Teaching Thanksgiving: historically accurate and developmentally appropriate

For years I’ve known the story of “The First Thanksgiving” that I (and likely most of us) learned in school is historically inaccurate and white washed. It can be tricky to balance teaching the holiday, cute crafts, classroom/school traditions, and hard history especially in an early childhood setting. In the past, I have focused on thankfulness when teaching Thanksgiving in an effort to avoid teaching inaccurate history but still celebrate the holiday. I have also used the Scholastic News Thanksgiving issues to talk about Thanksgiving long ago and today but have realized they perpetuate problematic stereotypes of the first Thanksgiving story.

This year, I tried something different. I went out on a limb, took a risk, and attempted to discuss the truth behind Thanksgiving with my brave first graders. Our conversation focused around 2 images and the concept of myths.

Students looking at the images while they eat snack getting ready to discuss what they see.

North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has some really great resources for teaching culturally responsive instruction here. I used one article in their list for my lesson: The True Story of Thanksgiving from Muse Magazine. I read the article prior to teaching and used the images in the article to show my students. It isn’t an appropriate text for first graders to read on their own.

First I displayed this image on my Smartboard. There were laughs as soon as I put it up.

I used a protocol for students to turn and talk about the image. The protocol is very familiar to my students because we use it regularly. The protocol is called See, Think, Wonder. Students used the sentence starters, “I see…” “I think…” I wonder…” to discuss the image with a partner. Then I asked volunteers to share what they think is happening in the picture. The class agreed that it shows a big meal, probably Thanksgiving dinner. I asked for evidence that leads them to believe it was a gathering for a meal and they pointed out the big table, all the people, some food and drinks. Then I asked what was wrong and I’m sure you can imagine the laundry list. I guided them to discuss things like which season is it and how do you know, which holidays or celebrations are shown, who might the people be and why don’t we expect to see them together, does this look like the past or present and how can we tell. Each thing we discussed I invited students to point out evidence in the image to support what they were saying.

Next I introduced the concept of a myth as a story that some people think is true but isn’t and we noted that the above picture is a myth because it confuses holidays and seasons, the alien, it looks like its both past and present, and the penguin dancing on the tray.

Then I projected this image which is a portion of a famous painting depicting the First Thanksgiving that shows a very similar scene to the picture shown prior.

We followed the same protocol and discussion prompts: What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? What is happening in this image? What is wrong about the image? Students quickly stated this is an old Thanksgiving feast because of the clothes and the turkey on the tray. Things they noticed we wrong were the “judge” on the left side (their word) and what looks like snow on the ground by a red fall bush but the tree has green leaves. One student pointed out the Indigenous man at the table guessing maybe he doesn’t have a home. Which was a great opening to the first important myths about the image: this man does have a home, he is Indigenous meaning he lived on that land before the other people got there (We talked about Indigenous peoples rather than Columbus day in October), he was not the only Indigenous person at this meal there were actually more Indigenous people than there were English people. I briefly talked about how people usually refer to the 2 groups of people as Pilgrims and Indians but that we will call them English and Indigenous because it is more accurate. I then asked who looks like the helpers in this image? They guessed the English were the helpers because that’s what it looks like in the image – another myth. Actually a lot of the adult English people got sick and even died. Most of the English people at the feast would have been children and teenagers. The Indigenous people were the helpers and taught the English settlers how to live on the land. We also discussed the food in the image and the truth is that at this gathering the Indigenous and English wouldn’t have had turkey, they would have eaten fish, duck, venison, corn, and wheat based on the crops at the time. A student shouted out, “I bet the didn’t even call it Thanksgiving!” Yes little friend that is accurate.

We did discuss what happened after this meal, did the Indigenous and English remain friends? My students remembered from our discussion on Indigenous People’s Day that the settlers told them to leave the land and sent them away and were violent toward the Indigenous people. That is as far as we went with this part of the discussion.

