A Message From Lily

Open mouth. Insert foot. That’s what I did.

You may have seen video of me addressing the Campaign for America’s Future in October, where I mentioned my frustration with those who believe there’s a single fix for public schools. I related an encounter with one such person, and I said I should have used the opportunity to give him the rundown of everything today’s public schools do.

In my speech, I attempted to give the full litany of our responsibilities in a playful way. I had in mind those commercials we’ve all seen for prescription drugs in which a lengthy list of possible side effects is stated at warp speed, while smiling people go on a hike or enjoy a candlelight dinner.

Epic fail. In my attempt to be clever and funny, I stepped on a word in one phrase, and I created another phrase that I believed was funny, but was insulting. I apologize.

It started out well enough: “We serve kids a hot meal. We put Band-Aids on boo-boos.” I sped up my delivery for effect, speaking much more quickly than I normally do. And that’s when I went into a skid.

“We diversify our curriculum of instruction to meet the personal and individual needs of all our students – the blind, the hearing impaired, the physically challenged, the gifted and talented, the chronically [tardy] and the medically annoying.”

I meant to say “the chronically tardy,” but that’s not what came out.  I was making the point that we adapt daily lesson plans and schedules to meet the needs of students who, often through no fault of their own, are never on time. Tardiness can be a huge factor in poor academic performance. Sometimes, students are tardy because of physical or mobility issues; other times, tardiness is a symptom of deeper issues at home. You know how embarrassed and out of place you feel when you walk in late to an important work meeting? Well, imagine how a child feels when she is consistently late for school, her “job.”  As educators, we have to devise ways to keep chronically tardy students on track, or else they will fall hopelessly behind and feel marginalized.

As to the second phrase, I did say “medically annoying.” I apologize for my choice of words. Let me be clear: I was not referring to students who are ill or medically fragile. I was referring to the student who, for example, has an argument with his girlfriend and now is having a very bad day, and doing everything humanly possible to annoy the teacher. What we do in our classrooms and how we adjust must take these students into consideration, too.

I realize that my words have taken on a life of their own. But those who know me and my work know that my entire career – beginning with my years as a lunch lady and then as a teacher in Utah – has been devoted to ensuring that all students, regardless of their ZIP code, have the support and tools they need. That means that much of what happens in today’s schools goes well beyond lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic.

This has been a teachable moment for me, and I hope students will learn from my error, too. We all should be more careful before we speak, slow down and make sure our points are well articulated and fully understood.

The bottom line is, I screwed up and I apologize. Please judge me by my heart, not by my mistakes.

11 Responses to “A Message From Lily”

  1. Bethany Fields

    Thank you Ms. Garcia. I appreciate your apology and your sincerity.

  2. Sharon Schultz

    Lily, we have all made errors in haste at one time or another. As a member of the NEA IDEA cadre, i know your commitment to all students in part and parcel of who you are as an educator and a person. I am confident others, those who know you and those whom you have yet to meet, will accept your heartfelt apology.

  3. Sue Dickey

    We all make mistakes. I listened to the speech and did not catch it but others must have. Sorry you are being called on the carpet and I am glad you have made a formal apology. Some will accept it, others won’t. The ones who won’t would have found something else to criticize you.
    As you said “lesson learned “. Now move on. Love you, Sue.

  4. Bernice García Baca

    Dearest Lily,
    Anyone who has been in any leadership role knows exactly what happened, and also the destructive need of some opponents to jump on any error and propagandize what were clearly misstatements. How many trillions of words have you said in speeches? (I’m not a math person, but I think that can be accurate)–ALL pro-student, ALL pro-educator, ALL said in genuine hope that someone who didn’t understand before will get that light bulb moment, experience that A-Ha! experience and go about her or his day a bit more able to make a difference in a child’s life.
    So you’re human–which is more than can be said for anyone blowing this up into anti-educator propaganda. Next time, just blame Siri or Auto-Correct–DAMN; sometimes They make me say the damndest things I never said!

  5. Kevin Michles

    Good Job. Behind you all the way.

  6. Greta Stanford

    You are a wonderful person and I’m grateful that you are the President of “our” organization.

  7. Kate

    Go, Lily, go! Thank you for being passionate, smart, funny….and human, and for modeling how to “say you are sorry….and mean it.” More leaders like you, please!

  8. Inés Balmaceda

    I know Lily personally and know, as she well clarified, that it was a rush of words misunderstood. Lily has a funny bone and enjoys kidding around, but when it comes to working for the teachers and students, she really does her utmost with a sincere heart. She lives and breaths for educating our youth and trying to come up with innovative ways of bettering the teaching system. She undoubtedly understands that teaching is not only some course, but teaching what are necessary tools to live and succeed in our world. I truly believe in her and know that she does with all she does with a true good heart. God bless her abundantly.

  9. Maria Lee

    Mistakes happen…how else will we learn. I hope your heart heals. I still believe in you.

  10. Reggie

    The explanation for “medically annoying” still doesn’t make sense. How does ” I was referring to the student who, for example, has an argument with his girlfriend and now is having a very bad day, and doing everything humanly possible to annoy the teacher.” translate in any way to “medically annoying”. Very hard to see how one chooses “medically” to describe that.

    The explanation of “chronically tardy” certainly makes sense though; as we all get words tangled in our tongues when trying to speak at a quick pace.

  11. Kelly

    I love your video! Small glimpse of what we do. I knew what you meant to say. I would LOVE to see a video from a early childhood educator view. Things that I do amaze people. Thank you for all you do.


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