I am a public school teacher in Tampa, FL who has lived in Florida since 1998 and have been teaching since 2003.

IMG_1747
As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words…

With the recent release of the MSD Commission’s report, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made headlines when he publicly performed an about-face on his position regarding arming teachers. On the heels of Gualtieri’s announcement in support of having teachers packing in the classroom, Polk School Board Member and vocal critic of the Florida Legislature, Billy Townsend, wrote this compelling piece loaded with reasons as to why this notion is a terrible one.

Upon seeing Billy’s publication, Julie Hiltz, NBCT, a fellow friend of public education and colleague here in Hillsborough County, had the following to say on Twitter. In an effort to have others read and share her words, I asked Julie if her statement could be published as a guest blog post here on Teacher Voice. Please read her words and share them with others on social media or, better yet, compose an email to your local legislators in both the House and Senate, asking them to stop ignoring the will of the people who overwhelmingly told polsters this past spring that they do NOT want teachers armed around their children.

So much is wrong with this idea of arming teachers I don’t know where to start. But since I have a chance to piggyback on this thoughtful, well researched piece I’m going to take my shot.

This is idea is not just stupid, it’s impractical.

1. There is a legitimate teacher shortage, as well as shortage of paraprofessional staff. It’s been that way for a decade. Lack of personnel ripples from the traditional classroom into all facets of school work and increases stress, trauma, and fatigue for students and staff.

Those stressors increase the likelihood of “bad people doing bad things” and decreases the likelihood of “good people doing good things.” We adults try but it’s exhausting and we frequently fail. Ask my kid how much patience and energy I bring home to him.

2. Even if you fully staffed every existing traditional classroom and support position you’re still undermanned. So many districts have had to cut those “extra luxuries” like mental health support, nurses, behavior specialists, teacher aides, and yes- librarians.

Who exactly in most schools still has a job where they would even qualify by statute to be armed? My kid’s in Pasco Schools and they cut librarians years ago. I truly believe the lack of a certified librarian does more harm to more kids than “not enough weapons” on campus.

3. Assuming you have all your traditional classroom AND support teacher and paraprofessional positions filled you’ve now created a situation where you’re sending a message that some lives are worth more than others. Charge in, custodians and librarians!

I work with kids and adults most hours of the day but as the librarian expected to be a first responder I’m, what… disposable? An acceptable potential loss? A stop gap? And I know I won’t be paid hazard pay or otherwise compensated because it’ll be “other duties as assigned.”

4. If the Florida Legislature wants me to act like a first responder than they’ll have to change the law to treat me like one. Stop taking 3% out of my paycheck for retirement, exempt me from jury duty and protect my home address, and stop requiring my Union to recertify annually.

5. Most schools districts are against the plan. They’ve voted (and revoted) as representatives of their constituents to not arm teachers. Apparently that’s not good enough for the Florida Legislature. Again.

If history is any indication of how this will go down, Tallahassee will make a law requiring the program and the citizens of the state will have to push a ballot amendment to counter that law because most of Florida doesn’t want it either. (See class size amendment)

6. That’s not the job you hired me for. You hired me to support literacy and technology. You hired me to create a safe environment for learning and both personal and professional development for kids and adults. You hired me to connect people with resources- material and human.

I don’t even fully do that. I haven’t been able to for years. I have to close my library for testing or class coverage. I have to sit in mandated trainings instead of planning or teaching with colleagues. I have to monitor student behavior in shared spaces and mediate conflict.

I have find a way to stock my shelves with books to support new curriculum (Common Core/FL Standards anyone?), engage students in reading relevant texts for personal growth and enjoyment, and replace well worn classics & favorites on a budget that hasn’t changed since 2001.

So, no. Stop coming at me with “you need to carry a gun to protect the children.” I’m already doing that the best I can. I’m protecting them from the fears and frustrations that abusive testing brings. I’m protecting them from giving up on themselves when everything gets hard.

I’m protecting my students from being hungry, being cold, being lonely, being bullied, being judged too harshly for reading a book that’s just for fun, being afraid to ask for help or being seen as weak for their compassion. I’ve got enough to keep me busy.

