“I don’t see what school finance has to do with equity.”

A school district CFO once said this in a meeting and it knocked me flat.

What does school finance have to do with equity? Only everything.

Historically, U.S. schools have been funded primarily by property taxes. And American property is deeply problematic. Funding schools with local property taxes is inherently inequitable: property-ownership and property values in the United States are rooted in nearly 300 years of violence, racism, segregation, and systematic denial of capital. 

The whole concept land-ownership in this country has a giant asterisk since the United States is founded on land-stealing and the forced removal of Native Americans through violence and trickery. This land was stolen and then cultivated with forced labor. 

For 250 years of slavery in this country, Black people were treated as property – enriching white landowners at the expense and exploitation of of Black lives.

The Jim Crow era ushered in another ~100 years of segregation, violence, and oppression. The practice of redlining began in 1934 – the systemic denial of loans and insurance to keep Black people out of white neighborhoods. It’s pretty difficult to become a property-owner without a mortgage or insurance.

It wasn’t until 1965 that Brown v Board ruled racially segregated schools unconstitutional; it wasn’t until 1975 that the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act brought transparency and change to lending practices. 

That is a grand total of 45-55 years out of the nation’s entire history during which people of color are not being formally denied access to owning property and attending schools. 

The very word “property” in this country is inextricably tied to white supremacy and its myriad -isms.

EdBuild’s February 2019 report estimates that predominantly nonwhite districts receive $23B a year less than predominantly white districts despite serving the same number of students.

I estimate that the disparities are much greater if we look at intradistrict allocation of dollars on a per-school basis. The new financial reporting regulations in ESSA aim to produce per-pupil spending data at the individual school level. 

I am deeply concerned that this data will be imprecise and inaccurate for at least several years because antiquated accounting systems are not set up for this level of reporting. Retroactive, proxy attributions will likely continue to hide the true extent of inequities in funding across race and class lines for years to come. 

For 300 years, the US has denied property and schooling to people of color, but to this day we perpetuate those injustices with the inequitable allocation of educational resources to Black, Hispanic, and low-income students.

States have tried to close these gaps with supplemental revenue, but nearly every state falls short of making up for the disproportionate benefits of communities with lucrative property-tax bases. 

Collectively, our system of funding schools remains rooted in racism and white supremacy. We must dismantle this long history of property-segregation and wealth oppression to fix the most broken parts of our education system and society.

Earlier this week, EdBuild published a new report called Clean Slate with a bold proposal to pool local revenue at county or state levels to mitigate the effects of gerrymandered school district lines and long history of racist policies. 

It is a rather straightforward proposal that will likely still be deemed “politically infeasible” because of a vocal, politically-connected minority that has a death-grip on ill-begotten wealth. 

The vast majority (69%) of students stand to gain resources from a wide-scale redistribution of school funding. And the country will collectively benefit from an education system that dismantles racist structures and works to elevate ALL students to their full potential. 

That is what school finance has to do with equity, in a nutshell. 

The Lynchpin of Suspension

This week, The Baltimore Sun’s education reporter, Erica Green, ran a story on a controversial Baltimore City Public Schools incentive program: teachers and principals are eligible for monetary rewards up to $9,500 for successfully reducing suspension rates.

Great, right? Educators can be compensated for reducing suspensions:  improving school culture and decreasing disciplinary issues to keep kids in school and safe environments.
Oh, logical fallacies are so sneaky!

Logical fallacy: A reduced number of suspensions are necessarily the result of improved school culture and/or a decrease in serious misbehavior.

Likely reality: A reduced number of suspensions are the result of assigning fewer suspensions.

If Destiny and Jaqueline get into a physical fight in class, the suggested disciplinary action in the Code of Conduct is a suspension, but the actual disciplinary action comes down to administrative discretion. If the principal is eligible for a monetary reward for reducing the number of suspensions, on which side of the disciplinary action spectrum do you suppose that discretion will fall? It doesn’t take a doctorate in behavioral psychology to imagine the negative consequences of this policy.

