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Teacher of the Year

(68 posts)
Sat Apr 13, 2024, 12:44 PM Apr 13

Why I had to leave DU and the long journey back. My first post in nine years. [View all]

Good Morning DU. It feels good to say that. You don't know that I have been here with you, almost every day in those nine years. I was just silent while joining you. This is my third re-incarnation on DU and hopefully my last one. You see, I had to kill my old DU accounts because my posts riled up some people and they tried to hunt me down. The first account I killed to protect my identity. The second one I killed because a DUer, outed me out of...? Well, to be honest, I don't know why. In those days I was posting under the name DonRedwood.

My style of posting was not everyone's piece of cake. I am a diarist, basically. The anonymity of DU allowed me to share my experiences in my classroom without violating the rights of my students. It also allowed me to discuss my district openly without fear of reprisal. A diarist writes about their own life and experience so my writing is usually about something good I did or something stupid I did. Overall though, my only goal in my style of writing was to reach people by giving access to my feelings.

That openness was almost my undoing and DU played a big part in it.

My posts on DU were popular. I remember the day one of my early posts hit 10,000 recs. An old time DUer messaged me to tell me that since I was new, I had no idea how big that was for this community. I learned to love and value the conversations I had on this site. I especially appreciated the freedom to speak so freely.

And then I spoke too freely and it all came tumbling down.

In kind of a one-two whammy I wrote a piece about a lunch I refused to give my students. I don't remember the numbers now, but the lunch had something like 140% of the daily salt intake for an adult. Who knew such a post would create such an uproar? Some people didn't believe me (despite having a photo of the lunch that I offered to share) and the post bounced around on the internet and suddenly people are posting about how they are calling the local school districts in my state or getting their menus and calling me a liar. I did not work for a school district, but the county, and our lunches were not on the menu. They were sack lunches we contracted out from a nearby school. The day I wrote about, the sack included a bag of Fritos, canned corn, a lunchmeat sandwich. They were terrible. Corn Nuts were a common "vegetable serving" they would send my kids with severe special needs. We had to blend them in a blender..with milk. So, yes, I wrote a lot about the food, but suddenly, even some DU users were looking up menus and discussing that none of the local menus lined up with what I was saying. I could not just come out and say that I worked for the county. It was ugly and some DUers never let it alone.

Just after this, with my fear of being outed to my district, Stephanie Miller read one of my DU pieces on the air. I was shocked but, also, very very proud. I was a journalist before I became a teacher and to have something I wrote read on the air was a really great feeling. But then I learned there is a flip-side to being read on the air. Soon after. Rush Limbaugh read the same piece and then encouraged his listeners to find out who I was. More calls started being made to the local school districts. I was so scared I was going to be outed, that my district would see all the things I had written about their food programs and horrible leadership.

I killed my DU account. It broke my heart. I had valued this platform as my megaphone to promote and try to save public education. I was showing some of the dark side in the hope that the light I was bringing could force some change.

I would force some change. Some big time chane. But that is later, after I went silent on DU.

I've said I've had three lives on DU. The first round ended when I pulled the plug on my first DU account. I opened a new profile but changed how I wrote after that. I purposefully left out the details. Wrote less about school and more about my personal experiences. I also had to take the edge off of what I wrote. Every sentence I wrote on DU had to be something my supervisor (who was not a good person) could read and not fire me for. I was still anonymous, but now I wrote under the fear that an angry mob of Limbaugh listeners, or angry DUers might try to hunt me down at any time.

Before I move on, I will wrap up the lunch story. One I am very proud of. I went and picked up lunches every day at a nearby school and I complained so much I got banned from the cafeteria. Then I got banned from calling the cafeteria. Then they simply started leaving a milk crate full of sack lunches outside the back door on the ground. About ten feet from the dumpster. I started calling my supervisor instead.

