Words For These Troubled Times

Editor’s note: Wendy Lang is a dear friend and former teacher in Decatur, AL.  She now works for the Alabama Education Association In Morgan and Winston counties.  She has also written a weekly column for her hometown Decatur Daily for years.  As you will see below, she is an excellent writer.

“Within two weeks, our country has gone from full speed ahead to a near standstill. In dealing with the national crisis/state of emergency due to the influx of Covid 19.  Everyone has an opinion. Some believe that its real and some think it is a media hoax. As school administrators work tirelessly to ensure that our children, families and employees are kept safe, out of harm’s way and even fed, I offer  some food for thought..

Me being me, I still remember the “good ole days” before this ever hit our radar when we were worried about springing forward and losing an hour, Friday the 13th and a full moon hitting all at the same time. Who would have thought that our issues have become far bigger than anything we could’ve imagined? Now my days consist of the endless search for one pound of fresh ground round and a four pack of Angel Soft toilet paper. My nights are filled with questions. Does Publix card you if you try to go in during the Senior Citizen hour? Is there a tee shirt I can buy that will announce to the public that my cough is from pollen and not from the Corona? Will Morgan County be forced to add a judge to handle the divorce cases that will hit the area within the next few months? Why do Nitrate gloves come only in blue? Have parents decided that teachers might be underpaid after all?  And will the legislature finally agree that perhaps educators DO know what they are doing?

Ever the inquiring mind, I wanted to know just what everyone else’s thoughts might be, and in asking, I found out more than I bargained for. Most of it more than merely impressive.

Meg Hill teaches second grade at Walter Jackson Elementary. She keeps up with her students through DoJo – whoever she is; but just as important, she has found this time to bond with her daughters. She offered to make Chicken Tetrazzini for dinner last week. Her youngest daughter, Nat-Nat didn’t remember her ever cooking. Her oldest stated confidently, “You know. That’s one of the two things she knows how to cook – that and Hamburger Helper.” Fortunately they were saved by the arrival of her husband, Jason. He brought take-out.

Jeannie Parker is a retired bus driver from Morgan County. During this pandemic she intends to stay to herself, but is open to visitors as long as they bring their own toilet paper.

Christy Anders made the transition from Special Education teacher to kindergarten teacher this year at West Decatur Elementary School. She and her son, Rhett, have spent time reading. Through the magic of technology, they have been reading to her students every day during this difficult time.

Connie Lawson of Winston County has found out that she may be a hoarder.  In cleaning out her drawers at home, she has found a plethora of pens, pencils and markers. Once school resumes, she will be sharing the wealth with the students at Lynn. They are now disinfected and there’s plenty enough to go around.

Chris Willis knows what it’s like to be a restaurateur in the Decatur area. All restaurants here are closed to the public; however, they are offering family meals with curbside delivery to sustain the public and their small businesses. Knowing that culinary is an important skill, Chris has created a FaceBook page called River City Culinary Kids. He is enlisting area chefs to offer cooking lessons to kids to give them a creative outlet during this time. As the mother of a chef, I think this is golden and I may take the opportunity to learn how to cook, myself.

Julian Harris Elementary School will be having a Neighborhood Bear Hunt this weekend.  Anyone and everyone that wants to participate must place a stuffed bear in a window of their home. Families can walk or drive though the neighborhood and hunt for bears Friday through Sunday. How many bears did you find? Where was the biggest bear? Did any homes have more than one bear? Do the math – family style.

Savanne Hammond took on her first teaching job just a few short months ago. She teaches elementary school in Hartselle and has taken the time to write each of her students just to tell them hello and to let them know they are loved.

Beth Hales is principal at Eastwood Elementary School.  Last Sunday she and her faculty decorated their cars and rode around Decatur visiting the homes of their students. They did observe social distancing by parading through, honking horns and yelling from their vehicles. It was a huge effort in allowing kids to see that even with the uncertainty of the day, everything is going to be okay.

Teachers from Banks-Caddell and Austinville Elementary Schools also took to parading in the streets to show how much they love their students and Frances Nungester Elementary will do likewise on Friday.

Dr. DeeDee Jones, Hartselle superintendent, is known for never asking someone to do something she wouldn’t do herself. She asked her central office administrators for volunteers to serve, package and hand out grab and go meals once a week for the children in Hartselle City Schools. All of them stepped up to the plate including her CNP managers who refused to take no for an answer. On Monday, they gave out 3,803 meals; five breakfasts and five lunches per student. Her exact words to me were, “We had fun!”

Math was never my strong suit. I once begged my principal to allow me to teach a lower grade because fifth grade math was way over my head. On my FaceBook account I cannot tell you the number of posts I saw from teachers offering to assist parents and shed light on the “new math” that kids need to be boning up on. I might take a lesson or two myself.