Unfortunately, the attention to the flaws of this initiative obscures the crux of the matter: suspensions don’t work. Suspensions have almost nothing to do with school and everything to do with home and parenting.

In 13 years of rigid Catholic schooling – where you could get detention for the wrong-colored socks, being one minute late, or wearing a flagrant hair accessory – I never got a single detention. Why? Well, because I was a goody-goody. But ALSO, because I did not want to even fathom the sort of wrath I would incur from my parents for receiving disciplinary action. Because I was terrified of even a single indiscretion on my “permanent record,” which I believed was very important because my parents told me so since forever. Because I knew the disciplinary action I received from school would pale in comparison to whatever my father deemed a suitable punishment. I did not worry about school infractions. I worried about what my father would say when he found out. I still shudder to imagine.

So what happens if this sort of disciplinary support doesn’t follow through at home? Nearly all of the punishing effect of detentions and suspensions are predicated on parents reinforcing the seriousness, legitimacy, and severity of these consequences at home.

In reality, many of my students viewed suspensions as a mental health day: a day of video games, Cocoa-Puffs, and Facebook.  At worst, they were bored. At best – vaaaaacation!

As a teacher, I had many students with incredibly supportive parents – we chatted frequently on the phone, via email, and at conferences. They checked homework, helped with studying, and monitored grades. Not so coincidentally, these students were never in danger of being suspended.
For fairly obvious (yet complex) reasons, it is the students who do not receive adequate support and attention at home who are usually the repeat offenders for misbehavior, violent conduct, and truancy. Suspensions won’t work, because the lynchpin of the punishment is missing. Unfortunately, sending a message that extreme or violent misbehavior will be ignored or downplayed is a recipe for school chaos – that message travels fast.

What to do? These students do need some form of disciplinary action to send a clear message that certain behaviors will not be tolerated. However, they are also likely in desperate need of additional support services. Unless you have an intensely Hobbesian view of human nature, it’s fair to say that students don’t generally go around cursing, punching, and threatening people without an underlying cause.

Without digging deeper to unearth and address the root causes of the misbehavior, those students (and their schools) will be caught in a vicious cycle of crime and punishment. Maybe they need therapy and counseling services, maybe they need a positive outlet for aggression (like joining a sports team), maybe they need a personal tutor… but one thing’s for sure: a mental health day won’t fix the problem, and neither will sending them back to class.

Show Them the Money? Why Merit Pay Doesn’t Work

Last week, Newark school district revived the debate on merit pay for teachers when the union passed a new teacher contract that awards $5,000 bonuses to highly effective teachers and up to $10,000 bonuses for highly effective teachers in low-performing schools and high-need subject areas like math and science. Proponents of merit pay argue for incentivizing effective teachers, while opponents of the measure claim that it will pit teachers against each other to the detriment of students. Merit pay doesn’t work, but not for the reasons cited by the opposition.
Schools are not businesses and school districts are not corporations, but like businesses and corporations, schools and school districts are operated by humans, which means that basic laws of human nature apply. Educational leaders would do well to explore some of the literature and research on motivation and leadership that has been so heavily marketed to the corporate world. Almost all of the business and social science research from the last decade on motivation, drive, leadership, management, retention, and job satisfaction agrees: it’s not about the money.
Again and again, research shows that the carrot/stick approach fails to motivate people. Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, draws on 50 years of behavioral science research to argue that external rewards like money are not motivators for high performance. Instead, Pink’s research shows that the best motivators are intrinsic: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. When implemented strategically, these motivators lead to increased job satisfaction, higher retention rates, and stronger organizations.
One of the most famous case studies illustrating this point is Tony Hsieh’s turnaround of Zappos. When Hsieh became CEO of Zappos in 2000, the company was worth $1.6 million and floundering. By 2009, Zappos was worth over $1 billion and cited as a world class example of corporate culture and growth.  Zappos achieved success by empowering every employee, down to call center representatives, to make whatever decisions necessary to make the customer happy.  Hsieh instilled a culture of delivering happiness (the purpose) and then gave every single employee the autonomy to achieve that purpose. He didn’t build a company of devoted employees on bonus checks.
In spite of overwhelming research to the contrary, education “reformers” still think waving a fat check in front of teachers will somehow lead to higher test scores. This is insulting. It indirectly suggests that teachers are not already doing everything in their power to teach students successfully. It implies that by sweetening the deal with a few grand, teachers will magically whip out a secret arsenal of teacher tools they’d been holding out on until the district ponied up the cash. Oh, there’s a check at the end of the line? Well, I guess I’ll teach Johnny to subtract, after all! Sound ridiculous? It is.
No, school districts aren’t selling shoes, and they’re not looking to make a profit, but there is (or should be) a uniting purpose to educate students and grow their academic success. That won’t be accomplished with a carrot/stick approach. It will be accomplished by giving teachers the autonomy to make decisions about how to teach their students and increase their own teaching mastery.
If you want a dog and pony show, then offer ribbons and prizes. Real, systemic growth and change can’t be bought.

