Sick-Day Hoarding, Pension Stealing Teachers–Standing with Kentucky Educators

An open letter to Governor Matt Bevin:

As a teacher in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, I’ve listened and taken part in lunch time conversations filled with opinions on Governor Matt Bevin’s most recent comments regarding state workers, public pension benefits, teachers who would leave their job for their own personal interests, and I quote, teachers “sticking it to the taxpayer” by hoarding our sick days.

Before I touch on Governor Bevin’s remarks, let me start by saying, like so many other teachers in Kentucky, I am a proud teacher. I started my 7th year of teaching, all in the same small school district in the state of Kentucky, earlier this month.  I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had moments where I strayed a bit from the path, but in the back of my mind I always knew I would be a teacher. After all, teaching is in my blood. My mother has been teaching since I was a little girl; she was actually my kindergarten teacher! She is currently finishing up her doctorate degree and has numerous degrees and certifications, all in the education realm. She is a highly educated woman, just as most teachers are. She is truly skilled in her trade. She will probably be paying off these student loans for years to come, but she is a master teacher, as are thousands of other teachers in this state. She is a lifelong learner and teacher who didn’t become a teacher for the fame and glory, but because she wanted to have a positive impact on the life of our student’s with special needs. Her true passion is working with our students on the Autism Spectrum, and by all accounts, she is absolutely incredible at what she does. She has been teaching for well over 20 years, and I don’t see her stopping anytime soon.

I knew from a young age that teachers weren’t just teachers during the school day. Teachers work long hours both before and after their contracted time. My mom could be found in the school building at all hours of the night, whether working on IEPs or coaching one of many sports. Teachers are on the clock when they’re doing their grocery shopping and they are stopped by a parent to chat about Johnny’s latest quiz grade. Teachers have way more papers that need to be graded than their 50 minute planning period allows, and that planning period seldom exists because of state and federal mandated IEP/504/PLP meetings along with parent phone calls, conferences, making copies, prepping for the next day, analyzing data and ensuring your head is still on straight.

To say I’ve never met a lazy teacher would be an outright lie, but it would be an even bigger lie if I said that the majority of teachers didn’t give their absolute all each and every day. Teachers are held up on a pedestal, and the majority of teachers far surpass that pedestal. We give our absolute all to our students despite having our own families, our own lives, and our own needs that need tending to. We give up family time to focus on “our kids” and what is best for them, even if that means losing precious hours of sleep at night.

Governor Bevin’s statements about both state workers and teachers are, in the least, absurd. Every teacher I know has worked tirelessly for their pension. He/She has put in more hours than will ever be tallied on a time card. These teachers have been to war for their students, fighting to ensure their needs are met. These teachers are highly skilled, highly educated professionals. These teachers, much like doctors, have to make split second decisions that will impact their students forever. And while doctors are regarded in the highest of esteems, teachers, for whatever reason, are being demeaned as sick day hoarding, pension stealing thieves.

I absolutely hate not being present for my kids. My kids need their teacher to thrive and excel, and I know that while we are blessed in having substitute teachers, a substitute can never replace the role of the actual classroom teacher. I hate having to use a sick day, and most districts are seeing a shortage in substitute teachers. I live with both Irritable Bowel Disease and severe migraines. I have remained at school during flair ups where I had to run to the bathroom in immense pain, clutching my stomach with tears flowing down my face, because I didn’t want my colleagues to have to cover my classes during their planning times. I have stayed through migraines in which I have lost my vision because I knew my kids needed me. I would love to use my sick days, and I am blessed to work in a district who wouldn’t bat an eye in giving me a sick day if I needed one, even if there wasn’t a single sub, but I AM A TEACHER. You, Mr. Bevin, have excelled in life partly because you’ve been blessed with teachers who pushed you to become the absolute best version of yourself possible. Teacher aren’t “hoarding” their sick days, but we know the true value of a teacher is in the classroom, not at a home, and we are willing to sacrifice our health and our own needs to ensure that all of our kids, even the ones who grow up trying to take away our hard-earned pensions & benefits, are given the absolute best opportunities possible.

