Striking teachers, low pay, and a recent national poll

Over the past year frustrated teachers have gone on strike in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and North Carolina. One of the primary reasons for the strikes is low pay. In some states teachers have to work two and three jobs to pay their bills, as their salaries are not enough to cover basic living expenses.

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The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is an intergovernmental economic organization with 37 member countries, founded in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. In a 2015 OECD study, teachers salaries in the United States ranked 27th out of 29 countries: #1 was Portugal, and #29 was the Czech Republic (OECD, 2015).

In a survey conducted in May, the New York Times found that nearly three in four adults — 71 percent — considered teacher pay too low, while just 6 percent felt it was too high.   Additionally, this survey found strong support for teachers.  A recent NPR survey also reported 75% of Americans agree teachers have the right to strike. Notably, that number includes 66% of Republicans, 75% of independents and nearly 90% of Democrats (NPR).

“Our teachers have not been able to have raises for the last several years and I’m certain it’s the same issue that’s going on around the country,” said Marla Hackett of Queen Creek, Ariz., who responded to the survey and said she has a daughter who is a teacher. “They are underappreciated, underpaid and they work ridiculously long hours”  (NPR).

In another survey conducted by The Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago, 78% of Americans say teachers in this country are underpaid. However, in the same poll fewer of those polled approved of walkouts by teachers to demand pay raises and increased school funding (Associated Press).

Only 50 percent of the survey participants “would support a plan to increase their taxes in order to increase teacher compensation and funding for their local public schools, while 26 percent would oppose such a plan, and 23 percent neither favor nor oppose”(Associated Press).

The majority of polled Americans agreed teachers are underpaid, and most agreed teachers have a right to strike. All good, but what’s the solution? While the AP study found half of those polled opposed to a tax increase for higher teacher salaries, the New York Times study found a majority of Americans would agree to a tax increase to increase teachers salaries.

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Dana Goldstein of the New York Times reported in May there are so many districts struggling to fill their classroom with teachers, they are recruiting from overseas.  Goldstein reported an example in Arizona where Pendergast Elementary School District has “recruited more than 50 teachers from the Philippines since 2015. They hold J-1 visas, which allow them to work temporarily in the United States, like au pairs or camp counselors, but offer no path to citizenship. More than 2,800 foreign teachers arrived on American soil last year through the J-1, according to the State Department, up from about 1,200 in 2010″ (NY Times).

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The national average for teachers salaries is $59,000, but in Arizona it is roughly $40,000. This explains the need to provide J-1 visas for overseas recruitment. What Filipino teachers earn in the Philippines is less than the paltry $40 K offered in Arizona.

One teacher who came from the Philippines took two years to pay back the recruiting organization the fees incurred to get to the US. His first year in Arizona he shared an apartment with five other Filipino teachers.

In response to the recruitment of teachers from overseas, Randy Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers said, “Rather than increase salaries, districts may once again resort to recruiting internationally as a way to solve the teacher shortage” She added that the AFT “will fight for everyone working in our communities and educating our kids to have fair wages, rights and workplace protections regardless of where they’re from, the use of the J-1 visa program to fill long-term shortages is an abuse of an exchange program” (NY Times).

Lora Bartlett, an education professor at the University of California Santa Cruz said, “There are people who have a vested interest in not finding a long-term solution. There is a whole industry that makes money every time a new teacher comes into the country. They don’t make money when a teacher stays”  (NY Times).  Bartlett has written a book called Migrant Teachers; How American Schools Import Labor.

This brings up an issue of sustainability for students when every two years the revolving door brings in new teachers.  This also brings up concern for different cultural norms internationally trained teachers bring to high poverty areas that may affect classroom management, teaching styles, and discipline.

There are plenty of qualified, licensed teachers who graduated from accredited institutions in our classrooms who are committed to students, and are only asking for living wages. I agree with Weingarten that recruiting teachers from overseas is not a solution. If recent data shows a majority of Americans support an increase in teachers salaries, then our elected officials need to make this happen. That’s a viable and necessary solution.

