The MPS Rally: Fired Up for the 2015-2016 School Year

city-year-milwaukeeBy Shannon Bentley –  On Thursday August 27th, the City Year family decided to attend their first MPS rally for the start of the school year.

The kick-off was an enthusiastic event where more than 9,000 Milwaukee Public school employees gathered together at the UW-Panther Arena. It was an event to bring thousands of employees together to start the beginning of the school-year off with a bang. We (City Year) were excited to join the teachers, since for most of us it was our first time. The excitement was surely made up of fire and joy where a community of teachers showed support for each other because, of course, we are all in this together.

The gathering was only the icing on the cake.

Teachers, secretaries, security guards, and even recreational staff appeared with spirit and countless amounts of pride for the schools that they represented. Everyone wore their school colors or wore a unified tee-shirt that showed their love for their school. Teachers walked triumphantly in groups. Some had banners and blow-horns. One school even showed up with the principal banging on a drum. The pride was endless and everyone loved it.

The best part about the rally was City Year showing their support for the teachers who attended. As teachers were getting off of their buses, City Year corps members created a soul train line of cheers and jeers. We were performing our power greetings illuminating the spirit of City Year and how we create a positive environment every morning at school. Honestly, some teachers had confused looks on their faces because not too many educators know or understand the culture of City Year. However, a few of our 11 partner schools came down our soul train line happy to see us and even joined us in our power greetings. There were also teachers who didn’t know exactly who we were but still eagerly participated in our power greetings and loved the energy we brought to the event.

The excitement did not stop at the entrance. There were prize giveaways to all of the schools such as recess equipment, books, Bucks’ tickets, and $500 scholarships for the schools to use for anything. There was also an example of a proud MPS 5th grader who showed her fearless pride and dynamic speaking skills by standing in front of the thousands of teachers to explain why MPS is still the best school district in Wisconsin. I smiled throughout the entire event and City Year was inspired by the spirit of great educators and employees who hold MPS together.

The point of it all? MPS has had a tough year from budget cuts, loss of students to gun violence, and the constant fight over takeover proposals. MPS employees were not looking too much at the past, but were focused on the future. Education will have its ups and its downs, but we are all in this together.

Even though there were multiple schools, we all have the same goal in life: to continue educating our youth to become something great in their life. Education is about bettering our crafts and figuring out how to make the next lesson the best. City Year is happy and I am happy myself to go through these struggles together.

The Transition in Perspective from City School Teacher to City School Parent

j0439367By Nick McDaniels – Today begins my 7th year in Baltimore City Schools after graduating from Marquette. I still love my job. I’m still improving. And I still have a lot to say about it.

But today is also my daughter’s first day of kindergarten in Baltimore City Schools. This will undoubtedly shape my experience as a teacher and will certainly shift my perspective on education in our city. She is attending a traditional public school in our neighborhood as I declined to participate in the charter school movement. That particular decision, for me, came from disappointment I felt as many “progressive” charter operators supported charter school de-unionizing legislation at the state level this past year. Thank goodness my kid does not have to go to a union-busting school!

When thinking about the issues that impact me as a teacher this year, few compare to the issues that will affect me as a parent over the coming school years. Over-testing is a burden on my conscience for me as a teacher, but will be a real, practicable burden on my child’s education. Discipline policies have had my mind and soul wrestling over recent years, but, until now, those policies have not impacted my child. Overcrowded classrooms have at times diminished my hope for real transformational education. Now my daughter gets to compete for the attention of a teacher and such a reality becomes even clearer for my family.

Despite these large-scale issues that befall our system, the good news for me is that I get to return this year to a stable high school, the largest in the district, and my daughter gets to attend one of our district’s best public schools led by a great principal and teachers. For that I am grateful.

I look forward to engaging myself now in anyway I can to assist the teachers who are trying to give my daughter the best education possible, just as I look forward to teaching the children of others as if they were my own. Now, though, that sentiment has a deeper meaning.

An Open Letter to the Class of 2019

1024px-Marquette_University_Seal.svgBy Aubrey Murtha – What’s up, new, anxious, smiley Golden Eagles?

Welcome to Marquette, your home for the next four years (or maybe five or maybe six?). Aren’t you so excited? Every year, I use my position as a blogger for The Marquette Educator to congratulate you new kids on the block for all of your successes. As they say in the novel/movie “The Help”: “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” and we as a Marquette community are beyond blessed to have you join us.  You bring your diverse talents, backgrounds, cultures and languages to our campus, and I am going to preemptively thank you for making our campus a more colorful place to learn, live, and grow.

