Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Tucker Carlson

Dear Tucker Carlson,

Hey Tuck, I just got done watching a segment of your show. You know, the one where you suggest that there should be a camera in every classroom in order to root out…let me get this accurate…”civilization ending poison.” https://twitter.com/ndrew_lawrence/status/1412566208763895810

I’m going to zig where you thought most teachers would zag. I welcome your Orwellian cameras in my classroom. Frankly, I don’t know many teachers who would object to having people watch what we do. As a matter of fact, I hate to tell you this Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson, but most of us spent the last year having video cameras in our classrooms.

See, I think you believe that your suggestion that people see what happens in our classrooms will somehow scare teachers. The truth of it is that we have been begging for years to have people, such as yourself, come into our classrooms. I somewhat famously asked Ms. DeVos to visit a public school before she became Secretary of Education (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/an-introduction-from-public-school-teachers-to-betsy_b_5845e2fbe4b0707e4c8171a3). It’s unclear whether she has yet to set foot in an actual public school classroom, but I digress. I sense that you think you’ll see all of us pinko teachers speaking endlessly about Critical Race Theory leading to…and again, let me get this right, “civilization ending poison.” I’ve been in a lot of classrooms (more than you I am willing to bet) and I think you’re going to be disappointed on that front.

What happens in America’s classrooms is teaching and learning. Your “spy cameras” will see teachers and students working together to be better every day. I’ll tell you what I saw on a tour of classrooms not that long ago. I saw a group of kindergartners trying to create bridges over running water with basic classroom supplies in a lesson about collaboration. I saw a high school literature class talking about the character development in The Glass Menagerie. I saw a middle school history class participating in group project where they had to solve problems in a fictional city, with specifics of how they would utilize resources and build public support for their projects. Anyone watching your cameras will see learning…all day every day.

For those who watch your “nanny cams” carefully, they’ll see a lot of other things as well. They will see teachers working with students who have vastly different life experiences. They will see students who are fluent in multiple languages working with teachers to become proficient in yet one more language. They will see students who are hungry get their one solid meal a day in the cafeteria. They will see students itching for more fine arts, industrial technology, or world languages to be offered in their school. In my classroom, if we’re being honest, they’ll probably hear some sketchy intonation from my saxophones, and I promise we’re working on it. But for sure, they will see learning…all day every day.

To be honest, I’m fascinated by the logistics of your proposal. In a world where school districts are struggling to recruit and maintain teachers, who is going to man your “citizen review boards” (setting aside the fact that public school teachers already answer to publicly elected school boards)? For instance, in my school district I sense you would need well over 500 cameras going every day. Who watches those 500 screens 10 hours a day (I want you watching my 7 am jazz band and my after school lessons)? What qualifications would these “experts” need to know what they were watching for? What happens when they catch a teacher teaching…let me get this right…”civilization ending poison?” Who do they report that to? I’m also curious who will pay for all of this incredible technology. Maybe I missed it, but can you point me to a K-12 institution where Critical Race Theory is being taught? Hell, can you define Critical Race Theory for all of us? I’m sure you’ve got answers to all of these questions.

Frankly, I’ve never been able to figure out, instead of dreaming up Orwellian plans to have Big Brother in all of our classrooms, why you don’t round up an army of bright young conservatives to actually step up and teach? Is it because teachers work hard, aren’t paid as much as those with similar educational backgrounds, don’t have support from our elected officials, constantly serve as punching bags for those who don’t understand public education, or is it just because it’s easier to throw rocks at a house than to build one?

Here’s the real deal Tuck, I grew up with my mom making me eat your family’s Salisbury Steaks once every couple of weeks (his family made Swanson TV dinners) for many years. I struggle to take advice on teaching and learning from a guy whose family made a steak that, on its best day, tastes like shoe leather that has been left out in a goat pasture for a few weeks. I get that Critical Race Theory is your latest attempt to scare your easily manipulated demographic, but let’s just admit that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

With all of that being said, count me on the cameras Tucky. Like many teachers, I’m in the early stages of understanding Critical Race Theory (most of us hadn’t heard about it until you and your people started crying about it), but if you find me teaching it, have one of the Tucker Youth watching your surveillance devices let me know. If Critical Race Theory involves talking honestly about American history, I’m probably doing that sometimes. I spent much of the last six years advocating for a way for teaching to become more transparent, and in the dumbest way possible, you are joining that crusade. Let’s make this happen TV Dinner Boy.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Actual Teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Teachers

TW: Mention of suicide

Dear Teachers,

I’ve been thinking about Anthony Bourdain a lot lately. Mr. Bourdain’s books and various TV shows were must read/must see viewing for me for many years. His books and shows were honest, thoughtful, funny, and always rooted in unique observations about the human condition. If you had asked me between the ages of 40 and 50 who I wanted to grow up and be, it would have been Anthony Bourdain.

I remember waking up on a June morning in 2018 and reading that Mr. Bourdain had died by suicide. It took the breath out of me for a long moment. It seemed impossible. This man who seemed to have the life I wanted, traveling, eating exotic foods, surrounded by people who adored him, killed himself. How could that be? For well over a year I couldn’t watch any of his shows or read any of his books.

Why do I share that? Well, this has been a tough year. Like most teachers I know, I’ve done my best to put a brave face on for most everyone. My students deserved it. Those young people kept showing up every day (some of the year online, some of the year hybrid, some of the year full time) and they gave what they had. Just like the rest of us, they had good days and not so good days, but they kept coming and they kept trying. They deserved the best I had, but it was hard.

Tom Rademacher is a teacher in Minnesota who is a great follow on Twitter. This tweet from May 17th really resonated with me. “Swimming in concrete against the current,” aptly describes what this year felt like. But, I found that hard to talk about. As the year progressed I struggled even more to express what I was feeling. I just knew that I had to get up and do the best I knew how.

