An Open Letter to My Governor About ReOpening School Buildings

Dear Andrew Pallotta and Governor Andrew Cuomo,

This is my daughter Lily.

This is her Kindergarten class photo.

She’s 5 in this picture. She doesn’t wear glasses.

I don’t know where she got that head bow.

Her Daddy gets her ready for school.

Initially, he was in big trouble when I saw this picture.

But look at her smile.

Lily LOVES school.

She loves taking the bus, even if it means a 40 minute ride, instead of a 5 minute walk.

She loves science and crafts and getting messy.

As you can probably tell from this picture, she’s a bit of a handful.

She gets a lot of “red notes” home.

Once, she drew a circle around her eye with a black marker.

Another time she pulled the emergency alarm on the bus because she got excited that she could read the words “pull down”.

Sometimes she lays down in gym class because “The teacher makes us run in circles for no reason.”

But look at that smile.

Lily didn’t do well during crisis school.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Her teachers were awesome and I’m a teacher too.

But she’s in Kindergarten. She is not made to sit in front of a computer. She’s not made to do school at home.

And to be honest, I’m made to teach Romeo and Juliet, not how to learn to read.

I want her to go back to school.

She wants to go back to school.

But look at that smile.

As day after day ticks by, I have become increasingly convinced that no school district has the capacity to maintain a safe environment for children to return to face to face instruction. There are just too many logistical problems to come up with any sort of safe or equitable solution.

And so, I told my little girl she wasn’t going back to school in the fall. That there wasn’t enough science for it to be safe.

We talked about the things she would miss from school.

She misses her teachers and her principal. She misses “choice time” and “even a little math”.

Ironically, she misses gym class the most.

Being a parent means that you’re always second guessing yourself, worrying that you’re doing the right thing, the best thing for your child.

I’m sure a month or two in, I’ll be begging my elementary teacher friends for help.

I’m sure I will drink too much coffee and let her eat ice cream for breakfast.

I’m sure there will be horrible days when both of us end up in tears.

But sending her back to school is a risk I’m not willing to take.

Because my world is nothing without that smile.

I’m writing this because I want you to take this decision away from parents.

I want you to postpone all face to face instruction until we have 0 new cases of Covid for 14 days or a vaccine.

I want you to recognize that no school district can provide a safe environment at this time.

I want you to value my daughter’s life.

Governor, in the beginning of this pandemic you talked about your mother- how she isn’t expendable. Even though I don’t like you that much, that day you won me over.

Maybe it’s because I, too, am Italian American and you sound like my family.

Maybe it’s because my Italian grandfather is 98 and I pictured him while you were talking.

Maybe it’s because the truth is no one should be considered expendable.

There are no acceptable student or teacher deaths, Governor and Union President, not when we can work together to prevent them.

Look at the picture. Look at her smile.

My child isn’t expendable.

No child is.

Thank you for your time.



Thoughts on Looting, from a Looter Herself


When I was 25 I worked for a horrible company.

 The CEO was, and still is, a bullying, screaming narcissist. His entire business model was fraudulent and was based on using the sexuality of young girls to “sell” his product. 

If that didn’t work, the young girls were encouraged to lie and even steal the business target’s official letterheads so that they could be “pressured” by fake higher ups. 

They have been sued for this countless times, all over the US, but they have the money to throw at lawsuits and are still operating. 

They are still preying on the young, who need their first resume padding job. Who are given bonuses and cruises and free drinks, while old, white men grope at their breasts.

Why am I telling you this right now? 

Because when I was 25 and working at that hellhole, I participated in looting. 

I had worked there for a little more than a year.

I sat through weekly company meetings where the CEO screamed, spit flying, that we were shit, and not thankful for the job he gave us. 

Meetings where he spewed that he was single handedly making Rochester an amazing city to work and live in. Where he paraded the young, scantily dressed, heavily makeup-ed, sales girls and plied them with compliments and “hugs”.

I was disgusted, demeaned, and knew it was wrong. 

But, I need a job. I made enough to cover my student loans and housing and not much else. I ate bread and tomatoes a lot.

I stayed because I wasn’t strong enough at the time to stand up for myself or leave, and I loathed myself for it.

That year there was a holiday party. It was really just an excuse for the old, white men at the top of this scheme to get drunk, high, and take advantage of their employees.

 It was an excuse to feel powerful and benevolent. 

As the night wore on and the liquor (and cocaine) flowed, the CEO announced it was time for him to “give out presents”.

We had all been given a raffle ticket with a number at the beginning of the night and would be able to win something in the pile of gifts that was rolled out. 

The gifts included new phones, computers, cash, and other smaller items. Once your number was called, you picked a wrapped gift, it could be a laptop, it could be a toaster. 

After trying to read three raffle tickets, it became obvious that the CEO was too drunk and high to see. He threw the tickets away and just started bellowing the names of his favorites- the young, exploited, and “beautiful”.

There must have been 300 employees at that event, many of whom were like me, “regular people”, the ones who did the real work after the favorites conned the money out of the targets. 

The ones who had to produce a “product” we knew was bullshit. The ones who never got a free drink, a raise, a cruise. 

The ones who knowingly propped up a sexist, racist, narcissist because we felt we had no other choice. 

We watched those men give away money, and items we could never afford, to the same few people over and over again.

 Finally, someone snapped. 

A guy in the crowd yelled “That’s my number!” and walked up and grabbed an iPhone. 

And us regular, hardworking, folk? We followed that first guy. 

We followed him because we were indignant. We were angry. We were tired of literally watching a rigged game. 

