In a small village far away from the political powers of the world, there lived a young teen girl who found herself in the midst of the greatest love story ever told. While I see the story as truth, others see it as fiction. However, I ask you to love me enough to consider this story, regardless of your beliefs. The life of Christ begins with a simple few lines in the New Testament and with a young couple with a choice destined to change the world. My faith intertwines with my life and each element of Christ’s life has the potential to teach us, both believer and non-believers, important lessons, especially as teachers and learners.
Element 1: In the beginning we find sweet Mary, a young girl in a culture where an unwanted pregnancy was extremely taboo and Joseph, who knew accepting this pregnancy could cause him great distress.
Hear the comments amongst their friends in Bethlehem:
“Can you believe Joseph is really going to marry her?”
“Who do you think the father is?”
“You know, I always thought she was a little vulgar.”
The comments went on and on, however, this young couple remained loyal to each other and firm in their convictions.
Lesson 1: Following your calling may alienate you from people, but life-changers remain focused on the mission. Education is hard. Everyone has a comment. Be positive and humble.
Element 2: One of my favorite people in the Christmas story is Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth. WHAT A WOMAN! She remained faithful to God and waited for a child. Her husband actually laughed at her when she told him she was having a baby. (He was muted). Her child, John the Baptist, made the way for the Lord.
Lesson 2: Sometimes our dreams and visions take a lifetime to be fulfilled, however, our faith reaps a great harvest. Believe in children even when people laugh at you. The most difficult situations can lead to the greatest joys. Doing the impossible is fun!
Element 3: Birthing a child in a modern, lovely hospital with a great staff was difficult. I can’t even imagine the experience in a stable with a teenage husband, a cow, goat, and birds. This precious couple was far from home, far from family, and far from any type of comforts.
Lesson 3: Dreams sometimes mean you have to step out of your comfort zone and be uncomfortable. This may mean learning something you are uncomfortable learning, teaching in a school you do not like or teaching the very unlovable and difficult. Birthing a new promise is hard and usually happens in hard places.
Element 4: When my daughter was born, the moment between the doctor proclaiming she was here and her first cry seemed like eternity to me. I can’t imagine Mary and Joseph as they heard the voice of GOD cry for the first time. Did they grasp the potential? Do any of us grasp the potential of our children at the first cry?
Lesson 4: Children are promises of potential. Our main mission should be about assisting all children and their parents to find their potential. Our job is to assist in the development of the potential. Children are valuable.
Element 5: The angels showed up singing and praising GOD!
Lesson 5: Make a joyful noise! Stop whining and be excited about what God has put into your heart about your work. This is really hard sometimes, but a joyful noise is pleasant and opens up the heart. Open hearts are open to hear difficult truths.
Element 6: While the King Herod was in his palace looking around for the answers to an ancient riddle, the shepherds were minding their flocks in the midst of the fields. No one of “great importance” knew these men, but suddenly the Heavenly Host shows up and led them to the manger.
Lesson 6: The workers in the field are privy to the greatest revelations. I can’t express the importance of this lesson to educational leaders. Great teachers have so much to share about what works. They are masters of revelation.
Element 7: The Wise Men show up after the child was older to bring wonderful gifts. Interestingly enough, they went the other way home and ignored Herod.
Lesson 7: Share your gifts with the children regardless of the mandates. Each person has specific gifts and talents, which allows us to serve others. Our motivation increases when we work within our gifts.
Element 8: This one is to be continued at a later date as I am wrestling with an understanding, but Jesus goes on to live a life within a very tyrannical government. He was crucified.
Lesson 8: We have to do what we are called to do within the confines of government, yet without loosing our faith. Success may be painful, yet can make an eternal difference.
Merry Christmas to my fellow Christians. Happy Holidays to precious friends of all faiths. May each of you be filled with new reflections of your purpose and calling for a wonderful 2014.
“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.” Abraham Lincoln
Our local paper contained a comment by Amanda M. this past month disparaging the Common Core. After numerous inquiries as to if I was the author, I went and read the comment. The comment was anti-CCSS with other similar comments accompanying it. The comment made me smile not because I agree or disagree, but because it demonstrates people, outside of education, are paying attention to what is happening in our schools. Freedom works when citizens participate, debate, disagree, find solutions, and remain vigilant about the issues.
