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MESSA Pullout Inside

In the spirit of Anne Frank August-September 2019  |  Vol. 96  |  Issue 5  | mea.org

‘He showed me my voice’


Together We are Stronger Thousands of educators closed out last school year by showing up to #RedForEd rallies at the Capitol to issue a call to action for lawmakers: Fund our schools. Now we prepare to begin a new school year with no budget in sight. Not only did the Legislature break for summer recess without passing a spending plan for 2020, but Republican leaders since then have floated misguided solutions to pay for roads and other long-neglected priorities. One of the wrong ideas under consideration would bond the debt of the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System (MPSERS) to pay for roads—a dangerous scheme that even conservative economists warn could backfire in a big way. As of publication time for this issue, more than 1,200 MEA members had stepped up through our Action Network page to contact their legislators and say it’s unacceptable to gamble with school employees’ pensions. But even if this terrible proposal dies a deserved death, we must keep up the fight. You have a part to play in this work; we all do—together we

Paula J. Herbart President

are stronger, our voices speak louder, and our message travels farther. Let’s make clear it’s not OK to continue underfunding public education by playing shell games with the School Aid Fund. We need real revenue and real solutions if we want to build a better Michigan for future generations. In light of Michigan State University’s study showing Michigan dead last in education funding increases over the last 25 years. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed the largest investment in public schools in a generation—an additional $507 million to help students succeed. Under Whitmer’s plan, the foundation allowance would increase by as much as $180 per pupil, which would start closing the nearly $2,000 per-pupil gap identified by the exhaustive study by the School Finance Research Collaborative last year.

consensus that a weighted funding formula is needed to put more resources where they are most needed and address existing disparities that currently leave some children behind. Paula is a co-chair of this diverse coalition, and finding consensus is not easy. Yet the group’s willingness to seek common ground reflects a wider public awareness that Michigan’s once great public education system has been neglected for too long. Bottom line: increased funding helps students. It could mean smaller class sizes and increased one-onone attention. It could mean more school counselors, social workers and librarians—positions eliminated under past funding cuts. It could mean new textbooks and supplies.

Just as important is the “weighted formula” in her proposed budget to provide additional increases for atrisk programming, special education, and career-technical courses.

But hard work lies ahead in convincing lawmakers to meet the challenge and approve Whitmer’s transformational education budget. We need you to get involved and rally supportive parents and leaders in your community to press the Legislature to do the right thing.

Recently the Launch Michigan coalition of education, business, and philanthropic groups reached

Read this issue of the Voice to get inspired. Then let’s go—together, we can do this.

Chandra A. Madafferi Vice President

Brett R. Smith Secretary-Treasurer

Find additional content online at mea.org/voice.


4 Editor’s Notebook Twice the Advice 9 Member Voices I. Love. Teaching. 21 Members at Work Innovative Educators 29 Awards & Honors New MTOY Named 31 Awards & Honors Friends of Education On the cover: Lansing Waverly teacher Robert Lurie has spent 35 years inspiring students to develop their voices and lift them up in the world. Read his story, starting on page 13.

Executive Director����������������������Michael Shoudy Director of Public Affairs������������������� Doug Pratt Editor������������������������������������������������ Brenda Ortega Staff Photographer�������������������������Miriam Garcia Publications Specialist��������������� Shantell Crispin The MEA Voice ISSN 1077-4564 is an official publication of the Michigan Education Association, 1216 Kendale Blvd., East Lansing, MI 48823. Opinions stated in the MEA Voice do not necessarily reflect the official position of the MEA unless so identified. Published by Michigan Education Association, Box 2573, East Lansing, MI 48826-2573. Periodicals postage paid at East Lansing and additional mailing offices. Payment of the active membership fee entitles a member to receive the MEA Voice. Of each annual fee whether for active or affiliate membership, $12.93 is for a year’s subscription. Frequency of issue is October, December, February, April and August. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to the MEA Voice, Box 2573, East Lansing, MI 48826-2573 or via email at webmaster@mea.org. Allow at least three weeks for change of address to take effect. MEA Voice telephone: 517-332-6551 or 800-292-1934. Circulation this issue: 113,269

10—ISSUES & ADVOCACY: An MEA pilot project is bringing classroom libraries to disadvantaged schools.

12—MY VIEW: A member takes a ground-level look at third grade reading as a retention mandate kicks in.

17—STRENGTH IN UNION: Thousands of MEA members and supporters showed up for two Capitol rallies calling for increased education funding. The fight continues— no budget has yet been passed.

26—AWARDS & HONORS: A Saginaw Valley State University professor is Higher Educator of the Year.

34—MEMBER SPOTLIGHT: A paraeducator reflects on the good, bad, and different from 22 years. MEA VOICE  3


Editor’s Notebook


Sometimes amid life’s noise and bustle, an idea stops me in my tracks because it comes from separate sources in close succession. That happened while I worked on this issue of the Voice. I’m Facebook friends with Cara Lougheed, a Rochester English teacher who serves on MEA’s communications committee. She posted this status one day this spring: I know there’s been a lot of advice against going into education these days, but I have to say I feel a little sorry for people who don’t get to hang out with teenagers on a regular basis. They are lovely & funny & life-renewing & WORTH IT. I had just recently reported a story that 75 percent of 17,000 surveyed Michigan teachers would not recommend the career to young people. Since Cara was bucking the trend, I asked her to write a column for the magazine on the subject. A couple of weeks later, Cara was named the 2019-20 Michigan Teacher of the Year. Read her captivating column on page 9, and get the details on her MTOY appointment on page 29. Not long after Cara agreed to write the op-ed, I was interviewing Waverly High School history teacher Robert Lurie for what became this issue’s cover story starting on page 13. After 35 years of extraordinary dedication to students, Robert still excitedly talks about the future of education. “I hear my colleagues saying, ‘I would never advise anybody to go into teaching,’ and I’m the opposite,” Robert told me. “I think things are going to change radically, and we need to have really good people in the profession and give them time and space to be innovative.” I’ve written before about my struggles deciding what to say to my daughter Carmen, now a rising junior at Eastern Michigan University who has expressed interest in teaching. Like you, as a high school English teacher I witnessed too much destruction raining down on public education over the past decade or two. But here in the space of a few weeks, two people I admire—unconnected to each other and one I’d just met—had sent me the same message. It echoed in my head, and I knew they were right. Teaching is rewarding and meaningful and much too vital to let the destroyers win. I had another talk with Carmen after meeting Robert, whose own daughter is a dynamic educator in St. Louis, Missouri. Neither Robert nor Cara is unaware of the problems facing educators today which mostly result from punitive top-down policymaking from politicians. But I told Carmen about the many resilient educators I happened to be meeting and listening to at the time—committed people doing smart, unheralded work every day and showing up time and again to fight for public education who are featured in this issue from first page to last. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again. What a privilege it is to do this work as MEA Voice editor. My only wish is that I had more time and space to tell your amazing story. 


—Brenda Ortega, editor

“There needs to be someone who champions this.” MEA member Mallory Rivard, a first-grade teacher in Saginaw crowned Miss Michigan in June, whose platform focuses on literacy issues and the importance of giving schools the tools and resources they need to ensure student success in the classroom.


Number of Michigan third graders who would have faced retention, based on spring 2018 M-STEP data, under cut scores adopted by the Michigan Department of Education in May. The cut scores will determine which youngsters are retained under the third grade reading law starting in fall 2020.


“My response has been to become active.” MEA member Maureen Horan, a Walled Lake English teacher, who says attacks on school employees and public education in recent years led her to become more involved in her union. Read her story at mea.org/a-message-from-amid-career-teacher-in-michigan.


ICYMI In June USA Today released a first-of-its-kind analysis of data from across the country showing nationwide disparities between teacher pay and costs of living. “New teachers can’t afford the median rent almost anywhere in the U.S, the analysis shows—a point often made during recent teacher strikes across the country,” the newspaper noted. MEA member Brady Crites personifies the problem; the German teacher from Rochester can’t afford to live where he teaches. Instead the 26-year-old lives with three roommates in Ferndale, a 50-minute commute away. Read his story at mea.org/ teaching-shouldnt-require-financial-martyrdom.

