It’s a confusing April morning in Oklahoma.
I have a cup of coffee and I’m looking outside my front window at my azaleas…which are covered in snow. Earlier this morning we had an earthquake. My wife is helping my son with his homework, even though he hasn’t been in school all week, and he won’t be there Monday either.
April, blooming flowers, snow, my son actually doing homework, earthquakes…and those aren’t the weirdest thing to happen this past week.
This week I watched through various social media platforms and news outlets as my fellow educators, students, apologists, sympathizers, and according to Mary Fallin, ANTIFA, stormed Oklahoma City and the Capitol to rally for education funding. Awestruck, I saw them fill the Capitol building every day, I saw them spell out messages with their bodies for aerial photographs, and I saw some of the funniest and most grammatically-correct protest signs I’ve ever had the privilege of looking at.
On Monday, I watched our children as my wife joined with her school on the Capitol lawn. On Tuesday, one of our kids had an appointment that my wife and I had to be present for. My school decided at zero hour to not participate in the full-fledged walk out, so for the rest of the week I had to be in class. I wasn’t happy about it.
That said, I’m not unhappy about it anymore. I decided instead to take action. I’ve resigned.
I’ve resigned myself to the thought that most of the people in this state (most of the media included) think that this entire thing is about a pay raise. I’ve spent the whole week telling people I want my raise to go to my classroom, to no avail. In an effort to combat this, I looked at my wife and said, “I’m going to spend all of my raise after taxes on stuff for my room, just to prove a point.” I felt noble. I was proud, standing before my wife having made what I considered to be an incredibly magnanimous gesture. But alas, my beautiful, lovely, and always taciturn wife brought me back down to earth: “Travis, no one cares about you.”
I’m still seeing news stories and Facebook posts about how greedy teachers are. Our own governor thinks we all just want new cars. We can’t win. We’re either greedy, or we stop the fight now and we never cared about the student funding, so we’re selfish. As Bobby Hill says:
I’ve resigned myself to the knowledge that even with this “generous raise,” Oklahoma will still be near the bottom of the barrel in teacher pay, and because the money from the bills in question is going to general funds, in a couple of years the legislature can appropriate the revenue to whatever they want, leaving already crumbling districts to figure out how to pay for those raises.
I’ve resigned myself to the realization that the leaders of this great state don’t care at all about public education, and their end goal is clearly consolidation at best, and vouchers at worst. This means my tiny school district in Okay, Oklahoma – the school I graduated from and now teach at – might not be long for this world unless something changes.
One of the biggest battles as a teacher in my district is convincing my students they’re capable of being heard. A more perfect example could not have been constructed than in a conversation that took place in my classroom this past week.
Student: “Why aren’t we participating in the teacher walk out?”
Another Student: “We’re just Okay. We’re too small. We can’t make a difference.”
Me: *rage intensifies*
I’ve resigned myself to educating not just my students, but those of you who think teachers aren’t fighting for your students. To educating those of you who think teachers just want a raise. To educating those of you who feel like just because your taxes went up, that gives you a right to blame my fellow educators and I, instead of the state government you keep voting into office just because you’re pro-life and those stinkin’ Democrats kill babies. You can be a Christian Democrat you narrow-minded Pharisee simpleton.
I’ve resigned myself to being nicer to those who don’t share my views. And yes, that means starting right now, after the Pharisee simpleton line. Every journey has a beginning, and mine might as well be the space between these two paragraphs. I love you, even if you’re an idiot (okay, now). There are ways to have reasonable discourse on volatile issues, and I have to take responsibility for my part in that. Part of the problem is social media – every issue is polarizing, and if you don’t take a clear stance on an issue, you’re often overlooked. Being overlooked is the worst thing that can happen on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other digital outlet. Fear of being overlooked can cause people to say emphatic things, even if they don’t entirely believe them.