The next fall, my supervisor showed up at my county-level special education classroom, where I taught 18-21 year olds life and job skills, handed me a credit card and said, (basically) "You are going to make your own food. Do your own shopping, cook it yourself and we do not want to hear another complaint out of you." For the rest of my time at that job, my students learned to shop and cook all of the food we served at school. We shopped and picked out RIPE fruit (we were always getting unripe fruit that the kids would not eat). fresh salads (we had been on sack lunches and everything was packaged or canned-other schools had salad bars, etc. but we were not in a regular school) and a whole variety of easily prepared meals. We made a visual version of the food handler's guide, my students learned it and passed the test to get food handler's cards. We opened a small cafe in our district office and my students who were interested in food service, got on-the-job training and some pretty amazing tips. All that because DU empowered me to use my voice. Not only on DU, anonymously, but in real life where I took the support I got from DU to get up the courage to take a stand.

And so started my second life on DU. I wrote as DonRedwood. I wrote pieces about how I had been inspired by my students. I wrote about my little white kitten who happens to be deaf. I was proud of the writing I did on DU. I wrote essays based on my own life. I wrote about education. I tried to be an open book...as much as an anonymous poster can be, but mostly I focused on work. I put my energy into my kids and I was seeing such amazing results. And suddenly my writing on DU became a problem.

I was named the Oregon State Teacher of the Year.

I had been writing from the heart on DU. A gay heart. There were a lot of essays about my personal life out there. There were a lot of essays about my professional life out there. I thought the award was a little prize and would get some supplies for my class. I wasn't too worried. But Teacher of the Year isn't a little prize. It isn't little at all. I went from a basement classroom special ed teacher to being considered a vetted source on education. The New Times interviewed me. The Oregonian ran a full page, cover of the living section story a gigantic photo of me in my classroom door. They are sent to a national convening and put through media training. We were given White House Honors where I got a portrait taken with President Obama and got to have lunch with Dr Jill Biden. This little prize basically picks you up out of your life and puts you in a new life. On a fast paced, media and politician-filled adventure course. It is insane and you are simply on the roller coaster until it stops.

And in all that training it also becomes very clear. I didn't win a prize-I won a non-paying second job and that job was to represent education in my state and nationally. To add a little twist to my award, it also meant that Special Education had their first Teacher of the Year. It meant that LGBTQ youth had a Teacher of the Year being pictured with his husband. I had no idea it would be so life-changing. I had no idea it would put such a giant target on me. I knew I'd be in the hot-seat, but the wave of hate wasn't going to be just one wave. It was more like those tsunami waves that pile up and come one right after another.

My anonymous writing became a threat. Again.

I had a huge number of DU essays out there and a few of the people who disliked me on DU put two and two together and figured out DonRedwood was me and outed me on DU and tied me to my older posts. Not by name, but with enough information you could google their post as a question and my picture popped up. My fear was the right-wingers who were also trying to figure me out would now also see me. The pressure was immense. I did not want my personal political writings to take the focus off the kids who I served in my classroom. I was the state's most well-known advocate for LGBTQ youth. I was my state's first Teacher of the Year who worked in Special Education. I was representing kids who needed representation more than anyone else in this country. I was so scared my personal political posts would erase that all away. Then I thought of the red parts of the states I was visiting. Republican moms, crying in my arms because she felt my speech was talking about her own fears for her child with special needs or the Cowboy dad who burst into tears because he was so scared for his gay child and had never been able to picture a successful picture of their kid's future.

So I went silent on DU.

In 2015 I opened this account as Teacher of the Year. I had planned to take off the mask with the account and write as myself. Instead I was told by my district if II said I was gay in public, I would be fired. Well, what I was told was, "If you say you are gay in public again someone is going to kill you. I mean it, shut your mouth or someone is going to shoot you in the head."

