A Brief (Not Really), Critically Important (Absolutely) History Lesson

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Be clear about this -the ESEA was a Civil Rights law with President Johnson saying that “full educational opportunity” should be “our first national goal.” It offered more than $1 billion dollars a year under its Title I section to help with the cost of educating disadvantaged youth. This new act provided:

1. Grants to districts serving low-income students
2. Federal grants for textbooks
3. Federal grants for school library books
4. Federal funding for special education
5. Scholarships for low-income college students
6. Grants to improve elementary and secondary education. (see information at Dept of Ed)

Enter NCLB

This education act has been reauthorized repeatedly since then, with one reauthorization probably best known: in 2002, it was revised and reauthorized under the name No Child Left Behind (NCLB). This law, authorized under President George W. Bush, expanded the Federal role and focused specifically on holding schools accountable for student progress. If states did not comply with the new assessment measures, they risked losing their Title I dollars. (see No Child Left Behind: An Overview)

Under NCLB, states were to test all students in grades 3 – 8 and one time in high school and were to show how groups such as ELLs, children with special needs, children of poverty, and racial minorities were progressing. By 2013-2014, all students in all states were to have reached “proficiency” though each state could decide what that meant.

Another Reauthorization: ESSA

In 2015, President Obama signed into law the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB and it was known at the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This bill was a strong bi-partisan effort with both sides claiming victory. Republicans liked that it returned a lot of power to local/state control. Democrats liked that equity was still a critical issue. The best side-by-side comparison of NCLB and ESSA I’ve found can be accessed here.

A few things to note about ESSA – our current law:

1. Codifies that districts must allow students in underperforming schools the opportunity to transfer to another school – if permitted by the state. So, this level of school choice is ALREADY LAW.

2. Requires that DISTRICTS (not federal government or state) develop their own evidenced- based strategies for school improvement. This is LOCAL CONTROL.

3. Requires that STATES implement their own actions for schools in need of improvement. Again, this is a return to STATE CONTROL.

4. Prohibits the Secretary of Education for prescribing any specific school supports or improvement strategies. (RETURN TO LOCAL/STATE CONTROL)

5. Requires that the annual state report card include a description of the state assessment; a list of schools identified (by the states) as needing improvement; graduation rates; NAEP results; per-pupil expenditures.

6. Eliminates AYP and the 100% proficiency requirement.

7. Prohibits the Secretary of Education from prescribing any part of an accountability system.

8. Allows STATES to decide how much weight to give to tests and what consequences if any should be attached to poor performance. (STATE CONTROL)

Understanding Regulations

Now, laws don’t provide all the details needed for people to be able to follow them. Congress writes a law. The President signs it. And then agencies fill in details. For those of us in education, that agency is the Department of Education (if looking at the Federal level). These details or rules are called regulations.

On May 31, 2016, the DOE published a draft of the regulations that would guide accountability under ESSA. (Don’t you feel smart using all these acronyms!) The DOE invited comments on proposed regulations and 21,000+ were received. Push backs on several areas resulted on the DOE being responsive and revising several areas of regulations. Eventually, Chris Minnich, who is the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers (so think the 50 state superintendents) praised the regulations saying, “It is clear the U.S. Department of Education listened to the feedback from state education chiefs across the country and made several important changes to ensure the accountability provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act can be implemented in all states” (See this report.) So, the STATES were happy with what the regulations told them they needed to do.

And so the states started writing their plans that needed to be submitted to the Secretary by April or (if an extension was given) by September of 2017. Things were going well. For a while, at least.

Enter Trump

Now, the Trump administration has decided to put its own stamp on education. And here’s where things get tricky.

In early February, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order that said that for every one new regulation issued at least two prior regulations must be eliminated and “the total incremental cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized in fiscal year 2017 shall be no greater than zero.” Law experts agree that this order not only lacks details on how to accomplish this, but that it will probably result in a “de facto moratorium on issuance of many major rules” (http://educationnext.org/what-happens-if-obamas-essa-regul…/). What the heck does this mean? Basically, if you get want a new regulation, you have to get rid of two. Keep that in mind. You have to get rid of two.

Getting Rid of Regulations with an Obscure Statute

Usually, it’s hard to get rid of regulations that are part of laws. There’s a public notice time and a public response time. That often brings about some legal wrangling. This is because regulations are slow to be accepted and so tossing them out ought to require public response.

