Sunday, September 9, 2018

Advice for New Teachers - 2018

            For more years than I can possibly remember, I have written an annual column to new teachers.  It’s hard to believe I have now been retired for five years. Nevertheless, I remain in close enough contact with active teachers and students that I still feel comfortable giving you advice.
    ·         Don’t let anyone tell you not to teach.  The fact that you are teaching right now tells me you have already followed your own path rather than allowing other people to convince you to follow theirs. Teaching IS difficult.  The work of teachers often isn’t valued the way it once was.  But if your heart tells you to teach, by all means, teach!
   ·         You have an enormous responsibility.  Every day, your students deserve your best when they walk into your classroom.  They deserve your undivided attention, your knowledge, your passion for your subject area and for teaching, and your ability to make what they are learning relevant. 
·         Get to know your students, and let them get to know you.  Go to their extracurricular activities when you can.  Sing happy birthday on each student’s special day.  Post news articles or other announcements that highlight their accomplishments.  Call home to check on them when they are absent more than one day.  Talk to them if you notice a change in personality or mood.  Invite them to community events that are important to you.  Let them see your true personality.
·         Classroom management plays a significant role in learning.  Expect, and give, respect in your classroom.  Teach, and use, good manners.  Please, thank you, yes (instead of yeah), and excuse me go a long way, not only in the classroom but in life.  Avoid using curse words in front of your students and expect the same from them.  If you spend your time writing referrals, students learn quickly you are not in control of your classroom.  When you don’t have a well-managed classroom, it affects your students’ ability to learn.  My first two years of retirement, I worked for an alternative certification company. As part of their course on Classroom Management, they used the book The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong.  Oh how I wish this book had been available when I started teaching.  If you master the techniques taught in this book, your classroom-management game should be on point.
·         There IS a line between you and your students.  Stay on your side.  My last few years of teaching, I was shocked to hear of teachers I knew losing their jobs because they crossed the line on social media or by texting their students.  First, always make sure you are following your district’s policy as it relates to communication with students.  If your district does not have a policy, act as if it does.  To give you an idea how serious this is, read School District Employees and Electronic Media put out by the Texas Association of School Boards in November of 2017.  Please trust me when I tell you that you do not want to risk your teacher certification and your reputation by crossing the line.
·         Live by the words of Pastor Tony Evans.  Years ago, I heard Pastor Tony Evans on the radio.  “We should not lower our standards for our children.  Instead, we should raise our children to meet the high standards we have set for them.”  As I was driving, I gave an AMEN!  Do you know about the Texas Truth-in-Grading Law and how it has withstood court challenges by districts determined to lower standards for their students?  My advice is to ask yourself every day, what should your standards be if you truly want to prepare your students for college and the workforce?
·         Call your students’ parents.  At the beginning of the school year, I made a list of all of my students’ parents’ phone numbers I would have them readily available.  I developed the habit of calling them not only when I needed their assistance with behavioral issues or to get their children to tutoring but also to share good news about their children.  As I look back on my teaching career, I wish I had done this even more.  It’s amazing what it meant to the parents and to my students.
·         Ask questions.  A lot of them.  As I said at the beginning of this blog post, teaching is difficult.  Don’t try to do it alone.  Ask your colleagues, administrators, school secretaries, counselors, librarians, and anyone else on your campus for help and guidance.  One day, a new teacher will be asking you.
·         Get to know your colleagues on campus.  You will find out quickly that your custodians, your school secretaries, the school nurse, the librarian, your cafeteria workers, and every other member of your staff plays a critical role in your success and your students’ success.  Drop them a note to say thank you, bake for them, say “Good morning,” and do whatever else you can to let them know you appreciate them.
·         JOIN A TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATION/UNION!  I would not teach today without belonging to one.  Though you may think you will never be one who is targeted by an administrator, a parent, or a student, belonging to an association/union is like having car insurance.  Hopefully, you will never have a wreck, but if you do, you will be protected.  You will also learn through the group you join about things like the Texas law on planning periods and on lesson plans (commonly referred to as the Paperwork Reduction Act).  Belonging to an association/union will also (hopefully) motivate you to get engaged, politically.  Current and retired public-education employees need to be aware of how this November’s election and the 2019 Legislative Session will affect our healthcare and our pensions.  I cannot tell you enough how important it is for you to get engaged NOW!
·         Invest in a 401K.  Retirement may be a long way off for you, but don’t be stuck depending only on your TRS pension.  While having a pension (IF you still have one---again, you better get involved in the legislative process NOW!) is nice, it is best to have supplemental income, as well.  Find a local financial advisor who is well-versed on TRS to help you begin investing in a 401K now.  Carlos Cantu, the migrant counselor at Brown Junior High (now Brown Middle School) in McAllen, where I started my teaching career, began hounding me to invest that first year, stressing that if I put it off, I would regret it.  I finally listened to him about three years later.  I should have started that first year because I would have that much more invested, but now that I am retired, I am sincerely grateful to him for continuing to hound me.  What a difference those investments will make for me in the not-to-distant future!
            CONGRATULATIONS on choosing to teach!  Regardless of the negativity often surrounding the profession today, it remains an honorable, rewarding job.  Imagine what a difference you can make in the lives of your students. Have a great year!