Then I was given these orders: I would be fired if I;
1. Said any words, publicly or privately, 24 hours a day, that were not approved in advance by the school district. I would have to write down everything I was going to say, get approval and then not vary from the script. When the New York Times asked to. interview me about the role in getting Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, to change a national policy that was impacting my student, my district said no-Since I could not provide them with a script of my answers (to questions I had not been asked yet) they said no. (I did it anyway).
2. Write any words without their permission. I would have to ask to write something, then write it, then give it to them to read, and they would decide what to do with it.
3. I could speak to no group or person unless they approved of them in advance. When I asked to speak to a gay student group (to discuss suicide prevention) they said no and said the reason, in writing, was "Those students have no value to the district, therefor you cannot go."
4. I was ordered to bring all personal mail from home for them to open and read to make sure I was not writing anything in my personal correspondence that they did not approve of.

So I went to war with my district. That's a long story and I'll share it eventually but the DU fallout was, I suddenly found myself in the middle of state and federal complaints, my story was on the front pages of the papers, the wikipedia page showed up, the Daily Mail took the story international and suddenly, once again, I had to heavily monitor everything I said. My tweets started showing up in main-stream media. headlines were saying things like "Emails show district tried to blackmail Teacher of the Year."

Once again I was under a microscope. My district tried as hard as they could to ruin me publicly but DU had taught me the power of my voice and I used it to take on my school district. I did get fired. Very publicly. They thought it would ruin me but it didn't. I got my job back. What they did was horrible but I am not a wilting flower. My father trained Green Berets. Lol, my mother trained my father so she was even tougher than my dad. But all the threats and public humiliations that happened was tough on my mom. She called me crying on night after reading the (unmonitored0 comments on the Oregonian Newspaper. My mom, the strongest person I know, was reduced to tears by the hate she saw aimed at me.

My DU account remained silent. I was not suing, but I had filed state and federal complaints on my district. It was all front page news and my mom was paying a price for it. And then my husband read some on the bus as he commuted from work and burst into tears. When he walked in the door his eyes were red and he sobbed to read all the poison from the right-wing trolls. DU, I feared, could only add another level of pain to what my family was going through.

Instead of writing on DU I became The Teaching Channels first special ed columnist. I wrote social justice pieces for Education Post and EdWeek and tweeted with some viral posts that kind of changed my life. But on DU I stayed silent. For nine years I have started my mornings with DU. My favorite DUers knew me on twitter or Facebook. I've probably never missed one of California Peggy's pictures. I sobbed out loud when we lost MadFloridian. MadFlo had come to my side when things got really ugly and their support meant the world to me.

Nothing ever compelled me enough to speak. Nine silent years form someone, who, as you can see from this post, is a story-teller who does not shy away from an hour of typing. It killed me sometimes, especially as we lost some very special DUers over the years. I wanted to commiserate and talk about the words they shared over the years that had had the most impact on me. Those special moments where your view of everything suddenly gets shifted and you owe it to one person who had the right words to reach you. (MafFloridian, you were the best and showed me teachers did have the right to speak their minds, regardless of where they work or how monstrous their supervisors were).

But last week I saw a post here asking about NoKidHungry and if it was a good organization. At a conference I met the representatives of NoKidHungry and I was so impressed by them. I went home after the meeting and wrote an essay about childhood hunger and sent it to them with an invitation to use it however it would help. When they rolled out their beginning of the school year campaign that year, my essay was part of their press release. I was so proud to give an organization like that support the very best way I know how. I am a diarist and I wrote from my heart about the hungry kids I have known. I have always been the teacher who did the food drives. I have a whole cupboard of snacks because no kid that sits in my classroom is going to be hungry.

So after nine years of silence, I put my (slightly burned) fingertips to the keyboard and posted on DU. Heck yeah NoKidHungry is an excellent organization with a 100% rating and really fine people working hard ot get foods into the bellies of our neediest kids. For nine years I kept my words out of the DU conversations but you found my kryptonite. If my rec would help feed a few more kids, yeah, I'm back in.