While we were all focused on Secretary DeVos’s hearings (and that “we” most certainly includes me), the US House of Representatives voted to roll back regulations found in ESSA. The Senate is expected to vote to do the same this week and President Trump has already said he’ll sign this. The House decided to eliminate regulations in ESSA concerning accountability using “an obscure statute called the Congressional Review Act, used only once before in 2001 by President George. W. Bush” (see previous citation).

The CRA allows Congress to repeal regulations by a simple majority. It also requires that any new regulations (pay attention to this) cannot be “substantially similar” to the regulations that were struck down. So, removing regulations on assessments via CRA means you can’t tweak the language; the new regulation must be substantially different. And, because of the Executive Order, only one regulation can replace two that are removed and the cost of that one must be zero.

Breathe. There’s more

So, ESSA was made a law; through a series of conversations, the DOE established regulations that the CCSSO liked. Now states and local districts know what to do regarding accountability if they want to receive federal funds. Currently, states must submit their accountability plans to the Secretary by April (or with an extension) by September 2017. And yet, the regulations that let states know what rules to follow, are about to disappear.

Secretary DeVos sent out a letter to the State Chiefs her third day in office and affirmed the April and September deadlines and said that “I am writing today to assure you that I fully intend to implement and enforce the statutory requirements of the ESSA.” She went on to explain that “Congress is currently considering a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) (5 U.S.C. §§ 801- 808) to overturn these regulations. If a resolution of disapproval is enacted, these regulations ‘shall have no force or effect.'”

And Thus the Problem

So, we’ll probably find ourselves in a terrible conundrum if the Senate continues down this path. With an Executive Order that offers few details on what to do when regulations are repealed and an obscure act that allows for repealing of regulations with no discussion, and a demand that new regulations be substantially different, states are about to find themselves needing to prepare documents that help them receive needed Federal funds with no regulations to help guide them. The Secretary’s hands will be tied because of the Executive Order. State-level work that has gone into creating plans that specifically address teacher preparation and accountability are now in limbo.

The repeal of ESSA as handled by CRA repeal of regulations when seen in tandem with this Executive Order spells problems for local and state education agencies.

Call your Senators. Tell them not to repeal ESSA. Or tell them that using this obscure CRA provision will create more havoc than anyone wants. And remember, ESSA has its roots in ESEA, an act that wanted to assure that a full educational opportunity belongs to all. Education: a Civil Right.

Texas Workshops Fall 2015

I’m always happy to spend more time in my home state of Texas and that’s happening this fall as I run three workshops in Texas. These workshops will all focus on the close, attentive reading of nonfiction. They are most appropriate for teachers 4 -12, though primary teachers often attend my workshops and they tell me they easily adapt strategies to work for their students.

Here’s a list of when and where. Sure hope to see online friends at one of them!

Saturday, September 12. Keynote workshop speaker for the West Houston Area Council Teachers of English. Though sponsored by an ELA organization, all teachers are welcome. Location: Sugar Land, Texas. Registration info: http://whacte.org. (Workshop is from 8:00 – 11:00 a.m.)

Wednesday, September 30. Keynote workshop speaker for Region 13 in Austin, TX. This is part of the STAAR Distinguished Speaker Series. Registration is at Region 13’s website. (Workshop is from 8:00 – 3:00.)

Monday, October 19. Keynote workshop speaker at the Texas Association for Improvement of Reading fall conference at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Registration is found at the TAIR/Baylor site. (Workshop is from 8:00 – 3:30.)

All of these workshops will share the information my coauthor (Bob Probst) and I present in the forthcoming Reading Nonfiction: Stances, Strategies, and Signposts (Heinemann, 2015). All content area, resource, and ESL teachers are encouraged to attend as well as literacy coaches, supervisors, and administrators. Math teachers – please know that while I include some information that will be helpful in math class, this is most appropriate for ELA, reading, social studies, and science content.

Hook-em Horns!

Reading Nonfiction correct title jpeg

Reading Changes Lives. Period

If children need to learn vocabulary, they should read.


If they need to develop fluency, they should read.

If they need to learn about a topic, they should read.

If they need to be a person they are not, they should read.

If they need to write, they should read.

If they need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe, they should read.