I next gave my students the 2019 Thanksgiving issue of Scholastic News and asked them to cross out parts they through were myths. I challenged them to look at the images and read the text but most just looked at the images. Some kids crossed out everything assuming everything is a myth, some looked critically and asked questions of classmates and me. We reviewed the issue by discussing the parts that were historically accurate, things we know are myths, and some things I was unsure about. That’s where we ended the discussion.

Things I’ll do differently next time:

  • Tell my students up front we will be talking about something tricky that makes a lot of people nervous
  • More time for students to reflect on new learning
  • Talk about cultural appropriation and why it is not ok to dress up like Indigenous people
  • If I choose to use the scholastic news again, we will read it together so they analyze the text and not just the images.

I know that it is scary and uncomfortable to have these discussions with adults and I’m not going to lie, my stomach was in knots for the whole 45 minutes this discussion went on in my classroom with 6 year olds. Depending where you are in your journey toward educational equity and culturally responsive teaching you may need to just stop what you used to do and try something low risk.

Low risk ways to celebrate Thanksgiving :

  • STEM activities such as Balloons Over Broadway or How to catch a Turkey
  • Crafts like disguising a turkey (this can be extended using chatterpix to make a short video of kids telling why the turkey shouldn’t be captured)
  • Focusing on turkeys
  • Focusing on Thankfulness
  • Compare and contrast foods

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m still processing and reflecting on the conversation I had with my students. What feedback for growth do you have for me? How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in your classroom?

Diverse Texts

It’s nothing new that including diverse texts in our classroom libraries and read alouds is incredibly beneficial to all students. Yes, all students. Not just students of color. Diverse texts allow students to see characters who look like them so they can see themselves in the world of literature. Diverse texts also allow students to see characters who are different from them so they can make connections across those differences and build their empathy.

When I use the term “diverse” I’m referring to all people of color, differing abilities, religions, sexual orientation, genders, family make up, etc.

I’ve noticed that many curriculums that include read aloud texts, aren’t very diverse so it is up to me as the teacher to intentionally select diverse texts that fit the same standards as the texts. It’s an important, time consuming, and expensive process to find and select texts for this purpose. I have built a decent collection of diverse texts for my classroom that I’m quite proud of. My Amazon Wish List is full of more texts I want to purchase.

One morning in the shower (because that’s where all the best ideas hit me) I realized it would be amazing to have some sort of searchable database of diverse texts linked to both curriculum standards and the Teaching Tolerance social justice standards. This curated list would connect curriculum to intentional text content highlighting diverse characters.

I created this form for people to input their favorite diverse character texts by answering simple questions about the book. I would love for you to add your own favorite texts to the form. This isn’t just for me, we are better together and we can build an amazing resource together too!

The spreadsheet this form populates is searchable using the control + f keyboard shortcut.

You can also follow my twitter and instagram for weekly posts of the books I’m using with my students!

Flipping for Substitutes

Flipping the classroom is a teaching practice in which a teacher videos themselves teaching and send it to students to watch at home. The idea is that teachers can lecture for students to take notes outside of class time. Students then come to class prepared with knowledge and questions. Class is then interactive and hands on because students already had direct instruction.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but I don’t think teachers should be flipping their classrooms. We can’t expect students to watch videos at home and learn from them. It is inequitable. Not all students have access to devices and internet at home, some students work, some play sports, some help out with other siblings.

A few years ago I taught a multi track first grade. In our year round schools, we run on 4 different tracks or calendars. At any time there are 3 tracks in and 1 track out. Each track is in for 9 weeks and out for 3 weeks. In my multi track class, the students tracked in and out every 3 weeks and I was an 11 month teacher and tracked out less frequently. During my track outs, I had a substitute so instruction could continue. This is the year I started videoing my teaching and leaving those videos for substitutes because I needed to teach at 2 different paces depending on the instructional day for the tracks that were in at the time. This made sub plans………. challenging.

