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

SafeBusForUs

This week’s Teacher Voice podcast is a full-length interview with Josephine Amato, the director of the Safe Bus For Us parent advocacy group. As last week has shown, safe school bus transportation for children living within two miles has become a contentious issue, especially in light of the traffic jams and challenges for local businesses that the additional cars and student walkers on the road have caused.

Please listen and share with others who are concerned.

***Disclaimer*** After we recorded the podcast, Mrs. Amato realized there were two mistakes in statistics she used: 1) a child is struck walking to school every 3 minutes (not seconds); 2) children who are 13 and over (not under).

Shout-Out

Today’s topic: Dear Students…

I love being a teacher. Can’t imagine doing anything else. The kids keep me young and always restlessly trying to be who I am (a nerdy weirdo), constantly learning more so that I can be a good role model for authenticity and lifelong learning.

I think I’ve succeeded in the first half of my career, and today’s Friday Five is just a shout out to all the kids who have walked the path of life with me along the way.

IMG_0828
The moment your brain finally processes the fact that you are no longer INSIDE the plane.

As an extra added bonus, check out the way I started this past summer vacation. My beautiful best friend finally talked me into jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Want to see the video? Click here!

 

 

 

back to school. color pencils

Can you feel it? All that promise and potential?

I know I can.

It’s currently 3:42 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I’ve actually been awake since 1:37, but didn’t get out of bed until an hour later when I realized there was no hope of falling back asleep.

And this happens nearly every single year.

I would guess this is a common phenomenon among most teachers. The closer we get to the first day of school, the more excited we become. Now that I’m at the half way point in my career, “Day One,” which I feel should be capitalized as a proper noun, has taken on mythic status. Just like when I was a kid and couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve or when we were about to go on a family vacation, the approach of Day One fills me with joy and enthusiasm.

Day One goes beyond so much more than the first day of school when we get to meet our new students. Day One has become a metaphor for promise and potential. When we look out at those new faces who step over our thresholds and into our classrooms, teachers see young people who are full of that promise and brimming with potential, regardless of the age or grade level of our kids. We know that we have a critical role to play in the shaping of not only these young minds, but the future of our communities locally and our entire society nationally. Whether teaching them the basics such as how to hold a pencil or complex topics like literary analysis, we understand that we are helping them toward some greater good.

Beyond academics, though, there is another type of promise and potential that I love even more as a teacher. Day One represents one of the most important opportunities in life: the chance to cultivate relationships with another human being. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies, and Mathematics all at the high school level, I believe teaching isn’t so much about WHAT we teach than it is about HOW we teach. Are we empathetic? Are we authentic? Are we passionate? Those attributes matter much more than the content itself, because at the end of the day a good deal of what transpires inside the classroom and the school is how we connect with, care for, and respect others.

I’m not a good teacher because I am a super nerd who loves learning for its own sake, I’m a good teacher because I care about the kids and their future.

The truth is that those who are meant for this profession all excel in this regard. The best teachers are those who care the most and realize how much promise and potential Day One brings with it as each new school year begins. And they’re probably all just like me, lying awake in bed at odd hours of the morning, smiling at the ceiling at the thought of what Day One will be like this year.

Have a great first day back, everyone!

 

 

Today’s topic: A Question of Equity

There’s been a lot of talk concerning equity now that we’re back to school this week, which made me think about how inequitable the funding is here in Florida. Clearly Tallahassee is content to put their thumbs on the scales, so to speak, to ensure that charter schools receive far more funding than their traditional counterparts. Listen to the new Friday five for just a couple examples.

Thanks for listening, everyone, and have an amazing weekend!

P.S. – Always looking for fellow education advocates to talk about the issues on the podcast and/or be a contributor to the blog side…are you interested?

TeacherAndStudent
Why do we teach? We care about our kids.

Every year I anticipate the start of school. My favorite part of this job is always the students. I’m anxious to get to know my new students. I’m curious to see which of my previous year’s students I get to teach again, since I teach multiple grades. I can’t wait to connect with the students in their writing and in our class discussions. I look forward to seeing and appreciating all the different personalities and learning styles. I know that by the semester break, I will have bonded with them, raging hormones, idiosyncrasies, and all. (Like most teachers, that connection with students is long-lasting. They are my kids even when they are having their own kids.)

This year, however, I feel my student radar is at an all time high. Last year’s spring semester was difficult for me emotionally. I lost one current student to cancer. I lost two former students to suicide. One of those suicides directly resulted in another former student having a serious breakdown. (She is recovering slowly.)

For years, I have railed against the ridiculous over-testing of our students. I remind them that these tests are “one test on one day of their entire lives”. I have taught them that writing is a form of expression, not testing. That reading should be about discovering, not answering “gotcha” questions. I have tried to bring excitement and relevance back into my classroom. To help them see the value of reading and writing in a world with emojis and text speak.

So, as I anticipate this year’s students, I’m even more compelled to get to know them as people, not just students. To spend time discussing more than answers to textbook questions or current events, but also to discuss the emotions and thinking behind the answers. To help them realize there’s more to education than grades and test scores, no matter what “they” say. To let them know that they are not alone, whatever they may be struggling with. To show them they do have some choice and control, if they are willing to be responsible with it. To help them see their own worth as thinking, feeling people. To focus on being in this all together, not just as teacher and students, but also as human beings.

I know for many of my colleagues, morale is at a very low point. I also know that most of my colleagues will do their best to not let that affect their students. And so I hope that you, my colleagues, join me in this endeavor. However you need to do it, whatever you need to do, please find the energy and emotional intelligence to be human with your students. You never know when one of your kids is going to need it.