This I Believe

This I believe:

1) Smart teachers can make the world better.
2) ALL children have a right to the education we too often believe is for only gifted and talented kids.
3) The best book a kid will ever read is the one he or she has chosen to read. Damn the Lexile. If a kid reads it, loves it, returns to it, learns from it, gets lost in it, and perhaps even finds a bit of himself in it, it is the right level. It is the right book. Wantability is always more important than readability.
4) “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a stupid statement. Words can hurt. But words can also heal. Words can divide. But words can also unite. Words can belittle but words can also strengthen. Words matter. Think carefully before you speak.
5) ANY business in Indiana that recognizes the value in ALL humans has my business, my support, and my deep, deep thanks. Bob Probst and I are headed to Indianapolis in November but only after deciding we will first ask for a list of restaurants/hotels that have decided to respect the intrinsic worth of all humans. And we’ll go to those establishments and support them, as they support those who have just been hurt by new legislation.
6) I believe all people should go see the new Cinderella and take away at least two messages: “Have courage and be kind” AND “Just because it’s done, doesn’t mean it should be done.” Maybe that’s the one that hit me the hardest. Just because it’s done doesn’t mean it should be done. Right.
7) Grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup with great wine is the best dinner. dinner at The Algonquin

8) Finally, The Algonquin in NYC (where I am at this moment) is now my favorite hotel.

These things I believe.

What Teachers Say about Books They Teach

In July 2013, Bob Probst and I posted a survey on SurveyMonkey.com asking teachers in grades 4-8 to tell us about their teaching of novels and chapter books.  This survey was a slightly modified version of a survey we had first conducted in 2008.  We hoped that the current survey would tell us something about the novels finding their way into classrooms, about the approaches teachers were taking to the instruction, and about the influence of the Common Core State Standards.  What follows is a look at some of the data.

 How many books are we teaching?

We received 435 responses, mostly from teachers with 6 to 20 years of experience.  Of those 435 teachers, 426 responded to the question that asked how many novels or chapter books were taught during the school year.  Of that number, about 90% reported that they teach at least one novel a year.  About 20% reported teaching four a year.  We were surprised that 10% — 41 teachers – did not teach any novels or chapter books at all and just as surprised that a little over 10% reported teaching more than seven books in one year.

Who chooses the books?

 Most of the teachers responding choose the books they will teach, with 60% apparently having great autonomy and another 28% required to choose from a list established by the district or at the school level.  Only 2.2% reported that they had no choice whatsoever.

What’s the criteria for choosing books?

We were especially interested in the criteria teachers employed in choosing books for their classes.  To over 50% of respondents, the potential for student enjoyment was the single most important criterion.  Of somewhat lesser significance were the elements or standards the novel would enable them to teach, the literary quality of the books, and the theme.   Only a few—4%—choose a book for the genre it would enable them to study, and only one solitary teacher chooses the novel for author study.

How are books being taught?

We were also interested in how novels/chapter books were being taught.  We offered respondents a variety of scenarios from which to choose.  We found that about 34% of the respondents said that they introduced the book, gave some structure over how much should be read, and then had large or small group discussions about each section.   We found that the same number responded that they introduced the book and then read the book with the class either through read-alouds or listening to portions on tape.

What books are being taught?

Many of the books we inquired about in our 2008 survey are still being taught.  The Giver is still the most commonly taught of all the young adult novels we listed, and none of the other titles had vanished from the list.  Teachers still teach the titles that appeared in the list resulting from our earlier survey.  Here is that 2008 list as it appears in Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading:

What new titles have you added?

There were some new titles, however, to add to our list.  Some are new books teachers reported they are now teaching, and some are books they’d like to teach.  Among the most popular of the new books now being taught are, listed in order of frequency mentioned:

Wonder                                                                                                                            The Hunger Games                                                                                                        The One and Only Ivan                                                                                                    The Lightning Thief                                                                                                         The Westing Game

Wonder, The Hunger Games, and The One and Only Ivan were also the three most commonly mentioned books teacher would like to teach if given the opportunity.  Other titles that appeared in that list with noticeable frequency were:

Divergent                                                                                                                         Out of My Mind                                                                                                                The Book Thief

 What changes when we look at data by grade?

