Some call me "Flem"

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B.S.Ed | M.Ed | Ed.D Candidate | Passionate | Compassionate | Purpose-driven | PUBLIC school teacher | There's a lot more...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Union Strong!

We learned early this morning that Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson has been fired and replaced.


This post will not be a long political diatribe about all of the churn in this administration. Instead, I want to take a few moments to express how grateful I am to be a member of a union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. I can state unequivocally, that I would have been fired on more than a few occasions had the decision been left solely up to the local school administrator.  No, I was not engaging in anything illegal, immoral, unethical, dangerous, or anything like that. I'll confess here and now as to what I was doing....teaching. Want to know what the students were doing? Learning. 

So why do I believe that I would've been let go a long time ago were it not for my being a union member? Well, without mentioning any school years in particular, when the boss visits your classroom every single day, does informal observations and fails you for the year, that might be a clue they're not "feeling you". I had to develop a performance improvement plan. If I didn't improve the following year, I would've been given a teacher coach to help me improve.  I have nothing against improving my practice. I don't think that was the goal.

Then there was that season in my career when the one in charge and I had fundamental differences of opinion about teaching and learning. In short, I was to just do as I was told. Our spirited discussions were followed by at least three surprise visits to my classroom by the Assistant Superintendent in two months. It's important to note that "Mr. Flemming" was asked for by name. I won't reveal how I found out. Those visits were followed by either memos or zeros in every observation category for what I didn't even know were official informal observations.

Oh the memories.
I have more. I do. Maybe later...
A school administrator in another district in these United States once told me "evaluate them out" is a strategy used by some administrators. Intriguing. In other words, get them to walk on their own. Hmmm.

Our collective bargaining agreement contains language guarding against decisions being "arbitrary and capricious". While 45's decisions seem to be just that at times, I'm grateful for processes and teachers unions that fight against it. One misguided notion is that "those teachers unions" protect bad teachers. No. What teachers unions do is ensure that processes are FAIR and that decisions made by school districts and school administrators aren't arbitrary or capricious! For that, I'm grateful! And because of that, I'm still...teaching!


Monday, February 26, 2018

Should Philly Teachers Be Armed?


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Unthinkable tragedy has pulled on the heartstrings of this nation…again. My heart goes out to the families of those slain and injured. The slaying of seventeen and the injuring of fourteen others at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day has once again thrown this country into a school safety quagmire. 45 and others have suggested that the permanent solution to this systemic problem is to arm teachers, hyperbolically (no surprise) assuring us that these school “shootings will not happen again”.



I decided to pose the question of arming Philadelphia’s teachers to the followers of my class Instagram account. Let me just point out that I am unaware of any conversations in Philadelphia to arm us. I was just curious to know the first thoughts and opinions of my class Instagram followers.

Those who follow that account are current and former students, including some who are currently in the 6th grade. Followers also include current and former parents and relatives of those students, a few colleagues, community members, and a few in my familial and social circles.

The question was simple




Here are the final results (with votes are still coming in as comments)


The students, parents, and community were evenly split in their opinion, each group of followers voting for and against. I'm opposed, but I tried to pose the question as objectively as possible. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

What a Week! #EaglesWeek


What a week this has been!

Sunday, 2/4
This past Sunday evening, February 4, 2018 at 10:17pm, the Eagles, my Philadelphia Eagles, our Philadelphia Eagles became WORLD CHAMPIONS by toppling Tom and the Patriots in Super Bowl LII. The streets went crazy! At least one car was tossed on its side in downtown Philly by rioters...oops...celebrants. The awning at the Ritz Carlton relented under the pressure of several rioters...oops...celebrants who foolishly thought it could stand the pressure of a dozen or more (Inebriated? It doesn't matter) human beings. The windows at the Macy's downtown were shattered by rioters...oops...celebrants. Despite these and other likely and unreported incidents, the majority of us Eagles fans were on an unbelievable victory high minus the destruction...oops...rowdy celebrations!

Honking horns!
Waving rally towels!
Screaming and yelling!
High-fiving and hugging strangers!

What a week this has been!

Thursday, 2/8
We celebrated like crazy this past Thursday, February 8th! Driving slowly and celebratory, the Eagles on the upper decks of buses, moved past what seemed to be an endless sea of humanity and green from Broad and Pattison straight through to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in our first of many Super Bowl VICTORY parades! At the Art Museum, a victory celebration for the ages ending a 58-year football championship famine in this city!! And what a celebration it was, too!!