Forgive me in advance for this is a long letter. You’ve probably heard 1,000 times the standard “get involved” and “study hard” comments from older friends, siblings, and parents. Today, I thought I’d share a few more unconventional suggestions that may help you to make the most of this exciting transition in your life—some more serious than others, but all helpful, I hope.

Make friends with your professors.
This isn’t high school anymore. Instead of thinking of your professor as a disciplinarian who is in charge of the classroom, I urge you to treat your relationship with him or her as if you were scholarly partners. Sure, they know much more than you, but please be assured that you have tremendous insights to share. Learning at its finest does not involve strictly one-sided lectures or the mindless copying of notes. Get to know your professor, pick his or her brain whenever possible, and establish some sort of working relationship with him or her. You may find that they will play instrumental roles in helping you explore your academic and professional passions and point you down unexpected and deeply fulfilling paths.

If you are lost, ask. The whole first week of freshman year, I asked older students to tell me where certain academic buildings were. I asked how the meal plan worked. I asked how to purchase basketball tickets. I asked how to best complete certain assignments. Ask, ask, and ask. We will help you, I promise. No question is dumb. If you’re nervous to ask, find me. I will never laugh at you because I was that student and to a certain extent, still am.

Go on dates.
If she is cute and you like the way she raises her hand in your philosophy class, talk to her. If his laugh is contagious, and he offers to help you with your finite assignment, take him up on it. You’ve heard that dating is a lost art, and based on my college experiences thus far, I’d agree. Hanging out doesn’t mean you’re in love, nor does it obligate you to a second date, but you could miss out on something sort of special if you avoid a date altogether. Heck, my brother just got married two months ago to the very girl he asked out during October of his freshman year. Six years later and they tied the knot. Crazy stuff can happen.

Not everyone is doing it.
Sabrina Bong Bartels included this in her article entitled, “Seven (More) Truths Every Middle Schooler Should Hear,” but it applies to MU students as well. Not everyone is drinking or doing drugs. Not everyone is having sex. Not everyone is skipping church, cheating on assignments or not doing the course readings. Never assume that everyone is doing it, and don’t use this claim as an excuse to justify behaving poorly, neglecting your responsibilities, or taking advantage of another person. “Mom, everyone is doing it!” No, this is a bad excuse, and she’ll see right through you.

Don’t let common MU stereotypes impact the way you experience your first year residence hall.
Sure, McCormick is a fun place to live, but it is not the ONLY fun place to live. Yes, O’Donnell is indeed all boys. But that does not mean that you will ONLY be able to associate yourself with MU men. I hope you all are excited about your housing placements, but if you are not, know that your dorm will most likely far exceed your expectations. You might have heard from current or former Marquette students that Abbottsford is THE place to live, or Straz is THE finest on campus. Chances are, that is where those people lived their freshman year, and they grew to love it so much that they’d recommend it to anyone. Have an open mind about your housing assignment, get to know your roommate and your floor, and then form opinions about your dorm.

Follow your gut instinct.
If a situation feels unsafe, it probably is. If you feel a sudden urge to join Slam Poetry Club, capitalize on that urge. If something somebody says to another student immediately rubs you the wrong way, speak up.   

Go to the basketball games (and/or other MU sporting events).
I can’t believe I even have to say this, but I knew many freshmen who skipped out on Marquette basketball. Why? You can make time to attend a game every once in a while! It is a phenomenal bonding experience, a great way to make new friends, and a wonderful excuse to spend your pay check on some spirit wear. It’s something like $99.00 for 16 games and a T-shirt! That’s an incredible deal, guys.

You aren’t above anyone here.
It’s a little harsh, I know. I’m going to speak from personal experience. I don’t want you all to think I’m arrogant or whatever, but I was a dynamite student in high school. I was also incredibly involved—like way too involved. I applied for a scholarship for MU my senior year of high school and was honestly devastated when I didn’t even get an interview. I thought I deserved an interview. That was my first wake up call. I am not better than anyone at MU, and neither are you. I might be a good student (true), but I stink at freeway driving (very, painfully true). You might be incredibly generous with your time and talents, but you struggle with making friends. We all have our skills. You aren’t the best at everything, but you are most definitely the best at something.

