It was a Tuesday night in December, and I was in Podunk, Texas, population 226. My students were playing basketball – the lowest-level of ball you can watch that you still have to pay admission for. This was 7th grade boys B Team, in a 1A school, in the middle of corn fields. About 16 fans were there, along with some crickets.

But there’s always that one. You know. That guy.

He was three rows behind me, yelling. Our boys were getting beat something like 12-8 and it was nearing the end of the game.

“Come on boys!!! Get your head in the game!!”‘

The yells got louder.

“You boys don’t even care– come on! You’re not even trying! Get your head in the game!”

“What you boys need to do is HUSTLE!!!”

Whose voice was this? I’m too curious. I know I should resist looking, but in a moment of weakness I turn around, and I’ll never forget the sight: a 400+ lb man, hunched over with a chili dog in one hand and a Coca-Cola in the other. Snapping.


We swim in a culture of spectators and judges.

Reality TV. Fantasy Sports. Talent Competitions. Social Media.

We’ve done it so much, it has us believing we’re somehow entitled to judge anyone actually doing something.

I sat the other night watching 9 year olds on Masterchef Jr. making Lobster rolls, and by the time it was over, I caught myself nodding with the judges and mumbling, eww, yeah, he DID brown the edges a bit…

Then it smacked me — this is A NINE YEAR OLD making LOBSTER ROLLS. When I was nine, I could microwave a Jimmy Dean biscuit.

Spectator culture has so many of us terrified of doing. My kids, as a rule, won’t even attempt anything that might end up on YouTube. Too dangerous.

And we’ve done it enough ourselves, it has us believing we’re somehow entitled to judge those we watch. After all, we paid.

Friends, no matter what you do– there will always be a fat guy in the stand, eating his chili dog, and reminding you you’re not good enough at something he could never do. Telling you you’re not trying hard enough. Laughing at your mistakes. Telling you how you SHOULD have done it.

Make no mistake– critique will flow most freely and sharply from those who CAN’T or WON’T do what you’re doing. Or from those who think they are entitled because they used to do it. Back then.

You have work to do. And you’re going to have to do it amidst the noise of the spectators. This is life.

You cant escape them. You will be watched. There are far more viewers than doers.

So, paint that picture.

Write that book.

Start that business.

Ask her out.

Play ball. Even amidst the yells, the critiques, the judges, or the comment feeds. Do your thing. Take a shot. And when you miss, turn and give the big guy a wink– and go get that rebound.

Breaking Free

We’re afraid of failure.   But we’re also afraid of great success.  Because– then what?

I’m coming to realize that, generally, we’re just afraid of being judged by reality.  

In football, I was a “blocking” tight end.  Translation:  slow and nobody trusted me to catch.   Not even me.   The last game of my senior year, the coach (inadvertently?) called a 440 Flood with me in the game.  The ball was coming to me.  It sailed about 6 feet above my head.


Whew.  Huge sigh of relief.

QB’s fault.   Crisis avoided.  I didn’t want the ball.   Too many what-ifs.   If it came to me, then what?  I either drop it — failure — or I catch it.  Then, I’d have to do something with it.

Of course we might drop it.  We all know that.  But what if we catch it? 

Its in that moment that a whole new world of what-ifs flood our reality.

This is the most frightening judgment — when we succeed and must do something with it.  Most people don’t think that far ahead.  If I can’t handle the black/white judgment of a single caught/dropped ball, how could I handle the full spectrum of judgment of deciding what I do with it when I’ve caught it?

So much easier to not know.  To leave it in limbo.  To blame the quarterback.

Many of us stay in prison for decades, because we wouldn’t know what to do on the outside.

A whole world of possibility awaits us there- outside the black and white.  Out in the open, where failure and success are falsely terrifying, because self-judgment makes everything terrifying.  The prison of ignorance is the safest place.  But its not where you were made to live.

What are you waiting for?   There’s an open door to every prison.   Time to walk out.   Jump.  Catch the ball and run — or drop it.   And don’t look back.


