Day 2: And by 7 hours, I meant 4…

It’s a quarter past 11pm, and I’m just getting home.  I forgot that on Tuesday’s I usually go out with a colleague after class.  We haven’t seen each other in a few weeks because our schedules have missed each other and she’s been working on her version of what I should be working on.  Before heading home, I tried to book a study room at the library, but they were all booked for the night.  This made me happy because it gave me an excuse to give in to my selfish desire to go to bed.

I had a productive day.  I did all my work-work, had my meetings, got my homework done, and completed that theory paper that I needed to write.  The theory paper turned out to be very helpful toward my actual dissertation study, which makes me feel less guilty about not working after class tonight.  I’ll be able to use what I wrote today in my qualifying exam.

I feel hopeful about tomorrow (of course this could all be laughable tomorrow evening).  I have a hair appointment in the morning, and then nothing until class at 6pm.  I hope to get 8 hours of solid work done on this beast of a qualifying exam.  I’ve thought about which sources I’m going to start mining and which questions I’m going to start answering, so I think when I get to it, I really can achieve this goal.  After class tomorrow, I have no commitments for the rest of the week, so I still think I can stay on track, despite my little guilty pleasures of sleep and socialization along the way…




National Coming Out Day: Dos and Don’ts

The hardest part about my deepest, darkest secret when I was in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade was that I had no “out” role models. There were faculty members who I suspected were gay or lesbian (and confirmed a decade later), but they kept it all a secret. I was getting the message loud and clear that if you were gay, or any other kind of different, you better blend in, and you better keep quiet.

When I became a teacher I vowed never to send that message to my students. In my first four years of teaching in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, I came out on the very first day of school, in the very first five minutes of every class of 8th and 9th graders. That decision always resulted in one or two parent complaints, but I was always rewarded with exceptional support and respect from my students. I believe and cherish the fact that the relationships I built and memories I have with these students are a result of my candor. 

When I moved to Texas, I was slapped with the reality that the progress we’ve made in some parts of the country, does not exist in others. I was petrified of working in this blue state as an “out” teacher. What used to be a non-issue, and a non-negotiable value of mine to be an “out and proud” teacher for my students was challenged even before students arrived. 

I asked my principal how I should respond if students ask about my sexuality. Reflecting on this now, this was my first mistake. Today, I hope I would have the courage to say to him, “I am going to come out to students on the first day of school, this is a non-negotiable value of mine, are you prepared to support me or should I find another job?”  

My principal told me to tell students, “it’s none of your business”.  Naturally, I thought this was a disasterous way to try and build relationships with students, so I sidestepped, but didn’t resist completely, his suggestion. Instead, I placed a discreet picture behind my desk which included my partner and I in the center, and the rest of my family surrounding us. I told students who the people in the image were, my mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, cousins, aunt, but I never identified my partner. The craziest thing happened. The students never asked. It was like some unwritten rule that they all knew to abide by; “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  

From the moment my principal told me not to come out to students, I was heartbroken. I had to go back into the closet after almost a decade of being comfortable in my own skin. Worse, it was painful to imagine the damage I was doing to any adolescents in my classes who were secretly questioning their sexuality and trying to figure out how to exist in a heteronormative world.

By mid- year, a student came out to me in her journal. I came out right back: “me too”, I wrote.  She was so happy, she couldn’t believe that she finally had a teacher who could be who they were, comfortably. Although, I didn’t see it the same way. Even though students essentially figured out my deceit through omission, it still was a topic that was not openly discussed in my classroom. I perpetuated the myth that gay people must live in secret and assimilate to straights. This is a decision that has haunted me ever since that first encounter with my principal. 

“You’re white.”: On being Portuguese and having to explain your ‘otherness’

First off, I identify myself as a Portuguese-American, and like any human being, I have a set of experiences that makes me unique to all other beings.  Therefore, I do not claim to be an authority on the Portuguese people, on Portuguese immigrants to the United States, or on anything really for that matter.  This is merely a reflection on being called “white” and not liking how it made me feel.

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter.  I’ve had a few conversations with family members about our ethnicity, race, and whatever other socially constructed labels society so desperately tries to impose upon people of particular origins or perceived similarities.  While we don’t agree on everything, we pretty much come to a consensus that we’re not “white”.

Because, being “white” comes with its own set of privileges, doesn’t it?  So, if I’m “white”, like that colleague of mine so matter-of-factly stated the other night, then why were my parents forced to assimilate to American culture when they arrived in the U.S.?  Why were they ridiculed by their classmates for having “non-white” names?  Why did my predominantly first-gen high school operate on a “just go to any college” mentality versus  a “go to an Ivy” mentality?  I know one thing is for certain, the way I interpret my experience certainly does not make me comfortable classifying it as “white”.

Now, let me state that I do agree with one aspect of my colleague’s comments.  I may, to some, be perceived as “white”.  This has undoubtedly afforded me privileges that I am unaware of.  In other words, I may not be profiled or experience discrimination because of a perception that I am “white”.  On the other hand, however, I’ve experienced the opposite as well; an assumption that I am Latino.  Which, I’m sure has led to people making opposite assumptions.

This first started when I moved to South Texas.  People began correcting my last name to “Duarté” (emphasis on the e), which would be the Spanish pronunciation of my name.  While my name has Spanish origins, I got tired of explaining to people that I am of Portuguese descent, and we don’t pronounce the “é” so dramatically, therefore my name sounds more like “Du-art”.  I gave in, and I need to stop doing that.

At the end of the day, Portuguese is an ethnic-minority in the United States.  Therefore, while we may have been able to easily assimilate to American culture due to a presumption that we are “white”, we are not always afforded that privilege.  I’m not saying I want it, either, but what I would like is for people to stop erasing my cultural identity by trying to apply a label to “what” I am.  I’m Portuguese, and I’m damn proud of it.