Don’t waste money.
Do you really need that psychedelic lava lamp for your dorm room? Okay, yes, obviously you do. That was a terrible example. I’ll try again: Do you really need that Michael Kors watch? No. Don’t waste your money. Pick and choose, and spend wisely. You’ll probably have some kind of debt after college, and you’re going to need to start saving. Money doesn’t grow on trees—unless you have figured out how to cultivate a money tree. If you have, please shoot me an e-mail after you finish reading this.   

Expand your friendship horizons.
This is the most cliché, but also arguably one of the most important. If you are coming to MU with your best friend and living with said best friend, you guys both need to find ways to meet people on your own. I came from a high school that sent 20 kids to MU my freshman year. One of those 20 is my best friend of 16 years. We chose not to live together freshman year—we never even discussed it as an option—and we ended up in two different residence halls. This was a great decision. We are still best friends, and now we share friends. Expand your social horizons. It’s a good idea, and it’ll help you establish other lifelong friendships.

Wow, that was long. I think I have carpal tunnel. I have nothing else to say besides welcome to Marquette University. You are in good hands, and good luck as you begin this amazing journey.  We are all here for you.

I can’t wait to meet you all this week.

Much love,


Finding a Work-Life Balance for Teachers

IMG_4054By Bill Waychunas – “I wish I could go, but I’ve got school stuff going on tonight/this weekend/next week.”

This phrase has been uttered by countless teachers to their friends, families, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, neighbors, and even to their pets. It’s used as a reason to miss out on any number of opportunities and get-togethers with our loved ones. The choice between personal and professional life is never easy, especially in a field such as teaching where our work can be easily taken home with us.

With such blurred lines between the personal and professional life of a teacher, the decision making process usually goes something like this:

Exhibit A: A friend invites you to brunch on a Sunday, which is the day that you usually spend preparing your lessons for the week and doing laundry. An internal battle ensues: If I accept my friend’s request, am I risking that my lessons this week will be less effective and engaging, while possibly running out of clean underwear? Would spending time with my friend, over the best interests of my students, be selfish? Which do I sacrifice, my friends or my students?

Exhibit B: At a school staff meeting, they announce that chaperones are needed for the school dance this Saturday, which is at the same time as your cousin’s birthday celebration. Another internal conflict: What is more important, my family or providing opportunities for my students? What if no one else volunteers for the dance? My cousin will have more birthday parties but there will also be more dances to chaperone. Which will I feel less guilty about missing?

Finding a balance between your professional life and your personal life is especially difficult for teachers in the beginning of their careers. This balance is important for both mental and physical health. Living an out-of-balance life can jeopardize or otherwise negatively impact one’s professional and personal life.

In my first couple of years teaching, I spent many late nights and weekends at school. 13-hour work days were frequent and they usually didn’t end when I left the school building. Most nights and weekends were spent lesson planning, grading, and coaching, or sponsoring student groups. I neglected my personal life and paid the price.

Sheer exhaustion led to physical and mental decline. I had stopped working out and wasn’t sleeping much. My lack of time led to more fast food and way too much caffeine. By the end of each week, I was getting sick and spending a large part of my weekend trying to recuperate. This led to a grouchiness that caused me to angrily lash out at my loved ones and students for the smallest things. I had become a worse friend, brother, boyfriend, colleague, and teacher because I couldn’t find a way to balance out my life.

Now going into my 7th year of teaching, I’m happy to say that I have not repeated these mistakes and have found ways to establish a work-life balance without the guilt of sacrificing either. Here are my tips to finding a work-life balance for new teachers:

Don’t be a Yes-Man (or Woman)
What I mean by that is sometimes you have to say “no” to being involved with things at school. Instead, say “yes” only to the things that you are truly interested in. If school dances are “totally your thing,” then sign up to chaperone those! I find school dances to be uncomfortable and boring, so I don’t sign up to chaperone them…and that’s ok!

Don’t feel pressure to sign up for things that you’re not interested in because of a “if I don’t do it, then no one else will” mentality. This is where you will get sucked into school activities that become a chore. Find what gives you joy at school and stick with that. With a diversity of skills and interests among a school staff, someone else will be more passionate than you about running Field Day or operating the spotlight at the talent show.

Plan “You Time” in Advance
Always wanted to learn to paint? Sign up for that class you’ve been eying. Looking to spend more time with friends? Join that kickball league they keep talking about. Buy those concert tickets you’ve been dreaming of. Make that dinner reservation for you and your significant other. Book that weekend getaway for you and your family.