What High-Stakes Testing Has to Do With School Shootings

No, state tests do not single handedly Make a Murderer. There are no simple answers to systemic problems. So, contrary to the obnoxiousness we witness in our news feeds, there is no cause of school shootings.

But there are conditions.

An explosion is synergy at work. It can’t happen easily. It actually takes quite a few steps to make something – or someone – explode. Perhaps even design and skill. There are hundreds of ways that something will NOT ignite. So when it does, you know that conditions had to be just wrong.

A myriad of prerequisites drove the atmosphere from stable to volatile to violent.


Dry wood — stacked together — refined fuel — and a source of ignition.

It’s the conditions that matter.

We are a nation weary of fighting to guard against every possible spark that might threaten our tepee-stacked, gasoline-soaked piles of tinder. And too many educators like me have reluctantly participated in pouring more fuel on the stack.

Wait a minute— our kids are burn-ready, gas-soaked piles of wood??



Volatile. Have you been in our schools? Looked at depression and anxiety rates? Suicide rates? While Americans pontificate with our millions of debate-hours trying to protect them from school shooters, far more of them are killing themselves. (Suicide recently passed homicide as the #2 cause of teen death.)

Can we back up?

How did our kids ever get to be one spark away from disaster? Honestly, you can have all those spark prevention debates with your congressman or your Uncle Joe at Thanksgiving. I want to talk about our volatile kids.

These conditions did not just happen. This took a system – one that has been honed. Remember- every system perfectly executes what its perfectly designed to do.

Unfortunately, I know, all too well. I helped create them for too long. And here is how.

How to Systematically Create Volatile Kids

Say you asked me to design a system, from scratch, that would produce optimal conditions for wide-scale depression, anxiety, suicide, and, of course, school shootings. I could sadly concoct an awful, dreadful, brutally effective one.

The key is– control the weather. Any park ranger knows that it’s the weather that determines fire risk. On rain-soaked cloudy days, a fire just can’t take off.

An old adage goes, “Teachers aren’t weather forecasters; we are weather creators.” We don’t just report the rain. We make it rain. Rain that gives life to our kids is positive relationship. No fire can survive a downpour of this. Explosions won’t happen. So I’d begin with drying out the wood. Create an atmosphere of scarcity and make bullying weather.

Bullying Weather

This really does the trick. This year, there were 1 or 2 bullies in my class, sometimes 3. Depends on the week — and on the weak. It’s widely verified that bullies are created, not just randomly selected by a celestial lottery. Bullies wax and wane. Heck, “bully” itself is a bit of an arbitrary label to stick on a moving target. Humans are dynamic and fluid.

Many days, when conditions are right, I can become a bit of a bully.

“Sit down, get quiet, and get to work!”

“John– WHAT in the WORLD are you doing??”

“Shaniya– for the seventh time, GET. IN. LINE!

I just get tired, folks. Run out of steam. Spent. I’m human. So I vent, pass the buck, react. I know I shouldn’t. But against the best of intentions, I begin to create threatening- bullying- weather. It happens all too easily in a climate of accusation and scarcity.

I know full well how this plays out. I can turn students against each other with a snap of the tongue. They wont even know I’m the problem. They’ll think their classmate are. Just turn on my Accuser voice and watch as they all turn against each other.

The Accuser voice creates a perception of scarcity. Scarcity creates competition. And competition creates enemies.

The way my kids treat each other is a direct reflection of how I treat them.


Say I were to come in with a high energy smile, an engaging lesson, positive words, relaxed humor, and a contagious enthusiasm. What are the odds that fights break out?

Slim to none. Too much rain.

But if I come in grouchy and yelling? Start your timer. It won’t be long before the fights begin.

Having that snapshot, I now give you my 8 Step systematic plan to create the bullying weather necessary to produce long term, widespread volatility.

Step 1: Put many kids in a room with only one adult. Busy adults are best. Only give them the illusion of a relationship – even better than no relationship.

