What Can White Teacher Educators Do?

Part of my work as a teacher educator is to continually educate myself about resisting the reproduction of racism in the classroom. Part of my work as a white teacher educator is to find opportunities to share what I learn. This post is an expression of the latter.

Without going into too much historical context about me, I grew up in a mostly-white community on the east end of Long Island in New York State. For most of my early life, I encountered people who looked like me. I read books about people who looked and sounded like me. I rarely encountered a discussion about race that made me feel uncomfortable. What I knew of race and racism, I largely learned from television, movies, and books.

Which leads me to part of my point: the print and digital texts we bring into our classrooms have an impact on our learners toward shaping their experiences of the world. With the development of technology especially, I spend a lot of time thinking about this. And right now, I think about it in the wake of the summer we have had.

Alton Sterling.
Philando Castile.

Too many lives lost before and since.

I know that it’s not enough to take stock of and change the curriculum or the books we use to ensure that they reflect a more racially and culturally authentic representation of our society. But for many, it’s a place to start. And I would argue it’s a necessary first step for any teacher educator. While we all know a lot happens in between a teacher candidate’s formal teacher prep training and leading an actual classroom, we also know that a lot of ideas transfer to practice. The things we do in front of our candidates every day make an impact. Just like we teach them that the things they do in front of their students every day make an impact.

I hardly have all the answers, and just like you, I will make mistakes and bungle explanations. But if we don’t, as my oldest and dearest teacher friend often says, “use our power for good,” out of fear of sounding unintentionally racist, we miss the opportunity to be a part of the solution — an opportunity that will present itself again and again if we look for it.

The equity that so many say we want as a society is available, but it will not just magically appear. We have to actively press and urge and uncover. What better place to do so than in the teacher education classroom? In a place where teachers — the people who will literally be teaching the next generation of learners — are doing their own learning?

As we gear up for another school year, here are some things to keep in mind — especially if you teach teachers how to teach, and especially if you’re white. They are not research-based suggestions, but they are firmly based in reality:

  1. Consider the textbooks you’re using. Depending on the dynamics of your department, you may have little wiggle room for choosing textbooks, or you may have complete autonomy. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Fight for the opportunity to use alternative texts, especially if compulsory texts are published by large, profit-hungry corporations. Or if that’s not possible, supplement more mainstream texts with ones that more realistically reflect the way structural forces in society actually operate. For instance, when a literacy methods textbook makes a generalization about the low literacy levels of children living in urban areas, pause the discussion to look at what assumptions are being made and what’s not being said. Depending on the context, supplement with articles and blog posts, or even Facebook status updates, from brilliant colleagues who elegantly speak the truth about the way things are.
  2. Consider all materials you use — not just the textbooks. Depending on your discipline and course content, you may be using all kinds of different materials to teach your candidates. I know intimately just how many piles of hands-on resources we teacher educators lug to our classrooms! As you gather your materials at the start of this semester, ask yourself some questions: who are the literacy texts written for? Who wrote them? Who are the characters? What theoretical undercurrents are being promoted by the materials you’re using? What’s not being said? What needs to be said differently? What if we shook up the script on how books make their way to the classroom shelf? What if teachers always got to choose the materials for their classrooms? What if teachers had the opportunity to weigh in on who manufactures their students’ learning materials? What if we had more of a choice to acquire affordable classroom materials from vendors who don’t exploit their workers?
  3. Practice what you teach. While you can do a lot to intentionally decide to choose books and materials that step outside the dominant, white-supremacist discourse that pervades so many of the materials in our classrooms, you have to consider the way(s) in which you teach, too. Anyone who teaches teachers knows that you have to not only know the content that you teach, you also have to know the pedagogy behind the teaching of that content (for more on this theoretical frame, see TPACK). Everything we do — every assignment we give, every discussion we facilitate, every interaction we have in our classrooms — is game for being a teachable moment. Just like K-12 students are sponges, so are our teacher candidates. They pick up on the ways in which we do just about everything.
  4. Own that you don’t know. This summer, one of my teacher candidates shared this observation about my teaching: “You always show us the ways you’re not perfect. You show us that there’s always more to learn.” We hadn’t been talking about race or racism, but the comment touched on something that made me think: we have to admit that we don’t know it all; otherwise, we blind ourselves into falsely thinking that we do. This can apply in a variety of ways to the teacher prep classroom — most certainly to the internet and all other tech-y things coming down the pike — but it can also apply to how we are in the classroom and the assumptions we may make about our students and colleagues, whether intentional or not. We can certainly try and understand what it’s like to be a person of color, but we shouldn’t draw parallels when there aren’t parallels to draw. To put it another way: it’s really okay to try and understand what it’s like to experience racism, but don’t claim to understand when you kind of actually can’t. Parallels can be helpful, but not when they just scrape the surface, and in some cases, even co-opt the narrative.
  5. Don’t token your students. This one’s pretty basic: be mindful of turning to your students of color to teach the class about what it’s like to be a student of color. And also, when you do take time out to talk about racism, structural economic forces, the election — whatever topic disrupts the dominant discourse in your classroom — consider your approach and engagement, generally. How are you facilitating the discussion? Who are you calling on? Do you favor anyone? Ignore anyone? Did you check in with anyone who appeared to be uncomfortable afterward?
  6. Don’t let the tricky stuff go. The night after the non-indictment of the police officer who killed Michael Brown was announced in Ferguson, MO, I taught a class on teaching literacy to early childhood teacher candidates. All day long, I thought about the connections between what I was doing as a teacher educator and what was going on in the country on that day. I wanted to talk to my students — really talk to them — about the work we have cut out for us, and the opportunity we face as teachers to help shift the tide of racism in our society. I ended up poorly facilitating a discussion that night that ended with a white student exclaiming, “but I didn’t cause slavery!?” Clearly, I had failed at helping her see a connection between the non-indictment and the stories about our society that are told in the books on most school shelves. But I share it to say that even with the best of intentions, doing this work does not always mean you’re doing it ‘right.’ We start at the wrong place in the narrative. We make assumptions that are incorrect. We cannot always convince the most conservative, racist, sexist bigot in our classrooms that there is a connection between racism and literacy (or mathematics, or art, or history, or whatever your discipline), but you will make someone who had previously not considered race in the context of their classroom library go home and consider it. As much as I am frustrated by incremental change lately, I have to admit that that is a step in the right direction.
  7. IMG_9029Add anti-racist elements to your classroom. Sometimes, we end up with materials that send a specific message about how things are set up (for example, books in which all the doctors are white and all the nurses are Black, or posters on reading in which all the pictures are of white boys and their puppies, or outdated toys that reinforce the status quo). And in the face of more budget cuts in education, sometimes it’s all we have (which is ludicrous IMHO). If you can’t replace the materials you have available to you in your classroom, then alter them. Here’s a related example: a few months ago, a friend donated her kiddos’ toy cars to our 17-month-old son. And though we don’t need two of these little cars, having two is awesome when other kiddos come over to play! But one of them is a police car, which feels awkward on several obvious (and some less obvious) levels. We haven’t decided yet if we’re going to spray paint it or just try and find another little car to have around, but in the meantime we added a #BlackLivesMatter sign. What if every 2nd grader throughout the U.S. encountered a police car with a #BlackLivesMatter sign on it? How could (or would) that alter the narrative around power and policing? If you’re still not sure about BLM, read this helpful blog post, and consider talking about it in one of your classes.
  8. Listen at least as much as you speak. As teachers and teacher educators, we probably all need to work on this. Myself included. I want to get things right. I have an incessant need to check things off my list and move on. But in reality, the more I stop talking, pause, and listen, the more I learn. While it is our collective responsibility to teach the next generation of teachers how to teach, and speaking to/at our teacher candidates is a huge part of what we do, I want to argue that we have more to learn and teach by opening a dialogue than we do by dictating facts. The next time you find yourself whitesplaining, take a breath and maybe let someone else say something — whether in the classroom, a committee meeting, or anywhere else your daily life might take you. I pledge to do the same.