When we look at data by grade level, we found that “Potential Enjoyment” continued to be the decisive factor in choosing a book.  While we’re still culling data by grade level, here are some first results:

Most commonly taught books from the list provided

4th Grade:  Because of Winn Dixie                                                                                         5th Grade: Bud, Not Buddy and Number the Stars                                                                 6th Grade: The Giver and The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963                                             7th Grade: The Giver and The Outsiders                                                                                8th Grade: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Giver, and The Outsiders

Mostly commonly taught book that was not on the list provided

4th Grade:  Wonder                                                                                                                5th Grade: Wonder                                                                                                                  6th Grade: Wonder                                                                                                                   7th Grade: Wonder and Hunger Games                                                                                8th Grade: Hunger Games

Most common length of time spent teaching one book

4th Grade:  3 weeks                                                                                                                 5th Grade:  3 weeks                                                                                                                6th Grade:  4 weeks                                                                                                              7th Grade:  4 weeks                                                                                                              8th Grade:  4-6 weeks

How has or will the Common Core State Standards affect your teaching of novels/chapter books?

When we looked at information about the effects of the CCSS, as many teachers reported that it would not affect their teaching of novels/chapter books as reported that it would.  Those who reported teaching 1-3 novels a year thought they would continue teaching that number.  Those who taught more, feared that they would be unable to continue teaching as many.  An overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the focus on nonfiction, more than anything else, would change their teaching.

Final comments

Many teachers offered comments, but one resonated with us and we want to share it here: “I teach novels not because the CCSS says students need to learn to read texts closely or learn to find details or learn something about the author’s craft.  I teach novels because I teach kids and I want kids to love to read.  And if they are going to love to read, they need to read novels.  They need to read some they’ve chosen; some I’ve chosen; some that are hard; some that are easy; some that make them laugh; some that make them cry.  We’ll read some together, and they’ll read some on their own.  We read novels because novels take us places we’ve never been and let us be people we are not.  That’s why I teach novels.”

We agree.


Taking On, Not Giving Up

So today begins Lent, for those who follow a liturgical calendar. In simplest of explanations, children are often taught that during Lent, those forty days before Easter, one should “give up something” so that, when Easter arrives, and that missed item is returned, it is more valued.

I think about this time of giving up something and am reminded of a blog post I saw some time ago from a teacher in North Carolina who gave up his job, resigned. Quit. He was completely fed up with a system that — in his district — was only about teaching kids to pass a test. He gave up something he dearly loved, and was very good at, to make a point.

And I think about the teachers at a 5-12 school in New York City Bob Probst and I worked with two weeks ago who told us they had to give up teaching anything new for the next month as the school was going into “lock down” and would only be reviewing for the upcoming mandated tests. For one month, students would only do test-prep.

And I think about a teacher in Arkansas I visited with a few weeks ago who was giving up a part of her salary each week to help buy clothes for some kids in her classroom who didn’t have homes, much less winter coats, that would keep them warm.

I think about the college seniors I Skyped with yesterday at Carlton college who wondered what we were giving up in our ELA classrooms when we all agreed (and why did we do this, they asked) to set aside any sort of questions that encouraged a personal response to instead embrace only “text-dependent” questions. “What have we given up?” they asked.

Giving up can mean so many different things.

And then I think a bit more about Lent. Only for children is it really only about giving up. Actually, it’s about reflecting. It’s about searching and wondering and being still and listening, but most certainly it is not only about giving up; it’s also about taking on.

This Lent — and it doesn’t matter if you call this time Lent or simply the quiet days before spring blooms in all its brilliance — this Lent, I plan to do more taking on than giving up. I plan to take on the naysayers of education, reminding them of all the good that our nation’s teachers do each day. Dear teachers, don’t you lose sight of the opportunity you have each day to make a difference in each child’s life.

I plan to take on the assumption that text-dependent questions create the self-reliant, lifetime readers we want more than any other type of question might do. Where is the research that supports this? I plan to take on the assumed authority of the Publishers’ Criteria and ask upon what research it is based.

I want to take on reminding policy makers that a test score is simply that: a test score. I want to take on reminding them that the goal of education is bigger than making someone college or career ready. Education is about teaching children so that they can become all they can be. It’s about teaching children so that they will someday become the active successful participants this democracy desperately needs them to be; so that they might become the creative, compassionate, caring contributors this society hopes they will be.