On the "off days" (whatever that means after an EAGLES SUPER BOWL WIN)  Eagles players were dispatched to local and national events with appearances on talk shows, radio shows, sports stores' events, Disney World, and more!

What a week this has been!

The formal end to this year's football season reignited the much needed discussion and push for racial equity on so many different levels and in so many different spaces; a conversation that seemed to rollercoaster at times throughout the season. Colin Kaepernick and other players have been at the forefront of such efforts including our own Malcolm Jenkins! Though I chose to support Jenkins and the Eagles by watching football this season, my commitment and dedication to myriad social justice causes is unabated! Teaching in and of itself for me is, a demonstration of social consciousness! The work that began long before this football season, continues...



Saturday, January 27, 2018

Whisked Away by Words

I'm sitting here in a local Wawa parking lot, drinking my coffee, listening to the CBS News Weekend Roundup and had two random reading memories.

One, I remember loving to hear my 3rd grade teacher read to us everyday. I went to Harrington Elementary down Southwest Philly. The memories that just flooded my mind were of Mrs. Ross reading Matilda, The BFG, and other Roald Dahl books. I remember just being whisked away, complete suspension of disbelief, as I imagined the characters interacting with each other. I remember loving being read to!

As I reflected on that, I recalled being in a PD at John B. Kelly, my former school, and one of my former principals leading the session. She remarked that everyone loves being read to and proceeded to read a book to us. Teachers. I don't remember the book, but I do remember two things. One, it had something to do with whatever the session was about. Two, I remember that I liked being read to...again.

Flem, what's  your point? I don't care how old or young your students (or staff lol) may be, many points can be highlighted with a short story, a poem, or a news article. My former principal was correct. Everybody likes being read to. My 9th graders preferred my voice with a book we were reading over the audio book's rendition. Even high schoolers liked to be whisked away every now and then.

I know we are living in a test and grades obsessed culture, but I dare you to resurrect the read-aloud every now and then and watch and see if your students (or staff lol) don't take that journey with you to.....wherever the words whisk you!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Dear Parents

Before you read the letter below, a little background...
I came across this incomplete and unedited letter that I drafted in frustration a few years ago.
I did not finish drafting it.
I did not send it out.
I did not intend to send it out.
I write all of this because I know some higher powers secretly...you know...watch. How do I know? One day I was observed and in reading the observation notes after a 90-minutes observation and the subsequent memo drafted by that administrator and delivered by a school police officer, it became very clear what that person was looking for and found (sort of). I'll save that complete story for another post and day.

Ok, enough of all of that.

If this is the school year that I'm thinking it was, I remember writing down my frustrations a lot just to get them out of me. The only changes that I made a moment ago are indicated in red. Since this draft, I've learned a lot about myself and have grown as a person and teacher.

The letter...

Dear Parents of the Students in Room _______,

I must apologize to both you and your child for being a failing teacher. I thought that I was providing the best possible instruction that I could provide, using teaching techniques and approaches based on the research and works of educational philosophers and psychologists like Howard Gardner, who believed that students learn differently. He believed that some may learn better through music, other through nature, some via reading/writing, still yet others need to move, etc. So that’s what I did. I apologize. I apologize because according to some, I’m a failing teacher because I didn’t phrase learning objectives on the chalkboard using acronyms provided by the school district. I apologize.

I even used Lev Vygotsky, who believed in cooperative learning and that such learning should include someone who is a bit wiser (teacher or someone else) to help guide the students and propel them forward from where they are. He called it learning within their “zone of proximal development”, the work is not too easy but also not too hard that learning cannot be accomplished. It’s challenging, but attainable. I thought I was doing this when I assigned certain readings, certain projects, etc. Again, I apologize because according to some, I’m a failing teacher because I didn’t phrase learning objectives on the chalkboard using acronyms provided by the school district. I apologize.

Many education theorists and researchers believe that learning should be experiential, which is why we took that trip to City Hall to interact with a judge about the law.  This is also the reason we went to the Insectarium so that we could not only read about insects, but touch them, see them up close, and even taste one. This is why we went to the Academy of Natural Sciences, Grumblethorpe, the National Constitution Center, so that we can experience what we learned about in class. This is why we had a visiting entomologist come to the class with bugs and why we wrote pen pals in Colorado and why we video chatted with other entomologists. But yet again, I apologize because according to some, I’m a failing teacher because I didn’t phrase learning objectives on the chalkboard using acronyms provided by the school district. I apologize.

