Our First Amendment

Fifty years ago, the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines gave future generations of public students First Amendment rights at school. In a reaction to the Vietnam War a group of middle school students in Des Moines, Iowa decided to wear black arm bands to school. Such a move violated school district policy and the students were sent home. The resulting lawsuit was decided by the United States Supreme Court four years later. In the majority opinion justices ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.” Nicknamed the “Living Room War” since troubling reports of the Vietnam War and its casualties came into the homes of students like John and Mary Beth Tinker. The Tinkers were then motivated enough to carry into action their silent protest.

On April 20, 2018 students around the country participated in National Walk Out Day following school shootings in Parkland, Florida and the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

In similar fashion students today are well aware of school shootings since not only does the news come into their homes but also directly into the one place they are meant to feel the safest–school. Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida students began speaking out against mass shootings in greater numbers. Less than one month later their actions turned into a nationwide movement with marches in just about every major city in the United States.

Serving the state of Georgia since 1987 as a member of Congress, John Lewis, is no stranger to the power of protest.

In the same decade as the Tinker case college students, with the help of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, marched against social inequality. Motivated by their own experiences in the segregated American South marchers moved in complete silence only to be met by violent resistence from local and state police forces. One of the injured marchers was John Lewis.

Alabama State troopers attack marchers on March 7, 1965 in what would become known around the world as Bloody Sunday.

The First Amendment helps to bring a better informed society which means that today’s protesters aren’t met by violent backlash. Out of all the amendments, with the exception of the 14th, the First Amendment safeguards our liberty in so many ways. Without it, students who walk out of school might face punishment not just from school administration but from the government. Without it, students who wanted to show their passion for peace by wearing black arm bands might have never made such a lasting impact on our individual rights. Without it, the injustice of the Jim Crow South might have never been corrected.

Sources for this post

Students Identify With 50-Year Old Case, NPR 

Tinker v. Des Moines Landmark Case Supreme Court Ruling from ACLU


Please connect with me on Twitter @GuyCivics

Check out my classroom on DonorsChoose 


Hillsborough County EdCamp 2018

In the public school system there are many facets of education worthy of our attention. Our classrooms and students demand that the status quo never find a welcome place in our schools. There is never a shortage of new ideas or developments in learning that require teachers to tinker with and refine methods of instruction.

The question is the delivery method in which teachers, support staff, administrators, and school district personnel can all use to convey any changes that would improve instruction in the classroom.

One popular method of delivering the kind of change needed in education is EdCamp. Since 2010, the “unconference” for teachers has gained enough attention that just about every weekend you can find one nearby or within a short drive to attend and learn from others.

Hillsborough County held its own EdCamp with a gathering of 123 dedicated and interested EdCamp attendees to learn new things or share their years of experience. In the EdCamp tradition campers gathered to enjoy breakfast and build the board of topics that would soon become the scheduled sessions that would make up our day.

Another EdCamp tradition is the “rule of two feet” which gives you permission to get up and walkout of a session that you might find does not fit the needs of your own classroom. On this day it seemed like most who attended were more than happy to sit through an entire session. During a session on grants the conversation went from getting the traditional grant through sources such as the EdCamp Foundation to crowd funding opportunities such as DonorsChoose.

In a later session, on Standards Based Grading the scope of attendees at this EdCamp was on full display as elementary and secondary teachers sat with teachers and administrators alike. In this discussion a novice at the skill of standards based grading would learn that websites such as CPalms could help you unpack the standards with students. While the more experienced in the session could still begin to understand that much of what we know about the standards comes from our own thinking.

Taking power and using it for yourself has long been a way to show your professionalism. What EdCamps does is allow teachers from different schools to come together and collaborate with others they may not ever come into contact with. Add this to the fact that everyone who goes to EdCamp is volunteering to show up and often on a weekend the results are a highly motivated group willing to listen and contribute.

List of 2018 EdCamp Hillsborough County sponsors.

Consider part of a conversation which took place on the session for Room Transformation:

“Do you want to be a student in your own classroom?” One person authored the often used frame when thinking about our learning spaces.

“Where do you find new classroom furniture to begin your transformation?” Another person asked.

“Hotel warehouses.”


“Ikea stuff broke.”


Many different voices offered advice and often with added detail from one person to the next. If anything the person who wants to make a room transformation would walk away with the skill set to do their own begging for classroom furniture.

Choice is the envy of many. A choice that is often with cost. With EdCamp you have the perfect mix of freedom–just get up and move to        another session–and the cost is one that most would choose, FREE!


