The (only partly satirical) Case for the Unwed Schoolmarm

woman-3By Nick McDaniels – I have written before about how being a parent has greatly informed and improved my teaching, has built incredibly strong bonds with my students, and has generally shaped my perspective on the importance of caring for the whole of every child.

But, as I struggle to stay after school to meet with students so I can be sure to pick my daughter up from childcare on time and drag my hungry and tired four-year-old to the district courthouse for evening mock trial events, I have started to realize that having family responsibilities outside of school makes it impossible, particularly in the most under-resourced schools, to be the both the transformative and impactful parent and teacher that most teachers/parents want to be.

My typical blog post would then explore the labor needs of workers, why we need more teachers, smaller class-sizes, more off-days, etc…  But let’s explore a different option.

Maybe all teachers should be without families in the traditional sense.  

Some religious schools adopt a model such as this, on one theory, among many, that then teachers can treat students as family, as their children, and be burdened and enriched only with the care of students, not with their own offspring.  But I’d venture to say there are some, but not many nuns and priests teaching in extremely under-resourced public schools.

Alt. Cert Programs, particularly Teach for America, which, though not as exclusively as it used to, recruits 22-year-old smart people, most of whom I have met claim only themselves as dependents on their 1040EZs (if they are not claimed by someone else).  But, as I’ve witnessed, many, not all, 22-year-olds, despite have tons of time to devote to students, have limited life experience that comes with age and responsibility.

So come on all ye one-room-schoolhouse, unwed, schoolmarms (consider this usage gender-neutral) of pioneer days of yore.  You are needed once more in America’s cities and rural communities.  Bring with you your years of worldly-experience, your mother/father-to-all instincts, your ample time.  We need you!  The conditions here are too overwhelming for anyone who wants to be a good spouse, parent, and teacher.

Who is Lurking in Your Classroom?

22_classroom-students-hands-upBy Laura Sumner-Coon – Take one step into a school classroom and an invisible collection of people follow you into the room, haunting you with sometimes positive, sometimes negative memories about learning and school.

It’s a notion that Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot discusses in her book, “The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other.”

No one enters a classroom without some preconceived notion about what happens there. Typically, there is a whirling mix of emotional reactions to learning and the classroom that follows anyone into the room. As students, those emotions swell to either catapult us into a desire to learn or drag us to a depth of fear about our potential and ability. As parents, these emotional memories either prompt us to put on a defensive, confrontational demeanor when it comes to parent-teacher relationships or have us at ease knowing we’re partners in the efforts to educate our children. As teachers, we may approach teaching like those who have taught us or strongly veer from past practice because we detested a teacher’s approach.

Like most people, my “ghosts,” as Lawrence-Lightfoot calls them, have a significant impact on me as student, parent and teacher. The most powerful memory about the student-teacher-parent relationship was one of my earliest experiences.

As a six-year-old entering first grade in a small, Catholic school, I knew little about classroom decorum. I talked out of turn, forgot to raise my hand or couldn’t sit still during the first few weeks of school. By the time parent-teacher conference rolled around in November, my teacher, Sister Timothy Marie, knew she had to find some way to corral my enthusiasm into constructive learning. She also knew that I loved music – singing it, listening to it and playing what I could on the piano.

My parents had no idea what was coming when they visited my first-grade classroom. They were surprised to learn that I had earned an “F” in conduct because I just couldn’t contain myself. While most parents would have been puzzled about what to do, Sister Timothy Marie already had devised a solution.

She encouraged my parents to hold out a carrot. If I could get an “A” in conduct the following quarter, they would take me to see “The Sound of Music,” which was about to be released in theaters (I know, this certainly dates me!). When my parents arrived home that night, I was shocked to learn I had an “F!” I loved school! But then, they told me what I had to do to change that and held out a reward I could earn if my efforts were successful.

