Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

I stand with students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High

February 22, 2018

17 dead.png

I have cried watching the news only a few times. Once when a firefighter pulled a limp little blond boy in Oshkosh overalls from under the ice who looked just like my three year old. The fragility of life – of family – overwhelmed me. I cried. Thankfully the firefighters revived the boy.

My kids have grown, I changed careers and was a new teacher when Sandy Hook happened. I got home from school that day and turned on the news. I tried to imagine the awesome responsibility Victoria Leigh Soto, a teacher, assumed by throwing herself between a gunman and her first graders. Could I do that? Would I try to save my eighth graders? I thought about my classroom, students crammed in a corner, and pictured the terror on their faces. I began to cry not knowing what I would do facing evil when some of my students came to my door caroling “Joy to the World.” I wanted to hug them for pushing back the terror coming from my television with their self-conscience performance to my front steps, but I didn’t. I gave them each handfuls of candy, because that’s what you do.

Six years later we practice active shooter scenarios at school, we hold anti-bullying seminars for students and teachers, and we barely notice when another school attack happens. We have become inoculated from the shock. I watched the news and remarked to my wife how well spoken and poised the students from Parkland, Florida were in the immediate aftermath. These were not the Tide-Pod eating slackers that TV loves to show us. They stayed focused, kept speaking out brilliantly and got the president’s ear enough to be invited to a White House listening session.

There eighteen year old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Samuel Zeif described the day in Parkland when 17 people were murdered, texting what he thought were his last words to his family. He pleaded to the president “let’s never let this happen again. Please. Please.” And I cried with him.

It should never have come to this. “How did we not stop this after Columbine? After Sandy Hook?” I cried with him. How come we didn’t stop this? We – the adults, the moms and dads, the teachers, the police – didn’t stop this because we are not unified in our will. We are too jaded, shrugging in resignation that nothing will change, and sending out “thoughts and prayers” on Facebook.  We did nothing because we could not agree on anything – Ban assault weapons – what’s an “assault weapon”? Mental health check-ups – who decides you’re crazy? Arm everybody – have you met everybody?

“We call BS!” Emma Gonzales spoke with the clarity of unjaded youth whose innocence was murdered along her classmates and a few more teachers who placed themselves between bullets and students. She and the thousands of young voices are speaking together demanding we all see the obvious – their lives are more valuable than a dogmatic reading of the 2nd amendment. There is no nuance in this argument. She spoke clearly. Cameron Kasky, another Parkland high school student, demanded in the name of seventeen dead classmates that his senator, Marco Rubio, not accept money from the NRA and he pressed until he got an answer – not the one he wanted, but not the evasive sound bite either. Seventeen year old witness to this murder, David Hogg, said, “We are children. You guys are the adults. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done” and even after being accused of being a Soros paid actor hasn’t “lost hope in America.”

These students bring me hope. They will take action because they have to – we adults have been paralyzed in our partisan bickering for too long. Is it too soon to cite Isaiah 11:6? “Wolves will live with lambs. Leopards will lie down with goats. Calves, young lions, and year-old lambs will be together, and little children will lead them.”

I stand with the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.


The Fall Harvest

August 25, 2016


Picture the cardboard cornucopias and tom turkeys

with little holes for the thumbtacks

attaching them to a brown paper covered bulletin board

between Pilgrim brothers and sisters.

And Squanto – don’t forget Squanto –

there in the background with the cabins, fences, and trees


The harvest has come in

fulfilling the promise of the three sisters.

The new-comers learn corn, beans and squash

nurtured through the summer will return the favor

in the Fall and Winter.


Spring and Summer they continue to nourish

while their seeds feed

on the the fish heads and seashells

sweetening the soil as Squanto had taught

growing in plots carefully tended and protected.


Again and again, come Fall, the freshly picked and washed

– the full of promise for the next harvest –

will flow by the bushel into my classroom.


Thanksgiving Chivalry

November 26, 2015
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My classroom white board

It was the last period of the day when it happened. Tales of conquering knights, castle life or the grossness of the fuller’s job makes teaching the  Middle Ages to 8th graders easier. The kids have played Clash of Clans or Magic, they know the story of Cinderella, Rapunzel and the Hobbit, they wear Underarmor  and maybe even sneaked a peek at Game of Thrones… so many misconceptions, but it’s a place to start.