Michelle Hamlyn, local public school teacher in Tampa Bay.

logoorig

Here it is! The first feature length Teacher Voice podcast in which I interview a guest. This first podcast features Jai Yarlagadda, a recent graduate of Hillsborough County Public Schools.

We discuss Jai’s passion and project to help others in our local community here in Tampa Bay. Please listen and share with others who may want to help either by making a donation or volunteering as a financial adviser.

P.S. – Be sure to check out The FairPact Foundation’s website–which Jai coded entirely by himself–for more information!

Help Wanted
Want to write a post? Discuss an issue on a podcast?

If you’re reading this right now let me start off by thanking you.

I want to thank you because it means you care about kids, their education, and our entire future here in the Sunshine State.

Teacher Voice started about a month ago to encourage others to get involved and advocate for the next generation and all its promise deserves. Whether you are a teacher, parent, administrator, guidance counselor, school psychologist, social worker, custodian, bus driver, student nutrition specialist, a former public school student, or an elected official at the local or state level–essentially anyone who wants to advocate on behalf of our children, Teacher Voice needs your help. We need to grow this project together, and I would love to hear from any education stakeholders who want to contribute by writing a blog entry or meeting me at a public library (or via phone if you live far away) to record a podcast in which we dive into the issues and have a discussion about how to move education forward in Florida.

But I especially need to hear from teachers…

I genuinely love being a teacher and I know that’s also the case for many, many others. Now more than ever, we need to stand together and add our voices to the conversation. We are the professionals with experience in the classroom, and we have wisdom to share with those who shape our policies and decide the fate of our funding. There are roughly 190,000 K-12 educators in our state, and if we include professors at our colleges and universities it easily eclipses 200,000. Surely we have something to say and make a sizeable contribution to the dialogue that only seems to be happening among legislators.

So how can you help? Though this is just a short list, any of us can do one or more of the following: become highly informed by reading about education issues affecting us all in Florida; develop relationships with your elected officials, both at the local and state levels, and share your ideas with them often; attend local school board meetings to speak or simply oversee the policies being implemented in your district; seek out and discuss the issues with fellow education advocates; be exemplars of humility and life-long learning, something all students should see and emulate on a daily basis; last yet certainly not least, write a 500 word blog post for Teacher Voice or join me for a podcast, even if you just want to brag about your kids and the awesome things they’re doing in your classroom or out in the community.

With the advent of HB7069, education has clearly been at the forefront of many peoples’ minds throughout Florida. It’s not often that our collective attention is so acutely focused on what’s happening happening to this vital public good, and hopefully this project and many others will help sustain this focus so that we can do what’s best for our kids and our future.

P.S. – As always, please continue to share this website and/or Facebook page with your family and friends. I believe we can accomplish amazing things if we all stand together. And, of course, if you’d like to write or meet up to chat, please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com. Thanks!

We The People

A famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill says “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” He may have a point, because democracy can be messy. But it’s also hopeful in that we are constantly reminded that our government is by the people and for the people, which is precisely where the hope rests. We can always change our institutions for the better when we all believe and work together toward a common end.

Sometimes we get it wrong, though. Sometimes we elect people to represent us and our values, and those elected officials let us down. They may claim to be doing the people’s work, but actions always speak louder than words and reveal the true character of these “leaders.” And when those whom we believed would best represent us continually let us down, we the people have recourse to remove them from public office.

While the process works differently in each state, here in Florida there are specific guidelines listed in statute 100.361. Here in Hillsborough County, for instance, if we were to hypothetically conduct a recall, this is how the process would work:

  1. The elected official must have served at least one quarter of his or her term in office. Therefore, if the office holder were sworn in on 11/22/16, we would have to wait an additional four months from today to begin the proceedings.
  2. In the initial “recall petition,” a 200 word statement listing the reasons why the official should be recalled must be turned in along with 5% of the electorate’s signatures. All paperwork must be received by the Elections Office no later than 30 days from the initial signature date. For example, if signature collection began on Black Friday when thousands of people will be out and about in public, the complete recall petition must be submitted no later than Christmas Eve.
  3. Once the signatures are verified at a cost of 10 cents each, the elected official would have five days to return a defensive statement. After this has been received, the Elections Office prepares rosters called “Recall Petition and Defense” that has room for 30% of the electorate’s signatures, yet only 15% must be collected and verified; the time frame allotted is 60 days.
  4. After the requisite signatures and paperwork have been submitted, the clerk notifies the elected official who can then resign; if no resignation is tendered within 5 days, a judge selects a date that is 30 to 60 days out, and the people vote to remove or keep the office holder in the position.
  5. If the recall is successful / after the election results have been certified, the judge will then establish another date 30 to 60 days from then to hold a special election so that the seat may be filled for the remainder of the term.

As for the removed official? He or she cannot run for public office for the next two years.

It may require many dedicated volunteers to successfully perform a recall, but I believe our democracy works best when others stand together and are willing to find common ground, forge ahead, and overcome adversity.

 

Senator Simmons
Senator David Simmons – R: a pragmatic voice of reason in the Florida Legislature

Happy Friday, everyone! Thanks for stopping by to check out the latest edition of the Friday Five. Please listen and share with any and all concerned education stakeholders you know.

Today’s topic: For-Profit Charter Schools Bilking Taxpayers

And if you ever listen to this podcast, Senator Simmons, thank you for your efforts this past spring to rein in the for-profit charters. Your work has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated! I would love to have you on the podcast to discuss these important issues facing our citizens/taxpayers/education advocates.