I began doing flipped videos in math for substitutes so I could ensure the strategies my students needed would be taught correctly. The video served twofold – it taught the strategy to my students and the substitute. In my sub plans, I left directions to assist with students as they watched the video and practiced. My videos followed the same structure of my typical lessons with dry erase board practice while I modeled. At the end of my videos, I gave directions for independent practice.

This seemed to work well and I got good feedback from substitutes because the knew exactly how to help students. My students like to see my face or hear my voice even when I wasn’t with them.

Later that year, I realized I could get more bang for my buck with these videos. I started to upload them to google classroom so my students could access them at any time they needed a reminder. After a parent conference in which a parent asked for a how to on math strategies, I stared uploading them to Seesaw as well so families could see me model a strategy. Please note – though I shared the videos with families, I never required students to watch the instruction at home.

I still flip my classroom for substitutes. I’ve even started making videos for literacy instruction. This year I plan to incorporate science or social studies videos into sub plans as well. This method works best when you can plan ahead for a substitute because it can be time consuming to make the videos. I don’t flip my classroom for substitutes when I am out sick because my plans are usually a little more hurried.

Here’s one example of a video I made for a substitute:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1XWHz6KIVl9XCyqo3e5NhqNwtBtLgfFXjab7LBNlKDKA/edit?usp=sharing

Do you flip your classroom? Does it work for you? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too Book Study Reflection

Why I chose this book

I read this book because it had been recommended so many times by so many people that I trust. As a white woman, I was looking for a book I could read to help me understand the perspective of my black and brown students. I wanted some introductory information on restorative practices (which are similar to the cyphers discussed in the book) in school. I knew this book was more about high school students but I knew I could find ways to apply it to my work in the elementary classroom. Since it was highly recommended, I just knew I would learn a lot.

Major take aways

I loved that Chris Edmin shared mistakes he made after first getting into the classroom. I learn a lot from mistakes, my mistakes and the mistakes of others. He refers to students in urban schools as neoindigenous. Too often the educators who work in urban schools come from outside the community and don’t spend enough time in the community and the students are the ones who are native and know the culture of their neighborhood. Educators have a lot to learn from their students. He invested the time learning about, from, and with his students. I spend a lot of time and effort building relationships to learn about my students. I would love to incorporate more ways to learn from and with my students.

As a white woman, it is important for me to unpack my privilege and fully understand that my own history impacts the way I show up at school and interact with my students. I struggled with this at first. I didn’t want to see that I brought privilege into my work with my students. But I know that I do. Confronting my privilege made me realize that I can be myself but also learn to see and value my students’ experiences. This book talked a lot about seeing life experiences from different perspectives. The work is in asking questions to understand other’s perspective.

Understanding my privilege is one thing, but I need to ensure that I’m making real connections with my students. I can do that through telling stories about my life and listening to their stories. I loved the chapters “Coteaching” and “Cosmopolitanism” which were about creating a classroom culture of collaboration and shared celebration.

As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but make so many connections to the work that NCAE is doing right now. Edmin talked a lot about how urban areas get a lot of charter schools coming in and trying to fix the kids and the neighborhood but that isn’t what they need. This work can and should be done by public schools. If you’re in North Carolina, interested in or are currently doing this work, and you aren’t a member of NCAE yet, I highly recommend you do your research and join!

Making it accessible for Littles

While this book was a lot more self work that direct application to my classroom, I believe that the work I’m doing will impact my students.

I particularly liked the chapter “Chuuuurch” because I made so many connections to my own classroom. Edmin explains how we should make our classrooms more like black churches. Kids should sit where they want and should be able to respond as desired. In my classroom, I use flexible seating because I believe it is best for kids. I’m also flexible on the whole raise your hand to speak thing. One of my class rules is one voice because I believe it is important for people to not speak over each other and to focus on the person who is talking. But, I try to keep my classroom conversational.