Planning time for your personal life in advance, especially for things that require deposits or pre-payment, will make you less tempted to sacrifice them for school-related activities and ensures that you’ve built time into your schedule for friends and family. This makes it easier to say no as described above. “Sorry, I can’t go to the PTO meeting that night, I’ve got my spin class at the same time.”

Find Your “Planning Plateau”
This is perhaps the most important and difficult step. In the relationship between the amount of time spent doing at-home school work, like lesson planning and grading, versus the impact on your teaching, it is practically a rule that “the more time you spend planning and preparing, the better your lesson will be.” As my former principal used to tell me, “a failure to plan is a plan for failure.” While I believe that this is true, I also believe that there exists a point in time where the impact has been essentially maximized, or plateaued, and spending more time planning or preparing would be better spent on your personal life.

The trick is finding this “point in time” where you hit the “planning plateau.” Think you can plan an excellent biology lesson in 2 hours? Then spend 2 hours planning it. If the final product is great, then leave it be. Spending another hour on YouTube trying to find a slightly better introductory clip than the one you already have isn’t going to make that big of a difference anyway. Hold yourself to a high standard without being a perfectionist and you will have more time for your personal life.

With the beginning of a new school year, I hope that some of these tips can help to get you on the path to living a more balance and happier life. You can be a great teacher as well as a great friend, son, daughter, spouse, sister or brother. Or, if you don’t want to do it for them, then do it for yourself– you are worth it!

What’s Your Story?: Staying Passionate in the New Year

Lao Tzu QuoteBy Sabrina Bartels – Picture this: a high school auditorium filled with teachers and educators, listening raptly to a group of middle and high school students playing a Lady Gaga mix on their string instruments.

Half of the adults in the room are wearing matching T-shirts to show their school pride; the other half is dressed in summer shirts and flip flops. People are comparing tans and how they are doing with leaving their babies for the first time. There is a buzz in the air. You can almost taste the anticipation, the excitement, the nervousness in the room.

We are ready for our students. We are nervous about how the first day will go. We are lesson planning and organizing seating charts and learning all we can before we open our doors and hearts to the students entering the building on September 1st.

Every year, it is like this. We start off fresh and excited, with visions of how we can change the world. We may walk through the halls humming the tunes that the orchestra students played. We all talk and laugh and reminisce.

And then it changes.

You can’t pinpoint exactly when things change, but they do. Our chats become less about summer and our personal lives, and more about the students in our charges. Our school spirit ebbs a little, as we struggle through the every day challenges we encounter. We go from being enthusiastic and bright-eyed to somewhat sleep-deprived. It almost makes you wonder where those energetic, excited people from the first day are.

It’s sad in a way. It really is. I think somewhere down the line, we lose a little bit of our passion and excitement. We get weighed down by everything around us. By December, we forget what made us excited in August.

Our new superintendent gave an empowering speech at the beginning of this year. He asked us to think about what “our story” is, what made us passionate about teaching. He asked for us to recall what it was that made us realize that education was the right path for us. I really enjoyed hearing all of the stories my coworkers had to offer. There were teachers who knew from the beginning they wanted to be a teacher; there were teachers who pursued a completely different career before becoming an educator. All of the stories were magical to hear.

More than anything, thinking about “my story” reminded me of my enthusiasm for being a counselor. I joined counseling because I wanted my middle school students to know that someone in this world believes in them. I wanted them to know that not everyone believes in that negative stereotype that seems to follow teens and tweens.

As we start this new school year, I encourage all of you to think about “your story” and revisit it often, especially during that inevitable mid-year slump. You are part of an amazingly special group who believes in education. You make a difference! Thank you for all you do!

Take-Aways from My Summer at the Hartman Center

zZfZWEIFt3OgDFsZuozBA0MJYd9BleSIDMJLPr3_QVU,6hdR0P8saxgOJ_R4juSoFGpeLEXcrYJihz99Kvaiu0A,Cc5P0-eE6owQQjT6zTh4Ej4jU3PxaU40mlHhUm09GAk,cBst4vJdvs4-iXcM6bXkiu5mO-C6fyWDTGWiFCRx9_s,lQTZCuHHbQHjMVxoHoJ3M0vfkInwGujO-wBDg-mXX4IBy Lily Vartanian – Now that the “Live to Dream” Hartman Center program has ended, I enlisted the help of my fellow Wade Coaches to reflect on some of the things we learned both individually as teachers and as a group this summer.

