Tyler Choura has always wanted to be a teacher. When he graduated from high school, his senior quote in the yearbook said as much. After winning a prestigious award while attending Penn State, a $12,000 pay cut, and six years in the classroom, he is considering leaving his dream job. Check out this week’s podcast to find out why…
Thanks for listening, everyone, have an awesome week!
While I highly doubt School Board Member Valdes will take this second call for her resignation seriously due to her megalomania, I hope you will listen to this very brief (4 minute) podcast as to why she needs to be removed from her District 1 seat.
Please share with others and use #TimeToResign
Oh, and if you’re interested in reading through the recall statute yourself, you can find it by clicking this link: Recall Statute
Thanks again for listening, everyone; have an awesome weekend!
This past week I joined in solidarity with the vast majority of teachers in Hillsborough County Public Schools who chose to “work to contract.” For all five days we arrived to work at our appointed time and left when our day was over. Like many–if not most–Americans in the workforce, we left our work in the building and went home to spend time with our family and friends.
It may have been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in 14 years as a teacher.
Don’t get me wrong, going home each day and being able to spend time with two of my favorite people ever–my wife and my mother, who was in town for Thanksgiving–was incredible. We talked, we laughed, we ate delicious home-cooked meals, we watched shows together and just generally enjoyed each other’s presence and company.
But it was difficult because I hadn’t truly realized how plugged in I am to school virtually all the time. Whether it’s working on school stuff for my IB students, reading and doing research on education issues, advocating for our profession, representing HCTA, lining up podcast guests, communicating with elected officials, or writing posts for Teacher Voice, I clearly sleep, breathe, and eat education.
And I love it.
I also hate it in another sense, though. On the very first day of WTC I came home, put down my bag, said hello to my mother, and then immediately opened my laptop to send an email I thought about on my drive home. These habits have become so ingrained that I didn’t realize I was breaking my attempt to work to contract until my wife asked me what I was doing. I am glad she said something, because it immediately put me in a different frame of mind. I closed the laptop and walked away.
The rest of the week went well and I managed to keep my promise. I worked only the time I was scheduled. I enjoyed spending time with my colleagues before school when we picketed and walked in together every morning. I also had to prioritize my tasks in order to maximize my productivity. This was particularly difficult for me because when my students or coworkers ask me to help them in any endeavor I drop whatever I’m doing to answer the call. And while I still did this, I could see things starting to pile up.
Take the Theory of Knowledge Essay rough drafts I received on Monday. I wanted to try and read them by the end of the week. I should have realized how nearly impossible that goal was, but it motivated me to read and comment on at least a few while I could. But the more immediate tasks always came first. I had to teach. I had to write letters of recommendation that had imminent deadlines. I had to help get a necessary computer program up and running. I had to_____________.
And if you’re a teacher, too, you know that list of “I had to’s” is probably a mile long.
In the end, I feel like I was able to reclaim more of my personal life. I feel a little more rested, a little more balanced. I will probably try to work to contract as much as I can for the rest of my career, to be honest. But I also know there will be times when I have too much work to be done and have to bring it home.
The vast majority of teachers always do.
Because we know what’s at stake is too important: our kids and our future.
Nearly twenty years ago, I became enamored with the academic study of religion. During my first college class on the subject, REL2300: Intro to World Religions, I learned that one of the first true scholars of religion, Huston Smith, was instrumental in exposing Americans to the world’s faith traditions during the 1950s. The son of missionary parents, Smith was raised Methodist but his inquisitive nature led him to become a participant observer in numerous traditions across the decades.
While watching a PBS special that featured Professor Smith being interviewed by Bill Moyers, Huston relayed his experience living in a Zen Buddhist monastery for more than a month. When he completed his training as a novice monk, his roshi (teacher) told him a proverb that was the distillation of Zen Buddhist philosophy:
These three simple phrases gripped me immediately when I first heard them. So much so that they left an indelible impression on my mind and have become a personal mantra that I repeat to myself every day when I wake up, multiple times throughout the day, and again before I fall asleep. In essence, this Zen saying explains a great deal about who I am as both a person in general and a teacher specifically.
Infinite gratitude to all things past
As a human being, I am grateful for everything that has ever happened to me, good and bad. Every part of my past has culminated in who I have become in this moment. I am so thankful for all who have been instrumental in my life, starting with my parents, my brothers, the rest of my family and friends, and above all, my beautiful best friend and wife.
As a teacher, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have what I believe to be the best job in the world. Each and every day I am humbled by the thought of all of my students, past and present, who have become an integral part of my life. I treat my students as if they were my own kids and want nothing but the very best for each of them. I am also thankful for all of my colleagues. Whether a fellow teacher, administrator, or anyone who works with our students in any capacity, I am grateful that you have had a hand in shaping me into the teacher I am today.