Step 2: Engage kids with fun. A gateway. A hook. A quick micro-burst of relational energy to attract their hearts before we distract them. Then, seamlessly transition into work. This gets them invested with as little relationship (rain) required as possible.

Step 3: Praise the successes of top kids to make the most relationship-starved ones desire praise and work harder. More work = more investment. The more investment now, the more despair we can create later.

Step 4: Analyze, analyze, analyze. Plaster successes (and implicit failures) on charts and graphs. Be specific. Make them keep track of it all, so they always remember. Emphasize their ability to get there with hard work — dried out, lonely kids will just hear, “Your shortcomings are your fault.”

Step 5: Focus, focus, focus on what’s still not right. This is especially important when students get really parched toward the end of the year. Continually remind them — even the best of them — that they are “almost there.”

Step 6: Make success a mirage. When the kids get “there,” celebrate quickly so you can move them up to the next level. Over time, this creates hopelessness.

Step 7: Repeat the cycle, day after day, year after year. More investment. Exponential growth of despair. After a while, a treadmill, but they still won’t get off. Why? They’ve invested too much. Like a man stuck at a quarter slot machine. Might as well keep going now.

Step 8: Emphasize clearly and often how much is at stake. Their college, careers, and even relationships depend on whether they will continue to run on this treadmill — whether they will keep working hard enough to earn the approval they are still seeking.

In short, if I were to design a system to create despair and hopelessness, I would essentially design the American Classroom.

Now, I know this sounds a dreadfully pessimistic caricature of what only the worst, most selfish educators would allow in their rooms. And thankfully, it is. At first.

Most teachers are just too darn joyful and positive. There is no way they would purposefully create this environment. They would only succumb to it if their own conditions were just right.

So, to create volatility, we don’t begin with students. We need concoct a way to drain teachers of their positivity and joy — and create volatility in them.

Got it. New article:

How to Create Volatile Teachers

Step 1: Put one teacher alone in a room with many kids. Kids with busy parents are best. When it’s budget crunch time, apply for a state waiver to cram even more students in.

Step 2: Engage teachers with fun trainings and emotional videos about how much they can touch students lives, and how much purpose there is in their job. Entice new teachers with promises of great vacation time and decent first year pay. Newbies will shrug at the fact that they’ll never get a raise.

Step 3: Praise the successes of the top teachers who look good in photos. Or, of the school across the lake. They must be doing such cool high-energy activities all the time. Highlight that one teacher with an awesome Pinterest wall who has no family at home and works every night and weekend.

Step 4: Analyze, analyze, analyze. Scores. Spreadsheets. Data Analyses. Do this well enough, and teachers will eventually forget to think of their students as humans with stories anymore. They will first and foremost think of them as a number. The lowest numbers will become pebbles in our shoes– problems– objects to be fixed. Relationship kills fire.

Step 5: Focus, focus, focus on what’s still not right. Forget the blood, sweat and sacrifice. Have lots of meetings that begin with a quick celebration and then get to the point – the few failures among all the success.

Repeat steps 3, 4, & 5 as often as necessary to achieve proper dehydration.

Step 6: Make success a mirage. Next failing kid. Next year. Next, next, next.

Step 7: Repeat the cycle, day after day, year after year. Treadmill.

Step 8: Emphasize, clearly and often, how much is at stake. Yes, their jobs and licenses, for sure, but even more- their students’ futures. Remind them that those mamajamas will be flipping burgers for the kids at the school across the lake if you don’t pound another 20 minutes of intervention in them today.

Follow these 8 steps faithfully, and, over time, you will see your teachers do this:




(same actual lady pictured)
Dried out.

Once again, if I were to design a system to create teachers who are dried out (or walking out), I would essentially design the American Public School System.

In fact, I would argue that great teachers are one of the primary reasons why our suicide and mass shootings rates are so low. I’m not surprised that we have suicides and homicides every day among our students. I’m surprised that we have so few, given the climate we’ve systematically engineered. Thanks, teachers.