The MEA Public Affairs Department received national recognition at the 2019 State Education Association Communicators awards: Award of Excellence for Photography������������������������������������Miriam Garcia, “Therapy Dogs Build Special Bonds” Award of Excellence for Opinion/Editorial Writing��������������� Brenda Ortega, “The Cheap Shot I Never Forgot” Award of Excellence for Investigative/Analytical Reporting ����Brenda Ortega, “New Seclusion and Restraint  Law Creates Challenges”

Above and Beyond Matt Cottone, a sixth-grade World Studies teacher at Van Hoosen Middle School in Rochester, has been selected as a 2020 NEA Foundation Global Learning Fellow. As a fellow, Cottone will spend a year in a peer learning network of 44 educators from across the country building their comprehension of issues of global significance and their ability to bring that knowledge into the classroom. For Cottone, the experience will not be new; he has been on six sponsored international trips in the last six years. “I can’t stress enough how humbled I’ve been to meet some of the most incredible people on these fellowships,” Cottone said. He calls it his personal mission to bring the world to his students. Over the course of the next year, the NEA Global Learning Fellows will immerse themselves in online coursework, webinars and collegial study, including a two-day professional development workshop this fall and a nine-day international field study next summer in Peru. The program is sponsored by the NEA Foundation. Read more about global education in this month’s cover story on page 13, and learn tips from Cottone for winning grants and fellowships to travel the world as a teacher on page 14. MEA VOICE  5



Labor Day Statewide MEA and AFT Michigan members will come together at parades and events across the state to celebrate our #RedForEd solidarity.


Higher Education Conference MEA Headquarters, East Lansing The conference features sessions covering trends in online learning, intellectual property, higher education funding, member engagement, bargaining, and strategies to help higher education leaders strengthen their local associations.


MEA Winter Conference Marriott Renaissance Center, Detroit Save the date for MEA’s biggest conference of the year, featuring training in bargaining, organizing, member advocacy, political action, communications, and more.

MARCH 13-14

Prepare for Smart Savings Doing back-to-school shopping? Now through October 29, members who have signed up for MEA’s member discount program at Staples can receive an additional 5 percent off of every purchase on top of already big savings. When you order online through your StaplesAdvantage.com account, the 5 percent discount will automatically apply at check out. Thanks to the collective purchasing power of MEA’s members, we’ve negotiated big discounts on the supplies you need for your home and classroom. Thousands of registered MEA members receive an average discount of 30 percent on their purchases every time they shop. You can save on the hundreds of dollars per year you spend on supplies, either by shopping online at StaplesAdvantage.com or visiting your local Staples location. Shop online to receive the additional 5 percent discount through Oct. 29. Register now to start saving by logging into the MEA Members‑Only area at mea.org/members-only.

ESP Conference MEA Headquarters, East Lansing Education support professionals will gather to network and train on topics such as legal issues, ESP certification, privatization, school violence, and member engagement.

New Hires Must Choose or Default on Retirement Plans


New hires can choose between the Defined Contribution (DC) plan and the Pension Plus 2 Plan, under changes made by the Legislature in 2017.

AEM Conference MEA Headquarters, East Lansing Aspiring Educators of Michigan will gather from universities across the state for training sessions that cover legal professional and personal issues affecting education and school employees.

Did you know? Newly hired school employees in Michigan must make a choice between two retirement plan choices within 75 days after their first payroll date—or the state will choose for them.

Because too many new hires are defaulting on this important choice, MEA is looking for ways to partner with the state Office of Retirement Services to advocate for new hires to make informed, active elections on their retirement options. According to MEA Retirement Consultant Paul Helder, a new hire who does not make a choice within the 75-day window defaults into the DC plan, similar to a 401k, which is better for those who leave public school employment between 2-10 years after hire. The design of the Pension Plus 2 plan is focused on career employees who stay 10 or more years. Contact your local MEA field office for more information.



#RedForEd Rally: ‘We have to keep going’

Center Line math teacher Robert Boccomino retired on June 14 after a 25-year career in education, but that didn’t stop him from showing up at the Michigan Capitol four days later to fight for the future of new and aspiring educators coming up behind him. “I’m doing this for the younger teachers, because now by the time that first certificate is up for renewal—within the first six years— we lose 40 percent of our young teachers,” he said. “They just don’t renew the certificate, and they walk away from a career, which is sad.” Joined by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, and several teachers-turned-lawmakers, more than 3,000 educators, students, parents, and other allies showed up for two June #RedForEd rallies in Lansing to press the state Legislature to pass the governor’s proposed $507 million funding increase for public education. As of press time for this magazine, it appeared the fight was not over yet— the Republican-led Legislature took a summer break without passing a budget. Contact your lawmakers, en-

courage your community members to do the same, and stay tuned to mea.org/redfored for updates. A comprehensive recent study showed Michigan students are being shortchanged by $2,000 per pupil, MEA President Paula Herbart said. “Part of being a great educator is using your voice to speak up for all students so they can share in the opportunity of a great public education.”

career technical education, and atrisk students. In addition, the governor wants to increase the number of residents who hold post-secondary degrees or skills certification by funding programs to retrain adult workers and to guarantee two years of debt-free community college or university for qualifying students starting in 2021.

Tracy Zarei-King, an MEA member from Kalamazoo, said she was glad she attended her first Capitol rally after seven years of teaching elementary school. “If our goal is to be a top 10 state in 10 years, how do we do that without the proper funding?”

MEA members have been speaking with parents, community leaders, and legislators to create a coalition for change. Thousands of #RedForEd postcards were written and delivered to legislative offices. Many rally participants concluded the day by lobbying their legislators.

Today Michigan’s starting teacher salaries rank 32nd in the nation. Class size ratios, support for higher education, and K-12 spending increases rank among the bottom of all 50 states.

Two colleagues from Midland, language teachers Ana Geib and Amy Rankin, brought their pre-teen daughters to the rally and later went inside the Capitol to leave notes for their representative.

Whitmer’s budget would boost K-12 education spending by $507 million to increase per-pupil allowances across the board but also to implement a “weighted formula” that allocates additional money to cover added costs of special education,

“We have to do it,” Rankin said. “We can’t give up. We have to keep going. We have to be here and make our voices heard for that change to happen. If we do nothing, then nothing gets better.”

Read more and view photos from the rallies on pages 17-20. MEA VOICE  7

MESSA’s 2019 Wellness Conference set for Sept. 27 MESSA’s worksite wellness conference When: Sept. 27, 2019, 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Where: Eagle Eye Banquet Center, 15500 Chandler Road in Bath Township Cost: This event is free for MESSA members and space is limited More info and registration: messa.org/wellness

Registration is open for the free conference, set for Sept. 27 at Eagle Eye Banquet Center in Bath Township near East Lansing. Space is limited, so be sure to register soon. This is an ideal event for MESSA members interested in starting a worksite wellness program or those with an existing program that could use a boost of energy.

From mindfulness to fitness to superfoods, MESSA’s Worksite Wellness Conference focuses on the three keys needed for well-being at work and at home.

Rhonda Jones, a registered nurse and MESSA’s health promotions consultant, will equip attendees with the tools and support needed to create an effective program to keep MESSA members engaged and moving toward a healthier lifestyle.

Rhonda Jones

Richard Sears


Keynote sessions include: Mindfulness in the Workplace Clinical psychologist Richard Sears will explain how to use mindfulness to enhance your interpersonal relationships, reduce stress, and improve your effectiveness and well-being. A Culinary Experience with Superfood Chef & Dietitian Superfoods chef Kristen Brogan, a dietitian and author, will delve into how to develop a lifestyle that blends mindful eating, moving and living by building lasting habits. This event is free for MESSA members.

Kristen Brogan


I will never stop loving/ recommending/fighting for my profession. “I know there’s been a lot of advice against going into education these days, but I have to say I feel a little sorry for people who don’t get to hang out with teenagers on a regular basis. They are lovely & funny & life‑renewing & WORTH IT.”

Cara Lougheed Michigan Teacher of the Year 2019-20

Teenagers are the best. They are my people. On my most frustrating days, (which, let’s be honest, are usually caused by the actions or inaction of adults), my students are what center and sustain me.

time with teenagers, I simply don’t anymore. When I’m in my classroom with “my” kids, the other stuff just doesn’t matter as much. This is what it feels like to do meaningful work. Don’t get me wrong, though, I am not one of those “close your door and teach” types. I am interested in what goes on around my classroom, as well as in it. My work friends and I check in on each other regularly, and I don’t avoid the teachers’ lounge (I laugh harder there than almost anywhere else). It’s hard to survive this job in isolation, and frankly, people who isolate themselves too much don’t make it. We need each other, now more than ever.