In the book Edmin talks about call and response and movement being essential to neoindigeneous youth. I have been trying to incorporate more of this in my classroom lately and I noticed that littles really love it when I do!

The book study PLN

Reading this book and having conversations about it with others who were also reading it helped me understand what I was reading and better apply it as I work to improve myself. It was nice to have face to face conversations with people who are nearby and looking to incorporate restorative practices with their students. I also participated in video chat conversations with people from across my state. I believe the most important part of social justice work is finding others who are doing the work too. We must build strength together in order to continue to grow.

Does this even solve the problem?

Today we had a lockdown drill at my school. I quickly hurried my children to a corner, locked my door and turned off the light. I placed some furniture in front of our hiding place. Shushed my children and pulled them closer to me. They asked what we were doing and I whispered that we were practicing in case there was danger in or near our school.

I could tell from the look on their faces they were afraid and confused. One cried. One covered their face. Many were antsy and couldn’t sit still. One had a nervous cough they couldn’t stop. One asked about one of our friends who was out with another teacher.

It lasted 15-20 minutes. It felt like an hour. I had to give many reminders to try to be still and quiet. I texted my husband because, to be honest, I was scared myself.

When it was over we circled up to talk about it. I explained the purpose of a lockdown and the difference between a drill and real life. I explained how a lockdown is different from a fire or a severe weather drill. They offered ideas about bad guys, weapons, and guns. They told me they were scared, worried, angry, and bored. They wanted to know how to distract themselves and be quiet. How they’re supposed to think about happy stuff when they’re afraid.

I reassured them that they were safe. To look for helpers and follow directions quickly when a lockdown happens.

I tell this story because people need to know what educators are thinking when we have lockdown drills. Do I tell them my real plan if we were in real danger? Do I tell them it would never happen to us? (That could very well be a lie.)

Do you know that when setting up my classroom I made sure we had a hiding spot? Did you know that I made sure I had furniture I could use to barricade our door nearby and easy to move quickly? Did you know that I am terrified when I forget my key at home?

Did you know every day educators think about where to run? Where to hide? We consider if we would fight or not?

How Letting Them Choose Teaches More Than Reading

How I Helped One Child Build Perseverance Through Reading

My school is Positivity Project school. We teach each of the 24 character strengths for a week at a time. Staff takes the character strength quiz to identify their top strengths. Perseverance has shown up in my top 3 strengths for 3 years in a row!

1: Love of Learning, 2: Creativity, 3: Perseverance, 4: Perspective, 5: Fairness, 6: Kindness, 7: Honesty

Part of my why is helping kids to build a sense of perseverance in their lives. Being that this is one of my top 3 character strengths, I’m not surprised that it is a huge part of my why!

I’d like to tell a story about a little girl from my class last year that was able to build and exhibit perseverance. She struggled with reading. She purposely selected leveled readers only from the A-C bins because she felt confident about those books. Even though I allow all students to choose books from any bin, she stuck to these bins. She stuck to those bins until I read Personal Space Camp by Julia Cooke as a read aloud. She did not struggle with respecting others’ personal space but she did LOVE this book.

At the time, I was teaching identifying lessons learned and central message of a story (NC.1.RL.2). I had created a bin of books that I had used to read aloud and model identifying the lesson learned and placed it in our classroom library. I wanted my students to have access to these high quality, diverse texts while book shopping because I know that access to complex texts helps to build students’ text comprehension. I also know that multiple readings of a text helps students become more fluent readers and helps them feel more confident in their reading abilities.

I’m sure it comes to no surprise to you that she took that book and put it in her book bin to continue reading. I allow students to always choose their books in their book bins and give them the autonomy to decide to keep books they love rather than swapping them all out each week. I believe that students self selecting a variety of texts is important to their growth and success as readers. She kept this book in her book bin almost the entire school year!