I’m even a failing teacher because the students were unable to analyze an Emily Dickinson poem on their own in writing and when compared to how government laws saved eagles, I really failed. Their rough drafts were rough and their rough drafts shouldn’t have been rough even though it WAS a….oh never mind. I’m sooooo sorry for being a bad teacher!

They can read and talk about history, science, and the law, but I’m a horrible teacher!
They can spit off many many math facts, but I’m a failing teacher!
They publish a class book, but I’m the worst teacher!
They can analyze figurative language, but I’m a bad teacher!
They can recite and analyze poems like “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes, but I’m no good!
They can challenge 5th grade students to math competitions and have them run away because they don’t want to compete, but I’m good for nothing!

Going forward, I must strive to put those acronyms on the chalkboard. I must do everything I’m told to do even if your child is not prepared to do it. I mustn’t teach for understanding, I must train for state tests that change every year! I must  teach them that reading is only good for testing and is in no wise to be enjoyed!


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I apologize for failing your child this year by teaching and not test-prepping, using acronyms, and by [For some reason, I didn’t finish this letter and it ends there]

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The People's Court

It's Tuesday, Decemeber 26, 2017. I'm sitting on my couch having just finished my lunch. (Just in case you are wondering, it was a chicken salad and spinach mini-hoagie on a wheat roll, a bag of spicy nacho Doritos, a cookie, and raspberry ice tea.)

I'm watching The People's Court with Judge Milian. The plaintiff in one case, Jason Smith, was suing a man who reneged on a payment for boat and car detailing services that the plaintiff provided. Mr. Smith, a 30-something year old Black man was a bit animated and "antsy" while presenting his case. Judge Milian commented on his restlessness twice before telling him to have a seat because he was irritating her (her words).

I can understand how his animation and his being ansty might be a little unnerving. That's life. Sometimes people's voices, mannersims, habits, personalities, etc. annoy us. Her annoyance with Mr. Smith becomes a little precarious, however, because of her position of power being the judge. For all intents and purposes, he kind of has to do what she says. He did sit down as ordered.

You already know where I'm going. Black male students experience disproportionate representation in school discipline (suspension and expulsion) and in special education, particularly in high incidence categories like emotional behavioral disorders and learning disabilities.


I wonder if many of our colleagues, to whom the balance of power tilts in the student/teacher relationship, are just annoyed with our young African American male students. 🤔

I wonder if instead of finding ways to teach how he best learns, some of us de facto embrace exclusionary pedagogical stances or default to special education referral processes.🤔

"Well, we can't just think about our African American male students! What about our female students or boys and girls of other ethnic groups?"

The overrepresentstion of our Black male students in suspension and expulsion tracts and in high incidence special education tracts tells me we haven't been thinking about our African American male students too much at all.

Jason Smith won his case. Many of our young Black men are also winning in the classroom, in boardrooms, in business, in college, and in life. As with many brothers with whom I speak, *our* winning isn't enough, though. We want all of our young brothers to experience success as well. The classroom, from preschool onward, is one of many places to scrutinize and mobilize.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Uncle Kevin

Ayo, peep this: two brothaz hittin each other up, back n forth, plottin for the culture!
Aaaaaannnd, now that I have your attention, let me be serious, lol

Imagine this, two African American men putting their heads together to plan a series of informal conversations for the benefit of younger ladies and gentlemen who look like us. Such was the case with me and my Uncle Kevin, my mother's brother. Uncle and nephew, two brothas planning ways to add layers of emphasis on the importance of education to PreK-8 foundations with varying degrees of stability.

For the past three Wednesdays, Uncle Kevin has  come to Martin Luther King High School to sit and chat with each of my 5 classes about life. During these #UncKevSeries (I just made that up) the conversation topics ranged from the importance of being literate, having and holding on to dreams and visions, and making the teacher's job a wee bit easier (On everything, I didn't ask him to say that...). He also spoke of his being raised in Germantown, his hope of one day becoming a trash man, later a teacher, and ultimately the reality of his becoming a registered nurse with a well known hospital in Philly.

The conversations were authentic.
Many of their questions, real.
The lasting impact, as with any youth engagement initiative, yet to be determined.
Some feigned disinterest, but when they repeatedly ask on a Thursday or Monday (knowing he'd only be coming on Wednesdays), "Ayo Flem, where ya uncle at?", that's when you know it's real!

Let me add one very important piece. My Uncle Kevin is an alumnus of a local community college, the Community College of Philadelphia. Those who follow my thoughts on paper know that I recently wrote about not sleeping on community colleges. Here's yet another example of how community colleges may be the direction that some may want or need to take as an initial step into their future!