So in this somewhat lengthy post, I’ve created an incomplete list. There are many other things we can do and suggest. I invited you to add other ideas in the comments section, or reach out and connect to share ideas. I firmly believe that as teacher educators, our daily actions make a difference in the world. If you really think about it, the teacher candidates in our classes — and specifically, methods classes in which we physically teach teachers how to teach — will refer to our classes and coursework for tips on what to do in their own classrooms in the future. Believe it or not, I still refer to those binders my own teacher education professors made me organize so many years ago now…

What I’m talking about here is the traditional legacy of teacher education methods courses: you do with your students what you hope they will turn around and do with their students tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. So if you aren’t already talking about race, and you’re interested in the project of creating an anti-racist society, I urge you to push yourself this semester not to let the little things slide. Push yourself to see if the books you’re using promote colorblindness. Push yourself to see if you can, in your own everyday way, help your teacher candidates see their potential for being anti-racist, anti-sexist educators in their future classrooms. If not today, then when??



After the events of last weekend in Orlando, my head is reeling. And my heart feels like a brick. First, for the lives lost in the Orlando massacre. Second, for the fact that this is being seen as anything but a homophobic hate crime.

For many of us who came of age in/because of places like Pulse, the club provided a safe space. That space was violated in an unimaginably violent way last weekend.

SF Pride 1998In the summer of 1998, I embarked on a cross-country trip to San Francisco to do research for my undergraduate senior thesis. It was the first time I would participate in Pride. It was not the first time I wondered if I was bi.

That summer, I danced my way through several clubs in San Francisco, and always ended up at the Cafe. I don’t recall where it was (my memory is the Castro, but was it?) or how I ended up hanging out there; all I remember is the freedom of the dance floor. The safety. The embrace of that dance-beat-mixed-with-sweat-from-strangers-you-may-never-meet-again-but-feel-a-connection-with-because-you-both-stepped-foot-in-the-door.

In NYC later on, there was the Roxy. Cubbyhole. Henrietta’s. Meow Mix. Metropolitan.

Today, as a teacher educator in a cisgender partnership, with a baby and the sometimes fashion sense from the 60s, I tend to present as 100% straight.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

And without the safety of the club, I would never know myself the way that I do now.

I look forward to a day when I wake up in the morning and there has been no attack on communities of color or the LGBTQI community. Some people who were at Pulse last weekend were there seeking refuge from an otherwise hateful, marginalizing, and brutal world. Now many of them will never have the opportunity to be in this world, period.

My heart and soul stand with Orlando and the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives.


IMG_6448I spent the last week without logging into Facebook. To be fair, I kept the Facebook Messenger app on my phone, and messaged with a few people that way. But I removed the Facebook app from my phone, and didn’t log on via computer. Why did I do this, you might wonder? #becausetime

I will always remember the 2015-2016 academic school year as a time when I started missing emails consistently. It’s not for any lack of caring: anyone who knows me well knows that I’ve always been a fast responder. I care very deeply that people know that I’ve heard what they have to say! There are two differences that have created this problem for me this year: 1) I get more emails now than I ever did before, and 2) I have less time than I ever have before.

