Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Respecting Separation of Church and State

The same teacher I was having an online discussion with about the Pledge of Allegiance also feels it is perfectly okay to have a verse from the Christian Bible posted in her room. She said that if any students asked her about it, she would explain her beliefs to them. 

I asked her, following her logic of posting the Bible verse, if it would also be okay for meto explain my deeply held religious belief that there is no Hell, because a God of infinite mercy and the concept of eternal damnation don't logically go together and I prefer to believe in an all loving and compassionate God to her child in my classroom, or if it would be okay for a teacher of a different faith altogether to post something from their religious book on the wall as a way to explain their beliefs. I received no response to this. 

One time I was asked by a student why students couldn’t pray in school. As she came to talk to me privately about this, I decided to talk to her seriously. I explained that she and the other students had the total right to pray in school. That was established. The only time I could bar praying out loud would be when I barred all talking of any kind. I explained that what was not allowed was for me, as the teacher, to lead the class in a prayer. 

She asked me why that would be so bad. I taught in the Deep South in a rural school. I had never asked her her faith, but took the gamble it was not Catholicism, the faith I had been raised in. I asked her what her parents’ reaction would be if I led the class in saying a “Hail Mary.” She rocked back a little and her eyes grew large. I then pointed out that while that was not a prayer she used in her faith, it was a common one in the one I had been raised in. And then I added that that was just another type of Christianity. What about students of other faiths? Even in that rural district I had taught students who were Jewish and Islamic. What about the students who were agnostic or atheist? She got it.

I get that people of faith have deeply held beliefs. I have my own. But I do not see it as our place as teachers to be promoting our beliefs to our students. That is disrespectful to the students and to their parents. Further, as teachers we are representatives of the State. There is a firm separation of church and state. We must respect that.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Respecting Students' Rights

I was having an online discussion with a teacher who feels that it is okay to force her students to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.  
She seems to be a very well-meaning and caring teacher. She loves her students. She buys them supplies if they need them and even brought donuts one day this week. She also believes that posting that Bible verse is the equivalent of another teacher putting up a poster on The Big Bang Theory. She doesn’t see the difference between a matter of faith and a matter of science. 

She feels, and I am not belittling this, that she is doing the right thing by making her students stand for the Pledge. In 1943, this was the middle of World War II, the Supreme Court held in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, that students cannot be forced to say the Pledge. For a good discussion of this check out this link to Constitution Daily a publication of the National Constitution Center. 

What she sees as promoting respect and patriotism I see as forcing conformity. The symbol of the flag and the Pledge are being privileged above the actual freedoms they are meant to represent. You cannot force someone to be patriotic. The best you can do is force that person to perform the rituals of the “patriotic” act you wish them to conform to. When I pointed out that she was breaking the law, she said in that case she was a “law breaking rebel.” She said this without seeing the irony.
I am not sure how to talk to people who are so blinded by their personal beliefs as the teacher I had the online discussion with. I don’t want to verbally attack her, but I cannot seem to make a dent in her deeply held belief that she has every right to be that “law breaking rebel” she described herself as. How do I get her to see that while she loves he students—and I believe she does—she is not respecting them? She ended he part of the conversation curtly. I ended mine with the sincere hope that she does not get sued. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Recommending Mr. Fitz

The other day I mentioned here that there were times when I taught when I was certain no one else knew what I was going through. Well, there is someone else who really seems to get it: David Finkle. He is the creator of the Mr. Fitz comic strip.

Finkle is a former middle school/current high school English teacher. He knows what he’s drawing and writing about in this strip. I would like to suggest you give his website,

He covers the gamut of what it is like to teach in an age of growing demonization of teachers and teaching. And he does it in a really funny way. In addition to being a loyal reader, I’ve bought two of his Mr. Fitz books, which collect the strips from the web. 

Here are a couple of his strips he said I could use for this post. 

So look for Mr. Fitz on Facebook and on the Web. 

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Book Recommendation: Adequate Yearly Progress

There were times when I taught when I was certain no one else knew what I was going through. It is strange that in a profession where you are surrounded by other humans all day long, that I could feel so lonely and isolated. Roxanna Elden gets it. Maybe because she taught for eleven years. That perspective I only get when talking to other teachers, I got here in this book as well.

The essential loneliness of the job came through to me. So many characters going through individual crises all by themselves, even when surrounded by colleagues. Lena Wright, the African American, spoken word artist, English teacher who wants so desperately for her students to see the power of language, touched me. Kaytee Mahoney, the young, overly-idealistic TeachCorps teacher, caught between the perfection of her goals and the reality of her students, embodies many young teachers I knew. Hernan D. Hernandez, the laid back science teacher, who was always tongue tied in Lena’s presence, was the teacher who pretty much ignored the testing insanity and really taught his students. Even characters that in other hands could be seen merely as antagonistic were given depth. The assistant principals were pretty much cut outs, but I have worked with so many who fit the two in this book to a T to feel disgruntled there.

Told with wit and understanding, rotating to a different teacher in each chapter, this is the story of a school in Texas that has a new superintendent, a man who has never taught but has written a best seller about how to fix education, who turns their school on its ear. Insane initiative after initiative being forced down the teachers’ throats—I thought that the continually increasing number of things they were required to write out on their boards throughout the book was a terrific metaphor for all the foolishness teachers are saddled with. 

It was a story about people. Each in their own way a dedicated teacher. Each in their own way trying to survive another year in the classroom. Each in their own way reminding me of so many I have taught with.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who teaches, especially middle and high school. It was funny and sad at the same time. I think you’ll like it.

I received a free electronic ARC of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, September 3, 2018

This Guy Has Some Good Ideas

I just read an editorial in the Sadiego Union-Tribune, "On Labor Day a modest proposal to keep stars in classroom" by Logan Jenkins. He has some ideas on keeping retired teachers in the classroom. I'm afraid this type of thinking is all too rare these days. Give it a read.