Where does it end? Where does it Begin?

You may be wondering about the next level up. Are administrators just evil? Of course not.

Hopefully you’re catching on. Just repeat the steps at each higher level. Which is even easier.


Fortunately (for volatility’s sake), the higher you ascend the pyramid, the more the 8 Steps begin to create themselves.


First, it takes strong personal boundaries to not succumb to the 8 Steps. Thankfully (for our evil system), we don’t typically promote people with great boundaries. On average, we’ll promote the ones who are willing to sacrifice more and more of themselves for the company.

Secondly, the farther you are up the Pyramid, the more distant from your kids. Less empathy. It will be easy, almost necessary, for you to only interact with your schools’ highlight reels. Things will seem much more wonderful than they are on the ground.

Thirdly, your underlings will pretend all is well, just so you’ll like them. Just by your walking into classrooms, teachers and principals will rush to sweep their house in order.

Fourthly, leaders know full well they are still human. So the higher up they are, the more they naturally underestimate how big of a deal their words and actions are. They will utter crushing words without even knowing it.

See, a pyramid of structured leadership, in a system whose goal is to be the best, inevitably creates an inverted pyramid of pressure.


The higher you ascend, the more invested you are. The more invested, the more pressure to please your superior. The more pressure we feel, the more we pass down. Who, in this situation, feels the most pressure? Tiny directives by lawmakers easily become crushing weights by the time they trickle to our students. This may well create diamonds out of a few, but far too many are just turning to coal. Hard, charred, explosive coal.

Added Fuels

Now, to be clear, these are just wood-prepping basics. I didn’t mention the dozens of added fuels from the American Family system, such as parents distracted on their phones, overly competitive sports, unhealthy foods, or other factors you might throw in.

The bad news is this problem took millions of people decades to create. The good news is there are millions of us connected to one another who can begin to deconstruct tired old norms of racing rats. We do this by setting up personal boundaries, and living by a higher purpose than to keep our job or get higher scores.

We can reclaim our kids as humans with stories, rather than numbers on spreadsheets, when we keep their humanity our top priority.

It will take risks, for sure. It will take secure people who aren’t distracted by photoshopped highlights of the school across the lake, or threatened by their coworkers’ charming Pinterest walls. It will take millions of us being secure, amidst the insecurities and accusations of bosses, parents, and even our own selves.

Believing that we are enough and striving for more of what matters instead of more of what the system demands. It may look like lower scores at first, but if the trade-off is healthier kids, is it worth it?

Here’s to a change in climate for the 2018-2019 American School System: May it rain. May it pour down love and grace and peace. May teachers be free from the pressure to conform to the singular focus of higher numbers, and may our kids be freed from the weight of too much pressure. Then, when our kids can be fully accepted as fully themselves, will those dried up piles of tinder cease to look so threatening.

Seven Ways to Teach Your Child Their Name

We may give our kids a name at birth, but its the next 18 years and beyond that we really name them. So I thought Id come with with a short list of ways to do that, for practicality’s sake.