Thanks to some brilliant friends (who, in truth, I rely on for staying up to date with the latest gadgets and apps), I discovered unroll.me for automating and managing my gmail inbox. But I don’t feel that I can do the same for my work email. Perhaps I should look into it. Because I can’t keep up. It’s just too much!

So what did I discover during this week sans Facebook?

  1. It is possible to avoid thinking in Facebook updates. Earlier this semester, I revealed to a class of graduate students that I sometimes type out Facebook status updates in my head as I travel throughout the day. Sure that this (somewhat embarrassing) revelation would garner some laughs, I was surprised when the room remained quiet. Did I sound whacky for saying I typed things out in my head? Did I sound lame for admitting that I think about my Facebook updates as items worthy of composition? Did I just take a step backward on the respect spectrum for revealing something personal and unsolicited? Either way, I noticed the other day that I had long periods of silence in my head for the first time in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last time.
  2. I create false narratives about my friends. I admit that normally, I walk around thinking that everyone’s life is a billion times better than mine, based on Facebook feeds. I know this is slightly ridiculous. I also know I’m not the only one who does it. But in the absence of the constant barrage of information that is my Facebook feed, I felt a sense of calm.
  3. I still had contact with friendsIn the last week, I’ve touched base and/or seen a few of my favorite people, and we’ve shared information via text, phone, or email. Without relying on Facebook for information about my friends, I was forced to be in touch with them — actually be in touch with them. I missed out on a bunch of news without my feed, I’m sure, and I didn’t speak to everyone I wanted to, but I also had some long phone and in-person conversations.
  4. I was focused. Usually when I’m at work, I keep a tab open for Facebook on my computer. I don’t look at it constantly, but when I take breaks, I look at my feed. This week when I took breaks from writing or grading, I did some of the back-logged office stuff I’ve been putting off: I filed a bunch of things, organized my documents, and labeled the book bins on my book shelves. I also read a book and wrote a book review. All in between the normal stuff I have to do.
  5. I started missing a stream in my life. Over the weekend, I attended a two-day conference hosted by SUNY New Paltz and Bard College, the Digital Spaces Unconference. We live-tweeted throughout, which got me looking at Twitter a bunch. A week since I started my Facebook diet, and I’m looking at my Twitter feed several times a day. It doesn’t feel the same, though. There’s something less personal about it. Maybe because I don’t know about half of the people I follow — they’re just people I’ve heard about or I met once and are doing cool #edtech stuff. I’ve been looking at Instagram more, too. But neither Twitter nor Instagram hold my interest like Facebook does. What is it about Facebook??

So the verdict is in: I can get a lot more done when I don’t look at Facebook. But is it worth missing what happens in people’s lives? I hope I can find a better balance, because I don’t want to be a total Facebook hermit — not to mention the academic things that I learn from my brilliant friends when plugged into my feed! But I can’t deny that I’ve enjoyed having a few extra minutes in my days lately. What’s your secret? How do you strike a healthy balance between the stream and real life?

Gendering the Policy-Practice Gap

I gave a guest lecture today in a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Course, “Women: Images and Realities.” What a neat experience. Although my work as a professor is always infused in some way by thinking about gender, it is not the main focus of my practice as a scholar. This talk gave me the opportunity to really think through how my research has the possibility to consider themes of equity around gender, too.

In order to prepare for this talk, I revisited my research blog for my dissertation. What a wonderfully reminiscent (and geeky) experience that was! I haven’t stood (at least digitally) in that data space for quite some time now. I was reminded of how much time and effort I put into building the site, thinking through the architecture, and designing the method by which I would import, code, and organize my data. And, of course, it made me think of all of the incredible people who helped me along the way. It was a true learning-by-doing experience.

So revisiting those posts through a gender lens led me to locate some more thoughts on the ways in which teachers who write about their daily lives in blogs educate us about their lived realities. Following is a tiny glimpse of what I found.

Teacher bloggers write about the ways in which dress bolsters the gendered binary that often exists within school spaces. The image of ‘suit’ surfaces here and there, always as connected to administrators. Miss Rim writes, “4 men in suits; 2 in business casual. During a quality review check. They entered. I extended my hand, ‘Hi, I’m Miss Rim.’ They gave me a blank look. No one said anything. I had no idea who they were. They came in to the room, stared at the students’ coat cubby, calculated how many hooks were there, had a debate over whether or not students could or should have a hook for a coat AND a bookbag, or what. They opened closets. They turned the water in the sink on and off. They muttered and whispered. Then someone said, ‘Well, we can always add another row of coat hooks. Or probably 2 more.'”

They also write about ways in which bodies, and their needs, are disregarded. Miss Brave writes, “…one of our staff toilets broke, and our janitor informed us that that’s it, no new toilet part this year. Which means that we have one bathroom on our floor for about thirty people, most of them women, two of whom were pregnant…”

As I went back through my data, and my theoretical frames, I also considered how I might present the theory I used to help me make sense of my data in a more digestible way. So I used political cartoons. I think this one sums up the way I use the theory of political spectacle well. Mary Wright Edelman explains, “words and numbers appear precise and rational; yet depend entirely on context and interpretation” (2004, p. 13):

numbers don't lie

I’m moving in a slightly different direction now with my research — I’m looking at funding streams for technology in schools in New York State, as well as considering how to make sense of both teacher educators’ and teacher candidates’ use of technology, and the impact it has on their pedagogy.