It also helps that middle schoolers want to fit in – the oratores, bellatores, laborares of the middle ages make sense to them (those who pray, fight, work). I use the opening scene of Divergent to introduce these interdependent class systems that maintain social order. The kids learn a lot of vocabulary and research many aspects the middle ages – knights and the code of chivalry, the duties of lords and vassals, the everyday life of serfs and freemen. They have to put in a lot of time reading. This unit lands just before the Thanksgiving break so I hold out the promise of a tournament day to keep their attention on their school work.

After all that reading it’s time to put the newly acquired knowledge to work. I have invested a full set of chainmail, arming coat, helmet, sword and buckler along with a 12th century noble lady’s outfit (complete with wimple, stylish long belt and purse) for two lucky kids to put on with the help of their squires and handmaidens. We have some crazy masks to perform a mummers play, some mock robes for our clergy, and pool noodles, foam shields and inflatable horses for the joust. It is a very active day.

In the middle of this we have a dubbing ceremony, the elevation of a squire to the order of knights who must follow the code of chivalry. For the dubbing ceremony I use a translation of Tirant Lo Blanc – a story favored by Cervantes published in 1490. This year the script hit home in light of the recent ISIS attacks:

King (to squire): Squire, bring your master forward and present him to me.(Candidate kneels before the King) Squire, do you vouch the candidate is deemed worthy of elevation to the order of chivalry?

Squire: Yes, Sire.

King (to candidate): This sword’s significance lies in the fact that it slays and wounds with both edges and its point also stabs. The sword is the knight’s noblest weapon, and he too should serve in three ways. He should defend the church, killing and wounding those who oppose it as do the two edges of a sword. He should also defend the poor and weak against the powerful influence of the rich. And just as a sword pierces whatever it touches, likewise a knight should pierce all heretics and villains, attacking them mercilessly wherever he may find them. The pommel symbolizes the world, for a knight is obliged to defend his king. The guard symbolizes the cross, on which Our Redeemer died to preserve mankind, and every true knight should do likewise, braving death to preserve his brethren. Should he perish in the attempt, his soul will surely go to heaven.

Would the kids hear the parallel in these words? Would they hear danger in promises of heaven to defend earthly interests? Maybe if they were in high school or college… What lesson would be learned from this class? That people are horrible to each other?

The script requires the knight candidate have a squire present him to the king for the dubbing. I let the student wearing the chain mail choose who will be his squire. Everyone has fun watching this poor kid struggle to move around wearing about fifty pounds of kit and he always picks a buddy to join him in the spotlight.

And then it happened. When I asked the knight-to-be to name his squire he asked if he could pick anyone. He has some football friends that weren’t amongst the nobles he should pick from, but it was the last period of the day and I was too tired to push that point. “Yeah, anyone – Who will it be?” Still unsure he double checked his choice – “Could it be —–?”

His choice of squire was a young man in class who is intellectually impaired. He attends school with the help of his one on one aid. It’s important to his parents that he knows the great variety of people in this world, not just those he would meet in the shelter of a “special” school, even though he is not able to do what the other kids do.

This day I was taught a lesson by an 8th grade boy. Don’t believe the Lord of the Flies mentality attributed to middle school kids. This day I saw a squire beaming with pride presenting his knight before the king and laughing as he joined in the joust. After class his joy was heard down the hallway telling everyone what he did. What did he do? He fit in, thanks to the invitation of a classmate.

What I learned in school this day was that to defeat the inevitability of despair caused by terrorism it takes just one truly noble, chivalrous act – sometimes delivered by a thirteen year old. I learned people can be awesome to each other.

Joy to the World

December 15, 2012


“Evil visited this community today,” Gov. Dan Malloy said at a news conference this evening.

I’m watching this: 20 children shot, 6 adults shot, the shooter dead. I don’t know what to do with this information. The TV shows our president. He cries – he’s a father. I’m a father and a teacher. I know what a classroom of kids look like. I know what my children look like and, thankfully, I don’t know this evil.

I don’t know what a classroom of terror looks like – blackboards, desks and floors shiny with the blood of innocence. I don’t want to know. Ever. I think of the time on TV I saw a boy the same age as my son pulled from a river  – limp after being caught under ice – and how shaken I was. The same bib overalls and blonde locks; so easily it could have been my son, but for place and time. I cried and can’t erase the image – and that image wasn’t bloodied. On the news a child said her teacher told her class to close their eyes and hold on to each other as they were led from the building.