1. Look them in the eyes.
First, the most basic, and maybe the most important. It tells them they are human. Pay attention and, if you’re like me, you may just be shocked to realize how little you actually do this on an average busy day, especially with several kids. I mean tune out everything else and play with them or talk. But make the eye connection. Wrestle, tickle, get in their face, talk, look, and listen. Even (especially) when they’re in trouble- connect those eyes. Something miraculous happens, as if you are literally pouring part of your own spirit into them. And they receive this brief beautiful affirmation when, just for a moment, they are your priority, and they matter.
2. Remind them of their name when they forget.
Ever thought about why your mom called you by your entire string of names when you were in trouble? What was she doing? She was reminding you of who you are. You were not acting like you. She knew the real you, and you had apparently forgotten for a moment. Kids do that. So, by calling their name, we whisper to their soul, “That is not who you are. It won’t lead you to life and identity and joy. I know what will, because I know your name.” All that in three simple words (and perhaps a furled eyebrow).
Another great way this is done is to always use “we” language, and maybe throw in your family name. When one of my kids acts out, it is somewhat standard now for me to say “WE don’t do that in this house.” This moves you from “Policeman” to “Captain of the ship”, which means we’re in this together. It also holds me accountable to practice what I preach. It makes our family name a badge of pride. We are Nichols’, and we do things a better way in this house. (May sound corny, but hey, we Nichols’ dont care ’bout that.)
3. Nicknames.
Just give em one. Or three. Two generations ago, almost every kid in town had one of these. Some had several. Very often, people would even forget your real name. My grandpa was Scooter, and to him, I was Turth (I have NO IDEA what Turth means). My sister was Crystal Pistol, or just Pistol. My cousin was Peanut (and I was secretly jealous, because I thought Peanut was cooler than Turth). My OTHER grandpa just called me “Little Man.” I cant describe to you how special I felt to be Little Man.
A nickname is a way of personalizing your unique relationship with a kid. It adds a little definition to their name once theyve had time to live a little. But more than anything, a nickname reminds them (and us) to quit taking themselves so seriously. We Rat Race Suburbanites could use that every once in a while.
4. Milestones
The Jews have Bar Mitzvahs. Hispanics have Quinceaneras. But for most people in my world, milestones are sadly absent. How many college age students aren’t really sure whether they are an adult, or a kid, or what? Most people treat them like a kid, but they sort of feel like an adult, but then again they don’t. Heck, I know 30 year olds like this.
It sounds too simple, but usually all they ever really needed was somebody to just tell them they are now grown. The right somebody, that is. Parents.

Life doesnt come in neatly defined stages. It just happens, gradually, a day at a time. So milestones sort of our arbitrary way to stop and define what is happening and how far we’ve come. Because they need to know. A lot of us are afraid to tell them, because we have a hard time facing the fact that they are no longer little. (See #7 below)

How you do this doesnt matter nearly as much as that you do it. But ask yourself this: at what age is a kid an adult in your family? Maybe its 18, maybe its 21. Maybe its when they graduate. Decide this now –because you won’t be ready then– and throw them a party when they get there. Its not celebrating an accomplishment, like finishing school, but an arrival. Make it a big deal. Bless them. And let them know they have arrived, even if we all might have our doubts if they can handle it. I would even recommend doing this more than once- maybe have 2 or three big celebrations along the way, and usher them in to whats next with confidence and blessing.

5. Make Them Good at Something.

For the love of John, this is NOT taking them to practice some uber-competitive sport with 75 other kids who will make them feel like crap because they dont pitch a 95 mph fastball. How about things like–
-Catching coins off their elbow.
-Keeping a balloon bouncing without letting it hit the ground.
-shooting a slingshot at a target.
-Playing “football” with the sugar packets at a restaurant.
(And then– I am begging– quit it and move on with life before your game turns into this.)
Today, I just held up a blanket in the living room as a target and let my two girls throw a football at it. They loved it. My dad was an ACE at this. Give him an object — any object — and an unsuspecting kid, and that man will have them playing a game in no time. They will like it. And they’ll get this weird sort of mini-boost of confidence when they get better at it. (Plus, when they’re good at something nobody else cares about, it keeps them from bragging about it at school…)
Then, teach them real life skills as they grow older, and then let them be known as the go-to person the home for that. For whatever they are good at, brag on them in front of somebody else. Don’t fake the compliments. Find things they are ACTUALLY good at — “the organizational whiz,” “the music virtuoso,” etc.
Think about it. When they are an expert in their own home, you have just given them a place where they matter and are of value. When the rest of the world rains on their parade (and it will), they will have a shelter to go to where they are known and needed.
6. Land the Helicopter.
If you find yourself wondering whether you are a helicopter parent, let me help you: If you weren’t, you wouldnt be wondering (and you wouldnt be reading a blog post on parenting). You already live in a world where your neighbor will call CPS on you for not snapping the 5 point harness to drive to the mailbox.
We hover because we love her. But lets try to hover less, shall we? I say “Age+1 appropriate freedom.” In other words, just a tiny bit more freedom than their age probably warrants — enough freedom to make you constantly nervous. (You’re welcome.) They will get hurt one day, and you will hate me for suggesting this. But it might just save them from a bigger hurt.
What are you communicating when you hover? Besides annoying them to death, you are giving them a constant reminder that youre not sure if they can handle life on their own. And if you, the name-giver, are unsure, guess what that makes them? A 35 year old in your basement eating your cheetos while you fill out his unemployment paperwork.
Three of the toughest words a parent will ever have to digest: Let them fail.
7. Mourn Their Loss.
My personal rule of thumb is, one good cry per year per kid. And I dont cry. Some of you wimps need to just go ahead and schedule this in your weekly routine. Because all change is a form of loss, and all loss must be mourned. You will never get back those days when he was a baby (or age 14).
I can guarantee you this– if you never embrace the sadness of the death of yesterday, you will never be able to embrace the joy of the promise of tomorrow.
Show me a young married couple who are still tightly controlled by their parents, and I’ll show you a set of parents who never grieved a loss.
Every single birthday, we say goodbye to the child we used to have (AFTER the party, not in front of the kid, okay?!). We bury memories and let go with tears and angst. And in doing so, we set our child free to become what God has destined them to be. The greatest blessing is knowing, when we finally do set them free to fly, that we have given them a name that they now own the rights to.