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018


            There is so much to share with you in this blog post.  The 2018 General Election is just around the corner (November 6), and this is a critical election for public education employees and retirees.  Two months after this election, January 8, 2019, the 86th Legislature will convene.  “Critical” doesn’t even begin to describe what this session means for all of us.
            So let’s get started on what we all need to know.  PLEASE NOTE that wherever you see blue words in the paragraphs below that are underlined, there is a LINK to the website/video/article I am discussing.  Click on them!

1.  According to the TRS website, there are currently 1.5 MILLION TRS members.  Can you all imagine the force we would be if even half of us were to get engaged?  What about one million?  (We can dream, can’t we?)  Heck, let’s shoot for all 1.5 MILLION members!  Each of us plays a role in making this happen.

2.  If you haven’t studied the Texans for Public Education ratings of our governor, lieutenant governor, senators, representatives, and State Board of Education members, start NOW!  We need to 1) keep/elect the “friendly” ones, 2) block vote against those rated “unfriendly,” and 3) elect “neutral” candidates if their opponent is “unfriendly” or block vote against them if their opponents are “unfriendly.”  (To see the ratings, scroll down on the T4PE home page—link above--until you see “Our Ratings.”  They did extensive research on each candidate and had members vote on the ratings, as well.)  SHARE!  SHARE!  SHARE!  November 6 will be here before you know it.

3.  As those of us in public education know, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has played a significant role in the decline of our benefits.  Last weekend, I had the opportunity to join an active McAllen ISD teacher and a McAllen ISD high school senior for an interview with his opponent, Mike Collier. That interview is an hour long, but I URGE you to listen to it in its entirety. He explains the predicament we are in, how he can turn it around, what property taxes have to do with it, and much more.  Once you have listened to it, please share with other voters!  Remember our goal—1.5 MILLION TRS MEMBERS…AND more!

4.  I cannot express enough how strongly I feel that every public school superintendent and every public school board trustee should be in this fight with us.  They are supposed to lead us, protect us, and support us.  Therefore, I was thrilled to hear about the courage and the conviction Dr. Kent P. Scribner, superintendent of Fort Worth ISD, showed by inviting Pastor Charles Johnson, founder of Pastors for Texas Children, to speak at the district's convocation.  (Listen from 44:54 to 1:10:30.)  This proves we are not alone!  Now we ALL need to get OUR superintendents, OUR board trustees, OUR former students and their families, OUR families, and OUR communities to stand with us!

5.  Here are more of the endless stories of the healthcare nightmare active and retired public education employees are living (I removed their last names):

         (Ernestina taught 18 years in Houston and then moved
                                                                     to the RGV, where she completed her career.  She is
                                                                     under 65.)

 (Faith has been teaching for 20 years; 
                            employees in her district are covered under TRS ActiveCare. )                                                

6.  A fellow TRS member posted on FB this week about something Gov. Greg Abbott said.  It happened yesterday during a roundtable discussion in Comal ISD, where the governor was joined by Sen. Donna Campbell, State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, and Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath. During that discussion, Gov. Abbott had the audacity to say, “We want to structure the compensation plan that would be the very best educators on the pathway to earning a six-figure salary.”  I would be the first one in line to thank the governor…if I bought it.  But this is the same elected official who allowed this nightmare to happen to us.  It has happened under HIS watch!  And while we have shouted from the rooftops for the past EIGHT MONTHS about our healthcare nightmare, he has not so much as ACKNOWLEDGED our cries for help!  Calls, posts, emails—he has addressed none of them.  Story after story after story has been posted, yet he has remained silent.
            We have just a little over two months, My Colleagues.  It’s time.  We are 1.5-MILLION-MEMBERS STRONG—and that doesn’t include our family members, friends, former students and their families, superintendents, board trustees, and communities.  IT’S TIME!