At some point this spring I began to simply come home and crawl into bed, and if I’m being honest with myself, I wasn’t sure I wanted to wake up. That’s hard for me to write. I found that laying in my bed was where I felt the safest, but I also wasn’t sure that I wanted to make it out of bed the next day. I’ve never felt that way before. And for those who will surely be eager to say that pandemic restrictions are the cause of these feelings, my governor made sure that I was in close contact with hundreds of people every day. I wasn’t locked up in my house, I was working full speed ahead, regardless of what was being recommended by very smart people.

Each day I went to school and did my best. Each day I came home and crawled into bed and waited to see if my mood would change. Many nights I went to bed and just hoped I’d stay asleep. That played out for weeks. I’ve read quite a bit those feelings in the last few weeks and what I read was frankly kind of scary. There are lots of words for it, but ultimately, I was in a dark place.

Why do I share this with you? Because if someone else has been having similar feelings and thinks they are alone, please know that you aren’t. I share it because I want my teacher friends to be willing to admit how hard this year has been. We are trained to put on a happy face and “stay strong” for our students. I get that, but you have to be able to admit that this has been hard. I share because it is OK to admit that very few of us had our best year this year. I especially want to say to young teachers that what you did this year was nothing short of amazing.

My son was a first year teacher this year. Can you imagine? This being your first year? Not only did he survive it, but he did amazing things with his students. Lots of young people accomplished a great deal with his support this year. He made a difference in his classroom for a lot of kids, and because this was his first year, I’m not sure he understands how incredible that is. So, so all of my young teacher friends, congratulations on surviving. Being a young teacher is hard for everyone, but those of you who did it this year are heroes.

I write this with no quick fixes. When the school year ended I was able to breathe a little easier. I hope that’s true of all of you. We need some time to take a breath and relax. Don’t feel guilty about unplugging for a while. Take care of yourselves. I am lucky to have a network of friends who keep me smiling with texts about things that have nothing to do with teaching. I needed that this year. I am also lucky to have a wife who is patient and provides me with a safe place to land every night. In a world that has been important to me for a long time, there is a couple that I admire. They are always there for each other, they take care of each other, and they blend together perfectly. Bert and Ernie are role models. While my wife may not appreciate the analogy, I am thankful that I have an Ernie (or maybe she’s Bert…I’m not really sure) to spend my days with. I hope all of you have someone that you can just breathe with.

I wish I was sure that I’ll ever get my “A Game” back as a teacher. Time will tell. I live in a state that is actively trying to make teaching in public schools harder. Bad legislation, written by people who don’t live in my state, is being embraced by legislators who don’t have any respect for public educators. The party of “small government” is micromanaging our schools and running talented and dedicated people out of our profession. Those who would never survive in a classroom, and who have no idea how to uplift our students and our schools are making our jobs harder. I am hopeful that brave teachers will continue to share their narratives. Share the joyful moments of learning, but don’t be afraid to share the challenges. Until the public understands how our legislators are making our work harder, our communities will continue to elect legislators whose interest is in anything but better public education. If we don’t tell our stories, no one else is going to tell them for us.

Thanks to all of you who teach. I am in awe of what you do each and every day. Don’t be afraid to admit that you might need help. There are lots of resources out there to help you (https://www.weareteachers.com/free-counseling-for-teachers/). Mostly, please know that you’re not alone. I have found that teachers are notoriously reluctant to admit when they are struggling. It’s OK to not be OK. If you don’t have someone to reach out to, please reach out to me (pjjk@aol.com). I don’t have answers, but I’ll listen. I have found that just knowing that I wasn’t alone in my struggles this year has helped me. I hope all of you have a restful summer that comes with some renewal.

For me, I’ve been watching some Anthony Bourdain. It feels OK to do that now. It’s hard to know he’s gone, but his work always makes me recognize that there is beauty in simplicity. A simple meal, prepared with love, is a wonderful thing. His work demonstrates that we shouldn’t be afraid of those who look different than we do, whose language is different than ours, and who experiences are different than ours. I watch Mr. Bourdain and want to engage with the wider world, which is a step in the right direction.

Sincerely,

Pat, a teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Senator Grassley

Dear Senator Grassley,

Let me introduce myself to you. My name is Patrick Kearney and I’m a teacher. Four and half years ago I reached out to you to ask you to vote against the confirmation of Betsy DeVos (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/a-letter-to-my-senator-regarding-betsy-devos_b_5840b07ae4b04587de5de88b). I think it’s safe to say that I stand by that letter today. Do you stand by your vote to confirm Ms. DeVos? Since you’ll never answer that, let’s move on.

So, about the above Tweet…there’s so much wrong with that Tweet that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, why reference “teachers unions”? Do you know who talks about social justice? Teachers talk about social justice. Some of us belong to unions and some of us don’t. The real question is, why don’t you care about justice? Attacking teachers unions is a cheap way to try to insulate your comments. You’ll say you respect teachers, but not those pesky teachers unions. Teachers unions are teachers.

But, let’s focus on the premise of your Tweet, that vouchers are the answer to the social justice issues faced by “poor and minority families.” To begin with, your premise has been refuted by study after study. Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in their book Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, dispel the notion that private schools provide a better education than public schools (https://www.hepg.org/hel-home/issues/31_1/helarticle/turning-conventional-wisdom-on-its-head-public-sch). While it is popular among those who don’t actually do the work of educating students to believe that a market based approach based on competition will improve schools, it’s just not true. A Brookings Institute study of four of our countries largest voucher programs (https://www.brookings.edu/research/more-findings-about-school-vouchers-and-test-scores-and-they-are-still-negative/) summed up their findings this way, “If the four studies suggest anything, it’s that private schools have no secret key that unlocks educational potential”.

