Friday, December 24, 2010

An Edutalk Happy Holidays

This year we have worked to mesh our outcome-based schemas to innovate proactive relationships.  As we extend our peer-based dialogue to the greater community, our hopes for you this season is that you would embrace over-arching objectives in order to re-contextualize school-to-work niches.  We believe we've done a good job of reinventing metacognitive interfaces to engineer impactful systems.  So may you envision dynamic processes and engage critical competencies. 

If you understood anything that I just said, then you need a holiday.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope that you can at least find a day of rest and enjoy a break if not tomorrow, sometime over this break.  And if you have nothing else to do, play with the "Educational Jargon Generator" and create your own masterpiece like the one above.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Part 2-Why I sometimes wish I taught Elementary School

Today's entry is a continuation of the story began on my previous post. If you have not read that portion you should begin there.

So I did what every red blooded American teacher worth their salt would have done. I paused, stared into their eyes and for just a moment and searched their faces for signs of fear, which they should now be unable to hide. But it wasn't there and I went forward. Again no violence or obscenities, no use of the walkie-talkie to call for administrative back-up, nothing crazy...I just began to stand there in silence. This single act of desperation was so unexpected it took them a bit by surprise. In the past they must have encountered teachers who either gave up or lost it, at which time they would revel in their victory and recount it when they gathered for weeks to come. Like some close knit band of soldiers who sit around a campfire describing a battle they had just won sharing a common bond unknown to outsiders who haven't shared their experience. I would at least try and deny them that joy by staying put and stifling their fun.

They seemed to be going on instinct and not sure what to do next. They slowly began to move off and break apart, and it appeared as if the tide was finally turning in my favor. Seconds seemed like hours as I sat with arms folded, eyes glaring, and scowling in their direction. I moved in concert with them remaining at constant distance of about 10 feet. This kept them uneasy, unsettled, like a bunch of nervous animals on some African savanna knowing that just off in the distance beyond their sight were the lions on the hunt. The group now reformed into 7 or 8 students and shifted about resisting my presence and they began to talk about some nonsensical this and that. While it was now clear I wasn't going to win complete victory, I wouldn't walk away and allow them the satisfaction of seeing me retreat. While we were locked in this stalemate something then shifted the fate of all of us forever.

As I stood there trapped, the infamous "Orange thrower" reappeared. The one who had gotten us all into this who had apparently escaped sanction was back. Like many criminals he had returned to the scene of the crime. I wasn't sure at first. The clothes were different and he appeared aloof and unaware. But then he snapped a gaze in my direction and as our eyes met. I immediately saw his guilt and recognized him. This was supported by his bulging backpack(full of the red sweatshirt and the hat he had removed) and the "hathead" which rimmed his hair where the now hidden NY Yankees cap had sat moments earlier. Seizing this opportunity I disengaged with the group and I motioned him over and asked where he went. He decided to play dumb which I exposed through my wit and strategic questioning. His responses were delayed and inconsistent. I then told him we were going to take a walk to the office.

On the way he trailed a few feet behind(so I kept a nervous eye on him) and I asked him his name. "Bob Shapp”(names have been changed) came the reply. I said "Shapp?..." how 'bout we call you "shifty"? This feeble effort to regain my composure through my normal biting sarcasm and humor fell woefully short when it was clear he was unable to grasp the complexity of the remark.

Once in the office I debated the merits of submitting a DR(discipline referral). I went through the standard set of questions... Name?...Grade?..Ever been in trouble before?... the standard stuff. He countered with questions asking why he was there. Trying to introduce doubt into my mind. A second Orange thrower on the grassy knoll?...that sort of thing. It was somewhat sad to watch this all transpire. I interjected that I had known his older sister hoping that the small talk would make us both feel better. He said "I know her better". This helped me feel certain about my follow up. I regained my breath and my blood cooled and systematically and slowly narrated my actions for he and I to hear. While he responded to these statements at first, in the end his spirit was broken and he was either plotting revenge or too angry to play along. I next left him there on the bench for a few minutes while I left(just took a walk to look important and see who was around that administrative hall)and when I returned I closed with a final series of questions. I read the account I had written on the DRs(I wrote two up for the other two students who were the ones who really bothered me..sadly I'm not even sure how to hold them accountable or if I have their real names) and then capped each phrase with "Is that accurate? When he again failed to respond I said "I'll take that as a yes". Interestingly this whole process played out for several minutes next to another student who had been in the office since first period. He found my humor quite refreshing. He would throw in "Did you at least hit anybody?" and between the two of us we brought the entire episode to an uneventful but mildly comedic close(from a legal perspective, in court no doubt a lawyer could gain an acquittal but I when I mentioned we could watch the school surveillance camera he agreed we didn’t need to).

