The Power of Choice: Yolanda’s Story


By Laura Sumner Coon – A strong wind whirled snow into the room as the large wooden door to my office opened and a tall young man backed clumsily into the hallway. In a few seconds, his odd entrance was explained. He had lifted a 20-something young woman and her wheelchair up the steep stairs that led to the historic building.

As he turned, I met Yolanda, an African-American mother who braved the harsh March weather to enroll her daughter in Racine’s Parental Private School Choice Program.

While this is the first year that parents interested in enrolling their students in School Choice must do so online, they must present documentation that proves they are qualified. They must live in the Racine Unified School District and make less than 300 percent of the federal poverty level (the same parameters for those who qualify for Badger Care, the state’s health program). Yolanda had come for assistance with the online application and to present her documentation.

I quickly apologized for the physical challenge our office presented to Yolanda and her partner, but she was as quick to respond with: “That is nothing. This is important.”

Yolanda lives in undeniably the roughest part of Racine, Jacato Drive. The four block area of rental, low-income housing is so crime-ridden, Police Chief Art Howell once proposed that the city buy out all of the owners and raze the whole mess. But for someone like Yolanda, who subsists on a very meager Social Security Disability income, Jacato Drive is home.

Because of her circumstances, getting her daughter into a school where she will be safe and have the kind of education that not only will give her a sound academic foundation, but help her grow with loving, strong character is of utmost importance to this young mom.

Yolanda is one of hundreds of parents that I have met in the last two months who are grateful for the opportunity to choose a school they want for their child. One mother wept as she completed the application. When I asked what was wrong, she explained that she never thought she could provide this kind of schooling for her child since she would never have enough money to pay for tuition.

Since February, I have met the parents of 589 students who have applied to five of the Racine schools participating in School Choice. They are all faith-based schools with proven track records of strong academic performance.

Most of the parents I met live in challenging economic circumstances. They have been unemployed, underemployed or physically unable to work. One mother and her daughter were homeless. They were living in a hotel room provided by their church members until they could find a new, affordable place to live.

Most of the parents I met are Latino or African American. They head families that continue to lag behind the earning power of White families by an astounding rate. Last week, the National Urban League released its 2015 State of Black America, noting that the median income for Black households in this country is only 60 percent of that for Whites. Latinos fare just slightly better, making 72 percent.

Education is the key for so many families who wish a better life for their children. For the first time ever, the National Urban League’s report included an indicator for K-12 education. There, too, lies a huge chasm between Black and Latino academic achievement and attainment and those of their White classmates.

Last week, I also attended the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance’s hearing on Gov. Walker’s Proposed biennial budget, which would reduce funding for many educational initiatives, including the Racine School Choice Program. It is astounding to me how funding proposals have fractured educators into two camps. In a state where only 12 percent of Black fourth-graders are reading at grade level and only 60 percent of fourth-graders have achieved reading proficiency, we all should do everything possible to open opportunity for children of every race, ethnicity and economic circumstance to attend a quality school.

It is also astounding to me that some of the people most vehemently opposed to widening options for our children are not the people who are without economic clout to choose. They are not the Yolandas of the state. I have met her, and I’ll do everything I can to assure that parents like her are afforded the chance to raise their children out of poverty.

#LikeForLike: Social Media for Educators

GallBladderzBy Taylor Gall – My Instagram is usually blowing up with potential followers (not), so I didn’t flinch when I got a follow request from an account last Tuesday evening.

I briefly scrolled through it, and decided not to follow back because:

  1. I didn’t seem to recognize the person’s name.
  2. They had posted a lot of pictures of basketball players.
  3. And pictures of Ariana Grande?
  4. Wait.
  5. Oh no oh no oh no.
  6. It was one of my 7th grade students from field placement.

I jumped out of my seat at the library and immediately blocked the account, and switched my Instagram to private.

Yes, you heard me: I didn’t have my Instagram on private. Gallbladderz was open for public viewing.

I had never posted anything “inappropriate” on Instagram- there were no drinking pictures, no swears in the captions, nothing that I wouldn’t want my Grandma Judy seeing. Because of the tameness of my account, I had never felt the need to hide it from the world. Additionally, in order to find me you either needed to be my friend on Facebook or know to look up “Gallbladderz” on an Instagram search.