I don’t know if it was my love of music or my determination to prove to them I was not an “F” student that motivated my behavior. Both parents and teacher supported my determination, too. Each week, Sister Timothy Marie sent me home with a hard-cover, brown-paper wrapped music book that she used to teach our music class. She told me she knew I was taking piano lessons and loved to sing during our class. She said she thought I could learn to play some of the songs. Now, I only had learned where Middle C was located and had only advanced to two-note songs, but I carried that coveted book home each week as if it were made of gold.

With the trust she had bestowed upon me and my parents’ encouragement, I quickly learned the rules of the classroom, and indeed, went to see “The Sound of Music” with my parents when the next quarter ended. In fact, I memorized the whole musical, as most of us did that year.

Although I have not seen Sister Timothy Marie since the second grade, I searched for a way to contact her a few years ago when our church choir was embarking on a trip to Austria and a performance in the Salzburg Folk Festival. I wrote her to thank her for making a wonderful memory from what could have been a very difficult lesson. Her trust follows me into the classroom still.

“So You’re Gonna Marry Rich, Right?”

510cdf31f228ce5bfa4af1af509e4396By Taylor Gall – That’s the question that I’ve heard from countless students, family members, peers, and random people at the super market when I tell them that I’m planning on being a teacher after I graduate.

It seems that whenever I proudly announce that I’m majoring in Secondary Education and English, my audience isn’t excited- it is instead concerned.

“Well don’t you know that the pay is really bad?”

                “Oh this is a terrible time to be getting into education.”

                “You do realize that your tuition at Marquette will be more than your yearly earnings, right?”

                “Honey, you’ll just have to marry rich!”

All of these responses send shivers up my spine. If I were focused on making bank in my future career, I would have figured out by now that I need to change my major. I haven’t yet come to understand why people think that discussing my financial future is an appropriate response to me expressing my excitement about becoming a teacher.

I’m not naive. I’m a well-educated 21 year old that isn’t focused on having a pit of gold coins to swim in one day. Instead, I’m focused on entering into a career that I’m passionate about. Sure I’d make more money working as an accountant or as a business woman in a Fortune 500 company, but I’d be miserable. Teaching is something that I’ve always been excited about. I wake up every morning excited to go in to work with my students. I know that as a teacher I’m going to be able to impact countless lives, and that gives me a joy that money could never buy.

This may not be the best time to be going into education.
Extreme testing and recent policies passed in the state of Wisconsin are going to make it difficult for me to become the type of teacher my mother is. I won’t have the same experiences as her, and I will have a harder time moving up the pay scale like she has. But since when has it become acceptable to switch your major just so that you’ll be able to afford a BMW one day? I would rather be happy than own a time share in Mexico.

Marquette’s tuition is higher than many starting teaching salaries.
This is true. But my Marquette education is irreplaceable. I’m getting experience in the Milwaukee Public School System, I’m learning from and working with some amazing professors, and I can’t imagine attending undergrad anywhere else. I’m enrolled in a top notch program, one that I believe will guide me throughout my entire career as an educator.

Additionally, I wonder whether or not men entering into the education field are told they will need to “marry rich”. It is insulting to me to hear others speculate over my financial and romantic future as if they are somehow related to one another. This is the 21st century, people. Let’s start remembering that it’s perfectly possible for a woman to support herself on teaching salary and be happy without having to rely on a wealthy partner. Instead of telling me that I should base my future relationships off of whether or not he’s going to law school, how about you tell me “marry happy” or just to “be happy”.

I’d rather be middle class and happy than wealthy and hating my job.

Dear Middle Schoolers: An Open Letter on Love and Relationships

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

Photo Credit: patrick_bird via Compfight cc and Untangled

By Sabrina Bong – While perusing Pinterest a few days ago, I stumbled across a letter that a blogger wrote to his daughter.

In the letter, the writer details how mad he was when he was Googling something and the words “How to keep him interested” came up. He then tells his daughter EXACTLY how her future husband should treat her, and that it is never her job to “keep him interested.” (If you want to read it, check it out here. It’s amazing.)