Me? I followed him because deep down I was dying inside, hating myself for not being strong enough to stop him. For not being strong enough to leave.

I looted because I felt I DESERVED IT. 

As I was leaving, I looked at what I had stolen, what I had so deserved, what had made me feel that just for a moment, I was powerful.

It wasn’t a toaster, but it was close. 

I was at once elated and ashamed with what I was doing, so I dropped what I had looted right before I left the “party”. 

I’ve never forgotten that job and the place it brought me to.

 How it felt to be trodden upon so heavily, and for so long that I felt completely justified in stealing Christmas presents. 

To be honest I still do. 

I worked that job for a little more than a year and it brought me to a place in which I was enraged enough to loot.

I’m telling you this so you’ll remember my story the next time someone tries to tell you how wrong it is for outraged people of color to take to the streets. 

How I felt after a year, when they’ve endured more than 400 years of the rigged game that is systemic racism and oppression.

I’m telling you this because maybe now you’ll understand that it’s not about “stealing clothes” or “hurting their own communities”. 

And maybe you’ll remember my story and pause before you share your white opinions on how Black and Brown people are expressing their rage.


My Story Matters- I was Assaulted at Work


On April 10, 2019 I was assaulted at work.

I was seated when my attacker became agitated at my colleague, stood up, put both hands on me and pushed me. As I stood up, I was then slapped in the face.

When my colleague called for help it took 17 minutes for someone to arrive. She had to call twice and was asked if “it truly was an emergency” the first time she called.

I immediately called for two male colleagues to sit with me. It took another 10+ minutes for my boss to arrive and tell me to “call 911 and deal with it myself.”

It took more than 40 minutes for the police to arrive at which point the police officer told me “it was a bad idea to press charges because I wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s life.”

I left work, more than an hour later, without my supervisors asking me if I was ok.

At 8:30pm I was called by Human Resources and told that I was to stay home pending an investigation, as well as threats made against myself and my colleague, by family members of the individual who assaulted me.

We were “to be out for our own safety.”

Two days later the Director of Human Resources requested a meeting.

He served me with an incident report alleging “unprofessional conduct.” I was not told specifically what conduct was unprofessional.

He was rude and angry that I had nothing more to offer than the statements I and my colleague made in writing at the time of the assault. I was told to stay home until further notice.

The individual who assaulted me was not asked to stay home. They were not disciplined in any way and continued on like nothing happened.

Let me reiterate that I was the victim of a physical assault and am now being investigated for having somehow caused my own attack.

It is inconceivable to me that in an era where women are finally finding power in collectively telling their stories and accusing their abusers, my workplace would treat an assault victim like this.

Ah, but you see, I’m a teacher.

Does that change the way you read the story?

“There must be more, some explanation!” you say.

And there is.

You see not only am I a teacher, but I am an urban, high school, ESOL teacher. It is my job to be the voice for the most underserved part of an already severely underserved population.

As such, I must be an advocate for those who cannot navigate English and the bureaucracy of the American school system. I make sure that my students get every allocation afforded to them by state and federal mandates, even if that means going above my Principal’s head to do it.

I’m also a Union Representative. I make sure that administration follows our contract, which makes for some tense encounters.

I am also a married, white woman who believes that it is my obligation to use my privilege to speak about racism, sexism, and classism in spaces not easily accessed by people of color.

I am the co-chair of the Social Justice Union Committee for the Rochester Teachers Association.

One of my students and I brought World Hijab Day to Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse. I wrote the resources that are available on the Rochester City School District’s website and that have been distributed through the Mid-West Regional Bilingual Resource Network. I have also served with the Black Lives Matter at School Planning Committee and helped bring the adopted resolution Supporting Community Actions for Safe Schools after the Parkland massacre.

I am unabashedly an advocate for my students and my profession.

Can you see what that means?

It means that for those in power, I’m a political nightmare.

Our society and therefore school districts count on the “teacher archetype”. We are underpaid, underrepresented, and easy to bully with phrases like “it’s for the kids”.

We’re told we are failing our youth because they are failing tests designed for students of color to fail.

Still we try harder, reflect more, do the work to help our children succeed.

We are so downtrodden by a broken system that many of us don’t have any fight left in us.

The systemic racism, sexism and classism that pervade our school systems count on this. It counts on the fact that teaching is an underpaid, female dominated profession to keep us in line. As long as teachers are too poor, too scared, and too tired, they remain quiet.

But I represent a change in that mindset. In the era of #MeToo, #WhyIDidn’tReport and teacher strikes, women are collectively finding our voices.

Just this week our Union filed a lawsuit against the district for teachers being involuntarily transferred (removed from their positions). Many of the teachers involved were vocal, political, and union advocates.

Do you see a pattern here?

As for me, It’s now been 6 weeks that I’ve been home on paid leave with no end in sight.

I’ve been told that the best guess for the “unprofessional conduct toward a student” is that she accused myself and the other teacher of being anti-Muslim. H.R. only says that on the phone though, not in writing. It would mean we’d actually know what I’m accused of, which would mean we could defend me.

They did however, figure out that the teacher who witnessed the incident was Muslim herself, so she’s back to work.

When the Director of Labor Relations at the Rochester Teachers Association reached out for an update on my case, Human Resources said, “They’d been busy.”

The district has now paid me more than $7,500 to stay home. They’ve had to pay a substitute $123 per day to cover my classes. (Currently a little more than $3,000). In a District that is severely in debt and had to offer a retirement incentive for the first time in almost 20 years, you would think they’d have 5 minutes to google my name and see all of the very public work that I’ve done surrounding positive Muslim relationships and learning environments. I think it’s easier to hope I’ll just hide with my proverbial tail between my legs.