The pension problem in the state of Kentucky has existed for years, but blaming any of the problems on the teachers in this Commonwealth is simply wrong. The teachers are the soldiers on the battlefield every day. We are fighting for each and every kid in the classroom to be given the best education possible. At this point, attempting to place the blame on who created the pension problem isn’t going to help solve the problem, but I can confidently say that teachers “hoarding sick days” is not what caused this problem. I will happily tell you what can fix this problem, though, Mr. Bevin–teachers. Instead of demeaning teachers, ask our opinions. Listen to our opinions. Actually listen. Create councils of educators, not of people who have never sat in a classroom before. Take note of our needs and concerns. We aren’t greedy monsters out for more than we deserve. We simply want to be able to retire after our years of service and live a comfortable life. We don’t need yachts and mansions. Heck, we know those aren’t coming our way. We just want to be fairly compensated for the years we’ve given to our students–the now hardworking men and women of Kentucky.

Instead of breaking down education in Kentucky, lift it up. One of my previous students (a now high schooler) messaged me tonight asking me to read over a paper of her’s. After looking over her paper, she immediately told me she can “always count on me.” I hope that we can say the same of you, Governor Bevin. Change the direction of education in Kentucky. Don’t allow hateful rhetoric to be spread about the great educators in this state. Don’t take away a pension that teachers have spent their entire lives working toward.

I stand with Kentucky teachers. I stand with the men and women who have spent their whole life in the classroom learning and teaching. I stand with my colleagues who work tirelessly to make each and every student feel comfortable in their classroom and give each student the absolute best education possible, no matter the costs. After all, where would any of us be without the education afforded to us by our teachers?

–Kerrie

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“There are Years that Ask Questions, and Years that Answer.”

Somewhere along the line during my 6+ years of teaching, I was told that every 3 years you have an existential crisis. It may not have been put in those exact words, but that is pretty much what was insinuated. I should’ve known when I posted my last blog post almost a year ago that year #6 was going to tick all the boxes. Every year of teaching has brought upon new and exciting (this is the positive and PG version of what I am actually thinking) adventures, but year #6 was a complete doozy.

A demanding schedule. Outside negative influences constantly looming. Outside influences expecting perfection. (I mean, seriously? NO ONE IS PERFECT. I tell my kids this every time they find a typo in one of my papers that they just HAVE to point out because I’m an ELA teacher. I’m an imperfect person. So are you! Welcome to life! UGH Sorry for that soapbox rant…) Pressures that come with testing and data and numbers. A whole ton of shifts and movements in my school building.

SIDEBAR–But notice not a SINGLE one of those pressures have to deal with the kids. NOT. A. SINGLE. ONE. I’ve learned that the one thing that constantly gets me from year to year are my kids. All the other “crap” (I’m sure someone is bound to be offended that I called everything else crap,  but compared to our kids, well, it just is.) just doesn’t even come close to mattering when our kids our put into play. 

As a people pleaser, I am constantly having an internal struggle with this idea that as teachers, we are constantly under the eye of every single outside influence. Whether it be people in our district, parents, people in the community, people we don’t even know, there are constantly pressures put on teachers, whether deserved or not. I KNOW (I mean, truly. In my heart of hearts I KNOW) that the kids are my number one focus, but all of the constant pressures of teaching weigh me down. I get defeated. I think about what else I could have done differently to please this person or make this person happy.

Avoiding and ignoring this internal monologue is something I am still learning each and every day. I stroll through Pinterest looking for quotes that just resonate with me. (I know. Poetic, right?) Quotes or sayings that make me think, Ah. Yes. That is it. Someone else gets it. It isn’t just me rowing this boat all alone. I’m not out here in the middle of the ocean surrounded by water.

I’ve been trying to focus on these quotes at the beginning of each day, hoping to avoid another year #6 (at least for three more years, right?) These mantras have been my focus as I walk into each day, worried about the crazy outside pressures.

“Become more aware of what’s really worth your energy.”

“And every day, the world will draw you by the hand, yelling “This is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No, This is whats’s important.”