*One final note, the Times reporter who wrote about the overseas recruitment came upon this story accidentally. You can read Dana Goldstein’s account here.

These are my reflections for today.

6/8/18

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Santa Fe – More than words

I highly recommend reading this powerful article published in the New York Times by James Poniewozik in response to the school shooting in Texas. This Is School in America Now

Today I want to share responses to another act of violence against children in America. Reading anything about school shootings makes us sick, or feel helpless, or worse- throw our hands up as if there is nothing we can do about it. We cannot ignore it because it’s hard, or uncomfortable. This problem will not just go away.

In 2018 more children have been killed at school than service members. This is not usually the case. According to the Washington Post, there have been, to date, 29 deaths in 16 shooting incidents in US schools. Over the same period there have been 13 US service member deaths in seven incidents around the world (Sputnik News).

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued a statement Friday condemning the deadly school shooting at a Texas high school. DeVos said that her “heart is heavy” after watching coverage of the shooting, which has reportedly left ten people dead and several others injured. “Our schools must be safe and nurturing environments for learning,” she said. “No student should have to experience the trauma suffered by so many today and in similar events prior. We simply cannot allow this trend to continue” (Yahoo.com).

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Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo wrote on Facebook, “I know some have strong feelings about gun rights, but I want you to know I’ve hit rock bottom and I am not interested in your views as it pertains to this issue,” he said, adding he would “de-friend” anyone who posted anything about “guns aren’t the problem” and “there’s little we can do” Acevedo closed the post saying, “This isn’t a time for prayers, and study and inaction, it’s a time for prayers, action and the asking of God’s forgiveness for our inaction (especially the elected officials that ran to the cameras today, acted in a solemn manner, called for prayers, and will once again do absolutely nothing) (CNN.com).

Donald Trump addressed the shooting,”Unfortunately, I have to begin by expressing our sadness and heartbreak over the deadly shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas,” Trump said. “This has been going on too long in our country. Too many years. Too many decades now. We grieve for the terrible loss of life and send our support to everyone affected by this absolutely horrific attack”  (CNN.com).

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Speaking at a vigil in Santa Fe, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, “Tonight all of Texas is grieving…Our entire state, and all across the country, millions are lifting this community up in prayer, are lifting the students up in prayer who went through hell this morning” NBC News.

Both Trump and Cruz are staunch supporters of the National Rifle Association and have resisted attempts to tighten gun control.

Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) tweeted,

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Texas Governor Greg Abbott: “We need to do more than just pray for the victims and their families. It’s time in Texas that we take action” (NPR).

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wrote an open letter to Trump and Congress (News12).

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NBC News reported, “While the drama was unfolding, a flag-toting man wearing a Make America Great Again cap and a pistol by his side suddenly appeared outside the school. He was immediately stopped by police.”

David Hogg, a student at Parkland High School who has led the charge for stricter gun laws tweeted –

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Parkland student Jaclyn Corin said in a tweet directed at Trump,

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Houston Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt has offered to pay for the funerals of the victims. On Friday, Watt tweeted, “Absolutely horrific” (Washington Post).

Houston Rockets star guard Chris Paul wrote, “We need to do better by our children” Paul  told reporters that the NBA playoff series against the Golden State Warriors “is minor compared to what is taking place down in Santa Fe”  (Washington Post).

Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr, who has been outspoken in his calls for gun control, tweeted Friday that “gun owners have a responsibility to store their firearms securely.”  Sources say the two guns used in the shooting belong to the gunman’s father (Washington Post).

Houston Astros Manager A.J. Hinch told reporters he “doesn’t want to offer any more condolences.  “Lives are being lost for no real, good reason,” Hinch said Friday.  My anger is because I have kids and I can appreciate how terrible everyone has to feel … There’s no reason for our schools to be combat zones. And it’s turning that way” (Houston Chronicle).

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At a press conference, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick of Texas attributed the Santa Fe massacre to the high school having “too many entrances and too many exits.” He suggested it might be time for officials to “look at the design” of schools” moving forward. “There are not enough people to put a guard in every entrance or exit,” he argued (Salon). Patrick appeared on national TV, where he blamed mass shootings on just about everything but the weapons being used to carry them out. Patrick’s comments indicated that Republicans want to consider solutions to gun violence—as long as they don’t actually involve guns (Salon).