This letter really struck a chord for me for a couple of reasons. The first is that my father has always told me the same thing: I should never have to do anything specific to “keep him interested.” The second is that I have had so many of my female students come into my office and ask me, “Mrs. Bartels, what can I do for my boyfriend to like me more?” I have had students detail the silly, or sometimes serious, things that they have done to keep a boy’s attention. And it sickens me in a way, it really does.

Inspired by the letter I found online, I decided to write one of my own to all my students, not just my girls. Here is what I want them to know:

Dear Middle School Students,

We started this middle school journey together. When you started here as quiet, shy sixth graders, I started my first job as a middle school counselor. It was a big transition for both of us! But as the year progressed, we both adjusted to our new roles and got more comfortable with each other. I would chat with many of you about school, sports, and siblings. When 7th grade started, I was excited to see all of you and how much you had changed over summer. It feels like all of you got taller! You also matured significantly; suddenly, that drama that was so important in 6th grade was “below you.” (To be honest, I am thankful for that!)

As seventh grade went on, I began to notice that many of you chose to come into my office to talk about significant others. Suddenly, I felt just like a parent. I knew that the questions you were asking and how I reacted to them would be crucial to your understanding of love and romance. I wanted to share my answers with all of you, since I think this advice is important.

Let me make one thing super clear right now about relationships: you should NEVER have to change who you essentially are to make your significant other happy. Will you someday change? Yes. (If I think about it, I became a little more patient once I got married.) But does that mean changing your values and what is important to you? No. And here’s the thing: This is not you being “stubborn” or “mean” or a word that rhymes with “witchy”. That is you being WHO YOU ARE. If spending time with your family is important to you, do not give that up. And if your significant other truly respects you for who you are, they will understand that.

Which brings me to respect. I have talked with a lot of you about respect in a relationship. Respect involves admiring someone for their abilities and talents and personality. Showing someone respect in a relationship does not mean giving in every time someone asks you to do something. If you are scared of horror movies because they always give you nightmares, “respect” does not mean forcing yourself to watch them because your significant other wants to (or your significant other forcing you to watch them or they will break up with you.) You can politely decline watching them.

If your significant other respects you enough, they will do one of two things:
1) Watch them when you are not around; or
2) Choose something else to watch with you instead. Being respectful also means that your significant other will NEVER, EVER lay a hand on you or tell you that you are worthless. Their pet names for you will not be “fatty” or “b****” or any of the other ones some of you have shared with me. If they cannot be nice and call you by your name, then you need to have a talk with them.

Now, to answer the big question that so many of you have asked me: Yes, I think you guys are a little too young to know that the person you are currently dating is going to be “the one.” You guys are still growing and changing and learning who you are. There is nothing wrong with that process. People learn this at different times. For some, knowing who you are seems to be a natural thing. For others, they may need to try on several different hats to know who they are. You’ll figure it out. Oh, and the second half of that big question that you all always ask: The answer is that you will know when the person you are with is “the one.” It’ll feel different with them than with any other person. But give yourself time to find that person. There is no need to rush: dating and getting married is not a contest. You do not get a prize for saying that you met your future partner or spouse in middle school versus your third year of college versus when you are in your 30s. Enjoy this time and be patient. Timing is everything in relationships.

Please remember that you are unique and special and so incredibly loved for who you are, and that my hope is that you will find someone someday who sees you the way I see you: as a smart, talented, inspiring person with so much to offer this world. I am so incredibly grateful for being able to go on this journey with you and have you share pieces of your lives with me, and cannot wait for the day that I can brag that you were one of my “kids.”

Remember: “There is only one you. Don’t you dare change just because you’re outnumbered!” (Charles Swindoll)

With love,
Mrs. Bartels

Tuesday Trivia: February, 24, 2015

How much do YOU know about Marquette University and the College of Education?
Test your knowledge (and win cool prizes) every Tuesday!