As for me, I have been delivering Corona Virus Care Kits to my elderly neighbors. Knowing the importance of “social distancing” and taking precautions, I make sure to place baggies on my hands and attach them with rubber bands at the wrist. I am not privy to any masks, so I have taken it upon myself to create my own using extra absorbent/long length bladder pads and duct tape. Should you want to do something special for your neighbors, I suggest filling your kit with the following:

Can of nuts – sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t

Bar of Soap

Bottle of water – soap and water is better than hand sanitizer

Two trial sized bottles of hand sanitizer – one for their personal use and one to sell on eBay to supplement their retirement income

Chocolate and Cheezits – the best things in life start with the “chuh” sound

End of a roll of toilet paper (You really think I’d give away a full roll? I may need that)

Small deodorant – in case of quarantine

Ink pen and a note pad – in case they want to do an addition to their will

Second hand, cheap Harlequin Romance – to occupy the mind (or whatever else might be in your garage)

Bladder pad, two baggies and some rubber bands – in case they need to get out, too

Bottom line…. I am so proud of our educators (and remember that anyone who works for a school system and touches the life of a child is an educator). This is above and beyond the call of duty. Do they deserve a raise?  Every parent in Alabama says unequivocally yes! Do they know how to handle children, the system, lesson plans, parents, and show the love? Still yes! I’m thinking that perhaps the Alabama Legislature should give the classrooms back to the educators because they’ve got this. Don’t you think?”

Tuscaloosa Teachers Go The Extra Mile

During these difficult and troubling times, there are countless examples of teachers doing all they can to help their students.  Here is a story by AL.com reporter Bob Carlton about two elementary teachers in Tuscaloosa:

“Two Alabama elementary-school teachers have gone the extra mile – about 50 miles, in fact – to help their homebound students keep up with their reading and writing and arithmetic during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Merideth Lett and Hollie Nelson, who teach at Huntington Place Elementary School in Northport, drove around Tuscaloosa County this past Thursday delivering “care bags” to all 25 of their fourth-grade students.

The teachers gave each student a recyclable grocery bag filled with math and reading workbooks, writing notebooks and mindfulness lessons, as well as Post-it Notes, highlighters, pencils, crayons, snacks, photos of their fellow students and personal notes from the teachers.

Huntington Place Elementary School was closed for spring break last week, and like other schools around the state, it will be closed at least through April 3 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have just bonded with these students and their parents like never before,” Lett said in an interview with AL.com today. “There was just a lot of uncertainty about what to do and how to maintain instruction, so Hollie and I decided that we would do these bags together.”

The teachers provided the school supplies and snacks, and the grocery bags were donated by Publix. Five Points Baptist Church in Northport also contributed a $200 Walmart gift card, which the teachers used to buy groceries for four of the students whose families are food insecure.

Since delivering the care bags, Lett said she and Nelson have received text messages and photos from many of their students’ parents thanking them for their efforts.

“It meant the world to them,” she said. “Our county is quite large, so some of our students live far out. . . .

“One of the things we kept hearing from the students that we got to see was, ‘I cannot believe my teacher is at my house. I didn’t know teachers ever came to your house.’”

This particular class, which also includes some special-needs students, means the world to their teachers, too.

Lett is a fourth-grade teacher, and Nelson is a special-education teacher, and the two friends teamed up to teach this year’s fourth graders at Huntington Place Elementary School.

“This is my 21st year teaching, and I love it. Otherwise, I wouldn’t continue to do it,” Lett said. “But this group of students and their parents, this is the most rewarding, best year I’ve ever had. The growth that we’ve seen is just so rewarding.

“It was such a blessing to both of us to be able to put these (bags) together to help these parents, to help our students, and just to let them know that we care,” she added. “It blessed our hearts so much to see their little faces — the ones we got to see — and to see how happy they were.”

Don’t Sell Teachers Short

Ken Buck lives in Indian Land, SC and is a member of the Lancaster County school board.

Here is his tribute to teachers posted on Facebook:

“We gave educators almost no notice. We asked them to completely redesign what school looks like and in about 24 hours local administrators and teachers “Apollo 13’ed” the problem and fixed it. Kids learning, children being fed, needs being met in the midst of a global crisis.

No state agency did this, no so-called national experts on curriculum. The local educators fixed it in hours. HOURS.
In fact, existing state and federal policies actually created multiple roadblocks. Local schools figured out how to do it around those too. No complaining and no handwringing – just solutions and amazingly clever plans.

Remember that the next time someone tries to convince you that schools are better run by mandates from non-educators. Remember that the next time someone tells you that teachers have it easy or try to persuade you that educators are not among the smartest, most ingenious people in society. And please never say to me again, “Those who can’t do anything else just go into teaching.”
Get out of the way of a teacher and watch with amazement at what really happens.”

For years I have said over and over that the only “experts” in education are teachers and principals.  The very people who are usually ignored when a lawmaker comes up with another bill dealing with education policy.

