Teachers, Keep Your Foot on the Gas

I know this post is going to anger some and perhaps alienate others, but I’m feeling bold.

“I gotta hand it to you, Ms.Teague. AP exams are over and we're still going. You’re the only one who hasn't let off the gas.” The student went on to explain how he wasn't doing much of anything--academic or otherwise-- in most of his classes. Now, I think he is exaggerating but I also believe that the notion of “teacher as performer” is real come May and June.

I get it.

The end of the school year is a challenging time. Sun’s creeping out, honeymoon is long gone, testing season is draining to everyone, and no one knows what bell schedule we're on.

I get it.

The light at the end of the tunnel is shining brightly. No one wants to assign work because it will need to be graded. You've worked really hard and students are exhausted. Heck, we're all beat and ready for summer.

But the longer I'm a teacher, the more frequently I hear weird excuses for the lack of engaging, thoughtful, relevant curriculum the last month of school.

Can't be creative when there’s so much testing happening.

It's a Monday!

Gosh, Wednesday-- hump day!!

Since it's Friday we'll just have a free day.

Now that AP exams are over, we’ll just...

If I had a dollar for every excuse tweeted, posted, or uttered in the hallway,  I'd have paid my student loans off much sooner.

Here's the deal: when we throw in the towel, students do too. More skipping. More fights. More time for drama that gets in the way of learning. Packing up my classroom (even if I have to move), tells students I’m done. Showing a movie for a whole class period (or days) with no connection to standards, assessments or higher level thinking--let alone actual relevance--tells students that I’ve become a glorified babysitter. I’ve now become an anecdote in Conservative Cousin Conner’s rant about wasted tax dollars and teacher summers.

If education is the great equalizer, how are we providing opportunities for our students to learn all year long. If we stop writing lesson plans three or four weeks before the end of the semester, we're telling our students their education doesn't matter. If we let all our routines go out the window, we’re telling them that we have low expectations for their behavior.

I find this especially problematic from an equity point of view. If a student is long-jumping over benchmarks, then we should keep the challenges coming, preparing them for post-secondary academic experience. If a student is behind in reading and writing, we ought to be milking every last minute with them in order to help them get to grade-level.

I can’t help but wonder how much less remediation might be necessary if teachers used their class time more efficiently. I also can’t help but wonder how much unconscious bias plays a role. John Hopkins already proved that white teachers expect less of their Black and Brown students. Knowing this research and the history of gate-keeping, our choice to call it quits when we still have over 1,000 minutes with students is shameful. This is especially essential for White teachers who espouse ideals of racial and social justice.

Bottom line: our baggage can’t matter more than their learning.

The end of the year is an opportunity to ensure that all students have exercised their academic muscles as much as possible. As an ELA teacher, I'm pressed to hit all my standards (reading, writing, speaking & listening, and language). Districts develop power standards for this very reason. So, at the end of the year, teachers should be digging deeper or going into skills and content that is perceived as “extra”.  

The end of the year is the perfect time to try a new strategy (dice!) or assessment tool (Kahoot! Socrative!). This is the time of year when my student relationships are the strongest--I’ve spent all year cultivating community and have the most buy-in. I can ask them to do almost anything. But, they have to see the reason and have choice.

I look to several colleagues for examples of this. A couple of English teachers I know built student-interest driven units based on Google’s 20% approach. After the AP exam, my husband teaches two units-- Mock Congress and How to Handle the Police. I collaborate with my 10th grade ELA team and World History teachers to create an interdisciplinary inquiry-based research projects. Each of these units has a clear connection to future academic needs or personal relevance to the student, elevating student autonomy and student voice.

I’m not going to pretend all my students are excited about my approach, but for the most part it is how I frame the conversation. I am honest about how we all feel, but I am positive about the final days of the school year. I explicitly discuss the connection between the unit/assignments and the real world, their personal lives, or the longer term trajectory (this will give you a leg-up Junior year). Most importantly, I expect all my students to arise to the occasion and I support them with my scaffolding.