If you are a classroom teacher, you know exactly where Julie is coming from; if you are someone who has never been in the classroom, this gives you some small semblance of an idea of what it is like to wear so many hats/have too many jobs that they eat away at the core mission of what educators are here for. Even as I wrote in the original post back in March, when polling my own students, site administration, and even the military veterans I work with on daily basis, the overwhelming opinion was NO teacher should be armed or asked to carry a gun on campus, regardless of what kind of background checks and training he or she may have completed.

 

Ahira-Then-Now
Ahira Torres, former U.S. Marine and current HCPS elementary teacher

After interviewing Scott Hottenstein last year for a Veterans Day edition of the podcast, I wanted to speak to another veteran this year to begin an annual tribute to the men and women who serve our community and country, first as members of the military, then as public school teachers.

This year I reached out to Ahira Torres, a former U.S. Marine and current 5th grade teacher who commanded the attention of the audience about a year ago at a local school board meeting when she spoke. The United States Marine Corps celebrates its 243rd birthday this weekend, as that branch was founded on November 10th, 1775. We chatted about why she became a Marine, the values that particular branch of the military instilled in her, and how those values and experiences are infused within her classroom and the way in which she teaches.

Thank you so much for listening to this Veterans Day edition of the Teacher Voice podcast. Please share with others, especially those who have served in our armed services and then continued their public service as educators.

Here’s a short clip of Ahira speaking at that school board meeting nearly one year ago.

 

DeSantis
Ron DeSantis, Florida’s Republican Gubenatorial Candidate

Although I already wrote a piece titled “All I Want for Midterms” that encourages others to vote for Andrew Gillum as a check against one-party rule, I read this comment on Facebook and thought it is an excellent overview of what has happened to public education during the last 20 years of GOP rule. Therefore, if you are a teacher who has already voted for Ron DeSantis or, more importantly, if you are about to vote for him on Tuesday, fellow teacher Kim Cook would like you to remember the following:

For those of you who are saying you won’t vote for Gillum, please consider the following:

The Florida legislature and governor’s office has been Republican for 20+ years. In that 20 years, we have seen nothing but bill after bill with the sole intent of destroying public education. The vast majority of those bills have been signed into law by the governor. Here is a review of the legislation:

1. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush introduced the FCAT in order to track student “progress” ignoring the fact teachers are entirely capable of assessing their own students.

2. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush then started using FCAT results to grade schools, falsely equating low socioeconomic schools with “bad teaching.”

3. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked passing the third grade FCAT with retention and the 10th grade FCAT with high school graduation–despite research that clearly demonstrated this would be detrimental to students and communities.

4. The Republican legislature and Jeb Bush linked school grades to money–awarding “A” schools with more money and “F” schools with less.

5. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott connected student test scores to teacher evaluations, otherwise known as VAM.

6. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott imposed a tax on educators by requiring them to contribute 3% of their salary to their pensions; however, that 3% goes into the general fund, NOT the pension.

7. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott changed the pension plan by requiring new hires to choose between the defined benefit pension and the 401k plan within the first nine months of their careers. Any educator who doesn’t choose by the required date automatically goes into the 401k plan, undermining the financial health of the defined benefit pension.

8. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed a law that decertifies any teacher union that falls under 50% membership, making that district’s contract and salary schedule null and void. Unions for first responders were exempt from the law (they are mostly men who vote Republican after all).

9. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation creating the “Best and Brightest” program. B&B bypasses providing the money to districts so that it can be put into salary schedules. The B&B money is considered a bonus, so it doesn’t count towards teachers’ pensions. The money also cannot go to “non-instructional personnel”–educators like media specialists (I teach ALL day every day, but nope, I’m not eligible), guidance counselors, deans, etc.

10. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that allows voucher schools; thus, tax dollars go to private, often religious, schools, that do not have the same accountability measures as public schools. They have expanded the program just about every legislative session.

11. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott have created laws to turn over public schools to for-profit charters. We have an entire district in Florida that is now a “charter” district.