I’m resigned to investing in G, in H, in H. In L, J, B, D, J, C, A, A, A, E, T, and M. In R, J, T, L, L, J, R, T, T, T, A, N, A, B, and S. Investing in H, S, C, T, T, C, S, R, and R. In A and Z. In K, K, B, K, K, S, C, S, and S. In S, J, B, D, K, K, A, T, K, C, and S. Investing in M, K, N, K, M, K, S, A, E, S, C, L, R, and B. All of these young people depend on me to teach them about English, sure, but more importantly, they depend on me to help them become the kind of people this state can be proud of. They depend on me to protect them. I am their tutelary.
I won’t be at the Capitol next week. I’ll be in my classroom, helping administer state tests and trying to convince young men and women that yes, they absolutely can make a difference, and yes, their voices can be heard. I’ll be showing them pictures of your signs and videos of your congregations. You can have the stage, and I’ll take my broken classroom podium. Together we’ll scream the same message. “You are powerful. You are capable. You are cared about.”
To the Oklahoma Legislators who are currently supporting us, thank you. We are in your debt, and I personally would love for you to visit my classroom when it’s over. It’s an open invitation. Come and let my students and I thank you personally.
To the ones telling educators to get back in our classrooms and teach: There’s a point in every dystopian novel where the hero(ine) meets those in power. If you could read anything other than bills penned in oil instead of ink, you’d know how they end.
Many of you know (all too well, I’m sorry, well, actually I’m not, it’s amazing) about my transformation over the last nine months. You know about Chris at Reform Strength and Conditioning, and you know that if you don’t think you have the money for it, you really do, you’re just spending it on things that make you fatter.
I’ve bumped my workouts to four a week, and I’m making huge strides in the gym right now. I have never in my life been stronger than I am now, even in high school. Weight loss has plateaued, if only because I still have struggles with food addictions that I’m doing my best to break (I will NOT eat candy before bed, I will NOT eat chips before bed, I will NOT eat an entire double quarter pounder and three Filet ‘O Fishes before bed).
I got my first four week plan from Chris the other day, and I started in on it after asking him a bajillion questions he promptly answered even after he’d already provided video instructions (love you).
The first week, I felt good after I finished my decline dumbbell presses, but I didn’t feel like I challenged myself. I decided to challenge myself the second week, and I felt even better, even though I didn’t complete four sets with the same weight.
So I set a goal. Use the 45s for all four sets.
|I GET A BREAK ON WEEK FOUR THANK YOU BABY JESUS|
When I looked at the app today, I saw what I wrote last week, grabbed the 45s from the rack and leaned back on the bench. I put the weight up twelve times, felt a wobble at the end, but dropped them with a sense of satisfaction. Round two went much the same.
Before I started round three, a buddy of mine walked in with his mom. I like this guy, as far as that goes. He’s one of those guys that would give you the shirt off his back and smile while he was doing it. He sat down, asked me how I was, told me he was through with his workout, and started looking at his phone.
I threw the weight up. Once, twice, three…ten times. The tenth one got me, I’m not going to lie to you folks. Serious wobble, and a dip at the top that almost resulted in a 45-pound weight coming down to rearrange my overall gorgeous facial construction.
I saw a blur out of the corner of my eye, and then a face above me.
“How many more?”
I lowered the weights, then got them halfway back up. A slap against my elbows and the weights were at the top. Lowered, another slap, at the top. Set three was in the books.
“Thanks,” I said.
A couple minutes later I was ready to start round four. Having needed a spot the last set, and not wanting to bother anyone this set, I walked over to the rack and I picked up two 40-pound dumbbells.
I got to my bench, got ready to sit down, and I looked up. He was looking at me.
“You’ve got 45s in you.”
I opened my mouth.
“Travis. You’ve got 45s in you.”
I set down the 40s and picked up the 45s. I knew I didn’t have them in me, heck, I would wind up having them inside my brain by six reps.
I laid down on the bench, opened my eyes, and this guy was there.
He let me get through eight reps on my own. I couldn’t believe I got that many, to be honest. The ninth rep though, wasn’t happening.
A slap. Nine happened.
A push. Ten happened.
“Squeeze it at the top.”
Another slap, another push. Eleven happened.
“C’mon. One more. Do it.”
