It Isn’t in My Blood to Walk Away from Education

 Shawnta S. Barnes' sons and nieces checking out her new space at her new job.

Shawnta S. Barnes' sons and nieces checking out her new space at her new job.

Note: If you have not read “Why This Teacher Leader is Leaving IPS” and the follow-up piece “Departing IPS Teacher Leader Answers Your Questions,” start there first before reading this piece.  This will be the final piece in this mini-series.

Last year, I completed my 12th year as an educator.  The first eight years of my career, I was a middle school English teacher and during one of those years, I also taught a course of 9th-grade creative writing.  During year nine, I was an elementary English as a New Language teacher where I had the opportunity to work with language minority students who collectively spoke 13 different languages and I also worked with refugee students.  During year ten, I was a K-6 literacy coach.  Year 11, I was a K-2 literacy coach and last school year, during year 12, I was a 9th/10th grade English/language arts Multi-classroom leader where I coached 9th and 10th grade English teachers and taught 10th and 11th grade English. 

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The last five years of my middle school English career, I taught in the Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township on Indy’s west side and next school year, I am returning to Wayne Township in a role I have not done yet.  I possess five licenses: English/language arts 5-12, Reading P-12, English as a New Language P-12, Library/Media P-12 and Building Level Administrator P-12, so I have options in different areas as well as different levels.  Although I know many people were expecting me to state I am going to be an assistant principal, I have decided to accept an elementary library/media specialist position. I decided to obtain my library/media license while I was in Wayne Township so returning to the district in this role seems fitting.

I felt like giving up.

Canadian singer Shawn Mendes sings in his popular hit, “In My Blood”

          Help me, it's like the walls are caving in

          Sometimes I feel like giving up

          But I just can't

          It isn't in my blood

My boys and I love this song and we belt it out any time it plays on the radio and it has been a bit of an anthem for me lately because I started thinking about giving up and walking away from education. I told a colleague and friend that I was thinking about taking a break from education and you would have thought I had started cursing.  The friend reminded me of all these accolades I had and how great I was with students who other educators had difficulty with and this person assured me I was just having a moment.  I wasn’t having a moment; I had been thinking about walking away the entire school year.

I have no regrets, but...

If you were keeping count, you have realized that I have had four different job titles during the last four school years.  The first change was by choice; the last three were not.  I gained knowledge and grew as a professional during the last four school years, so I do not regret any role I have had.  If you include my student teaching experience with seniors, I have literally taught students in every grade K-12; not many educators can say that nor have the ability or skills to work with students of various ages.  I count each experience as a gain. 

I believe I am a good educator but I strive for greatness because that’s what students deserve.  To grow, you need to stay rooted in a place for a while.  When I was in IPS, I felt like I was on a merry-go-round and the teacher leader stipends they were throwing at me were no longer enough to make me stay on the ride.

If I’m going to be really honest with you all, I should share this. I had a bad feeling before I found out officially that my last position in IPS was going to be eliminated, so I started making my exit plans.  I had my first out of district interview during the first week of school right across the street from my school at Starbucks.  This is my life.  This is my career and I had to start steering the direction of what I would do next and where I would go next.

You are wasting your gift.

Some churches do spiritual gift classes.  There’s an inventory included that identifies your gifts.  I have taken the class and inventory three times: as a teen, in college, and after I married my husband and I got the same results in the same order each time: administration, teaching, and service.

Some people know I turned down two assistant principal jobs. “Who does that? You have the skills; you have the talent - the gift.” That is what one of my colleagues and friends said.  I’m not a title chaser.  I’m married to a Database Administrator for the State of Indiana; he has a demanding job.  We are also parents to twin boys who will be second graders in a few weeks.  I know I am capable of being an assistant principal, but I also know I get ONE chance to be a great mom; I can be an administrator later.  My husband and I decided that having two administrators in the house at this time isn’t right for us.

I need stability.

Make me say yes. That’s the attitude I had about interviews.  I said no a whole bunch of times including to two other media specialist positions.  I’m not interested in being your token black hire.  I’m not interested in serving under a weak leader.  I’m not interested in another newly created role.  I’m not interested in driving too far away from my house.  

The reason I originally left Wayne is that I wanted to try something different and I wasn’t able to do that while I was in the district.  A better, more well-rounded Shawnta is returning to the district.  I’m a risk taker and I believe you should go for it and not beat yourself up even if it doesn’t turn out the way you planned.

Shawn Mendes also sang these lyrics, “Keep telling me that it gets better. Does it ever?” That is what I was wondering all during last school year in IPS.  For the sake of the IPS students I love and served, I hope it does.  I couldn’t do it anymore and based on the exit of district-level administrators, building level administrators, teachers, and support staff in IPS; I know I’m not alone. I jumped off the merry-go-round and I’m happy about where I landed. When I was teaching middle school English in Wayne, I wasn’t worried about having to reapply for my job or being told my position was cut or fearing a salary freeze.  I knew I would have the same job with decent pay as long as I was doing my job well. 

