techKNOW parenting

Recently I had the honor of being invited to share at a Parenting Academy sponsored by our church.

Are you busting a gut laughing at that statement? Yeah, me too.

Suffice it to say, I was well out of my league. Two high school counselors shared about modern fads in drug consumption and helpful warning signs for parents. A pediatrician presented a wealth of information regarding legal and ethical dilemmas in teen health. The Captain's topic was the scariest of teenagers think. My piece of the pie was technology trends and issues.

I soaked up every single bit of information shared by the experts. Though all our girls are just kindergarten or below, Lord willing they will become teenagers one day.

Just threw up a little bit.

It was hard, hard stuff, y'all. Don't get me wrong. Teenagers are exciting people to be around. I'm surrounded by them all day long and though it can be difficult to focus while they are flittering and fluttering around, I really do love hearing them think out loud. What a fun time in life...being just on the verge of adulthood and with very big and important thoughts about life beginning to form, sprinkled with plenty of humor (both intended and un).

But y'all. They deal with some serious junk.

Over the month leading up to the event, I conducted lots of informal research on the topic, including conversations with students about apps they use as well as gathering feedback from a school administrator, wife of a former school resource officer, and my own school's SRO about common problems they see with teens and technology. I felt pretty confident sharing some of those as cutting edge, because they are newish apps, websites, etc.

The problem is, this stuff pops up like weeds! Any parent striving to remain informed about the trends in technology that may impact their kids will struggle to stay ahead of or even with their children's consumption of the stuff.

My hope is that by continuing the research and sharing periodically here, I can provide at least a small measure of support to those mamas and daddies who just want to be good parents and know what their kids are up against.

Have techKNOW parenting topics to share? Let me know here! 

May in a school

Testing and equipment inventory and short fuses and too much and too little and IEP season and worn out teachers and PLPs and stacks upon stacks of papers to grade and everything was due yesterday and reports and cleanup and storage and summer prep and parent conferences and where did I put that list of Edmodo codes and overdue notices and quarterly exams and kids on the brink and lesson plans and library book inventory and special events and equipment breaking at the worst possible moment and dozens of young children wanting you to look at them right now and listen to them right now and and losing your planning period every day for two weeks and network outages and notes from parents starting out with MY CHILD SAID and Teacher, so and so is looking at me and reset your password but only in this format and grades are due and can you please attach this file for me and the kids breaking staplers and voice mails from parents and don't miss this very important meeting and don't you dare skip out on that highly essential professional development workshop and the copier is broken again and learn this new time clock system or else and Teacher, so and so hit me and and Tier 3 analysis reports overdue and hey can you make me 150 copies of this iMovie right now please pretty please and demanding teenagers and the laminator breaks and curse you, full moon, and this checklist is due and fix my computer and will you help me set up an email account and we are piloting this new assessment and that narrative is due and this information is required by central office and oh yeah was due a week ago and iNow is iNever working and please submit a detailed statement to administration about what you observed with student A and student B and reply to every parent contact within 24 hours and THE YEARBOOKS ARE HERE and install this program to these computers and uninstall that program to those computers and final walk-through for the year and everybody needs their documents but the printer is psychotic and be sure to offer highly effective instruction at every possible second and of course in the spring kids are more aggressive than ever and why is there not a Starbucks in every cafeteria?

It's all just May in a school. 

Send your kid's teacher some love today, y'all.

*Mrs. Mitchell

When I was 7, the need arose for my parents to transfer me to a new school. My mother took me for a tour, so I was able to meet my new teacher as well as see my new classroom. I had cousins in that class and since I knew them, it should have helped make me feel more at home in a new place. It was good prep...all anybody could have done to support a smooth transition.

Still, I was scared out of my little wits getting off the bus that morning.

The bus let us out in a different place than where I had come into the main office with my mother. All the kids ran off in different directions, and I simply had no idea which way to go. When the tardy bell rang, I was still walking around in the courtyard trying to figure out which, of the 15 identical doors lining the perimeter, was the one I should enter. I remember my new Keds being soaked to the socks from dew-covered grass by the time an adult finally stopped me and asked me what I was doing. She knew exactly which door was Mrs. Mitchell’s, so she took me in.

Strike one with Mrs. Mitchell was being late to her second-grade class.

She told me to sit down and get busy, and I did. I unpacked my backpack and dropped my pencil box on the floor.

Strike two.

Completely overwhelmed by being lost and in a new place and not knowing anyone and now being in trouble on the first day when I was very much accustomed to being the teacher’s pet, my eyes filled with tears and brimmed over. I hid them, wiping quickly. They filled again.