So, your premise about vouchers is wrong. Let’s actually talk about making schools better senator. The funny thing is that I agree students and families want more choices. Where you believe that putting my tax dollars in the pockets of private business people running schools will somehow make for more “choices” for students, I believe that if we invest in our public schools, we can create more and better choices for our students. Senator, list me the five things you think that public schools are not providing that they should be. Instead of taking money out of public schools, how about you support investing in our public schools to provide them with the resources to do that work? Suddenly students have the choices you say you want them to have, and those choices aren’t just available to those who have access to a private or charter school (who may or may not allow them in), but ALL students have access to those opportunities. By dedicating resources to public schools, you insure that students in Osceola, Iowa (who have no access to private schools) are receiving the same opportunities as students from Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

If the DeVos era has taught us one thing, it’s that your party has become comfortable attacking public schools and public school teachers. I guess it must play well in some corners of the electorate or you wouldn’t keep doing it. The DeVos era has taught me something else though senator, I refuse to be kicked around by politicians who want to pretend that they understand what is best for our “poor and minority” students. Teachers like myself and my outstanding colleagues are actually doing the work. We see every day what our students need and instead of trying to figure out how to shift dollars around to create a profit for someone else as a solution, we teach. We don’t pick and choose the students we teach, we teach ALL students. Frankly, teachers struggle to take advice on education from an 87 year old millionaire who has his hand out for hundreds of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies (https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/members-congress-got-nearly-16-million-farm-subsidies-and-trade-war-bailout), but tries to paint us as greedy.

Vouchers don’t work. Instead of complaining that teachers care about justice, how about you and your colleagues do something to help ALL students and stand up for public schools. I suspect that you see Rep. Taylor-Greene, Rep. Boebert, Rep. Gaetz and their ilk getting lots of attention for their divisive Tweets and you figure you’ll jump on that bandwagon; please, don’t. Why don’t you actually try to support solutions that will help Iowans. The last four years has done irreparable damage to your legacy, so why not spend your final years in office trying to bring people together. Public education might just be the one issue that you could get Iowans to rally behind. Let’s provide ALL Iowa students with the options that you think they deserve. Teachers want to work with you Senator Grassley, we really do. We have dedicated ourselves to providing students the skills they need to succeed. Teachers in urban schools, rural schools, in the suburbs, in our richest zip codes, and in areas where families are struggling to survive all have one thing in common, we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. We’re in our classrooms in the middle of a pandemic teaching. Instead of being a voice that tears us down, how about you help lift our students up. Wouldn’t that be a legacy you could be proud of?

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Iowa

Dear Iowa,

I start this letter with a tale of two men from Colorado. I was born in Colorado. My father was a successful banker and at some point his boss asked him where in the Midwest he wanted to live. Well, it was my mother who made those types of decisions, and she chose Ames, Iowa. She did her research and found that Iowa had the country’s best schools, was inviting smart young people into the state from all over the world, and cared about it’s environment. My parents were sold and I became and Iowan. I have been an Iowan ever since.

The other Coloradan in this story is a man named Adam Vinnoy. Mr. Vinnoy’s story can be found here (https://apnews.com/article/boulder-iowa-colorado-marijuana-iowa-city-231d1804316248b9edbc88e5bbf66122). I’ll try to recap Mr. Vinnoy’s trip to Iowa quickly. Like my mother did many years ago, it appears Mr. Vinnoy read about Iowa and wanted to come here. He seems to have read that it is very easy to get weapons and ammunition in Iowa. You see, Mr. Vinnoy was arrested in Nebraska for behaving erratically, making threats, and being heavily armed. While in custody in Nebraska he made sure to show off his junk to the prison workers and throw feces in his jail cell. So, of course, the fine people of Nebraska released Mr. Vinnoy and he drove to Iowa. He was kind enough to videotape one of his first stops in Iowa after being released from prison where he bought thousands of dollars of guns and ammo.

He was subsequently arrested after telling people he was shocked that no one had accused him of being the Boulder, Colorado shooter.

I believe that my tale and the tale of Mr. Vinnoy speak to where Iowa was in the 1970’s and where Iowa is today. 40 years ago Iowa was led by Governor Robert Ray (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/2018/07/09/robert-ray-5-things-know-iowas-former-governor/767773002/). Governor Ray fought for Southeast Asian refugees to be allowed to settle in Iowa, he fought for collective bargaining for Iowa’s public employees (including teachers), he advocated for strong environmental policies, he was a believer in Civil Rights (I don’t remember him trying to make it harder to vote), and he revamped and expanded funding for Iowa’s public schools. That was Iowa’s Republican party in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Let’s fast forward to the time of Mr. Vinnoy’s visit to Iowa. 2021 has been a busy one for Iowa’s Republican legislators. In the midst of the Boulder shooting, they have passed legislation that makes it so that you no longer need a permit to but or carry a weapon, they have proposed legislation dictating which bathrooms we must all use (with an emphasis on singling out transgender Iowans), they voted to implement new rules making it easier for for-profit charter schools to be created in Iowa (doing it after midnight, while making it easier for public dollars to be put directly into the pockets of those starting the charter schools), and they’ve also voted to shortening early voting and voting hours, even though Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State says our 2020 election cycle was among the most successful in the country (https://cbs2iowa.com/news/local/iowa-certifies-2020-election-results-turnout-one-of-the-highest-in-the-nation). Legislators have also passed a bill that makes it illegal to have conversations about racism in our schools (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2021/03/17/critical-race-theory-iowa-house-votes-end-divisive-diversity-training-legislature-2021/4717023001/).

If my mother were looking at the Midwest today and trying to decide where to raise a family today, Iowa wouldn’t crack the top 10 states that she would consider. The Iowa that we moved into in 1970 is gone. The Republican party of Bob Ray is LONG gone. Iowa is now about creating idiotic solutions to problems that don’t exist. What young person would choose to move to Iowa today? Does anti-LGBTQ+ legislation attract people? Does diverting tax dollars from public schools (where 93% of Iowa’s students are educated) into the pockets of charter school corporations draw people to our state? If you were African-American, Asian-American, Native-American, or an immigrant, would you view Iowa as a welcoming place raise a family?