It isn’t in my blood to quit.

Although, I did not know when I left Wayne Township that I was going to have so many different job titles, I don’t regret any of them.  They made me a stronger educator.  I’m an educator and I’m compelled to stay in the fight.  I thought about staying home, but it isn’t in my blood to quit and walk away.

During my last year in IPS, I never unpacked my boxes; I hid them in the cabinets.  I didn’t believe my role would last so I didn’t see the point. At my new school, my boxes are already unpacked.  I believe I going to be staying for a while.

 

Note: This is only part of what is new for me.  If you want to know what is new for me in higher education, read Monday Musings: My Higher Ed Journey

 

From the Desk of Principal McGuire: Five Tips from Educators to Parents

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Parents and educators share a common desire, that our children receive the very best. Whether a child attends public school, charter, or private school, these tips, if used by parents, will help educators as we educate our nation’s future. It is important that parents utilize these tips to help drive home the teaching and lessons from school. The learning cannot just happen at the school; it must also happen at home.

I write from two perspectives, David McGuire, the education reformer and education policy geek who believes that education is the social justice issue of the generation and as Principal McGuire, the elementary school principal who wants the best for his students and students all over Indianapolis.  Through these lenses, I am offering five tips from educators to parents.

Tip #1: Feed them breakfast.

Because most schools offer breakfast, many parents feel they do not have to worry about that meal. Actually, that is false. Often times children do not eat breakfast at school because it is not the breakfast they want. Breakfast is extremely important to the nourishment and the focus of students at school. Children do not do well when they do not eat breakfast. Their focus is off and they miss vital aspects of their learning because they are thinking more about how hungry they are instead of the solution to the math problem on the board. Children are set up for failure when they skip breakfast.

Tip #2: Get your child to school on time.

There is a start time for a reason. If the school day begins at 8:00 your child needs to be there at least five to ten minutes earlier at the minimum. When children arrive late to school, they miss a lot of the valuable preparation time schools have implemented to prepare children to learn. Arriving 30 minutes to an hour late to school consistently will add up to lost instructional time throughout the school year. These are minutes and hours that cannot be made up. There is a saying, “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be forgotten.” Parents make sure your child isn’t forgotten.

Tips #3: Get your child on a schedule.

Going to bed Sunday night at 9:00 p.m., Monday night at 10:30 p.m., then Tuesday night at 12:00 a.m.is a bad idea. Feeding them dinner at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, 8:30 p.m. on Monday, and 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday is also a bad idea. Allowing your child to be a school all day and then with you all night as you run errands until 9:00 p.m. and then having your child rush to complete their homework is also a really bad idea. Children need a consistent schedule and routine. They are used to schedules and routines because they have them at school, but when routines and schedules are only at school and not at home, it makes life difficult at school.

Tips #4: Talk to your children.

It is hard to hear  a child come to school and say their daddy or mommy does not talk to them. Often times as educators we say, “Did your mom tell you what I said?” or “Didn’t your dad talk to about saying those words?” Talking to your child is an important interaction. Whether it is on the ride to or from the school where you turn the radio off and have a conversation or whether it is at home over breakfast or dinner, having those conversations is a good idea. It can keep you in the know about what is going on with your children and it also allows you to share some wisdom with them to ensure they stay on the right path. 

Tip #5: Give them alternative learning experiences.

There is nothing better than learning something that cannot be found in a textbook or something you did not hear at school. Children need these alternative learning experiences to expand their creativity and make them more well-rounded. Go on adventures with your children. Take them to new places. Not all these learning experiences require much money, time, or planning.  Parents, alternative learning experiences allow your children to ask questions they normally wouldn’t ask, explore situations they normally wouldn’t explore, and have some fun they normally wouldn’t have.

Help us help your child. It is important that we do this work together!

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David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Five Things Teachers Should Do Before the Summer Ends

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We are midway through July and the feeling of dread is starting to set in for many teachers, for they know that in a couple of weeks their summer vacation is over. Professional development is coming up, soon after that, students return. Even if you love your job as a teacher, you will probably find yourself bemoaning the end of your break.

Regardless, the end is coming, and you can fight that sense of dread by being prepared for school to start back. 

So, what should teachers do before they go back to school?:

1.       Lesson Plan

One of the biggest lifts on teachers is preparing lessons night in and night out. Turning in lesson plans is a daily drain on energy and valuable time outside of school. Why not prevent this headache by having your lesson plans finished? While you have the time, it’s probably a good idea to create or edit your lessons; after all, you will have much less time during the year.