You know those mornings where everything just seems to be going wrong? The coffee maker didn’t start, your alarm didn’t go off, the pants you wanted to wear are dirty, and/ or your own children have forgotten they needed a permission slip signed and can’t find their shoes? Well for me, on those days I may start first hour (at 7:30 a.m.) feeling frustrated and annoyed, but after just a little

Look, I would never presume to tell anyone what to do with his/her life. Nor would I insult my colleagues around this state by pretending this job is all rainbows and sunshine every day. Teacher pay, especially in urban and rural areas, is embarrassingly low, and funding across the state must be made equitable. The entire profession must be elevated, and teachers given back autonomy

We all have that one teacher friend who can talk us into anything, right? A few months ago my teacher bestie once again talked me into chaperoning the Student Council State Conference with her (which honestly didn’t really take much arm-twisting—it’s pretty fun), which is what prompted me to post/tweet the statement above. I stand by it.

and respect. These are real and distinct issues that cannot be ignored by our elected representatives any longer. But for me, each day it comes back to this: If not me, then who? I know I am good for kids, and they are good for me. I also know that confident, supported, economically secure teachers are better for kids. If you are reading this and considering a career in education, I say go for it. If you truly love kids, and are willing to work hard for them and for each other, we need you. And if you are a teacher reading this and doubting yourself, that just means you’re doing it right. You matter. Your work matters, and those kids need you to fight for them by fighting for your profession. No one ever tried to tell me that teaching would be easy (and thank goodness for them because if someone had we would be having some serious words), but what I always believed is that even though it wouldn’t be easy, or make me rich or famous, it would always be worth it. And I’ve never been disappointed.

Read more about Cara Lougheed, Michigan’s newest Teacher of the Year, on page 29. MEA VOICE  9


Amid Benchmarks and Cut Scores, MEA Project Spreads Reading Love By Brenda Ortega MEA Voice Editor

It was nearing the last day of school in June, and second graders in MEA member Sally Howell’s Saginaw-area classroom patiently awaited a special unveiling. With their classroom full of dignitaries and unfamiliar visitors, the youngsters listened patiently as various speakers talked excitedly of what was about to happen and why. Bridgeport-Spaulding Superintendent Mark Whelton was one of the adults setting the hook in dramatic tones: “This is about reading and reading a lot and nobody putting rules on you. This is about reading because you love reading books that you want to read.” When Whelton paused, one little boy filled the void. “Can we open the books now?” A few minutes later, as the children screamed and cheered, Howell tore away a white sheet of butcher paper covering the front of a new bookshelf fitted with shiny plastic tubs full of hundreds of brand new books next to a new flexible seating area. That moment represented the culmination of months of planning by MEA lobbyist Dr. David Michelson, who has adopted the idea of classroom libraries as a passion project he hopes to spread to additional disadvantaged school districts. 10  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019

Under Michelson’s plan, Howell’s classroom was the first of six to receive 700 books valued at $1,700, along with a new bookshelf to house them, at no cost to the school or MEA. All costs are picked up by community sponsors and Scholastic in coordination with local legislators. In Bridgeport, the library was funded by global auto parts supplier Nexteer with bipartisan help from area legislators, Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) and Rep. Vanessa Guerra (D-Saginaw). MEA UniServ Director Sue Rutherford assisted in all aspects of implementation. “These kids are the future of our businesses and our communities, and any way that we can help better their education or their reading is very important to our company,” said Adam Root, Nexteer’s community relations coordinator. For his part, Sen. Horn said he has been reading about different approaches to literacy, most recently an authoritative volume by renowned literacy expert and high school teacher Kelly Gallagher, Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. “If we can get kids beyond the superficial, where they dive deeply because they’re engaged, then we can facilitate real growth,” said the Republican chair of the Senate Eco-

nomic and Small Business Development Committee. The idea behind giving kids easy access to a wide range of books in the classroom is to encourage them to pick up a book by choice and discover the joy of reading. Students select books to enjoy, learn from, and share—but not to take tests or complete assignments. “Back in the old days, when I was in school, we didn’t read to take a test on it; it was silent reading time,” Howell said as she watched her students happily sorting through selections from the shelves after the unveiling. “We’re bringing that back—reading for enjoyment.” All of the MEA member teachers selected to participate in the pilot project also receive a book to help them understand how to operate a classroom library to spark students’ interest in reading—Game Changer! Book Access for All Kids, published last November by Scholastic. Game Changer! is co-authored by MEA member Colby Sharp, a nationally recognized literacy expert and sought-after conference presenter who is a fifth-grade teacher in Jackson County, and Donalyn Miller, best-selling author of The Book Whisperer. “I can have all the books in the world, but if I don’t know how to run a


MEA member and Scholastic author Colby Sharp discusses the project with MEA lobbyist Dr. David Michelson.

classroom library and how to do workshop and get kids reading, the books are just going to collect dust,” said Sharp, who consulted with Michelson on the pilot project. Thanks to Michelson, Sharp’s book has also made its way to the desks of numerous state legislators in recent months. Michelson’s project blossomed against the backdrop of the state’s third grade reading law and looming threat of retention for third graders who do not achieve a designated cut score on the M-STEP language arts test next spring. “For so long, the state’s way of dealing with low-performing schools has been to penalize them,” Michelson said. “I thought instead why not bring in resources and call everybody’s attention to the power of classroom libraries and independent reading?” More typically seen roaming the halls of the Capitol than working a crowd of seven-year-olds, Michelson developed his vision of piloting a literacy project in Michigan with encouragement from his daughter Robin Simmons, a seventh-grade teacher in South Dakota who uses Sharp’s strategies. Along with other family and friends, Michelson had been donating to

Sally Howell unveils 700 new books in her Saginaw-area classroom library.

Robin’s classroom library for years when she gave him a copy of Sharp’s Game Changer! book and told him to read it. “I couldn’t put it down,” Michelson said. “I was so taken by the concept of literary deserts.” As Sharp explains systemic scarcity, children from high-poverty areas are less likely to live in homes with 100 books or more or to attend schools with rich library collections. Research shows that kids surrounded by books are more likely to succeed at reading than those who are not. “We have a poverty issue more than anything,” Sharp said. “If we continue to have these book deserts, it doesn’t matter what interventions we put in place, we’ll always be playing catch-up. Maybe we even get them to a third-grade level, but do we really get them to become a reader?” Michelson’s dream with the pilot project would be to eventually get

the state and community partners to fund classroom libraries in every K-3 classroom in the lowest-performing districts and training for teachers on how to run it. “No politics involved, it’s just a great project to get the attention of legislators toward what reading should be, instead of laws focused on retention with only minimal support to go along with it.” Meanwhile, he continues to lobby the Legislature to fix the third grade reading law based on feedback he received at several focus groups he conducted with MEA member elementary teachers in the past 18 months. Educators say they want less testing draining time away from instruction, less time taken up by needless paperwork, smaller class sizes, and more classroom resources.

New Series—My View Turn the page to meet third-grade teacher Nicole Droscha from Mason Public Schools. She will be writing a series of articles this school year examining effects of Michigan’s third grade reading law as a controversial retention mandate kicks in. Nicole hopes to empower other educators to share their stories and be inspired to work together to improve our educational system. MEA VOICE  11

One—The Courage of a Teacher “We are a team, we stick together. We are here to help everyone learn and grow in our classroom.” I can still hear those words being spoken by my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Frank, nearly 34 years ago. She had no idea how powerful her words would be and how they would shape my view of education.