My son is a young Iowan doing important work as a teacher. I frankly struggle to encourage him to stay in Iowa. Iowa is making it harder for public schools to succeed. Iowa is doing all it can to be less inclusive. Iowa is doing all it can to make sure that guns are more available to lunatics. Iowa has changed.

These are hard things for me to say. For a long time I believed that my voice had a place in Iowa, but recent elections have shown me that it just isn’t true. Look up Jeff Shipley and Skyler Wheeler (Iowa legislators). Those are the voices who dominate Iowa now. Steve King wasn’t an aberration, Steve King IS the Iowa Republic Party. Guys like Shipley and Wheeler speak for Iowa’s Republicans now. Saying that they represent mediocrity is an insult to those who are actually mediocre. Frankly, voices like mine, or Bob Ray’s have lost the battle. Credit guys like Shipley and Wheeler for finding enough Iowans to elect them and allow them to spew their nonsense in the legislature. History will judge whether the Iowa of Robert Ray was better or worse than the Iowa of Shipley, Wheeler, and King.

My only hope for the future lies with the young people I work with and have worked with. If they are willing to stay in Iowa and speak out (which isn’t easy to do in this state), there is some hope. Our young people aren’t afraid of change. Our young people embrace the unique cultures that exist around them. Our young people are proud of who they are, but aren’t threatened that others are different. But, will these smart young Iowans choose to stay? Will big businesses and corporations choose to come to an Iowa where legislators are doing all they can to return to the 1950’s?

The cartoon below from Brian Duffy perfectly represents the Iowa GOP. They are going to slash and burn the Iowa I grew up in, leaving an Iowa that is intolerant, more divided, less inclusive, and dumber than ever before. I’m not sure that Iowa is the right place for my son to raise his family when the time comes, but I’m sure people like Mr. Vinnoy will continue to find Iowa a welcoming destination.

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Don Junior,

Dear Don Jr.,

I got up this morning and in my Twitter feed was a video of you, standing in front of a bunch of weapons, ranting about “teacher’s unions” destroying America (https://twitter.com/atrupar/status/13633756831546818560). I’ve got a couple of thoughts.

First, a little about me. I don’t know that everyone is aware, but I was born on third base. My father was a successful banker and my mother was a teacher, and for many years was a stay at home mother who did everything she could to support me. We flew on private jets, stayed in world-class hotels, and I had every advantage. I have been incredibly blessed.

You were also born on third base. But, here’s the difference. You think you hit a triple Don. You think you deserve something special for simply simply being born on third base. I can find no evidence of anything you’ve actually accomplished on your own. You have become a professional victim, blaming the media, blaming the government, and today blaming teachers for all that ails you. Stop being a victim Don.

To the point of your ridiculous rant from your bunker in front of all of those guns. First, when you say “teacher’s unions”, you mean teachers. Teachers make up our professional associations and we are proud of the work we do, as well as being proud members of our teacher’s organizations. Teachers have been showing up all year to do the kind of work you have never done. Some teachers (like me) are teaching in classrooms, some teachers are teaching remotely, and some teachers are doing both simultaneously. It’s hard Don. The work as always been hard, but it’s much harder this year. Each day I mask up and teach in rooms with over 50 kids at a time. I avoid seeing family members and friends for their safety, since I come in contact with so many people. I watch the largest corporations in my city stay remote because they don’t think it’s safe to return to work. Whether remotely or in person, teachers are working harder than they have ever worked before.

As to your narrative that schools are failing, it’s a lie Don. It is a story that is told by testing companies, politicians, and people like Betsy DeVos (how’s her brother doing by the way?) in order to line their own pockets. Teachers, parents, and students all want schools to be better every day, but the idea that schools are failing is an invention of people with a political and financial motivation. Tell me which teachers are getting rich by advocating for students Don? By and large, teachers are encouraged to stay quiet and not “get political”. But there’s nothing political about fighting to keep our students safe, there’s nothing political about showing up to help students grow, and there’s nothing political about advocating for providing much needed resources for our public schools. The idea that our schools need to be properly supported (especially now) should be bipartisan, but it isn’t. In my state (Iowa), our legislature is doing all that it can to undermine public education. And yet, teachers show up day after day to do the work that needs to get done.

You are part of the problem Junior. You don’t have any solutions for better schools. If your wing of your party really wants to help, why don’t a whole bunch of you get your licenses and join us to actually do the work? Teachers have chosen to do this work in order to actually make America better, not just slap a slogan on a red hat. We do it hoping to make a middle class living while we do it. None of us got into this to have a spoiled rich kid stand in front of bunch of guns and whine about how we aren’t meeting his standards. You look and sound like an idiot Don. But, sadly, there are people who listen to you. You’ve got a giant platform that you use to scare people. Some people who don’t know anything about public schools listen to you and will be inflamed by your ridiculous message. But let me assure you Junior, teachers won’t be intimidated by your nonsense. Tomorrow I’ll get up and start teaching at 7 am.

America’s public schools are turning out the next generation of doctors, scientists, artists, CEOs, farmers, and yes, the next generation of teachers as well. We will support students who speak many languages, who come from all backgrounds, and who face challenges you would never understand. We’re going to teach them all Don. We’ll teach them in buildings and remotely. We won’t turn any of them away.

You didn’t hit a triple Don. And those of us who were born on third base should understand that it is our job to help more students round the bases without obstructions. I’m not sure what you are compensating for by standing in front of a bunch of guns in your bunker, but whatever it is, I hope you get over it. In the mean time, I’m going to get back to work.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney, Teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Iowa Educators

Dear Iowa Educators,

Can you take another punch to the gut this year?  I’m not sure I’m going to be able to.  As a 30- year veteran in the profession, there is no doubt that this has been the most challenging year of my teaching career.  Three different learning modalities, adding considerable responsibilities to my teaching load in order to support online learners, and trying to make sure my students stay healthy in my classroom has left me tired in a way that I have never been tired before.  But, our governor and her Republican colleagues want to be sure and give us one more solid kick to the gut. They are bringing Iowa a program that has failed in state after state, vouchers.  Plain and simple, vouchers take public dollars and put them in the pockets of private schools that are not accountable to the same rules and standards as public schools.