But I've missed speaking with you DU. I've missed being part of the conversation but the risk had felt too high. Truth is, I didn't want to make my mom cry any more. That was my brother's job, never mine, so I put my head down for a while and just licked some wounds and taught some kids. My mom passed recently though, and my husband has a thicker skin, and here we are DU. I'm back in the fold, again, and, Oh My God, do I have some tales to tell you

113 replies = new reply since forum marked as read
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You make me believe in reincarnation... and karma Bucky Apr 13 #1
II have a feeling I will be writing a lot about karma in the coming years. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #4
Personally I think the problem with society today is the *lack* of karma. Bucky Apr 13 #7
Welcome back! FalloutShelter Apr 13 #2
Welcome back!!! niyad Apr 13 #3
I've enjoyed a lot of your posts! Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #5
Thank you very kindly. I certainly remember your"Don Redmond" niyad Apr 13 #54
That's one hell of a journey (or more!) chowder66 Apr 13 #6
I'm just getting started! Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #15
I'm in awe of your resiliency. chowder66 Apr 13 #21
I don't share some of that stuff, even with my husband. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #31
She did the same for as long as she could but chowder66 Apr 13 #35
I don't share everything, even with my husband, and am guilty of trying to hide injuries Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #34
OMG! I hope you heal quickly!! chowder66 Apr 13 #37
numerous ways to achieve a goal NJCher Apr 13 #41
Welcome Back! Ohio Joe Apr 13 #8
Wow! Thank you for fighting for your students. Akacia Apr 13 #9
Wow. Think. Again. Apr 13 #10
If this helps: Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #25
Thank you, wise words! Think. Again. Apr 13 #48
Welcome back ismnotwasm Apr 13 #11
Thank You For Sharing DET Apr 13 #12
Your persistence inspires me. I will be looking forward to your posts now that you're home again 👏 Deuxcents Apr 13 #13
I'm a nobody here, and I rarely read posts as long as yours, phylny Apr 13 #14
{{{{{phylny}}}}}. No one's a nobody here. Everyone who posts contributes. highplainsdem Apr 13 #19
Me too! And I read it all as well! very well written story oldsoftie Apr 13 #79
It was a lot of words, and I cut a lot out. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #82
Welcome back! And kudos for all the good you've done, all the battles fought for all the right reasons. highplainsdem Apr 13 #16
SO glad to see you, and your story is important. nolabear Apr 13 #17
DU contains both good and bad BWdem4life Apr 13 #18
I met the Australian Principal of the Year, with whom I am now friends. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #85
Love this! And can't wait to read more! Bluesaph Apr 13 #20
Welcome back! PatrickforB Apr 13 #22
Wonderful! More long-form posts like this, please! Glad to see your new incarnation. keopeli Apr 13 #23
Bravo! Easterncedar Apr 13 #24
Welcome home! mahina Apr 13 #26
Welcome home irisblue Apr 13 #27
Welcome back! arkielib Apr 13 #28
I do remember DonRedwood esp your poignant post to RowdyBoy, who'd passed before you could tell him hlthe2b Apr 13 #29
That was one of my last posts Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #40
I'm a firm adherent of perseverance. Mr. Evil Apr 13 #30
welcome back joanbarnes Apr 13 #32
Thanks for returning Bundbuster Apr 13 #33
Welcome back Picaro Apr 13 #36
Welcome Back ProfessorGAC Apr 13 #38
One of my favorites was about my new deaf little white kitten. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #43
Have 2 Here ProfessorGAC Apr 13 #44
Blessings to you and welcome back. redwitch Apr 13 #39
All I can think of is: You're Wonderful! and brave. chouchou Apr 13 #42
I'm so glad you're back LittleGirl Apr 13 #45
Everyone on this website should Mr.Bill Apr 13 #46
