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

Post Irma
People helping one another after Hurricane Irma

Today’s Friday Five topic: Lending a Helping Hand

Now that the worst of Hurricane Irma is over much of the real work begins. Everywhere we look across Florida, we see people–sometimes even total strangers–helping each other.

Traditional public schools all over the Sunshine State opened up their doors to serve as shelters, welcoming people from nearby neighborhoods or far away. These shelters were staffed by local public school employees and various volunteers, and for once it seemed as if our school districts were getting positive press. I don’t think there’s ever been a time I’ve been more grateful and proud to be a public school teacher.

Here in Hillsborough County, for instance, we housed 29,000 evacuees at 40 shelters staffed by approximately 1,200 employees. And while that was an impressive feat, we also lost Lee Elementary to a fire and those students and staff will be moved to Lockhart Elementary. If you are local and available today, please come down to Lockhart to help from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.


It’s easy to criticize. We all do it from time to time, mostly because we have an evolutionary predisposition toward the negative. Four of the six primary emotions human beings experience regardless of cultural context are bad ones: anger, fear, sadness, and disgust. Though we can override our negative bent to some extent, we should be thankful for it because it has been responsible for the survival and propagation of our species for hundreds of millennia.

And while I have been a vocal critic of some of our local school district’s past decisions, I try to always be balanced in my views and recognize that Hillsborough County Public Schools has done a great deal of good over the years as well. Most recently, our superintendent, Jeff Eakins, made a laudable decision and I am writing this today to share my gratitude.

Thank you, Mr. Eakins.

Like most school districts in the Tampa Bay area, HCPS decided to close down on both Thursday and Friday. While this decision was prompted by the need to prepare many of our schools to be used as shelters for those who are evacuating from the southern parts of the Sunshine State, I think I speak on behalf of all HCPS employees when I say that I deeply appreciate the additional time given to us to make necessary preparations for Hurricane Irma. Most of my neighbors are still continuing to go to work, some of whom even need to work through Saturday, which leaves them little time to get ready for the storm.

Beyond the additional time, however, an even more gracious gesture offered by our district leadership was the decision to pay all employees a week in advance. I’ve only read of one other district that did this (Brevard), and we all owe a debt of gratitude to HCPS for helping us further prepare by providing additional funding families may need to purchase supplies such as groceries and gasoline. This will undoubtedly be especially helpful to those employees who are single parents who want to ensure their children–most of whom are our students–are taken care of both during and after the storm.

But my gratitude is not reserved for Mr. Eakins alone.

I am thankful for the payroll and IT departments who worked tirelessly to see this mission completed in a timely manner. I am grateful for our principals’ administrative assistants who sat at their desks all day on Wednesday to complete the payroll reports. I am also grateful for the administrators and custodial teams all over our county who selflessly spent additional days at work to prepare our schools to serve as shelters for evacuees.

It may take an impending hurricane for us to pull together despite our differences, but it is encouraging to see the way all Floridians are working assiduously to ensure the safety of our fellow citizens. We are all one human family after all. Let’s be thankful we have each other to lean on.

May you and yours stay safe during the storm.

Yvonne Fry (R) – Candidate for House of Representatives, District 58

This week’s interview features Yvonne Fry, one of two Republican candidates for the special election District 58 House seat to replace the resigning Dan Raulerson. Yvonne has a long history of working to promote education in the Plant City community and beyond. Please listen to the podcast and share with other education stakeholders, especially those who live within District 58.

If you’d like to learn more about Yvonne’s candidacy and platform, please visit her website by clicking HERE.

Thanks for tuning in, everyone, and enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend!


Today’s Friday Five topic: Help Wanted

A coworker came up to me today and asked me about this project. The colleague thanked me and said that I had courage for speaking up about issues. I asked the teacher to record a podcast in the coming weeks.

And now I’m asking you. If you listen to this message or even read your words, I need your help. I think the Teacher Voice has a lot of potential. There are 190,000 teachers working in Florida and thousands of others working in education and advocating for our children.

Are you one of those people? Do you want to write or talk about our kids and our future? If so please message the Facebook page, send an email to 1teachervoice@gmail.com, or use the contact page here on the website.

Thank you for your interest. Please share with other education stakeholders in Florida so we can build this into a platform I believe it has the potential to become.