Make no mistake about it, Iowa’s Republican legislators are attacking public education during a time when schools are facing challenges unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.  In a year when the governor is proposing a modest increase to school funding, the voucher program will cost the state around $52 million a year.  Where will that money come from?  Straight out of resources currently going to public schools.

Proponents of vouchers like to talk about “choice.”  First of all, Iowa’s open enrollment laws are among the most extensive in the country.  6.2% of Iowa’s students take advantage of open enrollment opportunities.  As you encounter people who are advocates for “choice,” ask them what kinds of opportunities they would like to see a school offer.  Then ask them to consider why our public schools aren’t able to offer those opportunities.  The answer is always simple… limited resources.  If the people of Iowa want more educational opportunities for students, why are we not providing the necessary resources to Iowa’s public schools to provide those opportunities?  What can private schools provide that public schools are not able to?  The answer is either religious education (for which public dollars should not be subsidizing) or a more restrictive enrollment policy.  More “choice” should be about more opportunities.  All of us in public education agree that students should be provided with more opportunities and that can be accomplished by providing public schools with more resources.  

It should also be clear that vouchers disproportionately impact rural schools.  There will not be a rush to build new private schools in Governor Reynolds’ hometown of Osceola, and yet the public schools in Osceola will lose funds.  Those funds will be traveling to private religious schools in Iowa’s suburbs.  You may be surprised to know that the state of Iowa already provides over $60 million in taxpayer dollars to Iowa’s private schools.  The voucher bill will almost double that amount, with all of those dollars coming from what is currently allotted to public schools.  Many small communities will lose their public schools due to the increased need to consolidate. 

In 1974 my father’s boss asked him where in the Midwest he wanted our family to live.  My parents did a lot of research and chose Ames, Iowa.  We had lived in Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas, but my parents chose Ames, Iowa because of the quality of schools.  So, my father’s boss bought a bank in Ames, Iowa so that my parents could raise our family there.  Iowa has long been viewed as an example of strong public schools.  That time is surely soon to pass if it hasn’t already.  I don’t know about you, but it gets harder and harder to site examples of how Iowa is supportive of public schools or public educators.  We’ve long been underfunded, we have lost our ability to bargain collectively, and now we will siphon our already limited resources to religious schools and schools seeking to make a profit. 

It seems that Iowa will now follow the failed examples of states around the country who have succumbed to legislation written by ALEC and the Koch Brothers.  There isn’t a place in the country where vouchers have led to improved results for all learners.  Study after study demonstrates that vouchers don’t lift struggling students, but merely create a wider gap between those who already have extensive resources and those who do not (https://ed.stanford.edu/news/evidence-fails-show-school-vouchers-improve-student-achievement-stanford-researcher-finds).

What are we, as Iowa’s teachers, prepared to do in answer to this continued assault on public education?  Comically, Iowa’s Republican lawmakers want to engage in a study on teacher recruitment and retention.  Randy Richardson wrote an excellent open letter to the author of that legislation (https://www.bleedingheartland.com/2021/01/21/open-letter-to-ann-meyer-on-teacher-recruitment-retention/).  He correctly suggests that teacher recruitment and retention would be solved by adequately funding public education, restoring bargaining rights, and restoring local control of our schools.  It really is that simple, but instead our governor and her colleagues are going to double down on their anti-public school legislative agenda.  So, again I ask, what are we prepared to do to save public schools in Iowa? 

Somehow our narrative isn’t being heard. Iowa continues to elect legislators who are hostile to public education. Community members who consider themselves proud supporters of their local schools elect legislators who have continually sought to undermine public education through bad legislation. Frankly, our honest stories of what is happening in our schools aren’t being heard. I wish I had an answer to the question about what we should prepared to do at this point. We, as a profession, need to begin having some serious conversations about how we change the trajectory of Iowa’s public schools or the damage may become irreversible. Teachers, we need to talk to each other about what we are willing to do to save our schools. Our legislators are failing us and we are losing a battle that we can’t afford to lose. If we don’t take action now, when?

Sincerely,

Your Colleague Patrick J. Kearney

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Iowa

Dear Iowans,

I tell everyone I’m a lifelong Iowan, but it’s not really true.  I was born in Colorado, and I’ve lived in Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, and Wisconsin at various times in my life.  But, I truly consider myself an Iowan.  I’ve always actually been proud of it; until recently. 

If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and read the article in the Atlantic entitled “Iowa Is What Happens When Government Does Nothing.”  (https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/12/how-iowa-mishandled-coronavirus-pandemic/617252/)  Early in the article, Dr. Eli Perencevich, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Iowa says, “In a lot of ways Iowa is serving as the control group of what not to do.”  How is it that Iowa has become THAT state?  How did we become THAT state?  Shouldn’t we all be terribly embarrassed to be THAT state? 

Sadly, many of you aren’t embarrassed.  Many Iowans go into grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, churches, and everywhere else maskless and are proud of it.  They will tell you that they are making a statement about “freedom”.  And in Iowa, it’s all good with our governor.  She has truly led by example during this pandemic.  The example she has set is to doubt the scientists, to doubt the medical experts, and to doubt the easily understandable data.  She attended rallies that were certainly super-spreader events without a mask.  The few almost meaningless steps she has taken are always too little and too late.  So, Iowa has become the place where you can see what happens when government does nothing.

I remember my father (who was a rabid Democrat) voting for Governor Bob Ray in the day.  I was a wild little liberal kid (because that’s how my father raised me) and I’d bug him about voting for a big bad Republican, and he’d tell me that Bob Ray was a good man who put the needs of all Iowans ahead of any political ideology.  Governor Ray, in a position that was unpopular with his own party, welcomed Southeast Asian Tai Dam refugees into our state.  He was also critical in writing and signing Chapter 20 legislation that required public employers to engage in meaningful collective bargaining with firefighters, teachers, and nurses.   Bob Ray wasn’t some slogan spouting lightweight who politicized things like public health and education. 