2.       Call your future students’ parents

If you are lucky enough to work at a school that gives you a class list before the school year starts, then you should use it. Building relationships with parents is a lot easier when you are not calling home for bad behavior in your class. Use the class list, call parents, and establish a connection before you need to use it.

3.       Organize your classroom

Many teachers wait until the week before school starts to decorate and organize their classroom. It’s okay to wait; however, it is much easier to create effective classroom decorations and systems when you are not pressed for time. Additionally, you have more time to internalize the layout and systems of your classroom, so you are better able to articulate them to students.

4.       Prepare your sleep cycle

The biggest shock to the system for teachers at the end of the summer is the reality of waking up at 6:30 a.m. in order to get to school and prepare for students. This doesn’t have to be a shock. You can start training your body to rise at your regular wake up time now, and you probably should. You can either gradually push up your wake up time or rip the bandage off and simply start waking up at your normal time. Just remember to keep yourself awake the whole day as you won’t be able to nap when school starts back.

5.       Enjoy yourself

While it is important to do some work to make sure you have less work during the year, you also want to make sure you are enjoying the end of your break. Whatever makes you fulfilled as a person, you should do it while you have the free time and no other obligations.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: My Thoughts on the Supreme Court Nomination as a Black Man and Principal

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Today I find myself between a rock and a hard place. Where do I stand on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court? I have two perspectives – that of a black man and that of a school principal. Both equally critical and both very different views.

As an incredibly proud black man I know must lead and be a leader. This is an honor that I take very serious. Brett Kavanaugh has been selected as the President’s nominee as the next Supreme Court Justice – handpicked by the racist and bigot that currently occupies 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is virtually impossible for me ever to support anything that man puts his hands on.

However, when it comes to this particular choice, this particular man, possibly our country’s next Supreme Court Justice, I have to say, we have some professional converging interests. Kavanaugh supports school choice. So do I. As the principal of a charter school in Indianapolis, Indiana, my goal is to help provide a high-quality place of learning with highly-skilled educators who are ready to ensure our children are learning – especially our black and brown babies. I have the distinct pleasure of leading an all-boys school filled with predominantly black and brown young men, who look to me as someone who represents what’s possible. They hang onto my every word and solicit my advice – sometimes with trepidation because they aren’t used to someone actually being able to help them. It is my honor to serve them daily.

They want to know how I feel on certain subjects – hate and bigotry among them. Keep in mind that I have students who fear deportation of family members because of the current President of the United States. I have students who fear for their lives as black youth because of the current President of the United States. I have vulnerable eyes of children who look at me everyday as a person, a man, who they need to see get it right – make the right choices, have the right mindset, support the right people. They need me to represent for all of us.

So I’m torn – as a black man and as a supporter of school choice. How and where does my allegiance lie? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blind to the fact that Mr. Kavanaugh has a record for rulings that have upheld racial and workforce discrimination – much like the person who nominated him for this position to govern the land. It is quite clear that outside of school choice, Kavanaugh has a contempt for fundamental human rights for people other than white people. And that, I absolutely cannot agree with.

As a black man, Kavanaugh worries me. As a principal, he seemingly supports the same thing I do – school choice for all.

During Kavanaugh’s speech after being nominated, he said: “In the 1960s and 70s, she taught history at two large African American public high schools in Washington, DC., McKinley Tech and H.D. Woodson. Her example taught me the importance of quality for all Americans.” That touched my heart because I agree. Quality for all Americans is important. Being able to substantially impact those from underrepresented and under-served communities is something that I not only support, but I want someone in the U.S. Supreme Court who does as well.

So here I stand – between a rock and hard place – facing this difficult decision, walking this fine line because whether I decide to support him or not, one of those decisions will go against a significant aspect of my life. Each one I feel is extremely important to who I am as a person. There is a quote from Aron Ralston’s book Between a Rock and a Hard Place, that says, “When we find inspiration, we need to take action for ourselves and our communities. Even it means making a hard choice or cutting out something and leaving it in your past.” I ask myself what I will cut out and leave in the past? Will it be my disdain and hate for #45 as a black man because of who he is, or will be my passion for seeing school choice and charter schools be the lay of the land in education?

I appreciate being in a place of significance that my choice actually matters. And while I am conflicted, this is not a decision that I can take or make lightly. I must do so with diligence and honor. My students are watching.

Comment

David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.

Three Tips to Engage Black Students in STEM

Three Tips to Engage Black Students in STEM

Black Panther is the gift that keeps on giving. It gave us the best movie of the year and quite possibly the best film of all time. In an era where many black people are feeling defeated, that film reminded us just how exceptional we are. The one gift that often does not get talked about is Black Panther's impact on the STEM, specifically, the effect it had on black students. Move over Bill Nye the Science Guy and Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson; there is a new face of science and STEM, and it is Princess Shuri.

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