California Representative Eric Swalwell (D-) tweeted “Blame the doors? Anything but the weapon. Got it. Enough Is Enough.” Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D-) who is a staunch gun control advocate and a candidate for governor—tweeted: “Updated @GOP talking point: guns don’t kill people, doors kill people.”

NRA president Oliver North said in a statement he thought the problem was Ritalin. In an interview with Fox News Sunday, North said “We’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptom without treating the disease.” He said that American youth are “steeped in a culture of violence,” and ADHD medication exacerbates that violent culture. “They’ve been drugged in most cases. Nearly all of these perpetrators are male … and they’ve come through a culture where violence is commonplace (Fox News).

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) said in a statement, “Republicans have made it very clear 100 people could die in a mass shooting and they wouldn’t take up (gun) legislation… I’m interested on working on mental health and working on school safety, but those are all efforts by Republicans to distract from the real problem which is gun laws (CNN).

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Actions speak louder than words.

These are my reflections for today.

5/25/18

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Teachers Wanted or Wanted: Teachers

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Any of you familiar with Blazing Saddles which is IMHO the second best Mel Brooks movie (Young Frankenstein being #1, of course), are familiar with this poster. My parallel today is with this poster and the charter/voucher debacle in Florida.

Last week I saw a headline from the Network for Public Education. “Raleigh charter school on state ‘watch list’ for employing teacher with suspended license.”
Under any other circumstances this is an alarming and disheartening headline.

But when I saw one from Florida, Raleigh paled in comparison. “Convicted criminals working as teachers. Welcome to voucher schools in Florida.” Orlando Sentinel reporters  Annie Martin and Leslie Postal wrote how Florida’s voucher schools are hiring convicted felons — “some of whom are supposed to be barred from teaching under state law.”

This report comes on the heels of a series of investigative reports on charter/voucher issues plaguing Florida. Scott Maxwell of the Sentinel writes, “We’re talking a billion or so dollars worth of public money and tax credits into a ‘scholarship’ system that has far fewer checks, balances and even basic requirements than public schools.”

Two convicted teachers were in classrooms, yet – according to Florida law- should be banned from teaching in any public school.

“One former convict was discovered at a Pine Hills school after she was arrested again on a child-abuse charge involving a student.”

“Another teacher was fresh out of prison on $47,000 worth of Medicare fraud — and banned from teaching in public schools — when she was hired by a voucher school the next month” Orlando Sentinel.

Hiring convicted criminals is just the most recent example of the dysfunction in Florida. Recent investigative reporting  () uncovered a host of other issues plaguing charter/voucher schools in Florida. Following are headlines from their reports:

October 17, 2017 – Florida private schools get nearly $1 billion in state scholarships with little oversight

October 17, 2017 – Florida’s school voucher and scholarship programs face little oversight

October 18, 2017 – Orlando private school with troubled history took millions of dollars in state scholarships.

October 19, 2017 – After student alleges abuse, principal shutters one private school, opens another

Betsy DeVos, while speaking at the Reagan Institute Summit on Education said, “The Sunshine State is one bright spot in otherwise gloomy national achievement results and should be an exemplar to other states”. She continued, “It’s really attributable, I think, to this concerted effort to tackle reforms on a student-focused, student-centered basis”  (The74Million).

In contrast, Maxwell wrote, “Florida’s voucher system is the Wild Wild West of education with tax dollars and children’s futures on the line” (Orlando Sentinel).

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Life is Beautiful. In this movie, Roberto Benigni’s character was at least aware life wasn’t beautiful. DeVos has no idea.

Public schools would not close in the middle of a school year leaving children at a loss, employ convicted criminals, close in one neighborhood because it’s failing only to open in another.
Billions of dollars are poured into charters/vouchers not only in Florida, but all over the country. No oversight, misappropriation of funds, child-abuse…the list goes on.
Recruit certified teachers who will work tirelessly to help children. Invest in public education.