His hands never left my elbows, and I think it was more him than me, but twelve happened. I threw the weights across the room (dropped them pathetically), and opened my eyes. He was gone, sitting back down, going through his phone.
It didn’t hit me until the drive home.
I wasn’t allowed to do less than I was capable of, and I wasn’t allowed to fail.
I’ll add this. I had tuna for lunch. I spit when I exhale. When my head is lower than my feet, my face turns a sort of odd purplish-red color, kind of like a grape about to go bad.
I was not easy to help. It didn’t matter. I wasn’t allowed to fail.
As a teacher, I come across all sorts of kids. Some kids don’t want to try, some want to try but don’t have the means, and some are completely capable with school work, but are socially awkward.
What if I didn’t allow my kids to fail?
Some of them aren’t pretty. Some of them might have had tuna for lunch, and some might not have showered for a week. Some might spit when they talk, and some might not talk at all.
Some are not easy to help. It doesn’t matter. They shouldn’t be allowed to fail.
What if, as educators, we began to look through the lens of this guy at the gym? What if we took the too cool to try kids, the socially inept, the nose pickers, and we didn’t let them fail? What if we carried this attitude through an entire school day. An entire month, a year?
“Hey kid, put the 40s down. You’ve got 45s in you. Yes you do. Two more. One more. Finish this.”
It might be unrealistic. Some don’t want the help yet, some don’t want it at all. However, we owe it to them to try. We live in a world that encourages trophies for participation, results that happen overnight, and exerting as little effort as is required to reach the goal.
Hand ’em the 45s. Push them. Don’t let them fail.
And Zac, thank you. You did more than just help me lift weight in the air. You didn’t let me fail.
Well, someone somewhere messed up and gave me the keys to the pound sign Oklahoma Education (#OklaEd) chat on Sunday night.
My topic? How to help students succeed with “real life” English Language Arts (ELA) skills. I have a bee in my bonnet about prepping students for the workforce, and not just for the state tests they have to take. If that means they get through my class without knowing what a gerund is, but they can send their boss an email with the correct homophones in place, I feel like I’ve done my job.
I was asked to preview the questions in a blog, so here they are. I will give you my answers on Sunday evening, and I very much look forward to hearing yours as well.
Thank you, educators of Oklahoma, for what you do for our kids.
- Introduce yourself. Have you ever gotten a work email with spelling/grammar mistakes? How did you react?
- What ELA skills do you find yourself using the most at your job(s)?
- What ELA skills do you think our students need to learn before they graduate?
- How are you helping teach those skills to your students while staying inside your subject area?
- How are you effectively demonstrating those skills to your students?
- Do you use writing as a punishment (essays, sentences, words, lines, etc.)?
- How can you specifically alter your lessons next school year to teach some of these “real life” ELA skills?
- Do you show your writing to your classes? Do you write in real time on SmartBoards, etc.?
- Do you think it’s important for your students to see you make “real-world” writing mistakes (as long as you correct them)?
- Do you have a policy/reward system in place for when a student catches a typo/grammar mistake you’ve made?
Have a great rest of the week, and I’ll see you on Sunday!
Follow me on the Twitter here: @tstyles77
Alicia: “One of the Baptist Childrens’ Home kids wants a Fitbit watch…and this one wants shampoo and conditioner.”
God save this world.
— Travis Sloat (@tstyles77) November 22, 2016
That’s the tweet that finally sparked this, just to let everyone know. I’ve been meaning to post this since November 10, but I’ve just never gotten around to it, and hearing those words come out of my wife’s mouth this evening, it finally consumed me.
Earlier this year, in October, I was asked to guest blog on a site called Blue Cereal Education, an education blog based here in Oklahoma. I wrote this post. In it, I told everyone that no matter what Oklahomans voted on State Question 779, I’d be fine, and I’d show up the next day at work with a smile on my face.
As I stayed up later and later on November 8, it became very clear that Oklahomans had made their voices very clear on a tax increase…no matter how good of a cause it was for. I fumed, and then I fumed more, and finally I went to bed entirely too late, incensed at you people for checking no instead of yes.