I couldn’t see the board to do my work because I was trying not to let anyone know I was crying by keeping my head down and when I did lift my head, I could not see through my tears.

After a few minutes, all I had on that thin, recycled, writing paper with its blue and pink lines, was my name.

Strike three.

Mrs. Mitchell saw that I had no work done and that I was crying, and grabbed her paddle. She swung it around over her shoulder and said I was nothing but a crybaby. She told me if I didn’t stop, she would give me something to cry about. 

I remember sitting in that old wooden desk, tracing the groove marks over and over and over with my pencil, just trying to pull myself together. There was a window above Mrs. Mitchell’s door, and I remember vividly an escape plan forming in my mind. I envisioned myself climbing up the wall and out that window and running and running and running and running until I was somewhere…anywhere…but there. It was a lot to take in for 8:30 in the morning.

 It smelled like pencil shavings and dust in that room, and long as I live I’ll never forget not only how it smelled but also how my teacher made me feel that day.

Mrs. Mitchell doesn’t teach anymore. I’m not even sure if she is still alive, but even after all these years she remains one of the meanest people I have ever encountered. I was so terrified to tell my mother what had happened, because I was truly afraid Mrs. Mitchell would come to my house and hurt me. Thankfully, my mother quickly rectified the situation with an appointment the next day. The next year, when I returned to that school, and for the next three years, I had the sweetest, kindest, most loving and caring teachers God has ever put on this earth. They more than made up for Mrs. Mitchell.

Mrs. Mitchell was trusted with not only the minds but also the hearts of 20 second graders every single day. She had the choice to either build us up or tear us down. She chose poorly.

There are Mrs. Mitchells in every preschool, elementary, middle, and high school. They may not have paddles to swing, but they cut a baby down faster with their harsh words and negative attitudes than anyone could with sticks and stones. They make kids want to run away, to be anywhere but school.

The thing about Mrs. Mitchell was that she made her mind up about me when I was late. She didn’t care that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for it. She didn’t know I was a good kid and she did not care, because she had decided for herself who I was and what I was capable-or not capable-of. Those are powerful decisions to make about a student.

It makes me sick to my stomach to consider where I might be today if I had a Mrs. Mitchell every year.

The truth of it is, some kids do.

Some kids are good kids, but no one will give them the benefit of the doubt. Some students have made poor choices in the past but they need someone to empower them to make better decisions in the future.

Some children need a grown-up to look them in the eye and tell them they can and will and should make something of their lives because they matter.

Some kids not only have Mrs. Mitchells teaching them all day long, they also have Mrs. Mitchells as a mama or daddy, too, and for them it is even more important for us as teachers to speak hope into the souls of these children.

Did you ever have a Mrs. Mitchell? How did that affect your life?

*Not her real name. I'm still a little scared she'd come to my house and hurt me. 


A friend remarked once that as librarians, we are the bartenders in our schools. I laughed at that until I was gasping for breath because it was so spot on. We are the bartenders. My friend meant that because we are centrally positioned, we work with everyone in the school-all adults and all students. At some point or another, people find their way to the library...and ultimately, that leads to them talking to us about their lives-both professional/academic and personal.

Our colleagues and students do vent to us quite a bit, almost subconsciously. We learn about their kids, siblings, spouses, upper level coursework, frustrations, fears, failures, and successes. We get to encourage them by being a sounding board, and sometimes with gentle offers of support or assistance. On a superficial level, this usually means the librarians are among the first to know what's going on in the school community. We don't go looking for people's business...but the business always seems to come to us.

That's okay, though, because we tend to be great secret keepers.

Another way we're tending bar as "liberry people" is that the bartenders are the keepers of the goods. They're the ones who basically work on whatever they can to make the place run smoothly until someone shows up to place an order. They then mix it up and serve it up in a way the customer finds pleasing. Soon after, another customer arrives with a completely different type of order. How about I do that every single day with information. Kids come in and need to find an article on concentration camps or a picture of the Parthenon for social studies presentations. Teachers come in and need help changing their network password or need documents scanned into PDF format. One by one I take their order and customize their experience by leaving out or adding more of various ingredients of instruction (demonstration for some, verbal directions for others, etc.) to best meet their needs at that moment.

I also encourage "top shelf" watered down Wikipedia or cheap ad-laden sites for my people!

It's also my job to monitor my customers and keep those who are drifting wayward on track. Kids are going to push boundaries, and sometimes teachers can as well. The best experience for everyone is when the customers are served exactly the information they need at the exact time they need it, and then they move on.

If only my customers tipped. {sigh}

Opting out

Sassafras is barely halfway through kindergarten, but there is one thing I already know about her third grade year, unless I see major changes in American educational practices: she won't take standardized tests.