I heard in her voice and saw in her actions that everyone would be a valued member of our classroom team and have access to an excellent education, no matter their socioeconomic status, color of their skin, religious beliefs, ability level, or gender. Mrs. Frank was discussing how one little boy, who had special needs, wasn’t feeling like he fit in with us. His family was considering leaving our school. My heart broke for him. I couldn’t imagine not loving school! To me, school was the safest and happiest place to be. She spoke about the 12  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019

power of befriending someone who is different and standing up for others even when it meant sacrificing something for yourself. I knew she was right. I decided to reach out and become his friend, even though it cost me some friendships along the way. I also heard in those words a calling on my life to become what I thought would be the greatest, most fulfilling thing I could become: a teacher. What I didn’t know then was how much courage and dedication this choice would require. Almost 18 years into my own teaching career in the district where I grew up and was inspired to become a teacher, my mission every day is to encourage and uplift each of my students and colleagues. However, this has become increasingly difficult to do with all that weighs on our education system and on teachers. With the flurry of deadlines, meetings, new technology, new curriculum, new standards, new tests, and increasing demands for higher test scores, a faster pace, and more accountability for schools and teachers, making time to encourage others is almost impossible. This school year I will be writing about what it is like to be a thirdgrade teacher in Michigan during a very turbulent time in education.

Nicole Droscha Third-grade teacher Mason Public Schools

I hope that by sharing my story other educators will not feel so alone in their struggles trying to be the best educator they can be. We have been delegated the mighty task of meeting every student’s needs no matter their level, monitoring and addressing their behavior issues, while trying to meet rigorous state standards at a hectic pace using high-stakes testing. Yet our voices have been almost eliminated from discussions surrounding policies that directly impact our classrooms, which are the learning environments for our students. We are a team. It truly takes a village to help each student—and educator—be successful, let’s work together. We cannot be afraid to ask for the support we need to help our students and each other. Advocating for our needs as educators is advocating for the needs of our students.


Leaving a Global Legacy Lessons from a beloved educator

By Brenda Ortega MEA Voice Editor

MEA member Robert Lurie feels a special connection to Anne Frank, the Jewish teenager whose diary became a classic of world literature after she perished in the Holocaust. Lurie’s father was a Jewish American soldier who fought in World War II to liberate Anne and others, and his 90-year-old mother was born three months to the day before Anne. His parents, both social activists, encouraged him to pursue human rights work focused on education. A beloved Lansing Waverly High School history teacher, instructional coach, and longtime track and cross country coach, Lurie said he thinks of those personal connections to Anne Frank as “part of the plan that was meant for me, kind of my legacy and the foundation of what I do.” He has spent nearly four decades educating students about world history, cultures, and issues in ways that promote understanding and engagement in educational and humanitarian causes across the globe, including India, Nicaragua, Rwanda, Europe, and elsewhere.

“Although Anne’s voice was silenced prematurely, over the last 35 years, quietly, in my school and community, I have persistently used my voice to inspire thousands of students to use theirs,” Lurie wrote last year in an essay about his teaching philosophy. Lurie has received national recognition for his work. In June he was honored with the Spirit of Anne Frank Award as National Teacher of the Year by the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. “The education that Robert delivers to students is not just reading out of a book but applying what is learned so the world makes sense,” Principal Chris Huff said. “It really is a model for the rest of our country, particularly when you see some of the things that are happening in the news.” Lurie’s personal journey from a childhood in Milwaukee joining civil rights marches with his parents intertwines with a professional journey toward global education in which he asks students to grapple with “the one unanswerable question”:

How can people do things to other people that are inherently abhorrent and wrong? “Part of my personal journey has been trying to answer that question, which has taken me to Auschwitz and Majdanek, to Treblinka and the Warsaw Ghetto, Sachsenhausen, Dachau and the Anne Frank house. Last summer it’s taken me to mass graves in Rwanda.” In Lurie’s year-long sophomore world history class, finding a specific answer is not the point. “There is no answer, but if we don’t ever ask the question, then things that shouldn’t happen will continue to happen. Ultimately, we are accountable for things that happen individually and collectively. Social studies education is about preparing citizens.” His own extensive physical and intellectual travels have shaped Lurie into a revered educator known as much for his gentle spirit and caring relationships with others as for his inspired approach to enlightening and empowering students. MEA VOICE  13


Huff counts Lurie among his professional mentors since starting his career 18 years ago as a social studies teacher at the school. Lurie’s passion and perspective have rubbed off on students and staff alike, he said. “At Waverly we have many different languages and clothing styles and every single slice of society under one roof. Because of efforts like Robert’s, our kids have embraced diversity and embraced the global perspective. That’s our strength, and it’s become our reputation in the area that the culture of our school is remarkable in how well our students get along.” Lurie says the students of today bring him hope. “I have so much optimism,” he said. “I look at our students and think, Wow. There’s some things that we

can all complain about, I suppose. But I look at these kids and think, The social issues that older people are hung up on, they don’t care about. These kids just see people as human beings, and I think the solutions they come to will be more efficient because they won’t get tripped up by all these extra hurdles.” And teaching kids how to find solutions to big issues—through critical thinking, communication, conflict resolution, and collaboration—is what Lurie’s work is all about. In his view, it begins with exposing students to unforgettable experiences through travel and human connection. Every two years, Waverly students and faculty take an international trip. In the last five years, Lurie has accompanied tours of World War II

Travel for Teachers 14  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019

and Holocaust sites. “Some of the most poignant conversations I’ve had with kids have been at Auschwitz and the Anne Frank house,” he said. His students have met or spoken with a wide range of “good at heart” figures, ranging from the grandson of Mohandas Gandhi; to Carl Wilkens, the only American witness to the Rwandan genocide and author of I’m Not Leaving; South African cleric and activist Desmond Tutu; and Lurie’s niece doing relief work for detained immigrants on the U.S. southern border. He regularly brings in visitors from around the world—including friends he has met in his travels—for in-person and Skyped visits that bring book learning alive and draw teenagers into important conversations.


“These kids are no longer just citizens of Lansing or Michigan; they’re global citizens, and they’re going to be working on global problems. They’re going to be our leaders, running our communities, and they need to be well-prepared for that.”

“Our kids were so energized by those three hours of that town hall meeting. They just need the microphone, right? Giving kids the space to use their voices is critical. It’s critical.”

Given opportunities to interact with the world, students will engage in meaningful new ways, Lurie says, pointing as an example to a student-led Town Hall organized at Waverly in the wake of the February 2018 school massacre in Parkland, Florida.

One of those students, 2019 Waverly graduate Reilly Farr, as a junior led the Town Hall effort and a student walkout and protest with Lurie’s assistance. She has traveled on two historical group tours to Europe with her mentor and says of him: “Mr. Lurie showed me my voice.”

Students invited lawmakers, youth activists, and community leaders to participate in the forum exploring the gun debate and how young people can ensure their voices are heard on issues of importance to

MEA member Matt Cottone has been on a roll lately, and he wants other educators to know they can be lucky too. The NEA Foundation announced in June that Cottone—a sixth-grade World Studies teacher in Rochester— has been selected as a NEA Global Learning Fellow for a one-year course of study and a nine-day field study in Peru next summer. That selection capped a remarkable six-year run in which Cottone has been chosen to participate in six sponsored international trips intended for teachers to expand their knowledge and practice. This summer he studied the Holocaust with the Echoes and Reflections program in Jerusalem. Before 2015, he had never traveled outside of North America. “Seeing

them. The event was covered by local news media.

“There is diversity, excellence, culture, and opportunity that exists all around; Mr. Lurie taught me to appreciate and explore what exists, here, now, and build relationships on

the basis of growth, curiosity, and a mindset free of limitations.” Read the touching essay Farr wrote in answer to the question, “How has Mr. Lurie influenced your life?” at mea.org/my-voice. In addition to mentoring students, part of Lurie’s job is to be an instructional leader in his department. The position frees time each day to help develop department and schoolwide projects and help younger teachers explore new ways to build students’ global competencies. “Our goal is to provide opportunities here that students can’t get at other schools,” Lurie said. He speaks excitedly of a program starting this fall through a collaborative effort in which students will work as interns at the Capitol during

different cultures I’d always read and heard about has been a life-changing experience,” he said.

14 hours per application), Cottone has four pieces of advice for teachers who decide to make applications:

Common misconceptions often stop teachers from applying for paid travel opportunities, he says, including thinking that it’s too hard or only intended for social studies teachers. “They are for every type of teacher.”

u Find a program that fits your interests and will help your students.