Here we are in 2020.  Is there anyone who believes that Iowa’s current governor would welcome a wave of immigrants into our state and offer them an opportunity to become Iowans and offer them a better life?  We actually know how Governor Reynolds feels about allowing public employees to collectively bargain.  No one in Iowa wanted her and the previous governor to destroy Chapter 20, but because the Koch Brothers wanted it dismantled, they dismantled it.  And when a slogan spouting lightweight tells Ms. Reynolds that people shouldn’t have to wear masks, that businesses should carry on with business as usual, and that schools should be open, regardless of the data, Ms. Reynolds has no problem towing the party line.

In the Atlantic article Dr. Perencevich says, “We know the storm’s coming, you can see it on the horizon.”  Governor Reynolds has access to all of the experts who tell her that we haven’t seen the worse of this pandemic yet.  In the face of overwhelming data and the advice of actual scientific and medical experts, she does nothing.  Well, not exactly nothing.  She continues to bully local school boards into forcing schools to be open. The truth is that there is much was don’t know about how COVID spreads among young people and it seems clear that young people don’t experience COVID symptoms in the same way that adults do.  Some take that information to mean that we shouldn’t worry about bringing thousands of students into schools (along with the adults that work with them).   But, a  group of experts, writing in US News and World Reports, (https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-12-02/shut-them-down-why-schools-might-not-be-safe-during-covid-19) say, “In our opinion, the data suggests schools are NOT safe and DO contribute to the spread of the virus-both within schools and within the surrounding communities.”  I promise you that no one wants to be in person with their students more than teachers, but we also recognize the seriousness of this moment and the unprecedented health risks that we are asking students and teachers to walk into. 

In reading the Atlantic article I was interested to see a high school classmate (Ames High 1986, Ames High Aims High) quoted.  Kevin Doerschug, the medical ICU director for the University of Iowa hospitals, described “moral distress.”  Moral distress is the sense of loss and helplessness associated with health-care workers navigating limitations in space, treatment, and personnel.  These workers are heroes working under unimaginable conditions that have been brought on by Iowa’s lack of action regarding COVID.  Kevin talks about hospital staff crying, “The sheer enormity of it-it’s just endless”. 

Teachers have our own version of Moral Distress.  The challenges of navigating different learning modalities, our concern for our student’s well-being, our concerns for our own well-being and the well-being of our families.  There is a lot of crying going on in our schools right now.  Finding sub coverage for all of the teachers who are out with COVID or in quarantine is an almost impossible challenge.  Teachers, who are already overwhelmed, are covering for their colleagues.  That’s just a small piece of the new challenges going on in schools, brought on by our state’s lack of action.

For more and more of us each day, this becomes personal.  On October 20th I lost my father-in-law.  He had been experiencing COVID-like symptoms for about a week, but was reluctant to get tested.  On the night of October 20th, he collapsed and died in an Ambulance on the way to a hospital.  For several days our family didn’t really hear anything from the hospital.  It wasn’t until we received the death certificate and saw COVID as a contributing factor that we found out he had been COVID positive.  We all have those friends on Facebook who like to post how COVID is just like the flu and that we all should just “get over it” and “live our lives”.  Well, my father-in-law was a strong man, he had survived prostate cancer, and he probably had the flu 50 or 60 times in his life.  He died from COVID.  It’s not the flu. 

The reason people post the Facebook posts about COVID being “just like the flu”, is because our state leadership has treated it as though it’s “just the flu”.  Governor Reyonds keeps telling us we have “turned a corner”, while more and more people get sick and die.  Our hospitals continue to be stretched to their limits and Governor Reynolds is Tweeting out her thanks to the president for his response to COVID.  Am I proud to be an Iowan?  Well, I’m proud of the frontline medical workers who have to respond to Iowans unwillingness to accept science and do what is right.  I’m proud of my teaching colleagues who put themselves at risk in order to support young people.  I’m proud of my students who have undergone multiple changes in learning modalities, and continue to show up and make me smile.  I’m proud of the Iowans who wear a mask each and every day only to be insulted by slack-jawed yokels (some of them in red hats) who think that “freedom” has something to do with selfishness.  But, am I proud to be an Iowan right now?  Not so much.  Iowa is what happens when the government does nothing. Iowans, we deserve better.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear President-Elect Biden

Dear President-Elect Biden,

I’m in. You have previously expressed that you would like to have a teacher lead the United States Department of Education (https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2020/07/biden_teacher_oriented_department_education.html), and I just assumed you meant me. I’m about as teacherish as you get. I wear khakis every day, I have a collection of rumpled shirts, I’m a little out of shape, and I care deeply about young people. I’ve taught in small parochial schools, rural public schools, urban schools, and currently in a great suburban district. So, when should I pack my bags for D.C.?

But seriously, you need someone in that position who knows their way around a classroom. The last four years have been a dark, cold era in the Department of Education, and there is going to need to be a massive culture shift. Most importantly, during the pandemic, the work has to be to help students, teachers, and all school staff keep their heads above water. Actually, the Governor of Minnesota recently put forward some steps that I think would be a great start for the new Secretary of Education to undertake. Governor Walz is clarifying how to make sure that more people qualify for no-cost school age care for critical workers. He is insuring access to mental health and telehealth resources and services for teachers. He is making it a priority to provide in-person services to students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). He is setting clear and unique expectations for those who are learning face-to-face and those who are engaging in distance learning. He is building additional time into the day for teacher preparation as teachers are teaching in an online or hybrid setting. He is also mandating face coverings in schools in order to keep students and staff safe. The bottom line is that he is doing something. As a teacher in a state where the governor is doing nothing while our COVID numbers explode, it would be nice to have a leader in the U.S. Department of Education who provided some leadership, some direction, and displayed some empathy.