Till next time…






I was poking around on Facebook yesterday evening, and came across an ad for Recently, a magazine of your life, basically. They print a monthly magazine from your photos. It’s $108 for the year.

At first, I scoffed. I thought, how can we have yet another way of documenting our lives? And why print it when we can scroll through digital albums on so many different devices?

I suppose there’s still this desire to return to print–we are the digital crossover generation in that sense, and the dilemma is likely to follow us wherever we go. I admit that I’ve made many printed photo books and calendars with iPhoto for friends and family members over the years. But there’s something about a magazine that brings it to a whole other level. Is there anything more narcissistic?

AJH at Pujet SoundsAnd then I mentioned it to my partner, and I found myself suggesting that it seemed like a good idea for our baby’s first year. We’re already 9 1/2 months in, but it would be fun to start around now anyway. He’s crawling everywhere and pulling himself up on everything. He’s changing every single day. Capturing it in print would be kind of neat. I’ve got a million (okay, maybe thousands of) photos of him like this one at Puget Sound last week that don’t make it onto my Instagram feed or Facebook wall, and I’ve been wondering what to do with them. I know I’m biased, but the cuteness.

So we’re considering it. $9 a month isn’t so bad.


Parenting aside, with my scholar hat on, I’m curious about the draw back to print at a time when screens are capable of so many things. Walls, status updates, tweets, and endless photo albums on social media fill our screened lives. And every day, more and more posts fill this seemingly endless stream. How necessary is it to capture it? Must we capture it? What is the value in doing so? How does making the digital more permanent defeat the purpose of the digital in the first place?

So I’m fascinated by the possibility of this publication–as both a parent and a scholar. I’m curious about the experience. I’m drawn to its simplicity. If I do end up getting a sub, I’ll probably blog about it. In the meantime, it’s making me consider how I teach digital storytelling. More on that some other time soon…

Nurturing Without Nursing

mommy and allenMy son, Allen, is one week shy of 9 months. He’s spent almost as much time outside of me as he did growing in my belly. And for the last two nights, he has refused to nurse.

I’m itching to post something to the mommy boards I’m on for advice. I’m thinking about frantically texting other mommies with sad-face emojis to ask what I can do. I’m considering all the things to try. But honestly, I’m pretty spent on trying different things out when it comes to nursing. And so I’m writing this blog post instead of launching another investigative campaign to figure out what I/we could have done differently.

A Rocky Start
In the first few hours after Allen was born, he latched on like a champ. Only it hurt. So badly. The lactation consultant at the birth center said his latch looked fine, and it shouldn’t hurt. Within 12 hours, my nipples were swollen and several blisters had developed. Within 18 hours, the skin was open and I shuddered every time he latched on. But I was determined, and he was hungry. So we kept at it.

When we got home, I reached out in desperation to several local lactation consultants. I eventually connected with Jenn Sullivan at Waddle N Swaddle, who connected me with an amazing community of mamas during WnS’s free, weekly nursing circles. I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone. I had been feeling like an absolute failure — shouldn’t this part of momming come naturally? Easily? It made me feel a million times better to know that it was anything but easy for quite a few new moms out there.

For the next few months, Allen did well and rode the 50th percentile growth chart line, right where he was born. He hit cognitive and motor development milestones on target, and the moment he started smiling, I melted. He was doing great.

And then I went back to work.

Allen’s weight dipped around the 6-month mark. I had been back at work for about a month, and was struggling with making enough milk to leave for him the next day. I tried everything from eating galactagogues to massage techniques, and event rented a hospital grade pump and tried to pump while nursing to squeeze out a few extra ounces. It was acrobatic. Exhausting. Mind-numbingly hard. I gave it my all, but nothing seemed to help boost my pumping output.

So we turned to donor milk.

Really? Donor Milk??
At first, I was weirded out by the idea. Accepting donor milk that’s not screened through a milk bank is like accepting a blood transfusion straight from a stranger’s arm. But this was our dilemma: 1) nutritionally, breastmilk is superior to formula, 2) Allen was showing signs of a dairy sensitivity, and most formula is a derivative of cow’s milk, and 3) formula is expensive.

We did our research. And in what felt like an act of serendipity, an article featuring milksharing was published in a local magazine right around that time. We talked to our pediatrician, who suggested that as long as the donor(s) tested negative for Hep C and HIV, it was no problem. So we took the donor milk plunge.

New Challenges
The anxiety of not being able to produce enough milk was quickly replaced by the anxiety of watching the donor milk stash diminish every week or so. Thankfully, there are a few places to connect with mamas who donate milk — I’ve found several through a local mommy board and Eats on Feets, both on Facebook. About a month ago now, we hit the mother load (no pun intended) and found a donor a few hours away who said we could take as much as we could fit in our car. We filled the freezer to the tippy top.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief that day. I knew that nursing had a shelf life, if you will, but also knew that no matter what my breastmilk supply did, my son would be easily nourished for the near future. We have a few more weeks before I have to worry about where the next stash will come from…

A Slippery Slope
In theory, when a baby gets more bottles than breast, their affinity for the former grows. There are ways to prevent this from happening quickly — you can make sure that nipples for the bottles you use are the lowest flow and are replaced frequently, and you can use a paced feeding method. We have done both. But despite our efforts, Allen stopped nursing during the daytime about a month ago now. I’ve continued to offer, but when your little one repeatedly arches his back away from you and screams when you try to nurse him, it’s tough not to take no for no.