Cottone has not gotten every fellowship he applied for—not even close. But exciting possibilities to bring more of the world to his students keep him going. “It has made me addicted!” he said. He does offer one warning: These trips are not vacations. “Generally the days start at 7 a.m. and end sometimes at 10 p.m. You’ll be very busy, but it will definitely be worth it.” Beyond being willing to put in the work to apply (he averages about

u Do some research on the program to tailor your answers. u Reread each question to be sure you address what is asked. u Don’t give up if you don’t get accepted the first time. Learn more about where Cottone has traveled and how to find travel opportunities for teachers at his educational travel blog, cottonetravel.weebly.com. Follow his travels on Twitter or Instagram at @cottoneglobal.



part of the day. The same team approach led to a new race and ethnic studies course that will involve a community service component. In addition, the department is connecting with “PeaceJam,” an international organization that links Nobel Peace Prize winners with students interested in learning how to make positive change in the world. Three early career educators at Waverly will coordinate the program.

In addition, he has completed numerous fellowships, including the U.S. State Department’s Teachers for Global Classrooms program, the Museum Teacher Fellowship program at the national Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.; and the Korea Society’s Summer Fellowship for Korean Studies. This summer he spent several weeks teaching and traveling in China.

He began taking advantage of sponsored international travel opportunities for Waverly history teacher Robert Lurie joined students in a teachers in 2009 after his March for Our Lives event at the Capitol in Lansing last And one of the most three daughters were grown, year, including juniors Reilly Farr (L) who wrote an essay eye-opening cultural crediting his wife Sara about her mentor at mea.org/my-voice, and Elaine Gregory. exchange programs at Lurie—CEO of Community Waverly happens close to Mental Health Authority of home, bringing students Clinton, Eaton & Ingham from the more diverse, Lurie says he has never taught a Counties—for her patience and urban school into contact with class the same way twice, and that’s understanding. teenagers from the more rural and as it should be: Given inadequate homogenous Ovid-Elsie school His wife joined him for the June trip time to cover every standard, teachdistrict just 30 miles to the north. to New York City to accept the Anne ers should be empowered to teach by Frank award at a ceremony that indrawing from deep stores of knowlLast year, Ovid-Elsie students enjoyed cluded a remembrance for victims of edge, experiences, and expertise. a global festival at Waverly, while the hate crimes, including deadly shootLansing students toured a dairy farm Standardization—of tests, data, ings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and during their exchange visit—“exteachers’ work, their evaluations—is a church in South Carolina. posing kids to things outside their not the way forward, Lurie says. The comfort zone, which is exactly what The experience of winning an award future of education will involve varwe need to do,” Lurie noted. bearing the name of Anne Frank— ied pathways for students to pursue the girl who is his inspiration and a and focus more on skills than conHe decries a push in recent years worldwide symbol of compassion tent. “The political winds are blowing to force schools to become more and hope—has been emotional. in that direction,” he believes. like assembly lines with teachers given scripted curricula to recite and He never expected to receive speTo be part of facilitating that moveexpected to align their lessons to cial recognition for doing the only ment in a broader scope, Lurie the same content on the same day. work he ever wanted to do, being a also works part-time as a session Over-legislating by lawmakers stranteacher and following in the footdirector of LATTICE (Linking All gles creative approaches, he said. steps of those who influenced him, Types of Teachers to InternationLurie says. al Cross-cultural Education), a “As teachers we should be standing non-profit professional learning up and rebelling as much as we can, “I feel kind of like I’m carrying the community of mid-Michigan K-12 because we know that’s not what flag for lots of outstanding educators educators and professors and inis best for our kids. Give profesand people that have supported me. ternational graduate students from sionals the space to create and be Whatever humbled times a thousand Michigan State University. innovative.” is, that’s kind of how I feel.” 16  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019


“Fund our schools! Fund our schools!” Thousands of public school supporters from across the state repeatedly broke into thunderous chants accompanied by banging noise makers and waving homemade signs at two June

#RedForEd rallies at the Capitol to press for adequate state funding of public education. In these pages, soak up some inspiration and resolve to join the fight!

At press time for this magazine, it appeared the battle was not over— the Republican-led Legislature took a summer break without passing a budget despite a looming Oct. 1 deadline.

#RedForEd: A Movement, Not a Moment The theme of his speech was “lessons I’ve learned from my students,” so it was fitting that MEA member Greg Talberg grabbed a selfie before addressing nearly 2,000 attendees at the June 18 MEA and AFT Michigan rally for public education funding. Then the 22-year veteran of Howell Public Schools made one simple request of the crowd which serves as an answer to the question, “What’s next?” Here is an excerpt: “Our students face so many challenges today. Attending fully funded public schools should not be one of them. “We ask kids to learn complex concepts even while hungry, so we should fund our schools. “We ask them to be kind to one another even in a world that’s full of discrimination and prejudice, so we should fund our schools. “We ask them to plan carefully for the future in a world that we know is changing on them moment by moment, so we should fund our schools. “We ask them to practice running, hiding, and fighting from a potential threat, so we should fund our schools. “I’m going to close with one brief request… that you go back to your home districts, and you talk to your neighbors, and you encourage them—just like you’re doing—to demand that our schools are fully funded.”

Recently appointed to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Educator Advisory Council, Talberg teaches AP psychology, U.S. government, social issues, and sociology. MEA VOICE  17

“This Red for Ed wave is catching fire because the public knows we’re telling the truth. They know that we love their kids and that this is about more than a little raise in our paychecks, though Lord knows we deserve it. This is about saying we need the paraprofessionals, we need the bus drivers, we need the counselors, we need the school nurse, we need the librarian! We need the family of educators who love our children.” NEA President Lily Eskelsen García

“Educators are struggling to make ends meet. Yet without them we have no doctors, lawyers, electricians, etcetera.” Farmington paraeducator and local president Robert Gaines III

“You’re asking firefighters to fight a fire without a truck, without hoses. When you ask teachers to teach without tools, they burn out.” Newly retired Center Line teacher Robert Boccomino

“This state still has not recovered from the $1.4 billion in cuts to education from 2010. It’s beyond urgent. We passed urgent a while ago.” Ann Arbor teacher Jennifer Garcia

“Our outcomes and our challenges are because of a failure in this building behind me—not because of our children and not because of our educators.” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

“As educators, to support our students, we’ve been continually told to do more with less, do stuff for free. Our kids are suffering, I’m working harder and harder every year, and I just want help.”

Plymouth-Canton teacher Lindsey Pignatiello

“I work with first-generation college students who are hungry both for food and for educational opportunities that will help them fulfill their dreams.” Lansing Community College counselor Curlada Eure-Harris

“Four studies in three years by some of the best researchers in the country have come to the same conclusion: We underfund our children’s education. That’s fact.” Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice

“You know the mountain is going to be high and it’s going to be steep, but we’re ready. We’re going to climb.” Haslett teacher Ben Pineda, appointee to governor’s Educator Advisory Council

“I care so much about public education, but it’s hard coming in because I don’t know if I can make enough money to live independently.” Recent Central Michigan University graduate Gabriel Buttazzoni


“It might be easy to ignore one voice, but it’s very difficult to ignore hundreds of voices. How many kids do we interact with? How many families know who we are? Our voices matter.” Midland science teacher and president Mark Hackbarth

“I haven’t come to Lansing before, but I’m definitely coming back if that’s what it takes. We do one of the single most important jobs in the country, and we’re looking for respect for our profession.” Gull Lake teacher and co-president Randy Walbridge

Contact your lawmakers, encourage others in your community to do the same, and stay tuned to mea.org/redfored for updates. Better yet—sign up to receive MEA’s legislative e-newsletter, Capitol Comments, at mea.org/signup, and get updates delivered to your mailbox.



Innovation. It’s not about perfection, and it doesn’t move in a straight line. But it’s what we do as educators—always developing new ways to reach and teach our students. Given the freedom to try a different approach, we learn what works and what doesn’t and constantly hone our practice to prepare the kids we serve to thrive in a changing world. We build and shape the future despite too many mandates and not enough funding. We fight the

strictures of standardized tests to provide skills, hope, and opportunity to the young people who walk through our doors each day.

you know does innovative work that deserves attention, email MEA Voice editor Brenda Ortega at bortega@mea.org.

We do not do this work because it’s easy. We aspire and struggle and succeed and fail and try again and keep coming back because it matters to our children, our communities, and our society.

This month we feature two of the 10 MEA members who belong to the first two cohorts of the Innovative Educator Corps, a new state grant program.

