Why Teachers in Chicago May Strike…

6500+ Teachers at at Rally in May of 2012

Teachers are not going on strike because we want to, we are going on strike because we have to.  Any teacher can tell you his or her favorite place is inside the classroom with a room full of students. However the sacred process of learning is under attack and we are being put into a position where we will no longer be able to do our jobs well.

One of the major factors of an ideal learning environment is classroom size. When I first started teaching, the maximum class size for students was 26 for High School. The current contract is at 32 and the number increases every year. In physical education classes that number is 40+. As an English Teacher, I have to take into consideration the number of students I have when assigning writing. Right now, my total class load can be up to 140 students. If I collect a 3 page writing assignment from them, provide the written feedback to really help those students I am looking at 420 pages. If I spend 5 minutes on each paper, that is 2100 minutes or 35 hours worth of grading. Currently, we are provided with 50 minutes of “prep” time during the week, but that time is often spent giving one on one attention to students who need extra support (because there are too many students in the classroom) or preparing for future lessons (writing lesson plans, copying assignments or writing exams).  While we work 40 hours a week, we are spending an additional 35 hours attempting to grade and that is if we give just one assignment. That 35 hours has to be subtracted from time we could be spending with our own children and spouses, time we should be sleeping, exercising or taking care of our other needs.

Additionally, most public school teachers are against the explosive increase of charter schools. There are some neighborhoods in Chicago that don’t even have a traditional public school. In order to be admitted to a charter school you have to apply and there is usually a lottery system that selects students. Charter schools can dismiss a student who misbehaves or who doesn’t follow the policies and procedures set forth by the school. Students have to do something horrendous in a public school to be expelled and even then, they are generally shuffled into an alternative school. Charter schools also have the luxury of private funding, but you have to ask yourself, are these private corporations who are dumping millions of dollars into education doing so out of the goodness of their hearts? Education is big business! We have to pay for textbooks, furniture, access to the internet, academic databases, attendance taking software, and so on & on. If more money was spent providing elementary school children with the extra support they needed, setting up technology to support student learning and investing in wrap-around resources at the High School level (school counselors, psychologists and nurses) – we’d see a change in the achievement gap.

Merit pay is another major contract issue. On the surface it sounds wonderful. Those teachers who do well should be rewarded for their achievement right? The problem is, in the city of Chicago there is a huge disparity between magnet or selective enrollment schools and neighborhood schools. Students who attend Skinner Elementary or Northside College Prep come into the door one or two grade levels ahead. They are high achieving students. So you mean to tell me that a teacher at one of those schools deserves more, when a teacher at a neighborhood school may receive students who are reading at four or five grade levels behind? You mean to tell me that the teacher who has to spend more time disciplining students to no fault of her own deserves less pay? It is my belief that the best teachers should teach at the lowest performing schools but that is usually not the case and a merit pay system where a teacher knows that her paycheck is directly connected to her student test scores is less likely to want to work at the lowest-performing schools. You will then have an even greater achievement gap. Merit pay encourages individualism, and in order to help children the last thing we need is more adult competition.

Teachers want to be included in the reform process. We have attorneys, businessmen, politicians and everyone else telling us what is best for schools and what is best for kids. We are not respected as professionals despite the fact that we are some of the most educated professionals. I had to pass three exams in order to become a teacher and I have to continue my education and show documentation that I’ve done so and recertify every four years throughout my entire career. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing because I enjoy learning but I am saying that I know my craft. I know how to help children between 6 – 12 grades learn to speak, read and write English Language and Literature. Teachers have to be included in this process of reforming public education because we know what is best for the students we see 5 days a week for 9 months out of the year. There is no teacher I know who has ever been asked by a school board, or by the government what he or she thinks it will take to improve public education.

It may be hard to wrap your mind around this idea of teachers withholding our services, but it is the last tool that we have. You don’t go into the field of education to make a lot of money, which is why money is the least of our concerns, but we cannot continue to stand by and watch this assault on public education as it is the most important tool for upward social mobility and one of the pillars of our democracy.