At the start of the school year after she initially placed it in her book box after I had used it as a read aloud only once, she could read about 10% of the words on the first page, most of which were sight words. I conferenced with her regularly and each time she wanted to read this book even though she struggled with it every time. One day, I asked her why she kept reading this book even though the words were difficult. She answered (paraphrasing since it was a while ago), I love the story and I want to read the story.

For her, this book symbolized her reading goal for first grade. This book is measured at about 600 lexile and the typical first grade range is 190-530. For her, reading this book meat that she was a good reader. For her, reading this book independently meant that she learned everything she needed to be a successful first grader.

This was the first time she selected a text other than from the level A-C bins so I decided to encourage her and coach her. Each time we conferenced, we read a different section of the book. We discussed how she felt as a reader each time. And we talked about what was happening in the story. The progress was slow. Very slow. But she read this book every day.

By spring, she was able to read the entire book cover to cover. She could retell that story like she lived it herself. She used it as an anchor text when comparing (NC.1.RL.9) the adventures and experiences of characters in stories. She even asked to read the book aloud to the class by her self during snack one day and of course I said YES!

Pictured above is a different student reading a different text with a similar story. I managed to not get a photo of the child this story is about reading her favorite story.

I made some really important choices that impacted this student’s growth in both reading and perseverance. I choose to allow all my students to use my read aloud texts for independent reading. I choose to let her read a book we both knew was very challenging for her. I choose to focus on her connection with that text over her current reading abilities. I chose to encourage her and coach her as a reader. I chose to build her confidence. Because of these choices, she grew as a reader from reading level B books at the start of first grade to reading level J books at the end of the year. Because of these choices, she learned that if she sets her mind to something and doesn’t give up, she can do amazing things!

Student Choice and Reading

I believe that student choice is important for lots of reasons. Student choice helps build relationships and trust. Students take ownership over their learning when they know they get a say. Students can make personal connections to the content through choices. Learning is “sticky” and memorable when students have voice and choice. Kids like having a choice. But, today I want to focus on student choice during reading instruction.

I teach reading in a workshop model with a mini lesson, call to action, conferencing, and small group instruction. Conferencing with students and small group instruction happen while students are independently reading. My mini lesson and call to action are whole group instruction. At this time, I make a connection, state a strategy, model the strategy, then ask students to try it when they get to their book boxes.

I give students full agency over the books they have in their book box. I have 2 rules: Students should have 10 books. They should have a variety of books. Students are assigned a day of the week for their independent book shopping. When students go book shopping, they have the choice to keep as many books as they want and trade as many books as they want as long as they keep 10 books. I teach several lessons about selecting a good variety of books ranging from: fiction vs nonfiction, finding books on similar topics (all books have bears but are different types of books), choosing books on topics they don’t think they like, making book recommendations and using them to choose books, leveled vs. non-leveled books, etc.

My classroom library is very organized. I have leveled books, theme books, author books, non fiction collections, chapter books, seasonal books, etc. I teach students how to put the books back so they stay organized and one of our classroom jobs is the classroom library helper. Last year, I purchased these dot stickers on amazon and I use them to label my personal books into their theme bins. I do have leveled books that belong to the school and those stay in the labeled leveled bins. I personally like to keep my books completely separate from the school owned books. Students have free choice to choose from leveled bins and theme bins. Choosing some leveled books is part of having a variety of books. However – I. 👏 Never. 👏 Tell. 👏 Students. 👏 Which. 👏 Bins. 👏 To. 👏 Select. 👏 Their. 👏 Books. 👏 From. 🙌

My quick thoughts on leveled books: Books have reading levels and can be categorized in that way. Children are not leveled and should not be categorized in that way. period

I have a flexible classroom and have blogged about it here and here. Flexible seating also applies to independent reading time. Students can read any where they want: under tables, at a table, on a pillow, on any flexible seat, on the floor, in any position they choose. As long as students are spread out, safe, and comfortable. They can be anywhere that works for them. This doesn’t happen by mistake or magic. It takes a lot of teaching, practice, praise, reinforcement, and modeling to make it work.