12. Many Republican members of our legislature own or have a vested interest in charter or voucher schools and testing companies, yet they pass legislation that pads their wallets.

13. The Republican legislature and Rick Scott passed legislation that requires school districts to harden schools, yet didn’t fully fund the program. They also allow “non-teaching personnel” like me, the school librarian, to carry guns.

14. The Florida legislature fully intends to continue to destroy our pension bit by bit. My state senator, Keith Perry, admitted this. He told us that the state had no business running a pension program.

15. From Ceresta Smith: The Republican legislature and Rick Scott made Bright Futures Scholarships harder for non-whites to receive as they upped the bar on standardized tests, which provide advantage based on class and race.

16. The Florida legislature and Rick Scott took professional service contracts (sometimes referred to as “tenure”) away from teachers hired after July 1, 2008.

Most likely, our legislature will continue to be Republican dominated. If we don’t have a Democratic governor to veto the legislation that will continue to destroy public schools, destroy our salaries, and decimate our pension, we are sunk. I don’t know about you, but I’m counting on my pension in retirement. I don’t know what we’ll do if it’s not there, or if the state tries to pay us off with a lump sum, as other states have done.

If all Gillum does is veto destructive legislation, he’s still better than having DeSantis who will rubber stamp every horrible anti-public education bill the legislature sends him.

Thank you for reading. Please be sure to share with other teachers who still have not voted, and encourage them to vote for Andrew Gillum, even if only for pragmatic reasons. As noted in my own piece, although he would not have been my first choice, I still supported him because one party rule never works in the long run. We must bring some semblance of balance back to Tallahassee, and we can start doing so by electing a Democratic governor who will need to seek common ground and compromise with our GOP-led Florida Legislature.

Spyglass
When you look into the future of education, what do you see?

Friday afternoon I had the good fortune to speak to my middle brother Brad for over an hour and a half after school. He is a busy world traveler who works as a high level executive for one of the world’s major technology companies. He and I are alike in many ways, although our professional lives diverged when it came to what we chose to do.

But he is deeply committed to education, whether providing one for his own children, sharing his knowledge and expertise with the people on his team, or constantly learning himself, he thinks a great deal about what education is and what it will become in the future.

Our conversation largely revolved around what will happen to education when machine learning/artificial intelligence can supersede our own cognitive abilities. What will we “teach” our students then? Brad then sent me this short two-minute clip of Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba, sharing his vision of education in the future.

Yesterday morning, I ranted a bit about this on my personal Facebook page, and here are a few key passages:

Every teacher I know laments what public education has become: a non-stop testing regime that has largely sucked the life and joy out of education. People my age and older had the good fortune to “learn how to learn” for lack of a better phrase. With tests and “data-driven instruction” being the hallmark of today’s education—all in an effort to demonstrate what a student “knows” (or perhaps how well a student “tests”)—we’ve created a rather inhumane system in which teachers and students are the central components of a commodified, monetized education machine.

What happens, however, when machine learning and AI become more advanced than us? What will education look like when computers can “know” anything instantaneously, make calculations faster than any human, or anything else that machines can (and will continue to) do better than the most intelligent, most capable of us?

Jack Ma, the founder and CEO of Alibaba (China’s Amazon, basically), believes that we need to educate our children about what makes us human—to be creative, to think critically, to empathize with others, to work collaboratively—and get away from teaching “knowledge” for which machines will inevitably have far more computational power than any of us.

While I might not see this radical shift during my tenure/career as an educator, I think I’ve been doing some of this in my own classroom for the last 7 years at least: focusing on the human experience; trying my best to exemplify love, compassion, gratitude, generosity, and patience; genuinely caring for each and every student who becomes a part of my life; inspiring kids to love learning intrinsically/for its own sake; using mindfulness techniques to manage stress while being in tune with one’s own mind…the list goes on and on, but it is these soft-skills that are far more important than the “facts” they can look up on Google at any given moment by consulting their smartphones.

