Teachers Can’t Back Down

There is a lot of controversy brewing over the new movie “Won’t Back Down,” which stars Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal.  The story the film tells is about a group of mothers that are so outraged about the low performance of their children’s school that they take it over.  The main “bad guy” of the film is the teachers’ union.  As a retired Assistant Principal in the New York City Public School System, I can assure you that the union is not the villain.

Yes, there are some bad teachers that need to be replaced, and, yes, the process to remove them is long and arduous.  However, the reasons the process is so difficult because while there are teachers that need to be removed, there are also good teachers who are being targeted, either by a particular administrator or by a parent.

During my career, I sometimes had to deal with a teacher who, for want of a better phrase, should not have been teaching.  It took a while, but once an arbitrator learned all of the facts, the bad teachers were usually removed.  On the other hand, I was once brought before an arbitrator by a principal who wanted to replace me with a tall well built red head, even though my performance was always excellent.  When the arbitrator heard my case, I was returned to my position, and I asked to be transferred to a different school.  The principal based his case on a technicality of notification about surgery that I had.  None of it was performance related.  The arbitrator dismissed the case as did the superintendant.  Of course, I then asked for a transfer.  I was part of the team that had gotten the school off the state list of failing schools.


Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, the national teachers’ union, addresses this issue in the Washington Post in her discussion of “Won’t Back Down.”  She is very clear in making her readers understand that the film is pure fiction and has no basis in fact.


Ms. Weingarten, during her career as an educator and as a union leader, had always advocated as much for the students as she has for the teachers.  And she states, “After viewing this film, I can tell you that if I had taught at that school, and if I were a member of that union, I would have joined the characters played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis. I would have led the effort to mobilize parents and teachers to turn around that school myself.”  The problem, you see, is not the teachers and not the union.   There is no one word answer.  The filmmaker’s oversimplification – even considering the need for drama and box office revenue – is a problem.

In New York, where non-union charter schools are attempting to replace many unionized public schools, most charters do not do any better than their public counterparts.   The charters may have busted the union, but they have not solved the problems.

We are living in difficult times.  Money is tight, and there is a contingent among our politicians that believes that the way to make things better is to cut taxes for the wealthy.  To accomplish this goal, and the revenue declines that would accompany it, they have to cut services.  No government agency is immune.  Police officers and firefighters are losing their jobs.  There are approximately three hundred thousand, fewer teachers now than there were 8 years ago.

Yes, there are some issues that unions must address, but while those issues are being addressed, the educational administrators must deal with the real problems.  These include, over populated classrooms, poverty, ineffective standardized tests and more.  Union busting will not solve these problems.  Union busting makes good sound bites but hurts the children the union busters say they are fighting for.


In the end, it was unions that gave us health insurance, pensions and fair wages.  Those people who are attacking all unions, not just the teachers’ s union, seek to end these protections and create a have and have not society, a society in which 90% of the people will be the have nots.

So, the truth is, not only can’t the teachers back down.   We all can’t, indeed, we must not back down.  Not for the unions.  Not for the Tea Party.  But for the ones who count most, the children.









Imagine.  Imagine a 6 year old getting ready for first grade.  Some of his clothes are in a plastic bag, some in his mom’s suitcase stuffed with all their belongings.  Maybe his underpants are sharing room with pencils, broken crayons and cookie crumbs in his backpack.  He is homeless and living in a shelter.

Gail Paris, an award winning educator and founder of Doodle Noodle, LLC, designed The School Doodle and The Clothes Doodle to help children live more organized lives and parents have less stress.  Although her products will benefit all children and families, they are of critical importance to homeless children.

Retired as an Assistant Principal from the New York City School System, she chose to spend her career working in schools where children did not have the financial or educational benefits of kids in more affluent neighborhoods.  She understands what children need.

The School Doodle consists of two panels designed to fit into any standard backpack or to be used independently as a “desk.”  It is an organizer which features pockets designed to hold standard school supplies, such as rulers, pencils and other school needs.  The Messenger part, with one pocket marked “To School” and the other “To Home,” has enough room to hold a notebook, library book or tablet.  Notes from the teacher will get to parents and notes and permission slips from parents will get to school. The School Doodle is the perfect organizational product for elementary school age children.   The retail price for the School Doodle set is $19.95.


The Clothes Doodle has pockets labeled for each day of the week and will hold an entire day’s clothing securely. .   It consists of 2 organizers which can be hung by their handles on hangars or hooks.  It relieves stress in the morning as kids get their own clothes, or mom easily gets them for younger kids


Unlike “shelf” organizers, it saves precious closet rod space, and, because of its closed pocket design, clothes won’t fall out.  There is even a “Sleep Noodle” pocket containing a tote bag to keep a toothbrush and other necessities for a sleep over or short trip.    The retail price for the Clothes Doodle is $29.95.

Unfortunately, for homeless children, every night is a “sleep over.”  For them, The Clothes Doodle can be folded and placed in whatever space the shelter provides.  The School Doodle has a place for everything they need, whether they are doing homework on a bed or on the floor.

