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Dear Senator Kraayenbrink

Dear Senator Kraayenbrink,

Just checking, were you quoted accurately here? “Not in the Fort Dodge district, but in my Senate district, they’re requiring these schools to put kitty litter boxes in the bathroom,” he said. “The thing is, these things are happening in Iowa on a regular basis and nobody knows about it, because the media doesn’t cover these things.” It seems as though you are claiming that schools in Iowa are “regularly” putting litter boxes out for students. But wait senator, my favorite part of the article is when the media asks you to elaborate on this fantastic accusation you’ve made against public schools and the media. “To follow up with you concerning your question, I had a conversation with a parent in the school district I was alluding to several months ago, which I took as confidential. I have not verified that conversation with school officials. With that being said, I wouldn’t feel comfortable identifying the district.” So, it went from something that happens regularly in public schools across Iowa, to a single parent who told you something several months ago that you aren’t able to verify.

Here’s the thing senator. You’re a liar. In a public setting, in your position as a state senator, you authoritatively stated that schools across Iowa are putting down litter boxes for students to use. You didn’t say that you heard a rumor that it was happening, you said that it was happening on a regular basis and that the media refused to report it. You can’t name the district (or any district) where this happens because it doesn’t happen. You’re a liar. Why lie? Well, you’re trying to get your Iowa House colleagues to act against the will of their constituents to send public dollars to private schools. You believe that by scaring uninformed voters about public schools where kids are using litter boxes that they will support vouchers. You’re also stirring hatred and you know it.

It seems shocking that a state senator would be dumb enough to believe that this kind of thing is true. What is maybe less shocking is that you’re not the first Midwest senator stupid enough to repeat these lies (https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/nebraska-lawmaker-apologizes-debunked-litter-box-claim-rcna21951). To the Nebraska guys credit, he apologized for repeating this garbage.

Iowa needs to have real conversations about public education. The problem is that you aren’t interested in real conversations. You want to scare people with lies about what is happening in our public schools. You and the governor want to have meetings behind closed doors where you figure out how to send your constituent’s tax dollars to private schools with no accountability. It has become clear that we aren’t in a place where we can have thoughtful conversations about public education in Iowa. If you’ll lie about something as obviously false as litter boxes in schools, what else will you lie about? It’s obvious that you and the governor will say anything to do the bidding of people like Betsy DeVos and the out of state big money donors who you serve.

Many people prefer that teachers keep their mouths shut when it comes to discussing the politics of education. I refuse. I won’t allow legislators to lie about what is happening in our schools. I’ll tell the truth about the hard work that happens in our public schools. I’ll tell the truth about great young people working to grow each and every day. I’ll tell the truth about my colleagues who take care of every young person who walks through their doors.

Iowa deserves better than your lies senator.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Teacher

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Dear Governor Reynolds

Dear Governor Reynolds,

Please tell me you were misquoted (https://who13.com/news/reynolds-blames-schools-for-shooting-outside-east-high/). Please tell me that you didn’t wait a week to respond to a tragic shooting just blocks from the state capitol only to say that the “real tragedy” is our public schools. Please tell me that you didn’t suggest that “we” should be “figuring out resources” to support young people when you just signed a budget that didn’t come close to allowing schools to keep up with the fixed costs that they face. But, of course you weren’t misquoted. You took more than a week to decide how you would respond to this tragedy and you chose to blame schools.

What happened on March 7th on the campus of East High School was most definitely a tragedy (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/07/us/east-high-school-shooting-des-moines.html), but the “real tragedy” is that a young man lost his life and two other young people were shot in an act of senseless violence. To try to politicize this situation saying that the “real tragedy” lies in our schools is shameful, lacks understanding, and is frankly beneath your office. The cause of this kind of violence is complex and is worthy of thoughtful conversations. To use this tragedy as a political opportunity to attack schools is deplorable.