Until a few nights ago, he nursed at night still. Last week, it dropped to only once a night. Two nights ago, he refused to nurse at all. He latched on for a few seconds, and then cried his little heart out. He wouldn’t settle until we gave him a bottle.

The same thing happened last night.

And here I am, exhausted, sad, and feeling a little jilted because I didn’t get to have input in the decision that our nursing relationship is (probably) over.

Not the End of the World
I had no idea how long I wanted to breastfeed — I just knew that I wanted to have input in making the decision. When we hit 6 months, after all the struggles we had, I was amazed that we’d made it that far. When things slowed down at 8 months, I knew the end wasn’t too far away, but figured we would make it longer than this. And I figured it would be more of a negotiation, and that it wouldn’t end so suddenly.

There are a lot of posts on the mommy boards I’m on about mamas and babies making it 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, and beyond. It’s unlikely I will be posting about any of these milestones. It’s more than a little bittersweet — the fact that I didn’t get to have a say in the end of our nursing relationship has me a little down today. But…I also know there are tons of mommies and babies who simply cannot nurse. Others who don’t have access to help when a latch isn’t working. Others who struggle so much with being touched constantly and can’t wait for nursing to end. And others still who have not thought twice about nursing as a challenge because it’s been smooth sailing from the start.

As the breastfeeding trend turns upwards again — which I wholeheartedly support!!! — there are those of us for whom it doesn’t come easily. For whom it always felt (and probably looked) awkward. For whom it was really, really challenging. So I write this post for those mamas — the ones who have struggled before me, alongside me, and those who will after me. For the mamas who have lost countless sleep, work, and self-care hours trying to express milk (or heal from trying to express it). And, of course, for the mamas who have donated all the milk and nourished my little one in the last few months when I couldn’t. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I know there are others out there who are wondering about donor milk, or who think they might be the only ones who feel a mixed bag of relief and sadness when their little says thanks but no thanks to nursing. You are not alone! I write this blog post for you.

Filling the Policy-Practice Gap

A few weeks ago now, I had the pleasure of attending a discussion focused on the edTPA with colleagues from several local school districts and universities. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the edTPA, it’s a new performance assessment that is being used as a certification exam in New York State and elsewhere around the country.) Also in attendance was Kathleen Cashin, who was recently re-elected to the New York State Board of Regents. Unlike some of her colleagues, Cashin has spent most of her career working as a teacher and administrator in New York City public schools. While her colleagues on the Board of Regents have done impressive work in the field of education, the majority have never taught in the K-12 public school system in New York State. The majority of the Board is comprised largely of CEOs, philanthropists, and lawyers.

Shouldn’t extensive experience in the field be a prerequisite for making major decisions about education, especially decisions that affect the daily lives of teachers and school children? Without such expertise, policymakers can theorize classroom experience quite a bit, but they can’t really ‘know’ what it’s like to be in the classroom. I believe that part of the reason the policy-practice gap in education persists relates to the fact that so many of the individuals who make decisions about classroom practice are far removed from the realities of teaching and schooling.

My work as a scholar so far has largely focused on the policy-practice gap: the space that exists between policies as they exist on paper and the on-the-ground realities of their implementation in schools. This research was inspired by my experience as a 5th-grade teacher in New York City. My colleagues and I experienced policy implementation as episodic, arbitrary, and disconnected from what we actually needed as classroom teachers and building administrators. We experienced pendulum-like swings in curriculum and 180-degree turns in instructional expectations. It was the early 2000s in New York City, and we were knee-deep in what Michael Fullan calls “projectitis,” when schools “take on or are forced to take on every policy and innovation that comes along” before having the opportunity to see if what they’re doing is working.

In my dissertation, I wrote about this policy-practice gap with a new idea and hope: why not fill the gap with information teachers are sharing on blogs that they write? I found teachers’ critiques of educational policies shared on their blogs rife with recommendations from the view of the classroom. I thought, if we could just get policymakers to listen to what teachers have to say, we might be able to change something about the educational policymaking process.

I developed this graphic to illustrate my idea for my dissertation. I admit I’m no graphic arts expert, but it gets the idea across:

policy practice gap

With the development of the Internet, we witnessed unprecedented growth in the ability to publish user-authored content online via blogs and other Web 2.0 tools in the early and mid-2000s. The capability to research and communicate digitally has only improved since. But honestly, it doesn’t matter whether policymakers listen digitally or in person. They just need to listen. The graphic should look more like this:

policy practice gap annotated

This meeting a few weeks ago was the first time in my professional life as a teacher (16 years to be exact) that a policymaker asked my opinion about something related to what I do as an educator. The discussion was dynamic. Regent Cashin is a brilliant, sincere individual who I believe is on the right side of the high-stakes testing movement. She hears the call from the opt-out movement. She understands why the rubrics for the edTPA do little to offer specific, genuine feedback. She gets why it’s unfair and inequitable to judge teachers by their students’ test scores. During the meeting, several panels of K-12 teachers, administrators, and local university faculty shared ideas about why implementation of the edTPA isn’t working. And Cashin listened intently, promising to bring our concerns back to her colleagues.

Without more meetings like this, and opportunities for practitioners to share the realities of their daily work, educational policymaking will continue to miss the boat when it comes to changing practice in a systemic, sustainable, effective way.