Why would anyone visit this horror on anyone? Mad at your mother? Yourself? I get it, but what arrogance consumes you to take the lives of those to whom you have no connection? To destroy their moms and dads, their nanas and grampies? You took their lives, too, you prick. I only want to understand you enough to stop you. You’re a coward – pure evil with no excuse – I will make no attempt to sympathize. If you wanted me to “get” you, then you lose – fuck you.

I watch more news in more horror. What has the world come to?

My doorbell rings. Really. Now? Who could it be?

It’s a small group of my 8th grade boys singing Christmas carols. These are kids that didn’t get shot. They’re kids who just took a test I gave them. Kids who studied and some who didn’t. They’ll play ball, open presents, have families and, hopefully, never experience this kind of loss. They got to live.

I listened to them sing and thanked them for taking me away from the news, back to my neighborhood, to Christmas time, and the joy of family and friends. I am reminded of just how lucky I am.

I gave them candy – handfuls each. I want to thank their mothers and fathers, their nanas and grampies for having children with the courage to sing at my door – a step to counter the evil that visited Connecticut.

This is what I want to hear next on TV: At a news conference this evening a teacher said, “Pure joy visited this community today!”

Since it’s all about me…

August 14, 2012

The Market on election day in 2008

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Ask yourself, ‘Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” and the pundits say in the privacy of the voting booth people vote their best interest. Am I better off? What’s in my best interest? Let me try to answer this to explain my upcoming vote.

In 2006, my employer decided to move all manufacturing to China and close all its retail locations leaving me – a 14 year employee – unemployed. Prospects for a job in my area of expertise were slim and none. Home entertainment electronics rode the refi bubble and now it had burst. I received a generous severance package that allowed me to return to college to train as a teacher. This is something I had wanted to do very early in life and I took my unemployment as a silver-lining kick in the pants.

Nervously, I took a look at my retirement savings – a 401k that I had split up between three funds – one very conservative bond fund, a blue chip fund (also considered conservative) and a growth fund – and all had lost half to two thirds their value. I won’t be able to do much with that if I don’t get a job right away so we might have to sell the house.

I graduated in May of 2008. Job prospects in teaching are not what they lead you to believe, especially at the end of the school year. Because of state cut backs my licensure did not come through that Spring so I applied for unemployment. Collecting took some pressure off – we didn’t have to sell the house – and I applied for every job I could get to. I started substituting to get my foot in the door, but that still meant no work during the summer and I took up subbing again in the fall. I finally got a job as a long term sub and at the end of the year I still had no job.

With one exception I have never left a job in less than 8 years and now I’m about to do it a number of times. That summer, with my application for unemployment being reconsidered (as a teacher I have summers “off” so I don’t get to collect – yeah, but I don’t have a job and have the paperwork to prove it – I got a check in November – barely enough to cover the credit card shuffle) a stimulus bill was passed and I got my job back. Full time this time, but the stimulus funds ran out so again pink slipped at the end of the year. My third pink slip.

In 2010 I got a job in my home town’s school system so the commute is easy. I’m starting my third year this Fall. We have had lots of cut backs (we will buy NO paper this year – think about that), but I am still employed. My 401k has recovered and then some.

So now I will answer the question – I’m I better off? Hell yeah! Is it all better? Hell no! We still have too many fingers in too many wars. We still have too many people looking for work. We still have much to fix here at home. Would I like it to be faster? Yes! Would I like stronger leadership with a clear vision? Yes. The Romney/Ryan ticket would put me back in the mess I’m just getting out from under now (though because I live in Massachusetts with Romneycare my family never lost health insurance… Thanks, Mitt!) I will take four more years of Obama because, even though he is not the superhero I hoped for, he has at least changed my position from a free fall of uncertainty to landing on a ledge big enough that I can see my way up and out.

So, YES, I am better off than I was four years ago. Having a job, a renewed 401k and a health plan – that’s all in my best interest – has me voting Obama in 2012.


“The Times They Aren’t A Changing…”

May 19, 2012


“Get out your homework and pass it across.” This is how class often starts here in middle school.

Remember middle school? What did you think of?  Something embarrassing?

No matter what you hear I can assure you nothing has really changed – Kids are still awkwardly finding their place, experimenting with fashion and make-up, whispering (or worse) about those who don’t meet some slippery slope standard. But today something different did happen.