Infinite service to all things present
Being a teacher means living a life of service and often putting others before ourselves. I am firm believer in the idea that the surest path to happiness and life satisfaction is one that is other-centric. While I can go overboard at times to my own detriment, I would guess this is the norm for many who work in the education profession. We all care deeply about our students and their future, which is why we work so assiduously to ensure their success in the present.
Infinite responsibility to all things future
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I am such an optimist has everything to do with always keeping one eye on the horizon. Each new day that dawns is a promise renewed, an opportunity for all of us to become the best version of ourselves, especially those of us who work with students on a daily basis and teach them by both example and non-example alike. Ultimately, I feel a tremendous responsibility to all that the future will bring to the next generation of teachers, students, and citizens in Florida.
There is a wonderful synergy among these three phrases and they have fostered a personal change in me that I cannot quite put into words. What I’ve learned in the last twenty years of telling myself these words day in and day out is that they form a virtuous cycle: by being grateful for all things past, we are motivated to be of service to all that is present, and by taking care of the present, we demonstrate our responsibility to the future.
If you’ve read this far, I want to close by sharing one of my favorite short videos on gratitude. The imagery is from time-lapse photographer and videographer Louis Schwartzberg’s TED Talk on beauty, but the narration is by Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk from my own religious upbringing and tradition, Catholicism. I hope that it serves as a reminder that we have so much to be grateful for not only on Thanksgiving, but each and every day.
Finally, thank you for supporting the Teacher Voice project. Even if we’ve never met in person, I am inspired, encouraged, and deeply grateful for you reading these posts and listening to the podcasts. I have been overwhelmed by the response Teacher Voice has received in the first five months, and I truly believe it will continue to become a platform for education stakeholders all across the Sunshine State.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends, everyone!
On the heels of another four charter schools being approved this past Tuesday, and as a rebuttal to the trope the school board members constantly offer the public, I recorded this brief rant on the massive proliferation of for-profit charter operators in Hillsborough County Public Schools.
If you are a concerned citizen and taxpayer, please listen and share.
And you know that ribbon-cutting ceremony for SLAM that Susan Valdes attended and then later approved two new SLAM schools? The management company, Academica, and its CEO, each contributed $1,000 to her reelection campaign last year on that May 25th date I mention in the podcast.
Want to know who else is getting paid what by any of these for-profit charter operators? Visit here.
Thanks for listening, everyone. Have an awesome weekend!
P.S. – Pat Hall, if you ever happen to see/listen to this podcast, I’d love to interview you so we can have a more robust conversation about this situation!
In the event I do not receive the full five minutes to address the HCPS school board today, I’ve pasted my comments below.
I learned much as a Religious Studies major at USF, and I want to share an important lesson with all of you. Functionally speaking, all religions share four key attributes: belief in an ultimate power, sacred narratives, rites and rituals, and a community of believers. Today I want to focus on the power of story.
One of my favorite professors, Darrell J. Fasching, passed away suddenly this past spring. He was in relatively good health and it was unexpected. Dr. Fasching was an ethicist, primarily interested how the stories we tell provide us with meaning and shape the contours of our lives. In several of his books he states: “human beings are not only story tellers, we are story dwellers.” Therefore, we don’t simply tell stories, we inhabit them. I’d like everyone to think about the story our school district is telling, the story we’re living out at this moment in time.
If you ask me and many, many others, we currently find ourselves trapped in a distressing chapter, lost in a labyrinth, groping along walls, fumbling through darkness, trying to make our way back toward the light. The journey will not be easy, but I have faith in our ability to find a way forward.
The story that is being told by the district is one of successes: rising graduation rates, fewer failing schools, students earning concordant scores, industry certifications, passing numerous AP and IB exams for college credit. While these are all admirable feats, this story is lost in the clamor of concern over the school board strife and lack of proper financial oversight.
Fundamentally, I think the school board and district administration don’t appreciate or understand human nature. Humans have an evolutionarily predisposition to gravitate toward the negative aspects of life; it has helped our species not only survive—but thrive—over the last two hundred thousand years. Psychological studies have demonstrated that if people have a positive experience, they will tell three people; if those same people have a negative experience, however, they will tell eleven people. Human nature, then, is not on your side. Though you may have a communications team working round the clock to tell the story of the good things that are happening—and there are indeed many—they are being swallowed up by the black hole of negativity hanging over Hillsborough county.
The district administration tells one story, but I can tell you with great certainty that the employees are living in a vastly different narrative. While the district touts itself on Twitter, dismayed employees of all stripes are told that the district will not honor its contracts, will not honor its pay scales, will not honor its word. Thousands of people who work with our students each and every day in the school houses all across this county slog through the days. The morale is the lowest I’ve ever witnessed in my first 14 years of teaching, yet we put on a brave face for our students so as to shield them from the damage the financial cuts have been taking. Employees are constantly demanded to do more while receiving less, whether compensation or respect. And though we suffer the ramifications of your poor planning and choices, we must watch as the bureaucracy balloons, all while being told we have no money.