This Lent, I want to give up pessimism and take on optimism; I want to give up fear and take on hope. I want to look at each child in each class I teach as that kid who wants to be his best but just might be too hungry or too scared or too beaten by life to know how to get there and see not a sullen face, but one that if I can teach him to take on, rather than give up, will find that spring is full of hope, indeed.

#noticeandnote Jan 31 Chat Preview

As we — Bob Probst and I — get ready for tonight’s chat (Thursday, Jan 31, 8 EST), we thought we’d take some space we have here but wouldn’t have on Twitter, to talk a little about our goals for tonight.

We’re excited to have a conversation tonight about close reading, about the role of fiction in a time when many encourage more and more NF, about what it means to foster engagement, and what rigor in a classroom is all about.  These are all things the two of us thought a lot about as we wrote our new book, Notice and Note: Strategies for Close Reading.

Now we want to hear from you about those topics.  And, we’re happy to answer questions you might have about any of the new strategies we present in the book.

If you’re new to Twitter chats (as is Bob.  I’ve been explaining today — see the photo — that he really doesn’t need his microphone), then give this new way to be a part of a national conversation a try.  Go to Tweetchat.com and in the search box at the top of the page, enter noticeandnote.  Normally you’d need to enter the hashtag (#) first, but at this site, it’s already there for you. If you don’t have a Twitter account, this will still let you read what others are saying.  If you want to join in (and we hope you do!) then you’ll need to sign in at Tweetchat.com with your account to participate.  And you can of course join in from your own Twitter page, just be sure and use the hashtag (#) before the name of the chat: #noticeandnote.  Everything will begin promptly at 8 pm EST.

So, thanks to Vicki Boyd at Heinemann for moderating tonight. And more importantly, thanks to you, for thinking carefully about how we help all our students become close readers and then sharing your thoughts with us this evening.

On Monday

“Mom, help me review my words because my teacher says spelling still counts.”

That’s what Baker – now a senior in college – said to me as he ran into our kitchen one day after school when he was in fifth grade.

He was pulling me out of a three-day television-aided trance I had been in since the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  Oh, I got up each day, got each child off to school, did most of the work I was supposed to be doing, but then rushed back to CNN to watch again and again what had happened, to try, again and again, to make sense of what this meant our world – my family’s world – would now be.

I’m doing the same thing again.  Since yesterday.  Since Sandy Hook Elementary School locked down and we redefined tragedy.  Again.  I’m listening intently to all the reports, reading closely all the articles, looking for anything that makes this make sense.  But of course nothing will because one can’t apply logic to what was done illogically; one can’t apply reason to what was done without reason.

And I keep remembering Baker’s fifth-grade language arts teacher who each day after the 9/11 attacks didn’t sit home staring at a screen, but instead walked into her classroom to help twenty-two youngsters through the day.  On Thursday of that week, she sent her students home reminding them to study because “spelling still counts.”  I loved her for giving those students (and me) that nudge toward normalcy.  All of the teachers in that school – in schools across this nation – during those first long weeks after 9/11 gave our nation’s children something far more important than what could ever be bubbled in on a state-mandated test.  They gave them security; they gave them time; they gave them ways to process all that had happened; and they helped them learn that each of us has the ability to get through tragic moments even when we doubt we will ever get over them.

That’s what you’ll do again.  On Monday.  And on Tuesday. And on all the rest of the days next week and the rest of this school year.  Parents will hold on to children – of all ages –  tighter, and you will, with firm resolve, assure them you are a professional who knows what to do when tragedy strikes.  Some children will cry and you will dry tears.  Some will lash out in anger and you will know that is fear rearing its head another way.  You will worry and fret and wonder what else you should do.  You will talk with other teachers and principals – who will be doing all the same things you are doing – and together you will decide what is the right plan for your school as you help your students through what will, for some, be terribly difficult days.

Yes, on Monday and for all the days that follow,  you will  prepare lessons, watch for that student who doesn’t quite grasp the point, encourage the student who hesitantly offers an idea, help the shy one make a friend, remind the bossy one to listen more.  And you’ll do what no university class ever prepared you to do:  you will show students that when tragedy strikes, hope lives and goodness can always be found. You will help students recognize that their grief shows their humanity.  You will show them that we all go on, in spite of fear, or perhaps more importantly, to spite fear. And you will, as you nudge them toward normalcy, even remind them that spelling still counts.  You will be in our nation’s classrooms, teaching our nation’s children, and for this we are a grateful nation.

