A Letter to Chris Christie: “The Governor”

Dear [Governor] Chris Christie,

I know that writing a letter like this can be a bit childish and can even come across as cowardly as I hide behind my keyboard. But right now, I have a few things to get off of my chest, and since the voicemails I have left you in Trenton have gone unanswered, to this humble blog I turn.

I am one of your hard-working New Jersey residents and even though I have only lived here for 11 years, I am confident that I have done New Jersey proud. I went to school here, I own a house here and I teach here. Before you roll your eyes, wondering what this “greedy” teacher wants now, I ask that you hear me out (and maybe even take the moment to read My Teaching Story to discover the real reason I became a teacher).

I take my job very seriously. To me, teaching isn’t just a means to an end – I LOVE what I do. I love it when I catch my students showing genuine interest in a piece of History. I love it when a student comes back to visit and shares with me how much I helped her prepare for the next level. I love the feeling I get when I leave school well after 4:30 because I was helping a single kid study for his upcoming Science test. And I love when a parent comes up to say “My son couldn’t stop talking about your class the other day!”

I just LOVE my profession. It’s not an act. I’m not trying to play to your emotions or fill a cliché. It’s a fact. The reason I bring up this fact is because you have repeatedly tagged teachers as greedy, lazy, overpaid, whiny and selfish – to name just a few. You have earned a reputation in this state (and across the country) for “telling it how it is”. Your insensitive and poison-laden words have become expected by the gluttonous reporters that show up to hear you, eager to snag another Christie One-Liner. Are those giddy reactions you see as you slander your citizens really that worth it? Have you ever considered that those so-called “lazy teachers” on which you choose to focus are the exception, not the rule?

I am the rule. Teachers like me are the rule. Everyday, I see my co-workers put their hearts into what they do. We collaborate on how to work with special needs kids. We collaborate on how to improve a certain lesson. We collaborate on the best methods of assessment to reach all kinds of learners. And in between, we feel hurt that our own Governor is out spreading lies to the citizens of the state. According to you, teachers are disposable. At least that’s the way you made it sound when you told teacher Rita Wilson that if she didn’t like her salary, she should quit. Is it really that black and white to you? Are you really arguing that we teach for the money? By my calculations, my gross pay is approximately $1.40 per day for each student I teach. I think those numbers more than speak for themselves.

You put on the Helping Hat, saying that your intention is to improve the school systems and make this a better place for our children. And you don the Cloak of a Champion during rough times to further blind the voters that will soon be stepping into the curtained booth. Perhaps you should worry less about the optics and the P.R. and more about what your state really needs:

1. Honesty. You have repeatedly gone back on your word, unwilling to even acknowledge previous statements made to your public. You refused to comment on this New York Times article, but maybe now you’ll check out what they have to say.

2. Leadership. If you want changes made in schools, sit down with actual teachers to discover where the improvement is needed. Be willing to find real ways to improve the state’s public education system.

3. Accountability. If teacher accountability is what you desire, good teachers will be right there with you fighting for the same thing (and so would I). However, if you aren’t held accountable for your job and promises, how are we to trust you?

On November 5, New Jersey citizens will be voting to either inaugurate a new Governor, or reelect the same one. It is my hope that the citizens of New Jersey have done their homework, read up on the issues, and ignored your altogether insulting P.R. stunts (such as the convenient withdrawal of your attempt at appealing the lower court decision to allow same-sex couples to wed in New Jersey – do not think that went unnoticed). If a mis-informed, perpetually blind public is what you desire, perhaps you’ll win this election. I, however, have more faith in New Jersey. We are Stronger than that.

Sincerely,

That Lesbian Teacher

Just one of your hard-working New Jersey residents.

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Let’s Give Em Something to Talk About

It’s been 10 years, 4 months and 23 days since Jamie and I began our dance through this life. We have graduated college, started careers, bought a house and rescued a dog. Marriage has been a topic of conversation for a few years now, but we finally got serious about it last Spring and set our day for November of this year. We live in a state that hasn’t yet legalized same-sex marriage, but we are determined to have the wedding day of our dreams.