In Response to “The Imaginary Teacher Shortage”

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion editorial by Jay Greene, “The Imaginary Teacher Shortage,” which posited that while the United States has added a million teachers to the rolls since 1970, student performance has remained unchanged. Greene challenged the presidential candidates’ plans to add more teachers, imploring state and local officials to instead shrink the teaching force.  Mr. Greene proceeded to make an argument based around exactly the kind of flawed, simplistic logic that is so damning to contemporary “reform” efforts. 
Scapegoating teachers for being unsuccessful and overpaid is not only lazy critique, it is irresponsible. Finger-pointing draws energy and attention away from the far more nuanced dysfunctions of the education system, but furthermore, reveals a shallow and narrow interpretation of educational progress during the past 40 years. This article is link-bait, at best, and I am disappointed by the lack of integrity of The Journal for running a piece based on such tired logic and misplaced criticism with grossly misrepresented statistics. 
The editorial features an image of a smiling young teacher with pin curls from some idyllic day of yore. She sits at a sturdy wooden desk with an apple atop, with a stack of papers in one hand and reading glasses in the other, in front of a blackboard with white chalky cursive. (A closer look at the blackboard suggests that on the day of the photo shoot, students were memorizing metric conversations and causes of the Revolutionary War, while also learning to multiply fractions and add with decimals. Must have been a busy day!) The caption states: “How did she do it? Less money for education, larger classes—and plenty of success.”  Mr. Greene, kudos to you for undermining so many basic facts of American history, economics, education, technology, politics, and data in one cheeky caption. 
How did she do it? Less money for education, larger classes—and plenty of success.
“For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.”
Come on, teachers! We took 7.1 kids out of your classrooms – why haven’t the test scores budged? Firstly, I’m curious to know by which metrics of achievement Mr. Greene is measuring student stagnation. To date, our best measure of national student achievement is the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP), which did not begin testing in reading and math until 1983, at which time, special needs students wereexempt from testing. The other standard indicators of national student achievement at this time were the SAT and ACT, whose scores only represented the averages of college-bound seniors, not the entire student population. 
Metrics aside, Mr. Greene’s statement that the United States has “nothing to show for it” is patently false in that it not only assumes that all other factors have remained consistent in the classroom (including the very purpose of schooling), but also completely fails to acknowledge educational progress by any measures other than test scores and class size, (which are nearly useless in aggregate, anyway).
In 1970, just 12.5 percent of 3 and 4 year olds were in pre-school. Research has consistently shown the importance of pre-school in terms of later academic success. 40 years ago, pre-school education was reserved primarily for children of affluence, which disproportionately put low-income children at an academic disadvantage at the ripe age of 3, which partially explains the socio-economic achievement gap from very young ages. Thanks to federal and state funding for programs like Head Start, nearly half of 3 and 4 year olds receive a pre-school education today. We still have a long way to go towards ensuring early child hood education for every child, but the United States has quadrupled the percentage of 3 and 4 year olds receiving early childhood education during the past 40 years. 
What about the other end of the education pipeline? In 1970, just 6.7 percent of males and 3.8 percent of females over the age of 25 completed four years of college and the median number of years of school completed was 12 – the equivalent of a high school degree. Between 2007-2009, 38.8 percent of 25-34 year olds had completed an associate’s degree or higher. 
What do these numbers mean for the K-12 teaching force? Comparing teachers in 1970 to teachers in 2012 is futile, because the nature and purpose of schooling has transformed so fundamentally during the past 40 years that the modern demands of the profession bear little resemblance to job description of teachers in 1970. Unfortunately for teachers in 2012, the United States now pays attention to educating every child, not just the healthy rich white kids, (which is a real bummer because teachers were so successful with those students).
If the goal of schooling is to prepare young people for careers and citizenship, then the turn of the 21st century has necessitated the most dynamic shift of educational outcomes in American history. Globalization and the digital age have had an unprecedented impact on our workforce economy. The number of manufacturing jobs in the United States during the 1970s exceeded the job numbers from the World War II era manufacturing boom. Those jobs remained at fairly steady levels until 2000, at which point they began to steadily and rapidly decline. 
 