In the summer of 1996 I participated in the National Writing Project at Louisiana State University, which led me to international research and a new vision for my classroom. I stumbled upon research by Jim Stigler from UCLA and was intrigued by his work. When he was featured on 20/20 a few months later, I wrote to him. He replied! Our correspondence, though infrequent, was exciting and opened my eyes to new ideas such as Japanese lesson design, Singapore math models, and problem solving research. I used all of this to develop my own supplemental curriculum, which I taught for the next several years in conjunction with our mandated curriculum. A 90-minute daily block allowed me some freedom to implement math fluency activities, model drawing, and critical writing. I used international standards and teaching models to improve my instruction. My students were more successful than they had been in the past, because I taught based on the international ideals I had discovered.
For the past several years I have been researching the education structures of high-performing countries with a focus on teachers. High performing countries hire very highly motivated individuals with a great sense of compassion for children, pay them well, and treat them as professionals, which means teacher make most of the decisions in classrooms. The teachers often police their own ranks without unions. The critical element to improving schools systems has not been the focus on standards or testing, but on highly effective teachers.
There is a great debate occurring concerning the Common Core Standards. For the most part the standards are rigorous and strong. Standards give us a vision and help us find our way to the expectation, which is easy to loose sight of in the midst of students. My friend Amy Crain explains the importance and the power of the CCSS in her blog http://mitchnamy.blogspot.com/2013/09/thank-teacher.html?spref=fb She is a wonderful teacher and friend.
Standards are critical to a functioning system, however, standards are only a piece of the puzzle. My concern with the comments I am reading is the wide brush with which CCSS is being painted. The standards as stand alone expectations are solid. The issues will develop from the implementation.
I have been in education long enough to suggest often good things can become a fire-breathing monster fueled by the love of money and power rather than the concern for children. I strongly support the CCSS. I believe pieces of the education puzzle being placed under the umbrella of the CCSS should be debated.
Be prepared as the national discussion becomes even more focused on terrible teachers. Yes, there are terrible teachers, but there are also amazing teachers. If you are one, find your voice! Speak out! Speak positively about our profession. Expect more from your peers. Admit there are a few teachers who are loose canons teaching something completely crazy and treating children like dirt. Stop protecting them!
Public perception is not our strong suit! Look like a professional, speak like a professional, and act like a profession. When speaking about school in the grocery story, stop being a martyr. Stop posting negative stuff about your job on social media. If you don’t like it, quit. If you do, stay the course.
Examine the number of educators on the various panels connected to CCSS and the other elements being created. Demand to be part of the process. READ! READ! READ!
Be aware of data mining. I do not like the government in my business or my child’s business. I love data, but I love privacy and freedom more. Be aware. Don’t take someone’s word for it, go and find out for yourself what is fact and fiction.
Private companies have control testing and have access to the data. These groups have strong political lobbying power. In some cases a single company may be in control. Monopolies seldom benefit the consumer. Powerful companies will make a ton of money from the enterprise of educating children. Note top ranking countries secret of hiring, recruiting, and maintaining great teachers makes little money for said companies. Um… Find out what is being bought in your district. Offer to be part of parent panels for the adoption materials. Ask to be part of the curriculum and assessment teams. Create strong parent organizations and be part of the discussions.
The US Department of Education is not a Constitutional entity. Really. No part of me likes the feds in my business regardless of the majority party. I support the U.S. Constitution and not much else. Therefore, support your state government by asking questions, being part of the discussion, reading policy, calling your representative and senators, and voting.
Other companies will and are jumping on this bandwagon to create “easy” CCSS lessons by simply reformatting their old materials and putting CCSS on the front of old materials. Go compare some old testing materials to new materials. This is a cash cow. Be aware. Again, ask to see what your school is using. Read the budget report from your school district. Ask questions professionally and be informed.
Someone will attempt to create lock-step lessons. Someone will attempt to make “suggested” texts mandated texts. These texts may or may not teach our children the ideas and precepts for which our country was founded. I want my child to read widely and to think beyond her borders, however I am against my child being taught a mandated one-sided, political agenda, which runs counter to the US Constitution and the moral code of my faith. Home is a place of education also. Know what is being taught and teach your child your beliefs.
My greatest fear is students will increasingly become a number or a label rather than a person. I do not like when I hear the many students I work with give me their label “basic” as some sort of character flaw or when others gives me a high label as if they are better than someone else. I am not against testing, but I am against labeling and the idea of the label is all a child is. Push for broader evaluations of children’s performances. Push back when someone labels your child and seek help. You are the parent. Rather than “fight” for your child, work with the teacher and the school.
We must all be involved in our education system. The standards are fine, but leave the implementation to local entities. Increase teacher quality by recruiting, training, and compensating the best. The discussion is needed as the results will be our future.
I am a planner. I like color-coding. I adore Post-its! I have several sets of Staedtler triplus fineliners, which I use for everything. If one goes out, I buy an entire new set. This weekend my friend Jenny and I began planning our Disney trip. We have finished the first rough draft on a large poster complete with sticky notes and color coded events. This drives my family crazy, however, they reap the benefits once the trip begins. I have compromised by scheduling time for spontaneous choices.
I have always been a planner. I can remember writing a little list of the books I wanted to read when I was in sixth grade. The list was in the back of my English notebook and I checked off the books as I finished them. I was very frustrated if the next book on the list was checked-out as I did not want to read anything out of order. I write down goals. I like making checkmarks. My family uses the Cozi app. Well, I try to make them use it. You get the picture.
In my old age I still believe planning is essential, however, life does not always go as planned. I work with older students these days and I love to ask the age old question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This elicits everything from eye rolls to giggles. A few share with me their goals and admit to having lists. I love their lists. Most share with me some ideas for the future, but many have no clue. As adults, we often try to help them find their pigeon hole. We like plans. We like to give them plans. We want to be positive there is a plan. We like to label...smart...works hard...lazy... and make a plan based on the label.
Maybe we should consider a different route. Maybe as we assist students in making future plans there should be time to offer questions for their personal reflection. The questions could be "What is the last thing on the planet you could see yourself doing?" "What do you do that makes your heart sing?" "What makes you smile?" "What kinds of things just come naturally to you?" "What are the three most important elements you need to be satisfied?" "What do you believe you can do to make the world a better place?" "Do you like working with others?" "What types of things do your independently research?" "What would your friends say are your three best qualities?" "What would your family say are your three best qualities?" "What is your area(s) of weakness?"
Part of my dissertation work focused on Flow. Csikszentmihalyi (1990) states the experience of excellence is called flow or a mental state of operation where a person is fully immersed in an activity and experiences a feeling of extreme energized focus, complete involvement, and success in the activity or simply explained, completely focused motivation. Flow elicits satisfaction. In other word, when the job/activity matches our gifts and talents, we are in our element.
In our molding of children, maybe we should help them find their paths to the person they were created to be rather than simply finding one of the various traditional slots. If our students found their flow, they could live in a place of motivation and satisfaction. We could focus teaching students how to read critically, think logically, make connections, create new ideas, and find answers rather than fill in the blank, circle this or that responses in order to prepare them for uncertain futures. Students would be prepared for the ever-changing world in which we live.
Supposedly, today's youth will change careers six to seven times in their lifetime. Many companies teach specific skills after a person is hired. What companies seek are people who can think, work with others, communicate, and solve problems. Our plans will never match the future, because we really do not know the future. We just guess.
This year my purpose is to help juniors and seniors find their passions, their strengths, their weaknesses, and a variety of opportunities. I pray I will not discourage them or label their abilities. Rather, I pray to be open-minded enough to help them find their callings to make our world a better place. This is my plan, uncolor-coded, but very real. It is also what causes me to be in my element and therefore be very satisfied.
When Jacy was six weeks old I returned to school to start a new school year. I was a very sleep deprived mama, which continued to be the case until she began first grade. The kid just doesn't need much sleep. I am not sure how I taught my classes, graded the papers, planned lessons, and smiled. I was exhausted! People would say to me, "It's only a season." This statement did not make me happy.
Then came the season of the girls being in elementary school. My views of homework changed greatly and I ceased all at-home projects for my own students. We all survived again. Kate graduated a few years ago. Last year, Jacy loved her freshman year in high school. All seemed to be running smoothly, when I realized, a new season has begun.
I finished the dissertation. For the first time since I was 3 years old, I do not have an educational goal in front of me. Jacy is in the midst of learning to drive, taking courses to prepare her for college, and finding all sorts of independent things to do with the church youth group. Joey is running a new program and really enjoying it. Kate has flown the nest and is off on her own adventures.
Seasons come and go. Regardless of where you are right now, a new season is coming. Sometimes we can force the season to change through the choices we make, but often things simply have to run the course.
Students are coming to our schools this week in the midst of a season. Some are coming from homes where a new baby has joined the family or maybe a family member has died. Some are experiencing a season of divorce or maybe a new marriage with step-parents and/or step-siblings joining the mix. Some have had siblings move away to college. Some are beginning new activities, joining new teams, or learning new skills. Some are new to our schools. Regardless, all are in the midst of a very individual season.
The number one thing I discovered in all of my dissertation research, which focused on expert teachers from around the nation, is the relationship between students and teachers is the number one factor to the expert's success. These teachers understand each and every child's current season and work to help them be ready for the next one. They also have a solid understanding of their own season.
As we begin school in the next few days or weeks, I challenge you to get to know your students. Talk to them! Learn about their current seasons, their needs, their hurts, their passions, and their activities. You will find new ways to connect with students and open up your own new season as an educator.
Me? I am trying something new this year working with juniors and seniors. I know! I am such a middle school girl!!! However, this is a new season and I am so excited to learn something new. Enjoy each day, as this season will change before we know it. Know this one simply prepares us for the next.
My goal is to become a more consistent blogger. My other goal is to finish my dissertation by June 19, which should lead me to become a more consistent blogger. However, as a means to avoid the paragraph currently plaguing me, I would like to share a little of what my daughter taught me this week.
I like to write whether anyone reads my writing or not. Blogging is cheap therapy. I was thinking about writing today as I began working on my newest professional project. The students of today are facing a world I could not even have imagined when i graduated from high school. Jacy, the almost 15 year old daughter, wants to be a writer one day. She writes stories, posts her tales on a fiction site, receives feedback from other teenagers, and also reads and gives feedback to others. WOW! No publisher needed. Open doors for her work and she loves the feedback. She is a very reflective writer, because reflection is simply part of her world. Everything is out there and feedback is inevitable. She is also blessed as her high school ROCKS! She has so many academic and extra-curricular opportunities. I often see her struggle to decide where to place her energies. What a great conundrum!
She decided to take the ACT this week just for practice. Since she has not had geometry yet, she made a plan to work independently through the first two units. I found her using an online site and YouTube to learn the material. She did pretty well on the post-test and proclaimed geometry was pretty fun.
I often hear adults complain teens are not motivated. What I believe is they are simply motivated by things and experiences . They are learners, readers, writers, and thinkers. But unlike my generation who needed teachers to open doors for us, these children can find their own doors. They need direction in analyzing and evaluating what is valuable, making authentic connections, and creating new ideas from the learning. What an exciting time to be an educator! The world is full of open doors!
3/25/2013 4 Comments
In my teaching career I can think of numerous times I needed a redo. One instance demonstrates the craziness of testing. I had a student who was a guaranteed top scorer on the state assessment. This student was my Michael Jordan and I was ready to watch him roll. A few days before the test, tragedy struck his family. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I actually worried about how this would impact his score. My selfishness made me so angry with myself. How could I possibly think, even for a quick moment, about a test more than I was thinking about this child? I imagine there are millions of teachers out there who have some lingering thoughts this spring they wish they did not have.
I am struggling as I have always supported accountability and high standards. I have spent four years researching expert teachers, in order to write a dissertation. I believe highly effective teachers create highly effective classrooms and therefore highly effective students. However, I am not sure testing students is the single best way to measure effectiveness. Some countries, like Finland, have completely turned around their education systems in a decade to be the best in the world by recruiting, developing, and supporting strong teachers with little to no standardized testing. Unfortunately, testing seems to be the only avenue our country is willing to embrace even with all of the international models pointing to a variety of other avenues.
If this is the best way to turn our schools around, maybe this system could turn around the rest of our country. I propose a rigorous accountability system for our government. The assessments will come at the end of each fiscal year. The first step is to set long range goals as we have in education. Due to this process being highly rigorous, two goals should suffice for the initial four-year phase.
Goal 1: The United States will be out of debt by the year 2016.
Goal 2: All citizens will be employed by the year 2016.
The “tests” for each year will be the measurement of movement towards eliminating the debt and the percentage of people employed. Private testing companies will be responsible for the measure and analysis towards the goal, as the government should not be trusted to report their own efforts. Of course, we would want to phase in these four-year goals in with short-term Average Yearly Progress goals.
AYP 2013 Goal 1: The United States will reduce the national debt by 25% by June 30, 2014.
AYP 2013 Goal 2: Unemployment will be reduced by 25% by June 30, 2014.
Congress and the President will write a version of what educators in Louisiana call our yearly Student Learning Targets. These could be called United States Goal Targets. Each congressman will write a goal based upon his or her congressional district. For example, a congressman with 60% unemployment will write a target to reduce his or her district’s unemployment rate by 25%. Each congressman will write another target to cut the budget in his or her area of influence. For example, if a congressman is on the committee for healthcare, he or she must find a way to cut 10% of the budget by the end of the year. The cuts must be voted on and put into place by July 1, 2014 to count. Simply proposing a bill is not sufficient. Inability to work with the other side is no excuse not to meet your target. Things out of your control, including the viewpoints of fellow members or your constituents’ abilities, resources, mental state, or educational level, matter not. This is your job, you must be held accountable.
The hard part will be the accountability. No tenure should be allowed for committee positions. Any Congressman not achieving his or her goals the first year will be subject to a renewal vote by his or her district. The vote must occur by August 2014. If a Congressman is returned to Congress the second year, he or she must reach the goals by the end of the next year. If the goals are not met, the member is relieved of his or her duty immediately. Achieving goals one year does not impact the lack of achievement of the goals the next year even if there are extenuating circumstances. The runner-up in the more recent election could fill the void or maybe someone lacking any sort of credentials could just fill in. Rumors suggest this is working in education.
For the position of the President, goals will again be simple in the initiation of this process. The President will cut 10% of his administrative budget by the end of the year through the reduction of agencies and staff. This may not help unemployment numbers, but logic seldom seems to go hand in hand with goal writing. The President will apply diplomatic skills to reduce foreign aid by 10% by the end of the year without involving us in major conflict.
The President will have yearly goals also, but voting on the President each year, would simply be ridiculous. Rather a President’s failure to achieve the yearly goals two out of four years would eliminate his or her ability to run for reelection for first term presidents and for second term presidents, the party of the President would not be allowed to offer a candidate in the next election.
This is only an initial proposal. As the system develops, more goals could be added to include peace efforts. I would expect to see a goal around peace in the Middle East. Much like teachers who work is high poverty areas are expected to meet goals regardless of the economical, social, cultural, or leadership issues, the inability of our government leaders to garner peace is certainly not about century old issues, but rather about the effectiveness of the politicians.
Imagine if this system had been in play for the past 40 years. Our political landscape would look extremely different. There is little incentive for either of the major parties to work together. Their power actually benefits from making the other look inept. This could open the door for other parties or divide the two major parties into smaller parties. Imagine if the system expanded to our state governments. We may actually have to tell the truth about certain restructuring efforts.
In the past 21 years I have worked with amazing teachers and I have worked with teachers who are deplorable. I really don’t support tenure, but I also don’t support a system based on a calculation formula with numerous statistical issues as we have in Louisiana. I am not pretending ineffective teachers are not teaching in our classrooms. Unfortunately they are in abundance in many areas. Our system is unacceptable and accountability should exist. However there are so many circumstances a single test score does not even begin to explain. I am not proposing testing should be eliminated rather testing should be a much smaller piece of the model.
Accountability should begin with creating a highly rigorous and effective model for recruiting, developing, and supporting teachers. Rather than wasting billions on various programs, the testing cycles, and the magic bullet materials, pay for high-quality people to enter the profession. Change the profession and accountability takes care of itself. Instead of spending 40 more years trying to find an effective system, simply look around the world to find what is working. The answer will be effective, intelligent, and problem-solving teachers.
Likewise, our government is not working at maximum capacity, because for the most part we have elected intelligent people who are brilliant in the art of self-promotion, worrying more about their party’s power than the citizens, and who understand enslaving people through entitlements and ignorance keeps them in power.
If we want a free nation, education is the most critical foundation. Creating a world-class system is not accomplished by testing children to death. Creating a world-class system is accomplished through single classrooms filled with amazing, gifted, intelligent, and highly motivated people who can think, inspire, and transform lives. The second piece of a free nation is a government of the people, by the people and FOR the people.
In the past two weeks I have had several discussions with teachers who have left or will be leaving the profession to work in the private sector. All were rated effective or above on their evaluations and had high student achievement scores. Then I read a great blog at http://theeducatorsroom.com/2012/09/the-exhaustion-of-the-american-teacher/.
All this has me thinking about the job of being a teacher. I am a reformer and I have been since the third month of my first teaching job. I appreciate the information standardize testing gives me. I have been in enough schools and in enough places to know there are some really terrible teachers out there. There are some average, solid teachers who care, but not enough to go the extra mile. There are some really amazing teachers, who do things for which they receive little compensation. These teachers are the ones who are taking tickets at the door of the game or calling on local businesses to buy advertisement in the football program. School is much more than only reading, writing, and arithmetic. Unfortunately, for years school was only about the fun things. I remember back in the day when I took the CAT test, my scores were sent home in an envelope and few people even bothered to look at them. Now the scores are all that matters.
There has to be a happy medium. There has to be a place where scholastic success is valued along with the social and emotional elements. (Finland!)
The conversations I have had over the last few month have made me sad for a profession I love and for people I value. For the sake of children, we must find a middle ground.
One teacher explained her day to me. She arrived at school after four hours of sleep, because she had an exam to score the previous evening, which took thirteen hours. The essay questions were several paragraphs long and she has 95 students. Her planning time was taken up with a needed meeting as it had been for the past four out of six days. She taught her classes, had before and afterschool duty, had a meeting at lunch with a club, and then had another club meeting after school. She finally went to the restroom at 4:30, ate her sandwich, and went to the gym to work voluntarily in the concessions at the ballgame. She finally arrived home to her family at 9 that night, but had more papers to grade and some paperwork to do for the district. She said her $45000 a year job does not equate to the 18-hour days she is working most days. Her biggest issue is she has gone two and three days without seeing her toddler awake. The weekends are packed with lesson planning, creating materials, and grading papers. Her summers include summer school and tutoring to make ends meet. Her husband is fed up and her home life is suffering.
Another friend, a high school teacher, shared she estimated she had put in over 75 hours planning, organizing, setting up, monitoring, and cleaning up for the prom and the various prom fundraisers. None of these hours were paid hours. She also endured the nasty parents who did not like the dress code. She had a run in with a student who tried to enter without a ticket. In addition she has been given the cheer squad and the other sponsor had resigned, so now she will work three nights a week going to games and then practice the other nights. The squad enters competitions on the weekends, so she is trying to arrange childcare. All of this is non-paying work. She laughed when I ask her even at minimum wage how much she would have made for all of the extras. She instead tutors on the side and also works summers at a local retail business.
Finally, an elementary friend told me she still loves the kids, but her district has created yet another piece of paper for her to fill out. She told me she recorded the same data on five different documents per child for everyone from the parent to the principal to the supervisor. The time she spends recording numbers, which are seldom seen could be spent working on activities to help with the data she is recording. Teaching all subjects requires a tremendous amount of time to create materials and activities. The data requirements are beneficial, but nothing is streamlined and every week there seems to be another form to fill out to “cover all the bases”. She is frustrated as it all seems about “covering the bases”, not teaching the child.
So! What about the prom? Homecoming? Selling tickets at the football game? Chaperoning a weekend trip to a convention? Completing the endless forms and paperwork someone dreamed up “to cover the bases”? In the age of accountability where the only thing that counts is a teacher’s evaluation scores and the students’ value added scores, what benefits a teacher to do the extras for free? The extras actually take away from their time to focus on the actual teaching, what they are held accountable to do. One friend explained the teacher everyone brags about at her school has one responsibility....teaching. Could it be this teacher is amazing, because all she does is plan her one class and focus solely on the teaching? Possibly, however, what gets cut?
What do schools look like with no clubs, no extra curricular activities, and no social events? Is there value in these things? If so, how do we convince an English III teacher who has 125 students with four page essays weekly to grade, to also chair the homecoming committee? The homecoming committee matters not in her evaluation score. Are we missing some pieces of the whole child?
Maybe this is the future. There are those in state and national discussions who have shared a vision of no brick and mortar high schools., but rather a system where all children take virtual courses or simply test out of a course and move on early. In this vision there is little need for a traditional high school, so no “extras” such as football on Friday night, prom, homecoming, and the drama club. Is school simply an exercise in gaining credits and moving on to adulthood as quickly as possible? How will our culture change?
I pray my child will be finished with high school before these types of things become the norm, because she has been blessed to attend a great school. She has learned as much from the social activities and the clubs as she has in the classroom. Her courses are extremely rigorous and well-taught. Her teachers are human and they demonstrate wonderful compassion for her. They stay after school and encourage her. They hold her to high expectations and their presence is priceless. They give of their time, their hearts, and their wisdom. I am so thankful. I would hate to know any of them had a poor evaluation one day, because they had stayed up late at an event for my child the previous night.
Pay attention to what is happening. Read between the lines in the discourse about schools and teachers. Consider your community if teachers simply teach and quit all of the extras. Consider your children, if the only interactions they have is through a computer. What are we willing to give up? What will our children miss? What parts of our culture are embedded in the social aspects of school? What about the prom?
In December of 1991 I was finishing up my finals and preparing to student teach in the spring. I was so excited! All I could imagine was how fun being with students was going to be. For the most part I was right. I have had very few days in my career when a child has not deeply touched my heart and given me a chance to thank God for the opportunity to interact with sweet souls.
However, this walk has not been all smiles and sunshine. I estimate I have taught about 1500 kids in the past 21 years. There are twelve I can list who I knew had and eventually did cause harm to others, but with me they were always kind and very well-behaved. These children weren't mentally ill, but rather lived in violence and continued what they knew. Yet, somehow or another they respected me and did most things I requested. Several still drop me a note on occasion or when I see them out and about will give me a big hug and tell me all of their positives. We skip over the arrest reports and just continue as if life is simpler. I still see so much potential. My ability to see their potential and ignore what is often reality has been a gift I have prayed for my whole career. I ask God every night to help me see children with His eyes instead of mine. I fail more than I succeed, but when I do catch a glimpse of all of the gifts and talents even the "naughtiest" child has, I am awed I am allowed to simply be a little part of the grand scheme.
Then there have been the children who have a mental illness. I have taught numerous children with behavior and emotional disorders. There have been cutters who cut themselves in class and sit silently with tears falling. There was the licker who would lick the floor or a peer's leg if I wasn't paying very close attention. There was one who was not allowed any sharp objects including a pencil. The work was done in crayon. There was the one who ate anything in sight from pencils to rulers to hair. There was the one who stayed perched upon the desktop like a frog, but scored higher than anyone in the class. The list could go on further. The children could usually be managed if I simply worked with them and encouraged them. I taught the other children to love them and to accept their issues without ridiculing or teasing. Eventually most would melt into our community. We had cues when they were having a bad day and needed to isolate themselves. Life was not perfect, but we all moved through the year. They learned. The other children learned tolerance and I was blessed to learn to love another soul with a tremendous need.
However of all of the children, I can list three who truly frightened me. I would not wish to be alone with these children as they were unpredictable and had a tendency towards violence. There was a look no amount of soothing could change. One moment everything would be fine and the next I was wondering if I could handle the erratic behavior. I have cleared my classroom twice in my career to ensure other students were safe. Both cases were early on when I did not know how to catch the signs. We would have a run of good weeks and then all of a sudden something would happen to set them off. Each of these three children had one thing in common I will never forget, a tired mother. One shared she locked her other children in their rooms and locked her own door at night. One cried hysterically because no one could help her child. The other blamed the school and tried consistently to make every issue our fault. When her child was arrested for murder, the school was at fault somehow or another in her mind.
Of 1500 children, 3 have frightened me. This is a very small percentage, but it only takes one. We have a serious issue in our country. We can blame gun laws. We can blame violence on television. We can blame the lack of security. We can create more things for schools and teachers to manage. The list goes on and on.
The real issue is we have a small percentage of mentally ill children and adults in this country who have little to no chance of being secured. Our schools and our teachers are ill-equipped to manage this type of mental illness and with such a small percentage training and dealing with these issues could be considered a financially poor choice. Our school counselors are used for every type of paperwork imaginable. Schools have no ability to force parents to ensure their mentally ill children consistently take their medication. The children are often extremely bright and use their abilities to manipulate the system. The intricate web of details creates an extremely complicated picture.
For every maniac who creates havoc, there are others with the same issues who did not create disaster. Why? Who helped these people make the right choices and find some peace? Can we clearly define mentally ill from other environmentally created behavior issues? Does environment matter more than genetics? How do we help mothers and fathers raise and manage their mentally ill children? How do we support teachers who are worn out by one child in a class of 25? How do we protect the 24 without infringing on the one child's rights and vice-versa?
One of my favorite songs is by musician Brandon Heath called "Give Me Your Eyes". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5AkNqLuVgY
We all need to see people through the eyes of God rather than our own eyes. We tend to color the world to make our lives easier. We must see what is missing. We must listen to the people who could actually help prevent these incidents...the people who spend time with these children every day...their teachers and their parents....and work to find real solutions, not more paperwork and bureaucracy. We must work on our communities and our school cultures to create safe places where people are valued and loved.
Sixteen years ago Joey and I married on the 23rd day of December. The date fell on a Monday night. We choose it because our siblings and parents were off work. We did not really want to make it a big deal. I think my dress was about $30, which we bought on the 22nd at Dillards. Our church friends gave me a darling little shower the week before the wedding. One of the gifts was from Mrs. Gaye Odom, who was around 75 at the time. She bought me a very racy little number, which she attached to a wreath and along with it was a little ornament from Hallmark making our first Christmas. I have no idea where the racy little number is, but tonight I unwrapped the little ornament for the 16th time. I smiled and thanked God for women like Mrs. Gaye in my life.
Our tree is not fancy. I actually bought some matching ornaments a few years ago to give the tree an overall cohesive look, but honestly our tree is a hodgepodge of love. We have ornaments the girls made in school. Most have pictures on them and I can see the metamorphosis of those precious faces I love so very much. I am thankful for teachers who took the time to capture memories for my family.
We have several traditions attached to our tree. Each time we travel on vacation we buy an ornament or two. Decorating our tree is a little memory walk through our travels from Disney to Washington, D.C. to Colorado. I chuckle at the precious ornaments I bought with my sweet friends, Monique and Kathryn, in Ruidoso, New Mexico. I remember Jacy and Kate crying over our sweet dog Marley dying on a vacation in Arkansas. I love the Pike's Peak ornament and the memories of a great trip with Stephanie Purdy. Each ornament allows me to remember how truly blessed we have been in our ability to travel.
Another tradition we have is we buy the girls at least one ornament each year to mark a special occurrence from the year. Of course we have the baby first Christmas ornaments, but we also have other fun ones. Jacy has one marking when she learned to read in Eve Frederick's first grade class. By second grade her teacher Jane Culivan had helped her learn to love to read the comics, so she has Charlie Brown ornament with Sally and Charlie reading the comics. Her middle school ornament is also Sally and Charlie with the teacher blah blah blahing in the background. Having taught middle school, I know they all hear us this way. Last year she finally fell in love with the best movie ever, A Christmas Story, so she received Ralphie in the Pink Bunny Suit and the Lamp ornament. She began high school this fall. I haven't bought her ornament yet, but I think I will be a little sad when I do.
Kaitlyn has a darling little labrador ornament marking the Christmas of 2004 when we bought Mayeaux's Cajun Noel or Ellie at our house. Ellie-girl moved into the place of our darling Marley, who left us on that vacation. Ellie loves Kaitlyn and waits for her each day to come home from work. Kate has two Cinderella ornaments, because she pretended half of her life to be a Disney character. She has a cute Sleeping Beauty ornament marking her first date. I haven't bought hers yet either, because I am not sure how to capture all of the changes she has had this year. She is a grown up and such a blessing. What do I buy to mark a beautiful soul?
My plan is to give each of the girls these ornaments as a wedding gift with the story of each ornament written down. However, I think I will be very sad not to have these treasures to place on our tree each year. I guess they will have to let me come help them with their trees.
I love Christmas even with all of the hustle and bustle, the season is always of time to reflect. The tree and all of the little pieces are like the stones in a labyrinth. I walk around and around the tree, placing each memory on the perfect branch. We laugh with each other remembering. Sometimes there is laughter and sometimes a few tears fall, but regardless we are so blessed. I am not sure where you are in your life this year, but know the child born in Bethlehem has precious memories of you and also great plans for your tomorrows. Mark your blessings. May God bless us everyone.
If someone was keeping a tally chart of my successes and failures in life, I know the failure column would exceed the success column ten to one. I loathe failure, but failure is vital to success.
When I fail, I find myself in the depths of despair over the failure, I fret, I think, I whine, and then I figure out how to fix it. The fix fails sometimes too. I fret, I think, I whine, you get the picture. However, every once in a while, success happens! Success then encourages me to go after another problem. The cycle repeats until I find a little success again. Failure is constant. Success is rare, but this little rare bit keeps me going.
Failure! Failure! Failure! SUCCESS! This is my teaching career! After six years of working with teachers, I believe reflective thinking makes a difference. Every teacher experiences failures. Students are tardy. Students aren't passing the assessments. Students aren't bringing work to class. Yada...Yada...Yada.... My response is, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT?"
Your next step may or may not make a difference, but the teachers who find success are the ones who keep looking for a solution regardless of the previous failures. Often the previous failures lead to success. For example, for two years I tried to help my students increase their basic math skills. Nothing changed! Finally, I asked the students what we could do. One child had a solution and the solution worked year after year after year. I could have given up, but I did not. The failures gave me conversation points for the discussion.
Students need teachers who don't make excuses like "These kids don't read", "These kids don't come to class", "These kids won't do homework", or "These kids just don't care." "These kids" need teachers who are willing to look for solutions regardless of how many times failure occurs. "These kids" need people who believe they can learn, read, communicate, invent, innovate, and lead.
Teaching, real teaching, is HARD WORK. Failure will occur more than success. BUT!!!! When success occurs the impact is tremendous. A child's life changes! If you are failing and are tired, find a group of innovative teachers and surround yourself with believers! Reflect and success will come. If you are succeeding, share and mentor a struggling teacher! If you are making excuses and don't want to change, do the children and the rest of our profession a favor and quit.
I am a teacher, which in a single word, sums up my passions and my belief in the future.