Great writing bagimin Apr 13 #47
Really enjoyed reading your story! ShazzieB Apr 13 #49
Fascinating post PatSeg Apr 13 #50
Absolutely stunning. Welcome back with open arms, & so proud to give the 100th Rec Hekate Apr 13 #51
Glad you're back. alwaysinasnit Apr 13 #52
Welcome back LetMyPeopleVote Apr 13 #53
Welcome back wildflowergardener Apr 13 #55
Welcome back Tree Lady Apr 13 #56
Not yet. Teacher of the Year Apr 14 #100
Welcome back, my dear Teacher! What an amazing story. CaliforniaPeggy Apr 13 #57
Thanks Peggy! Teacher of the Year Apr 14 #110
No worries at all! Long posts do not scare me! CaliforniaPeggy Apr 14 #112
I ignored this post three or four times before clicking on it. LiberalFighter Apr 13 #58
I definitely remember reading your posts stage left Apr 13 #59
Welcome Back. padfun Apr 13 #60
Oregon State Teacher of the Year? WOW! This fellow Oregonian says "YAAAAYYYYY!!!" calimary Apr 13 #61
Glad you found your way back. blm Apr 13 #62
Welcome Back, Welcome Back, Welcome Back... benfranklin1776 Apr 13 #63
By providing your old screenname you've given them the opportunity to "out" you once again. rwild1967 Apr 13 #64
It's already out there, and I'm no longer at that district. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #98
Welcome back iamateacher Apr 13 #65
Welcome back, Teacher of the Year From a fellow teacher. debm55 Apr 13 #66
Welcome back! mgardener Apr 13 #67
Parent of LGBTQ children yankee87 Apr 13 #68
Teacher of the Year ........ Upthevibe Apr 13 #69
Usually when I see a post longer than a perfessor Apr 13 #70
Great post. Nice to read your experience, ty. peacebuzzard Apr 13 #71
Wow! Welcome Back! LovelyStuff Apr 13 #72
Thank you for your wonderful work and wonderful self. people Apr 13 #73
I think it's safe to say that that your upcoming stories will have an eager audience. DFW Apr 13 #74
Thank you. You are inspiring. I'm glad you've not been silenced. Bumbles Apr 13 #75
Thanks for sharing your story happy feet Apr 13 #76
Welcome back and hello to a fellow Oregonian! oregonjen Apr 13 #77
Oh yes. I know. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #90
I know. I intend for people to know who I am. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #91
Wow! I just read some articles and your Wikipedia page. Those administrators really crossed all boundaries tblue37 Apr 13 #78
The last time I checked it, it didn't even have the Supreme Court stuff in it. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #89
I'M bitter about it! It,'s all so unnecessarily, gratuitously cruel and destructive. I think you never fully recover tblue37 Apr 13 #92
Welcome back! Some will still come for you if you post things they dont like though oldsoftie Apr 13 #80
Haters have to hate. enigmania Apr 13 #81
I don't know what to say other than--WOW! Bayard Apr 13 #83
It was written order! They handed me a copy of it and asked me to sign that I had read it. Teacher of the Year Apr 13 #86
Welcome back to our crazy family! Turbineguy Apr 13 #84
Thank you for your humanity and your courage. sellitman Apr 13 #87
I will watch for your posts. BoomaofBandM Apr 13 #88
Glad you are here! AwakeAtLast Apr 13 #93
We're all stories in the end ... with apologies to the good doctor TBF Apr 13 #94
Welcome back, Teacher Of The Year! Aristus Apr 13 #95
Wow. Eko Apr 13 #96
Just wow! samplegirl Apr 13 #97
💗💗💗🙏🏼💐 Hope22 Apr 13 #99
Strength and honor. WheelWalker Apr 14 #101
Good morning. riversedge Apr 14 #102
My Sister was an Oregon teacher.. Permanut Apr 14 #103
Welcome back! ChazInAz Apr 14 #104
Nice to see you again. mdbl Apr 14 #105
Welcome back TOTY!! Peacetrain Apr 14 #106
What a multi-pronged ordeal! Welcome back! CousinIT Apr 14 #107
You write with passion about topics in drawn to RainCaster Apr 14 #108
Wow, what an experience, I'm glad you're back. CaptainTruth Apr 14 #109
👇👇👇👁️👁️ Goonch Apr 14 #111
Welcome back! AmBlue Apr 15 #113
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