Oh, Teenagers.

In recent weeks, I have read and heard a myriad of complaints about today’s high school kids. I am weary of the broad brush used to paint these individuals.

I’ve been teaching high school now for 17 years, and every year, I defend the kids I teach more and more. And while I readily admit there’s some kids that have tested every nerve, I have a news flash for you:

The adults in public education have made me want to quit way more often than the kids.

Teens are impetuous?

So are adults.

Teens are self-absorbed?

So are adults.

Teens are easily manipulated?

So are adults.

Teens are disrespectful?

So are adults.

Teens are reckless?

So are adults.

Come at me with all of your examples of teens who are just The Worst, and not only will I counter with teens who are just The Best, but I’ll also provide examples of adults exhibiting the same behavior you’re complaining about.

It is unacceptable to point to the younger generation of your choice as the source for societal problems. It is past time we start harnessing their passion, ingenuity, and skills to make the world better, instead of scrutinizing their methods as impractical, based on the sole reason of  “that’s not how we do things.”

Stop vilifying teens, start listening to them.

Stop ostracizing teens, start mentoring them.

Every day, teens impress me. Every day, teens surprise me. Every day, teens inspire me.

Allow for the possibility that they can do the same for you.

 

 

#CureHazelwood

Thirty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided, 5-3, that high school student journalists should not be afforded the same First Amendment rights as professional journalists.

They decided this, despite the decision 20 years prior, that neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional right to free speech when stepping on school grounds. Instead, the Rehnquist court decided to splice up the First Amendment: Mary Beth and John Tinker had a right to free speech, because it was not sponsored by the school. The journalists at Hazelwood East High School did not have a right to free press because the school paid to print the paper.

That’s the watered-down version, of course, but you get the gist.

Thomas Jefferson said “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” What better place to train student journalists of this vital responsibility than in a school setting, with supports around them, so that should they choose journalism as a career, they have a strong foundation in ethical, solid journalism?

I’m probably being incendiary here, but I wonder what the current journalistic landscape would look like if 30 years of Hazelwood did not enable the censorship of  thousands of high school and college journalists (because yes, while Hazelwood’s intent was to stifle high school press, college administrators misuse it on their campuses to censor their journalists). Would we have journalists better trained in law and ethics? Would we have more journalists well-versed in reporting and fewer journalists well-versed in people-pleasing? Would we have journalists more interested in reporting news than moderating pundits? Would our news networks contain a little less public relations work and demand a little more accountability?

We’ll never know. But we might be able to turn the tide.

Currently several states have pending legislation that would restore full First Amendment protections to student journalists. One such bill, LB 886 in Nebraska, would protect high school and college journalists. The bill specifies that stories that are libelous, violate state or federal law, incite violence, disrupt the school day, or invade privacy of sources are not protected.

This bill is not a free-for-all for students to turn their newspapers and websites into mini-TMZs.

But it could allow students to report that a principal lied during the hiring process.  Kansas, by the way? They have a state law that protects high school journalists. That’s why those reporters could write this story.

LB 886 could also prevent the current PR nightmare Herriman High School is managing:

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Utah? No law there protecting student journalists. And now, the administrators have become the story. (I was a newspaper adviser in Utah for a year, and before my students even had a chance to publish one story, he told me, “The Supreme Court says I can censor anything you try to publish, so let’s make this a good experience for everyone.”)

When I think of the stories my students could write but don’t, for fear of censorship, it breaks my heart. And I’m lucky–I have a supportive administration that trusts me to do my job as an adviser. But I know my reporters self-censor all the time. To be honest, I probably point them in that direction sometimes, as much as it pains me.

Thirty years is too long. It’s time to cure Hazelwood. Our liberty depends on it.

 

I Love Public Schools.

Today is I Love Public Schools day, an initiative of the non-profit organization NELovesPS. This non-profit has spent the past several years traveling the state, telling the stories of Nebraska Public Schools at a most crucial time.

Nebraska’s current governor, Pete Ricketts, has made no secret about his desires to thwart public education–though he wouldn’t use the word “thwart,” he’d use the word “reform.” He advocates “alternative pay structures” for teachers (code for doing away with unions); he advocates for the proliferation of charter schools (his father funded one just down the road from where I teach); he advocates for voucher systems.

Then, just last week, a state senator introduced a bill that would give the governor control over the state Department of Education.

Not for nothing: Ricketts himself donated to that state senator’s campaign.

Here’s what I always find interesting: when pollsters ask Americans their opinions about public schools in the U.S., their satisfaction is dismal–Gallup’s most recent poll has that number at 47% general satisfaction. But if you break that down to local schools? That satisfaction number almost doubles, to 82%.

What does this tell us?

People, in general, like their local schools. So here’s some things I really like about Bellevue West High School, where I teach.

  • We have an admin team that supports student journalism and encourages us to grow.
  • We have a stellar fine arts program.
  • We have students every year who get into fantastic colleges.
  • Our alumni succeed in college–at both under- and post-graduate levels.
  • Our athletic teams are competitive.
  • We have several AP course offerings.
  • We have partnerships with UNMC, Metro, the Henry Doorly Zoo, and other local businesses that give students current, real world experiences.