In 1970, the majority of the student population was preparing to enter the manufacturing workforce, which required basic reading and math skills, but almost no high level critical thinking skills. Digital literacy was hardly a concern, since computers were still the stuff of science fiction for the average Joe. So, in 1970, it was wholly acceptable for less than 10 percent of students to be on the college track. Fast forward 40 years and politicians proclaim: everybody should go to college! No longer do we consider teachers a success for preparing 10 percent of students for higher education. Today, teachers are expected to have 100 percent of students on the road to college (never mind that it defies the law of averages and basic principles of economics). 
“The path to productivity increases in every industry comes through the substitution of capital for labor. We use better and cheaper technology so that we don’t need as many expensive people. But education has gone in the opposite direction, making little use of technology and hiring many more expensive people.”
I will be there first to admit that there are worthy parallels between business and education in terms of motivation, culture, financing, and leadership. However, let’s stop short of commoditizing children, please. We are not making iPods (if we were, that manufacturing jobs graph might not look so dire), we are educating human beings, who have a helluva lot more moving parts. Technology offers some wonderful innovations for education, but education technology should be designed to assist teachers, not replace them. I would like to see a computer break up a fight or mediate a conflict between angry adolescents. I would like to see an iPad dry a child’s tears or help him blow his nose or zip her jacket when it snags. I would like to see a SmartBoard smile or tie a tiny pair of shoes. 
Educators get a lot of flack for being too warm and fuzzy, but the fact of the matter is that teachers are working with little humans who sometimes need a little warm and fuzzy in their strange and scary lives. Education technology products like Common Curriculum and Class Dojo are wonderful in taking the nuisance out of teaching tasks like lesson planning and classroom management without undermining the role of the teacher. 
 
The flipped classroom model certainly has some benefits for some students in some classrooms. But before we go and replace all our teachers with Sal Khan, please remember a little something called the digital divide: not every student has the luxury of going home to watch Internet videos. In fact, only 78 percent of Americans have Internet access. I wonder if the 20 percent of children living in poverty in America fall into the 23 percent of people without Internet access? That sure would be a snafu for teachers trying to flip classrooms in areas of highly-concentrated poverty.
“There is also a trade-off between the number of teachers we have and the salary we can offer to attract better-quality people. As the teacher force has grown by almost 50% over the past four decades, average salaries for teachers (adjusted for inflation) have grown only 11%, the Department of Education reports. Imagine what kinds of teachers we might be able to recruit if those figures had been flipped and we were offering 50% more pay without having significantly changed student-teacher ratios.”
This sounds good in theory: recruit the best people and compensate them accordingly. It does not work. Teach for America has done a fine job of recruiting the top college-grads in the country by igniting their sense of injustice and passion for change. We do not have a recruitment problem in teaching – we have a retention problem. Nearly half of all teachers leave during their first five years because they are burned out, which is a problem that salary increases (while nice) will not fix. I have informally surveyed many teachers over the past several years and asked them: “Would you rather have a $50,000 raise or another co-teacher or aid in your classroom?” No one has taken the money. 
“Hiring hundreds of thousands of additional teachers won’t improve student achievement.”
On this point, I actually agree with Mr. Greene. One of every five children in America lives in poverty. Children living in poverty are disproportionately facing the added challenges of poor nutrition, incarcerated parents or siblings, single family homes, drug use, physical or sexual abuse, gang culture and neighborhood violence. These challenges are not insurmountable, but we are kidding ourselves and doing a disservice to students to continue ignoring the overwhelming evidence that these factors affect classroom performance.
As a nation, if we decide that schools should be the place to address all societal ills, we owe it to the students and faculty of our schools to provide them with the necessary resources. School equity means giving students what they need to succeed, not treating all students the same. Some students may thrive in a classroom of 30, while others need a small group setting limited to five students, and still others will need one on one attention. Some students may naturally develop socio-emotional skills in a 20 minute recess, while others will need years of counseling to overcome Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or other mental health issues. 
Simply adding more bodies to the classroom will not improve student achievement nor will it increase teacher satisfaction. If we want our teachers and students to be successful, we must provide them adequate capital to provide resources at their discretion. Students will only be successful when we stop blaming teachers and start acknowledging that the true obstacles to education lie far beyond the classroom doors.
 