I fully expect that after this blog post, they will find something else to say was “unprofessional”. I’m willing to take that chance.

So what now?

I don’t blame the child who hit me. More than likely she was frustrated with the same unfair testing system that I hate, and got overwhelmed. (Yes, the infamous NYS testing makes an appearance in this story.)

I also don’t blame her for accusing my colleague and I of being anti-Muslim.

I believe she said the first thing that came to her mind to get her out of a bad situation. Kids, and adults, do it all of the time. She was not my student and didn’t know her ESOL teacher was Muslim, as she doesn’t cover her hair.

It is a difficult and scary time to be a woman of color, an immigrant, and a Muslim in the United States. I can’t imagine the societal pressure she feels.

No, I don’t blame her, she is “just a kid” after all.

I blame the adults.

I blame the Principal for advancing this ludicrous investigation to keep the school’s image clean. The paperwork that I filled out on April 10th, was not sent or processed by Human Resources until 4 weeks after my assault.  Our building has a habit of hiding assaults on teachers because they like to “maintain their image”.

I blame administration at the building level for making all of the teachers in my building unsafe by participating in these practices.

For worrying more about politics than about people.

I blame the Director of Human Resources for treating me like a criminal instead of a victim. For asserting that I may have lied about the assault.

I blame him for not doing his job and wasting taxpayer money because he’s “too busy” for a 5 minute google search.

Most of all I blame a system that allows women to be assaulted with alarming frequency in their workplace. That teaches us that we aren’t worthy of being safe, that we must have done something wrong. The system that teaches women “it won’t happen again”, that shows our female students that their teacher’s bodily safety doesn’t matter.

The system that grooms both students and teachers for future abuse.

I refuse to be a part of that system.

I refuse to be re-victimized by my workplace. I was assaulted and I deserve to be heard.

Education will continue to suffer as long as politics and image matter more than people.

Until then, I will continue to be an advocate for my students, fellow women, and fellow teachers.

And if the District wants to pay me to sit at home while I do it, so be it.





In 2011 The American Psychological Association conducted one of the few national studies concerning violence against teachers. 80% of the teachers surveyed claimed to have had one more more victimization experience in the previous 12 months.

As of last week I have filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the District, asking them to provide the specific number of assaults reported by teachers in the 2017-2018 school year.

I have also asked for the statistics and related procedural information as to how assaults are supposed to be quantified and assigned consequences.

They have not provided the information at this time.

For more information in an easily digestible format, consult the following articles-

Also of note:

When I received word that threats were made against me, I called the Rochester Police Department to press charges in the event that I needed a restraining order. Because the student was a minor, I was told I could not change it on the phone with someone else, the arresting officer would have to.

I gave my phone number and email and repeated that there were threats against my person and I was nervous as I have a small child.

I have never been contacted by the Rochester Police Department to follow up.


Rape Culture Is Learned in School

[Word cloud highlighting terms such as violence, rape and victim]

This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself worrying about the topic that I’m going to blog about. I use my blog as an outlet to address the wrongs that I see in education for which I have no official avenue to confront—and today’s topic is an uncomfortable one.

It is time to address the role schools play in the continuation of societal norms that encourage the pervasive cultural oppression and sexualization of girls and women—or what is commonly known as rape culture.  

For the past week I’ve been watching as the world weighs in on the allegations of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

I’ve been part of conversations where people throw around phrases like “He was just a kid, should this ruin his life?” and “If it happened, it shouldn’t impact him now, he’s a different person.”

I watched the leader of our country tweet and question why the victim didn’t report the crime against her sooner.

As I got overwhelmed with the national media, I decided to do some self care and focus on my personal relationships instead of things that I can not control.

Browsing social media I came across the following post from one of my fellow educators about their daughter (edited to protect names):

Daughter: “Security guard commented on my shoulders showing when I entered the building and suggested it would be ‘distracting to boys’.”

Parents: “You tell him it is creepy that he is looking at you like that and to feel free to call your parents directly with his concerns.”

What commenced in the Facebook comments is the denigration of civilised discourse that we’ve come to accept as a society, complete with swearing, a man calling the aforementioned daughter “disrespectful to adults” and the accusation that the parents were “looking to pay off their house.”

This morning, while sitting with my morning coffee, my husband decided it was time to talk about his experience with toxic masculinity and the boys will be boys mentality that permeates sports teams.

Maybe it was the coffee, but it finally hit me—our education system is complicit in enabling the sexualization and harassment of girls.

I’m not sure how it took me so long to see it.

Teachers are some of the most progressive people out there. We champion freedom of speech, religion, and sexual orientation.

We hang stickers on our doors proclaiming that our classrooms are safe spaces.

The reality is, for our girls and our female teachers, school is not safe and teachers are (unknowingly) part of the systemic way that boys learn that they are superior to girls.

How many elementary teachers struggle with “out of control boys” in their classrooms? It’s not because they are biologically wired to be “rough and tumble” or more physical than girls; it is because society tells them that “that’s what boys do”.

The “boys will be boys” mentality gives them the permission to do so, and it looks like “acting out” in the classroom.

Think about it—when a little boy chases or teases a girl we say, “It’s because he likes you.”

We have just told that girl that it’s acceptable for a boy to chase and hurt her because of his feelings. We have implied that he has no control over the situation.