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Governor Abbott’s Silence is Deafening: Despite the suffering of public education employees and retirees across Texas, not one word from the governor

            Last Friday, public education employees and retirees across the state of Texas were dealt yet another blow.  The board of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which is the retirement system for all public education employees---teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, librarians, custodians, nurses, secretaries, counselors,police officers, social workers, sign language interpreters, classroom aides, cafeteria workers, and administrators—voted to reduce the rate of return assumption from 8 percent to 7.25 percent, despite our pleas.  We pleaded with them not to go lower than 7.5 percent, knowing that to do so would likely mean those of us who are retired would likely never see a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) and those still working in our schools could see a change in their future pensions.  Keep in mind, the rate wasn’t lowered because our pension fund is performing so poorly.  On the contrary.  In 2017, TRS saw a 12 percent rate of return, which is considered stellar in the pension-fund world.  
            It was a split vote, with the four who, like us, have to live with TRS benefits voting against the 7.25.  Trustee Dr. Greg Gibson made a motion to adopt a 7.35 percent rate of return assumption.  It was seconded by Trustee Dick Nance.  Gibson, Nance, Trustee Dolores Ramirez, and Trustee Nanette Sissney voted in favor of this motion.  Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth and trustees Joe Colonnetta, David Corpus, John Elliott, and Christopher Moss voted nay, so the motion failed.  Elliott immediately made a motion to adopt a 7.25 percent rate of return assumption, and it was seconded by Corpus.  Those two, along with Hollingsworth, Colonnetta, and Moss voted in favor, and in another split vote, Ramirez, Gibson, Nance, and Sissney voted against the motion.  With a simple majority, the motion passed. Now, our only hope is for the Texas Legislature to increase their TRS contribution rate from the current 6.8 percent to 8.18 percent, which means an additional $786 million.  And that’s just for TRS to maintain a 30-year funding period.    (The state’s contribution to the Employees Retirement System of Texas, or ERS, is 9.5 percent.  This pension system provides pensions and healthcare for all other state employees and for retired legislators. That is a 2.7 percent difference between what the state contributes to their own pension fund and what they contribute to the pension fund of all of us who spend our careers working in Texas public schools.)  This critical need for $786 million doesn’t include the money needed to end our TRS healthcare nightmare.
            Since January, active and retired educators in every region of Texas have been living a healthcare nightmare, compliments of the 2017 Legislative Session.  And yet, for seven months, Gov. Greg Abbott has remained silent.
·         These are only a small number of the healthcare issues public education employees and retirees have been facing since January.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         We shared even more stories.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         Retired teacher and administrator Adrienne Gray Myers shared her tragic healthcare story.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent. 

·         Sen. José Menéndez called for a Special Session to address our healthcare.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         Rep. Ryan Guillen called for a Special Session.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.

·         Rep. Terry Canales called for a Special Session.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.

·         I shared the story of 9-year-old Kensley, whose mom is a Texas teacher, and their TRS healthcare battle dealing with Kensley’s diagnosis of thyroid cancer.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent.
·         Public education employees and retirees and people who support us have called, tweeted, and sent mail and email to the governor’s office pleading with him to address our nightmare.  Yet Gov. Abbott remained silent. 

·         Because all else has failed, last week, Rep. Terry Canales asked the governor to declare TRS an emergency item at the start of the 2019 Legislative Session.  Yet Gov. Abbott has remained silent.