Here’s something that really grinds. my. gears:

As a disillusioned, passionate, and infuriated former teacher I am interested in studying teacher turnover.  Teachers and leaders kept telling me, “It’ll get easier as you go along, by year five you’ll be planning lessons in your sleep.”  I’m not trying to crush anyone’s dreams, but that’s just simply not true.  Every day is a battle.  A battle against school reform, a battle against oppressive systems that make your students angry, a battle against curriculum maps and what you’re ‘supposed’ to be teaching on the day that kids come to school crying because another black male was shot by a white police officer.  It doesn’t get easier.  All I was thinking at the beginning of year five was, “How the hell am I supposed to do this job for the rest of my life.  I’m exhausted.  This isn’t sustainable.  I can’t be a saint forever.”

So here’s where my problem with this little video comes in.  Up until about 1:30, the video is completely accurate, citing the affects of 30-40% turnover of teachers in their first five years on students and schools.  The authors state that job satisfaction is at an all time low, unreasonable demands from high-stakes testing and accountability put stress on teachers, lack of inclusive leadership leaves them hopeless.  I agree.  All of it.  But then, enter: HOPE.  The hope these authors present is mindfulness programs, mentoring, stress relief for teachers.  This is nothing short of a band-aid.  Teachers are stressed because of things that leaders and policymakers are doing to them – so let’s teach them how to do yoga?!  Here’s a thought, why don’t we begin evaluating some of the very policies and leadership strategies that are burning out teachers and change them – with teacher input!  Its ironic that we teach kids to treat others the way they would like to be treated, but then we completely leave teachers out of decisions that affect them every day.  I’m sure teachers everywhere would appreciate the lifting of weight off their shoulders more than yet another professional development session on how they should relax when they get an “unsatisfactory” rating on their next 20-minute classroom observation.

Why I’ve been silent

I know my last post was March 2015. This is not an excuse; it’s an explanation, and a poignant lesson on speaking out, especially in these dark times we find ourselves in. Now, I may have gotten busy after my trip to the Freedom Writer’s symposium in Washington D.C., which was nothing short of amazing, by the way; I was finishing up my master’s work, a principal internship, and moving halfway across the country to join the love of my life who relocated for work while I chose to stay in the Northeast completing my degree. These are all excuses to stop writing, for a short period at least, but it’s not why I stayed silent until now, and I’ve never stopped thinking about starting this blog up again. Now here’s the explanation I promised and you deserve. You see, I felt somewhat like a hypocrite. I had accepted a position as an 8th grade humanities teacher at a no excuses charter school, and I spent the past year working there, much to my own disappointment. The truth of the matter is, I needed a job, and I believe in giving kids opportunities to go to college, which they promised we would do. They were the first offer, and I was excited to get back into the classroom. I mean, how bad could it be?

Mostly, I felt like a hypocrite because I never believed in charter schools and I certainly don’t believe that they are any way to close the achievement gap, although many of them certainly claim they are doing just that. They don’t close the achievement gap because they don’t serve all kids. No, I’m not referring to the popular argument that they hand-pick their students and kick out kids that don’t “fit” their no excuses policies and procedures, I mean they don’t serve all American children. Education is supposed to be free and public. When we build charter schools, we take students and funds away from the traditional public schools, we give parents options, but parents often believe that sending their kids to a charter is the only way to give them an opportunity to go to college, and they’re devastated when they don’t win the lottery. Charter schools don’t fix the traditional public schools that are failing to give kids opportunities; they don’t serve the population, therefore contributing to even more inequality within the American educational system. I felt horrible for the students who weren’t being promised an opportunity to go to college in the schools I passed on my way into the charter school every morning (it ironically, probably purposefully, had been built across the street of a public school district’s central offices). So given this, I didn’t feel like I should be writing about closing the achievement gap while I was contributing to widening the gap. Additionally, I was scared to discuss anything in the school openly, as writing negatively about charter schools while paying my bills with money I earned from one, in a state where collective bargaining is illegal, probably wasn’t a good idea. Here’s how the story ends; I could never have prepared for how oppressive the regime in that organization was, and I quickly found myself depressed, disillusioned, and fighting for a way out.

I am happy to report that I have since been liberated from the shackles placed on me. While working there, I completed my first year in a doctoral program in educational leadership and policy studies. This year, I was awarded a fellowship and am continuing my research and coursework as a full-time student. I couldn’t be happier. I don’t plan to get into the cornucopia (hey, it’s November) of anecdotes I have about my sobering experiences working for a charter school and being a doc student in this particular post, but say stunned for lots to come. I’m sorry I stayed silent for this long, but I’m also grateful for the experience I got at the charter school, which I believe will allow me to further expose some of the inequities in our system and advocate for revolutionary change. I look forward to sharing with you again, and thank you in advance for your support of this little project.

Does Poverty Matter? Look at Scores on the Student Affluence Test (SAT)

Wealthy families often purchase SAT tutors for their students, a luxury that low-income households cannot afford.

Diane Ravitch's blog

How many times have you heard people like Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein (remember him?) and other so-called reformers say that poverty doesn’t matter, that poverty is an excuse for poor teaching?

I have always believed that poverty imposes tremendous burdens on students and their families: hunger, homelessness, lack of medical care, illness, etc.

The best evidence of the difference that poverty makes is SAT scores. The poorest kids have the lowest scores, the most affluent have the highest. The difference from bottom to top is nearly 400 points. To be exact, it is 398 points.

The Wall Street Journal suggests a new name for the SAT: the Student Affluence Test.

What does the SAT measure? Family income and family education.

Those with vast resources of their own probably think that poverty is a personal defect rather than the inevitable result of an inequitable tax system.

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