In middle and high school, we continue to perpetuate rape culture, as we enforce school dress codes that are sexist and shame girls.

By telling a girl to “cover up” or that their skin is “distracting to boys” we are telling them that their bodies are dangerous and harassment is inevitable. This also teaches our girls that they are the cause of a boy’s actions, instead of placing the blame solely where it belongs, on the offender.

Then comes the normalizing of sexual harassment and assault in schools.

Today, as an experiment, I went into the hallway with a sticky note. Over the course of three minutes, I recorded all of the times girls were slapped on the butt, or had an arm put around them that they shrugged off, or a hug they pushed away.

There were three butt slaps in which the girl yelped and reacted angrily, one shove with a “Get away from me!” as a male student tried to hug a female student, and seven instances where I saw a girl try to slip out of a boy’s draped arm looking decidedly uncomfortable.

One girl was licked.

I realize this wasn’t exactly scientific, but it also isn’t abnormal—any three minute segment of time at my school is likely to produce similar results. It paints a picture of a culture in which girls are repeatedly touched intimately and inappropriately without consent.

Ah, but they are just kids being kids right?

Two years ago one of my students was assaulted by another student outside of the gym. He grabbed her butt and pushed himself against her. It was captured on the school’s surveillance video.

She (and her mother) were adamant that the boy be punished to the maximum extent. She was told it was being taken care of and to “show us that beautiful smile”, because it was going to be alright.

Instead, she was made to sit in a “restorative meeting” with the boy and his mother to try and “work things out”. She was re-victimized for what seemed to be an opportunity for the school to avoid reporting a sexual assault.

During the hearing concerning his behavior, her side of the story was not presented. Her demands on punishment were not presented. The administrator did not ask for the maximum disciplinary action, in fact, he asked for it to be reduced.

Afterward myself and two other teachers sat with the girl while she cried. She had thought that her coming forward would mean that she wouldn’t have to see the boy again.

She expected to be believed; she expected to be kept safe.

And what about our female teachers?  

Last year I was forced to file a police report on a student who yelled, multiple times, in front of two teacher witnesses, that he was “going to violate me” because I told him he was on the wrong bus for a field trip.

Violate me.

Instead of removing the student, administration chose to “investigate” the claim. Instead of using the discipline process, I was told “He doesn’t normally act like that.”, “He meant he was going to curse you out. ” and “It’s not that bad.”

A week after the incident, after union representation and meeting after meeting, no disciplinary action had been taken. I was repeatedly re-victimized by being questioned about my role in the incident and asked to sit in a room with the offender and his mother. I was accused of being “overly sensitive”, as if being threatened with bodily harm by a man who towers over you and weighs at least 75 lbs. more than you is something to brush off.

But he’s just a kid. He didn’t mean it. Don’t ruin his life. You must have done something to make him do that.

Sound familiar?

In the days following the incident, five of my fellow colleagues told me how they feel that their discipline referrals on students aren’t taken seriously because they are women….FIVE… and those are the teachers that were comfortable enough telling me about their experiences.

If I go back a few years, the Principal who tenured me was given the choice to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct toward untenured and student teachers.

Women who had no professional recourse. Women who he could have fired with no due process because they had no tenure. Women who weren’t even out of college.

I hear he’s now a Principal in the next town over.

Or how about that time my friend, whom I wrote about here, was told she wasn’t being recommended for tenure and to sign this paper saying she agreed to a year extension, while the Principal changed his clothes?

These stories alone can launch hundreds and thousands more.

In fact, I will go so far as to say schools are where our children are indoctrinated into rape culture.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four college-age women will be victims of forced sex.

Nearly two thirds of college women are victims of sexual harassment.

College-aged young men don’t wake up in the morning and decide to sexually assault someone; they do it because they have been taught by society that they aren’t doing anything wrong.

Children learn how to become members of society in school and they have been conditioned by our lack of discipline surrounding harassing behavior.

These children become the Brett Kavanaughs of the world.

Until we teach our kindergarten boys that “She did not want to be touched by you.” and to “STOP!” when a girl doesn’t want to be “teased”,

Until we stop telling girls their bodies are the problem,

Until teachers don’t have to endure sexually inappropriate taunts because “They are just kids”,

Until we address the systemic misogyny that rules our education system,

Your daughters will continue to fall prey to the predators that we create.

Are you scared? Are you angry?

Now try smiling. It’s really not that bad.




There is No Dignity in Teaching


It is rare that I have no idea how to start a story. That something is so wrong, so mangled that I can’t begin to make sense of it.

I guess the only place to begin is the beginning, so here goes.

I met a teacher named Gretchen in early October, 5 years ago, at East High School. It was Parent/Teacher Conference day, and I was wearing a dress and heels. I was 8 months pregnant and massively uncomfortable. I had trudged down to the main office, no small feat in our city’s largest urban high school.

As I was leaning on the counter, catching my breath, I overheard the woman next to me talking to the secretary. She was asking for my supervisor and explaining that she was an ESL teacher assigned to the building.

What?! It was October, our department wasn’t expecting a new teacher.

I turned to her and introduced myself and asked her how long she’d been waiting. Her answer made me gape, she’d been assigned to my building from the beginning of the year and had been showing up and calling for days, trying to find someone to tell her where to go. She told me she was assigned to East part time, and was teaching at the jail the second half of the day.

I told her to come with me, that I’d take her to our supervisor and straighten out where she was supposed to be.

We started down the hallway. “What’s the ESL population look like at the jail?” I asked.

“I don’t know, the kids aren’t there, so they have me teaching gym.”