Having slept on it and thought about this challenge all day yesterday–and as much as I love the ideas put forth by Jack Ma–I don’t think he’s completely right (or at least his comments don’t provide enough nuance for the entire educational experience). While I would concur that education fundamentally needs to be about teaching kids how to learn, adapt to and thrive with change, as well as focus on what makes us inherently human, there is still a place for some fact-based knowledge.

Here’s Ken Jennings of Jeopardy! fame to share why (it’s cued up to start at 7:16, but the whole talk is worth watching):

As a teacher of the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, Theory of Knowledge, I am fortunate enough to teach the kind of class that Jack Ma talks about: one that instills the value of conceptual and critical thinking while constantly asking “how do we know?”

Knowledge is tricky and complex. It is dynamic and we can never know anything with absolute certainty. And while Jack Ma has a clear / important point about fact-based knowledge being important in our world for the last 200 years since we started compulsory public education in the West, I agree with Ken Jenning’s point that the bits and pieces we carry around in our heads (in TOK we call this “personal knowledge”) is critical for our own self-identity and our shared cultural heritage.

Hopefully the future of education falls somewhere between these two views. Either way, the future of education is perhaps a return to the past: a time when we didn’t incessantly test our children in the name of accountability and to make a quick buck; a time when we focused on educating the child how to be human rather than a machine that simply produces particular outputs based on the bubble sheet in front of him or her.

What do you think the future of education has in store for us? Share your thoughts below or comment on the Teacher Voice Facebook page.

Andy Warrener
Andy Warrener, NPA Candidate for House District 64, along with his daughter and son

The latest episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Andy Warrener, the NPA/Independent candidate in a three way race for House District 64 that covers northwestern Hillsborough and parts of Pinellas county. I specifically wanted to chat with Andy about public education issues and the rest of his campaign platform because, like me and about 1/3 of all Floridians, he does not belong to a political party.

Beyond the issues, we also have a substantive discussion about why he is running without party affiliation, why so many people are choosing to leave their previous party, and how the growing number of independent voters are starting to coalesce around grassroots organizations such as Unite America. Please listen and be sure to share with others, especially those who live in HD64!

If you’d like to learn more about Andy and his campaign, you can visit his website FloridaForAll or Like/Follow his page on Facebook. Be sure to hurry, though; early voting is in full swing and election day is Tuesday, November 6th!

P.S. – Andy also supports the Strengthen Our Schools initiative and was even the person who suggested the term be 10 years (rather than 15 or 20) so that it might be more palatable to Hillsborough County voters. Here is a clip of his speech from the August 24th special board meeting. The referendum can be found at the very end of the ballot; please vote YES!

For my entire voting life, I have never belonged to either major political party. There are parts of both platforms that I appreciate, but the political fracturing that began with Newt Gingrich and the subsequent polarization that has crippled our country and the parties themselves during the last 25 years has only cemented my belief that we should all be putting people over party politics.

Clearly I am not alone, as those who are choosing to leave their party affiliations or registering for the first time without a declared party are growing, and political independents now outnumber both those who identify as Democrat or Republican. It’s also the reason grassroots groups such as Unite America, whose slogan is “country over party”, are trying to organize fellow political moderates/centrists in an effort to bridge the divide that has opened up between the two major parties.

As an independent voter, I have voted for people on both sides of the aisle. This year, however, I voted for more Democrats than at any point in the 20 years I’ve lived here in Florida. In fact, the only Republican I voted for on this year’s ballot is Chad Chronister, the sheriff of Hillsborough County. As a Social Studies teacher who has lived under one party rule in two states (first in Rhode Island under a Democratic majority, then in Florida under the GOP for the last two decades), I will unequivocally state that one party rule never works–it always leaves segments of the population feeling underrepresented and unheeded.

My votes this year are an attempt to be pragmatic and bring balance back to our state government, especially in light of how Florida’s closed primaries disenfranchise all NPA voters. Tampa Bay Times columnist John Romano noted that we are only one of nine states that uses a completely closed primary system, which in turn fosters “a rabid form of group-think during the primary season.” And whereas independents would have been more likely to support more moderate candidates and perhaps change the shape of the general election, instead we are left with choices that are on the fringes of the left and right respectively.