The bright and cheerful colors are bound to bring a smile to their faces.  The fact that they can manage their school stuff and their clothing will give them a sense of independence and responsibility.  They are going to “own” their attractive well made organizers literally and figuratively.

We are starting The Doodle Noodle Shelter Kids’ Program to bring these unique products to children who need them most but whose parents can’t afford to buy them.  You can purchase one or more School Doodles and Clothes Doodles on our website (www.doodlenoodlestuff.com) and indicate that you want them to be donated to deserving children in a family shelters in New York City by typing in SHELTER when you check out.  We will tell the shelter that you gave them this gift, and a letter indicating that they have received it will be sent to you for tax purposes.  You can click the link to “OUR STORE” at the bottom of this post to go right to the Doodle Noodle Shop, and don’t forget to click the Vote For Us link to help us get back into the top 10 at Top Mommy Blogs.

We know that all children can learn.  Some need a little extra help because their families cannot provide the things they need to be like other kids to learn skills and have a sense of self worth.   We are offering a 10% discount for each donation, plus we will include a new children’s book with each School Doodle and Clothes Doodle.  Just type SHELTER in the discount section of your order, and we’ll take it from there.

Thank you for joining Doodle Noodle in this effort to support homeless children and their families. 



What is the connection between the fact that we score 39th internationally in math achievement levels and Honey Boo Boo, a graduate of “Toddlers and Tiaras” now having her own family reality show.  I propose that our focus on the lowest common denominator culturally is related to the fact that students don’t know what lowest common denominator means.  The first decade of the 21st Century, in addition to electing the first African American President will be known for the dumbing down of America.

As an educator and mother of over 30 years, I believe that Honey Boo Boo’s mother and other mothers who sexualize toddlers are abusive.  How much less responsible are those who watch them?  Aggressive relationships may show the scars, but are those of passive aggressive personalities any less damaging?

We ate out with our friends on Saturday and were joined by their 22 year old daughter and her boy friend.  We gave the waitress 2 charge cards and asked that she split the bill 1/3 and 2/3s.  She took 2 steps away from us and then asked, “1/3 and ¾?”  Help!

We are lazy physically and mentally.  “Upgrade” was among my late sister’s favorite words.  She was a master at getting a better room or on to the concierge floor of a hotel and did so politely, without any drama.  We need to upgrade what we read, what we watch and what we say.  And, no, I’m not an elitist.  I grew up in a small 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house in a town of 500 in Sullivan County in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.  We were lower middle class.  I attended NYU on a full tuition scholarship, and I still had to take out loans.  But I am particular.  Live in a trailer or a penthouse, but make it the best it can be.

So, why did “no problem” replace “you’re welcome?”  And when did “Handyman coming up at 8:30” replace “Is it OK if the handyman comes up now?”  America, it’s time to upgrade.


I’m angry.  Twenty years after “The Wonder Years,”  “Winnie” is writing another book trying to overcome girls fear, or at least discomfort, with math.  We still earn less than men for comparable work, are underappreciated in government and it’s still not cool for girls to be great in math and science.  A 2008 study shows that boys score 2% higher in the 4th grade.  By the 8th grade, the difference has virtually disappeared.  In college, there is no gap in ability, but males are highly over represented among math majors.  We are not attracting proficient women to the fields of math and science.   When women are underrepresented, we are denied female input into solutions to problems and innovation.  What is worse is that among wealthy developed nations, the U.S. (males and females combined) scores 31st in math and 23rdin science.  That is a national tragedy.


Whose fault is this?  Certainly not Danica McKellar’s, who is a very attractive spokesperson for getting girls to focus on the curves in Geometry rather than  those at Victoria’s Secret.


We need to make girls aware that math is a part of every minute of their day, from the clock that wakes them up to the discount on their favorite pair of jeans.  We need to do it early.  We need to make math girly.

Computer programs or extra worksheets are not going to be the program.  Having your little girl set the table for a tea party and asking her to get the right number of teacups for the two of you, plus her doll, is a start.  Going shopping for clothes with your 10 year old, giving her a budget and having her keep track of her spending will help.  The thing is it has to be personal, and it has to be fun.  And it has to be praised.  We need to focus girls’ attention on the Sally Rides and the “Winnies.”


A rose is a rose is a rose (Gertrude Stein).  A boy is a boy is a boy, except when he is not, except when he is a ‘pink’ boy.  Today’s New York Times Magazine article “Boy/Girl” raises the question of why it’s OK for girls to wear pants and Converse sneakers (even if they’re not pink) and, yet, wrong for boys to wear dresses.  Pink shirts for men are in.  Earrings and long hair are not shockers.

In fact, men have worn long wigs and ruffled shirts in different periods of Western Civilization.  And if you look at different cultures, even in 2012, men wear caftans and other items of dress that could be considered feminine.

I think there is a spectrum of gender identification somewhat influenced by culture (“Real men don’t eat quiche.” Now they make it) and definitely by hormones.