In this occasional new series of stories, read about colleagues crafting, retooling and collaborating to advance their practice and profession. If you or a member

No one knows how to deliver what our students need better than we do. We are MEA. We are public educators. We are the innovators.

The Michigan Department of Education has developed a new Innovative Educator Corps for Michigan teachers who employ an innovative educational program, methodology, or strategy to help prepare their students for future career success. Each accepted educator receives a $5,000 grant and additional $5,000 stipend for up to three years to cover expenses related to replicating, disseminating or expanding the innovative program. Learn more at tinyurl.com/InnovateMI.




A ‘Menu’ for Learning and Engagement William Renner knows technology evolves at about a three-year rate, so the goal in his middle school computer science classes is not for students to learn the ins and outs of any particular software. Instead, “I want to teach them how to figure out the software,” he says. That distinction may sound like semantics, but it’s central to the MEA member’s teaching philosophy. Renner has made project-based problem solving the central components of his elective course for seventh and eighth graders at Hastings Middle School. Even more—already a huge proponent of student choice—he is evolving his practice toward a “menu classroom.” “The menu classroom is where students come in and—just like when you go to a restaurant—they have a menu that gives them options to

pick what they’re going to do to foster their learning,” said Renner, who taught math in Battle Creek for nine years before starting in Hastings five years ago. Call it differentiation or organized chaos—Renner calls it both—but on many days students in the same class period will be coding bots, programming virtual worlds, rebuilding equipment they’ve torn apart, creating and editing video, and more. “All of them are getting to the same skills, but each one is getting there a little bit differently.” Whatever it’s called, the students are engaged. “I don’t think I’ve written a referral this semester,” he said during a classroom tour just a few days from the end of school in June. Renner’s approach has earned him a place in the state’s new Innovative

Educator Corps, which provides a $5,000 grant and $5,000 stipend— renewable for up to two years—to educators seeking to expand and

Students in William Renner’s computer science classes learn how to program computers and bots.



Renner believes virtual and augmented reality, in addition to drones and 3-D design, will bring many types of jobs in the future. His students have a variety of ways to demonstrate learning.

extend programs that help students become ready for future careers. Renner is using his state grant money to purchase hardware to allow his students to work with drone technology, advanced robots, and virtual and augmented reality. “I wanted to provide my students with more opportunities to figure things out, and I wanted to bring in more hardware that would allow for career connection.” Every project ends with a reflection in which students connect the skills they learned with jobs aligned to them, which often requires additional research. “We want our eighth graders entering high school already thinking about career paths,” he said. First he has to get them comfortable with making decisions about their own learning: what project to do, which technology to use, where to find help, or how to troubleshoot difficulty. The problem-solving he expects from students is a big change for them, he says. “It’s a fine line between giving them the support to figure it out on their own and giving them so much support that you’re undoing your end goal of having them learn how to advocate for themselves,” he said.

Students work through skill-building exercises at their own pace through the 21Things4Students.net website, in addition to completing group projects such as the “cardboard challenge” (started by a California boy who built an arcade from cardboard) and choosing an open-ended problem to design a solution for. The struggle pays off in deeper engagement and motivation, he says. This summer for the first time the excitement extended beyond the school year with a free four-week half-days STEM summer camp for 30 middle schoolers headed by Renner. The partnership with his alma mater, Western Michigan University, included four field trips and lots of fun science, engineering and math activities. “It’s something that’s never been offered here before to help with summer slide and give these kids access to high-quality summer experiences they might not otherwise have.” Nearly 40 percent of students at Hastings Middle School qualify for free and reduced lunch. The city is not served by an expressway, and rural sections of the district do not have high-speed internet or reliable cellular service.

Renner has made it his mission to write successful grant applications to equip a state-of-the-art technology and computer science classroom. As of June, he had secured $23,000 in gifts and grants in just 18 months— excluding the latest one from the Michigan Department of Education. “Once you’re able to show your community ‘Hey, I want to do this, and here is what it means,’ most of my grants and gifts have come from local supporters.” His double-size classroom is half desktop computer lab and half maker space with flexible seating, a collaboration space, and four 3-D printers, among other gadgetry. This fall Renner starts his sixth year in Hastings with a new laser printer and sound-proof video booth with a “green screen” capability. His MDE stipend requires him to find ways to spread his innovative ideas beyond the four walls of his classroom. Renner plans to work with his digital and face-to-face learning networks in addition to developing a Google site with student-designed pages to share resources with others. “I love what I do. I love the support that I’ve been able to get. I love coming to work every day.” MEA VOICE  23



Learning to Work Toward a Vision MEA member Carrie Warning says she’s like a mother with her firstand second-year engineering and design students. She teaches and hand-holds the juniors but lets go with the returning seniors and takes a more hands-off approach. In fact, Warning employs a toughlove tactic with the older students at Genesee Career Institute in Flint, which draws students from high schools all over the county. She throws a lot of work at them in the beginning of the year, and “I let them fail a little bit.” Once students get frustrated, she helps them make plans and timelines. “It won’t be easy when they leave, especially if they go into engineering, so I try to play the middle ground between high school and college. I give them a taste of the stress and then work with them to see the light.”

Her strategy pays off. Between 80-90 percent of her seniors choose a career related to the class. “Most of them will go into a STEM career or something in manufacturing, and knowing I’ve helped build that interest is rewarding—stressful but rewarding,” she said. Warning’s goal in her engineering and computer-aided design (CAD) classes is to raise students’ awareness of the many and varied career possibilities in not only engineering but skilled trades. A big gap exists between industry jobs and the number of workers to fill them. “Engineering is hard to get into through all of the schooling, but I want kids to know if you don’t go with engineering, there are lots of choices available,” she said. “There’s skilled trades, technology positions, engineering technology. Tons of choices.”

To build student confidence and interest, Warning runs an inquiry-based classroom centered around projects, an approach she calls a “pseudo-flipped” classroom. Juniors in her first-year class move through required state standards within a designated time frame, given resources to learn material, pass quizzes, and demonstrate their learning through assigned projects.

Juniors in Carrie Warning’s engineering and design class planned and built a Rube Goldberg contraption to finish the school year. 24  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019

Seniors who return for a second year pursue their own learning and project goals based on career interests, in addition to developing a professional portfolio with resume and cover letter, participating in industry field visits, and acting as ambassadors of the program with visitors and elementary schoolchildren.


Carrie Warning spent 10 years working as an engineer before bringing her expertise to teaching students how to plan, execute, and troubleshoot design challenges.

For her innovative approach to preparing students for careers, Warning was among the first cohort of educators selected to be part of the Michigan Department of Education’s Innovative Educator Corps. The designation includes a $5,000 grant for program improvements and a $5,000 stipend to help spread her ideas to other educators. Both the grant and stipend are renewable for up to two additional years. Warning used the money to create a new four-day, all-day summer camp for middle schoolers called “Toolin’ Around,” featuring hands-on activities in construction trades, electrical wiring, electronics, CAD, 3-D printing, automotive, and welding—plus a field trip and team building. “My goal was to help spread the word about skilled trades and manufacturing jobs to younger kids before they got to the point in their high school career where they had little wiggle room in their schedules,” she said. In addition, a course she developed will be offered in EduPass—the Genesee Intermediate School District’s online professional development

portal—to provide other educators resources to replicate her strategies.

things apart and putting them back together is my favorite thing to do.”

Education is a second career for Warning. She began her professional life as an engineer who occasionally “got dragged into a training role.” She found she liked teaching others and after 10 years working in industry she made the full-time switch 11 years ago.

Bristol already knows what she will work on with a friend during the upcoming school year: an uncompleted group project from last year. Graduate Jacob Hermann was one of the seniors in an ambitious trio that tried to design and build a pedal cart from scratch, including headlights.

She loves working with young people of all ability levels, from kids who are taking AP calculus to those with special needs. Some students exit the classroom directly into work in the field, while some pursue apprenticeship programs. Others attend universities such as Kettering, Michigan Tech, MSU and U-M Flint.

Their design in the Inventor program came together, but the boys did not have enough time to 3-D print all of the parts and fully assemble the vehicle. “We learned a lot about time management and team work, but we also learned not to exaggerate what we could accomplish in the time frame we’re given,” Hermann said of the group’s effort.