In honor of February being Black History Month, let’s test your knowledge about Black history (i.e. American history)…

Who is this unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement in the picture below? Hint: She’s famous for coining the term “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”


Claim your chance to win by leaving the correct answer in the comments section below anytime today between 7am – 11pm. And don’t be afraid to play, even if someone has already posted the right answer! One winner will be randomly selected from ALL correct answers and announced the following day.  The winner will be posted on our Facebook page and notified by email.  Please note that you must have a valid email address listed in your comment or WordPress profile to win.

Mining for Diamonds: Reevaluating the Value of Teachers

Diamond-2013-High-HD-WallpaperBy Peggy Wuenstel – This blog post pales in comparison  to the impact that my friend and colleague Claudia Felske has had with her powerful open letter to Scott Walker.

I salute her courage, her passion, and her skill with words. It is a time when words may matter if we join voices and join forces.  I intend to do so.

It seems every message that comes out of our state capital lately that relates to education puts me and my colleagues on the defensive. This may actually be by design. Teachers know that controlling the conversation means controlling the outcomes. We hear that the system is broken from these voices at the same time that our local schools consistently get high marks from the parents in their communities.

The latest conversation is centering on how teachers will be licensed in Wisconsin, and how anyone with a college degree should be able to be issued credentials to teach in Wisconsin schools. My first reaction was “What problem are we trying to solve here?” I have participated in multiple new staff interviews and we have had to wade through nearly 200 resumes of licensed teachers to find the best candidate.

Most of the universities that I have had relationships with have mechanisms in place whereby work experience and other preparation can be evaluated and result in the awarding of credits leading to a teaching license. The areas where shortages occur, Science, Tech, Engineering and Math (STEM) would have a difficult time luring qualified professionals away from their private sector jobs and paychecks. All that assumes that these wanna-be teachers have the same soft skills that are needed to be successful in the job. At a time when the rigor of teacher education program is increasing, with greater documentation, video portfolios and programs that often take more than the traditional four years to complete, it is a twin attack to change the steepness of this climb while offering another group a ride on the ski-lift to the top of the hill.

This got me wondering about whether teaches are born or made. The annual reading of Kohl Teacher Fellowship applications added boxcars to this train of thought. These people seem born to what they do, but they take preparation and ongoing development very seriously. They are born and made, destined and developed, meant and molded. Then the analogy factory kicked in and I came to see Teachers as Diamonds.

Teachers are born, discovered, unearthed. They start with the same basic materials as all other professionals. But they are developed into something new, something that it might have been easy to miss. Like diamonds, they are cut, polished, shaped, and honed.  What we take away is as important as what we are continually adding. The best of both are multi-faceted, reflecting the light around them. When conditions are right, and they operate in a supportive environment, one filled with light and offering a stable place to work, they can cast a differentiated rainbow spectrum in their classes. Both diamonds and teachers are the hardest, toughest substances on earth.  We come from humble beginnings, some experiencing the right conditions, warmth, time, and yes, pressure to transform into something rare and beautiful.  My selection as one of the four Wisconsin Teachers of the Year allowed me to join an amazing group of educators. It was the setting for the stone I had become, and a way to bring attention to the wonderful teachers that fill Wisconsin schools.

But not every diamond is destined for the classroom, and certainly not every college-educated person is fit for that role. Diamonds are needed for abrasives, cutting tools, and phonograph needles. They conduct electricity or insulate depending on how they are used. Industrial diamonds are those that cannot be used as gems. Large diamonds are used in tools and drilling bits like those at your dentist’s office, to cut glass, rock, and small stones. Small diamonds, also known as dust or grit, are used for cutting and polishing stone and ceramic products. They are now making their way into beauty creams and preparations. They serve many roles, but they are not, and never should be interchangeable.