6 Months

pumps and partsAs many of my regular readers might have noticed, these last few posts have been a departure from my usual musings about education, technology, and all things related to those fields. As a new mom, all-things-baby have (understandably, I hope) taken over. I’m managing to be back to work full-time, but the priorities in my day are, well, rearranged. Especially given that I need to express breast milk at least every two to three hours I’m away from my son (usually three times per work day). So for now, being back at work also means pumping. Which, for this mama, has been beyond challenging.

Yesterday marked 6 months of breastfeeding my son. Six months. I can’t quite believe it. Before I had my baby, I chose 6 months as a goal for breastfeeding, based on things I’d heard and read. After all, everyone says “breast is best.” But until you go through it, there’s no way to understand how breastfeeding will (or won’t) fit into your life.

Anyone close to me (or anyone who has kept up with my pregnancy- and postpartum-related posts) knows that breastfeeding has been difficult for us from the start. My son had a lip- and tongue-tie, which made it feel like a vice grip was clamping down on my breast every time he latched on. I bled almost every time he breastfed at first. I spent many nights wide awake those first few weeks — not because my baby wouldn’t sleep, but because I was in too much pain from breastfeeding to get sleep in between his feedings. My anxiety was through the roof, and I found myself counting down the minutes until the next time we would attempt a latch. I sent late-night texts to my lactation consultant and posted questions in desperation to Facebook mommy boards. It was more painful than I ever could have imagined, and nothing like what I’d expected. I attended a nursing circle once a week, where new mommies would go around and share their latest trials with breastfeeding. Having that once-a-week contact for a while kept me sane.

Many people suggested I give up. And I tried at least once to stop. But on top of knowing that breast milk is the healthiest thing you can give a newborn, we quickly realized that my son is sensitive to dairy and soy. Whenever I ate cheese, milk, or ice cream (the worst offender), his reflux would flare up, and other things would happen that I’ll spare you the details of here. Needless to say, going into a store and grabbing formula off of the shelf wasn’t going to work for us: most formulas are dairy based. Those that are dairy-free are soy based. So for my son, breast milk is literally the only thing he could consume.

Since it was summer, and I’m a teacher, we had the luxury of time to figure this all out, together. So despite our struggles, we kept at it.

Sometime over the summer, I began to suspect that I might not be responding to the pump as well as other mamas who pump. I would get anywhere from .25 to 2 ounces, total, in one pumping session. I pumped religiously at the same time every day, but it took a very long time to build up a freezer stash of milk in 1- or 2-ounce increments. When I returned to work, I quickly realized my suspicions were true: I was not responding to the pump well at all, and along with the stressors of returning to work before I was ready to, I now had to deal with not expressing enough milk for my son to eat the following day at daycare.

I spent the first few weeks back at work stressing out about how this would all shake out. Clearly, my dwindling stash of frozen milk would not last very long. My pumping sessions at work have amounted to an average of 2 to 6 ounces, total, for the day. My son eats a minimum of 12 ounces per day. So I’m thawing 6-10 ounces of frozen milk per day to supplement. You do the math: it’s not sustainable!

There are many amazing things about breast milk. Like the fact that it’s literally tailor-made to your baby. If you’re exposed to an illness, you immediately begin producing antibodies in your milk so that your baby gets some protection from that illness. Crazy, right? You also produce more milk, the more the baby nurses. The production part has been tricky for me — Monday through Thursday, my son nurses only in the morning, overnight, and at bed time. During the day, I have to pump. But since I’m not responding well to the pump, by Thursday my supply has dropped dramatically (since I’m not able to express as much as I am when I’m nursing full-time, my body doesn’t think it needs to produce as much). Friday through Sunday, my son nurses every hour or two, and by Sunday night my supply goes back up. It’s an unfortunate cycle that will continue until he/I/we decide it’s time for him to wean.

In the meantime, I’ve tried all sorts of things to help boost my supply. I’ve eaten scads of oatmeal and quinoa — two grains that allegedly help your milk supply. I’ve made lactation cookies (which are full of oatmeal, flax, coconut oil and other goodies to help boost caloric intake and milk production). I’ve resisted the urge to diet (despite being two sizes bigger than pre baby) since breastfeeding mamas need more calories to make more milk. I’ve pumped on one breast while nursing my son on the other (which, if you haven’t tried or witnessed it, is as acrobatically challenging as it sounds). I’ve tried hand-expressing, reverse pressure softening, and the massage-stroke-shake method. I’ve taken fenugreek, blessed thistle, and other supplements. I’ve consumed gallons of water. I’ve sniffed my baby’s worn clothes, watched videos of him, and looked at photos to encourage my milk to let down while attached to the pump. I’ve listened to meditations and visualized milk flowing into the bottles. I’ve tried all kinds of different pumps and parts (see photo above for a visual, which is only a sample of what I’ve bought or rented).

Speaking of pumps, I have two Medela Pump In Style pumps (one that my health insurance covered the cost of, and one that my mother purchased for me so that I wouldn’t have to lug one back and forth to work every day); I have a manual pump, which I’ve found to be most helpful when pumping-while-nursing; and I recently rented a hospital-grade Ameda Elite, in a last-ditch effort to try and produce more milk.

Sadly, none of the different pump parts, sizes, styles, or brands helped me produce any more milk. I am one of the unlucky few who just doesn’t respond well to the pump, period.

But for now, let’s focus on the positive: WE MADE IT TO SIX MONTHS!!!! It feels like a huge feat. Because it really, really, is.