Since lunch was now over I asked what his next class period was..."Mr McMurray" was the response, "Is that MAC or Mc?” I spoke as I filled out the pass….hmmm, my last intellectual jab in this epic was not the most memorable but I had to finish him off. I wrote him a pass and as he left I stated "OK Mr. Shapp I feel like I've done a great service here today and the world is a safer place." Had I sunk that low or had I been pushed that far? The truth was not so clear. Whatever the case it all started with that damn orange and will likely end when I retire or move on from teaching(something that has entered my consciousness more often the last 2 years and something I’d never thought I’d even contemplate) I hung around for a few days and was a visible presence during next few weeks during lunch. Maybe I should have just walked away

In the days in between I spoke to him often and I made a point to actually stop to say him whenever we passed. For the next two years we spoke often. He was later kicked out of school for a serious incident which meant he was no longer welcome at the school.
Anyway I bet Elementary school has a whole different set of problems with the poopy pants and stuff...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

PART 1-Why I sometimes wish I taught Elementary school

Like a lot of the Nation's teachers we have been challenged by some of the recent trends and changes in education. So I thought it time to try and lighten the mood.

It was a tense time at our high school with numerous fights in recent days (2 of which I was involved in breaking up) and there was an overall unsettled feeling among the students. Whether it is the stress of the start of school, the recent hurricanes, or the hot weather everybody seemed to be on edge. It was in this setting that our story begins. I was in my 5th year of full time teaching and felt I was finally coming into my own. While on lunch duty in the schools breezeway(our open courtyard area in the school's center), I saw an orange sail high into the air and strike the ground some 70 feet away. I saw the place of origin of the orange and started in that direction to see if I could gather some "intell", prevent further missile launching, or even find who threw it. Several students noticed my approach and menacing gaze and I signaled to them to come over to me with a point and hand gesture. This act was repeated 5 or 6 times as each of them feigned ignorance as to my request. While I was still some 50 feet away they all began looking at one student and he finally went and picked up his bag and then lugged himself to me. As we neared each other it was obvious that I knew that he now knew that I had zeroed in on him as the culprit based on his nervous demeanor and sunken stance(a skill that teachers pick up once you’ve taught awhile). I asked "what the heck" he was doing and told him to go pick up that orange and then come back over to which time I would have my lecture fully prepared and I would have found some suitable way to instill the necessary guilt in him and make him feel “stupid” in today's politically correct and sensitive world. That would likely have been the end of it.

We could all walk away and go on about our business and the world would continue spinning at its normal speed uninterrupted. But instead something very different took place. He slowly walked away and began to fiddle around with his bookbag veering away from where the orange had landed. Frustrated by his lack of progress I headed towards him and from a distance more sternly stated "Go pick up that orange, and then come back over there!"(pointing to where I had been standing). I turned my back and in the 5-7 seconds in which I returned to my perch on the nearby steps he had ducked down and all I saw was him scurrying away through the crowd. "He's running away?" I asked myself. This I took as a direct challenge on my authority(whatever that may be and in reality a mere facade in many of our schools) and frankly was not a situation in which I often find myself.

At this point I was rather miffed and when I looked at his buddies in the spot where the orange had originated they were laughing. Feeling my status as a respected member of the faculty now in jeopardy I knew I had to put things back into their proper order. On the way over to them I tried to think of quick and witty phrases to demonstrate my superior intellect in hopes it would force them not only to reveal the identity of the student who fled but also restore my status as top dog on the breezeway. With the luxury of time and hindsight I can think of several things I could have said . But upon my arrival all I could say was "who was that kid who just ran away?" They all shrugged their shoulders and continued to laugh. In their huddle were about 7-8 kids, the more intelligent of whom began to drift away sensing my growing unhappiness. I again inquired as to the identity of the perpetrator and was met with simple and muffled replies of "I don't know his name" or "what kid". At this point the tenor of my inquiries changed and it became rather apparent I was beginning my slow and steady rise up the crazy meter. When I inquired a third time one student had the audacity to say "Dude, I don't even know what you're talking about." Well that did it. In an instant things got a lot worse and I would cross a line from which I could not retreat.