You said, “The tragedy is our educational system is letting these kids down.” That statement is eleven words long. It took me a while to figure out why those eleven words were so unsettling, and then I remembered an episode of “The West Wing”. Here is a quote from President Bartlet on that show, “There is it is. Ten-word answers can kill you in political campaigns. They’re the tip of the sword. Here’s my question: What are the next ten words of your answer? Your taxes are too high? So are mine. Give me the next ten words. How are we gonna do it? Give me ten after that. I’ll drop outta the race right now.” So your staff couldn’t get your answer down to ten words, it took you eleven to cheapen this tragedy. But, in the spirit of President Bartlet let me ask you, if schools need to find more resources to help these young people, give me the next ten words? How do we actually help these young people without simply throwing blame at others? Give me ten after that. These problems are too big for ten (or eleven) word answers.

I had the privilege of spending a few hours at school I had never been to over the last two days. I saw fantastic young people making music. I saw hard-working teachers spending time after school working one-on-one with kids. I saw the wonderful pictures drawn by first graders hanging in the hallways. I saw great young people starting their track season. I saw a school where ALL of the students were welcomed. That’s what’s happening in public schools. Do public schools face challenges? Of course they do. Are public schools able to meet the increasingly unique needs of every young person? No. Do schools need more resources to deal with these challenges? Yes. Is Iowa’s legislature providing the resources necessary to address these needs? No. Is the increasingly divisive language coming from your party making the work of our public schools easier? No.

Your words today are shameful. I wish I had a better word for it, but I don’t. Shameful is the exact word I’m looking for. The simple truth is that you and your eleven word answers aren’t adequate for the complexity of what happened on March 7th at East High School. To stand in front of Iowans and suggest that schools should “figure out resources” to support our young people while spending your entire tenure as governor doing all you can to undermine the work of public schools is hypocritical at best. Instead of pointing fingers, how about taking a look in a mirror.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Teacher

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Good Guys and Bad Guys

Over the last few weeks I’ve been called a pedophile, a racist, a liar, and a lot other hateful things. All because I’m a teacher and I proudly advocate for public schools and educators. I have to be honest, when I chose to be a teacher I never imagined that people would feel comfortable saying such hateful things to me, and yet here we are.

A little secret that very few people know is that I enjoy professional wrestling (I also enjoy NASCAR, which also completely goes against my cultivated image as a bed-wetting, liberal, commie, elitist educator…but I digress). My favorite wrestler has always been Mick Foley. For most of Mick’s early career he was known as Cactus Jack. Cactus Jack was a “heel”. Heel is a wrestling term for a bad guy. The good guys are known as “faces”. Mick Foley, to everyone who actually knew him, was a generous, kind family man. But, in the world of professional wrestling, Cactus Jack was a bad guy. People not only booed him, but they spit on him and threw chairs at him. Cactus Jack enjoyed being the villain. He drew crowds because he was so good at being the bad guy. The thing is, every “face” needs a “heel”, that’s what makes professional wrestling fun.

I mention all of this because teachers are being made out to be “heels” in a fantasy world concocted by people whose agenda is to destroy pubic education. It might all be entertaining (like professional wrestling) except that it isn’t being scripted for entertainment purposes. The narrative of scary public schools and “heel” teachers is being promoted by governors, legislators, and even school board members. Now, understand clearly, the world of public schools where teachers are promoting “sinister agendas“, handing out pornography, and need to be monitored by Big Brother, is a fantasy. Here’s the thing that the right wing has figured out, in order for the “Patriots for a Rooty Tooty Future” and the “Parents for a Wholesome Moral Order” to be “faces” they needs some “heels”. They’ve decided to make teachers the bad guys.