“Others are like, ‘You know what? I’m going into business.’ OK, well, that’s a valuable lesson. You learned what you don’t want to be, and you didn’t spend any money to do it.” Incoming senior Ashlyn Bristol said she is returning for a second year to pursue her interest in mechanical and electrical engineering. “I like being hands-on,” she said. “Taking

It’s not a rare occurrence for students to not finish a project in time, Warning said. Typically it’s not a problem, she added. “It’s learning to have a vision and trying to work towards it. The end product doesn’t have to be a project; it’s really the learning that matters.”



SVSU Prof is National Higher Educator of the Year How to reduce student attrition is a topic of great interest to college administrators, but Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) Communication Professor Dr. David Schneider is on a mission to make it the concern of every instructor and professor as well. A longtime member and leader of MEA’s higher education branch, Michigan Association for Higher Education (MAHE), Schneider is known for his research challenging common assumptions about why students leave their colleges and universities. “There’s an old belief that students don’t do well in school so they bail out, and that may be true,” Schneider said, “but we’re also learning that they step out for reasons other than not being able to succeed academically.” First-year college students need to develop a sense of “attachment” to their college or university, Schneider has found—and faculty are perfectly positioned to help. The key is for students to become “activated,” both socially and academically, he says. “Faculty can identify the pathways where that will happen.” Entering his 34th year at SVSU, Schneider not only puts his research into practice in his own classes. He delivers his message at national conferences and encourages colleagues to better engage students in ways that strengthen their sense of belonging. For his student-centered approach to teaching and his union leadership at the local and state level, Schneider has been named NEA’s 2019 Higher 26  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019

Educator of the Year, a national honor he deemed a “humbling and moving experience.” “I’m just awestruck that my colleagues would think to nominate me, and deeply moved to be selected for the honor,” he said. Professionals who attend Schneider’s conference presentations are challenged to rethink their practices, said Dr. Colleen Pilgrim, a MAHE board member and Schoolcraft College professor who nominated him for the award. As a developmental psychologist, Pilgrim well understands the importance of early childhood attachment—emotional bonding with others—as a predictor of success later in life. But Schneider’s work extends the theory to the college experience. “I think he really is onto a key aspect that we should not overlook with our students in higher ed,” she said. “Parents often worry about whether their child has picked a major when really they ought to be more worried about how they feel about the school they are in.” As many as 50 percent of students at comprehensive universities like SVSU will not earn a certificate or degree within six years, research shows. The problem is not always academic preparation, according to Schneider’s research. One of the ways that Schneider helps SVSU students feel more closely bonded to their school is by connecting them to other students and to social groups on campus.


That could mean introducing new students interested in a particular major to other students who are attached to the major in some organized way. “Now they’re making friends in college who are interested in the same professional track.” If he recognizes a student has a particular skill or talent, Schneider might recommend trying an activity or role on campus. For example, he might steer a student who’s good at public speaking toward becoming an orientation leader for the next group of incoming students. In addition to finding social connections, new college students often need to be activated and plugged in academically, Schneider says. Many don’t understand how to develop time management or productive study skills or what it means to be “a self-regulated learner.” Every college campus offers a variety of academic support services, but the students who need it the most use it the least, he said. Faculty are in a position to promote the services and encourage students to use them. Many professors talk about student academic services at the beginning of a semester or term, but that might not be enough to motivate reluctant students to action. Sometimes it takes follow-up and individual encouragement. “There are other points in the semester where as a professor you’ve got their attention more, after you return the first assignment, or after the first test and they didn’t do so well, so it’s important to return to that message again.”

Professor David Schneider is known for his research into why students leave their colleges and universities. He argues faculty can help students develop a sense of belonging.

Students also lack awareness of a major pitfall for many—use of devices in class. “They underestimate the damage that unstructured use of personal technology has on their academic performance,” Schneider said. He addresses the subject headon without banning use of tablets, laptops, and notebooks in his classes. Instead, he bans phones and shares several different studies with students that show direct negative impacts of use of devices in class, “and it’s an eye opener for them.” In his classroom use policy, Schneider makes a distinction between using technology to consult the class website or use a digital textbook versus texting, scrolling through social media, or surfing the web. “For student success, we need to have a conversation with our students and we need to keep them engaged in that conversation. Just talking about it one time isn’t enough.” In addition to his leadership in the instructional arena, Schneider has been an effective labor advocate, “creating social awareness about the

critical role of organized labor,” Pilgrim wrote in her nomination letter. He has served as chief negotiator for his local since 1996, as president of his local and president and board member of MAHE. His goal has been to communicate a broader view of the union’s role beyond simply bargaining for wages and benefits. The union plays a significant role in negotiating areas of curriculum, instruction and research, Schneider said. At SVSU the union participates in “shared governance” that determines the quality of students’ experiences. Schneider was the second-ever winner of NEA’s Higher Educator of the Year award. Although he could not attend, he was honored in July at the NEA Representative Assembly in Houston, Texas. “Our honoree, David, exemplifies so much of what is best in our profession,” said DeWayne Sheaffer, president of the NEA National Council for Higher Education told more than 8,000 delegates to the assembly. “He’s a trailblazer, helping to challenge his peers.”



New MTOY: How Can I Help the Profession? Every Michigan Teacher of the Year brings personal passions to the role as spokesperson for the state’s educators. The state’s top teacher for 2019 sums up her mission in two words: professional revitalization. MEA member Cara Lougheed, an English teacher at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Community Schools, said as MTOY she will continue to do all she can to lift the profession so more great educators join its ranks. “We do a lot to take great care of kids, but if we’re not taking care of the adults there’s going to be no one to take care of the kids,” Lougheed said. The 20-year veteran began pursuing that passion in recent years through her appointment as a liaison at Oakland University, where she pairs student teachers with professional mentors from four schools in her district. Her work in the OU program led to Lougheed’s appointment to a “congress” of the state’s higher education administrators, professors, and education thought leaders who were developing a set of high-leverage core teaching practices that should be taught in teacher preparation programs. “These are the baseline of what every good teacher would need to be successful,” Lougheed said of the core practices now adopted and under implementation at several colleges and universities which are part of the Michigan Program Network. “They’re listening to us at the college level,” she said.

Rochester English teacher Cara Lougheed was named Michigan Teacher of the Year at a surprise school assembly in May.

On a smaller scale, Lougheed enjoys getting to know the new hires in her building and checking in on them periodically to make sure they’re OK. “I like going and finding out who the new person is. It’s hard being a new teacher in a new building.” Involvement in the union has also provided Lougheed opportunities to advocate for educators. She belongs to the MEA’s Communications Committee and serves as a Michigan delegate to the NEA Representative Assembly.

Her first love, of course, is being in the classroom. She loves spending her days with teenagers, and she wants every student to know she cares about them and likes them. “I’m not perfect at it, but I just want them all to know that they matter,” she said. “And I love finding new ways to engage them. The best thing is when you hear a kid say, ‘That was fun; this was a good day.’” The work can be heartbreaking, too, she noted. “But when it’s good, it’s so good.”

“A lot of my work is focused on how I can help the profession.” MEA VOICE  29


hand to give Lougheed a few words of wisdom. An elementary teacher and district instructional leader, Chang said her first piece of advice to Lougheed was to “slow down and enjoy the moment, because you will remember it for the rest of your life.” Once she gets her bearings, Lougheed should take advantage of every opportunity that comes along to represent teachers and students with policymakers at the state and national levels. The trajectory of her career has now changed, and she should accept and embrace it, Chang said.

Lougheed plans to use her MTOY platform to advocate for the profession.