Why Teachers Are Walking Out

For the last ten years, I’ve been a covert operative in Women’s World, a.k.a. Public School.  I am not a typical elementary teacher.  I am male.   And I am often confounded at what I have seen my coworkers silently acquiesce to, happily playing along, fueled only by the sense of the purpose they work from.  I am not surprised that teachers in many states have had walkouts.  I am surprised that they waited so long to start.

Obviously, I’m sympathetic to my colleagues.  I’m also sympathetic to garbage collectors, Haitian farmers, and CPS caseworkers.  In comparison, our job might be considered a breeze for the pay, with its dreamy holiday schedule and all.

Let’s not go down that rabbit hole, though, because the walkouts aren’t really ultimately about “pay,” the face usually presented.

Women are done being taken advantage of.

That’s what this is about.  Don’t think that it’s a coincidence that mass walkouts are happening within a year of the #metoo movements, the sex abuse revelations, or the women’s marches.

It’s not just about pay.  It’s about respect.  It’s about boundaries crossed and people used.  It’s about unrealistic, unspoken expectations systemically enforced, leaving the perceived inability to speak up for oneself.  It’s about a mass of subservient people waking up one day to see the reality of what they’ve been putting up with all along.

When you hear stories and shine light into cultural blind spots, you start to see that there has been wide scale, nationally accepted inequalities kept alive for decades in the dungeons of school halls, among the nations largest female workforce.


I was in a data analysis meeting with my female colleagues, needing student whiteboards for math.  (Imagine your teachers back in 1987 requesting an overhead projector.  Basic.)  A good set might run $50.

As a norm, I don’t request purchases from the “company.”  I often forget it’s even an option.  When I mentioned it to a co-teacher on the way to the meeting, she gave me a sarcastic, “Good LUCK…”

I said, “Hey, if this school, on its $10 million budget, can’t afford $50 whiteboards– how do they expect someone supporting a family of 6 on a teachers salary to be able to?” She said she had never thought of that.

She had never thought of that.  This is our culture.  Where you aren’t allowed to think about asking for your needs to be met.

The given is to figure it out.  Because women will.  Had I asked 20 different teachers about whiteboards, 10 of them would start spewing out names of stores.  The other 10 (older) would give me some DIY weekend instructions that involve table saws.  Seldom would any of them think to say, “Umm, ask for them…”

Injustice and oppression thrive in places where the norms are never questioned. 