I immediately emailed my cooperating teacher. I didn’t want to breech the student-teacher relationship guidelines, and I wanted to make sure she knew of the situation right away.

Turns out she knew more about the situation than I thought. She herself had several “follow” requests from students.

How can this be? When I was in 7th grade, I had neither desire nor the means to creep on my teachers with social media. The socialization of teenagers is changing, though, and with it has come an increased use of social media.

When I was first using AIM as a 6th grader, I had 14 contacts, all of which were my closest friends. These days, 6th graders have 1,200 Instagram followers and don’t know 80% of them. The internet safety and caution that I knew as a middle school student has gone out the window. Now it’s all about likes, follows and #hashtags.

So the message is to be careful. Lock down your social media accounts; make it hard for your students to find you. Staying separate from your teenagers on social media will maintain your sense of professionalism in the classroom. They don’t need to see what’s being posted on Gallbladderz.

Why Teachers are Amazing

Dont-forget-that-you-are-amazing-and-are-filled-with-unlimited-potential-to-do-possibly-anything-in-By Sabrina Bong Bartels– On St. Patrick’s Day, I arrived at work to find a bright green gift bag hanging from my office door.

Curious, I opened it to find a notebook, some colorful pens, and a note from one of my teachers. The note said, “We are so LUCKY to have you as our counselor! Thanks for all you do!” I immediately went upstairs to the teacher’s classroom and thanked her for the gift. I told her that the note couldn’t have come at a better time; basketball is not the only place where madness occurs in March! She nodded sympathetically and said she understood; her students had been bouncing off the walls. When the bell rang, I thanked her again, then retreated back to my office to prepare for the rest of the day.

Looking back though, I made a glaring mistake. If I had been smart, I would’ve handed the gift back and said to the teacher, “Thank YOU for all you do.”

I’m not saying that as a counselor, I don’t deserve the recognition. Too often, I hear about counselors who go unrecognized for their efforts, or who are taken advantage of. I know of counselors who aren’t respected by their administration, and counselors who selflessly give of their time to help their students. Counselors definitely deserve to be acknowledged for all they do. However, I think the same can be said for teachers.

Think about it: when was the last time you praised your son or daughter’s teacher? I can honestly say that when I think back to my childhood, I can never remember my parents calling to praise a teacher. Argue with them, debate a point, or question a decision, yes, but praise? Teachers have such a difficult job, and they often do it with little or no recognition or admiration.

It made my day to have someone recognize what I do. In return, I would like to share what I admire about my teachers.Here are some things that make the teachers I work with amazing:

  • Dedication. One of my teachers stayed at school until 5:30, just a student could complete her homework and go to an all-school incentive. Many of my teachers give up time that they could spend at home with their children, just so our students can get the love and help they need (that they may not get at home.)
  • Perseverance. One of my  7th grade teams is squirrelier than the others. I mean, they occasionally bounce off the walls and cause some chaos. And yet, the two team teachers work tirelessly, every day, with the kids. If I were them, I probably would’ve thrown up my hands in frustration and crawled into a hole. Now, I do work with several of their students, but I can’t imagine working with all 30 of the kids at once. Power to that team.
  • Humor. Working in a middle school has taught me that humor is essential to survival. All of my teachers have amazing senses of humor, and use it to their advantage in the classroom. From “phone prisons” to using dinosaur stickers on tests, my teachers know how to make their students laugh. And once they’ve got their kids laughing, their students want to come to school.
  • Unconditional love. We have some kids that may exhaust us mentally and physically. However, my teachers embrace the students every single day. As one of my students said, “Whenever we start the day, it’s a blank slate.”

There are so many things that I admire about my teachers. They are at the “front line” every day with their students, working patiently and tirelessly to do what is best for their kids. I have no idea what I would do without these inspiring, caring individuals!

Thank you so much teachers, for everything you do, and for everything you bring to the school. I am really lucky to be working with all of you!

Tuesday Trivia: March 24, 2015

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


While it’s a shame Marquette didn’t make the Sweet Sixteen this year,

we can still honor their previous successes, right?

How many times has Marquette appeared in the NCAA tournament?

Throw back to when they won the 1977 National Championship… the best dressed, without a doubt:



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.