            Not one word to the public education employees across the state who work in our schools educating, feeding, counseling, and providing so much more for Texas students.  Not one word to those of us who retired, believing the state’s promise to provide us with a pension and with affordable healthcare.  Not one word to the 1.5 million TRS members explaining why the state’s contribution rate and healthcare for retired legislators is so much better than the state’s contribution rate and healthcare for retired educators. 
            While we suffer physically, financially, and emotionally, Gov. Abbott remains silent.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

MORE Bad News for Retired Teachers and All Public Ed Employees in Texas

            For once, I would love to be able to write about GOOD news for Texas’ public education employees/retirees.  But today, we received this news alert from the Texas Retired Teachers Association regarding this Friday’s meeting of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas Board.  (Remember that TRS actually covers ALL Texas public education employees, although the name indicates it is only for teachers.)
            AS IF we are not facing enough financial devastation already because of the TRS healthcare decisions the Texas Legislature made during the 2017 Legislative Session, now we have this to worry about.  For those who are new to the discussion, here are the key points regarding the TRS healthcare nightmare:

¨      The deductible for TRS retirees under the age of 65 was increased from $400 to $1500 ($3000 for married, under-65 retirees covered by TRS Care) during the 2017 Legislative Session.
¨      Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature kept the deductible for ALL OTHER state employees who are retired, including retired legislators, at $0.  (They are covered by the state’s OTHER retirement system, the Employees Retirement System of Texas, known as ERS.)
¨      We used to have a choice between three different levels of coverage, with an increasing premium as we moved up the coverage ladder.  Now we have one choice---the high-deductible, poor-coverage plan.
¨      ERS retirees continue to enjoy excellent healthcare benefits.
¨      This year, our monthly premium is $200.  It will increase over the next four years until it is close to $400 a month.
¨      ERS retirees continue to get their healthcare for free.  Their monthly premium is $0.
¨      As mentioned above, TRS retirees now have a $1500 deductible.  We must now pay 100 percent out of pocket until that deductible is met.  That means no co-pay for any doctor/hospital visits. For married couples covered by TRS, they must reach the $3000 deductible (NOT $1500 per person) before one penny of their healthcare costs is paid.
¨      ERS employees, as mentioned above, have no deductible.
¨      The $1500 deductible for TRS retirees also pertains to prescription drug costs, except for a list of standard, generic drugs.  Like with our healthcare, there is no longer a prescription-drug copay for all of us who are retired teachers, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, librarians, classroom aides, maintenance workers, police officers, custodians, nurses, social workers, counselors, administrators, or sign language interpreters.
¨      ERS retirees have a $50 prescription-drug deductible.
¨      During the 2017 Legislative Session, Texas legislators appropriated double the amount of money for ERS than for TRS, although ERS has half the number of members.
¨      Throughout our careers, we were promised affordable healthcare when we retired.  That promise has been shattered.
¨      ERS retirees were promised the same thing.  Their promise continues to be fulfilled.
¨      For seven months, we have called, emailed, mailed, and tweeted messages to Governor Greg Abbott to let him know how we are suffering.  To date, he has not even acknowledged our pleas.  Not even acknowledged, which shows his complete disrespect for public education employees who dedicated our lives to the children of this state!

            In the TRTA alert this afternoon, we were reminded of more staggering statistics:

¨      The Texas Legislature “has not authorized any pension increases for retirees since 2013.”
¨      In 2013, the Legislature provided a pension increase for retirees who retired on or before August 31, 2004.  They received a three-percent increase in their annuity, though they could not receive more than an additional $100 per month.
¨      Those of us who retired on or after September 1, 2004, have never received a pension increase.
¨      Thousands of retired school employees have seen reduced Social Security benefits (if they receive them at all), increased health care costs, and no pension increases for as long as 14 years in their retirement.”
¨      “Ninety-five percent of Texas school districts don’t contribute to Social Security.”  What this means is that those who worked their entire careers in Texas public schools will not receive any SS benefits.  Those of us who have worked outside of the public schools will receive benefits, but they are far less than we would be receiving if we were not members of TRS because of a federal loophole.
¨      “The pure state budget general revenue contribution to Texas TRS is the absolute lowest percentage of payroll contribution to a state TRS pension plan in the nation.”

            This Thursday at 11 a.m., Texas AFT and retired school employees from across the state will hold a news conference on the steps of the TRS building in Austin to emphasize what the board’s decision the next day means for all of us who are already suffering at the hands of the Texas Legislature. 
            Friday, the TRS board will make a critical decision regarding lowering the rate of return assumption.  I urge ALL active and retired public education employees to read, in its entirety, the TRTA alert at the beginning of this blog post AND to respond to the call to action at the end of the alert by marking your calendars and watching the TRS Board’s meeting this Friday online, if you can’t be there in person. 