My students take our reading time seriously. It is important to them that they choose a spot where they can focus on their books and not their friends and they take some serious time selecting books for their book boxes. While I don’t believe that students should be leveled, my reading assessment data has proven that giving students voice and choice is beneficial to their growth as readers. At the end of last school year (2018-19) 100% of my students met proficiency or better. 2 readers even grew from exhibiting reading behaviors to decoding and comprehending a level I and K book.

An amazing thing happened today (7/17/19)

An open letter to NC Superintendent Mark Johnson

Mark,

Happy Independence Day! I appreciate the email you sent through the Read to Achieve email account. The FAQ list was informative. However, I’m concerned that a 15 page document addressing 26 common questions that generates more questions than answers is a red flag. Below are 20 more questions I would like to see answered:

1. Will I get more planning time to review assessments and analyze the results to use in my instruction?

2. Do I get to have blocks in my first grade classroom for students to play with?

3. What about students with speech needs or quiet voices? What about background noise when recording students’ reading?

4. Does the game like interface have an effect on students not taking the reading assessment seriously?

5. Are we getting the curriculum and the assessments?

6. Why is this information coming from the read to achieve email and not a person, like Mark Johnson?

7. Who helped Mark Johnson reach this decision? Since he only has 2 years teaching experience and neither of those years were spent in k-3.

8. You keep saying istation has multiple research studies that support its validity but, does it have predictive, valid, and reliable measures that educators can use for instruction? What are those measures?

9. Will schools receive more devices in order to administer these digital assessments?

10. How much is this costing taxpayers?

11. How will this impact EVAAS since I’ll begin my year with mclass assessments and then transition to istation in January?

12. Do we really need to focus on improving students test taking skills? Does that indicate true learning?

13. What was wrong with mclass?

14. Who benefits from this adoption since it’s the same company as class wallet?

15. With istation home, what about families who don’t have access to devices or high speed internet?

16. I noticed the screen shot with a character on it. He is white. Are people of color represented in the visuals students will see?

17. What about our blind students or students who receive visual assistance?

18. Is this appropriate for English language learners?

19. Were year round schools take. Into consideration with the training and implementation schedules?

20. Is there a printable report to send home to parents informing them of each subtest, what it means, how their child scored, and activities they can do at home to support their child?

Other thoughts –

A fun, engaging, game like interface does not make it developmentally appropriate.

I’ll be filing my open records request tomorrow.

Sincerely,

Aubrey DiOrio

WCPSS First grade teacher

Cary Resident

Whyyyyyy Flex Seating

I’ve been using flexible seating in my classroom for several years now. At the beginning, flexible seating was an administration requirement. Now it is a choice. An intentional choice that I have made because I believe that it is best for my students.

I fully believe in flexible seating because it allows for student agency over their learning. In my classroom, students are free to choose any table or space in the room where they would like to work. They are free to move the different types of seating around to suit their needs.

I use flexible seating because it creates the space for both collaboration and independent work. I believe that flexible seating works great for both extroverted students and introverted students. The spaces I plan for in my room are purposeful. I have both large group gathering areas, small group gathering areas, and independent spaces. I encourage students to choose they type of work environment that works for them. But I also challenge them to try collaboration when they typically work alone or to work alone when they are typically working with a partner. I also tell students that if they are not focused on the task at hand, the adults can move them to try a different space that may fit their needs.

In my classroom, the seating isn’t the only thing that is flexible. The tables and shelves are also flexible. We move the furniture in our classrooms as our needs or activities. We’ve pushed tables to the edges to open up the whole room, we’ve put tables together to make bigger tables, we’ve moved tables to provide spaces to store projects, and turn tables into stages. Our room isn’t static. It changes based on what we are doing.