The Only Way Out Is Up

“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to teach teachers,” said no one, ever.
You may be surprised to know that being a teacher of teachers is a highly coveted position in education circles. After a few years in the classroom, many teachers discover that their passion lies not so much with teaching children, but, as it turns out, other teachers. With all the wisdom of two, three, or five years of professional teaching under their belts, they will earnestly tell you of their newly realized professional ambition: supporting teachers.
As social beings, humans seek order and hierarchy in complex systems. Not unlike other industries, education professionals are organized in a complex and hushed hierarchy of respect, authority, and salary.  But unlike other professions, the people most directly responsible for outcomes are at the bottom of the totem pole, scavenging for resources.
Teaching is a relatively static profession. There is no clear career ladder with universally accepted benchmarks of achievement. There are few, if any, promotions. In law, one might aim to someday be a judge or make partner at a prestigious firm. In business, young associates set their sights on the C-suite.  In medicine, there’s a strict progression from intern to resident to attending. But in teaching, a prolific career could blossom in the same classroom, with the same title, over the course of 30 or 40 years. The salary increments are marginal. The prestige is limited and local. The accolades are private. An enduring teaching career runs counter to almost every indicator of success in our culture. It’s less like a ladder and more like a Ferris wheel.
But Americans, particularly Millenials, are not conditioned for success in stagnation. Raised on titles and trophies, we’re looking for the next rung before we’ve even steadied our footing. In a commencement address at Harvard Business School, Sheryl Sandberg compared the 21st century career path to a jungle gym instead of a ladder. But a jungle gym still contains a variety of heights – encouraging risky jumps and maneuvers to become king or queen of the playground. Rather than allow for some professional gymnastics within the teaching profession, the education industry has outsourced the monkey bars to various “Offices Of.”
It pains me to admit that a certain Miley Cyrus song seems particularly prescient here: it’s the climb, and young education professionals seem to be always looking for the next mountain to conquer. Suddenly, dozens of new positions with fancy titles exist in schools and districts and Teach for America offices across the country. Instructional Support Teacher, Model Teacher, Lead Teacher, Program Director, Vice President of Leadership Development, Director of School Leadership, Director of School Design, Director of Teaching and Learning, etc. Surely, all of these roles are filled with passionate, well-intentioned, intelligent people working to improve the country’s education system and provide excellent learning experiences for children. But arguably, the easiest way to provide excellent learning experiences for children is to be an excellent teacher of children. Many of these newly invented roles are filled by former teachers, which begs the questions: are these new roles truly necessary for providing excellent education, or have they been created to make adults feel better?
Most of these positions are accompanied by salaries and benefits equal to or better than those of teachers. And instead of managing and catering to the unique needs of up to 150 young people every day, these other education professionals can retreat to comfortable climate controlled offices where they will engage with (mostly) rational adults all day.  What sane person wouldn’t view this as a step up in the world: equal or better pay for an easier job that still serves a higher purpose.  Certainly, these professionals make worthy contributions to education. However, I have to wonder if their contributions are absolutely essential to the education system, or if they are diverting the already scarce human capital and other resources away from the classrooms they aim to serve.
In its simplest form, education involves only a teacher and a student (think Socrates). What would happen if we streamlined all resources for the direct benefit of students and teachers? If instead of having PowerPoints and Curriculum Manuals and managers and managers of managers, every classroom had three certified teachers and one-to-one internet-ready technological devices? In which system would students thrive? In which system would adults thrive in their chosen professions? And might they be one and the same?