I stopped and looked at her.

“There’s no gym teacher and I know some yoga.” she replied, laughing as she saw the face that I made at her.

We continued to walk and make small talk.

My internal monologue was off and running “The District has a shortage of ESL teachers because this is how they treat them when they hire them. What the hell is wrong with these people? She didn’t get her Masters Degree in yoga! This is ridiculous.” and so on.

We did finally get her schedule straightened out, although she continued to teach yoga at the jail. You see, that is just the type of person Gretchen is-energetic, gritty, enthusiastic, hardworking.

Honestly, she’s the only person I can see actually teaching yoga in a jail and not looking completely insane.

We worked together for the next year before I realized that she was hiding something.

It was little things at first. When my daughter was born she checked my car seat installation 5 or 6 times. She would talk about her children, but never in much detail. She started asking about taking Family Medical Leave and if I knew how to help her get the paperwork.

One day, right after Christmas, I finally just asked her. “Gretchen what is going on? Are you ok? Is your family ok?”.  I even think she tried to blow me off.

Yes, I pried.  

She finally opened up and told me the story of her family, of her son, Tristen.

They had been in a car accident when Tristen was one year old. His carseat failed and he was ejected from the car where he sustained a traumatic brain injury. Due to the accident, Tristen was severely physically and mentally disabled. His health wasn’t good and the doctors wanted to intubate him. He was getting infections and Gretchen wanted to be prepared in the event that she needed to leave quickly to go and take care of him.

As she described her situation in more detail I became more and more astonished with my friend. She showed up to work and gave 100% Every. Single. Day. She was at all of our student events. Her students, all 75 of them, came to her for everything. On top of all of it, she was damn good in the classroom.

After she was finished I bluntly asked her if she sued the carseat company and if so, why in the world would she work?

“I need a job with health insurance, and I really just love working with these kids. People don’t like working with the hard ones, but I do. So if I don’t do it who will?”

There was a settlement, but because health care in the United States is complicated and unfair, Gretchen had to fight for every dollar that Tristen got. Theoretically he had millions of dollars in a trust, but her son’s life came with mountains of paperwork and lawyers and bills. Every service he got had to be documented, and none of the money could be used for anything other than Tristen’s care.

To top it all off, her son’s health was failing.

I wanted to drag her down to our Principal, have her repeat the story. In my mind, there had to be some way to help her.

Gretchen refused. “I will never use my son like that. I don’t need people to feel bad for me or my family.”

In the end, she didn’t need to take Family Medical Leave. Tristen improved and she had enough sick days to cover the days that he was intubated. Although we disagreed, I kept quiet about her family business.

In June she was called to the Principal’s office where she was issued an official letter saying that she had taken too many “suspicious” sick days. Let me be clear, she had the time in her allotment of sick time that teachers get; the Rochester City School District just thought that she took too many days off that year.

This time I insisted. Along with our Vice Principal, we informed the Principal that Gretchen could provide documentation for all of the days she took off AND that they were for her child who was living with multiple disabilities.

He was sympathetic but offered no solution other than to promise that it wouldn’t affect his recommendation of tenure the next year. He told her that it didn’t really matter in the long run now that the building knew of her struggles.

And then the school was labeled failing by New York State.

It was granted an “Educational Partnership” with the University of Rochester. (Which really means U of R took over operations and staffing.)

The Principal was fired for sexual harassment accusations.

The ESL program was quietly reduced, as too many students who need too much help impacts the school’s “improvement numbers”.

Gretchen’s son fell ill and she took Family Medical Leave.

The next June she was called down the the Superintendent’s office. (Now that a university runs the school, they have their own Superintendent.) She was told that she wouldn’t be getting tenure because “The RCSD School Board would never approve her tenure with her absence record.” She was told that she’d get an extra year to prove herself and to sign a paper.

She was offered no union representation, given no written documentation of what the problem in her performance as a teacher was. In fact, every year she received excellent evaluations.

Many of her friends told her to leave the school. Start over somewhere else. But if you’ve realized one thing from this story so far, it’s that Gretchen is stubbornly optimistic. She was good at teaching and loved her students, things would be ok. She actually told us not to worry, that things would work out.

Her failing was to believe that in this politicized world, being a good, loving teacher is enough.

This year Tristen’s health spiraled into uncertainty, yet Gretchen remained at work, dedicated to both of her lives. She didn’t start teaching until 10am, as she was lucky enough to have planning periods in the beginning of the school day. She was open and honest with her administration, and if late because of doctors appointments, missed no class time due to her schedule.

In February Gretchen was called down to the Superintendent’s office, told that she was not being tenured, and that she was being fired. They pulled her entry times from the computer and gave her “absences and lateness” as the reason. Absences and lateness that I remind you, were documented medically or taken under the Family Medical Leave Act, and did not exceed her contractual sick days.

Two weeks later, Tristen died.

Realizing the morale nightmare they created, East offered Gretchen her job back. Well, they offered her a job subbing, or a job starting over as a first year teacher. So really, they were just trying to mitigate the fact that they fired a teacher for taking care of her disabled, dying son.

What the administration and people who “evaluate” teachers fail to understand is that no amount of politics will give Gretchen back her dignity.

The dignity she lost filing for unemployment, of being denied because there was “no reason for her to leave her job”, of her phone being shut off, of the fear that her house and her car would now be repossessed now that she had no job and the trust no longer had to “help pay” for Tristen.

The dignity she lost trying to be both a mother and a teacher.