My boss didn’t think that way, either.  Minutes before, my boss had told us, “We’ll do anything to help you.”  Minutes later, I was met with a kind sigh, “Aren’t whiteboards pretty expensive?”  One of our support staff spoke up, “Didn’t you ask me about those last year?  I’ll get you some.”  And she did.  Possibly on her dime.  I didn’t ask.

The fact that the whiteboards were such a small purchase actually illuminates the problem.

A man’s operative norm tends to be, “since its not a big deal, the company should have no problem helping you out.”

A woman’s tends to be, “since its not a big deal, you should be able to handle it yourself.”

Handle It.

— I’ve witnessed a teacher running a fever, surrounded by nurses taking her blood pressure, get up and stumble down the hall, on her way to wrangle kids.
–I’ve witnessed a teacher passing a kidney stone refusing to go home.
–I’ve witnessed a teacher get punched.
–I’ve witnessed teachers yelled at, demeaned, and criticized, and then go chase down the kid to make sure he is okay.

     And all that was just this week.  

Nothing we handle is a huge deal.  But the sum total of all of the straws on the camel’s back have become a crushing weight for so many.

It’s not about the pay.  It’s about all of the ways an entire sector of the country’s most selfless givers have been complicit to a system that has evolved to bilk them every way it can:  of their time, their money, their energy, and their emotions.

Pay for it yourself.
Create it yourself.
Stay late and put on that function yourself.
Meet during your time. 
Work during your weekend.
Be kind to people yelling, ignoring, cussing, and hitting you.  Then, make sure they pass the new standards.
…And be prepared to take bullets for them, too.

These things are not said as much as they are collectively understood, much worse.

Tacit expectations are the ones we feel least able to challenge.

See, behind each one of these expectations lies the unspoken threat– “Don’t you love your kids?”

A Woman’s Honor

I’ve learned that a woman will do almost anything to prove she’s a good caretaker and nurturer.  The female honor code is, do it for the kids, no matter the cost.  Don’t ask questions or be perceived as disloyal to your children.

And, while each woman should be responsible for enforcing her own boundaries, we should not be systematically violating them, either.  I want the women of my world free to be fiercely loyal mothers and selfless givers, without some manipulative loser-of-a-school system taking advantage of her selflessness.

But we have an underfunded system who keeps pushing and stretching for every free woman-hour and donation it can get from those fiercely loyal mothers and their Boxtops.

The system, in many places, bears a creepy resemblance to an abusive husband.  If she loses “him” [her job], she feels like she would lose everything.  He constantly tells her she’s not good enough, and has spreadsheets with scores to prove it.  He blames her for the kids problems, and offers no real help in fixing them.   But she stays and puts up with him– because she loves the kids.

He is boxing her in, manipulating her, and implicitly calling her loyalty into question every time she doesn’t bend over backwards to appease him and make him look good.

Should we be surprised that she’s finally walking out?

An Overstatement?

Maybe I am being dramatic (Hey, I’m a teacher).   But contrast this with my white collar buddies in corporate land.  If you do anything work-related, you charge it to the company, and get the airline miles in the process.   Own a business?  Buy what you want for yourself, make sure its “work-related,” and write it off.

Teachers?  They go through a 3-step process involving a waterboarding interrogation in front of a one-way mirror to get some spaghetti noodles for a lesson.  So we just do it ourselves.

Consider “Teachers Pay Teachers”

This one kills me.  It’s an online community of 2 million of us, paying each other for homemade curriculum to get the job done right.  This exists?  I didn’t know we were independent contract laborers.

But no one I know questions it.  My coworkers are happy to shell out their own dollars because, in their minds, they are helping some poor sister in south Georgia trying to supplement income.

Imagine a bunch of nurses buying morphine from one nurse who makes it in her basement, when the hospital won’t give them enough.  Or cops buying tasers from Leroy the Ex-Cop who now hand-makes tasers in his garage that don’t suck.  Or Egyptian slaves buying good brick-making tools from their fellow slaves on the black market.  Shouldn’t Pharaoh be funding this?  Nah, he’s on a shoestring, poor fellow.  I’ll just do it.