Year #6 was a year that asked a whole lot of questions from day one through its very last day. I am hoping to make year #7 the year that answers those questions. What is really the most important? Where should I really invest my time and energy? Is the stress and anxiety worth it?

I think as teachers we are sometimes viewed as these beings that are supposed to be an image of perfection. We are forced (or the force is pushed upon us) to live everyone else’s image of perfection. She shouldn’t talk too much. She shouldn’t share her opinions too much. She shouldn’t be so loud. She shouldn’t be friendly with her kids. She shouldn’t let her kids know she actually cares about them–just kind of during the school day cares about them.  She shouldn’t do this or that or anything that makes me uncomfortable even in the slightest bit.

And that was my year #6. Constantly feeling tested. Constantly second guessing myself even when I believe (even when I KNOW) I did my absolute best for my kids.

I intend to make year #7 completely different. No second guessing. Being focused on what matters. Being a year of answers. Becoming aware of what is really worth my energy. Staying kid focused through every up and down. Reminding myself that there are always people, whether students running in wanting me to read their latest story and give them feedback, coworkers stopping by to just check on me, friends texting me a just thinking about you text, or my little family ready to cuddle and love me every day I get home, in my corner.

So here is to you, year #7. Another year, I’m sure, of pure chaos. Another year of teaching. Another year of building relationships and pushing my kids to reach even the highest of expectations. To a year I’m sure will bring so many more questions, but to a year I hope will bring even more answers.

-Kerrie

 

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Starting off year #7 with hopes of a renewed sense of self and a whole bunch of answers.

“I can’t do it anymore.”

So, I had a meltdown today.

Less than a full month into the school year, and I went into full meltdown mode.

I’m fairly certain I repeated “I can’t do this” more times than I can count on two hands. I felt my heart palpitate. I started breathing a little harder. I kept saying over and over that there was absolutely NO way I could make it through this school year alive.

4 different preps, 3 different grade levels, kids from very bottom to the very top, grades on grades, all the extras of “teaching”, trainings, bi-weekly meetings …”I just can’t do this.”

And as I’m sitting here typing this, I see the sign in my room that I have kids read aloud to me multiple times a day–“We can do hard things.”

I preach to my kids on the daily. I preach about my expectations. I preach about how we are the example in all instances. We are the example when walking down the hallway. We are the example when we are completing our work to the best of our ability. We are the example when things get tough, and we keep pushing through it. I preach how no matter how hard a task is, YOU CAN DO IT.

But in those few moments, I truly felt as though teaching was no longer my calling.

That this year would be my last.

That the joy of teaching had been sucked right out of me.

And then, I walked into my classroom.

The kids were ready to get going. 2nd period flew on by, and 3rd period walked in. Kids I’ve had THREE years in a row. Kids who have seen me during good times and bad. They’ve seen me teach at my best and probably my worst.

Without knowing the struggle I had earlier in the day, a conversation somehow gets started…

“You know, you’re the first kind of teacher like YOU in this generation. You’re loud, but you expect a lot from us. “

And another girl chimes in…

“Everyone tells me I’m going to be a “Ms. Bal” teacher when I grow up. That’s a good thing.”

And another girl, who I had as a 7th grader and is now a senior , pipes up…

“Ms. Bal is the reason I want to be a teacher.”

And I suddenly had a smile on my face.

The stress from earlier didn’t matter. The worry and anxiety from the morning had gone away. I had a smile on my face.

And it hit me. Yeah, getting in grades in a timely matter is important. Sure, the trainings and meetings and amount of paperwork is always going to be there. The stress probably isn’t going to go away soon, and I’ll have to make due.

…but it’s the kids that matter.

What matters more than any of the other things I’m worried about is the KIDS realizing I make a difference. The kids realizing I care. The kids realizing that no matter what, I’m going to push them and push them until they believe they can do “it”, & I’ll be there to push them back up when they fall.

The kids.

So as I’m still at school at 5 PM on a Tuesday trying to gather up stacks of paperwork to take home, say a prayer for me. Keep me in your thoughts. Send me your good juju. Pray that I constantly remember that I am in it FOR THE KIDS.

Because in the grand scheme of things, nothing  and no one else can or will ever be as important as the kids.