At the beginning of this story I told you that Gretchen showed up to a school that didn’t even pick her up at the office, and a second that had a highly sought after specialist teaching yoga.

There is no dignity in teaching.

We are blamed for the ills of society. We are tasked to perform miracles every day. We are told “I pay your salary, you work for me.” by parents who don’t like their kids’ grades. We are called racist, lazy, discriminatory, and overpaid. We are told over and over again that we are failing our kids.  

Administrators have forgotten that teachers (and the kids they work with) are in fact human beings and not numbers. Instead of standing up to government officials and defending their teachers, they uphold unfair—and frankly discriminatory— evaluation practices.

Fearing for their own jobs, they are willing to sacrifice good teachers in the hopes that they are seen as allies to the almighty State.

They investigate absences and arrival times, deny tenure and fire a teacher with a dying son.

Gretchen’s future is uncertain. She has no job, no health insurance, and other children to provide for. She may move to Florida, where she has family and where they are desperate for ESL teachers, but first she has to get there and then explain why she “resigned”.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr., “The measure of a woman is not where she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where she stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

I’m pleading with anyone who reads this to measure my friend by this standard.

To measure her by the sheer force of will it took to get up and give 100 percent to her students every day.

To measure the strength and grace it took not to “use her son as an excuse”.

To measure her not by the number of times she was “late” but by the number of students and colleagues that attended her son’s funeral.

I wrote this story at her request, because her story deserves to be told. The world should hear all of our stories, because if you think this is an isolated incident, you’re wrong. The world should know what we deal with.

The world should see us as humans.

Maybe her next employer will read this. Maybe a parent or a member of our Board of Education will. Maybe somehow this will make a difference.

But I doubt it.

No, there is no dignity in teaching.



A Tale of Two Women- My Struggle with School Shootings


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It’s 9:39 at night and I’m staring at my computer screen.

I’m also eating Haagen Daz strawberry ice cream straight from the carton. This is my dinner, because I got home from school at 7:00 tonight.

I was just in time to read my 4 year old daughter a bedtime story.

I have spent exactly 1 hour of the day with her because I leave for work before she wakes up in the morning.  Eating instead of snuggling isn’t even an option.

I could cook, but after getting up at 5:30 and putting in a 12.5 hour day, I just don’t have the energy. I’d probably fall asleep and burn the house down- so ice cream it is.

I read the news and chomp down on a few more spoonfuls.

I swing between royally pissed off and weepy.

I want to scream at the computer screen.

Arming teachers? In my building we can’t even be trusted to work the laminator!

I keep thinking about the kids in Parkland, FL., about what I would do if someone came to my school intending to harm my students.

Call me arrogant, but I’m pretty convinced this won’t happen. The statistics overwhelmingly support that school shootings are a white, middle class problem.

Culturally, white middle class men buy guns that are designed as military weapons. White, middle class America has a culture of toxic masculinity, where instead of caring about the safety of their children, they care about how big their “recreational” guns are.

Spoon in my teeth, I fire off messages about my participation in local rallies. I draft some letters to legislators. I make a “to-do list” to bring up the subject to my union.

Then I pick the carton back up, relax a bit, and the other me starts to leak out.

You see, I’m a white parent. I truly believe that I am safer in school than my suburban counterparts- so what does that mean for my daughter?

Academically, it means that my white privilege has protected me from from actively thinking about gun violence for a very long time. Only now am I starting to live the crippling fear that black parents face on a daily basis as their children walk out the door.

But that woman- the logical, academic, unafraid one- is melting with the last of the ice cream.

This other me knows that each day my baby gets on the bus, pigtails and purple backpack swinging, she is in greater danger than I am in my “rough”, urban, school.

It means although I have made peace with the vitriol (and sometimes safety issues) that come as backlash to my unapologetic, liberal, outspoken self, I can not actually comprehend a world where the most innocent of us all are gunned down in school.

It means I cannot begin to formulate a plan or a to-do list, because all I want to do is run upstairs, curl by body around my daughter, and never let go.

It is as that woman that I’m writing this blog post.

The teacher who, for so long, has worn her righteous indignation as her armor is tired and scared.

I know I’m not as compelling, not as powerful, but I’m what’s left- a mother whose tears are running for all of our children.

If we can’t look past our differences to see the innocence that we are slaughtering while we shout at each other, I fear that the day will come when no metal detector, no security officer, mental health screening, no armed teacher will be enough. That we, as a nation, will have become so entrenched in our desire to be right, we will have destroyed the hope that comes with the promise of a new generation.

Then again, maybe we are already there.

My breath catches and I run to the sink.

It’s not the ice cream that’s made me sick.


Why This Teacher Doesn’t Stand for the Pledge



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Kneeling during the anthem. Sitting during the pledge.

We’ve all heard about it. We’ve all typed about it on social media. We’ve all got an opinion.

I was around 15 when I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

I grew up in rural New York, near a Native reservation. I had a friend in my homeroom who was Native and she sat during this routine part of the day. One day I finally asked her about it and she had a lot to say.

From the numerous reasons, two resonated with me.

One, the United States did not recognize my friend and her people as citizens until 1924…150 years after we stole their land. On top of that, the US didn’t even grant Native Americans civil rights until 1968.  

“I don’t say the pledge because by recognizing us as tribal nations the US recognizes that they took our lands and ravaged our people. I will not pledge allegiance to a government that decimated the cultures, government, and people that were here and has made little effort to make reparations for those things.”

Two, “The god in the pledge isn’t mine either.”