She feels fortunate to work at a supportive school where she was a member of the founding faculty in 2000. Her colleagues are willing to help with everything, not just in terms of sharing content or lesson plans. “It’s also about things like I’m running late to my first hour and someone says, ‘Oh, here, let me make those copies for you.’ People here care about each other.” The feeling was evident in May, when the award was presented in a surprise ceremony to thunderous applause. Lougheed knew she was one of 10 regional finalists, but she didn’t guess she’d won until seeing her parents escorted to their seats. “Instinctively, I tried to back out of the gym,” she joked. “I don’t mind being the center of attention, but that was a lot for me.” Once her name was announced, Lougheed stood at the podium next to Interim State Supt. Sheila Alles, who explained to 1,500 students, fac30  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019

ulty, and guests about the important advocacy role the winning teacher takes on. When Alles spoke about the important voice she will have in speaking to state and federal lawmakers, Lougheed drew giggles from the crowd by rubbing her hands together in a gesture that said, I can’t wait to get started. Lougheed will carry the award for all educators, said her father, Larry Hice. A self-described “old conservative,” Hice said he and his daughter don’t agree on much politically, but on the need to provide educators with better pay and respect, “We are in complete alignment,” he said. “The disregard for what teachers do every day, for the effort that goes into being a teacher, and for what they do every day for the future citizens of our country has got to change,” he said. In keeping with tradition, last year’s Michigan Teacher of the Year, Vicksburg’s Laura Chang, was on

“Through this year, I realized that I’d been wearing shoes that were too small for a long time,” the 2018-19 winner said. “My shoes finally fit now, and I’m ready to run. She’ll realize it too, that she was chosen for a reason and she was born to do this.” As MTOY, Lougheed will lead Michigan’s Teacher Leadership Advisory Committee, which includes the other nine finalists, in working with MDE and other policymakers on solutions for pressing education issues. In addition, she will serve as an advocate for educators with a non-voting seat at monthly State Board of Education meetings, and she will serve on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new Educator Advisory Council beginning in August. Lougheed will be Michigan’s candidate for National Teacher of the Year. In a statement, Whitmer praised Lougheed for inspiring students and colleagues alike during two decades of service. “Michigan is a great state because of the dedicated teachers like Cara who work tirelessly to make sure their students get a great public education,” Whitmer said. “I’m proud to congratulate her on her outstanding service to our state, and am committed to making sure Cara and teachers everywhere are treated with the respect they deserve.”


Paul Blewett Friend of Education award winners Three MEA members received the Paul Blewett Friend of Education Award in April for their work to help MEA and public education. The honor comes with a monetary award endowed through the trust of Blewett, a longtime educator and leader from Region 17 in the U.P.

Sandy Brasil is a Novi High School administrative assistant to the principal and president of the Novi OP unit made up of secretaries and paraprofessionals. After starting her career as a part-time food service worker, Brasil evolved into a multifaceted office role with skill and kindness. A master multi-tasker, she communicates with staff, students, and parents with empathy and humor, colleagues said. “Her ability to problem solve and accommodate seemingly every need in order to keep a building of over 2,500 students, teachers, staff and administrators running as a positive smooth operating environment for teaching and learning is second to none,” wrote nominator Lee Bonner, a 20-year teacher. As a union leader, she is an advocate and ally for all, helping her members deal with many tough issues. “She is what makes our school’s atmosphere so wonderful day in and day out,” said nominator and teacher Rachel Schypinski.

Melinda Boydston is a technology teacher at Mattawan Middle School in Plainwell and vice president of the local education association. Boydston is best known for her dedication to the Homecoming Hot Dog Sale and other fundraising efforts which provide money for several scholarships for students. In addition, she drove the development of a third-grade technology curriculum and is a voice for student and staff technology needs. She spent two summers training to deliver a middle school curriculum in computer science and app creation. As an officer in the local union and member of the negotiations committee, Boydston advocates for MEA members’ working conditions. When a colleague suffered an injury last winter, she organized a meal train and donation collection. “She takes on extra duties without hesitation and works behind the scenes, never complaining or wanting credit,” said teacher Susie Schierbeek.

Robin Shipkosky is a math professor at Southwestern Michigan College and secretary of the local association, which organized in 2015 largely due to the efforts of Shipkosky. “Robin made the initial contacts with MEA personnel. She organized the search committee. She challenged our lead faculty to investigate the possibility of collective action,” said nominator Dr. Jeff Dennis, a social sciences professor. As secretary of the newly formed unit, she shoulders the bulk of association logistics and reporting, in addition to researching and crafting proposals for faculty health benefits. “Because of Ms. Robin Shipkosky, we now have the MEA at SMC. Because of her, we now have begun work on transforming the unwieldy top-down culture of our college. Because of her—and because of our wonderful friends within the MEA— we can be optimistic and empowered in our mission as professional teachers and academics.”

The Representative Assembly is MEA’s highest governing body which meets once a year to consider policy matters for the coming year. MEA VOICE  31

MESSA program helps expectant parents I’m proud of all of MESSA’s unique member support programs; as a dad, I’m especially fond of our Healthy Expectations program, which provides free support for expectant parents. Here’s how it works: When you enroll in Healthy Expectations, you complete a brief health assessment quiz, which is then reviewed by a MESSA registered nurse. If our nurses identify any pregnancy risk factors, they will contact you and offer to help you with navigating your pregnancy. Regardless of whether any risks are identified, you will receive a reference book on pregnancy and childbirth and another book about caring for the newest member of your family. You’ll also get a MESSA tote bag with some useful baby gear. MESSA members have shared with us that they love the Healthy Expectations program and appreciate our support. They also tell us that MESSA’s Healthy Expectations provides them with invaluable peace of mind during one of the biggest life changes a family experiences.

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Tap into a world of resources. Get tips on stretching your paycheck, member discounts, travel ideas and more for every type of member. Download yours now. Check out ways to succeed in and out of the classroom — tailored for K–12 Teachers

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Karen Sands-Meabrod In 22 years, the K-2 paraeducator working with students on the autism spectrum in West Bloomfield—has seen good (kids) and bad (cuts) What’s your typical day like as a paraeducator in a special education classroom? I supervise cars in the drop-off line in the morning, so I get to see all the good-byes and well wishes, like, “Be a good role model.” Or “Do your best; make me proud.” Now I’m a grandmother, so I know those words are really important. Then we go into our room, do bathrooming, pledge allegiance, and announcements. I take two children into a general-ed second-grade classroom for about an hour and a half and then come back. We do centers, and I take more kids out, and then it’s lunchtime. The same thing happens in the afternoon. We also have our own programming going on for kids not doing as much inclusion. What rewards do you see working with kids for up to three years? We have one little girl who just last year would have temper tantrums, throwing herself on the floor, screaming and yelling. Every time there was a transition or something new, not able to communicate what she was feeling. But this year, we rarely ever saw it. When you see them being better able to function in ways most people take for granted, it’s awesome to see. We hear increasing reports of students acting out in physical ways. In special ed, we’re used to it, and we’re trained in CPI, which is non-violent crisis intervention. We learn de-escalation techniques. But you’re seeing more in the general-ed population, and not all those teachers are trained. Plus we have less paras. A few years ago we had general-ed and special-ed paras. And the general-ed paras did all kinds of work throughout the 34  AUGUST-SEPTEMBER 2019

school. Now general-ed paras are gone. I’ve said this to the school board: You get no better bang for your buck than a paraeducator who gets groups of children and reads with them or does math or addresses behavior problems. Instead, we might have the speech teacher or child psychologist, social worker or reading consultant spending time in a hallway with a disruptive child. If you had the ear of policymakers in Lansing, what would you say? It’s ridiculous what we earn for what we do. I’m just getting back to what I made in 2008. 2008! When I hired in, we had wonderful healthcare benefits, but nowadays we pay for healthcare, too.

What is your take-home pay in relation to 10 years ago? I try not to think about it. I take out some money for when I retire. My husband and I are going to try to pay off our house with it, so I pull out $75 every two weeks. Between that and health care, what I see every two weeks is $400. The healthcare is a good portion of what’s coming out. What is the biggest change you’ve seen over your career? It’s all the testing teachers have to do on kids. It’s constant. And now they’ve got to test them on computers, and some kids don’t even know how to use a mouse. So how do you get accurate scores? I get how you need a way to keep track of what a child has learned, but it seems like we’re going overboard with all the testing. To prove what? That we always need to improve? Would you do it all again? Yeah, I’ve been so fortunate to work with wonderful staff who are there for each other. When it comes to teachers and paras and others who work in schools, they’re for people. I think teachers are so underrated in this state. I just wonder if the public truly realizes what a teacher does for a child? Building a person? And when I hear incredible teachers saying they’re not sure if they can continue to teach because there’s a lack of respect—sure, a lack of pay, but also a lack of acknowledgment of what their job is… it just makes me emotional, you know?

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Profile for MEAVoiceMag

MEA Voice Magazine - August 2019 Issue  

The MEA Voice Magazine is an official publication of the Michigan Education Association.

MEA Voice Magazine - August 2019 Issue  

The MEA Voice Magazine is an official publication of the Michigan Education Association.