–Kerrie

PS-For the second time since school started, the sign at the top has been set on my desk by a colleague, and how true it rings. “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”

Army Brats Unite

I feel as though this post needed to be titled “Army Brats Unite” because so many people I grew up with will understand what I’m about to say.
 
This afternoon I pulled an 8th grader during the last class of the day (and yes, I waited until afternoon announcements were over) to talk with him. He had a rough way to go in one of his classes today, and since we’ve had a good relationship for several years, I figured I could help find out what was going on.
This young man proceeded to share several things with me, but one frustration of his stood out in my mind. This 8TH GRADER was upset that some of his classmates were closed-minded. He didn’t mind that his views differed from his friends, but he did care that some were so closed-minded that they wouldn’t listen to reason or engage in a collegial conversation with him.
We started discussing why this might by the case (and no, we weren’t bashing any other students in the process), and every thing we discussed all came back to  one’s upbringing. If you’re raised to not value other’s opinions, why would you all of a sudden do so in a classroom?
This 8th grade young man, in the middle of raging hormones and crazy body changes, can figure out that it makes sense to appreciate other people for their differences. He gets that he can have friends who don’t all think the same thing, as long as they can take part in a conversation with valid reasoning and logic. THIS 14 YEAR OLD BOY GETS IT, yet I see adults who struggle with this every day?
Rather than share our views and discuss our differences, we bash not only the other’s views, but the other’s being. We start bashing the person’s personality, their lifestyle, WHO THEY ARE all because we don’t see eye-to-eye.
Instead, why don’t we just talk? Why don’t we start saying, “You know, I get what you’re saying, but here is why I think this” instead of “Well, that’s stupid” or “You’re clearly an idiot.”
I praise God every single day for working with middle school kids. The kids keep me grounded. They remind me we aren’t all the same. We didn’t all grow up the same way with the same values and the same Sunday dinner procedures, but that doesn’t make any  of them any less important or valuable.
 I praise God for reminding me that I live in a world where people of all different colors, races, religions, and sexual orientations exist to make ME a better and more well-rounded person. If an 8th grade boy can also get that, why can’t the rest of the world?
P.S.–Yes, I did set the feature image for this picture as my high school dance team. Girls from all over the world with totally different lifestyles, but we seem to be getting along just fine. 🙂

A Work in Progress

Let me start this entry with an overly vague thought–I once read a quote that really resonated with  me .  That really isn’t saying much, as I’ve been quoting song lyrics on my AIM away message since I was in middle school myself, but this quote continues to stick out to me…as both a 20-something figuring out life and a middle school teacher.

“We expect others to be a final product while we allow ourselves to be a work in progress.”

As I pushed through this Monday (as I do every Monday for the simple fact that I am not a morning person), this quote kept coming into mind. I am far from a perfect person, and I am constantly working on becoming the best version of myself. And as a teacher, I have to remind myself of this simple fact every day.

I am far from perfect. I let my kids know if I have a headache or if my day has been “rough”…they ALL know to behave if they’ve heard that last part.

But do we always allow our kids to be a work in progress?

I often get called crazy for teaching middle school, and most people know why. Most people remember their own emotional, mood-swing filled middle school years and can’t imagine ever going back.Our kids are constantly changing. I pulled a student aside today. This is a student I’ve pulled aside many-a-times to redirect. I KNEW this child could be better, and for some reason, my constant re-directions finally kicked in for him. I’ve been  nagging this student for MONTHS, and today he finally decided that he could be a better person. He decided he could focus; he decided he could work non-stop all class period; he decided he could be the best version of himself…it just took him a while to get there.

So next time our kids make a mistake, take a step back. Breath for a minute. No, don’t take it easy on them, and don’t let them slack. Let them know your expectations and let them know you truly believe they can succeed. And while it may take almost all school year to get our kids where we believe they can be, aren’t we all a work in progress?

Kerrie

 

 

 

“Mom…I mean Ms. Bal…”

I have never claimed to truly understand the trials and tribulation of parenthood. I’ve never given birth or adopted a child through some state agency, but some days I truly feel as though I am both teacher and mother.

