Tuesday, December 12, 2017

If Not Now, Then When? If Not Me, Then Who?

Public education has been a cornerstone of my life.  I was raised by a teacher, spent all of my formative years in public schools, and chose to enter into the profession of education as a young adult.  I have never regretted the work that I do even though it is hard and not well compensated.  To me, it is thoroughly rewarding and every day brings into my life something new and interesting.  Teaching is a dynamic career that really focuses on the human element, and it has always appealed to me that I get to positively influence the development of young people.  At the core of what I do, the students and their educational well being come first and foremost.  I cannot imagine anyone remaining in public education without firmly believing and embracing that idea.  True educators value students and seek to ensure the optimal learning experience for "their kids."  

Therefore, I cannot comprehend those people who go into public education and then somehow fail to keep that goal as the center of their work.  Why be a part of a system that is meant to develop and foster the best in our nation's children if they aren't dedicated to doing what's right for kids? Somewhere along the line, people lose their focus on students and start to seek fulfillment of their personal agendas--often agendas centered around the acquisition and wielding of power.  Or, they have bought into the commercialization of education, the nation's ultimate public good, and push forward policies and practices meant to destroy the public part of education.  They are pawns of those wishing to privatize and profit off of the serious and fundamental duty of developing America's children into participatory, productive and thinking adults. 

There are administrators who rise through the ranks of teaching to head districts as either directors or superintendents and somewhere along the way, they lost what it really means to keep the kids at the heart of everything they do. They get caught up in power politics and their focus narrows until they can no longer see what really makes for a good system of educating children. They give good lip service to the idea, but fail to meaningfully work with all the stakeholders in public education to create environments that optimize learning.  

This is evidenced by failing to respect the people who are technically the boots on the ground.  Those that work on a daily basis in the classrooms, cafeterias, libraries, and labs with students should have a voice in the development of educational policies and practices.  Their input should be valued, but often it is dismissed.  Districts fail to acknowledge the expertise and education that teachers bring to a school system and frequently make decisions about curriculum and practices without ever consulting them.  

For some districts the lack of respect goes further, and the employees are viewed as the enemy--a suspect class that is only out for higher salaries, better benefits, and the least amount of work possible.  Rather than using employees as a resource to craft better educational systems, they work against them to create difficult and often untenable circumstances.  They are moved from position to position without regard to an educator's preference.  They are spoken to and about in a disrespectful fashion.  They are told in too many ways to count that they are ineffective and that what they do doesn't matter.  Any simpleton can read a script, assign worksheets manufactured by corporate publishers, and administer standardized tests. It's no wonder that teachers are retiring in record numbers and the amount of people going into education keeps diminishing.  Last semester, a major university in New Mexico only graduated a dozen or so new teachers from their education program.  No one wants to teach and the country is facing a massive shortage of educators. 

People are being run out of the profession due to poor legislation that deliberately targets teachers with an onerous amount of paperwork, evaluates them with flawed data and methods, pushes standardized testing at mind-bogglingly frequent intervals and takes away the autonomy, creativity and joy of being an educator.  

Class sizes are much larger than they used to be, vacancies abound in most districts, online or computerized classes are becoming the norm, and students are stressed beyond belief.  For all these reasons and more, the US cannot keep up with other countries in reading, math and science.  For example, my students at the high school where I teach have had to take five standardized tests just in the past nine weeks. When is their time to teach anymore?  Where is the ability for a teacher to determine the immediate needs of her students and then follow a course of action that lets them learn?  There is no time to really get into the heart of certain subjects or to create long-lasting experiences from which they will draw in the years to come.  Teachers are dispirited and stressed, students are overwhelmed and feeling shortchanged. Something has got to give. 

In an ideal school district, administrators, employees and the community would come together with the overriding and ever-present goal of creating the best public education system possible.  Personal agendas, the monopolization of power, and the corporatization of schooling would not play a role.  The input of all stakeholders would really impact the development of public education policies, and above all else, children would truly be at the heart of everything that happens.  

It can be quite hard to hold onto the hope that things will change for the better, but I have always had a tendency to keep up hope for improvement.  That hope mingled with motivation and organization will keep me in this profession and keep me fighting for the best interest of "my kids."  Change takes inspiration and dedication and knowing this, I keep returning to the quote, "If not now, then when?  If not me, then who?"  The time is now and in whatever way I can, no matter how small, I will strive to improve public education.  I hope there are a lot more "me's" who will follow suit as well.  Let's put the public back into public education and make it the best we can for all of our children. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Good Day

I've been thinking a lot lately about my job. I have had a series of really good days at work and I've been reflecting on why that is the case. The truth is that I get an amazing amount of personal satisfaction in being a teacher, and I am fortunate to work in an environment that fosters strong relationships and a deep respect for the humanity in everyone, regardless of behaviors that might be deemed socially suspect or outside of the normal ways of doing things.  The staff appreciates one another's skills and hard work as well as respects each other's differences. The teachers appreciate the students in all their various shapes and forms, and I think, at least by the end of the school  year, the overwhelming majority of students appreciate the teachers.  We are an eclectic bunch, but with all our individual idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, we seem to work well as a unit.

I like to think of my school as The Island of Misfit Toys visited by Rudolph that one Christmas.  Every student that attends has some broken pieces or rough edges and the staff does as well. Nonetheless, we are all pretty special in our own ways.  I think because of the culture of tolerance and acceptance that my workplace strives to create and maintain each year, our students are met and welcomed where they are currently positioned in life and then motivated to progress academically, socially, and emotionally through each teacher's unique style.

One of the things I like best is the freedom to be me in my classes. I like the fact that I can be a real person with my students.  I am always professional, but they often hear stories about my life, my experiences and my kids.  They have seen me upset, happy, goofy, and even hurting and not once have I been embarrassed to allow them to see and know me, not just as their instructor, but as a genuine and flawed person.  Being authentic with the students, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to develop meaningful relationships that allow for a host of opportunities for success on both academic and personal levels.  It creates an environment that is safe and that fosters growth.

Today, in casual conversation with some students in my US History class, we got onto the topic of discipline and how a person moderates behaviors through self-control.  Ultimately, the goal is to have students be cognizant and responsible for their own behavior because they are self-motivated to make good, healthy decisions.  Often times this can be a really slow progression that needs external reinforcement and support.  One of my students piped up and said, "You know what keeps me from making a lot of bad decisions lately?"  And I asked, "What?"  He said, "You do.  I'm afraid to disappoint you."  That made me smile.  Why? Because it means that I'm on the right track in regard to relationship building.  I'm headed in the right direction in helping these kids mature into productive and thoughtful adults. They respect my opinion enough to allow it to influence them in how they are choosing between what's right for them and what's wrong for their lives.  To me, this was a huge compliment and one of those moments you hold onto when you're feeling low and ineffective after a really hard day.

When I got home this afternoon, another nice surprise awaited me.  I had a former student thank me for support and kindness I had shared with her as her teacher.  She thanked me for helping her graduate and giving her a really good experience in my classes.  It was the icing on the cake of an already good day.  Thank yous can be relatively rare in the teaching profession because most of the time students don't recognize a teacher's effort and attention until they've grown up a bit.  That is one reason why they are so special and meaningful when they happen.

I like days like today.  Not just because I received validation for what I work so hard at doing, but because the energy was good.  I taught well and the students learned a little something about some things. In addition, I acknowledged to myself how really blessed I am to have a career where I can make a positive impact.

I'm happy.  I love it when I can say that and really mean it.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

There is Something in Us That Loves Broken Things


I have always had a tendency to be too kind to people who don't deserve it because somehow I decided at one point in my life, the people who act as if they least deserve kindness are the ones who need it most.  I don't know how healthy an attitude this is to hold.  Unless you are a very strong person who has mastered the art of pure detachment, it can cause a lot of heartache.  You invest your energy in people who are emotional leeches.  They take and take, but never really give anything back.  They only give enough of themselves to make a person think that genuine feelings of affection and respect exist, but its not true. It's false progress, false feelings, utter manipulation on the part of one person towards another.  It's a method of stringing someone along someone who provides support and love without ever having to pay the piper--without ever having to be real and true and a supportive entity to the other person.

I think the people who are the most awful in situations like these are those that know exactly what they are doing.  The calculated manipulation to get exactly what they want from another person without having to return anything back is really kind of evil.  But, for the longest time, I was so blind to acknowledging that some people are inherently not good, that I mitigated everything they did by attributing their behaviors to other reasons--plausible, reasonable motivations for behavior that was incredibly damaging and shady.

I would like to think that I have a solid self-esteem.  I am intelligent, attractive, kind, and generous of spirit. Why would I invest time and energy into someone who didn't deserve my light?  Maybe it's a fixing complex.  I see someone so damaged that I feel as if I should try and at least help them to be happier more centered people. Maybe it is the desire to make someone who is so obviously in the dark understand  how wonderful life is--to see if from my perspective.  Maybe it's because they tell me I am important to them or that they love me and I take it to heart, knowing that when I love someone it isn't transient so their love shouldn't be conditional either.  I don't know.  What I do know is that a narcissist, a manipulative, awesomely selfish person will take those caring, generous qualities about me and use them to their maximum. They will drain me and regardless of how solid or detached I am, I will end up hurting.

This has been a reoccurring theme in my life.  Loving men and people who are incapable of loving back in the way I need.  I am tired of loving broken things and broken people.  It take s a massive toll on my personal energy and balance.  I deserve to be well loved.  I deserve to be respected.  I deserve to have someone ask me how my day went, and sincerely listen to my answer because I am important to them.  I deserve to be appreciated, desired, and more than any thing made to feel valued.

I know enough to understand that I do not need someone to complete me.  I understand myself enough to know I don't even want to have someone on a daily basis.  But I also recognize the need and desire in myself to have someone who wants to be in my life, who is unafraid to let me know that, and who take the time to appreciate everything that I do for them and give to them.  I just want to be respected.  To be valued.

I think I am going to have to be more judicious in the future of the people I allow in my life.  I am too old to keep trying to fix people.  I have so much to do and not enough time to do it in.  Repairing broken people or things cannot be a priority for me.  Fooling myself into thinking manipulation is care and love has no place either.  My priorities lie elsewhere and I am too damned important to too many other people that I cannot allow my spirit to be diminished by anyone or anything that doesn't value it. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Opportunity Cost: Being Okay with Being Average



I had my official observation today as part of my evaluation of my ability to teach.  My lesson centered on defining opportunity cost and evaluating resource allocation with cost-benefit analyses.  I tried my best to follow the style and format mandated by the district and I think, for the most part, I did alright. Nevertheless, I can tell already what areas will be targeted for improvement and what areas will be listed as strengths.  If anything, I am pretty introspective about and fairly critical of the work I produce, and I constantly think about how I could be more efficient and more effective.  I am open to constructive criticism and consistently try to improve my performance in the class room.  However, I often struggle with trying to balance what my district views as a good teacher and what I believe is a good teacher. 

I know that I have a prodigious amount of knowledge regarding American history, government and economics.  Off the top of my head, I can answer almost any question about those subjects with depth, clarity, and detail.  Content knowledge is definitely one of my greatest strengths.  I am also strong in class room management and discipline.  My students are invariably well-behaved.  This too, is a strength. 

Likewise, I know my area of greatest weakness.  I am not well-versed on current pedagogy.  Most of what I do in regard to teaching methodology I learned in my education classes, from expert teachers I worked with, or I developed  through trial and error in the class room. I'll be the first to admit that I am not up-to-date on the most recent procedures and theories of classroom management or instruction.  I try to be the district's "good" teacher and if one were to ask me to detail a lesson plan with anticipatory sets, closures, overt and covert thinking, imbedded assessment, aligned with common core state standards while using positive behavioral intervention strategies, I could do that-- just probably not very well.  

I have my own ideas about methodology and procedure and they often don't follow current trends precisely.  The thing about being current on new theories and procedures is that, in my opinion, a lot of them are variations on old themes.  A lot of "new" ideas are just recycled old ideas in modern packaging.  If the old version and language works and has been proven effective, why take the time to master the new version?  To me, this is a monumental waste of time.  Time that could be spent in a more productive fashion.

Many of these theories also would work well in a perfect world with perfect students, but the neither the world nor children are perfect.  Especially when you teach in an alternative setting that serves  students who don't fit well into the normal structure of public education.  If fitting square pegs into round holes worked, my students wouldn't be attending my school.  So perfecting strategies meant for the masses wastes time as well.  I want to spend my time and energy on my students because they need it more than they need me to be expertly versed in pedagogical theory.

Because so many of my students have a history of some sort of trauma, it's imperative to create an environment that is welcoming, safe, and comfortable.  This takes time and energy to manifest well.  Another necessary aspect is building relationships with the students.  There must be a consistent interaction of respect and acknowledgment that makes the students feel worthy, valued, and recognized, especially if they are going to learn anything meaningful in my classes.  This also takes sustained conscious effort and time. In addition, students have to be given multiple opportunities for success, even the smallest of successes, so that they can change their personal narratives.  Most of my students struggle with negative ideas about their intelligence, their ability to learn, their social skills, and their capacity for adding value to the world around them.  Having real opportunities for success paired with authentic praise for that success can profoundly change how a child views him/herself and thus positively impact their learning ability.

I always keep in mind the idea so well-expressed by Maya Angelou with her quote, "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel."  I want my students to feel as if they matter, as if what they choose to do matters to the world, as if they could do anything they want to and to do it well.  This all takes time, effort, and dedication.  All of which would be diminished if I had to direct my attention to acquiring and fully applying "new" pedagogical practices.

Therefore, I am perfectly okay with my lack of expertise on trendy methodology and theories.  I would much rather spend my time on what's really important for my students--teaching the whole person.  Teaching them to love themselves, to value themselves.  Teaching them to be resilient, confident, and sentient.  Teaching them that they are worthy and worthwhile to this world.  Teaching them ways that can help them develop into well-rounded, motivated, productive, and happy individuals.  I am okay with being average in pedagogical form and practice.  It is an opportunity cost I am willing to bear.  I'd much rather allocate my resources to my students' growth and well-being than to my evaluation.  At the end of the day, they are the most important things in education, and I am going to devote my resources, efforts, and time into helping them become the best versions of themselves they can possibly be.   



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Las Vegas and the Fall of Rome



Last night I went to bed thinking a lot of things, especially about the massacre in Las Vegas that happened Sunday night.  Yet again, another mass shooting in the good ol' gun-loving US and yet again, the subsequent flurry of online "thoughts and prayers" for the victims.  Very shortly afterwards, almost immediately actually, the propaganda both for and against gun control legislation began.  I am well aware of the arguments, well aware of which side I am on and I am also very cognizant of how exhausted I am from having this same fight every few months.

I am definitely an advocate for responsible gun legislation.  I don't want to take away anyone's Second Amendment right to bear arms, but I want controls in place that regulate gun ownership.  The requirements for owning and operating a car, obtaining an abortion, or even applying for federal aid for college take more time, effort and regulation than gun ownership in the US.  We are, as a nation, currently armed, dangerous, and definitely on edge.  It's not a good combination for anyone living here.

Just in the last nine months alone, more than 11,500 Americans died due to guns.  That's more than 1000 a month dead because of lax gun regulation and the glorification of gun ownership in the US.  Some were accidents, some self-inflicted, some as the result of crime, and about 300 were due to mass shootings.  More than 2500 teenagers/young adults were killed by guns.  That figure is appalling. Why, as a people, are we okay with this level of loss of life?

I sincerely thought that after the 26 children and adults were killed at Newtown, Connecticut almost five years ago that Congress would begin the hard work of crafting sensible, meaningful public policy on gun ownership.  How could they not?  Babies were brutally gunned down in a safe space, kindergarten and first-grade classrooms.  We as a compassionate, sentient nation of people wouldn't stand for something like this to happen again.  But we did.  And we continued to stand for more mass shootings, more horrific deaths of innocent people in public places.  No where is safe anymore--not movie theaters, nightclubs, baseball games or concerts.  Every time this happens, people mourn and commiserate, send thoughts and prayers, argue for and against their side, and ultimately do nothing at all.  They purposely forget and willingly buy the bullshit propaganda of the NRA and the right who proclaim gun control legislation equates to gun confiscation.

The entire mess makes me angry and so very sad.  I am frustrated that we are like Nero and fiddling while Rome burns. Until people are willing to allow for compromise, until people are willing to listen to reason and see the bigger picture, nothing will continue to happen except more mass murder, more unnecessary, violent deaths of the innocent.

As I fell asleep, I was struck by an odd thought.  I wondered if, somewhere in the late 5th century, Romans realized that their civilization was rapidly coming to an end.  And, if so, were there people trying to halt the ending or were they self-medicated, blinded if you will, by propaganda of the times?  I also thought of how their incidents of violence, the disintegration of the ideals of a republic must have occurred more frequently.  A societal variation of compressed morbidity that occurs as people age. Illness after illness come closer and closer until a person dies.  I wondered if civilizations were like that as well.  Violent episode after episode occurring more frequently and with greater impact until a society expires.

America is in peril led by an incompetent narcissist who sees nothing and understands nothing unless it directly relates to himself.  We are experiencing greater division as a people, the like not seen since the Civil War.  We are weak and unwilling to change, hiding from the hard work that needs to be done to continue striving for the goals laid out in our preamble to the Constitution....establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, and promoting the general welfare.  From where I sit, we are in that period of compressed morbidity as a nation, and if we don't do something to stop its progression, the civilization that we know now won't be the same in the future.  As a matter of fact, it may not be here at all.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Potential and Nothing Random

Potential

You are a bell before it's been rung-
the note of a song before it's been sung,
the tick of a clock before it times true;
You are potential, opportunity new.

You are a thought, not yet spoken-
a heartfelt promise still unbroken,
the rays of the sun peeping awake;
You are potential which no one can fake.

You are the eyes that open at dawn-
holding the moment before it is gone,
the sole drop of rain before the downpour;
You are potential and so much more.



Nothing Random

There is a lifetime in minutes
that we parse from our days
to share with each other

With carefully crafted words
 there is nothing random 
in the way we speak, the things we say

It is a calculated distance,
this place we painstakingly leave
between us

We hide from complication,
refuse to be vulnerable and
control what we can

But then....

Pushed on a tide of patience
that pools then ripples, 
and breaks in wave upon wave

There is no space unfilled, 
no deliberate disconnect
Just energy and eyes 

An acknowledgment of kisses,
a recognition of the other and the us
that exists solely in stolen moments


Saturday, September 23, 2017

I Have My Phone, Therefore I Am


Cell phones and creativity don't always mix.
This past week, we held a poetry and music festival at the alternative high school where I work.  Students created poems throughout the week, practiced songs they wanted to perform, and created accompanying art work for their words. Some of them were able to create poems of depth and meaning fairly easily, while others couldn't maintain the concentration necessary to write anything. I empathized with both types of writers. I used to write a lot of poetry throughout my late twenties and early thirties, but it dwindled down to almost nothing while I was in the thick of raising my kids and struggling to meet all my obligations as a wife and mother of young children. I couldn't find the time to reach that state of openness and quiet is that is necessary to take words and piece them together into something beautiful. For some reason, these students of mine cannot find that space either. 

My lack of quiet space came from obligations to work and family--a fairly typical occurrence for someone my age and my place in life.  My students' lack of space, however, can be attributed to the nature of today's technology-centered world.  As teenagers, time should be one of their greatest assets, with enough of it to actually have blocks of it filled with nothing to do.  Nevertheless, this is not the case. Every minute for them is filled, not only with typical adolescent thoughts, daydreams, and doubts, but with media, Youtube, music, and video games.  Their lives are ones of non-stop sensory input which leaves very little room for creative output. A person doesn't need to exercise her imagination if someone else does it for her at the push of a button or the stroke of a keyboard.  There is no room anymore for boredom and that develops into a distinct lack of ability to deal with the feelings that boredom manifests.  I think there is a correlation between this and the high levels of anxiety I see in my students.  They get used to constant entertainment, their entire lives having been an exercise in "bread and circuses" and don't know what to do with themselves when the immediate mental gratification stops.

Sometimes I think that technology and this culture of instant gratification is not only changing how we do things, but it's changing brain development as well.  Who we are now as a people will definitely not match who we become in the future. Technology has not only become a daily tool for humanity, but an extension of oneself.  For young people it's almost as if Decartes' definition of self has become "I have my phone, therefore I am."  It worries me in regard to purely human-inspired artistic creativity.  What's going to happen with traditional artistic endeavors? Are young people not going to be confident enough in their skills to make things without the help or inspiration of technology because they've never had to rely on just their own thoughts and ideas?  It worries me because technology is so pervasive that it's not only changing young people, but everyone else as well.

I see changes in the way I think and the way in which I do things, and I attribute that to the constant presence of technology in my life as well.  I have a shorter attention span and an increased need for consistent mental stimulation of some kind.  And if technology has affected me this way, someone who has already been set and programmed a long time ago, what is it doing to young people who still have malleable minds? All people, including me, need to make time for more unplugged downtime. We need time to be bored. We need to sit with that boredom long enough to want to create something or do something productive that alleviates it.  Having nothing to do or to think about has a way of opening one's mind to deeper thoughts, concentration, and creation of wonderful things.

I am definitely going to work on giving myself more opportunities for having time to do nothing.  I need it to get back to more of who I used to be.  And, if I am lucky, maybe in that nothing I will create something and it will be beautiful.