Male.  Mind.  Blown.

So, when it comes to things like…
Conferences?  Nope.
Company clothes?  Buy your own school T-shirt, if you love us.
Tools for the job?  Maybe your PTA can donate.  Or DonorsChoose.
Health insurance?  Ha ha.  Ha.
Annual raise?  A cost of living increase, less than your actual cost of living increase.
Bonuses?  Starbucks Gift cards.  From students.
Per Diems?  Travel mileage?  What are those?
Company credit card?  Not in your life. You’d be too wasteful.

But those test scores?   They’d better go up, and up, and up.


And then, there are the ways we aren’t trusted.

In Texas, we take the STAAR test.  We go through a few of hours of training each year that we jokingly refer to as “52 ways to lose your license.”   It is a State-mandated course that involves a PowerPoint detailing the ways we shouldn’t be cheating.  And if it even LOOKS like we might be cheating, we’re in trouble.

Soooo….. let me get this straight…. You pay us $60,000 a year to be a life mentor for 20 children….  But you don’t trust me not to cheat for my 10 year old on his 4th grade math test?

Consider Hattie’s effect size — famous research that determines the most impactful effects of various educational dynamics.  This poster is in our lounge.

Hatties effect

Greatest effect size?  Student Expectations.   Im wondering, if Expectations of our small humans are so powerful in determining their outcome, why do we keep breeding pathetically low expectations of our large humans?

We don’t enforce higher expectations by being meaner.  Expectations must be paid for.  We treat people as if they are capable, give them the right tools for the job, and stand back to watch in awe of what they do with them.


Is It Really a Gender Issue?

If you think its just a School culture issue unrelated to gender, you’d be wrong there. And we have coaches to prove it.  The only male-dominated sector of public school gets what they need.  I know, because I was a coach for a year.  That year, our students got new clothes, a new locker room, and new uniforms.   They got free food each week and free rides home.  Coaches got free jackets, free clothes, free food, free conferences, free high-fives, free respect, a free pass on dress code, and a free pass from expectations of student academic achievement in our classes.

But I could not get free multiplication flash cards for my math class that year.   I got more perks, bonuses, and respect in one year of coaching than in 9 years of teaching elementary school.  Its not about ONE person or school, its about systems evolving over time, built on the ways males and females most typically interact.

Waking Up, and Walking Out

It’s not about whiteboards, perks, or paychecks.  Its about a workplace culture that has formed around our most deeply invested, caring, and empathetic sector – our women.

Women, thank God, are waking up.   They are waking up to the same realization that called out Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein.  And they are calling out the system.

I don’t like walkouts, protest marches, or angry speeches.   A decent society shouldn’t need them.  But I do like it when people wake up, and finally say “no more” to a system that keeps demanding more while empowering less.

“I will not just be used or taken for granted.  I matter.”   This is the mantra of the new teacher. 

She is no longer just a glorified babysitter.   She is the master of a skilled profession that combines the rigor of brain science with communication skills, data analysis, public relations, and artistic performance.  She is a talented professional with the job of shaping minds, and a loving parent-figure with the job of nurturing hearts.

You get what you pay for, and if we want good teachers, we had better pony up before she leaves us to go live happily ever after with a company that will treat her right.

I am walking out with her, but mine will be permanent, at the end of the month.

Mine is a personal choice, based on my life goals.   But I do wonder whether I might have stayed longer, were it not for my inability to refuel year after year as quickly as I have been drained.   I love my kids more than ever.  But I won’t enter a classroom another year without a full tank of patience, grace, and joy.  It’s time to refuel.

All of my best wishes to those who continue to do this work, regardless of the conditions.   You are some of the best.  May our society wake up to your true value, and may your needs be fully met.   No matter how the votes turn out, you will always have mine.


More: Check out Seth’s new book “Pyramids and Trees: Attachment, Addiction, Empire, and a Nation Bursting Forth.”

Or visit the podcast.