I’m going to be honest Mr. President-Elect, I wasn’t a huge fan of most of the Obama/Biden education policies. Those eight years didn’t really change the landscape for K-12 public schools. There was a little too much emphasis on standardized testing, and you played a little too much footsie with the charter school industry. But, it’s a new day and I have confidence that our new first lady is going to help you stay on the straight and narrow. We need leadership from the White House that honors to the work happening in public schools instead of constantly demeaning us. We need leadership in the White House that understands that our steadily diminishing resources aren’t enough to provide the type of programs, curriculum, technology, and mental health support that our students need in the 21st century. We need leadership in the White House that will encourage intelligent, hardworking young people to want to become teachers. We need leadership in the White House that believes that all kids can learn and deserve access to the programs that will best set them up for success.

While I’m probably a pretty flawed candidate to lead the Department of Education (my Twitter feed alone is too much of a hot mess to make me a viable candidate for most any leadership position), there are hundreds of teachers who would make outstanding candidates. My friend Sarah Brown Wessling comes to mind. Sarah is a former national Teacher of the Year who has traveled the country observing schools and sharing a message that we need to focus on the ways that students are learning. She has put her energy into providing thoughtful, meaningful feedback to students that focuses on growth and not on sorting students; she would crush that job. My friend Linda Vanderpool is one of the finest teachers I know. She has worked in rural, urban, suburban, and collegiate settings, and consistently creates classrooms that demand excellence and always keep the students well-being at the heart of everything she does. Maybe the person who would best serve you is my wife Cathy. Cathy has spent her career in Iowa’s largest school district. She has taught band in tiny classrooms, lunchrooms, hallways, and closets. In those less-than-desirable settings she has supported young people in their journey to do things they didn’t think they could do. She teaches them to make music and more importantly she gives them the self-confidence to know that they are smart, that they are talented, and that they are worthy of the greatness that is within them. If teachers across the country could learn from the work she does in the most humble of circumstances, they would come to know that we can change the lives of every young person who walks in our doors.

Joe (can I call you Joe?), I am hopeful that you will help to elevate our public schools. In the midst of this pandemic, your first order of business has to be to make sure students and school staff are safe. You need to provide resources in order to support the new types of learning that are occurring all over the country. You need to provide a lot of flexibility for states and communities. You need to recognize that school districts know what is best for their students and their communities. Mostly, you need to send the message that business as usual isn’t the answer right now. Kids can learn in this challenging environment and teachers are going to work their butts off to make sure it happens, but we need someone to have our back. I believe you could be that person.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney, Middle School Band Director

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Governor Reynolds

Dear Governor Reynolds,

Any chance you can explain this photo to me?

This was taken Saturday, October 3rd in Sioux City by Trump campaign staffer Marc Lotter (https://twitter.com/marc_lotter/status/1312397575752908800) It appears to show you in a small indoor space with no mask with several other people who aren’t wearing masks. Here’s the thing Ms. Reynolds, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. Iowa, under your leadership, has done less than almost any other state to slow the spread of COVID-19. Your defense of doing almost nothing is that you “trust Iowans to do the right thing.” How is it that we should trust our fellow Iowans when we can’t trust you to do the right thing?

So, here’s the thing Governor Reynolds, I’m a teacher. Like most teachers in Iowa, I’m back in the classroom five days a week. Despite what the CDC recommends, despite what the White House Coronavirus Task Force recommends, and despite what infectious disease experts from around the world say would be best practice, I’m in close contact with hundreds of people each day doing the best I can. Teachers are working hard right now; very hard. We’re working in conditions that the experts say aren’t safe, and we’re teaching in ways that no one could have possibly thought to train us for. Teachers and students are doing incredible things right now. I’ve never been prouder to call myself a teacher and I’ve never been prouder of the young people I work with.

I think it’s important to say that my students have been great. They wear masks, they follow school rules about distancing, and they are working hard. I’m teaching students in person and I’m teaching students who are doing school remotely. The students are giving us the best they have and I am so thankful for it. There are two groups who want school to return to normal more than anyone else, students and teachers.

But, and I’ve said this to you before, teachers have to be advocates for our students and for our schools. Frankly, there’s very little upside for teachers who speak out right now. Teachers who express concern about the safety of our students and our colleagues are mocked for being “lazy”, while at the same time we are working harder than we ever have. Teachers who speak out are insulted and told to keep their “politics” to themselves. Just this week I was told the old gem, “those who can’t do, teach”. That never gets old. And I’m not sure at all how any of this became political. I’m unsure how masks became political. I’m not sure how public safety became political. I find it ridiculous that following the advice of world-class scientists is seen as a political act.

Teachers are cursed by the desire to see data, review data, understand data, and act on data. Governor Reynolds, the data for public health in Iowa isn’t good. Here is a graph put together by the people at the Iowa Public Policy Project (https://www.iowapolicyproject.org/) using data from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

To a teacher, or anyone who understands data, this shows that Iowa is going in the wrong direction. As a teacher, if I saw that kind of data with my students, it would be malpractice if I didn’t change my teaching. It would be malpractice if I kept doing what I was doing. It would be malpractice if I blamed my students for data getting worse so consistently for that length of time. What I am not so subtly saying Governor Reynolds is that it is malpractice for your administration to continue to do nothing as Iowans continue to get sick and die. This week you changed the guidelines for quarantining in our schools (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2020/09/29/iowa-gov-kim-reynolds-covid-19-coronavirus-press-conference-update/3571612001/). Dr. Pedati, our state’s epidemiologist, admits that this new guidance flies in the face of CDC guidelines. She also admits that we are following the lead of Nebraska and Wyoming in adopting this new strategy. I’m curious as to when all of the great experts in infectious diseases moved to North Platte and Laramie.