Project Life Week 4

I’m really sad because I broke my digital camera a couple of days ago. The good news is that I have a warranty so it won’t cost anything, the bad news is that they will have my camera for the next 2 -4 weeks! So you guys are going to have to bear with my horrible cell phone pics for the next 2 – 4 weeks and there will be a difference on my Project Life layouts until I get my camera back. Maybe I’ll do something creative like take all black and white pics or something like that…


Here are my layouts for this week:

Project Life is a simple approach to capturing everyday life created by Becky Higgins who you can find here:


Here are my other layouts:

Week 1 of 52: https://donnienicole.com/2012/01/07/project-life-week-1-of-52/

Week 2 of 52: https://donnienicole.com/2012/01/16/week-2-of-52-project-life/

Week 3 of 52: https://donnienicole.com/2012/01/21/project-life-2012-week-3/

Also, I created a “How to Scrapbook” Free E-Book and would love for you to check it out. It has some of my favorite layouts over the last few years and a list of places to go for inspiration: https://donnienicole.com/for-sale/

First Lady’s $86 Dress!

Today is my first day back at work without the students and I’m thinking about what I’m going to wear. One of my style icons is Michelle Obama. I love First Lady Michelle Obama because she wears $86 dresses! Sara Jessica Parker once said “Fashion is not a luxury,” and I couldn’t agree more. True fashionistas mix highs & lows effortlessly. Here is an example:

The dress is $86.20 at Asos (one of my favorite online boutiques): http://us.asos.com/ASOS-ASOS-Midi-Dress-in-Check-Print/w9s9u/?iid=1591953&cid=12899&sh=0&pge=0&pgesize=20&sort=-1&clr=Print&r=2&mporgp=L0Fzb3MvQXNvcy1NaWRpLURyZXNzLUluLUNoZWNrLVByaW50L1Byb2Qv

The Slave Revolt You’ve Never Heard Of

We’ve all heard of Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vessey. All of these men lead slave revolts in North America. Until watching a PBS Special called “Secrets of the Dead: Slave Ship Mutiny” I had never heard of Meermin rebellion.

The Meermin was a Dutch slave ship carrying slaves from Madagascar in 1766. Eventually a member of the ship’s crew broke the rules by unchaining the slaves and allowing them to stand on the deck. Adding insult to injury, the the crewman wanted the slaves to “clean” their traditional weapon and shortly after that all hell broke lose. The slaves took over the ship killing many of the dutch crew and wanted to be taken back to Madagascar. They were tricked into sailing to South Africa, which had been a commercial settlement for the Dutch VOC company. The VOC was strict about archiving so every detail was written down. We are able to know about what happened on the ship from a message in the bottle that one of the crewmen penned while barricaded in a room on the ship. This same letter would eventually lead to the capture of Massavana and the surviving Madagascans. Massavana was actually sent to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela – another freedom fighter would be imprisoned almost 200 years later.

Thanks to the log books which were kept by the VOC, the testimonies recorded during the trial and hearing once Massavana was captured. and the message in the bottle – we can literally put history together. As a scrapbooker I am an avid archivist but I am also fund of journaling, letter writing and all forms of documentation. Were it not for the surviving documents we would never know about The Meermin which eventually sank. We must ask ourselves what are we doing to tell our stories? What will happen in 100 – 200 years when your journal, your photographs or your artwork are the only items that represent American society or culture from this era?

Read more about The Meermin here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/24/world/africa/24iht-africa.html and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/featured/slave-ship-mutiny-about-this-episode/674/


While most people get jealous when I tell them I’m a teacher because of my “summer’s off” what they don’t know is that I’m never off. I spend the summer writing lesson plans, picking new texts (I never teach the same exact texts every year, I always switch one or two out), and writing syllabi so that everything is crystal clear for students and their parents. Planning is one of my favorite parts. I love to create activities and to think about how to “deliver” lessons to my students. This is one of the items on my Summer Manifesto list btw…


Summer Manifesto!