These are my reflections for today.

5/4/18

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“I was just there to be there.”

As I have many times since last January, I am compelled to write about the Secretary of Education as she has once again drawn negative attention to herself. Following are two recent events where Betsy DeVos showed who she really is.

Last week she spoke of how the structure of public school classrooms hasn’t changed since the industrial age. In her words, “Students lined up in rows. A teacher in front of a blackboard. Sit down; don’t talk; eyes up front. Wait for the bell. Walk to the next class,” she tweeted. “Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely hasn’t” (The Hill). To drive her point she included a stock photo of a current classroom.

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Teachers were quick to fire back.

“Don’t you know that stock photos aren’t real? How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore,”

“Rows and lectures are NOT the norm in public school,”

“It doesn’t look familiar at all. Have YOU even looked in a public school classroom in the last 10 years?”

“Come visit our school and classroom! We spend 75% of our day in small-groups, independent reading, researching our interests, learning about the world, and engaged in play. We love learning in hands-on ways and would welcome you any day!”

“How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore. I would think that as Sec of Edu you would be celebrating us, not putting us down(The Hill)

Most teachers criticized DeVos for not having visited public school classrooms. If she had, she would see the reality is largely contradictory to her stock photo analogy. One would think the Secretary of Education would support and advocate for the roughly 3 million public school teachers in the US , rather than demean and devalue them.

Last Wednesday the Secretary visited Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, FL and students were not pleased. DeVos met with a few students, “and gave “BS answers” to their questions about what she plans to do to address gun violence (Huffington Post).  A small group of student journalists grew increasingly frustrated as the Secretary dodged their questions (Time).

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According to Alyson Sheehy, “It was a publicity stunt, really. There was no point to it,” Sheehy said DeVos didn’t meet specifically with any students. “She was kind of just walking around the school and not talking to anybody,” the high school senior said (Huffington Post).

When a student asked DeVos how she plans to stop school shootings, DeVos showed reluctance. “She kind of gave us simple answers and didn’t really answer the questions we asked,” Sheehy said. When the students pressed her for an answer, DeVos told them officials were “working really hard on things” and that she didn’t “think this is the time to really ask those types of questions” (Time).

During the press coverage, she defended Trump’s call to arm teachers, but quickly walked away from the podium when asked about it (New York Daily News)‘I think to say ‘arming teachers’ is oversimplification and a mischaracterization really,’ DeVos said later.  She continued, ‘I think that the concept is to, for those schools and those communities that opt to do this … to have people who are expert in being able to defend and having lots and lots of training to do so” (CNN).

At the end of her press coverage, she called for elevating ideas that are ‘done well.’

‘Like what?’ asked a reporter. ‘Any specific things?’ asked another.

‘Thank you, press,’ said an aide off camera, as DeVos walked away. ‘Five questions, that’s it?’ said a reporter as she avoided a follow-up about arming teachers (Daily Mail).

If DeVos’ plan was the connect with students at MSD High School, she did not do a very good job. She met with only a few students, did not answer their questions, and walked out of the press conference without addressing any specific concerns. As Kyra Parrow said,“She wasn’t informative or helpful at all. It’s nice that she came to give us condolences, but we are so done with thoughts and prayers. We want action… She didn’t come to inform us or talk about how we are going to fix this issue; she just came to say that she came. That disappoints me.”

DeVos spoke with reporters following her visit, saying, “I was just there to be there, to be with them. I would love to come back sometime, in an appropriate amount of time, and just sit down and talk to them” (CNN).

Later the same day, Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade made a surprise visit to the MSD, meeting with students and staff. Speaking to students, Wade said, “I just wanted to come and say I’m inspired by all of you…  As someone out here in the public eye, I’m proud to say I’m from this state because of you guys, because of the future of this world” (Huffington Post).

While I am encouraged by Wade’s thoughtful comments to students, I am appalled by DeVos’ lack of self-awareness.  If this was a publicity stunt, it wasn’t even done well.

“I was there to be there.”

That says it all.

