are using intimidation tactics that would make Joseph McCarthy blush, trying to strip away our freedom of speech by sending out poorly edited letters asking for ‘whistle-blowers’ to inform on teachers who are electioneering using school district resources.  The FOIA requests are flying like beads at Mardi Gras, trying to find any examples of bad behavior on our part.  Of course, they continually underestimate teachers.  Check out #blowingthewhistle on Twitter.  Thousands of tweets turning it around to instead ‘blow the whistle’ on the everyday actions of teachers who give of their time, money, and spirit to help their students succeed.  

They single out one group in particular, Texans for Public Education, led by Troy Reynolds.  The group is made up of over 20,000 teachers, former teachers, and public education proponents, and they are fighting mad.  We (because to be perfectly clear, I am a member) vowed to #blockvote for pro-public education candidates, regardless of our party affiliation.  Texas has an open primary system, so we will be block voting in the Republican primary against Dan Patrick, instead backing the pro-public education candidate Scott Milder.  And we are looking at all of the state races.  Members have looked at the voting record of every incumbent, and the statements made by every challenger, trying to glean every bit of information on the candidates to find those who are ready to stand up for public education.  There are ratings in all of the state house and senate races, and we will be voting as one.  I encourage you to check out the list, and see our reasoning behind these ratings.  

Because if you truly value teachers, most of us can do without another coffee mug or heartwarming meme shared on Facebook.  If you value us, stand with us.  Find your inner Teacher Voice and let our elected officials know that they cannot intimidate us.  They cannot silence us.  In the words of Jane Austen, an author I discovered during my time in public schools, “There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

Texans for Public Education

Happy Mother’s Day from Geek Magnolia

I did not emerge from the womb as a Geek Magnolia, although there is a genetic predisposition.

No, my geekiness was fostered.  In a town as small as my hometown, nerdy things are not always readily available.  There was no comic book store, no group devoted to gaming.  It was a time pre-VCR (I know, children, that you might not know what those are–think of a very archaic version of a DVD that you had to rewind).  The only seeds of geekiness were found in the three basic alphabet television networks and books.  But seeds have to be tended to grow.

Enough

One of the most troubling words in the English language is ‘enough’.  

Am I geeky enough?

Am I normal enough?

Did I try hard enough?

Am I cautious enough?

Do I show compassion enough?

Am I good enough?

Enough.

Enough is the backhanded compliment.  It’s never what we really want, but what we’ll settle for.  It’s the tipping point.  It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  It’s the ‘meeting expectations’ in the great performance review of life.

I constantly question myself, and ‘enough’ pops up in all of those conversations.  I try not to let myself become crippled with self-doubt, but I think most people struggle with the same fight.  And I don’t think I will ever completely rid myself of these fears, because as much as we want peace and happiness, to stagnate and to never question ourselves is to give up hope that someday it will be more than enough.  It will be good and right and wonderful.  So keep asking yourself these questions, but do give yourself a break if the answer is ‘not yet’.  

However.

I am so done with answering these questions with respect to other people.  I may sound like a bit of a luddite, but it seems that our online lives are one big monument to enough.  Or maybe I should say ‘enough?’  Because it’s the question that is the problem.  Do I have enough compared to my friends?  Do I make enough money?  Do I go out and party enough?

And then other people pile on.  

Comment sections are quite possibly one of the worst places for enough.  No matter what the topic, some arsehole out there has designated himself as the gatekeeper.  You are constantly queried on the extent of your knowledge as they try to verify that you know ‘enough’ to have an opinion.  Much of my experience with this has been in the geeky corners of the internet, although politics is just as rife with it.  And, not to rage too hard at the fellas, I have found that much of it is centered on men querying women as to whether or not they have the street cred to discuss sufficiently nerdy topics.  Whether it’s to ask if you’ve even read enough issues of Superman to have an opinion or if you have ever gamed enough to understand the complexities of Gamergate, these people are struggling with their own internal ‘enough’ interrogation.  They can’t examine their own lives, out of fear or lack of self, so they rely on bullying other people.  They hide behind a username and an avatar, because they are too afraid to show themselves, to know themselves.  They create these god-like personas out of a fear that they too, are not enough.

So enough with enough.  I won’t worry if you’re enough, and you don’t worry if I’m enough.  We’re works in progress.  The answer is probably ‘not yet’, but I have hopes that we’ll get there.  And we’ll enjoy every step of the journey.

Except for cake.  There will NEVER be enough cake.  
And now I’ve typed the word ‘enough’ so many times that it’s started to lose all meaning.  Good.

Sticky: Confessions of a Geek Magnolia

I am a nerd.

It amazes me how many years it took for me to say that without looking over my shoulder.  And it’s not just because I grew up in tiny East Texas town and went to a high school where nerds were thin on the ground.  My Saturdays were more often than not spent with the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and my Sundays puttering around on the farm with my Daddy.  But small town or big city, we are all at the mercy of those around us who like to put each of us into a safe little box that they assume contains everything we are.  And I don’t like boxes.  Unless they contain jewelry or tea.

The thing is, I may be a nerd, but I am more than that.  I am a nerd.  I am a woman.  I am a Texan.  I am an Aggie.  I am a daughter.  A sister.  An aunt.  I love science fiction and historical biographies.  I love comic books and Shakespeare.  I love movies with big explosions and high fashion.  I love to argue politics with rational people and movies with other fans.  My idols are Batman and Barbara Bush.  So you see, no silly little box can hold me.

This is a place for those of us who don’t conform.  Those who serve tea from a Dr. Who teapot into their grandmother’s china.  Those that have Captain America and Iron Man  salt and pepper shakers next to their Wedgwood in the china cabinet.  Who love to cook and craft and agonize over romance novels and comics.

Welcome.  Wipe your muddy boots at the door, and come on in.