It Matters What You Call Things

wordsmithbadge-ukv27tBy Peggy Wuenstel – We live in a world of “spin”.

We rename, repackage, and edit things to serve our purposes. Politicians, journalists, advertising pros, and attorneys are the high fliers of this process, but we all do it at times. We sugarcoat, avoid the difficult parts of conversation. We label educational activities as games and try to engage students by both the hard and the soft sell. We are mindful of the ways in which our choice of words impacts our students, or at least we should be.

This goes far beyond the prohibited words, the school version of comic George Carlin’s 7 Words You Can’t Say on Television. We ban words like stupid, ugly, and others which demean or damage. I remember an exchange with a kindergartner, indignant after being called what he referred to as the “e word”. When I questioned him further, he told me that his peer said he was an eediot. We laughed but he was truly hurt by the word, even if he couldn’t spell it.

It works for us in the positive as well. When we refer to kids as rocking readers, super writers, or math masters we reinforce their self-images as capable and worthy of praise. Nicknames that are reflections of regard, respect, and relationship are also ways that we connect with our kids. I grew up in a home where my parents called their children and each other by lots of names. I will confess to being confused by this practice until I stumbled upon an Eastern European proverb that says “A child who is loved has many names.” I always felt loved when my dad called me George or Virginia. I just didn’t know why until I read this explanation. As Shakespeare penned in Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”.

The current budget proposal before the legislature includes provisions to change the public school report card that each public school and their districts receive from the current color-coded expectations version to an A through F letter grade. Under this proposal the majority of school would receive a C grade. The contrast of “Meets Expectations” with a “C “ grade is obvious. It appears that our state government seeks to re-label schools in a way that translates doing the job we count on to average, nothing special, and less than we want for our children. This contrasts with the phrase currently in use that makes parents feel schools are meeting their obligations to students and taxpayers. And nothing about the actual performance of teachers, administration, or students will have changed.  One has to wonder if this is an attempt to increase public dissatisfaction with public schools by changing the grading system tags.

As political campaigns become longer, better financed and more dollar driven, professional wordsmiths become valuable members of every candidate’s team. Instead of corporate sponsor we get campaign donor. Multi-national corporations become job creators. Teachers and other public employees become thugs and terrorists when those labels serve a specific purpose.

In a recent course in reading methods I was introduced to the brilliant work of Dr. Peter Johnston and his books Choice Words and Opening Minds. One of the ways in which he has profoundly changed my teaching is in the use of the words and or but. (Not the “butt” that can send my group of fourth grade boys into peals of giggles over bodily function humor). When a correction is offered or a probe is delivered to a student with the word AND it reinforces the student response while asking for more. When the conjunction BUT is used, it shuts down that elaboration when the student focuses on what is wrong vs. how the response can be improved.

I witnessed an exchange between a third grade teacher and one of her students. The little girl had spent much of her recess collecting a fistful of flowering clover from the grassy playground. I had been consulting with her teacher when she burst into the room. Her first step was to divide the bunch into three, one portion for me, one for her teacher and one to take home to her mother. I gratefully accepted her gift and stood back to watch the next exchange. The teacher asked her pupil, “Do you know what these are?” hoping to extend the classroom lesson about food webs and food chains to the present moment. “Clover” replied the young voice. “No”, the teacher said, “These are producers”. I am convinced that I witnessed the deflation of this young lady’s spirit like a balloon. A simple rewording of this statement to include the “and” changes a NO to a YES, a “you are wrong” to a thank you, a confirmation, and an invitation to connect to classroom learning.

By measuring what we say, remaining true to ourselves, and telling the truth to power and to those we have power over we respect the power of words. We acknowledge that communication is a complex and ever-changing process. Those conversations are the ones that can turn into magical, meaningful bouquets for both student and teacher.

I Love You, But First I Love Me: Unconditional Love In a Classroom Setting


By Maureen Cummings – “I can’t teach you all of these,” my professor began as she wrote on the board what she referred to as MC’s 7 Rules of Teaching. 

“I can teach most of them, but that first one- you’ve just to have that.” The first of MC’s 7 Rules of Teaching was to give unconditional love- not exactly a light concept.