And if this story weren’t bad enough, there is a far more pernicious plotline developing, one about which most citizens and education stakeholders are completely unaware. Between the lines of our current story there is a subtext that tells a tale of coercion, collusion, and corruption. A narrative that peeks into the darkest corners of the district to witness pay to play politicians ensuring their campaign contributors get their slice of the public pie. For those who are closely following this storyline, they watch aghast as this very school board rubber stamps contracts worth tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometimes even millions. We wonder where the money has gone when in reality it is being siphoned off right in front of our very eyes, taxpayers being bilked in the names of crony capitalism and corporate welfare. Even today, the vast proliferation of for-profit charter schools continue; some of you undoubtedly attended the ribbon cutting this morning for the newly opened SLAM charter in Citrus Park. And then you came back here to approve two new ones in Riverview. Does the public know that Mrs. Elia did everything in her power to stem the tide against these for-profit charter charlatans? Does the public realize that we were winning litigation that would have closed the doors on these companies forever, only to call off the suit a few years ago because we were “taking the district in a different direction”? Surely those tens of millions of FEFP dollars could have ensured the contractually owed movement on the pay scale or bought a few air conditioners.
But as you know, I am ever the optimistic idealist. I believe we can turn the page on this dark chapter and begin to read the next one, which I trust will be positive. It begins with finding the collective will to make good on the promises you made to the employees. As those who oversee the budget, you should have been planning first and foremost to properly pay those who work with our children day in and day out. And if we have any hope to restore public faith so we can pass a referendum to generate new revenue, this dark chapter must conclude by removing from power those who have abused it, which is why I am asking with all due respect, Mrs. Valdes, for the sake of our citizens, taxpayers, employees, and above all, our students, that you immediately resign from the school board.
I am writing to all of you today with a small request that I feel will go a long way in restoring the community’s faith in your ability to oversee our school district. As anyone would surmise at this point, the growing cloud of consternation and rising chorus of concern about the state of negotiations between employees and top-level district administration will draw an inordinately large crowd to this coming Tuesday’s school board meeting. And rightly so. Many education stakeholders from across the county will be appearing at the lectern before the dais to address all of you, and we all need to have an opportunity to be heard.
It is for this reason that I am encouraging you to take a vote at the very beginning of the meeting to suspend your own rules regarding the time constraints for public and employee comment. It would be both unwelcoming and unwise to not listen to the constituents who have come to speak considering the current climate in our school district. While some of you might balk at such an idea, I hope you take into consideration the following:
1). When I went to speak on behalf of our school district’s needs for additional capital outlay funding in the form of impact fees at the Board of County Commission meetings this summer, both meetings were in the very grip of the Confederate statue controversy. The first time I spoke, there were 47 speakers who were signed up to about that single agenda item, and the BOCC suspended their own rules to allow our citizens to engage in their civic duty by addressing something important to them. Dr. White commended me for my patience because I was only one of three speakers who were there not addressing that issue, which meant I had to go after those speakers (I waited nearly two hours). The second time there were 106 speakers. Luckily, they let me speak first and I did not have to wait.
2). The HCPS School Board has already established this precedent themselves, most recently on February 7th, 2017, when board member Valdes made a motion to suspend the rules that was seconded by board member Griffin; the vote passed unanimously and the citizens who came to address the entire board spoke for over two hours. Moreover, speakers were still given their full time with 5 minutes for anyone addressing two or more agenda items or three minutes otherwise. Therefore, at this Tuesday’s meeting it is incumbent upon you to make a similar motion in the event that there are more people signed up for the standard 45 minute allotment (public comment) or 30 minute allotment (employee comment). Now more than ever, you need to listen.
And speaking of listening, this is my final request: please, on behalf of all Hillsborough county citizens and especially our employees, LISTEN. While a few of you always do genuinely listen to our concerns and address them with us privately or publicly, some of you clearly do not care about what we have to say and are downright inhospitable and rude: you look down or away, rifle through purses, play on smartphones or computers, anything other than engaging in eye contact with the person who is addressing the board. Or when you do look at us, you grimace, sneer, or make other facial expressions that clearly display your disdain, contempt, and utter lack of respect for the voters, taxpayers, and employees of this county. This dismissive attitude must stop so that we can all come together to face our challenges head on with perseverance and positivity.
I sincerely hope you consider this request. It is the right thing to do based on the current situation and climate in our school district. Our entire community is watching. It wants to be heard loud and clear on various issues. Please, let’s work collaboratively to restore its faith in our educational institution.