***This blog was written prior to DeVos’ abysmal interview on 60 Minutes last Sunday night. I am compelled to respond, but I need to spend some time on it. Next week’s blog will be about DeVos’ interview with Lesley Stahl.

These are my reflections for today.

3/16/18

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Professional Identity

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Last week I attended the 70th annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). This is the largest gathering of faculty and administrators from undergraduate and graduate programs, community colleges, and P-12 teachers. I gave a presentation with colleagues on the first day, spent the rest of the time networking with like-minded people, and hearing stories of what others are doing to strengthen teacher education, and better prepare students for the teaching profession. As Lynn Gangone, AACTE President said, “We are here to discuss ways to maintain teacher and students’ safety in the classroom, sustain public education and develop new and better pathways toward solutions.” 

The theme of the conference was “Celebrating Our Professional Identity: Shared Knowledge and Advocacy,” and in session after session this theme was reinforced. As I listened to Gangone give her opening remarks, I couldn’t decide if I was encouraged or disheartened. She spoke of many things teacher educators consider every day; social justice, diversity, professional development, community partnerships with P-12 schools and colleges of education. There was a panel discussion on teacher recruitment and retention which included a Q&A session with such questions as how do we recruit and retain people of color, specifically black and Latinx, to become teachers in high poverty areas? How do we strengthen partnerships with P-12 schools?

The conference concluded with a keynote address by Diane Ravitch. She spoke eloquently of Emma Gonzales – the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School student who has been so driven and determined, along with her classmates, to be the catalyst for changes in gun laws in this country. She said the voice of change is now in the hands of a younger generation, as historically it has been the younger generation who affected change in this country.

In the end, she encouraged the room full of educators and administrators to keep doing what we’re doing, and most importantly – VOTE.

Teacher educators incur a tremendous amount of pressure to teach our students. We train our candidates to be advocates for all students, recognize and embrace diversity, strive for social justice, create classroom environments free from bias, and all this is in addition to solid pedagogical practices, effective assessment strategies, management of classroom and student behaviors, and dealing with all the issues students bring with them to school.

That’s a lot to ask.

All this got me to wondering if people truly understand what it means to be a teacher educator. And in light of recent violent acts in schools, what it really means to be a teacher.  I don’t think so.

AACTE 2018 gathered us to collaborate and consider “ways to maintain teacher and students’ safety in the classroom, sustain public education and develop new and better pathways toward solutions.”

We’re going to be busy.

These are my reflections for today.

3/9/18

Ill-logic

In this blog I write about the inequities of  public schools and how so many are underfunded, understaffed, and lacking technology and resources equal to suburban schools. Urban schools lack updated and complete series’ of textbooks, music programs, art programs, athletics, guidance counselors.  School buildings are dilapidated, with toxic water fountains, lead paint, asbestos, and no functioning heating or cooling systems in place. There is a lack of sustainability in teachers, principals and administrators; a revolving door of leadership.

Schools boards are being taken over by politicians and billionaire philanthropists who believe charters and vouchers are the answer. Yet, almost daily I read stories of the corruption in charters, and the inequity of vouchers. Even Pastor Charles Foster Johnson believes these are not viable options and do not support the separation of church and state.

I have written about how urban schools are more segregated now than they were 40 years ago. Efforts by Betsy DeVos are underway to privatize Puerto Rican public schools, similar to what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. That, too was a failure.

Teachers are unfairly scrutinized in the US; they are underpaid, overworked, pay for supplies and materials out of their own pocket, and expected to serve the academic, social, psychological needs of ALL students. “At the most dilapidated and underperforming schools, teachers are blamed for stagnant graduation rates, students are derided for low tests scores, and parents are chastised for not being involved (The Atlantic).  Teachers, parents, and children are blamed for the shortcomings of failed government policies, the absence of living wages, and access to affordable healthcare.

According to an analysis by the National Education Association (NEA), the current proposed education budget would, over the next 10 years, blow a $150 billion hole in state and local revenue earmarked for elementary and secondary schools, putting more than 130,000 education jobs at risk.California would lose more than $35 billion in funding, New York $31 billion. Individual schools will have to come up with millions of dollars to make up for the shortfalls; those in poorer districts will be hit the hardest, as they already receive insufficient funding to begin with (The Atlantic).