Personally, I feel as though I have grown in many ways this summer. I felt more equipped to handle a classroom, especially when approaching both learning and behavior issues, after a semester of student teaching. In my previous experience working at the Hartman Center, I had completed my final semester and took the Reading Three course in the fall of 2014, but had not yet student taught. Using what I learned in student teaching this summer at the Hartman center made my classroom a lot more efficient and differentiated than the previous semester.

Additionally, this summer taught me a lot about young readers. I was a student teacher in fifth grade, and my previous Hartman classroom had fourth graders, so the last time I had truly worked with beginning readers was in the Fall of 2013 during my first Reading course at Marquette. This was something that was an adjustment for me, as I had to review the processes of Core and Key words and teaching blending and segmenting, in addition to putting myself in the mindset of teaching second and third graders rather than fourth and fifth graders. I am grateful for the opportunity, however, as I will be teaching third graders this fall!

Wade Coach Julia Fornetti observed the confidence in both her students as well as the Wade Readers overall within the six week program. Most of our Wade Readers made gains in reading and confidence, and none regressed in their learning which was huge for some of these struggling readers. As summer is a time when students lose information and skills gained during the school year, this was a great accomplishment. As Ms. Fornetti observed and noted, “This summer really showed that everyone has an innate desire to be able to read fluently. When we provide students with the proper learning environment paired with the right amount of support, they begin to see themselves as the readers they’ve been striving for without realizing it.”


Wade Coach Emily Wulfkuhle had similar notions regarding her learners. She found that, “Kids are excited about reading if they have a mentor that stresses the importance of reading, and praises even the smallest reading victories, which may be great accomplishments to the reader themselves.” Ms. Wulfkuhle, when reflecting on herself as a learner, found that she knew more about reading interventions than she gave herself credit for and became more confident using RTI (Response to Intervention).

Overall, the Wade Coaches did an excellent job supporting each other as well as their Wade Readers this summer. We drew on our students’ abilities as well as the data to help drive our instruction, while focusing on the areas of need for each Wade Reader. Additionally, our experiences gained during our student teaching semesters exposed each of us to a wide variety of instructional and behavioral strategies we could implement this summer.

The summer has gone so quickly, and I am sad to say that my time as a Wade Coach has come to an end! I am grateful and thankful for not only the opportunity to have been a Wade Coach this summer, but also for the chance to share my ideas, experiences, and students’ progress as a summer blogger. I am off to begin my first year teaching third grade, with the new school year just around the corner!

The AFT’s Endorsement of Hillary Clinton Should Enrage the Rank-and-File

23 Mar 2015, Washington, DC, USA --- Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes part in a Center for American Progress roundtable discussion on "Expanding Opportunities in America's Urban Areas" in Washington. --- Image by © Brooks Kraft/Corbis

23 Mar 2015, Washington, DC, USA — Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton takes part in a Center for American Progress roundtable discussion on “Expanding Opportunities in America’s Urban Areas” in Washington. — Image by © Brooks Kraft/Corbis

By Nick McDaniels – More than a month ago, the American Federation of Teachers, my union, made a closed-door, executive-board endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President. I waited a few blog-cycles, until my anger died down, before writing this post. Here are some reasons why Rank-and-File members should be outraged:

1) Hillary Clinton is a former board member of Wal-Mart. No modern American company has more notoriously opposed unions and more notoriously contributed to the collapse of small town economies while increasing the numbers of working poor. Talk about feeding the hand that bites you… or something like that.

2) Hillary Clinton has taken ZERO progressive stances on education. How can a huge union of teachers be expected to get behind someone with no policy points on education? Or maybe we just all agree that our education system is perfect as is. If so, ONWARD HILLARY!

3) AFT President Randi Weingarten, a member of the “1 percent” who makes $400,000 per year, is a friend, or wishes she was a friend of Hillary. She led this endorsement without so much as a vote or poll of the rank-and-file. Engaging in election endorsements without a democratic process within organizations highlights what is wrong with our electoral politics in this country.

4) There are plenty of other candidates who more closely represent the ideals of rank-and-file teachers. Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders comes to mind. So does Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Even Republican John Kasich takes some stances I can get behind.

Despite all this, my union president, however, endorsed Hillary. The good news, though, is that we all get to go into those voting booths alone.

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