This week’s edition of Teacher Voice is a special salute to our service men and women who have dedicated their lives in uniform for our country. If you are a veteran and are reading this or listening to the podcast, thank you for your service. I, along with every other American, appreciates what you’ve done for us all.
Scott Hottenstein is a 24 year Navy veteran with 5 years worth of experience in the classroom. He has decided to run for the countywide District 6 seat in next year’s election. Please listen to the podcast to find out why, and share with others who may be interested in his platform.
Be sure to thank a veteran today if you personally know one!
Today I had the opportunity to address the entire Hillsborough Legislative Delegation (minus a few members). I am grateful for their patience and attentional stamina considering they sat there for six hours and listened to local elected officials and well over one hundred constituents covering numerous topics. I tried to stick to the big picture concerns about education here in Florida, and my comments to them are below.
Good afternoon, Honorable Legislative Delegates. My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am honored and blessed to serve as a public school teacher. I am the Theory of Knowledge instructor and Extended Essay Coordinator for the IB Programme at Strawberry Crest High School. I also feel privileged to have this opportunity because it is not often I would be able to address all of you at one time. I am a Social Studies teacher who firmly believes in being an exemplar of civic engagement, which is why I took personal time to be here today.
I should preface the rest of my statement by saying I am an independent voter and public education advocate who cares deeply about our children and their future. I believe it is the fundamental right of all students in the Sunshine State to receive a free, high-quality education wherever their parents choose, but I am gravely concerned about the level of funding being dedicated to this endeavor.
Adjusted for inflation, our current funding levels are $1,100 lower than funding a decade ago. Many school districts including our own are struggling to keep pace with rising costs, most especially due to rampant population growth in eastern and southern Hillsborough.
Though it was only meant to be a short-term measure to help us through the Great Recession, we have never moved the millage rate back to 2.0. Now with the mandatory capital outlay sharing provision in HB7069 that deems some of this funding go directly to charter schools, districts throughout the state will now be further financially hamstrung.
I realize that some of you might reject this proposal for partisan reasons alone, but I am a moderate in all things who always seeks compromise and common ground so that all can share in prosperity. I would encourage you to revisit Senator David Simmons’ proposal to lift the millage rate to 1.7, if only to defray the loss of funding earmarked for our charter schools.
As has been noted previously by other elected officials, our state budgets continue to exceed our revenues. We cannot continue to dip into trust funds or other savings just because of the overwhelming anti-tax sentiment that prevails in Tallahassee. Trust me, I am as fiscally conservative and frugal as they come. But I would gladly pay more in property tax or otherwise if it meant we could move Florida education funding to at least the national average, which we currently lag by nearly $4,000 per pupil.
I am a saver and investor. I understand the business world; my father was a business owner and manager, and he lamented my choice to become an educator. But businesses know that by reinvesting a portion of their profits it helps the entire community prosper. By making a badly needed investment in our education system we will attract more people and businesses to Florida, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of economic activity and ensuring a bright future for all of our children.
Thank you for your time, attention, and leadership in the capitol. May you, your family, and all Floridians be well.
Exactly one year ago today, for the first time ever, my wife and I addressed our local school board here in Hillsborough County. We took a stand. We spoke out. We said what we did for many reasons that day, but two were of the utmost importance then and are still relevant today:
1) we wanted to address the protracted negotiations between the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association and the district—something that has unfortunately become routine in the last three years—and to ask that the administration return to the bargaining table in good faith;
2) to stand in solidarity with our fellow teachers and educational support personnel who came to speak truth to power.
One year later, we are back in the same position. But this year is different. There is a movement that is gaining traction. Teachers are beginning to rally around one another to discuss their options and strategies for how to handle the challenges facing us all. A rising tide of solidarity is growing and I deeply believe that the ensuing wave of momentum will help us all prevail. Because at the end of the day this is about standing up for our students, our profession, and public education.
Now is not the time for us to be divided. HCTA and HSEF must work toward a common end because we all have a hand in the education process. From the bus drivers who transport our kids, the student nutrition specialists who feed them, the custodians who keep our grounds and buildings clean for all, maintenance men and women who ensure schools function properly, guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers who nurture our children’s well-being, the educational support personnel who work tirelessly behind the scenes to help everyone, the administrators who are providing leadership, all the way to the teachers working in the classrooms to educate them all—we are all in this together. We all have a part to play in helping our kids have a bright future by becoming educated critical thinkers and citizens of good character.
And, parents, you have a hand in this too. You entrust us to be the stewards of your children and their learning. We owe you a debt of gratitude for sending your children to our schools throughout the district each and every day. We realize that you support us, and trust that you will continue to do so as we take a stand for what is right.
If you’re reading this, please consider taking a stand with us on November 14th at the next school board meeting. We have our own power when we stand together.
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