No I didn't hit or curse at any of them(although I was thinking about it). Instead I began to rant about how now things had just gotten a lot more serious and "I need some names" yeah... " Let's start with your name"... I stated this quite clearly using the King's English I had been taught to use since I was a child as I pulled the red pen from my shirt pocket(though I had no paper). Still one obstinate, and in my opinion either rather foolish or rather stupid student quipped, "What did you say?" I then began to sound out the syllables and use mocked hand gestures(in hindsight this was in poor taste but would have been funny 15 years ago). I pulled the only paper I had readily available, a bank receipt, from my wallet and scribbled the names of two students onto the paper, which regrettably looked painfully unofficial. All the while I was well aware of not only how callous and overt they were being in their rebuttal of my actions but how they were perfectly comfortable with their behavior and expected me to just take it. At this point we were locked in duel of wills, a duel sadly that only one side could win, but we could both lose.

By now the crowd of friends had shrunk and I was engaged directly with only two young men, their female acquaintance and their buddy who knew enough to stay farther away but still be able to listen and laugh smugly and egg them on. The next step was unthinkable as I went on to explain that I would now make it my sworn duty to be present at this exact spot every lunch and every break and I would be sure to enforce every school rule to the letter of the law. I ranted for some time about how this could have all been so easy but now it was too late and they would be the ones who regret these events and this day,(and that damned orange). Surely these realities must have begun to sink in and scared them and they would now shrink back into their mandated role at the bottom of the hierarchy...sadly no. They continued to smile defiantly and we both knew that their side was winning. I felt all that I had worked so hard for slipping away. In the back of my mind I wished for one to curse at me or even take a swing at me… or at least provoke me into escalating the severity beyond the petty incident that put us into this situation so I could write them up. I began to slip into the beginning of what others might call rage. I myself seldom lose control and cannot recall doing so if it didn't involve someone picking on an innocent and intellectually defenseless student or an behavior so despicable it must be met with contempt, but these did not exist here. They were just acting like jerks who apparently had never been taught the value of respect.

So I did what every red blooded American teacher worth their salt would have done. I


Thursday, December 9, 2010

Exceptionally Effective-Enthusiasm

4 for 10. Great baseball players are lucky to manage that batting average. It means many great ones have days where they go without a hit. Many professions allow individuals to have such "off days" and still be successful. Not so with teachers. You have to "bring it" each and every day. Sports and teaching share a characteristic, to be exceptionally effective you must be enthusiastic and energetic. As a teacher be aware of your energy level and how you project that into your classroom. Teachers should be passionate about both the success of their students and their content. This trait will serve you well in the classroom.

Work to design lessons that allow you to draw energy from your students. Activities, review games, student movement and activity can create enthusiasm. Yoke and harness student energy instead of always expending your own energy. To remain energetic and enthusiastic you have to rest when you are able. Whenever possible leave your work at work. This helps you recharge and show up each day ready to do a little better than a great baseball player.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What if...

...while moving away from educating students to take their place in a manufacturing economy we've inadvertently begun to educate them to take their place in a consumer driven market.

I was born and raised in a factory town.  My father, grandfather, and every uncle on my mother's side work their lives in them.  My first job was on the assembly line in the factory.  As a child, at least six major Bassett Furniture factories operated within ten miles of my house.  Today, none are left.  When people talk about the changing economy, I've seen first hand how quickly entire regions can be left behind.

Rightfully so, educators fear sending our children into a 21st century economy well equipped with 20th century skills.  So many of us are using the factory metaphor to drive home the point that the old way of thinking is dead.  Our students no longer leave school to enter a manufacturing economy. 

Unfortunately, much of what drives our economy today is consumption.  Remember the tax rebates of 2008.  The administration knew that people needed to spend more money to spur the economy.  I remember the announcement (maybe around 2005) that iPods would have video; the folks at Apple introduced a product for which they needed to create a market.  Unemployment is up, tax revenue is down, schools are struggling to find funding, but technology and consumer products still have a market. 

I remember the factories used to offer good wages to high school students.  Often, these wages were good enough to make us think that we could make a really good living from the factory-- unless we looked at the wages earned by folks who'd been there for 20, 30, or 40 years; unless we could see by the end of the 1980s that an economy based on manufacturing wouldn't last through our working careers.

I hope that as educators we aren't fooling ourselves with progress.  What if instead of producing a productive labor pool for the manufacturing economy we are simply switching cogs and moving to produce effective consumers to drive the economy of consumption?  What if instead of public education being the "farm system" creating obedient and responsible workers for business owners we are now becoming the "farm system" for the new entrepeneurs who need a market for their products?

Are we teaching students to be productive and responsible citizens of the 21st century world or domesticated, obedient consumers in a global economy?