Grades: Parent and Student Expectations vs. Reality

At the start of each year my school hosts an Open House before the first bell of the school year begins. At this event teachers talk about themselves, their classrooms, and hopes for the new school year. I usually attempt to do all this in the six minutes they slot for each period on an abbreviated schedule. Next year I think I’m going to abandon the norm and tell parents and students the one thing want to hear about most…GRADES!

The one aspect I’d like to discuss with parents is their expectations verus reality of what grades stand for on most grading scales.

The start of your Open House presentation.

As teachers we encounter students and parents with a wide set of expectations. There is the expectation that the student will earn nothing but A’s. Plus the as long as they try their hardest group. Also the we want passing grades parents and students as well. There’s nothing wrong with any of these expectations. The difficulty comes when the student experiences rigorous and higher order thinking and they earn marks that fall outside of whatever expectations they have set for themselves. In short the A student might have earned a B on a very challenging test and they feel defeated. However, this student has actually earned “Above Average” marks. Likewise, the A student might also earn a C on a challenging assessment and they feel defeated.

This graphic shows what some students will insist is their own expectations or their parents expectations or both.

The reality is we learn by struggle. If life wasn’t a challange why would we have so many common sayings about how hard life is. Life is hard then you die. Luck is great, but most of life is hard work. The struggle is real!  Every student should experience struggle. This is how we grow as teachers. This is how we grow as students. This is how people grow.

Students can still earn high marks while experiencing struggle. For the student that earns less than their expectation of a passing, acceptable grade they should feel no less satisfied.


Connect with my on Twitter @GuyCivics and be sure to check out my classroom page on DonorsChoose.org 

Three Choices

As an educator there is an endless amount of choices to make when thinking about instruction and classroom management. These choices can be made with your PLC, on your own, or using expert advice. There’s no shortage of places to look. Some choices are made over a short period of time and some over the course of your career. With good planning and luck you can make more decisions that upon reflection can be labeled as good and less of the bad kind.

When it comes to student interaction the teacher can do three things.

  1. Planned interaction, when the teacher makes sound instructional decisions based on research and best practices.
  2. Intuition and instinct, when the teacher uses his/her gut to produce a positive learning experience.
  3. Reaction, when the teacher makes a rash decision at the spur of the moment and sometimes without clear thinking or good judgement.

Two usually end up being the good decisions after reflection and the third kind ends up in the goof category.

Planned interaction

Before students enter my classroom each day I have a pretty good idea of the mood and tone I want to set with students. If I know we have a lot to accomplish that day I will cut a lot of the jokes short and keep students in line quickly. On the other hand, if I know today is a day in which students have earned a break I keep the mood light and tell an extra joke or two with students. Often when I have a student who is off task and the usual reminders aren’t showing much result I begin to carefully think about how I want to address the student at the right time. This keeps me from lashing out at a student and keeps me from distracting the rest of the class in some potential teacher vs. student showdown that no matter how much I flex my authority I will likely end up losing in the eyes of the students. The end of class is a perfect time to strike. The attention wandering student has lost their audience and I’ve had time to gather my own thoughts. At this moment I can calmly talk to the student and it usually ends up in a win-win situation rather than a pitting of wills and minds in front of the whole class.

Intuition and Instinct

While careful thinking and planning can make for a win-win for the teacher and student alike sometimes reality is much quicker to come to the point of needing to deal with a situation. In these moments I search for what’s worked in the past and go right to that. In seconds I have found myself talking fast to defuse a situation that looked the worst but suddenly the student finds that whatever they were doing was not the best choice. But even with fast talking to work with a difficult student I keep calm. I may even speak softly to the student.

Reaction (Worst Choice)

A teacher finds themselves in plenty of different situations just about every day. Dealing with a difficult student or failing lesson is par for course as a teacher. When a teacher gets into a pickle a spur of the moment decision can become a moment that has many more ripples then the teacher intended. The worst decisions I have ever made as a teacher was when I did something or said something without first thinking about what to do next. In life we see the same. Politicians say something which then becomes part of the news cycle, the next day an apology is issued or they end up resigning. A celebrity with what seems like unlimited power has a side-practice of questionable morality only to be put into the negative spotlight years later. While making a bad call likely won’t be a career ender for teachers it ends up costing the instructor the chance to make a positive impact on a student. So make each interaction count.


Thanks for reading. Learn more about my classroom on Twitter @GuyCivics and my DonorsChoose.org page!