Articles posted by California Educator Behind the Scenes


Follow along and go behind the scenes as the lead writer for the California Educator magazine, Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, visits schools across the state to bring you feature stories.

Handling Stress, Year After Year

It was a while ago. I was working on a story on class size reduction. A chapter president had recommended I visit a teacher he knew with a crowded classroom. I arranged to visit with a photographer and asked the teacher to notify his principal, which is standard procedure. The principal in the Sacramento school came out to greet me as I was signing in and asked us to step into his office. I figured he was going to offer some background about the school and additional information.

Was I in for a surprise!

How dare I interfere with instructional minutes, he scolded me. I’d better be quick, he let me know, adding that he resented the intrusion. I explained that our purpose was to increase awareness so the state would provide more money for class-size reduction, and he called me a liar.

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How do we do a Point/Counterpoint?

I was asked this question recently by the editor of the NEA affiliate in New York, and probably gave her more information than she expected. After all, it’s such a little column. It looks so easy. But looks are deceptive. Every month, we wonder if we’ll be able to pull it off, and my editor worries about having an empty page right before we go to press.

Part of the challenge: It’s extremely difficult to find people who are willing to spill their guts on controversial issues in a public forum read by 325,000 of their closest friends – along with administrators and parents lucky enough to land a copy of the California Educator. It’s a very brave undertaking to speak out publicly about whether schools should hand out condoms, cursive should be eliminated entirely from the classroom, football should be banned or test scores should be tied to evaluations.

But don’t let that stop you.

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Seeing the Common Core in Action

After years of seeing what No Child Left Behind has done, it was downright refreshing to visit 10 classrooms that were piloting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for a story appearing in the June issue of the California Educator.

Instead of just being the “sage on the stage,” I saw teachers acting as “facilitators” for students taking responsibility for their own learning. Rather than being spoon-fed information in the traditional “front-loading” way, students had to tell the teacher what they didn’t understand and then fill in the missing puzzle pieces themselves.

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OMG I've Been Shot

I looked down at my right arm as blood oozed through my gray sweater. My arm was stinging and tears sprang to my eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Other people, I figured, would be the targets. Why me?

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Meet the man behind the photos

Scott BuschmanYou may have seen him at a CTA conference. He’s the tall, skinny guy with colorful ties and a camera who says “just one more, just one more” and then takes LOTS more photos. His name is Scott Buschman and he has been taking photos for the California Educator since 1996, when CTA traded a tabloid newsletter for a real magazine.


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Extreme Makeover: The Uncluttered Teacher

We had no idea what we would find when we walked into Steve Dillon’s classroom. At first glance, it didn’t look too cluttered aside from a messy desk and counter top, and I wondered if we had driven three and a half hours from San Francisco to Corning for nothing. But a closer examination inside desk drawers, cupboards and under the desk revealed years of accumulating stuff that was ready to be tossed out. You can read all about that in the September issue of the California Educator.

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Behind the Scenes of an Educator Photo Shoot

Patrick Tierney President of the Arcadia Teachers AssociationWe looked right and left before photographing Patrick Tierney pushing open the bathroom door of the women’s restroom and then the men’s restroom at a hotel in Ontario.  Just to be safe, I checked both restrooms first to make sure they were vacant.  If staff saw us, we might be accused of weirdness, voyeurism or even worse – been asked to leave the premises before obtaining the photo we needed! 

Why, you might ask, were we photographing the president of the Arcadia Teachers Association alongside restroom doors? It was to go with this month’s California Educator story about the new law granting transgender students the right to use facilities for the gender they “identify” with.

Transgender students are often excluded from physical education classes, sports teams and restroom facilities of the gender they identify with, which violates their civil rights, jeopardizes their psychological wellbeing and makes it difficult to focus on learning. The new law, which CTA and the state PTA supported, will change that.

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Revisiting Mr Keener

For the December issue, I needed a teacher for Point/Counterpoint who would defend parent donations to help cash-strapped school districts. My hometown, Brisbane, had an educational foundation of which I was once president, so I asked the Brisbane Teachers Association president if someone might be willing to speak on this topic. I was delighted when she said Steve Keener would fill in – and not only because I had found someone to fill a badly needed spot in the magazine.

Mr. Keener was the fifth-grade teacher for my daughter, Nicole, 20 years ago. He was her favorite teacher. When I walked into his classroom for the first time in two decades, I was struck by how much he looked the same, except for some gray hair. (Of course, thanks to Lady Clairol, he can’t say the same for me.)

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"It's My Life" blueprint for adulthood helps at-risk students make better choices

The students reminded me of myself in high school. They were cynical. They acted out. They were what teachers considered to be “troublemakers.” Except, during the It’s My Life class, they weren’t. Instead of smirking, they were listening. They were taking time for self-reflection on their lives. They were engaged and focused on creating a better future. 

Right before my eyes, I could see these students developing into future success stories, if only they’d try just a little bit harder.

The It’s My Life class is a staple at Pacific High, a continuation school in Ventura for students who could not succeed in a regular school environment. Ventura Unified Education Association President Chip Fraser describes it as a “blueprint for adulthood” to help students make better choices. Topics include: Knowing your own potential; asking the right questions; understanding the problem and exploring potential solutions; creating a life plan; and overcoming obstacles. Fraser and former teacher Brian Jaramillo started the program in 2007 with the help of an NEA grant, and CTA’s Institute for Teaching has provided grant money over the past three years. 

Fraser says it was necessary because he saw students on a daily basis who were lacking important information to succeed in life. Someone has to provide it, he says, and it might as well be him. Good for Chip! It wasn’t easy to get this course past administrators, but he did it. He has grit: This guy once walked 500 miles to talk to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about public school funding.

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The pain of interviewing

Have you ever worried about being deported?” I ask Eduardo.

He starts to cry. I freeze. Oh no, not again; I so do not want this to happen. Tears run freely down his face. I grab my pen to take notes and capture his pain as Scott clicks away on his camera. They say the media are vultures, and I like to think we’re not. But it is part of the story.

Yes I worry, says Eduardo, who is meeting for me in his counselor’s office for an interview about DREAMers, or undocumented students for an article in the April issue of the California Educator, as he recalls the traumatic day ICE took away his favorite aunt and deported her to Mexico, leaving behind three young children.

It is a fair question I have asked him, and it goes to the root of the issues faced by students lacking Social Security numbers. But I feel horrible. He is only 17. I feel especially horrible because Eduardo has an interview with a local university for a full scholarship right after our interview – and he is shaken. I do not want to be the reason he’s not accepted.

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Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

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