Rhetoric in Action

This is the speech I delivered at the Irving City Council meeting tonight regarding the budget that’s currently in the works. 

I started volunteering with Irving Animal Services in 2010 when the new Irving Animal Care Campus opened. As a volunteer, I assist with adoptions and help train new volunteers. I was appointed to the Animal Services Advisory Committee in 2012, and I currently serve as chairperson. I’m here tonight to advocate for an increase in the animal services budget for fiscal year 2017-2018.

In the first 6 months of FY 2016-2017, IAS boasted a live release rate of 90% despite taking in over 400 animals per month on average. Thanks to the amazing shelter staff and field officers, IAS is 2nd in the area in animal save rate, just behind Plano. This means that the vast majority of animals coming into the shelter are returned to their owners, adopted, or rescued than are euthanized. While we’re leading the pack in helping animals, we are way behind in funding this cause. Irving is near the bottom of the funding list, spending just $7 per capita, where our neighbors Grand Prairie and Richardson spend around $8 and $9 per resident, respectively. If our vision truly is to “aspire to be a city prepared and educated to assure a safe, healthy, and caring environment for its people and animals,” then we need to do more to ensure that, and that means including the proposed supplements in the new budget. I can’t help but be amazed by how effective this staff is and wonder how much more awesome they could be if they were provided more resources.

The proposed addition of new staff and reclassification of current staff would be worthwhile in advancing the “no-kill” standard that the city desires to achieve. IAS’s mission is to “promote and protect the health, safety, and welfare of Irving residents and animals.” Adding an outreach coordinator would go a long way in supporting this mission through maintaining relations with rescue groups and fosters and communicating low-cost opportunities and other resources to residents. Reclassifying current staff would reinforce just how valuable we consider their contributions to the shelter to be.

Please consider this information as you finalize your work on the new budget and do your best to allocate as much as possible in new funds to Irving Animal Services. The staff and animals deserve it!

Baxter is dreaming of helping the animals at the shelter!

Seeds for Your Garden

As Teacher of the Year, I was asked to speak at Senior Pinning, a ceremony for the graduating class to receive a pin from an influential person in their lives. Here’s my speech!

Thank you for the honor of speaking to you tonight! I’d like to take a moment to remind you to keep reading because books hold the all of the directions in this journey through life.

Some of the most important lessons are learned through the experiences of others in books. From “The Tortoise and the Hare,” we learn that slow and steady wins the race. From To Kill a Mockingbird, we learn not to be judgmental. And from Macbeth, we learn to take all advice with a grain of salt.

We carry these messages with us like tiny seeds of knowledge in the very corner of our brains, and we recall them when we’re faced with a challenge. We remember the tortoise plodding along the path when we’re struggling through a particularly difficult task. We remember Scout standing on Boo Radley’s front porch when we encounter new people from different circumstances. And yes, we even remember crazy Lady Macbeth when someone suggests something that will permanently corrupt our souls. We use these lessons to navigate each and every twist and turn along the road.

In The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the old king tells the main character a story about a shopkeeper who sent his son to the wisest man in the world to discover the secret to happiness. The wise man allows the boy to explore his palace and hands him a spoon with two drops of oil in it to carry as he goes, cautioning him not to spill any of the oil. After some time, the boy returns with a full spoon to the wise man who asks him if he noticed the decor or the gardens. The boy admits he did not, so the wise man tells him to take the tour again. The boy picks up the spoon and sets out to see the palace once more, being sure to admire the Persian rugs and the beautiful flowers. When he returns this time, he tells the wise man all of the things he admired, but along the way, all of the oil spilled from the spoon. The wise man says, “The secret of happiness is to see all of the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”

So there’s another seed to add to your garden–remember to find a balance. Celebrate every victory, and be kind. Go travel the world, and call home often. Do great works, and don’t forget to read.

Grow and be great!

Random Musings on 13 Reasons Why

I read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher a few years ago. At the time, I appreciated it for the enmeshed perspectives of Hannah and Clay and the partly-realistic portrayal of high school life in a small town. For a book that deals with suicide, I remembered it as having a rather hopeful ending, even after Hannah seemingly shreds anyone she felt played a role in her demise.

Then I watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. (I binge-watched the entire thing over a long weekend–probably not the best decision I’ve ever made.) I had mostly avoided any reviews and critiques of the series because I had already read the book, so I knew the basic gist of each episode. Well, I thought I knew. Of course, the creators took a wealth of creative license in developing the screen version. Hannah’s and Clay’s parents and secondary characters like Alex and Jessica are far more fleshed out as we witness their perspectives of the before and after. Each new episode felt darker than the last, and I found myself feeling really sad for Hannah and for Clay and for Mrs. Bradley. By the time I finished the last episode, I was beginning to understand the backlash that was building. Just a simple google of “13 Reasons Why” will return multiple articles lambasting the program as irresponsible and dangerous. And I don’t necessarily disagree. That discussion would probably be better served in a separate post.