In about 2 1/2 hours I will be off for the next 12 weeks! I’m celebrating with my Summer Manifesto (a list of things I plan to do/accomplish over the summer).

For those who can’t view the image here is the list (not necessarily in order of priority).

  1. Finish Campaign Scrapbook
  2. Finish Mom’s Scrapbook
  3. Finish Websites (DonnieNicole.Com LINKS, Launch Site For Teachers, Launch DearLittleSis.Com)
  4. Find Latino Novel for 9th Graders
  5. Plan for National Boards
  6. Plan A.P. Comp Curriculum
  7. Get a Sephora Makeover
  8. Get a MAC Makeover
  9. Take a trip to Kalahari Water Park w/ Fam
  10. GO to the top of the Sear’s Tower (for the first time 🙂
  11. Take a Navy Pier Boat Cruise
  12. Organize Contacts (Google Vs. Address Book)
  13. Clean out e-mail inboxes
  14. Update Teaching Certification
  15. CLean out/organize home office
  16. Get new eyeglasses
  17. Dentist Appt.
  18. Annual Physical & Gynecologist Visit
  19. Update passport
  20. Get an I-Pad

And although it’s not on the notepad I also plan to:

– Blog Weekly (every other day or so for DonnieNicole.Com, every Monday for DearLittleSis.com and every Thursday for ThinkLikeATeacher.Wordpress.Com)

For my fellow teachers, what are you planning to do this summer? For my nonteachers what are you most looking forward to this summer?


New Blog For Teachers…

I spend a great deal of my time as a public intellectual, a performer, a curriculum specialist. For most of my day, I put on five shows a day (25 shows a week). Teaching is the hardest job you’ll ever love that comes with increasing responsibilities every day. It has been recorded that teachers have over 1,000 verbal/non verbal interactions a day. As a High School teacher I have “140 clients,” which is multiplied when you add their parents & caregivers.

I love my job and for a brief period went through a brief period where I thought I didn’t want to teach formally anymore. Then I realized that I was born to teach… to show students the power of the pen and the transformative power of literature. My love and purpose for teaching is reinforced every time I run into one of my former students “on the street” and they remember my name. It is reinforced every time I encounter an ignorant or bigoted person. It is reinforced every time I speak to someone who asks me “what do you do for a living?”

While originally I wanted to include Teacher posts on DonnieNicole.com, I figured the subject deserved its own space. Please bookmark and visit ThinkLikeATeacher.Wordpress.Com for weekly updates!

The Big Secret!!!!

This is what they don’t tell you about teaching in college. Especially as a High School English Teacher. Thank God this is a light load of only 35 papers (I have 140 students total!). My Juniors completed their big research project (which included creating a Google Site) along with the traditional research paper. I’ll post some of my favorites later today.

While I love my job, and we are blessed to have time off (especially this week) the truth is that many teachers spend their “breaks” catching up on grading because it is impossible to be a good wife, mom, friend + work out, have hobbies etc. without sacrificing something. I try not to bring papers home but it is numerically & statistically impossible to keep on top of “the paper load,” unless I spend some of my break catching up. There are some teachers who don’t assign writing or limit writing, but I am committed to ensuring that my students become excellent written communicators and the only way to do that is to assess & give lots of feedback on their writing.

Originally my husband and I were going to go to Niagara Falls this week, but deciding to keep my priorities together, I’m sitting at the dining table with a huge cup of coffee, no TV, no radio, grading!!!! The good news is that when we return on Monday we have only 8 weeks of school left and then I’m OFF!!!

In addition to the grading I have a major home organization/purge project going on right now.

Getting Organized… Work Edition

Last week I wrote about developing routines at home. This year I’m starting out the school year more organized than ever and after years of experience I’m hoping that my new system will (A) help me save time by not having to search for misplaced things (B) help me become more efficient.