July 25, 2018
The TRS board meeting is THIS FRIDAY!  I just heard from board secretary Katherine Farrell. We can send emails for the board to her email (click on "her email"), and the entire board will get it!
I urge your to remain respectful and professional.  In my opinion, four of the board members have sincerely been listening to our concerns and feeling our pain.  Three of them are in the boat with us as active/retired educators!
Now is our chance to send emails urging them to think about THEIR teachers, bus drivers, school secretaries, classroom aides, librarians, nurses, maintenance workers, cafeteria workers, counselors, sign language interpreters, social workers, police officers, and administrators as they make this difficult decision Friday!

ACT NOW!!!!!

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Numbers According to Governor Greg Abbott’s Staff

            February 18, Senator José Menéndez wrote a commentary in the San Antonio Express-News boldly asking Gov. Greg Abbott to call a Special Session to fix the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which is the retirement system for all Texas public school employees, including bus drivers, custodians, teachers, classroom aides, secretaries, librarians, nurses, maintenance workers, school police officers, social workers, administrators, and cafeteria workers.  This is how  Sen. Menendez’s commentary begins:
Educators in my district are honest, hardworking public servants who make financial sacrifices by choosing a career in education over high-paying private sector jobs for which they easily qualify. They make the choice to become educators because they believe in giving back, they love children, and they want to help strengthen our future.
In exchange for their efforts in preparing our children, the state of Texas told its teachers they would receive a pension upon retirement that would provide quality, affordable health care coverage during the years following a lifetime of service.
Texas has not honored that promise, and now the future for some 270,000 retired educators is in jeopardy. This past session we approved a bill providing only about 70 percent of what was needed to keep the Teacher Retirement System, or TRS, health program solvent. That pushed a shortfall projected to reach $400 million by 2021, according to the San Antonio Express-News, onto the backs of retired teachers.

            February 19, Rep. Ryan Guillen followed suit:

            March 29, Rep. Terry Canales sent Gov. Abbott a formal letter seeking this same Special Session:

            In the ensuing months, calls, emails, Facebook posts, and tweets from those of us who are living the TRS nightmare and others who support us have been made/sent to Gov. Abbott’s office.  However….
            Last week, a friend of mine who is also a retired Texas teacher living the TRS Healthcare Nightmare, wanted to know how many people have contacted Gov. Abbott’s office requesting a Special Session regarding TRS.  She filed a Public Information Request that read, “I am asking for all totals received concerning requests for a Special Session specifically to address the TRS health care problems and costs by anyone who has TRS health insurance.  The totals should include phone calls, emails, texts, faxes, and mail received by the Governor’s office from January 1, 2018, until today’s date of July 12, 2018.”
            Today, she received this reply from Gov. Abbott’s office:

            A TOTAL of 106 messages in six months?  Are we really expected to believe this?  I have seen calls to action on several Facebook pages, on Twitter, and in private messages. 
            A TOTAL of 106 despite all of the media coverage?  Here is just a sampling:

From U.S. News December 8, 2018
From the Houston Chronicle January 1, 2018
From Fox 4 February 6, 2018
From the Austin American Statesman April 9, 2018
From the Abilene Reporter News April 14, 2018
From the Texas Tribune April 20, 2018
From CBS DFW April 23, 2018

            Retired public education employees are not the only ones suffering due to the TRS healthcare nightmare.  Many active public education employees in Texas are being subjected to UNaffordable TRS healthcare    , as well, and we all have Gov. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Patrick, and many members of the Texas Legislature to thank for it.  Take Kensley’s story, for example.  All one has to do is compare TRS to ERS, the retirement system for all OTHER state employees, including our legislators:

            To add to this insanity, July 11, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sent out a press release titled Comptroller Raises Revenue Estimate by More than $2.8 BillionWhat excuse can Gov. Abbott make now for ignoring Sen. Menendez, ignoring Rep. Guillen, ignoring Rep. Canales, and ignoring the “106” citizens who have contacted his office?  Seriously, who is going to believe 106 people have contacted his office when the TRS website reads, “The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is the largest public retirement system in Texas, serving more than 1.5 million people”?  More than 1.5 million of us are being forced to live with broken promises from our legislators, promises made to us throughout our careers, and 106 of us have contacted his office?)
            POR FAVOR!

            Looks like we need to get LOUDER and STRONGER.  Please do not leave a message.  Please ask to speak to someone in the governor’s office and tell them you want your message RECORDED.  The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the number is 512-463-2000Here are more ways to contact Gov. Abbott’s office.

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Linda Blackwell, McAllen)