Doctors for America

“Are you having trouble finding a doctor who will see you? If not, give it another year and a half. A doctor shortage is on its way,” warns John C. Goodman is his Wall Street Journal op-ed. He’s wrong. According to Businessweek, there’s already a shortage of 15,000 doctors, with projections of a 130,000 shortage of doctors by 2025. So why not increase the supply of doctors to meet the demand of the 30 million new patients ushered into the US health care system with the Affordable Care Act? Currently, doctors are trained through a rigorous residency program, lasting three to seven years, costing $145,000 per year per resident. “The residency programs to train new doctors are largely paid for by the federal government, and the number of students accepted into such programs has been capped at the same level for 15 years. Medical schools are holding back on further expansion because the number of applicants for residencies already exceeds the available positions.”

Wait, isn’t this supposed to be an education column?
Internet trolls love to snipe in comment threads about Teach for America, “Imagine if we had Doctors for America – would you want someone performing brain surgery on you after five weeks of training?” Frankly, this is blissfully ignorant First World snark. Partners in Health, founded by the brilliant Paul Farmer, trains community members as public health workers in impoverished settings like Haiti, Rwanda, Peru, and Malawi because they have a severe shortage of doctors. The only reason the United States doesn’t have Doctors for America is because America is not facing a severe shortage of doctors… yet.
Goodman’s op-ed dances around some very important ethical and economic questions, but unfortunately, he abandons them for low hanging fruit like “wait time” at the doctor’s office, which will be probably be the least of the US health care system’s problems in the next decade. Universal healthcare will inevitably create some of the same supply and demand issues that plague the public education system. That’s basic economics. And as doctors increasingly feel overwhelmed and underpaid, they too will burn out and leave the profession for private pastures.
I wonder if the internet trolls will gripe how lazy doctors have become, as public health professionals across the nation try in vain to address the ailments of 30 patients at a time?
As a moral, socially conscious citizen, it is a popular liberal opinion to agree that healthcare and education are basic human rights that should be provided by the government. But as a society, are we willing to make the commitment (and sacrifices) required to actually provide those rights? Or do we just want to feel better about ourselves by nodding our heads and passing laws without footing the bill for the financial capital and human resources required to make those lofty provisions a logistical reality?
The two-tiered healthcare system that Goodman prophecies is essentially the education system we already have – wealthy people evade the system by paying for high-end education through private schools, while poor/middle class people are stuck with a resource depleted public system. Does America have the capacity to provide high-quality social goods and services to everyone? Or is a two-tiered system inevitable? Is a two-tiered system acceptable as long as the lower-tier provision isadequate? These are uncomfortable questions to ask, especially when politically palatable answers are not always economically feasible. Of course, it does not help matters that our nation’s political “leaders” are busy quibbling over the technicalities of rape instead of solving actual political and economic problems.
If you need immediate cardiac care, would you rather take your chances and wait a year for a top notch doc, or go under the knife with a 22-year old-who learned how to wield a scalpel last week (but was, like, so good at Operation)?
And if neither of these options is acceptable for our bodies, why is it the fate for so many of our nation’s young minds?

The Best Lesson I Didn’t Teach

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” – Joan Didion
We share our stories in order to survive. Story-telling is uniquely, beautifully human. Our ability to communicate and connect through our mutual experience distinguishes us in our mammalian lineage. We paint our stories, dance them, sing them, act them out. We tell stories, we write them.

Story-telling is civilization.