Thank you.  Thank you.  And, again, thank you.



Why I Hated Meredith’s First Grade Teacher: An Open Letter to America’s Teachers

When my first born headed off to first grade, 21 years ago, she held my hand as we walked down the hallway of Will Rogers Elementary School in the Houston Independent School District. We walked into Ms. Miner’s room and Meredith’s steps grew more hesitant. This wasn’t the University of Houston Child Care Center, the place she had gone for years while I was a doctoral student at UH. This place looked different – bigger, more official. There were big-kid desks pushed together in clusters. And though there were centers, they were not the dress-up center or the cooking center or nap center or water play center of the Child Care Center.

The room was filled with children she did not yet know, with books she had not yet read, with a math center that had lost-teeth and birthday charts, and with a big poster by the door labeled, “Our Classroom Rules” that was still blank. “I don’t want to stay,” she said.  I didn’t want her to, either. I wanted her still with me, only me. I didn’t want to give up those first six years of childhood just yet, those years when her world mostly revolved around her parents and new baby brother and a silly dog with big ears and afternoons spent in our local library reading book after book after book or playing in our neighborhood park, sometimes just sitting on the grass, watching the ants march by. With every ounce of courage, I said, “Oh, you will love first grade. It was my favorite year in school. I loved my first grade teacher, Mrs. Allen, and I bet you are going to love Ms. Miner, too.” Meredith looked doubtful and so very small. And then Ms. Miner, long blond hair pulled back into a ponytail, saw us, came over, and bent down to Meredith’s level.  A first year teacher – the one I had told the principal that if he was willing to listen to requests I wanted – Ms. Miner was full of energy and excitement. She loved books, wanted to be a great teacher, and had obviously spent weeks making her room look inviting to these 22 six-year-olds.

“Oh, you’re Meredith! I recognized you from your picture! Come here and let me introduce you to some others. And let me show you all around the room. And, hey, you brought Corduroy as your favorite book and that’s one of my favorite books, too!”

And then, somehow, without me even realizing, Meredith’s small hand moved from mine to Ms. Miner’s and she was gone. She was swallowed up by the sheer joy this other woman brought into her classroom, into learning, and into my child’s life. “I guess I’ll be going now,” I said to Meredith who was busy putting school supplies away in her desk. “So, I’ll be just around the corner at our house,” I said blinking hard to keep away the tears.” I think she nodded. Perhaps she even paused to wave. My feet couldn’t move and Ms. Miner gently helped me and a few other moms out of the classroom. “She’s really shy,” I said to Ms. Miner just as Meredith sped by holding a new friend’s hand showing her “all these hooks where we can hang our backpacks.”

Meredith was breathless with excitement at the end of that day – every day – and by the end of the first week, our family had a new member: Ms. Miner. Each afternoon and for long into the evening, I had to listen to “Ms. Miner said . . .” and “Ms. Miner thinks . . .” and “Ms. Miner showed us . . .” and “Ms. Miner suggested . . .” and when I slipped and said, “Oh damn” at dinner burned in the oven, I was reminded that “Mom, Ms. Miner would never say . . .  .”  Right, I smiled through gritted teeth.  “Ms. Miner says that manners are important,” Meredith said as she explained why we must always put our napkins in our laps, something that I swear I had mentioned a million times.

For the entire year I watched my child fall in love with school, with learning, with figuring out, and most importantly, with her first grade teacher, Ms. Miner. Meredith, who had once hated ponytails, now only wanted to wear ponytails. And blue skirts, “just like Ms. Miner’s.” “And Mom, my name starts with an M and Ms. Miner starts with an M. Isn’t that great!! We match!” Yes, Meredith, just great. Really great. Oh damn.

Though I had been a teacher for years before having Meredith, before sending her off to first grade, I had never truly understood the power of a teacher in a child’s life. We give our most precious and priceless to you – dear teachers – each year, knowing you will teach them, but also hoping you will care for them, help them discover how very much they matter, watching over them, and being there when they have been hurt by the ones who won’t let them sit at the “popular” table – and then you do just that and they fall in love with you. It shows up in different ways, as they grow older. But it’s still there, this deep affection and respect. And, certainly, it’s harder to forge those bonds when there are 150 students instead of 22, when the day is fragmented into 45 minute segments, when education seems to be more about the test than the child. But I promise, underneath that bravado of the seventh grader or swagger of the tenth grader you will find that small first grader who wonders, “Will my teacher like me?” And when that child – that teen – knows that you believe he or she matters, then that student will do most anything for you.