None of this happens by accident. It requires training, practice, clear expectations, more training and practice, and consistency. It requires feedback from educators and peers for seats and spaces that work best for each individual student. Flexible seating requires student reflection.

Do you use flexible seating? What keeps you using it? Why do you choose flexible seating?

I’m a Teacher Advocate

I moved to North Carolina to be a teacher in the summer of 2007. I didn’t know anything about the area and I didn’t know anyone here. All I knew was that I needed to get some classroom experience so I could go home to New York and get a teaching job. It’s been almost 12 years and I’m still here gaining classroom experience and I don’t see myself leaving.

Not long after I got my first teaching job, the state of public education in North Carolina started on a downward spiral that we are still trying to get out of. Since moving to NC, per-pupil spending has gone from $8,615 in 2007 to $9,528 in 2018. Not only are both of those numbers below the national average for that year, but the difference between NC per-pupil spending and the national average has increased over time. We currently rank 39th in the country in per pupil spending.

Teacher pay follows a similar story. I was excited about moving to North Carolina because the teacher pay scale had a scheduled raise every year. Before the end of my first year teaching, that pay scale froze. It remained frozen for 4 years. It was fine. I never got into teaching to get rich. I was living paycheck to paycheck and wasn’t able to save money but I could pay all of my bills. I have a master’s degree. I shouldn’t have to live that way. No one should.

Over my 11 years of teaching, I have seen a lot of changes in schools. From a decrease in teacher assistants to an increase in testing requirements. At first, I was baffled that the schools in North Carolina didn’t have a full-time nurse in every building but that is just the beginning. I now have fully scripted programs I’m required to teach for phonics and math. It’s coming soon for reading, I fear. My creativity and professional discretion has been stripped from me in the name of fidelity and equity.

It took me 9 and a half years of teaching in a deteriorating system to finally see the importance of joining our educators’ union, NCAE. I recognized the importance of organization and communication among educators when working toward better learning conditions for our students. I was starting to get frustrated with legislators taking advantage of passionate educators. I watched the work in Virginia and West Virginia and realized NEA was where the work was being done. I immediately joined my state and local chapter. I was even more excited to see the work in more states.

In May 2018, a march and rally were planned to show solidarity and begin to make moves on our general assembly. It turned into about 42 school districts closing and 30,000 educators, parents, and students showing up in downtown Raleigh to fight for schools our students deserve. We could have that same strength and power every day through membership.

After the rally, we worked together during the midterm election to support and vote for candidates who support public schools. We broke the supermajority in our general assembly which is a major win. Could you imagine the changes we could see in North Carolina through more members in NCAE?

In January I attended a full day meeting on a Saturday with other educator advocates. We discussed our dream for schools in North Carolina, the past and current political climate, and where we are going as an organization. We learned how to talk to elected officials and use social media to our benefit. Above all that, we build community. We made connections and friendships with like-minded educators from all over the state.

Last week, I had an appointment with my state senator, Wiley Nickel. I went prepared with a bulleted list of some of the important things we are asking for from the general assembly for public schools. I handed him my list and we chatted. I was so nervous. I had never talked to a legislator before. Turns out, they’re human. He was really easy to talk to. He wanted to know about my school, how we’re staffed, what is important to us, and what I love about teaching in North Carolina. He seemed genuinely interested and he asked to visit me at my school. Then he asked me not to leave North Carolina public schools. I look forward to meeting with him again.

Through all of this, I’ve learned that teachers shouldn’t be afraid or nervous to advocate for what they know is best for students. Legislators make the laws, but we know what we need and we need to make that transparent. We don’t need to be doormats that get walked all over and taken advantage of. We need to welcome the community into our schools and share the reality of educating young people.

I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Teaching is rewarding in so many ways. Senator Nickel, I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to fight for Strong Students, Strong Schools, Strong Communities for as long as it takes. Will you join me?