This week we embarked on our final unit of the Baltimore Renaissance Project, during which I will challenge my students to change their world. Wednesday, we began with a Socratic circle discussion. Why do we need a Renaissance in Baltimore? They talked at each other. They talked over each other. They talked around each other.

They did not talk to each other. They did not listen to each other.

Thursday, we told stories. We learned to listen. Stories are the root of communication, the root of civilization. We recorded their Baltimore Stories. A recording device demands attention. Preservation implies importance: your words matter, let’s save them.

Tell me a story… a Baltimore story.

We sat in a circle, surrounding one chair in the center, reserved for the storyteller. One by one, they took they hot seat. They shared their stories.

Baltimore… Me and my friends. I was, like, I was 10, and this boy, Bernie B., right? He was 14. So, we around our way up the hill… we around our way up the hill. We was all on this porch, there were a lotta people on the porch. Lotta people. Then this white car came around the corner – it was a white car… Then they just start shooting. I was, like 10, so I didn’t know what to do. I just ran in the house, for real. So like, we all ran in the house, and they shut the door by mistake. My boy little Bernie B. got shot out there. He was 14. And he died out there.

Children are remarkably candid. If you want to hear their stories, you need only let them know you are listening.

My uncle died. He got shot in the head. Some of my family died from drugs. Some went to jail… I don’t know what else to say.

My 7th grade boys are stoic, but rapt. Death is casual, too familiar. They never learned how to cry, or maybe they forgot.

 
They shot him six times. 

Gun violence has touched them all. They live in an urban warzone.

I was sad…
He didn’t have insurance… 

They just let him die. 

We have one part-time social worker and one part-time psychologist for 400 students. We triage their tragedies.

 
They just started shooting…. he’s paralyzed now.
 
They stabbed him 8 times. There was blood on the floor… yea, I was crying and stuff.
 
I started runnin’….
 
…molested me when I was 6.

My students need more, deserve more. They need equitable resources (not to be confused with equal resources). How many Baltimore City students suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? How Montgomery County students suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

How do I teach the ancient past when they are preoccupied with grieving the present? How can I call myself a Social Studies teacher if I ignore my students’ psychology, anthropology, geography?

My Dad… he got sent to jail in North Carolina. I’m afraid I’ll never see him again.
 

Yesterday, these two girls were at each other’s throats. But today?

I know how you feel. My Dad’s in jail, too. Sometimes it helps me to think about him coming home.

They hug and cry and mourn together. And tomorrow? Tomorrow, they will remember they share the same pain.

 
He killed my baby brother.
 
She did a lot of drugs…
 
My Dad got shot 6 times.
 

I’m ill-prepared. I met the credentials, passed my Praxis, and hung my Master’s degree on the wall. I’m ill-prepared. I can write a lesson plan, design curriculum, and assess mastery, but I was not trained to counsel grief.

If I’m supposed to teach them, who’s supposed to heal them?
 
Her head hit the pavement… there was blood everywhere.
 
When my sister died…
 

Let’s stop pretending all our problems with education are in the classroom. 

 
I heard gunshots
 
I saw him outside my window.
 
I lost my baby sister…
 

All my 6th grade girls are crying – not just tears: wailing, keening, heaving. My classroom is a trauma unit. I panic. Have I done something bad? Have I done something brilliant? My principal is going to kill me. I am surrounded by 30 teenage girls in crisis.

They have never told their stories before. So, tell me your story, any story. 

He was drunk, he didn’t see her.
 
…held a knife to my throat
My Dad told me to hide in the closet.
 
They took me away from my Mom… they separated me from my brother and sister.
 

They call her dirty, call her ugly, make fun of the way she talks.

 
Sometimes I want to kill myself.* Some people are just born that way… It’s not right.

Across the room, another girl starts to weep.

I did that. That was me. I called her names. I never knew…

I hold her tightly (because guilt is grief, too) and whisper, Tell her you’re sorry – and mean it. She does. They hug. They listen. I see them laughing together after school. The panic recedes.

 
I got a lotta stories. Lotta stories…

These are our Baltimore Stories. Were you expecting crabs and Camden Yards?

 
* I referred this student to the mental health specialists at my school.