To this day, Meredith remembers you, Ms. Miner, and to this day, I so hated how much she loved you that year. And, simultaneously, I am so grateful that she did.

And so, teachers, across this country during the next two weeks, most of you will be opening your classroom doors in a first-day welcoming for your students.  As a teacher I am proud to stand beside you in all that you do. But as a parent, well, as a parent I stand in awe of all that you do.  And to Ms. Miner, thank you.

We Can Be Better

On Facebook, I just saw a photo that someone else posted which I will not repost that was a shot of a sign outside of a McDonald’s in some location that says “We support Chick-Fil-A. Now Boycott Us.”  While I’m not positive of the exact location of this one McDonald’s, since I know who posted the photo, I suspect it was from a small town in east Texas.  On my way to the Houston airport today, I passed two McDonald’s that did NOT have this sign posted.But people are “liking” this photo that was posted, and all I could do was look at it and feel so very sad. Not sad that I’ll indeed be boycotting McDonald’s (haven’t had their high-fat, high-calorie food in a long time, so in all honestly that wasn’t a hard decision); but sad that THIS was the message they felt needed sharing.I saw two parents crying in an airport today because their flight to Germany was delayed and their adult child who is there is now dying of cancer. This McDonald’s could have put up a sign saying we donate part of our income one day a month to cancer research. That would have sent me through their drive-through window.  (I know the Ronald McDonald’s House does much to support families dealing with cancer and I bet if we check United Way giving McDonald’s does well in that area, too.  But that help does not undo this wrong.)

In a school in Georgia two weeks ago, a teacher came to me at then end of the day and thanked me for all the words of encouragement for what will be — in this time of more kids in classrooms with fewer materials — a hard year and said her husband — a preacher of a small church — had just left her for another woman (those good Christian values there) and she was now trying to support her two children and herself on her teacher’s salary and she wanted to get books for her classroom because she knew her students were coming from homes where books weren’t valued nearly as much as football. “But times are a little tough for me right now. Do you know of grants I might apply for?” She wasn’t judging. She wasn’t angry. She was putting the needs of others first. Seems that as school begins, this McDonald’s might have opted to put up a sign about how they will be supporting local teachers by providing in-class libraries of 500 children’s books to go into each English/language arts classroom of the schools in their community. That would have certainly gotten me into a McDonald’s to find something there that at least looks healthy.

Ten miles from my house, a little over a year ago, a fourteen-year-old hung himself one day because he could no longer take the daily bullying he faced each day at his school. His suicide was not singular. The daily roll call of gay teens who are bullied to death is beyond shameful. Bullied by straight kids. Straight kids who think they have a right to be hurtful and mean. Straight kids who call gay kids terrible names and tell others to not sit with them. Straight kids who tell them they are wrong for being who they are. For simply being who they are. Of course, that mindset is learned . . . somewhere.

Sure would have been nice if this McDonald’s — perhaps all — had put up a sign that said, “At this establishment, you’ll find that we respect ALL people. We value ALL people. Chick-Fil-A can choose to hurt others, but here at McDonald’s, we choose to be better than that.” I’d be there daily, probably falling in love with that fish sandwich.

Does this one sign represent all McDonald’s?  I highly doubt it.  Actually, I can’t believe it does.  I suspect that whoever is in charge of all things McDonald’s has no idea what this franchise owner put on this sign.  I’d like to know, though, that if those in the corporate headquarters did know, what their response would be.  I suppose they could say something about that being the sentiments of one franchise owner.  I’d hope they’d say that this hurtful statement does not represent the company and that McDonald’s does not discriminate.  That’s what I hope.I hope that because in a world in which we could accomplish so much, so very very much, if we told each person “You Matter,” if we helped each person believe they are valued and respected, if we could convince others that loving is always better than hating and that supporting is better than condemning, we might become the country our Founding Fathers had in mind when they penned “All men are created equal.”We can be so much better than we are. And it can start with how we react to signs that appear in our own communities, with hateful words we hear and do not stop, with “that’s so gay” language we let slip by.  We can be better.