I hope to hear from you and look forward to your guest post or forthcoming discussion on a podcast.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone!

Billy Townsend
Billy Townsend – Polk County School Board Member, District 1

This week’s interview is with Billy Townsend, the District 1 Polk County School Board member, who formerly worked as an education reporter and editor at the Lakeland Ledger.

Our conversation covers a lot of ground, and Billy certainly pulls no punches: Tallahassee is the disease; the local school districts suffer its symptoms. Be sure to listen and share with any and all education advocates throughout the Sunshine State.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

P.S. – Though we didn’t have enough time to discuss it in this podcast, Billy and I will be talking about a better, more humane model for education the next time we meet.

Dear Speaker Corcoran
C’mon, Speaker Corcoran, let’s talk.

Topic: Dear Speaker Corcoran…a rebuttal, a suggestion, an invitation.

Today’s Friday Five is an answer to Speaker Richard Corcoran’s op-ed that he penned this past Tuesday in the Sun-Sentinel (which you can read here). I hope that he–or any other legislator–listens and takes me up on my offer. And if you are a concerned education stakeholder, as always, thanks for listening and please share with others.

Tanner Banner

This week’s podcast is a conversation with Kelso Tanner, one of several candidates running for the district 6 countywide seat for the Hillsborough County School Board.

Kelso cares about three things: 1) Children. 2) Parents. 3) Teachers.

Listen to the podcast to hear about the rest of his platform, and be sure to share with other interested education stakeholders and voters!

A Better Way
The test driven accountability movement has failed. There is a better way…

Since the summer of 1998 when I first moved to Florida, our state has been possessed by the notion of testing and accountability. Jeb Bush based much of his gubernatorial campaign on the idea that public schools were in need of reform, and that by assigning grades to teachers, schools and districts, they would foster a new era of accountability.

The FCAT came and went, creating much consternation at every level in the K12 sector. Kids were–and still are–stressed out by all the high-stakes testing; teachers felt–and still feel–micromanaged and betrayed by our elected officials who claim to know what’s best for our students, despite the fact that they have had no classroom experience and little to no input from the professionals who serve our children every day.

But here’s the thing: I get it. I get where they’re coming from. I think many teachers do try to understand our legislators’ motives, because we all want what’s best for our kids, and that begins with holding our students to high expectations and measuring them against standards. The Legislature wants the same from us, but it has largely gone about it the wrong way. Testing kids in the way that we do is no good for their academic welfare, let alone their well-being.

If we look at the top two education systems in the world, Finland and South Korea, they both have similar approaches. There is very little–if any–standardized testing. Students are given multiple pathways to demonstrate mastery of their subjects, much of which is evaluated holistically through student portfolios that capture the big picture of the child’s learning. It’s a window into how the student’s mind works, how he or she is learning to think critically about the world and be engaged with it in a meaningful way. Standardized testing, by contrast, essentially tells us whether or not a student is good at taking a test relative to other children taking the same assessment.

The teachers in these systems are also radically different. In those countries, there is significant cultural esteem to being a teacher. They are revered precisely because the future generation and the fate of the entire nation have been placed in their hands to shape for the better. Teachers are also culled from the university’s top graduates, often ranking in the top two percent of their respective graduating classes. These people could be doctors or engineers, but they are handpicked to be teachers. Finally, they are seen as consummate professionals who need no significant oversight from outside forces.

While a valid critique of these systems’ successes may hinge on their cultural homogeneity, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to adopt a similar path here in the Sunshine State or the entire U.S. We need to treat kids like human beings again, not cogs in a machine to churn out test results. Every teacher needs to forge ahead and start building a more humane education system. It begins with us, the professionals in the classroom, and it ends with those who matter most–our kids.

Mindful Minute
Students engaged in mindfulness meditation

Today’s topic: Mindfulness in Education

I began my personal mindfulness meditation practice just over 8 years ago. To say that it has changed my life would be a huge understatement. It has made me a far better teacher for many reasons, perhaps too many to enumerate.

The primary one I discuss today, however, is the impact it has on the kids in the classroom. Please listen and share with other interested education stakeholders.

And if you’re a fellow proponent of these practices, let’s get together to discuss how you implement them in your classroom.

Have an awesome weekend, everyone!


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).