Let us hope and pray that when we emerge from the other side of this crisis, we will keep this in mind.

Extraordinary Teachers In Extraordinary Times

These are truly uncharted waters for all of us these days.  Nothing is normal.  Each day is a torrent of bad news.

No one understands this better than dedicated teachers who work with young students.  And many are doing their best to fill the void left by the sudden closure of schools around the state.  Here is a great article from AL.com of teachers reading books to their students that can be accessed from home.

We all need a smile during these times.  I highly recommend that you click the link to this article and see some special people doing special things.  Kindergarten teacher Haley Gray from Lauderdale County can hardly hide her own delight in reading a story about a Wonky Donkey.  Watch it and you will understand why.

Alabama K-12 Schools Closing March 18

As reported by AL.com

“All K-12 schools in Alabama will close at the end of Wednesday, March 18, in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Kay Ivey announced Friday during a press conference in Montgomery. Schools could re-open on April 6, depending on the situation at that time.

The decision affects more than 720,000 students in 1,400 schools statewide.”

Read the entire article here.

15 Minutes With The Governor

Recently I asked educators across the state what they would tell Governor Kay Ivey if they had 15 minutes to meet with her.  Answers came from retired superintendents, current superintendents, principals, teachers and school board members.

They were well thought out and several concerns emerged over and over.

The impact of poverty was mentioned often, as was mental health.  Things like too much attention to testing and misuse of test scores by politicians and lack of input from educators when legislators are crafting education policy.

One superintendent said she would invite the governor to spend an entire day in one of her classrooms.  “Witness children with severe behavior issues, students who could care less about being in school and the hard work that teachers put in.  Don’t bring the media, come alone and stay all day.”

“Even though the governor was once a teacher, that was 50 years ago.  A LOT has changed since then,” she added.

A teacher added, “I would like Governor Ivey to sit down with teachers, without administrators or recorders, and have a discussion.”

“Many teachers struggle working with violent children with mental health issues, said a just-retired superintendent.  “Alabama has far too few mental health workers,” said another former superintendent.  “And schools are expected to take up the slack.”

Editor’s note:  Alabama has 91 mental health professions for every 100,000 people.  This is the lowest concentration of any state in the nation.  Massachusetts has over six times as many.

“There should be more funding for special education,” said a principal.

A former superintendent said he would stress to the governor the “perils of poverty” and its affect on educational outcomes.  “Until we address the needs of the whole child in many schools, we will continue to see poor results,” said another retired superintendent.

The lack of input from education professionals came up time after time.  “Educators should be kept in the forefront of all education decisions,” said a former superintendent.  “Education should not be used as a bully pulpit by politicians.  A starting point would be requiring that educators vet and provide feedback and guidance on all bills and action regarding education.

“Had Amendment One passed, the governor would have been required to appoint an advisory team of educators and others to make recommendations on education issues.  Though the amendment failed, this is a great idea and the governor should do this anyway.”

“Quit painting school systems, teachers and students as failure on an assessment (NAEP) that does not reflect our curriculum or the abilities of all our children,”  said a former superintendent.  “Public education needs to be respected and supported by political leaders in Alabama.  Collaboration and teamwork are needed to move  education forward in this state,”  said another superintendent.

“All the propaganda put out to pass Amendment One was a slap in the face to every teacher in the state.  And we wonder why there is a teacher shortage?  Why would anyone want to become a teacher when special interests spend $500,000 to say how bad teachers are?”

Many respondents would like to give the governor a quick lesson about testing, what it is and what it isn’t.

A teacher said, “We are worried about a damn test score that does not mean a thing other than how good is this kid is at taking a test.  I teach a bunch of students who have no business in an academic class room all day long.  They need a real vocational school to work program, not instruction on how to pass the ACT.”

Another teacher said, “Too much mandated testing.  And what good is it when we keep changing the assessment?  We lose way too many instructional days on testing.”

A former superintendent was especially critical of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. “This is being used incorrectly, yet it was the basis for why some thought we should pass Amendment One.  This was a joke.”

Others would like to tell the governor about the need for smaller class sizes and expanding dual enrollment opportunities

“Dual enrollment has given students the opportunity to accelerate completion of high school and also exposed them to valuable technical programs that turn into career paths for them when they graduate.” said a former superintendent.

Finally, one current superintendent said his teachers need a time out from all the new stuff thrown at them each year to integrate into what is already a too heavy workload.  “We’re asked to deal with bullying, suicide prevention, mandatory reporting, civics tests, handwriting, literacy rules and Lord knows what all.  All we end up with is a patchwork of favorite issues that somebody has borrowed from some other state.  It’s no wonder teachers don’t stay with us.”

Education today is extremely complex.  It can not be accurately evaluated with a handy little set of numbers.  Nor can it be “fixed” by rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as Amendment One wanted to do.

As chairman of the state school board, Governor Ivey would be well served to spend face time with educators like those I talked to.