I googled the rate of pay for teachers in Arkansas, then Florida, and Kansas before finally my own words drifted through my head.
“I’ll die here or retire here.”
So much for that, right?
So on that Thursday, November 10, we had a blood drive at my school. As a teacher, I find it crucial to take time out of my day to give blood, ostensibly extending my planning period by two hours and helping me avoid the after-lunch rush of freshmen.
But I did decide to donate, and things went swimmingly. Another teacher so graciously covered my ninth grade class, but not before snapping a picture of me and another student…a student who I love more than I’d care to admit, who is part of a family who I’ve known my entire thirty-four years of life.
Here’s the pic.
|Obviously a real intense moment, a moment full of caring and love.|
The teacher who was covering my class (who is a math teacher)—instead of just sitting them down and boring them to tears for an hour—took matters into her own hands and threw the picture up on the SmartBoard, then had them write a short essay describing what was happening in the scene (still think we should step it up, Fallin?).
I walked back into her classroom towards the end of the period, and the entire class looked up from their projects and began to laugh. I glanced up at the SmartBoard and put two and two together, and I smiled. The other teacher began to tell me what was happening, and had all the students gather their work and hand it to me. What followed was one of the best moments of my short eighteen-month teaching career.
Sometimes, I feel like I am blessed with moments of happiness so pure, so distilled, that they’re meant never to be forgotten. Moments where you smile, you laugh, you cry, and then laugh again as you’re wiping tears and snot all over your face just so you can see what you’re consuming.
So as I was wiping tears and snot all over my face, I read the following gems. Now listen up: I know the spelling is atrocious, and I know the grammar is bad. We’re working on it. As much as I’d like to be an actual miracle worker, I’m not, but I’m a damn fine teacher, and we’re working on it. So judge or judge not, but as the great Ricky from Sunnyvale would say: “Make my words,” if you make a comment about the spelling or grammar, I will scour your Facebook feed with all that I am and will bring your every error to light. These are my kids. Enjoy this like I did.
|Her story is done, y’all.|
|Me being in birth was a popular theme, maybe I should work on my blood giving pose?|
|For the record, you could wax my legs smooth and not notice any difference. I am not a hairy guy.|
|If this kid only knew how many times I’ve looked like this because I’ve eaten something that isn’t good for me.|
|Hey, my reputation went down the drain when I publicly admitted to crying over your stories.|
|MR. SLOAT IS SO AMAZING, YES MORE OF THIS PLEASE AND THANK YOU.|
|Again with the leg waxing, is this a natural position for leg waxing?|
|I died a noble death, much like the late Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter reference achieved.|
|I can’t figure out if I want to hug this kid or accidentally punch her in the neck. MR. SLOAT OUT.|
|Well, I mean, doesn’t everyone poop like this? Just me? Let’s just forget this one.|
|*crickets* mmmmm Nacho Day.|
There were so many more, one actually said it looked like I’d just heard all the Destiny servers went down (I brayed like a donkey), a few more about waxing, a few more about pooping, a bunch more about giving birth, and then a few solid hundred about how noble and brave I looked (just kidding they were about pooping).
If you’re a student, you keep reading. Everyone else get out of here after this paragraph. This is my response to you voting whatever you did on SQ779, and I’m through talking about that now. I understand your reasoning, and I’m sorry for lying to you, but “make my words,” it was a small stumble along a long and loyal path that will end with my death or retirement from Okay Public Schools. I don’t blame you. Now go. Young person, keep reading.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your day to make me laugh, and to make me feel loved (YOU LOVE ME I’M TELLING ALL YOUR FRIENDS). You gave me a moment I will remember for the rest of my life, and a story I’ll tell future students, some of which might even be your kids. Thank you. You are amazing, you are a gifted writer, you are a great human being, and these stories will stay in a box for me to pull out and remind myself just how much I love this job. You did that. You are responsible for my continued happiness. Thank you.
Now do your dang research paper. I’ll see you Monday, and we’ll act like this never happened.