It wasn’t that a certain student actually did his homework (a cherished moment for me), but it was how he did his homework.

The assignment: Define “Enlightenment” then write 3-5 sentences on what you think this may mean in history. It was a Friday assignment meant to prompt everyone into thinking about a new unit (The Age of Enlightenment). It was intended to be a no stress/low stress assignment (look up a word, give an opinion) introducing a key idea and to give the kids a chance to formulate a concept.

I got the usual dictionary definitions – some properly cited, most not – and some very short paragraphs (2-3 sentences at most), but I was eager to see the work done by the certain student, to relish in this rare sight.

It was neat, about a half a page with a proper heading – name, grade and period. Good start; now time to read. Some kids treated the assignment as two separate items to complete, first define then opine; others choose a more flowing narrative, incorporating the definition within a minuscule paragraph. This student took the later form. Wow, he is really working at this. I read his answer – not bad, not bad at all. Look – he even included a citation!

Siri – He cited Siri, the digital assistant on his iPhone. I laughed. This is awesome. I witnessed perhaps one of the first uses of a new use of a technology in middle school. I could just picture it – “Siri, tell me about the Enlightenment…” Then busily writing down the answer.

Giggling at his ingenuity I shared this moment with his other teachers at lunch. “You know that certain student who never does his homework? – I got some from him today!”

“Wow, really?”

“Yeah – And it was neat, properly formatted and he included a citation. Wanna know the best part? He cited Siri! How cool is that?”


Silent enough that I think I could actually hear the eyes roll. “That’s another thing we have to add to the list. No Siri.”

-sigh- I want to celebrate my student’s ingenuity and my fellow teachers want to ban it. I’m thrilled that a student with a number of issues and on an IEP has found a way to engage with my class, they want to only accept work that was done on the terms they dictate.  My moment of triumph was somehow their Waterloo.

What is the difference in print, electronic and on-line dictionaries? Whether you read it or it is spoken to you? Is this that important, that they use the “proper” accepted dictionary? (Like none of you use Wikipedia either 😉 ). Isn’t the goal to engage the student so that they can begin to map new knowledge? Shouldn’t we use and embrace the tools that they inevitably will use?

Today nothing new happened in middle school. I take it back. The mean girls never left and I’m embarrassed.

The Clock is Operating and I Feel Fine

March 7, 2012

My iPad just delivered a Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, moment. The latest Time magazine release for the iPad is really the March 2nd, 1962 issue all over again – “The Space Race is a GO” – re-titled “A Half-Century in Space.” It’s the entire original issue, ads and all. It’s awesome.

The Mercury Seven were my boyhood heroes and even they aren’t the most interesting part of this reissue. It’s the excitement evident in every section, from Letters to Milestones; like a young man with his second love, he is certain of his knowledge yet his world is still magical. Every detail brings a new thrill; the publisher expends two full paragraphs explaining the new mailing label printed with “electronic impulse.”

The Time Listings section provides a glimpse into the future of some high school required reading: On the fiction side Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Robbins’ The Carperbaggers. In nonfiction – The Guns of August, and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Don’t won’t to read? Turn on the TV to The Bob Newhart Show with musical guests, The Limelighters or NBC’s Saturday night movie was The Day the Earth Stood Still at 9PM eastern. TV too low brow? Then New York’s theater district was offering up Tennessee William’s Night of the Iguana or A Man for All Seasons, Brecht on Brect, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Camelot, or My Fair Lady. Wow – and these aren’t revivals!

It is not all new and shiny, some themes keep recurring. This headline sounds familiar: “Can the U.S. Compete?” Also this article: Romney running for the highest office in the land and the issue of his Mormonism. This time, however, it’s George and the land is Michigan. And not to worry – the White House assures us some part of Asia is now stable because of American troops there. Can someone go back and tell Kennedy and McNamara that over 50,000 American lives will be shed and just like our Civil War, the north will win. As usual, education is failing, letter writers are agitated and there is an invitation to choose several titles for only a dollar with only a small obligation to purchase a select number more at the regular club prices.

Speaking of ads, the latest thing is digital data that can be…wait for it…sent over telephone lines! This is stored securely on either magnetic or paper punch tape. Most ads for cars have a jet in the background (“ ’62 Chevrolet goes Jet-smooth and it’s built to keep going that way”). Mercedes even goes so far as to keep Deutschland über alles by posing the 220se in front of a Lufthansa jet on the runway in Stuttgart. Cross promotion at its best. Though no Italian cars are found, Alitalia is promoting their new low cost flight to London from New York for $350. Sounds pretty good until you consider the median U.S. income in 1962 for a family of four was $6000. Still too expensive for the average American, but things were headed in the right direction.