Teachers see you ignoring the data and are becoming frustrated. We watched your administration take away our ability bargain with our districts three years ago for no good reason. We are watching as you remove the ability of our local school boards to determine what is best for our school districts. We are watching as you set a bad example regarding masks and social distancing. We are watching.

Let’s say that you aren’t going to change your mind about bring teachers and students back into schools. Let’s say that you are going to continue to “trust Iowans to do the right thing” and continue to do next to nothing to stem the continued rise in COVID-19 cases. What are you going to do as teachers start to leave the profession in increasing numbers? Teachers are burning out (https://kiwaradio.com/local-news/the-pandemic-is-taking-a-toll-on-the-mental-health-of-teachers/). Me and my colleagues are doing our best, but this isn’t sustainable. You have placed us in conditions that aren’t healthy and a lot of us aren’t going to be able to stick with this. We’re staying at this because it’s the work we are passionate about and because we care deeply about our students, but it’s just not sustainable.

Governor, I just want you to lead. I want you to put yourself in the mindset of a teacher and look at the data. I want you to set an example for Iowans. I want you to do better than to look to Nebraska and Wyoming to give you cover for bad decisions. I truly want you to be the leader you say you are. Iowans aren’t OK with your leadership right now (https://www.kcrg.com/2020/08/02/approval-of-gov-reynolds-handling-of-coronavirus-worst-in-nation-survey-finds/). Again, the data would suggest that you’re failing. Do what any good teacher would do and change your strategy.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney, Teacher

Categories
Uncategorized

Dear Betsy: The View From the Yacht

Dear Ms. DeVos,

It’s me again. Just a public school teacher from Iowa reaching out to you. As you might know, many public schools are back in session. Mine went back a couple of weeks ago. Like many schools, we are operating with a hybrid model of learning. The details of our hybrid aren’t that important to this message, but suffice it to say I’m seeing some of my students in person and some of my students in a virtual setting. You should know that my students are doing great things. For all of the problems that you might see right now, students aren’t the cause of any of them.

Here’s the thing Betsy, you’re not helping. Over the last few weeks it appears that you have focused your attention on four things. 1) Demanding that schools to open regardless of CDC guidelines. 2) Trying to divert public tax dollars to your friends who operate private and religious schools. 3) Insisting that we continue to force our students to take more standardized tests. 4) Spending time and resources at the Department of Education trying to shut down programs that support our understanding of different cultures and different perspectives on American history.

I am willing to bet everything in my pocket that you aren’t willing to leave your mansions and yachts for a week to stand in front of my classes day in and day out. Iowa is a COVID hot spot and our governor is insisting that all schools engage in face to face instruction, in spite of what our local school boards and experts say is best for our students. The people who are letting politics drive these decisions (you, Mr. Trump, Governor Reynolds) would never consider spending 8 hour days doing the work we are doing. And let’s be clear, we’re not martyrs. We don’t want pity, we don’t want platitudes, and we don’t want to hear about “returning to normal” right now. Things aren’t normal and that’s not our fault (I’ve got some thoughts on whose fault it is, but that’s for another day).

There have been many motives attributed to why teachers are reluctant to return to face to face learning, but there’s only one that matters, and that is that we care about the safety and well-being of our students. Very often it is our job to make sure the voices of our students are heard in the maelstrom of debate around public education. Their voices are easily lost if teachers don’t speak up. It is easy to sit on a yacht and say that kids and teachers should be sitting shoulder to shoulder in classroom, but it’s much harder to see students and colleagues getting sick as we do all we can to protect them and ourselves. The decisions about when and how we return to face to face learning should be left to local school boards and school leaders. There was a time when conservatives were fans of less government intrusion and more local control, but those days seem to be long gone. The Trump/DeVos Department of Education is the most intrusive in my lifetime.

It’s also hard to watch you spend so much of your energy trying to divert our public tax dollars to schools whose mission is to turn a profit on the education of our students. The disdain that you and Mr. Trump have for public institutions and public employees is shameful. The revelation of Mr. Trump’s comments about those who serve our country in uniform is just an example of how this administration feels about those who choose service over lining our own pockets. Now, more than ever, all possible resources need to made available to public schools so that we can serve ALL students. Our students need access to counseling and mental health services, they need access to technology, and they need more teachers available to help them learn. And for all of things our students do need, what they don’t need is more standardized testing. Our time with our students is too precious right now to be wasting our time having them fill out bubbles on a test sheet. If you don’t think that teachers are measuring our students learning each and every day and adjusting our teaching based on those measurements, you’re more out of touch than I think you are.

Lastly, I promise you that teachers are going to continue to have conversations about how we serve our increasingly diverse student population. You and Mr. Trump can do all you want to try to stop those conversations, but you will fail. ALL of our students deserve to be seen in our courses and in our curriculum. There is nothing more American than being honest about our history and making sure that all voices are heard. Where you believe you see teachers promoting agendas, what is actually happening is that teachers are listening to our students and our communities. In the midst of this pandemic, teachers are trying to understand ALL of our students better. Speaking for myself, I’ve got a lot of work to do. My experience as a 52 year old white guy from Iowa is vastly different than my immigrant students who know more languages than I do and who have seen much more of the world than I have. I grew up always knowing where my next meal was coming from, not all of my students have that luxury. I grew up never worrying about my interactions with people in authority, most of them looked like me and gave me every benefit of the doubt; that isn’t the experience for many of my students. I need to learn, and there is no Department of Education investigation that is going to stop that.

You’re focusing on the wrong things Betsy. Put your focus on students. Put your focus on providing resources to ALL students. Put your focus on supporting local control. Put your focus on lifting up public educators rather than demeaning them. Put your focus on learning.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, my fat carcass is in front of kids teaching five days a week. If you’ve got an army of better qualified people who want to do this work and can do it better, bring them on and I’ll step aside. Until then, I’m suggesting that the amateurs in the cheap seats (or sitting in yachts riding out the pandemic) sit down and leave the work to the experts.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney, Teacher