I found her arguments compelling. Maybe this was the beginning of my social justice path in life, maybe it just made sense to my teenage brain.

While I didn’t sit (I wasn’t quite ready to go against the norm just then), I did stop saying the pledge. If our government and pledge weren’t “fair” or representative of all people, than it seemed wrong to say it.

As I got older I became increasingly aware that our laws and freedoms aren’t applied equally, especially to migrants, women, Muslims, the LGTBQ community, and most of all- people of color.

I started speaking out, I started marching, I started to stand for something other than what made people “comfortable”.

Fast forward fifteen years. I am teaching English in an urban classroom. Not only am I teaching English, but I’m teaching English to students have newly arrived from other countries. I plan thoughtful lessons, make sure my students voices are heard, and serve as an advocate to those who need it. I don’t think about the pledge that much.

It took another Native, this time my student teacher, to remind me of why I stopped saying it in the first place.

After his first day he approached me. I had seen him sit, so I figured it was coming. After he told me his reasons for not participating in the pledge, he asked why I made my students stand.

“I ask them to stand, they don’t have to say it. I ask them to because it’s respectful, because it’s what you do, because, because, because…”

“More than half these kids aren’t from the US (meaning not from Puerto Rico).” he countered. “They are here because they are fleeing horrible circumstances in the countries they are from, not because they suddenly want to become American. Also, the Hindu’s aren’t really represented in the ‘under god’ part.”

“The god in the pledge isn’t mine either.”

I started considering all of the ways that my students were not treated equally in the United States.

My Puerto Rican students hold US passports, but are treated deplorably by the United States government. As I write this, the Federal government still has not sent aid to the over 3 million Americans without power, water and transportation after Hurricane Maria. People routinely think Puerto Rico isn’t part of the US, and tell them to “Go home to your own country if you don’t want to speak English.”, even though the United States- by design- does not have an official language.

All of my students are people of color.

As such they are more likely to be misidentified and mistreated by law enforcement, less likely to see themselves represented in literature, more than 3 times more likely to be labeled as behavior problem or classified as learning disabled compared to their white counterparts. Less likely to graduate, more likely to end up in prison. The list goes on and on.

The more we talked the more I realized that I was wrong. I wasn’t asking the kids to stand because I believed it was respectful or in service to anything. I was having them stand because it was a behavior management mechanism- it got 28, loud, boisterous, rough teenagers to be quiet and get ready for the day.

I sat then and have every day since. I give my students the option to stand, speak, stay seated, or stay silent.

To those who are outraged, I say this. You stand because you believe that the United States is the greatest country in the world. You stand because it “shows respect”.

I will stand with you when our ideals extend to all of our people. When I can look at my students and sincerely tell them that there is liberty and justice for all.

Until then, this teacher will spend the first 5 minutes of her day sitting in silence.

If I Ever Leave Teaching it Will Be Because of the Adults, Not the Kids


A Facebook “On This Day” popped up in my newsfeed today. Normally I dismiss them, but today’s subject gave me pause.

3 years ago I sat down at my computer and started writing. I was upset about work and needed to find a way to work out my frustrations.

I rarely listen to music, but that day I’d heard TuPac blasting in the hallway.

Have you ever heard the story of the rose that grew from the crack in the concrete? It learned to walk without havin feet.

The result was On East High, my first viral blog post.

Could that have really been 3 years ago?

One of the hallmarks of a good teacher is reflection. I’ve always believed that if a lesson fails, it is my fault. I sit and think about the ways in which it failed and what that means for my students. Was the task too difficult? Was it interesting enough? Did they know why what they were learning was important?

When On East High went viral, District personnel reached out for my opinions on what we needed to do to change our schools. I sat in on countless meetings, spent hours on emails and even spoke at multiple conferences. Little by little those meetings and those “interests” have died down. If anything, I find that my professionalism and commitment to my students is challenged more than ever.

The District just can’t seem to honestly and openly reflect on why it is failing.

When no one even cared-the rose grew from the concrete-keeping all these dreams.

I still have never been paid the correct salary.

I still have battles over sick time and personal days.

My students are still not being given their mandated services.

I give ESOL services to students who speak NO OTHER LANGUAGE BUT ENGLISH because of a paperwork/clerical error that “can’t” be fixed.

I hold students who cry on a regular basis because they are lost, but someone’s test said they are proficient enough to sit in “regular” classes.

I meet with administrators, district officials, and even email the superintendent, hopeful that someone will listen, that someone will ascribe value to the lives of the children being lost in the system.

When no one else even cared. No one else even cared…

In every research papers about job satisfaction I could find, the results showed that there was a negative relationship between teacher job satisfaction with operating procedures and years of teaching experience. As years of teaching experience increased, teachers in public schools were more dissatisfied about the operating systems and procedures in which they worked.

Not behavior. Not safety.  Not “today’s youth”.

Operating procedures—which are made and staffed by other adults.

Every time someone asks a teacher about the state of education, we give the same answer: “If I ever leave teaching it will be because of the adults, not the kids.”

Think about the power of that statement. Teachers are, in general, a pretty conformist bunch. We like to follow rules and make systems. We say “good morning” to everyone we meet. We value kindness, integrity, and order.

How is it that this is our unofficial mantra?

We are failing our children, that much is clear, but if you really look and reflect, you’ll see why.

Our students “fail” over and over again because we are obligated to work within a system that was built by people who are no longer (or never were) teachers. We witness the racial, socioeconomic, and linguistic discrimination that is our public school system.

Teachers can’t work to our potential. We can’t do what’s right for kids because some politician decided what is right for our kids. Because some complicated formula or algorithm told a computer what is right for our kids.