The first time I saw Philip Levine speak in person, he said something that resonated with me: “I’m not left, I’m not right, I’m forward.” As someone who wants a candidate that can build bridges rather than burn them, I thought Levine’s entrepreneurial spirit and experience as a business developer and owner would draw moderate, business-minded Republicans, while his tenure as Miami Beach mayor that brought many progressive reforms would have made inroads with Democrats.

But my ballot only allowed me to vote for judges and school board members…

That’s not to say that I do not like Andrew Gillum; I like him a great deal: he’s charismatic, knows the issues, and has had a solid campaign platform since day one. And most importantly to me and millions of other public education advocates all across the Sunshine State, Gillum has a laser-like focus on public education and the lack of funding that has brought the system to its knees after 20 years of Republican rule.

FEFP
Since 1998, this has been the GOP-led Florida Legislature’s directive.

While this has been written about numerous times (About Those Stubborn Facts; Numbers Don’t Lie), the most salient fact everyone should know is that in 1998 when the GOP took full control of our state government, Florida ranked 27th in per-pupil spending; 20 years later, Florida has fallen to 44th in the U.S. Back then, Florida spent $6,443, but to have kept up with inflation our current level of funding would need to be $9,913.

It’s now $7,408, over $4,000 below the national average.

And it’s not just public education. Florida ranks dead last in the entire country when it comes to investing in public services, despite the fact that we are the third most populous state with a one trillion dollar economy. In fact, by just about every single metric possible Florida has gotten worse on rankings lists during the last 20 years of Republican reign. Unless you’re part of the richest 1% of Americans (and Florida has a high concentration), a major stakeholder in a large corporation, or a politically connected individual, things have only gotten worse for you.

If you are a “values voter” who has voted Republican in the past out of personal conviction, you have done so to your own economic peril, especially if you work in public education in any way. I am not advocating voting for Democrats because I believe wholeheartedly in every aspect of their platform; instead, I do so out of sheer pragmatism and a need to bring balance back to our state government so that it will be more responsive to the needs of its people rather than an entrenched establishment that only cares about the special interests that fill its campaign coffers.

I believe in compromise. I believe in seeking a middle ground when it comes to policy making decisions.  I believe in representation that is truly responsive to the citizenry. And I believe the only way we are going to get back on track is by electing Andrew Gillum as our next governor and hopefully getting close to even in the Florida Senate. While the House is too lopsided to bring parity in one fell swoop, especially in light of the gerrymandered districts in which we all live, any seats that are picked up will benefit us all. Florida is a great state and could be so much more. Let’s all vote to ensure we have a balanced government starting Wednesday, November 7th.

P.S. – If you’ve read this far and also live/vote in Hillsborough, please support our schools by voting YES on the Strengthen Our Schools initiative that I wrote about previously in Why We Must Pass Both Tax Referenda: The “Numbers Don’t Lie” Redux and Hidden Benefits: The Virtuous Cycle of Economic Activity in Hillsborough County. Our students and staff deserve so much more than the Florida Legislature has given us!

Christmast Morning
Hopefully this will be my reaction when I read the results of this year’s elections the next day.

Fentrice Driskell
Fentrice Driskell, Democratic Candidate for House District 63

This edition of the Teacher Voice podcast features Fentrice Driskell, a Harvard and Georgetown Law School graduate, partner at Carton Fields law firm in Tampa, and the Democratic candidate for House District 63.

Although she always knew that running for public office would be in her future, she did not realize she would run so soon. We discuss her impressive resume, why she’s running, and what she would like to do in Tallahassee. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in HD63.

Want to learn more about Fentrice? You can check out her amazingly alliterative website, Fentrice For Florida, of find her on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

Debbie Katt
Debbie Katt (far right), Democratic Candidate for House District 57

The latest edition of the Teacher Voice podcast turns away from school board races and back toward the state level, featuring Debbie Katt, a software engineer from the Valrico area who is campaigning for the HD57 seat vacated by Jake Raburn-R.