Looking back another fifty years prior and groups were lobbying to keep the airplane out of war. Unsuccessfully. Two world wars and 20 years later the technology advances enough for jet flight to connect the world’s elite. Jump another fifty years forward and nobody bats an eye about flying to Cairo or Beijing, though the seating is guaranteed to damage your knees. A small price to pay considering that such a voyage may have cost your life in a not too distant past. We still don’t have moon bases (Newt?) and I never did become the astronaut I dreamed of from these pages, but I did get a pilot’s license and have vacationed in Europe. Oh – and I finally did read To Kill a Mockingbird. Everything in it’s own time.

You Don’t Know What You’ve got ‘Til It’s Gone

July 8, 2011

Does anyone think of Spain or RCA as a world leader? Both are settled comfortably into second or third tier status these days, but that was not always the case. Spain made a bold move to fund Columbus and supplanted Portugal as the leader in world exploration and exploitation. RCA , the world’s leader in radio broadcasting, saw the potential in the technologies of Farnsworth Radio and Television, licensed them and was able to set the standards for American TV for the next fifty years. Both lost their leadership roll to short-term financial considerations and a lack of unifying vision.

The United States has been the world leader in space exploration since we took over from the USSR with Project Apollo. Since 1961 we have been able to launch people into space and today, 50 years later, that comes to end with the final shuttle launch. Budget cuts and a lack of vision now make us dependent on Russian launch vehicles to reach the International Space Station (ISS). Until we will our wallets to make one small step for funding a next generation space vehicle it will stay that way. But is there vision or the will to spend some of our money? I ask my students what they want to be when they grow up and no one wants to be an astronaut – Too dangerous! What’s the point? It’s not looking good for Team America.

In a two-nation race, we won because of a focused effort on a clear goal and the benefits were obvious and enormous. Everything from miniaturized electronics to pantyhose spun off from the early space program giving us iPhone/Pods/Pads and new aerobic excercises. We won the race and then we got bored. Other nations have kept up their research. China has launched its first astronauts. India, Japan, the European Union and Iran are all working diligently to do the same. The expertise of working through the myriad of problems of creating the complex machinery that can hurtle humans into space and return them alive can only be developed by doing it. Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Other nations are gaining the skills that we will soon lose.

The shuttle Atlantis that was launched today began its life in 1980, the same year I got married. In thirty-one years I have gone to college, raised two kids, one of whom is about to be married to start her own family, and changed jobs and houses a few times. In that same period NASA has launched a shuttle 135 times and had its replacement programs scrapped almost as often. Only Charlie Sheen would call that winning.

Our greatest growth as a nation, our greatest expansion of the middle class, our greatest increase in college graduates came at a time when we felt challenged as a nation. Eisenhower, then Kennedy and Johnson saw the best way to meet that challenge was to fund research and engineering so the nation would have the skills to lead in an increasingly technological world and we all benefitted. The National Defense Act of 1958 funded education at all levels to assure that we kept pace with the Soviets, to close an education gap. This was the stimulus that landed us on the moon. The next step, geosynchronous space stations and lunar outposts, was killed by Nixon in a budget constraint move.

The shuttle, the transport system designed to assist in these beginning steps into our solar system, was allowed to live, but with its original mission excised. With some creativity and muscle, the shuttle became a space tug that hauled into orbit the Hubble telescope (and updated it!), much of the International Space Station, and released, retrieved and repaired a hundred satellites. The shuttle has brought us new insulators, biosensors, tracking systems, and two tragic losses, Challenger and Columbia. All this experience is worth thousands of white papers. Right thought is no substitute for right action or, as Yoda said, “Try not, do!”

Right now we have a challenge before us. We are rapidly losing our middle class and our technological lead. We are becoming politically polarized. We need to unite behind leadership that will fund research and education because those are the elements that rocketed the U.S ahead of the world. We are about to become that fat rich kid nation that the other nations play with only because we have cool toys our parents bought, but soon they will break and we will have no idea how to fix them.

Why do I teach? (hint: It’s not for the money)

March 28, 2011

WARNING: This is not a puff piece.