I constantly preach to my kids the importance of independence.

I will not hold my kids’ hands every step of the way. They have to learn to succeed ON THEIR OWN. Society won’t hold their hand for them.

I will not always be there to wipe away the tears and kick their tails back into shape.

For most kids, this method I use works…

until I have to actually turn into “Mom”.

More so than most professions, I come in contact with a wide array of children whose living situations are not “typical”…honestly, what is typical anymore?

I’ve had students from every walk of life. From students living in self-proclaimed mansions to students who bounce from house to house every day, I see it all. Sometimes, I get knocked right on my butt and am forced to refocus my perspective.

I had a moment today where I truly had to stop and think about being “Mom”. Yes, I teach middle schoolers ELA. Yes, I preach relationships with students…but what happens when I have to “mother” the student? Way beyond building a teacher-student relationship, but truly having to tend to the student’s basic need and desire for love…what happens then?

What happens when I have to hold the kids hand and fight with them to simply finish a single problem because no one will push the child at home? What happens when I am the one pushing the student to succeed and be their absolute best because no one at home believes they can be better than where they came from?

I hear so many people (mostly parents) say that ALL parents care, they just don’t always show it.

I beg to differ.

Now, this post certainly wasn’t written to bash parents. I know many parents who are very supportive of their children and who push their child to excel.

My point is that we  ALL have to realize that some days we have to put on our “Mom” hat. Some days, being “Mom” is WAY more important than being the ELA teacher because, well, who else will fill those shoes?

So, as frustrated as I may get, I am going to try my absolute best to remember that having to fill this role surely isn’t my kids’ fault. At 11, 12, and 13 years old, a child shouldn’t be worrying about who will be making dinner or whether or not anyone truly believes in their ability to succeed.

Next time I hear a, “Mom…I mean Ms. Bal”, I’ll put a smile on my face and except the duty not with resentment, but with every ounce of love I can muster.

After all, we all just need our Moms some times…

Love, Respect, and A LOT of Hard Work

A student walked in my classroom for the first time today. Despite this being the 4th day of school, this child walked into my room for the very first time this afternoon. The other students and I have worked diligently these past four days on various introductory assignments, none of which this child was aware of in the least bit.

Wonder what the first thing this kid said to me was…? Before he even introduced himself to me…?

“I heard you’re a pretty cool teacher, but I’m going to have to work in here.”

SCORE.

This quick interaction tells me one of two things. Either my reputation precedes me (and I obviously mean this in a great way) OR (and this is what I am hoping for) in four short (yet extremely long) days, somehow kids already get me.

I want to be laid back. I want to have fun. I want kids to feel comfortable walking into my room, and I want them to know I am here for them each and every single day….

BUT…and perhaps equally as important…

I want my kids to know they will be pushed. WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.

These first few days I’ve challenged my kids. I’ve ensured my kids have totally understood the 5 major rules in my classroom. I’ve ensured my kids filled up an ENTIRE page on what they know about ELA, even when they SWORE they couldn’t do it. I pushed them and encouraged them to keep going and to not stop until they gave me their absolute best.

And they can expect that this entire school year…from the very first day to the very last.

Long story short, what I hope my kids get out of this year the most is the love and respect I have for each and every single one of them.

Enough love and respect that I won’t let them quit. I won’t let them slack. I won’t let them be less than their very daggone best.

So yes, I will be the teacher that starts working on day #2. I will be that teacher that works my kids on half days and ensures they’ve completed all of their work to the best of their ability until they are blue in the face.

The relationships I build with my kids are far more important than knowing the difference between their, they’re, and there…even if not knowing drives me crazy. THESE relationships are the ones that ensure that when I am pushing and prodding my kids, they see it as love, not only as the annoying teacher who won’t get off their back.

As I tell my kids each and every day, WE ARE THE EXAMPLE. We will be the best, and we will show our best each and every single day. Don’t you dare every let anyone think that we are anything BUT the best.

Here’s to another year of being the absolute best we all can be in my classroom.
Wishing you all a phenomenal year of being the absolute best you can be. Remember, we are the example. 🙂

–Ms. Bal