We must overcome our lethargy, embrace a “fake it till you make it” mentality, and keep our foot on the gas the entire school year.


Just Use Your White Emoji 👍🏻

Disclaimer: While there are more important issues such as a lack of electricity or running water in the United States, I'm going to focus this post on a problem at the intersection of  race and privilege. This post isn't scientific or heavily research based.  You've been warned.

Initially, my Indian-American friend pointed it out to me. She just wanted to send an emoji that looked like her. The first time a black friend sent me a 🌚 I laughed. Then, to my embarrassment and shame, I realized why he did that. He had two choices--- a white face and a moon. A moon.

So in 2015 when Apple released its “diverse” emojis, many people of color shouted in glee. Finally, was an option besides yellow or white!   The Atlantic captured the excitement in an article titled: “Finally, Emoji People of Color”. But not everyone was excited. Writer Paige Tutt (a person of color), argued that racialized emojis are more problematic because it makes race at the forefront of every conversation and can stir up hard feelings among friends--we are now questioning the racial motivations of others.

Why does this even matter?

Because when we don't see ourselves reflected in the larger society we know we aren't valued.  That's why it's crucial to see women in positions of leadership. That's why it matters that TV and movies have actors of all colors, sexual orientations, and religions represented. That's why we needed Barack Obama.

This isn't about being “politically correct". It's about not being a jerk. It's about understanding that the world is comprised of many beautiful differences that help us see something different than our own myopic perspective.

While it's imperfect and still can lead to misrepresentation (👳🏻‍♂️?!!??), I personally think the more diversity that’s represented in our tech, the better. But I’m a hwhite lady. I always have racial representation even if I don't have gender  representation. It’s not my place to evaluate the authenticity of racemojis. But I can and will speak to the problem of white people co-opting emojis that don’t belong to them.

How many white people noticed that besides the yellow characters, the default people were white (and technically still are if you consider the ranking order of the skin tones)? I’d venture to say that not that many white people actually noticed that to begin with (unless someone of color pointed it out). To me this is indicative of the disconnect white people have with ideas of race. Race is for others, not for us. White people tend to talk or think about race if it is juxtaposed next to anything perceived as non-white.  For white people, we can chose when we want to talk about race, notice it at all, or just ignore it. Even in 2017, people of color do not have that luxury.

This is why I get so 😣😡 when a white friend sends or posts a non-white emoji. At first I thought I was the only one who noticed this. But then, a simple 👩🏻‍💻  showed me that the folks at The Atlantic wrote an article called “Why White People Don’t Use White Emoji” which basically says that white people in America experience shame about their race and therefore use any other color besides white. I’m going to try to address some of the nuance here.

First, using a non-white emoji when you’re a white person is appropriation-ish (like when you have no connection to Asia but decorate your house in fetishy way). It also comes across like you’re trying to claim some color in your life to get 😎 points. This can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings and awkwardness.

Second, it’s reinforcing the “right” kind of brown. White people love to be tan because it's the right kind of brown. I am definitely not as white as 👍🏻 and in the summer I'm more of a ✌🏼 but when 🖖🏽 is the next option it's obvious that I'm the first. I think when white people a darker shade of white they are saying “this is my tan”--even if they aren't tan. While it may be “harmless” and make us feel better about ourselves, it's reinforcing society’s norms about what is and isn't the right kind of color. This is yet another example of white privilege in action.  I can choose to be tan and therefore reap the benefits (compliment heaven) but a POC can never choose to be white. You don't want to be called Rachel Dolezal now do you?  

Third, “woke” white people, just stawp 🙄. I sometimes feel that white people who are trying to be woke think using a brown or black emoji is a sign of solidarity.  Of course there's a 🕐 and a 🗺 it's more powerful for you to understand your white privilege and use it for actual good--stand up for a POC on Twitter or  attend an event on Immigrant Rights. ️

I get it. At the root of the co-opting of non-white emojis is fear. Some white people are concerned that if you use the white one does that mean you are saying white power? While many emojis can convey multiple meanings raising a ✊🏻 definitely seems like you're saying “white power”.