I am a new teacher, three years in at two different schools and two different grades, so many would say I don’t have enough perspective or experience to comment on the field of teaching.  They might be right, but like I tell my kids, everyone has a right to an opinion and the only way to learn is to share your own.

I teach because I had the example of parents who both taught.  I teach because I am grateful for positive experiences certain teachers brought to my life.  I teach because I see the awesome effects particular teachers and schools have had in my children’s lives.  I teach because it is more important than almost anything else I’ve done (for what’s more important please note I’m married and have kids). I teach because I like to work hard.

There, I’ve said it. The flack out in the media these days is about teachers having a cushy job with summers off, snow days, and all those state holidays, too.  Pretty sweet! Does anyone comment that the snow days are made up in June in non air-conditioned classrooms? I teach on the top floor of my school and in June it can be over 95˚ on a sunny day in my room – By the way, when it hits 95˚ road crews can stop working because it’s too hot.  Does anyone mention any vacation a teacher takes is during “peak” times?  We all have the same vacation time, so going anywhere means paying top dollar, something we don’t make.  As to the state holidays – talk to your legislator, but I don’t think he or she wants to go on record of being in favor of forgetting the person or persons involved in some momentous occasion that made it a holiday in the first place (a note to my tea-party, flag waving friends – these are mostly celebrations of events that you cherish).  I don’t expect a crying towel here. Like I said my parents both taught so I went in to teaching with my eyes open.

I also went into teaching after thirty years in the “private sector.” So when I say teachers work hard, I actually have a basis of comparison unlike most of the rants I hear.  When I get to work – usually about 7:30, kids come at 8:10 – I’m greeted by a nearly full faculty parking lot.  When I leave, usually about 6, there are still a couple of cars left. I bring home stacks of papers and have to prepare lessons for the next day. Weekends are taken up by correcting more papers, doing more lesson prep and  doing the work for courses I take to improve my practice or to gain more expertise in my subject area.  House cleaning, bill paying, etc. are squeezed in somewhere just like everybody else.

What do I teach? I teach kids that an adult can be fair.  I teach kids that I love learning new things because it helps to understand the world in which we live. I teach kids that even when I’m disappointed with their last effort, I’m always ready to be excited by their new effort.  I teach kids that they have something to teach me and that it’s important that they try.  I teach that they might be the best teacher for the kid sitting right next to them explaining what we just covered; that the act of asking a question is hard because it means you understand what you need to know and that making a mistake isn’t nearly as important as fixing it after.  Oh yeah, I teach History.

History has taught me that every great civilization has tolerated differences.  History has taught me that change comes about not from one great leap, but from all the little steps that came before.  History has taught me that education is subversive, but it always improves the lives of those who have access to it.

What do we, as teachers, need to learn or remember? Please – remember the students who wander in and out of our classrooms deserve to be respected.  They are still kids and are learning how to be in this world. They aren’t bad – yet. They will make infuriating mistakes; they will lie; they will cheat; they will do the minimum or less and they will test every boundary. That’s their job; they’re kids, they do that. Our job as teachers (and the adults) is to keep steering them back as best we can all the while respecting that they are still people, people with very little in the way of practical experiences, skill sets or moral compasses. They may be little ids with legs, but people nonetheless, people in progress.

What else do we, as teachers, need to remember? Please – remember that we teach at the behest of the parents of the kids in our classroom. They sign our paychecks. They entrust us with their kids. They should be respected, even if you think they don’t discipline enough, take your class seriously enough or stop their kid from dressing like a prosti-tot or a gang-banger. Say this with me, “They are not our kids – they are their kids.” Repeat it. Say it over and over. Can we be an example of another way to be? Absolutely! But we can’t undermine the parents, even the lousy ones.

Daily, I hear teachers complaining about principals caving in to the demands of the parents.  At least those parents are demanding something; they are concerned! Be respectful of that and remember that if you were the parent and you felt strongly enough to go in and fight for your child, you too would want to come out a winner. After all – they’re your kids and in America you have the right to raise ‘em the way you want.  I wish more parents fought for their kids. Be happy that some do (I told it was a hard job).

In the confrontational politics of today, teachers and their unions have become easy targets. We are asked to meet impossible test criteria with more kids in one classroom each year as budgets get cut. Remember how easy our job is? All that time off? Teachers are held in high esteem in almost every society besides ours; elsewhere being an educator commands respect. Be it our culture or the times, we are no longer respected. Maybe the real problem is the voters that were once students in our schools and were disrespected as they passed through.  Maybe they felt looked down on or thought they were treated unfairly. Now? Payback’s a bitch.