As I conclude this post, I just want to acknowledge a few things: first of all, I realize that not all mamas can breastfeed. Sometimes the milk ducts just don’t work. Sometimes previous surgeries, illnesses, or other treatments prevent nursing. Sometimes physical disabilities or injuries make it simply impossible. And while I feel like someone should pay me a million bucks for how hard these last six months have been, I respect and understand that breastfeeding doesn’t work for everyone. And there’s no judgment in that. We went this route for a variety of health and philosophical reasons — but it was also an option that was available. If I had to go back to work at 6 weeks, there’s no way I would have been able to keep at it.

Which leads me to another point: clearly, working women were not built to return to work so soon. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Pediatric Association (APA) recommend exclusively breastfeeding babies for at least six months. After that, the APA suggests continuing breastfeeding for at least a full year; the WHO suggests the same for up to two years and beyond. Wouldn’t you think our policies for working moms would work around these research-based recommendations? I mean, if we’re so concerned about autoimmune disorders and other diseases that might be linked to our diets — health issues that cost individuals (and the healthcare industry) billions of dollars every year to treat — shouldn’t our daily practices help support the WHO and APA’s recommendations for health when a human’s life begins?

I am currently imagining a society in which women make as much as men for the same amount of quality work. A society in which breastfeeding moms don’t feel apologetic for feeding their children in public. A society in which working moms are afforded the ability to take as much time off as they need to nurture their new babies in that first year. A society that takes care of its people over profit. A society that puts health and wellness first. That would be an amazing society in which to live…

The (Semi-dreaded) Return to Work and My Postpartum Body

My son is 4.5 months, and I’ve started back at work for a few days a week. We’ll be full-throttle a week from now, when he’ll start daycare. Going back has been harder than I thought. I knew it would tug at my heart strings, but how are you expected to be okay with putting your little being — this tiny life you created and have been nourishing and snuggling — in someone else’s care??

Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a workaholic. I’m not condoning (or gloating about, for that matter) that behavior — it can have tough ramifications for your personal relationships, your health, and other things — but I am saying that I love working. I’m about to head into my seventeenth (SEVENTEENTH!?) year of teaching, and I’m looking forward to the start of the fall semester. That being said, after seeing my son pretty much 24/7 since he was born, I’m now only going to see him for an hour-ish after work, overnight when he nurses, an hour-ish in the morning, and on the weekends. That’s a tough transition.

I’m all for working mommyhood — women are amazing for all of the things that they juggle, whether they have kids, they work, or however they spend their time. I’m also for rethinking the way our country approaches the transition back to work after having a baby. As I’ve mentioned before, most countries have paid maternity leave, and some countries offer it for a year or more. Going through the experience for the first time, I now see why. I’m still getting up several times a night to nurse, and feel a bit zombie-like around the clock. I’ll be putting my all into my work, but I can’t help think I’d ultimately be a better worker if I had more time to transition. And as I said in my last post, my situation is unusual — many working mommies have to go back after 6 weeks. I have had a lot more time at home with my new baby than most (mostly, because I didn’t teach this summer).

Before I went through pregnancy, I (naively) thought I knew everything there was to know. I’d read plenty. I’d had tons of friends who’d gone through it. I am an aware, inquisitive feminist with an unwavering curiosity who asks lots of questions. But experience really is education — you can’t understand it fully until you go through it. Which brings me to another thing I’ve been struggling with: my body.

It’s always been a bit of a challenge to stay in shape and at a healthy, ‘normal’ weight. I know that’s the case for the majority of us. We live in a judgmental society in which ‘feminine,’ ‘beautiful’, ‘body,’ ‘weight,’ ‘slim,’ ‘curvy,’ ‘fat,’ and others are highly charged words. So when your body transforms to carry another human being inside it — this incredible, biological process that still puts me in a state of beyond words — and you’ve spent what seems like a lifetime trying to look past what others say about how you look, it can feel like a curve ball. Add to that going to see a doctor at 4 months pregnant who says your weight gain is ‘alarming.’ Even though you’ve heard about plenty of people who’ve gained what you gained and then some, it feels like psychological ping pong.

My answer to rapid weight gain was to go to the gym 6 days a week from that moment forward, up until the day before I delivered. It was terrible most days. I was pregnant throughout the winter, and the sun wouldn’t be out until after I got back from the gym. I tried my best to be reasonable, healthy, and smart about what I ate, but after the ‘alarming’ incident, I found myself counting calories, confounded by the numbers on the scale going up and up and up at a faster pace than what I’d read they should. I wish that I’d spent that time being less worried, that that doctor’s words didn’t upset me, and that I had, well, a slightly thicker skin.

Some women bounce right back to their post-pregnancy bodies, some take at least nine months or more to return, and others never bounce back. Someone said to me that ‘things are just, I don’t know, rearranged‘ after giving birth. I’m starting to see that’s true. And to add another layer of challenge: thyroid issues run rampant in my family. My TSH numbers are a little out of range toward hypothryroidism — something that makes weight loss even more challenging. Oh, and you’re definitely not supposed to diet while breastfeeding, so ‘watching what I eat’ aside from making sure I get enough protein, healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

So what does all of this have to do with going back to work? Aside from a stark reminder of how women who give birth and work are supposed to just figure it out (the ratcheting up costs, the body changes, the sore nipples if they’re breastfeeding, childcare, and the list goes on): WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR!? I have been stuck at 15 pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight for weeks now. I’ve accepted that it’s going to take a little longer than I’d hoped to fit into my work clothes. And so I’ve gone out and bought a few staple pieces for work — a few sizes larger than my ‘normal.’ (Oh, I guess we should add money for post-pregnancy clothes to the list of things employers or the government should provide postpartum.) The process has been charged with so many feelings. Especially because what I do for a living requires standing in front of people for big chunks of the day. What I wear provides a layer of confidence. Usually. This will be an interesting experiment to that end.