As a woman who was required to read Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique,” the summer before her college freshman year, I have always been a feminist.  For me, that meant I wanted to have choices based on my interests, my talents and my ability to work hard.  I wanted the same opportunities and the same pay for exercising those opportunities that men received.  I wanted control over my body and my life choices.

I wanted choices for my children too.  My first born, a son, came home to a room decorated in primary colors, red, yellow and blue figures of toys on squares of white.  When he was a toddler he played with a grocery cart, dishes, a doll – “Joey” and grandma’s handmade Raggedy Ann.  He also had blocks, cars and trucks.  When his sister came along 3 years later, a stroller, Cabbage Patch Dolls and a fancier tea set were added.  Sara played with trucks, blocks, her brother’s friends and was in a play group with 2 other boys.

They grew up seeing their father vacuum and do his own laundry.  I went back to work full time when Sara was 3, but I had a very busy schedule as a community and political activist before that.

My son was definitely a boy, now a man, and my daughter was definitely a girl, now a woman.  It was hormones.

A story is told of Nick, a 10 year old who has 36 Barbies. (I wouldn’t let any child, boy or girl have 36 Barbies) who likes to design gowns for them and himself, and has had no play dates since a friend stopped by unexpectedly and saw his collection.

Why do we look at Nick as a she/boy rather than, perhaps, a future famous designer?  Why do interests have to be gender specific?

If we can’t let children be true to their core- even if that core is sometimes in a middle space- we will all lose.  As a parent and as an educator of children with over 30 years of experience, I know that children are unique.  It is our job to love them and teach them and to make sure that they feel loved and that they learn.  Most importantly, they need to love themselves whether they are girls wearing auto mechanic’s overalls or boys wearing pink dresses


Curiosity on Maris – great.  I’m more curious about how the greatest city in the world has 17,619 homeless children living in shelters.  That’s not counting those living 3 in a bed at relatives’ houses or some that may live in a car or a truck.


Priorities?  In a national budget – yes.  In a municipal budget – absolutely.  Mayor Bloomberg, it’s beds before bikes (On the Upper West Side where I live, the street bike lanes are barely used.)  Maybe every co-op or condo that sells for over 2 illion dollars should have homeless child tax.


The mayor is concerned about our health, and so he wants to limit the size of sugary drinks we buy in restaurants.  I know that we all pay for people who develop diabetes and other weight related health problems.  But, Mike, have you crunched the numbers on what a homeless child costs us – more years of food related health problems, lack of academic skills, maybe drug use.

We focus on our greatest at the Olympics.  While NBC/Universal has tried to force us to watch by eliminating all other programs and showing reruns on its cable stations, let’s pay attention to those who face a challenge every day of their lives.  Each child who survives being homeless deserves a gold medal.







I designed a room for a pre-teen that would last until he/she leaves for college and would even see your student through law school.

Yes, drawers turn into a mess, but, still, you need to put the stuff someplace.  Choices are only limited by your creativity.  Of course, you can just go into The Container Store pr Staples and buy different kinds of containers from ones that turn and hold everything to round metal mesh holders or square/rectangular ones, all of which  can hold writing tools, rulers and scissors, but you and your child may choose to be more creative and allow for changing taste through these school years.

How about tin cans, held together with different colored duct tape?  Duct tape has gone wild – hot pink, neon green, even leopard and zebra prints.  Kitchen drawer organizers have gone designer as well and now come in bright colors.

Thinking further outside the box – oh, wait, actually in a box – what about Chinese food containers.  These can actually now be bought in different colors.  Whatever your student chooses, the idea is to be able to have them attached or be arranged on a tray so that they can easily be removed if more flat surface is needed for project work or research books.

For some reason, a standing lamp with adjustable lights Is better than a desk lamp.

To continue with our “In Your Face” these, bulletin boards are good to hold a calendar (I know they have them on their lap tops and phones, but this way they are in his face and yours too.)  Homework can be posted here too until all of it is done and is ready to be put in a notebook, folder or whatever system your student is using to transport work.

Bulletin boards can be bought framed or make out of cork squares or Homasote, purchased at Home Depot or a similar store.  Obviously, carpet squares provide a wide variety of color and pattern, and your child can go as crazy or conservative as you allow.  Other options are pasting or stapling scrapbook paper or wallpaper to the board.  Duct tape can divide the board into sections – homework, research, papers to be signed.

Your students can label the tabs with days of the week or subjects.  If there is a big project or research paper assigned, another one can be bought to handle these papers.  At $14.99, this is a real bargain.

Wow!  Your “grown up” student is ready to start a new year – organized and living in an “up-graded room.”  In September, I’ll guide you through the executive functioning skills your student will need.  In the meantime, enjoy the summer.

If you have any questions or need help implementing these ideas, please leave comment or e-mail me at gail@doodlenoodlestuff.com.

Remember, your younger child needs to be organized also.   Buy a School Doodle and have fun buying the items that fit in the pockets.  Get them reading now by buying a new book to place in the “Messenger” pocket.  And remember, right now when you purchase a School Doodle, we will send you a free book to get the reading started.