To us, this is our wedding, like it is to any straight couple that has ever married. When I make calls to the DJ, the hotel, the shuttle….I am just one of two brides planning her big day. I sometimes forget that it isn’t exactly the norm. I forget that most people assume Bride and Groom when they hear “Wedding”. It doesn’t upset me – I understand the world I live in. I just sometimes forget that I am still a queer peg in a round hole.

I do often yearn for a world that does’t jump to conclusions about sexual orientation – one where gay couples don’t feel so out-of-place in the normal family settings. But, I have to say, planning a Lesbian Wedding has pretty much given us carte-blanche to do as we please!

From friends at work I hear, “My Mother made me this,” and “My mother-in-law never would have allowed that.” I hear people discuss the “proper” RSVP method, the “accepted” way of organizing the ceremony, and the “formal” feel all weddings must have. It all kind of makes me sick. I get so frustrated thinking that there’s some invisible force writing how everyone’s wedding should play out. Isn’t that why we dream about it for so long – so we can make it our day?

Jamie and I have said a big “screw you” to all the typical wedding crap and have had an absolute blast with it. We are making the day about us and the life we have built together. We completely pulled apart the usual format and rewrote it. Since we are already a non-traditional couple, why not go the full distance and give them all a ceremony and reception that’ll keep them talking? Our wedding, will without a doubt, be an experience for our guests. It’s taken us 10 years, 4 months and 23 days to get to where we are and there is no way we are going to start blending in now.

 

Our cake topper – We kind of have a thing for Dia de los Muertos

Inspired, Scared, Courageous, Scared

While absent-mindedly trolling the Internet just moments ago, I found the most amazing article about a Middle School History teacher coming out to her students. As I read the story, I felt like I was reading about my own life as it happened in an alternate reality. In that reality, I was brave. I came out to my students from the get-go. And I stood up to those that tried to knock me down. But it wasn’t me. This was someone else’s story – a story that I have for so long wanted to make my own.

The teacher’s name is Jody Sokolower. To me, she’s a hero. Reading her words, I started to feel so ready to do what she did. I began to imagine her story playing out in my own school, with my students and administrators. And then, just as quickly as I felt ready, fear crept in. That is where I am stuck. For every part of me that feels inspired and ready and brave, fear looms like a dark cloud ready to squash it. Each time I imagine all of the students that are just waiting for a Gay or Lesbian role model, fear reminds me of the parents, administrators and other students that could be ready to pounce. How did she do it? How did she get so brave?

In her story, Jody talks about how it started with the question, “Are you married?” I can’t even count the number of times I have gotten this question from my students. And instead of holding my head up to the world with the truth, I brush past it with a simple, “Nope.” Over and over again, I have had the opportunity to come out to my students, but I always find a way around it.

Last year during the Presidential Election, my Honors classes worked the entire month of October on a project in which they researched the many Presidential candidates and studied their specific beliefs and policy platforms. One of their assignments was to come in ready for a Socratic Seminar, during which the students would be discussing some of the “hot-button” topics of the 2012 campaign, including Same-Sex Marriage. For this type of lesson, the desks are set up in two circles – an inner circle for discussion and an outer circle for observation. The entire seminar is driven by the students – I simply watch and take notes. It wasn’t long before the discussion settled onto Gay Marriage. I held my breath, curious to hear the opinions of my students. And as each student contributed their personal beliefs, I was shocked. Even though a few students had some religious reservations on the topic, most of the class was in agreement that Same-Sex Marriage should be legalized. I felt myself getting choked up as I watched. One student said that he didn’t even understand why the government should get involved in people’s personal lives, and that soon this topic was going to be as ridiculous as slavery once had been.

I can see the opinion on homosexuality of the American Youth changing before my eyes, but I still cannot shake the fears. Unfortunately, I can no longer tell if these are genuine fears I have, or simply excuses to avoid the issue. Is the backlash I am anticipating real? Will there really be an angry mob ready to mobilize? Or is it just something I am creating as a why of putting it off?

I know this: Jody Sokolower’s story has made me feel inspired and scared. I know, too, that I cannot continue to keep my life bottled up. This needs to happen. And the sooner I make that clear to myself, the sooner I can get to work on clearing that dark cloud, and moving on.