To come back around to my point: having a baby comes with lots of changes that I expected but didn’t fully understand. And this: new parents need more time to adjust. I hope whatever happens in the next few years politically includes a serious reconsideration of how we treat working moms. Have I mentioned that more time is needed??

IMG_3539In the meantime, I gratefully spent time over the summer with another new-mommy colleague and her now 8-month-old son, going to mommy-and-me yoga. I’m not much of a yogi capital Y, but it was great practice at just connecting with my breath and treating my body as the amazing thing that it is. And just last week I started stealing trips to the gym in the early morning hours or evenings in between trips to the office, nursing, and all the other things we do every day. It might take me 9 months or more to return to my pre-pregnancy body, or maybe I’ll never get back there completely, but wow — I made a kid! And he’s incredible. He just learned to roll over and is wowing me and Daddy with new skills every day. I can’t wait to see what’s in store these next few years and beyond.

12 Weeks and Counting

So here I am at 12 weeks postpartum. The time at which I would, if school was still in session, legally need to return to my job in order to keep it, according to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). (And keep in mind that FMLA, despite being a federal law, is only honored by some employers). Gratefully, I am an educator, and having had a spring baby, the summer stretches ahead with extra time to spend at home with the new kiddo. I recognize that most people aren’t in this position. So some people might rightfully be all #newmommyproblems with a sarcastic tone, and I get that. But to drive home my point that 12 weeks isn’t long enough — for anyone — I thought I’d write about some of the things that are going on right now. Things that would prevent me from doing a good job at work:

  • I am still waking up 3-4 times per night to nurse, resulting in little sleep; what little I get is interrupted and anything but restful.
  • because of the broken sleep, exhaustion is the norm; exhaustion does not produce optimal work output.
  • my work clothes still don’t fit; I gained 50 pounds during my pregnancy, and still have 20 (give or take) more to lose.
  • my baby continues to change on a daily basis; he just started being alert more during the day than asleep, meaning I get to spend more time bonding and getting to know him. If forced to do so, I know I would struggle on a deep emotional level to put him in someone else’s care right now. My heart goes out to mamas who have had to do this earlier than I will have to.
  • my back is jacked. up. Sometime around 3 weeks postpartum, I sat down funny and jammed my sacroiliac joint. The pain continues to be unpredictable and fierce. Although my partner may disagree, I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at grinning and bearing it. I don’t want to miss any of the good parts of these first few months of my son’s life. So despite the pain, we’ve gone on walks. And to a local public pool. And had visits with grandmas and grandpa. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sitting in any one position for longer thirty minutes or so (like at my computer) is difficult. And given that I used all my sick days for my maternity leave, I wouldn’t have any sick days to use if I had to take any because of my back. What a catch 22.
  • I’m having acupuncture and chiropractic treatments weekly for the aforementioned bullet. I feel like I’m always either nursing or running to an appointment, which leaves little time for getting work done. (And anyone who knows me knows I’m a workaholic, so this is hard on many, sometimes paradoxical levels.)
  • this past week, my thumbs, wrists, and forearms started aching. It’s apparently a thing called mommy thumb. It’s painful and puts typing in the category of repetitive movements I should avoid doing too much of. For this reasons, too, returning to work at this point would mean I’d have to cut corners and would perform at a far-below-normal level.

I share this list not to complain (though I realize I might sound a little whiny), but rather to bring into light the physical challenges that follow in the aftermath of giving birth — even almost three months later. I’ve had lower back pain before, but never like this. And healing isn’t being helped by my diastasis recti, or splitting of the abdominal wall. Mine is slight in the whole scope of what can happen during pregnancy and birth, but it’s making the project of strengthening my core muscles (which will in turn strengthen my back and help alleviate some of the pain) more challenging than it would normally be.

I’ve tried working on scholarship (since publishing articles is a major part of how I get to keep my job in the long-term), but now realize why people stop the tenure clock. Hopefully I’ll get some work days in soon. Not sure how that’ll happen, but I remain optimistic that it will.

And to the readers who have commented both publicly and privately that people choose to have children aren’t forced into it, or having children is selfish, or as one reader put it, “If you ‘want’ that child, then you better be prepared to handle that ‘want’ without complaining that people owe you something financially for that choice,” I say: mmmkay. First of all, I never thought I couldn’t handle the want to have a child. And I’m not arguing that I should be given something special and out of the ordinary for my choice. All I’m saying is that workers should be taken care of, and women deal with postpartum issues in relative silence and isolation, sucking up the pain and hardship that follows whether they had a complicated pregnancy and/or birth. And, given that we live in a patriarchal society where women are not treated the same as their male counterparts, I think it bears repeating that having a baby requires more time off from work than most people in this country are given. Time off is not some sort of gift — I’m learning first-hand right now just how difficult being responsible for childcare really is. I babysat as a kid, but that was nothing in comparison — caring for a baby full-time is exhausting, emotional, physically challenging work. And I can imagine that if men were the ones bearing the babies, the situation would be a whole lot different.

But despite all the back and wrist pain, sleepless nights, and overwhelm, there’s this. And it’s pretty darn great.