Let's not forget that how much thought goes into your emoji-sending varies. I categorize responses as 1) this is a general emoji response. 2)  a “this emoji is me” response.  For example  am I generally raising a fist ✊🏻or am I raising BLM fist ✊🏿? Again, this seems to go with the idea that white people get to choose when to talk about their race and when to draw attention to it..which imo is a prime example of privilege. Are you meeting a friend 👩 or a  👩🏾? What about a 👩🏻👩🏼??  in contrast people of color do not get that luxury.

I find it interesting that Europeans don't have any qualms about using the white skin toned emojis 🤷🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♂️

So what I'm saying is this: Own your whiteness. 

If you identify as white and experience white privilege, USE A WHITE EMOJI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.



See these examples for appropriate uses of your white emojis:




Two Interchangeable White Ladies Start a Podcast

Generally, when white people get together we talk about everything else but race. We don't talk about it because we think we don't have to--and it feels weird. So we ignore it.

Specifically, when white women get together, we spend hours talking about leggings, scarves, wine, mole skin notebooks, and a bazillion other things. If we bring up race it’s either in relation to makeup (Ivory? Beige 1?), undergarments (nude, white or black?), or attraction (tall, dark, and handsome).

There’s nothing wrong with talking about those things, but, white folks need to start having conversations that communities of color are having (have had for a long, long time) about race, class, and power. We need to realize that, while a social construct, race has real implications for daily life and is a crucial part of identify formation for many people. We need to stop ignoring it because it's hard to talk about or makes us feel uncomfortable. We need to acknowledge that we have a place in the conversation and we need to figure out what the heck that is. 

In effort to deconstruct this thing called race and the privileges, burdens, and baggage that accompany it, I’m co-hosting a podcast. Our hope is that our show will be a place to discuss education, culture, and local activism. We’ve committed to eight episodes that will attempt to answer our essential question:

How can white women use their privilege to deconstruct white culture, confront their own biases, be better allies, and be less basic?  

This year, I am working with one of my favorite interchangeable ladies, Annie Jansen, to launch our first podcast! We are lucky to join Channel 253, a podcast network sponsored by Move to Tacoma with other gems such as Nerd Farmer Podcast, Citizen Tacoma, and FloundersBTeam.

The podcast mode should allow us to grapple with some tough issues while making fun of ourselves and the culture of white women in this country in a way that traditional writing can’t quite capture. No, it's not just for white women. 

We hope you will join us on this new adventure, listen to our show and feel free to DM us on Twitter @IWL_Podcast with ideas and topics you’d like us to explore.

Women of Color in Education Should Be the Norm


Ate Josie (pronounced a-taay, meaning “big sister” in Tagalog) had a stern face. She was no-nonsense when it came to Children’s Church at TayTay New Life Christian Fellowship. It was 1987 and we were going to learn about Jesus, come hell or high water. It didn’t matter that we were sweating buckets because the ceiling fan had stopped working.

Ann Chau spent every Saturday night at Harvesters Youth Group actively listening to awkward and dramatic teenagers, her eyes simultaneously empathetic and judging. She always listened.  Trustworthy and loyal, she taught us that compassion for others was more important than popularity. She encouraged our crew of misfit, tri-culture kids from around the world. Ann made me feel valued and through our relationship I realized I wanted to do that for other teens.

Christina Tsu was my youth pastor and the “boss” of my senior year internship at a local church (I was still living in Hong Kong). She counseled me as I decided who my closest friends were and what college I would attend. It was under her leadership that I became self-disciplined, learning how to passionately serve others, and how to listen to God through prayer. She shaped my notions of self-worth and my belief in God. This is the year I realized I wanted to teach high school and not become a nurse (plus body fluids are nasty!).  