There are really good things going on in public schools. And if you think there aren’t good things happening in your local schools, then do something about it. Volunteer. Run for school board. Go to Donors Choose and fund a project. Support NELovesPS.

Nebraska has always done a pretty good job of keeping educational boondoggles at bay, instead relying on local districts to make sure they are giving children a quality education–often with much fewer resources than other states.

There’s much to love about Nebraska Public Schools. If you can’t find anything to love about public schools yourself, go ask a teacher to educate you.

Snow Days.

Let’s have a chat about snow days.

Every year from December until March, any mention of snow accumulation sets teachers and students a-flutter with glimmers of hope that maybe metro superintendents will call off school.

Let me be clear: I do love my job. Very much. In fact, most of the time, I’m at least 10% annoyed when school is canceled. I’m also fairly pessimistic about snow days happening. Legend has it that when Ms. Rowse says “We will totally have school tomorrow,” it’s a sign we won’t. When she says “Snow day tomorrow,” the weather dissipates and the sun shines.

But snow days are also a bit necessary for a few reasons.

  1. It keeps people off the roads. At the risk of sounding like a DirectTV commercial, when schools cancel, many other businesses and organizations then choose to cancel as well. This means fewer drivers, which means fewer accidents. Fewer drivers and accidents mean city plows can actually get roads treated for essential services.
  2. It keeps kids safer. Not every kid has a ride to school. In my own school district, budget cuts necessitated fewer bus routes which means more kids are walking to school. If it gets too cold or too snowy, keeping kids home really is in their best interest.
  3. It makes better teachers. Sure, our last snow day for me involved binging the PBS series “Victoria,” and you might say, “How does that make you a better teacher?” Here’s how: ever heard of decision fatigue? Teachers have it in spades by 9 a.m. How many decisions do I make in a given hour? Day? Week? Too many to count. So a bonus day off in which my only decision is “another episode?” actually makes me a better teacher in the long run because I get to take a break from the hundreds of other decisions I make in a given school day. (But truly, I spend time on most snow days refining lessons, reading, writing, and grading.)

Now, do I sometimes think we jump the gun a little on calling off school? Sure. Do I sometimes get frustrated with snow days because it gets in the way of the important work I do? Absolutely. However, I get equally frustrated when I see people criticizing both teacher/student snow day joy and the superintendents who make the call.

Take a moment and think about the superintendents who make the call to cancel school: if the weather doesn’t materialize, people criticize them for calling off school for no reason. If the weather does materialize, people criticize them for not calling off school–with the added bonus of a steady trail of students leaving school early so they can get home before the roads get too bad. Superintendents truly cannot win in making this decision.

But one last consideration about snow day frenzy: what does it say about the work environment when people are clamoring for an unexpected day off? If both teachers and students are giddy with anticipation at a day they won’t be burdened with expectations from various external sources, maybe those expectations are a bit too crushing? An extra, unexpected day to catch up on work, sleep, social life, or a day to just breathe is almost necessary for survival.

Perhaps instead of criticizing the joy and glee students and teachers express at snow days, a closer look at the reason for that joy and glee is a better use of time. Something to think about the next time teachers and students are gifted a snow day.

Which is today. Enjoy.

A Letter to December.

Dear December,

I’m not sure when it started happening, this horror you bring to my life every year. Perhaps it’s always been this way and I’m just now noticing it. That’s entirely possible. So I shouldn’t be quite so angry with you. It’s mostly my fault.

But other months don’t do this to me year after year.

This week alone I was out until 8 or 9 p.m. every night–three nights work-related, one night spent with friends, one night running errands because of the other four nights spoken for and Saturday completely booked.

This morning I was going to wake up early, go to Jazzercise and run more errands before picking up a friend to go see the musical “Waitress” and then attending a church Christmas party that has had my stomach in knots for three weeks.

When I got home last night at 10:15, my whole being chided, “Julie. Tomorrow morning you are going to sleep in. You will eat your favorite yogurt and a bagel for breakfast, while in bed watching something mindless. Spend a little time writing. You’ll eventually get up and get ready for the day, maybe even vacuum, maybe grade a few papers, maybe even get a jump start on holiday baking. You are taking the morning off. It’s the only way you won’t lose your mind.”

The problem with that chastisement is I have goals I set last January, and guess what, December–you make it nearly impossible for a last-minute push to meet any of them. Plus I have a mountain of tasks, all priorities, that need tending to. I feel guilty for taking a morning off.

So I have to make a choice: meet my goals and complete my tasks, or lose my mind. What would you have me do December?

All the things.

That’s what you would have me do, because it’s what you have me do every year. All the things. Which, for a month that is supposed to be about love and joy and peace, seems counter to your alleged theme and purpose.

The only positive thing I can say about you at this point, December, is that this morning is December 16, which means you are half over, and then I don’t have to see you again for another year.

But I am taking this morning off.

Sincerely,

Julie