Among the priorities Debbie would like to address in Tallahassee, public education funding is the top of her list. We also discuss her vision for sensible gun control; a regional approach to investment in the Tampa Bay area’s transportation infrastructure; how funding for the arts has been decimated in recent years, and the negative financial impact that brings to other local businesses. Please listen and share with others, especially voters in House District 57.

As we discussed during the podcast, if you’d like to learn more about Debbie or her platform you can visit her campaign website. Debbie is also on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her on social media.

Thanks again for listening and supporting the Teacher Voice podcast, everyone!

P.S. – Sorry for the background noise in the first half. Apparently librarians get real rowdy once they go on break in the staff lounge…but I guess that’s to be expected after being quiet all day!

My father was a business man before he retired. He understood the value of investment, especially in the companies for which he worked or outright owned. And while it may be a platitude, he drilled into me the concept of “you gotta spend money to make money.”

After living in Florida for over 20 years and witnessing the growth in Hillsborough County, I am amazed at what we have accomplished with the little tax revenue we’ve generated over that time. As our population grew and the economic base expanded, it has largely been a wash. But the last several years we have had a Florida Legislature willing to cut services to the bone, especially public education, all in the name of saving pennies for families.

The time has come for the citizens of Hillsborough to band together, pass both referenda (schools and transportation), and make a real investment in our local community.

Regardless of how any individual feels about either of these sales tax increases, the truth is it will cost each of us–on average–about 50 cents per day to pass both. All told, this will generate well over $400 million dollars per year between the two, the vast majority of which will be immediately reinvested in our local businesses and create a virtuous cycle of economic activity.

In the video above, I spoke about how the infusion of capital outlay money for the school district means that those dollars will largely go to local contractors to install new HVAC units, repair roofs, build new schools, paint old schools, upgrade technology, etc. When the district spends that money locally, those companies in turn can then reinvest in / grow their own companies by hiring more employees and giving them raises, which those employees will then inject their wages back into our local economy, thereby collecting more additional tax revenue which can be used for additional projects that require spending more money, and over and over…hence the virtuous cycle.

It is evident that many people from all walks of life and both sides of the aisle are realizing that this is an opportunity to invest in Hillsborough County in ways we haven’t seen for a long time–if ever. Beyond having the Tampa Bay Times already endorse both the transportation referendum and school referendum, even more telling is having groups such as the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and pro-business conservative Republicans such as Ken Hagan back the sales tax increase to support schools.

Business leaders know that this investment in our community is long overdue. They realize that the potential for a virtuous cycle of economic activity is one of the many hidden benefits that are being overlooked by naysayers. Investing in our students and schools, as well as our transportation infrastructure, will only continue to lure more people and businesses to Hillsborough County, expanding our entire economic base and generating more momentum in the virtuous cycle.

Please join me and many others in voting YES on November 6th to support our entire local community here in Hillsborough County.

P.S. – If you’d like to learn more about how to help our students and schools, please visit the website for the parent-led coalition, Strengthen Our Schools, or check out the HCPS information page. You can also learn more about the All For Transportation referendum here.

Previous Related Posts: About Those Stubborn Facts…; Numbers Don’t Lie; Why We Must Pass Both Tax Referenda: The Numbers Don’t Lie Redux

Virtuous Cycel
Let’s Create a Virtuous Cycle of Economic Activity in Hillsborough! Vote YES on 11/6 for both

Karen Perez
Karen Perez, Mental Health Counselor and HCPS School Board Candidate, Countywide District 6

Continuing the back-to-back episodes for the Hillsborough School Board Countywide District 6 race, this episode of the Teacher Voice podcast features Karen Perez, the other finalist who made it past the primary and into the general election on November 6th. Karen and I sat down earlier this week to talk about her career as a mental health counselor, why she is running for school board, and what her priorities will be if elected. Please listen to what she has to say and share with other voters!

If you’d like to learn more about Karen, you can visit her campaign website, check out her page on Facebook, find her on Twitter, or meet her in person at one of the many campaign events around Hillsborough County.