The way we employ teachers and diamonds have also changed over time.  Diamond windows made from thin diamond membranes are used to cover openings in lasers, x-ray machines, and vacuum chambers. Diamond speaker domes enhance the performance of high quality speakers. They are used to deflect heat and friction.  Diamond dust covers those things we need to be very durable and able to withstand outside friction. There are times when teachers feel like they need diamond armor. We are being asked to do things and defend ourselves in ways that most of us have never dreamed of.

Most painfully, we are being told that our life’s work is nothing special, that anyone can do it, and would likely be willing to do it for less. The diamond market is in freefall.

One of the major ways that diamonds differ from teachers is in the way we as a society value them. Diamonds are among the most precious of commodities on the earth. A good teacher should be afforded the same level of respect, and tossing handfuls of cubic zirconium stones into the mix does not seem to be an effective or honorable way to increase the brilliance, fire,  and permanence that the jewel box full of Wisconsin teachers provides. Shine on!


Learning to Love the Cold: My Marquette Experience

By Maureen Cummings – This Saturday marked the 24th annual National Marquette day,  a revised and out-spirited version of Marquette’s spirit day which has been around since the 1960’s according to the National Marquette Day website.

The social media buzz working in coordination with the gold and blue décor spread around campus has made me reflective. I’ve found myself pondering what Marquette means to me, just one year into my college journey.


After transferring from a school in the heart of Tennessee to the artic tundra wind tunnel that is Milwaukee I definitely had my moment of, “What have I done?”

It took less than a month for me to realize that my rash decision to choose Marquette as the escape from my less-than-perfect first choice college turned out to haphazardly be one of the best decisions I have ever made.

The legends of the brutal winters were enough to deter me from looking into this school back when I was in high school, but this week on my walks to class in “feels like” negative twenty six degree weather I distracted myself from the numbness of my face by listing off all I didn’t realize I was looking for- until I found it here at Marquette.

Founded in an urban setting and on Jesuit ideals, Marquette’s mission and values align with ones of my own. I can’t ignore how much I appreciate going to a school with an entire major city at my finger tips, or a university that holds so much school spirit that is not completely dependent on the record of our basketball team, rather it’s developed through a study body who genuinely has pride for the school we attend.

Of course these aspects build up the atmosphere to something special, but the true reason it took less than a month for me to find my home here was the community. I’ve found Marquette to be a diverse set of minds with likeminded hearts. From service work to the classroom and beyond into the classrooms of several different schools throughout Milwaukee, I have seen the way that this education is already giving me the tools to go where my heart has always wanted.

January of last year I felt my college days were destined to be an obligatory march to a degree, but at least this time I’ll be closer to home. By February, I was realizing my college years would hold new lessons each day, and perhaps these days could already be going by too fast.

This was nearly a tectonic shift in my own ideologies, and this thought led me to one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I feel the same way about my education. The two most important school days were not when I learned to read or count, but the day I started to value my education, and the day I found out why. I was raised to value my education so that happened early on, and I thought I knew why but that wasn’t until much later.

I understood the value of my education when I arrived at Marquette and spent my first semester learning that it had so much less to do with what information my brain can absorb and so much more to do with what I was capable of doing with that.

I could rant and rave about Marquette, as I have done, but it’s less about this school and more about higher education as a whole. The self-expansion that college allows for and the opportunity to find a school or community within that which meets the individual needs of a student’s personal and academic goals is a truly unique facet of higher education.

Every student that will one day enter my classroom will see my Marquette pennant on the wall; however, I’m not hoping to send them all off here one day. I do hope to share with my students why I decided to value my education. More importantly, I hope to bring my students to value their own.

Conversations about going off to school seem to always be about the fundamentally important things- GPA, scholarships, majors offered, geographic location, but they need not end there- and they need not wait to start in high school. I have so many positive things to say about the school I went to prior to my time at Marquette, but the person I wanted to become was not where I was going there. Teachers and students need to be having these conversations about our now classrooms- and our future ones. It’s time to ask students how they want to value their education and who they want to their education to help them become, and it’s always time to tell students why we value ours and to show them who it helped us become.

What is a Marquette Educator?

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