We watch as those children don’t graduate, get low paying jobs, get married and get pregnant.

We watch them join gangs.

We attend their funerals.

All the trouble to survive and make good out of the dirty, nasty, y’knowhahatImean, unbelievable lifestyle they gave me

I’m just tryin to make somethin…

In my blog I wrote “ East is doing the best it can in a system so broken no one knows how to fix it.” Three years later, I’m amending that statement.

The system is broken, but there are people who know how to fix it—the teachers.

God bless the teachers who grow from the cracks in the RCSD.

Don’t ask why.

But please, I’m begging you, ask us how.



On International Women’s Day and A Day Without Women

Today is International Women’s Day.

Yes, it is actually a thing and it is actually celebrated in many different countries.

No, it isn’t made up by some conspiracy, man hating group to further “the leftist” agenda.

When I lived in Europe I would often get flowers or small presents. Students and even strangers would do small favors for me.

Women in different cultures celebrated in different ways, but one thing remained the same. They were honored. Their communities “saw” them. They were affirmed.

Never once did someone say ” That’s annoying.”, “That’s privilege.”, “Why do you get to feel special?”

You see, in so many countries around the world they realize what we in America haven’t seemed to grasp- That celebrating women doesn’t demean men.

So to experience the pushback that I’ve gotten today, for simply wearing red is tiring.

Or maybe I’m just plain tired.

I’m tired of pretending that things are ok.

You see teachers carry burdens so much heavier than an armload of homework.

We’re mandated reporters of sexual abuse and assault.

We watch mothers struggle to feed and clothe their children.

We watch the system discard working adults as parent’s who “don’t care”, because they can’t come to parent teacher conferences.

We take care of other people’s children while daycare workers get minimum wage to watch our own.

These issues are all women’s issues.

So while I would normally stay home, today I’m at work.

Today especially, I fight for my girls.

For their opportunity to come to this country, despite racist and discriminatory “Presidential” edicts.

For the opportunity to escape female genital mutilation.

For the opportunity to marry who they love.

For their opportunity to dress in a manner that represents themselves, without “asking for it.” if someone thinks their tank top is too low.

For the opportunity to wear a hijab and fully cover without “asking for” racist and bigoted threats.

I’m working today because students get sexually assaulted at school too and I need to be there for them.

I work so that my daughter will see and know a strong woman.

Today I couldn’t strike, but I stand with those who did.

Until every woman can feel safe in every place she occupies.

Until not one of my friends can name, with ease, times they were harassed or assaulted.

Until pink collar jobs like teaching are paid what they’re worth.

Until all women are paid what their worth.

Until I don’t have to teach my daughter to walk with her keys in her fingers.

Until all those who identify as women are safe.

I work and strike for you.



On Why Black Lives Matter


Our school district will recognize this Friday, February 17th, as a day of affirmation and understanding that black lives matter. Its overwhelming support includes that of the teachers’ union, administrators’ union and the school board.

Hopefully hundreds of teachers will voluntarily participate in “teach-ins” and engage in difficult yet necessary conversations around the inequality faced by people of color in this country and how it affects them and their school environment.

However, as is expected with anything that involves race, there has been a lot of pushbackpushback from the community and from teachers, with very heated opinions on both sides.

Instead of engaging with every Facebook post, every email, every pointed question, I’ve decided to tell my story of how Ia very white ladycame to not only believe in, but to fight for the #BLM movement.

A few months ago, my husband and I were discussing having another baby. For a variety of reasons, we would like to adopt.

When you adopt a child, you can’t just say, “I want any baby.” There are all sorts of things the agencies ask you about, one of which is race.

My first response was to blurt out, “Race doesn’t matter!” Especially since we are thinking about international adoption.

But before I got those words out, I stopped myself. I must have looked pained, because my husband asked me what was wrong.

And just like that, I said it out loud. “I don’t think I can raise a black son.”

Then, I started to cry.

In that small moment, a thousand conversations about what to do if he was stopped by the police went through my head. I imagined family meetings about “the right” clothes and tone of voice. I thought of teaching him not to run through white neighborhoods.

I thought of all of the things that black mothers, fathers, and caregivers tell their sons to “lessen” their chances of getting profiled and hurt.

The reality is that it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference.

You see, it’s not because I can’t love him enough or provide for him enough.

It’s not because I can’t learn how to style his hair or that I’m worried about what people would think of our mixed family.

It is because I would be terrified every time he walked out of my house.

I cried for a baby that wasn’t real because I couldn’t cloak him in my whiteness and privilege forever.

I cried for the little baby boy who would eventually be a hoodie-wearing male teenager.

I cried because it is not fair.

I cried for all of the mothers who can’t choose. For those that can only hope that when the time comes, the world sees their sons for their character, and not their clothes or the color of their skin.

I cried because I am not strong enough to be the mother of a black son.  

White friends, I know you grow uncomfortable when I talk about #BLM and how we can use our privilege to be allies.

I know that you don’t think that you are part of the problem, so you don’t see why you should “get involved”.

I ask you this sit for a minute and think about your own children…

Think about all of the good with the bad. Think about that time you had to pick your kid up because they got drunk or because they did something stupid in school. Think about how much you hate your teen’s ratty old sweatshirt and the jeans with the holes in them that are two sizes too big.

Now imagine your child is black.

Did you change how you would parent?
This my friends, is why black lives matter.



For more information about the Black Lives Matter at School event in Rochester, N.Y. please visit or email