First of all, and it’s important to say this, there is a place for vigorous conversations around public education. Parents, students, legislators, teachers, school administrators, and communities need to talk about what we want our young people to know and how we are going to measure success. Teachers want to be partners in a process that uplifts the students who walk in our doors every day. My agenda is to help young people get better. In my case I work to help kids make music. We work on playing right notes, correct rhythms, making good sounds, and on a good day we do that all at the same time. We also work on being collaborative, we work on listening, and we foster leadership. Anyone is welcome to come and watch that happen any time. I’m proud of the work I do and I’m very proud of the young people I work with.

Here’s the thing, I won’t be anyone’s “heel”. I won’t stop talking about what is actually happening in public schools. Call me all the names you want, I’m old, crusty, and don’t care about the labels anyone wants to put on me. But, you don’t get to make up a narrative where schools are harming young people. Public schools aren’t perfect, but every day an army of bus drivers, cafeteria workers, associates, teachers, custodians, office staff, administrators and so many others show up and care about the young people who walk into our classrooms. The fantasy world that is being promoted by those who want to destroy public education is just that, a fantasy in order to further a political agenda. I’ve said this a thousand times, but if there’s an army of better qualified people to do this work, bring them on. I don’t care what political affiliation my colleagues have, I just want them to do what’s right for young people.

I’ve had it with the anonymous online trolls who want to bring down professional educators. I’ve had it with legislators who want to bring down public education by vilifying teachers. Don’t get your information about public schools from people who want to destroy them. Visit a classroom, go to a concert, go to a game, go to a school play, get involved, and be part of a conversation about what our schools can and should be.

The coda to the Mick Foley story is that he couldn’t stay a “heel”. It was obvious to the audience that he was a decent guy and it became impossible to continue to pretend he was a villain. People got to know Mick Foley and not just “Cactus Jack”. Teachers aren’t “heels” in the story of public schools and don’t let anyone tell you that they are.

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Sinister Agenda

Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman began the 2022 legislative session in Iowa by accusing teachers of having a “sinister agenda” (https://www.iowapublicradio.org/state-government-news/2022-01-10/iowas-2022-legislative-session-begins-with-speeches-about-taxes-workforce-and-a-sinister-agenda). He spiced that up with talk of deviant sexual behavior including incest and pedophilia. That’s how the 2022 legislative session started in our state. Mind you, this is the guy who came to my school district and made it clear that he was planning on locking up teachers for doing their jobs (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2021/11/20/book-ban-debate-iowa-senator-calls-for-felony-penalty-obscene-materials-schools/8667630002/).

First of all, Jake Chapman isn’t a serious leader. He’s a carnival barker. But, we only need to look at recent history to know that just because he isn’t a serious person, and just because he’s a carnival barker doesn’t mean that he can’t be dangerous. Jake Chapman (and his friends like Brad Zaun and Eddie Andrews) are dangerous. It isn’t so much that they are dangerous because what they say is ludicrous (bordering on, if not entirely embracing the Q-Anon conspiracy), it is because there is an audience ready to encourage them. For whatever reason, that audience is growing here in Iowa. There have always been non-serious people on the fringe of politics. I remember my father being fascinated by Lyndon LaRouche, who ran for president multiple times. LaRouche was a spreader of wild conspiracies (sound familiar?), and voters in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s had the good sense to keep him on the fringe of American political life. For some reason, Jake Chapman does not find himself on the fringe today. He feels comfortable saying on the floor of the Iowa Senate that teachers are sexual deviants knowing that there won’t be any consequences. We certainly won’t hear a peep from our governor or his Republican colleagues in the legislature.

Here’s what supporters of Mr. Chapman need to know. It’s all made up. For whatever reason, Mr. Chapman has decided to concoct a tale of teachers spending their days plotting this “sinister agenda” in order to…well, I don’t know what he thinks the result will be, but he thinks it will be bad. His plans to ban books that HE finds objectionable and to lock up teachers for doing their jobs is much more dangerous than his made up tale of sinister professional educators.

Parents, students, educators, and communities should be working together to strengthen our public schools. If a parent feels like they don’t know what’s happening in a student’s classroom there’s a simple solution, ask the teacher. I have never met a teacher who didn’t gladly share what was happening in their room with a parent. If the parent is uncomfortable with something in the curriculum, that’s a worthy conversation. But, parents need to remember that their student isn’t the only student in the classroom. Teachers are doing their best to find curriculum and activities that allow all students to be seen and to be heard. Quality learning always includes students and teachers being challenged by material. Parents, students, teachers, and communities aren’t always going to have the same sensibilities and there is a place for thoughtful conversations, but accusations of “sinister agendas” and threats to lock up teachers aren’t the answer.

Mark my works, if this legislative session goes as it seems it is going to, public education is in deep trouble. The direction that Iowa’s legislature has been taking my state, and continues to take us, is designed to make it harder for public schools to be successful. They are actively creating fear and division in order to pave the way for sending public money to private schools. Iowa’s once proud public schools are in danger and I’m not sure how they will recover. There is already a teacher shortage and the actions of Senator Chapman and his cronies are only going to aggravate that crisis.

In recent days I’ve been drawn to a speech from the Michael Douglas movie “The American President”. The president in the movie says the following about a senator who has been spreading lies about him, “I’ve known Bob Rumson (Jake Chapman) for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob (Jake) devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s (Jake’s) problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s (Jake’s) problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson (Jake Chapman) is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.”

Jake Chapman wants to make voters afraid of public educators. He wants people to be afraid of profesionals who have chosen to work on behalf of young people. He wants to bully and vilify people who not only talk about keeping young people safe, but actually do the work. He’s trying to criminalize an entire profession who doesn’t just show up at meetings shouting and making idle threats, but instead shows up day after day in the middle of a pandemic, in a state where the governor threw away $95 million that was meant to protect students and staff. Not only do we teach but we smile, we laugh, we set standards, we follow through on our promises, and we care. There aren’t any sinister agendas Jake, just people; parents, students, teachers, and communities doing their best in spite of the carnival barkers trying to distract us.

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How Would You Destroy a Profession?

Let’s say you were a political party and you wanted to destroy a profession. For whatever reason, you decided that wanted to do everything in your power to decimate a profession.

You might start by taking away their right to negotiate the conditions of their employment (https://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2017Research/170203-collbarg.html). That would surely send a message to the profession you were trying to destroy right?

If that didn’t completely demoralize the professionals you were targeting, maybe you would just chronically underfund their work (https://www.bleedingheartland.com/2020/02/12/iowas-k-12-schools-on-track-to-be-underfunded-again/). Making sure they didn’t have the resources to do their jobs effectively would send them a message right?

Let’s say that these professionals kept showing up to do their jobs even after you have taken away their ability to bargain their contracts and you continued to underfund them, even as you have a massive budget surplus (https://governor.iowa.gov/press-release/iowa-budget-closes-with-full-cash-reserves-surplus-of-124b%C2%A0). I suppose in the middle of global pandemic you might return $95 million of resources meant to protect them (https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/politics/2021/04/30/iowa-gov-kim-reynolds-returns-federal-covid-money-school-testing/7408843002/). Anyone would understand that message right?

What if, beyond all belief, those professionals kept doing their jobs? What else could you possibly do. I mean, I suppose you could insist that their employers couldn’t even engage in the simplest of protection in the midst of a global pandemic. Of course, we’re not talking about letting the employers choose whether or not to protect their places of work, we’re talking about not even allowing them to consider protecting their workforce (https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/20/politics/iowa-bans-mask-mandate-schools/index.html).

I mean, come on, everyone would get the message at that point right? But, let’s just say that an entire profession kept showing up after all of that. I guess you might start micromanaging their work. Accuse them of doing things that aren’t actually happening and create legislation that restricts what they can and can’t say (https://www.iowastatedaily.com/news/httpswwwiowastatedailycomnewshttpswwwiowastatedailycomnewshttpswwwiowastatedailycomnewsreynolds-signs-bill-to-restrict-divisive-concepts-from-diversity-training-and-school-curriculumarticleae3096e6-c960-11eb-b723-4fc2180508f7htmlarticleae3096e6-c960-11eb-b723-4fc2180508f7htmlarticleae3096e6-c960-11eb-b723-4fc2180508f7html/article_ae3096e6-c960-11eb-b723-4fc2180508f7.html).

So what if, incredibly, this didn’t crush the profession. Well, I suppose there is only one logical conclusion. Lock them up. A party that has spent years trying to destroy a profession unsuccessfully really isn’t left with many other options. So, if your plan was to really send a message, you would show up at their workplace and threaten to lock them up for doing their jobs (https://iowastartingline.com/2021/11/19/iowa-senate-president-vows-to-prosecute-teachers-over-books/).

Do you know what happened the Friday after a legislator showed up and threatened to jail talented professionals? Those professionals showed up and did their jobs. But, that legislator made it clear that he wasn’t going to stop until he had those highly educated, dedicated, intelligent, resilient professionals put behind bars. So, to all of the voters of our state, if a political party is successful in destroying (or locking up) an entire profession I have a question for you, then what?

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Dear Voters

Dear Voters,

Across my home state of Iowa and around the country, school board elections are coming up. Please do our students, teachers, and our communities a favor and take this election very seriously.

Being a school board member is hard work. There is a special place in heaven for those who do, and have done, this work. These volunteers give of their time to be the voice of the community doing the hard work of public education. We’ve all seen the videos of recent school board meetings across the country. Our school board members are taking unprecedented abuse for simply trying to make the best possible decisions for our schools. Candidates for school board are enduring abuse for simply choosing to run for office. First, that abuse has to stop. If you find yourself sympathizing with those who are creating chaos in these public forums, take a long look in the mirror. There is a respectful way to have these conversations, but there is a segment of our communities who aren’t playing by those rules.

Here is my plea to voters. Vote for serious candidates. We can disagree on a variety of policies, but this is not the time for single issue candidates who are simply interested in creating chaos. Our system won’t sustain it. We need to vote for candidates who are willing to listen, to share ideas respectfully, and work collaboratively. The work of public schools is too important to be bogged down by years of this kind of chaos. We need to elect serious people who understand the needs of ALL of our students.

This is where some are going to disagree, and that’s fine. First, if a candidate is only running because of masks and vaccine policies, they’re not a serious candidate. The work of our school boards is SO much more than these temporary (and very important) issues. If a candidate is spending time trying to scare you about Critical Race Theory, they aren’t a serious candidate. Public schools aren’t engaging in Critical Race Theory at a curricular level. It isn’t happening, and if you believe it is, you’re getting your information from the wrong sources. Someone who understands psychology figured out that a buzz phrase like Critical Race Theory would scare people and it’s been effective. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important issues for our schools and are complex. They need to be discussed by serious people. The people throwing out the phrase Critical Race Theory, as it relates to public schools, aren’t interested in a serious conversation.

I’ve taught in a district with a whack-a-doodle school board member. It had lasting repercussions on the important work we were trying to do. It takes one non-serious board member to bring a system to its knees. Please be sure the people you are voting for understand the nature of collaboration. If you are considering voting for a board that will simply create havoc, please stay home. While there is a small segment of our communities who want to see our public schools devolve into chaos, they’re wrong and they certainly aren’t in our buildings doing the work.

I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but kids are struggling; teachers are struggling. We need our communities to elect board members who want to be partners in making our pubic schools stronger. The pandemic will pass, but the effects will be long-lasting. Long after people have moved past their fixation with masks and vaccines, we will have to continue to do the serious work of public education. Please, please, please take a moment to look at those running for these important positions and ask yourself if they are up to the task of doing right by ALL young people.

Sincerely,

Patrick J. Kearney

Teacher

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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

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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

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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

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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.