These women left a fingerprint on my life. While my exposure to women of color in leadership and education roles is a little nontraditional (I didn’t attend school in the United States),  it has shaped how I viewed women in power. I grew up thinking that women of all colors could be in positions of power and authority while leading their respective communities. This was my norm.

My experience is not the case for many students of color in the United States today. There are systemic reasons for this exclusion that are embedded in our history of institutional racism. Often, educators of color serve in auxiliary roles such as paraeducators, office personnel, or career counselors.  While this is important and without a doubt these educators change lives, only 18% of certificated teachers are of color. With such a low percentage, it is likely that most students will never encounter a teacher of color in their K-12 career.  

Disclaimer: I want to acknowledge that women--particularly women of color--have always been marginalized teachers in society. As mothers, grandmothers, aunties, and sisters, they instill the most important life lessons about the world in their children, grandchildren, and siblings.

Just a couple of weeks ago I lurked in the background of an #EduColor chat titled “Her Struggle, Her Power: Women of Color as Educators.” I felt this chat was one of the most important conversations I’ve joined--not because I actually had anything to say, but because I had everything to learn. A few things stood out to me:

  1. Women in teaching deal with a lot of the same crap from a system that doesn’t value them enough. Teaching was one of the first professions open to women in a society that didn’t view us as intelligent or capable (ironic considering we’re the ones educating future generations *Kanye shrug). So now we’ve “proven” ourselves, but we’ve also proven that we will tolerate poor working conditions and mediocre compensation packages.

  2. Women of color have it even worse than white women. In addition to being poorly paid, teachers of color aren’t treated the same way their white counterparts are. Often they are disproportionately subject to working with “hard” cases and seen only as disciplinarians rather than instructional experts. Furthermore, in addition to gender discrimination, they face straight up racism from students, parents, colleagues, and the system as a whole!  

  3. Women of color in education reach students in a way that interchangeable white ladies need to learn from. I’d argue this is probably my most important takeaway from that Twitter chat. But it’s also the most challenging. I’m still grappling with what this looks like. I don’t think this means you awkwardly pretend you understand the WOC experience or say anything weird about how their race must help them connect with all kids from ____ racial background. Maybe start by reading this article by Christina Torres Under Pressure: Being a Woman of Color in Education. Then, go read the transcript of that Twitter chat and comment here with your own reflection.

I am the white woman I am today because of women of color.

Goals for a New School Year: #ObserveMe

Note: I started this site for more personal musings on education but I also write for the Stories from Schools blog. Here is an excerpt of a recent post on my goals for the upcoming school year. 

I first spotted the #ObserveMe hashtag on a leisurely scroll through my Twitter feed. This piqued my curiosity. Who’s observing me? What are they observing? As I spiraled down the internet, I found that Math teacher, Robert Kaplinsky, is challenging educators to rethink the way we pursue feedback by making it easy and immediately obtainable. It’s simple. Make a form that says something like “Hi I’m ____. I would like feedback on the following goals:_____”. There is no right way to set up your #ObserveMe sign. Then, adjacent to this invite place a reflection tool. From reflection half-sheets to QR codes connected to google spreadsheets, a teacher can embrace any way that is easy (and I’d argue most meaningful) for them to receive this feedback.

I discovered that while #ObserveMe isn’t quite trending yet, it’s catching fire even at the university level. In teacher prep, some professors are using it as a way to model to preservice teachers the need for a clean feedback loop. Today's teachers are constantly working to fight the isolation that can happen in this profession. We are also always looking for ways to improve and receiving meaningful feedback on our instructional moves is hard to find. Here’s what I like about Kaplinsky’s challenge to teachers.

It increases the frequency of feedback. With #ObserveMe, I don’t need to wait for my administrator’s scheduled visit. I don’t need to wait for end of unit or end of course student reflections. I don’t need to wait for my instructional coach to find time to come into my classroom. I don’t need to wait for a colleague to get a sub so they can meet with me about student learning. In fact, this has the potential to give me more, real, immediate feedback from a variety of perspectives than anything I’ve seen this far in my eleven years of teaching.

For more click here.