So I decided to reread the book. Lucky for me, my classroom copy actually came back! (Thanks, Danny!) I dropped it in my bag and reintroduced myself to the Hannah and Clay I had first met. I found myself checking off a list of differences: Clay walks around the city in the book, and he rides a bike in the series; Hannah’s parents own a shoe store in the book, and they own a drug store in the series; and Hannah’s suicide in the book is not as graphic as it is in the series. The clearest difference for me, though, was Hannah’s attitude. She recognizes that “No matter what [she’s] said so far, no matter who [she’s] spoken of, it all comes back to…[Hannah]” (Asher 253). And while she doesn’t say it outright, she’s clearly clinically depressed. The series doesn’t go far enough in exploring these ideas, though, and I think that’s where it misses the mark.

The message in both is still the same, “Everything…affects everything” (202). Every action has a consequence, and every effect has a cause. The difference is in how we respond in those situations. We are in control of our own reactions to the way someone treats us. We have the power to choose to speak up when we see something wrong. And when we recognize those strengths, we reclaim our responsibility to ourselves.

I Support Public Education

It’s been a wild few weeks! Since my last post, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my career as a teacher. This resulted in a series of seven essays that I submitted as a candidate for my district’s teacher of the year. I’ve also spent a lot of time defending my profession as I tweeted my senators and various others to express my opposition to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. While both tasks were frustrating, one was far more rewarding.

I’ve seen this floating around on Facebook recently, so I thought I’d share my path through the public school system.

I am the product of public education. 

Longfellow Elementary School (Coffeyville, KS)

Roosevelt Junior High School (Coffeyville, KS)

Field Kindley High School (Coffeyville, KS)

Coffeyville Community College, AA (Coffeyville, KS)

Pittsburg State University, BSEd. in English (Pittsburg, KS)

I am a public educator and have been since 1999.

Field Kindley High School (Coffeyville, KS)

Hebron High School (Carrollton, TX)

Every teacher and professor I’ve met along the way has played a crucial role in my life. I wrote about many of them in the essays I mentioned before. Maybe I’ll turn those into blog posts!



Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. President,

Congratulations! You’re now the leader of the most influential and advanced country in the world! With such power comes an awesome amount of responsibility, so I hope you’ll consider this advice as you take office: Read.

Read because it’s what great leaders do. They read to understand critical events of the past so they’re certain not to repeat mistakes in the future.

Read because it will make you a better human being. The empathy and compassion gleaned from a good book will help you relate to the many American people who have endured experiences quite different from your own.

Finally, read because kids are paying attention. As a teacher, I encourage my students to read, and I point to examples of successful readers like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Ellen DeGeneres. When kids know that someone they admire is a reader, they’re more likely to continue the habit themselves.

I wish you the best of luck. The world is watching.


I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a starter stack, a nice mixture of fiction and nonfiction that my students and I have enjoyed over the years.


This Is Only a Test

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. The holidays, life, work, yada yada yada… I’m writing this one because I need to write and because I don’t want to complete Fitz’s challenge. And so I shall use this platform to share some thoughts on assessment.

The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests stage performances in school buildings all across Texas up to four times a year. Administrators prepare testing rooms, teachers lace up tennis shoes for “active monitoring,” and students sit in a chair for up to 5 hours with nothing but some sharpened pencils and test materials. We all play our parts in the STAAR testing theatre. Lately, the drama has taken a turn, though, and people are starting to wonder if the STAAR test is really a true assessment of what kids are learning, if maybe there are serious flaws in the way the writing portions of the test are scored (oh, there are).

I googled “STAAR test problems.”

And in a plot twist, a poet discovered that one of her poems had been used on the test and that she couldn’t answer the questions that were asked! English teachers have been saying this for years: an author’s intent can’t be truly known, and asking questions about it is unfair. Maybe now that an expert has spoken (though I’d argue that we English teachers are experts in our own right, but I digress), those who make the rules about testing will listen and make some changes. And maybe they are actually listening because (yet another plot twist!) just this week, TEA released new blueprints for the English I and English II tests, removing the short response items that recently drew so much criticism.

Because of the fiasco that is STAAR (and school financing, since the state contributes only 18% of the revenue in my district. You want us to follow your rules? Give us more money!), it’s time for districts to stand up to the state and demand more local control. My district has begun the discussion of becoming a “district of innovation.” While there are many variables and unknowns right now, other districts have already made the jump, so I’ll be watching closely to see how things shake out. The most important thing of all, though, is to do what’s best for the kids.

What remains after testing is a human being who cannot be accurately judged by what he or she has left on the answer document. We have to remind our kids that they are more than a test score. I’ve said before that one of my goals in teaching is to help my students become better versions of themselves. There’s no number or grade that you can assign to that.

I’m Just Going To Leave This Here

On September 13, 1988, Carl Sagan delivered a speech titled “Thoughts on the 125th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.” His main argument is that weapons have advanced to such an extreme that those involved in the conflict are no longer the only casualties. When leaders of countries point weapons at one another, the citizens will be the ones who truly suffer. And while we think we’re being careful, accidents can happen.

And then I read this passage:

This is the century of Hitler and Stalin, evidence–if any were needed–that madmen can seize the reins of power of modern industrial states. If we are content in a world with nearly sixty thousand nuclear weapons, we are betting our lives on the proposition that no present or future leaders, military or civilian–of the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and whatever other nuclear powers there will be–will ever stray from the strictest standards of prudence. We are gambling on their sanity and sobriety even in times of great personal and national crisis, all of them, for times to come. I say this is asking too much of us. Because we make mistakes. We kill our own.

I wonder what Mr. Sagan would say today.