Usually initiated in the third grade (though every state has its own guidelines), children undergo a series of assessments supposedly intended to determine what they have learned during the school year. This is the way it is and has been done for decades in public schools, and I have a bone to pick with the Establishment.

Put up your dukes, Establishment.
  • As a parent, I am adamantly opposed to subjecting my child to unnecessary stress or anxiety. The testing conditions required for standardized tests heap pressure on kids (seats in arrangements different from their normal routine, absolute silence, even if they finish early they have to just sit silently-no reading or drawing, writing out explanations for responses-even math-writing in special boxes but not one stray mark outside the box or the answer document is invalid, bubbling in exactly the right answer in exactly the right bubble and with the bubble perfectly filled but stay inside the bubble lines or your answer document may not be scored correctly...for a start). It also places undue pressure on teachers; trained state or district monitors visit every school to make sure everyone is following the rules. As a teacher, failing to enforce testing conditions means loss of your certification and likely loss of your job. You are required by state law to sign an annual contract stating as much.  
  • As an educator, I wholly disagree with using one criterion-referenced assessment to make assumptions about a teacher or a child. We are repeatedly indoctrinated at the undergraduate and graduate levels that using one evaluation method is insufficient to paint a picture of what a learner knows, and furthermore is rather languid pedagogy. It is hypocritical to teach us that other, varied methods of evaluation are superior but then require us to administer standardized assessments every spring. I also find it revolting that the whole premise of AYP is that every student and even more so, every teacher, is held to a standard of perfection. This is wholly unrealistic and incredibly damaging to the profession. More on that another day. It's positively madness. 
  • As a taxpaying citizen, I am positively livid that the tests are largely political in nature. I won't delve into No Child Left Behind or the current Race to the Top, but suffice it to say that one is the Right's solution to a perceived problem in how American students compare worldwide and one is the Left's. For all their hem-hawin' in Congress, both NCLB and RttT look and feel the same for teachers and students in any American classroom today. It's a nasty little trickle-down that goes like this: 
    • Legislators make laws and place pressure on the state departments of education to ensure that public schools rate highly on the tests. They use certain types of funding as a threat if states' public schools do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress goals (which, by the way, stipulate that every child in the nation will score the highest level possible on their exams by 2014). 
    • State departments and the federal department of education ride individual school districts, with threats of citations if certain progress is not made on improved test scores. Funding is once again used as a threat, as well as pressure of state take-over if a district fails to progress. 
    • School districts hit administrators with the emphasis of how considerably important it is that their schools score well on the tests. Funding for the district and for individual schools depends on it. 
    • Principals pressure teachers and parents to do anything and everything, just shy of inventing a way to literally crack kids' heads open and pouring knowledge in, to make their students get every question correct on the tests. If they don't, the school might get a red box and funding might be affected or they might be labeled as a "failing school."For teachers, if they don't follow testing procedures to a T, they are threatened with losing their certification. 
    • Parents, for the most part, understand only that the tests seems to be pretty important, given all the school's talk about it. Kids are promised treats if they come to the school and do their best on the test, because, of course, 100% participation is a must. Miss any students and individual schools suffer citation. They might get a red box on their AYP status report, which manages to make headlines every single summer. 
    •  Teachers feel all this weight: from lawmakers, from the federal and state governments, from the district leadership, and from their administrators to do whatever it takes to prepare their kids for the tests. In 11 years of being an educator, I've never personally encountered a teacher who cheated, but it happens every single year.  Some teachers believe in standardized tests, others do not; regardless, in this issue you do as you're told and administer or proctor the tests or risk a memorandum of grievance from your superiors in your permanent file. I've never refused to administer a test and have no plans for doing so in the future; I just try to smile a lot as I read my scripted testing manual and encourage the students to breathe. 
I have studied the traces of standardized tests throughout American history and do agree that they were a valid response to the hot mess that was the 70s for public education. Those in favor of modern standardized tests do have some good reasons for their positions, but they aren't good enough to negate my concerns as a parent, educator, and citizen. As a mommy of three little girls who will attend public schools, it is the Captain's and my responsibility to do the research and make a decision about what is best for our children. For now, that means opting out.

What does it mean for yours?

Opting Out Resources

National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Opting Out of More than Just Standardized Tests

Testing: What Every Parent Should Know

Student "Zombies" Protest Standardized Testing

Dear Teacher

Opting Out: A Growing Movement 

Schools Matter

A Dream to be Free at Last

State by State Standards and Testing Practices

Books on my to-read list:

Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It 

The Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don't Tell You What You Think They Do 

A Measure of Failure: The Political Origins of Standardized Testing

The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools