Category Archives: Education Advocacy

Today My Superpowers Were Activated

This is Teacher Appeciation Week!


Today was the most important day of the week!  What would have started like any other day where I fantasize about getting to the copier before my colleagues and prepare another awesome lesson AND bask in that elusive “teachable moment” I instead caught myself parking too far away, hopping puddles, and swinging my brief case over tiny heads to elude my watching principal.  Yaaaas! Today was another one of THOSE days!

For me, Teacher Appreciation Day consists of getting through the day knowing that I enlightened someone else (atleast in theory).  Just like yesterday and the week before–sort of like Father’s Day, but without the unwanted ties–I do my best.   No recognition required.

 

However, today was the day that I was called upon to activate my super powers.  To understand what I mean, I should take you back to the first day of school.  I wore a cape.  Dressed like Zorro (without the sword), I broke the ice by inviting each of my new students to choose a super power.  If they could posses any talent, what would it be? 

My first student told me she’d be invisible.  How revealing?  So I gave her a laminated illustration of Invisible Girl.  Another student said he’d protect the environment.  I offered him a Captain Planet photograph. 

Our first morning meeting was exciting. Every student identified with a super hero unique to their own talents and inhibitions.  

But one student stood out.  He was included on my original roster but was retrieved early in the lesson to join another class.  Before he had a chance to participate, he had to leave.  He cried.  He wanted to be a super hero too.  I kneeled down and whispered in his ear that he will always be apart of our class, and that he could still be a hero.  


In a moment of spontenanity I offered him the option of being a super spy–a secret double agent–which quickly evolved into a “class ambassador” who could report back to our Justice League at a later date.  He accepted, and his tears began to dry.  I explained that any time our paths met in the hallway, I’d signal him with a modest thumbs up.  If everything was copetectic, he’d respond in kind.  We had a plan! ūüēĶūüŹľ

Months later, he rose to the top of his class. I knew that I had nothing to do with his success.  Infact, I revelled in the knowledge that he was getting a great education in my colleague’s class. Without my shinanegans slowing him, he was making great progress.  

Frequently, we’d catch up with each other in the hallway. I’d greet him with a thumbs up.  “Hey Zorro,” he’d whisper.  


But as the year progressed, the super hero gimmick faded in the wake of more important subject matter.  Vocabulary competitions, math challenges, and writing workshops became daily routine.  Now we’ve mastered second grade content and are progressing towards promotion.  Thirty days and counting!   The school is still quiet from standardized testing.  The weather outside fluctuates from hour to hour.  Occasional field trips arrouse the student excitement while the chance of running wild for recess builds anticipation. 

Today when I arrived, the administrative assistant alerted me to my newest arrival.  My secret agent was going to rejoin my class!  Although unanticipated, change is exciting and met accordingly.  Thumbs up and off to class.  But when he arrived, he wasn’t so happy.  He enjoyed the comfort of his other class and was in no mood for gimmicks.  

He had tears in his eyes.  He did NOT want anything to do with a new environment.  I tried to reconnect with him.  He wasn’t interested.  And then it hit me!  

I asked him if he recalled his super power.  He nodded.  “I’m a secret agent,” he said.  

“You’re other class is way ahead of mine,” I declared.  “We could sure use your help…”  He cried harder.  ūüôÉ

I was at a loss, and then it hit me.  I too needed to activate my super power.  I am a teacher!  I’m a counselor. I am a role model and a friend. 

I recalled Peter Parker! Clark Kent!  Bruce Wayne!  They all were super in their own rite.  But there came a day that they had to activate their super power.  They had to put aside their alter ego in leui of their super identity.  

There comes a time in our lives that we all do this.  The day I became a father; the night I was called to fight my first house fire;  or the day I chased down a shoplifter–today was my day (again)!  

I kneeled down and whispered, “today is your day…”   He stopped sniffling.  He wiped away the tears.  He had to make a choice.  


I’d like to tell you that he took my hand and walked with me into our class.  I can’t because lying is NOT my super power.  Instead I can honestly tell you that with much pleading and bargaining, cojoling and convincing, my “special agent” opted out.  

Something was learned today.  I can’t tell you what he learned, but I can tell you about THIS super teacher.  Not every lesson is a successful one.  

Just like other adults, my day is filled with compromise.  I try. I learn. I help.  I receive help.  With some support from my colleagues, my secret agent returned to his other class.  He was happy.  My other students had an opportunity to exercise their developing talents, and no one had homework today.   

Alas, (sigh)…

Today was Teacher Appreciation Day!  I appreciate my students and my colleagues.  I think they appreciate me.  Tomorrow will come.  And we will learn some more…

Fellow educators, thank you for not giving up. You’re SUPER!

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We Are The Revolutionaries!

“Stand up and fight back!” ¬†No matter what side of the political isle you call home, you are going to experience a significant change in the socio-economic climate in the WORLD. ¬†What we are witnessing now is not merely an American condition.

As Canada prepares for American refugees, and Mexico shakes it’s head in disgust, there’s a¬†burning sensation¬†to revolt against the true¬†neo-fascist. ¬†The¬†political infrastructure for decades to come will be built on the decisions we are making in 2016.

Every conservative AND every liberal has a position on all of these issues:

Decent living-wage. ¬†Some defend the status quo because they’ve “earned” their place in life building a skill set based on hard work and opportunity. ¬†Others are demanding a better working condition as they watch their managers and handlers profit from their hard work. ¬†They call it¬†oppression.

Disenfranchisement. The good ol’ boy network has evolved to include a new demographic, but it maintains the same elitist restrictions. ¬†The club is now comprised of both “old money” and new wealth, but a general disgust for anyone looking to evenly distribute the opportunity. ¬†If there’s a way to hamper the positive change on the other end of a registered voter, it will be exploited. ¬†Selma exists in every region of our nation via gerrymandering, pole taxes, residency requirements, and basic literacy expectations. What would result if every ex-con, homeless citizen, naturalized immigrant, college freshman, or disenfranchised senior actually were guaranteed their human right to choose their destiny?

Social Justice. The same injustices that the “privileged” dismiss as delusions of grandeur are the badges of courage for every man, woman, or child who dare wear a hooded sweatsuit while grasping a bag of skittles. ¬† ¬†Martyrs are created from the innocent and under-privileged. Civil disparities prompt prejudice and bigotry based on skin color, gender, and creed (with a twist of poverty). ¬†The ultimate sacrifice is minimized and summarized into sound bites and hashtags. ¬†And a cry to go back to a “better time” is embraced by anyone with good credit, a stable job, and…outstanding student loan balances. ¬†The advocates for change are the same folks who have been denied access to the very freedoms for which they’ve paid! ¬†The protectors of those freedoms are the very ones who’ve enjoyed them for generations.

Criminal Justice.  A system that has incarcerated more minorities per capita than any nation in the world is founded on the premise that anti-social is pro-criminal.  But systematically, who is enforcing these norms? There are inmates serving prison sentences for crimes that have been repealed; for peddling drugs that are now legal; while while celebrities glamorize these same norms  and exploit the very same legal system.



Economics.
Profits would be generated on all of this except for the fact that the top one percent has their banks off-shore (and they’re not spending any of that fleeced wealth). Our government can no longer generate revenue from (foreclosed) property, (unearned) income, or (unsold) merchandise. ¬†The money that was spent on industrialized prison complexes, charter schools, and weapons of war…has long-since been directed away from law enforcement, public education, and social services.

“We can do much better!”¬† This is the new freedom cry, but it’s almost too late.

We are the new revolutionaries!  

But the freedoms for which we are fighting have already been given away.

I am a Bullied Teacher

We all have witnessed someone being bullied. It’s not the problem that defines us, but how we react to the problem. Today, I choose to stand up. Share this with an educator. Empathy is the first step.

talesofateach1987

Each day, I pull into the parking lot of my school and sit in my car. I do not want to go in for fear of what this day will hold. I sit in my car and pray. I pray to God that today will be a good day for my children and me. I pray that I can withstand whatever my administration throws at me. I pray that I will be able to fight back tears in staff meetings. I pray that I will not face any scrutiny on this day. I pray these prayers, because I am being bullied. Not by my co-workers. Not by my students’ parents. No. I am being bullied by those who should be providing me support…my administration.

I am a bullied teacher.

I walk into my classroom with sadness in my heart and a frown on my face. I feel this sadness because…

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Intellectual Grunt

Educators are slowly making the transition from education professional to civil service grunt. Society learned long ago of self-fulfilling prophecies. Treating someone a certain way for a long enough period of time, will cause them to behave that way. Intellectuals don’t function within that same realm, however there are exceptions to every rule. 

Treating someone badly for a prolonged period of time and then expecting them to yield positive results is just ludicrous. It’s just that simple.  Value someone as a person, and they will offer a human response. 

Educators are no longer valued as the noble professionals they once were. In history, similar trends have occurred and society has evolved or even recovered. But the pendellum is not swinging back quickly enough.  

Working to the contract, signing in/out for lunches, documenting all interpersonal interactions‚Ķthese are things that clerical and and “nine to five employees” do daily to justify their jobs. It’s menial yet measurable.  

 
But educators are held to a higher standard. All the while the measuring stick becomes more and more antiquated.  How can any professional gain a semblance of distinction when the standards are constantly changing?  

There isn’t a single educator who chose their profession because of a secret desire to crunch numbers, process paperwork, or punch a clock.  

Educators have been the focus of political blame because they are an easy target.  The cost of education is a constant.  As long as there are students, there will be teachable content and an opportunity to build on previous knowledge.  

And the cost of THIS is immeasurable.  

School districts, municipal boards, county and state budget committees struggle annually to project for these increasing costs.  So where do they cut?  Anywhere and everywhere!  

No matter where the cuts occur, human lives are impacted.  The teacher-to-student bond will be dimished to a point that it can no longer exist.  Cyber schools are no longer science fiction and lore.  The movement to eliminate teachers has begun.  Students will “develop” without instruction.  And those teachers WILL become the statisticians and programmers of online content accessible only through a internet server.  

The biggest expense in education is the cost of the teacher.  The second biggest expense is the student.  Third is the cost of replenishing, upgrading, and maintaining the educational infrustructure.  But the infrustructure has value beyond the classroom. When the classrooms are no longer sufficient, they will be used for something else.  Public school buildings built today are designed to serve multiple purposes (as they always have been). Today it’s a public school; tomorrow it’s a charter school;  five years from now a church; eventually a bomb shelter.  

But aren’t educators like other civil servants? 

No!  They are less effective in negotiating their own work environment.  The controls over their work environment are in the hands of school boards and the public by proxy.  

Educators can’t apply the effective labor tactics that other unions employ.  They can’t strike. They can’t really speak to the media without recourse, and their online activity is monitored closely. No matter how badly they’re bullied, educators remain resilient.  

Holding their heads high, educators generate lesson plan, grade assessments between classes,  coordinate with cohorts, develop professionally, convention collectively, and some even lobby through their associations to create positive change–all on their own time.  

Bullied? 

By policy makers, school boards, administrators, parents, and sometimes students, educators succum to the demands beyond their control. They’re not easily persuaded though. Educators are dignified and diligent. An unmoving target, the blows are met with great force.  

But isn’t education changing?

Education evolves, but at a steady (and sometimes slower) rate than other aspects of society.  Ed policy is based on data-based studies and proven success.  This takes time.  But in recent years, data is driven by the need to be more efficient regardless of how effective.  Not to mention that the resources, tools, curriculum, and texts used in the classroom are marketed by for-profit entities tied to political policy.  Non-educators making Ed policy?

Educators hold themselves to a higher standard already. Educators persevere. They thrive on the teachable moments in every lesson. Life lessons are built on overcoming adversity. Educators turn negatives into positives daily. So it’s really no surprise that educators are willing to tolerate, flex, and bend to accommodate the circumstances.  A steady target!

The politicians may never know the wrath of this type of public servant. Educators can take abuse and never reach their breaking point. Dealing with parents, negotiating with administrators, encouraging students to reach their potential. It’s not easy work. The most experienced educator perseveres through the most challenging circumstances. And upon retirement, educators continue to nurture!

How many other professions can make that claim. Educators just don’t quit. So putting the entire profession into a vice and squeezing is not going to end in a positive manner. But the students will learning. The students are watching.  What lesson is being taught?

Consider all of these factors (and knowing that more and more obstacles are mounting). To be any less would negate the silent oath of an educator.  To work less, to care less, to plan less, advocate less…would simply ease our transitions becoming civil service grunts.  Educators would be as effective as any other civil servant, but with more power.  More power to secure our community—or all the ability to simply walk away.  

Principal, What Are You Teaching Us?

Principal, what are you teaching us?

The number of times anyone is called into the principal’s office is minuscule compared to the countless successes in the classroom (or in the hallway). Teachers are grinding everyday! Grinding away the ignorance, the impatience, and the intolerance. Building trust. Building upon the knowledge of yesterday’s lesson. Modeling appropriate interactions between individuals of similar beliefs and especially supporting of dissimilar ideas. Demonstrating courage to stand up for oneself in the face of adversity.  

This is modus operandi for EVERY teacher. Prospective teacher candidates can’t even get an interview with demonstrating competence AND passion. And veteran teachers don’t retire unless that flame has begun to flicker.  
Ah, but then there are the climbers. The educators who earn an additional degree or certificate to demonstrate a passion beyond the call of duty–the “super educators” if you will. Supervisors and principals too must daily demonstrate a tolerance for a wealth of factors beyond their control. They learn the most contemporary methods of addressing student achievement through staff performance.

Administrators meet with colleagues consistently to identify obstacles, eliminate inconsistencies, and determine the measures necessary to meet a plethora of objectives.  

You see, the objectives for a classroom teacher and an administrator are different. They are not at all aligned. And yet the expectations are the same. Student achievement is supposed to be the overall goal when everyone works together.  

When a student engages in classroom activities, the student is enriched. When a student must “visit” with the principal, that too should be an enriching experience. Regardless of the circumstance, the experience should have a positive outcome. After all, the principal and vice principal are the Teacher’s Teachers. They coach and observe, model and enhance the experience for the students AND the teachers.  

That’s a lot of responsibility! Who does that much at your job? Along with policeman and fireman, educators are the world’s most noble superheroes. Teachers are there even when the loving arms of a parent cannot be there. They are social workers in the truest sense. 
The teachers support their students the way that a social worker provides emotional supports for someone in need.  

Who is there to support the teachers? Principals, right?

But wait? Do you trust a counselor who punishes you? How can a teacher trust an administrator whose perspective of coaching translates to discipline.  

When a teacher is called into the principal’s office, is it for support or a consultation? Is it to collaborate or is it coach? Well, the answers to these questions rely on the audience. It also depends on who else is invited into the principal’s office.  

Principals have the opportunity to lead daily. They can do for teachers what other educators do for students–nourish, enrich, model, and coach. And yet, principals are also the school disciplinarian. For both students and teachers, a call to the principal’s office creates fear and anxiety. What will happen when we cross that threshold? 

How quantitative will an experience with the principal be? How will we gauge the quality of that observation the principal just conducted last week? Will that coaching session evolve into a disciplinary hearing? 

And what of change that we need? Can the principal facilitate the change that is truly needed? It’s so difficult to trust or believe in someone who is not capable doing what they’ve been entrusted to do. In the eyes of a student, their teacher is noble and kind, wise and considerate, willing and able.  

Can the principal be the hero that both the students AND the teachers need? We hope so. We are tired of waiting for Super Man or Wonder Woman.  

Principal, what are you teaching us?

Despitefully Use Me

   
 

I’ve been working in an education mill for 10 years, and I didn’t even realize it. Yes, I said “mill!” I began my career, ironically enough in a place called Millville. A place where all kinds of crafts were milled by Millers. Families sent their children not just to learn a skill or vocation, but to also provide safe, affordable childcare while dad (and mom) were at work.  

I was hired for some of the wrong reasons, but some of the right reasons. Which is which, I can not discern. I was older than the youngest candidates. I was younger than the retirees. I was skilled in social work but had minimal education experience. I was hired because of my potential, but I was let go (several times) because my inability to conform. When I was re-hired in a neighboring school district, it was because of a discrete relationship between my new employer and my former employer. Sadly it wasn’t because of talent, expertise, or dedication. 

I wonder how many other educators like me were hired the same way. I’d like to think that I’m the exception to the rule. Is conformity a necessary evil. Or is it a DISqualifier? 

In the end, I have provided years of service to a community that needed it more than it knows. Was I teaching? Not as much as I mentoring, modeling, and molding young citizens to be the generation of thinkers that they MUST be to survive decades of distrust and misallocation. 

  

A new day is upon us.  As fate would have it, it’s just in time for a major shift in the way educators are perceived at the hand of a failing system. No longer considered noble and wise, dedicated and devoted, educators are given the left overs.  And yet we spend time with our civilizations most precious commodity:  the future. 

The sun is rising on an evolution of testing. The night before, corporations met with politicians to craft an elaborate an effective plan to undermine the education system that the government has already been underfunding.  

  
Summers ago I completed a 100 hour professional development sponsored by a regional chamber of commerce and its numerous corporate members. This organization took a noble position by inviting educators to see the problem and develop some conclusive solutions. The purpose was to identify a very specific problem with the high school and college graduates. 

These institutional “graduates” are not employable! If they could submit an actual application, they bombed the interview because of their inability to appropriately socialize in a work environment. They couldn’t make eye contact. They wouldn’t dress appropriately. Their first question in the interview was “how much will I make (instead of how can I help your company)?”  The private sector demands better, and our youth can’t deliver.  At best, their parents may be the last generation of job holders.   

Our schools have been milling entitlement for years! How am I just realizing this NOW??  As I pen this, the theory is dissolving into a solid, tangible fact. If not a plan, an alarming accident that serves corporations far better than the public school students. 

Where is all that public school funding going? It’s being funneled into private interests! Where did the current funding come from? Your tax dollars fuel 100 percent of education funding. 

That’s right!!

  

Taxation without representation is awful. Instead of focusing on how the elected officials have let down the public, let’s focus on another perspective. We’ve allowed the government to tax us without representing ourselves. Those of us who vote are exerting our power over the electorate. But those who do not exercise their rights by voting (or lobbying for themselves) are surrendering their tax dollars without representation. That’s like allowing your bank to withdraw fees from your account without consulting you! Who does that??
  
It’s uncertain if it’s too late to reverse this trend. It’s been going on for a long time. We’re just waking up. It’s the dawn of a new era. This will be an era of Occupy Movements–and laws against them. This will be an era of homelessness–and laws against it. This will be an era of exploitations of public actions (police brutality, water crises, and board of education meetings) and the officials who try to cover it up with more laws.  

  
Our rights don’t need to be taken away. We’ve already surrendered them. It’s what we call in contract negotiations “past practices”. The education system is not neglected. It’s doing exactly what the elite want it to do. It’s the mill for generating a generation of children who lack the critical thinking skills to fight back.
We’ve been fooled. 

We’ve been misused. 

We’ve been bambozzled. 

We’ve been despitefully used. 

Read, Dylan, Read!


I’m looking for innovative ways to get my preteen son to read. ¬†A friend of mine has repeatedly declared that we are living in a ¬†“post-literate society” which suggests that we’ve decided collectively to read less. There have been few truer statements. ¬†Our children don’t read. ¬†Their parents don’t read. ¬†And there’s no resolve in sight.

Our media has been transformed. Print has become digital.  Even homes that used to have shelves lined with books are now filled with Bluerays.  Flea markets sell used DVDs for less than a dollar and VHS tapes go out with the weekly trash.  Digital content is easily obtained and as easily discarded.

You’d think that we’d be using fewer resources to create our info-tainment, but somewhere in Asia there is a wasteland of ¬†unrecycled circuit boards. ¬†And for every 100k gigs of digital content, there’s piles of non-paper waste.

The digital content that was supposed to enhance our lives is consumed, digested, and disposed far quicker than any books ever were. ¬† We used to keep our books as trophies of collected wisdom. ¬†A lifetime of first editions in the most affluent of homes are now replaced with a wall of bluerays and video games. ¬†Those velvet paintings are no longer the masterpieces on the living room wall. ¬†The couch is now on the other side of the room facing that big wall with the 52″ flatscreen television.


Vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and HiFi stereos that were once the source of our musical content have been replaced long ago with MP3 players and streaming content channeled through Bluetooth in every room.

And not a book to be found.

As early as preschool, we are replacing paper storybooks with tablets and digital learning games. ¬†Toddlers in grocery store check out lines are tapping out color coded beeps and bops on a parent’s smart phone. I recall playing video games close and loud enough to trigger kicks and punches from my unborn child inside my wife’s womb. ¬†Fascinating once. Now normal. Digital all the way!


So it really is no surprise that our young people don’t read. ¬†Reading has gone the way of cursive writing. ¬†Penmanship is no longer taught in many schools. ¬†Spelling tests are a things of the past. ¬†And fantastic tales of fictional characters have been replaced with the mandatory informational texts. ¬†The boards of education insist that all these new standards will bolster standardized test scores. ¬†¬†

We are not reading to our kids. We are not reading!

Books in the pediatrician’s waiting room go untouched as juveniles grasp their parents’ (or their own) mobile devices. ¬†Elementary school students more accustomed to sliding their fingers across a glossy screen have little knowledge of the world of paper books.

Local libraries that once offered their internet access as a viable alternative to print or media content can’t keep their doors from closing. ¬† Their discounted books that used to sell for a couple dollars can’t be sold for cents on the dollar. ¬†¬†

Bookstores close–to be replaced with coffee houses with free wifi. ¬†We read, but our content is filled with vibrant and animated images. ¬†No match for a book.

Every aspect of our world is changing.  The way we interact with each other has evolved with social media, YouTube, and Skype.  Even with on-demand cable, the internet side of Netflix and Hulu stream unlimited content. Our smartphones parallel our televisions.  And again, no need for a book.

Owners manuals are digitized.  Maps are now navigation systems, and calculators can be replaced with scanners, apps, and Siri.

The generations to come won’t need to think as hard as their parents. ¬†And yet they’ll rely on their parents to care for them much longer. ¬†Colleges prepare their students for diminishing careers; student loans will likely not be repaid; and graduates will be more skilled in Xbox games, Instagram posts, and waiting skills at the suburban Appleby’s.


Our impatient young readers will develop a temperament to have the world cater to them. ¬†I’m not as concerned with my son Dylan’s unwillingness to read as much as his reduced ¬†desire to develop his mind in the years to come.

Read, Dylan Read!