I’ve been on this thought for about three weeks now and still have not fully digested it.  To start, this meant for me that teachers are held with the unique responsibility to love each student in his or her class equally and fully, constantly embracing each of their shortcomings, differences, attitudes, challenges, and missteps. Of course exploring this concept requires the acknowledgment of the definitive difference between unconditional liking and unconditional loving.

The phrase I grew up hearing, “I’ll love you even when I don’t particularly like you,” seems applicable. Sometimes the task of always liking people seems heavier than that of always loving them; nevertheless, the more I delve in to what it means to be a teacher sharing unconditional love with her students, the more I discover unforeseen facets of my own working definition.

As I’ve continued to reflect on MC’s preface to her rules of teaching, her words have become more alarmingly true to me. I can be taught what unconditional love looks like from a teaching stand point, maybe even some strategies to display it, but I cannot be taught how to be or how to feel.

It’s the less obvious portion of this responsibility that I think may sometimes go unnoticed. Unconditional love for our students may require that we give unconditional love to ourselves first.  While I see how obnoxiously demanding and falsely profound that statement may sound on its own, I believe this truth to exist beyond its Hallmark card lifespan.

The ignorant may say, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” but others truly aware of the impact of educators may be more inclined to agree with Malcolm Forbes in that, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Furthermore, that teachers who show kindness, resilience, dedication, and a whole host of character-defining traits are the ones that will fulfill this purpose.

When you see teaching as described in the latter half of my previous statement, as most every educator does, an incredibly influential and intimidating task becomes demanded of the teacher and the need for unconditional self love becomes all the more important.

A teacher who shows him- or herself unconditional love displays confidence in his or her skills, and then patience with the inevitable weaknesses that come with the reality of being human. This self-love is about cherishing the opportunity given every morning that you are allowed to be a role model for the student’s in your class and about forgiving yourself when you forget that or fall short. Unconditional love for oneself deals a lot more with one’s ability to understand that it is possible to persevere through the hardest challenges of one’s career, and less about one’s self image. The most important teachers in my life have thought they could and so they did- simple as that: somehow through whatever circumstances unknown to me that stood in their way, my teachers had enough self love to give themselves another chance at taking my closed mind and replacing it with an open one.

By continuing to give themselves another chance, these teachers continued to give me a chance.  MC will never be able to teach me how she’s done it, nor will any of my other teachers, but because of their examples of self-love, I think I too can love myself enough to give someone else a chance.

Cyberbullying: The Right Time to Stand Up

download (2)By Shannon Bentley – As I was teaching last week, I received a knock on the door by the front desk security.

She was asking for one of my female students to be removed from the classroom. About two minutes after that, I received a phone call, and it was the front desk security again, asking for another female student to be removed from the classroom. I know that these two young ladies are best friends with each other. Apparently – they were called down due to the suspicion of committing cyberbullying against a female student from another hour that I have during the day.

I was disappointed to hear the phrase “cyberbullying.” It is a teacher’s worst nightmare to be placed in a situation where we have to make a decision about how to address such an issue in our own classroom.

The real question is how do we really address the issue? Do we incorporate lessons surrounding it? Do we incorporate it as a classroom rule? Or do we just ignore it and address it separately to the accused students?

I found it troubling to see a student with a bright and wonderful personality come to class looking down and depressed. Bullying is nothing funny when it hurts the spirit of another human being – especially when it is a teenager.

Cyberbullying is a serious issue, because it is a form of bullying that adults cannot see happening in person. Therefore, if the situation is not handled correctly, then it could end in the worst possible outcomes such as students known to commit suicide after countless acts of cyberbullying. When I look at my own accused female students I know one of them does have a tendency to lash out at myself, but I would just take it as another day of teenaged hormones on the rise. However, the other accused female student is an interesting one, because she doesn’t appear to look like the “bullying” type.

I believed that’s why I was shocked about the entire situation. You can’t “spot” a bully based on looks; that would be another form of stereotyping. It’s always best to pay close attention to the actions of your students and step in when you notice something isn’t going right. You don’t have to cause a scene or a commotion if you don’t want to address the issue as a whole. But make sure to deal with the situation lightly and show support to the student who was bullied, because they will need the attention, love and support the most.

It takes more than one person to end the cycle of cyberbullying.

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