Many Republican governors have already slashed billions of dollars in public-school funding, often redirecting education funding toward programs like vouchers, although recent research suggests that vouchers may not have the unequivocally positive impact that its proponents espoused (The Atlantic).

Imagine if every single school in this country had every resource needed. Schools need books, special education teachers, counselors who can address growing mental health issues in children and teens, a visual and performing arts program, an after-school program, the ability to feed children who are hungry, and treat sick children who have no health insurance. Every child in America should grow up to believe he/she can go to college without incurring a lifetime of debt, go out and earn a living wage, contribute to our economy, and provide for family.

Imagine if the millions of dollars in donations from national organizations to influence presidential and congressional candidates was given to schools? Imagine if the government used federal funding to support equal educational opportunities…a free and appropriate public education.

As a nation, if we want to see changes in public education that will impact everyone, then arm teachers with what they really need; new schools, effective leadership, support services, resources, supplies, technology… everything they need to do their job effectively. Not guns.

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These are my reflections for today.

3/2/18

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An inspiring story

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Many of my students begin the first semester of our teacher education program with some hesitancy- excited to be starting the education courses, yet a bit fearful of their first fieldwork placement in an urban school. The media-based perceptions of crime and violence in urban areas often leads them to feelings of insecurity and unease. This was the case for one of my students this semester. In her words, “I was apprehensive at first, because I heard horror stories from co-workers while substituting, that the students could be very hostile to young, new people.”

Very quickly her initial perceptions were dispelled. She wrote of her first day how she was greeted by the principal and other staff members who welcomed her into the building.  Upon arrival into her assigned classroom, students greeted her and asked all kinds of questions to learn all about her.

As she got to know students and their lives outside of the school she also learned of the many hardships they face at home, though they show up to school every day with smiles. This had an impact on her.

Throughout my time in this class, I learned each of the student’s stories. They wrote about missing their parents because they were in prison or not in the picture anymore. One child drew his bedroom and explained that he slept in a bathtub. Another discussed how she only comes to school twice a week because she needs to care for her younger siblings at home. My heart hurt for them all.

My student’s perceptions certainly did change as she got to know the students and teachers, and as a result, something else changed. In November she came to me unsure she wanted to continue in the program. Her time in the classroom was beneficial but more for her to see that being a teacher is not her chosen career path. Sitting in my office one afternoon, she explained how the fieldwork placement lit another fire in her; one she did not see coming.

In talking with her roommate one night, she spoke of her observation class and the impact of knowing so many of her students are underprivileged, especially during the holidays. As a result of this conversation, she and her roommate set out on a service learning project to do something to help the children in her observation classroom.

Working with the university service learning office and the School of Education, they put together individual holiday bags filled with toys, school supplies and candy. Each bag was labeled with the student’s name, so they could feel special and accountable. Because of the children’s interest and excitement in our university, she also worked with the bookstore to arrange a discount on purchasing university logo shirts for all the students. They delivered the gifts and t-shirts to the class, and needless to say the students were absolutely thrilled to receive their goodies. She told the students the t-shirt was motivational to remind them to keep up with school and do their very best, so they can be a future student at our university.

With a change in her course, my student will graduate next December with a degree in Psychology. She is committed to working with students in need, specifically in urban environments. She plans to work her way up to be a therapist, working in the school system to help underprivileged children and keep them on track to a successful life.

I am so grateful that I had the opportunity of working in the school system this semester. Even though I will not be continuing my studies as an education major, this showed me what career path I was born to do. Without this semester, I would have never known my true potential and calling for helping kids in need.  

When she told me of her decision, I think she expected me to show some disappointment. What I did show her was how proud I was of her for coming to this revelation on her own. We should all find our passion in life. I found mine many many (many) years ago, and I couldn’t be happier she has found hers.

Do what you love, and love what you do.

These are my reflections for today.

12/15/17