This is my work cubicle. On the top shelf are all of my books organized by course/type. All of the Shakespeare books, writing books and grammar books are stored together.

On the actual desktop are two large baskets. One basket is for my British Literature class, the other basket is for my Freshman English class. I store the course textbooks there, along with copies and file folders for each unit. I used to use a binder to store unit plans and activity sheets. I like the file folders because they are more flexible and easier to get into and out of.

The standing magazine holder is where I store my Administrative spiral notebook which has the calendar, phone lists, etc. and my composition book where I record meeting notes and minutes, voice mail messages, etc.

To the right of that are two inboxes, one for each class. I’m planning to use this for papers to grade and papers to return. And finally to the right are more storage bins. One outbox for stuff to drop off at the main office, one for the club I sponsor, one for stuff to file and the last one for administrative stuff that doesn’t have a home yet (e.g. letters of recommendation etc.)

The white binder is my “administrative” binder where I store all of the important announcements and info for my division (aka homeroom). This is where you will find tornado drill plans, assembly schedules etc.

I plan to stay after once per week in order to make copies and write plans for the following week.

I also have a bag at work where I will keep my accordion file (to take to the two classrooms that I share in order to collect and return student work). I have a large zipper file to store copies and homeroom handouts (we usually get a classroom set of materials to pass out in our mailboxes daily).

My secret to organization this year is “everything has a place.” Highlight, italicize and bold face that “a.” The idea is that if I can keep everything in one place, I don’t have to go searching for it later. All meeting notes in one place, all student work in one place, and all curriculum materials/plans in one place? I’ll re-evaluate things over Thanksgiving vacation to see if adjustments need to be made.

A New School Year…

So tomorrow starts the official beginning of a new school year for me! This will be my 7th year in the classroom and it feels good! At times the new school year feels like a beacon of light – 130 new students & families to get to know & a fresh way of approaching curriculum material. At other times it feels like the calm before the storm – the never ending stack of papers to grade, e-mails to answer & phone calls to return. As I approach this new school year all I can think about are the facts – I need to be able to balance my work and home life effectively. How do I plan to do that?

Routines, routines, routines! It can be overwhelming when I look at everything that I need to accomplish at once, so rather than do that, I’ve decided to take things one day at a time. While I will never be able to get everything done and remain caught up on all of my projects, I’m okay with that and I’ve accepted the fact that in order to accomplish my goals I have to make progress slowly but surely each day. Another big piece to this puzzle is organization! I do not want to waste time looking for things this year. Here are some of my routines that I plan to use:


  • Check & respond to e-mail (twice per day)
  • Clean up the kitchen
  • Open the mail & sort it into “to file” bin
  • Write in paper journal (even if it’s just one sentence)
  • Back up Mac on external hard drive & sync iPhone w/ calendar/contacts
  • Pack lunch & iron clothes before going to bed
  • Make to do list for significant other
  • Hula hoop/exercise
  • Make a list of 3 MITS (Most Important Tasks) to accomplish for the day and write them on index cards


  • Sort & file paperwork
  • Clean out work bag & purse (old receipts, candy wrappers etc.)
  • Update blog
  • Make a meal plan for the week
  • Do laundry
  • Read google reader feeds
  • Pay bills & update budget


  • Hair, nail, eyebrow appointment
  • Clean out refrigerator
  • Purge e-mail inbox


  • Take clothes to the cleaners
  • Evaluate monthly goals
  • Print new photos for scrapbooking


  • Conduct an annual review
  • Purge files
  • Gynecologist + annual physical.

I am hoping that this little checklist will help me to keep things in order and to not allow stuff (literal and mental) to pile up until it gets out of control and I HAVE to do something about it. I made a pretty one sheet document that has everything laid out and I have it printed & plan to keep it in my purse/family binder. For the most part it focuses on home. I plan to also do one for work. I’m approaching this new school year proactively.

What do you do to maintain control and order? What routines do you have set up to make your life easier?