This is the world we teach in and this is where we start. You don’t like it? Don’t like the kids? The parents? Do the profession a favor – GET OUT.  You are making a hard job harder for the rest of us. Then we can start respecting ourselves, the people in our classrooms and their parents. Do what we ask of our students all the time – think before you speak. How will what you say or do be perceived? Be consistently honest, don’t sugar coat, don’t condemn. Set the standards, make them known and hold the kids and yourself accountable for achieving them. Get excited by differences; redouble efforts with the kids who like you least, and most of all, be subversive – model that behavior we claim to cherish – to do our best.

¡Viva la Revolución!

Time to say goodbye

June 21, 2010

You always remember your first real love, the one you gave yourself to completely, the one you thought of day and night. For me, there wasn’t much dating in the beginning; just a couple of meetings before it got serious. And now, after nearly two years, it’s over. We never really fought, maybe an occasional squabble, but that was about it. It has ended for the same reason that breaks up many couples, money; a force more powerful than the family squabbles of the Capulets and the Montagues. When the money dried up so did our relationship.

So I lost my first job as a teacher. The recession cost me my first love, Quabbin Middle School. I’ve worked for thirty years in various endeavors, all of which I found challenging, but none of them offer the satisfaction of a lesson that went well or the trust given by a student who just needed someone to hear them. Both of my parents were teachers and told me when I graduated high school that I shouldn’t consider teaching; the job was changing too much and not for the better. I still hear that from people, even from experienced teachers, that the job is changing and it is not what it used to be.

The job may be changing, but so has every job yet kids are still kids. What I love are those times when one of my students realizes that there are adults who are actually interested in what they have to say and believe what they say matters. In college they teach you methods of lesson prep, technology usage, educational philosophy, but nothing about how to connect the humid continental climate to a kid whose primary adult contact calls her a bitch at every opportunity or the recent political history of Uzbekistan to a boy who will lose his mother to terminal cancer. I want to teach, not to be a social worker, but just being human means I can’t help feel for the lives kids endure. They don’t mention this in the “Welcome to a Career in Education” brochure.

What I found at Quabbin was that every teacher found a way to connect with the students; some with one groups of kids, some with another. Within the constant change these teachers still remember that the students are what it’s all about, not the educational initiative of the week. Listening to talk radio you hear how horrible today’s teachers are;  any stories of educational missteps are front page material in the paper so this level of caring is not what I expected when starting my teaching career.

Teachers need a PR firm to get their story out. Does anyone wonder who chaperones the dances? Or who took it upon himself to DJ those dances so the school had one less bill to pay? Who volunteered to stay with your son or daughter so the work that was missed/forgotten/lost could be made up? How about the craft fairs, the honors breakfast, the over-night? How about the field trips? These teachers have twenty-four hour responsibility for your children during the four-day Washington DC trip and are paid no differently than a regular week. And these teachers don’t complain!!! They do this (and they do it gratis) because it’s important to your kids and nobody knows this.

What everyone “knows” is how easy the job is, all you do is present some material four or five times a day and the kids absorb it. How hard is that? Have you ever tried to read ninety paragraphs and give some meaningful feedback in a timely manner? Just think about it – Ten minutes a paragraph times ninety gets you to fifteen hours of work that gets done at home. Maybe if you are really good you can cut that in half, which equals a full workday including a half hour for lunch. That’s on top of an actual full workday. Yes, I know we have summers “off,” but also consider that there are courses that need to be taken to maintain licensure and preparations for the coming year. That has to be done sometime. So much for the summer off. Does everybody know that?

This is not a rant about how hard teachers work. I thought I knew that going in, but I still am amazed about how hard a job effective teaching really is. This is a rant about how much I have learned from my fellow teachers, administrators and students. This is how much I appreciate all their patience helping me learn the craft.  This is about how much I will miss them and the community they have created. This is acknowledging how very lucky I am to end this year knowing I have a job in the Fall (Mountview – Here I come!) because so many of us do not.

I look forward to my new position and I will take all I have learned from you to make myself the best teacher I can and follow the example Quabbin has set for me. Though it must end for us now, remember you were my first love and we will always have D.C.