Friday, August 31, 2012

The empty seat.

It is not about reform.
It is not about failing schools or AYP.
It is not about charters and privatization.
It is not about graduation rates or subgroups.
It is not about NCLB or Race to the Top.
It is not about parents or teachers.
It is not about federal, state or local laws and policy.
It is not about curriculum, pedagogy or instructional time on task.
It is not about unions or lobbyists or Congress.
It is not about Duncan, Rhee, Ravitch or an IEP.
It is not about intervention, tutoring or getting teachers to last.
It is not about reading levels or math scores.
It is not about an AP scores or SATs.
It is not about lessons, homework assignments or a grade.
It is not about common core, merit pay or  best practices.
Some days remind us to set it all aside and for awhile to remember...

Schools are about the lives of young people. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

TU turns 200.

"So these guys know their stuff huh?"
You're reading the 200th post from the TU.  To celebrate this occasion, the President of the United States himself, Barack Obama will be visiting our hometown, Charlottesville, VA to mark the occasion.  City and County schools are dismissing early because of traffic concerns, but teachers have to work the full day, so we won't be able to attend the event.  Considering the President has found this event worthy of commemoration, we would be remiss if we did not take time to acknowledge the significance of our 200th post while Obama fetes us in absentia.  We thought it might be "special" to at least share a few of our personal observations:
"Down those stairs, that is where real teachers work"
It would seem that 200 times we have had something to say.  We've had around 44,000 hits but it remains to be seen whether anyone is listening.  I pity the lost soul wandering the internet that stumbled onto our blog by accident.   One thing I have learned from that traffic is that an image can produce far more hits than anything of substance I write.  So we keep going, even if only for ourselves.

Over the past 2 years I cannot recall how many times a colleague shared a thought with me and I said..."yeah I know, we wrote about that last week/month."

The blog is part of our still evolving "master plan."  This remains a closely guarded industry secret but I can say it is cutting edge, revolutionary, and strategically dynamic.  It will probably change the world more than sliced bread.
"Shake and Bake"...that's me the funny one with the bread sponsorship.
When asked what exactly the blog is about, I usually respond with something cryptic like" Yes."  That baffles people and either confirms their suspicions about my low intellect, or gives them reason to suspect I am brilliant.  The two reactions are indistinguishable. 

Teaching Underground continues to be a labor of love and is a window into what I , Steve and countless other dedicated professionals have the privilege to do. With the occasional foray into deep philosophical discussion we succeed on the blog and in the classroom by keeping things very simple.  Keep a sense of humor, work hard, try to get better, find fulfillment in what we do, and above all try to do what is right.

We started in October 2010.  I thought we'd run out of stuff to say by Christmas.  Now that I think about it, maybe we did and we just endlessly repeat ourselves.

I really appreciate friends who mention they've read a post or personally mention the blog, but I've been surprised at how many people we've never met subscribe to and/or comment on our site.

I'm still motivated by a driving desire to communicate.  Public education is not failing.  Struggling in areas, but not failing.  Too many parts of the media, both political parties, the business world and even some education insiders have written a false narrative of the state of public education and we need to reclaim the true story of education.

Considering there's no monetary compensation for working on the Teaching Underground, our only source of reinforcement comes from readers.  Thanks for all the follows, likes, and comments, that's what keeps us going, so if you haven't "followed, liked, or commented" consider doing so.  Share this site with others.  It makes us happy.  And when we're happy, we're better teachers.  Better teachers make better students.  So if you care about children, you'll support the Teaching Underground.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Message to Students Returning to School

I found this video yesterday, and I'm not sure who made it, but it is a funny and inspiring message for students as they return to school.

Some highlights:
"If you look at human history from like the time of the agricultural revolution, the period of time featuring compulsory public education looks like this...(250 years very short)"

"You'll also notice this 250 year period has been a pretty good one for humans, featuring Steam Engines, the internet, antibiotics, skyscrapers... and landing a freaking mini-Cooper on Mars!  This is not a coincidence."

 "Physical Education is NOT an oxymoron because your body was not born knowing how to do this...(picture of Olympic gymnast in action)

"The whole pleasure of being human is being STUPID, but learning to be less STUPID together."

"Public Education isn't a charity project, I pay for your school because I want you to grow up and make my life better."

"You've been chosen for a mission that's been denied to 99.9% of all humans ever."

It's four minutes long, but worth the time.  And if you missed yesterday's post, we're still hoping to hear more first day stories from you.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First Year Stories

Today was a good day, to quote the title of a previous post and quite an excellent piece of music by Ice Cube.  It was the first day of school.  My seventeenth first day of school as a teacher.  People asked all week "are you ready?"  I replied honestly to some that while I looked forward to a new school year, I wasn't looking forward to the first day at all.  First days can be so awkward.

We meet between 120-160 new people in the first two days of school and spend eighty minute blocks of time with them in groups of 20-25.  It's pretty miserable for an introvert like me.  But this year was very different.  Maybe it's the experience.  Or maybe my first first day was such a disaster that it has taken over a decade to recover.  Only now do I feel confident enough to divulge my first day experience to the public.

August 1996, twenty-two years old.  That seemed like adulthood at the time, but today that age doesn't seem to far from high school.  I'd completed my student teaching assignment and taken a job at the same school.  I showed up dressed better than I've ever dressed since, all planned out and ready to change the world.  We taught on a six period A/B block schedule, so classes were One Hundred minutes long.  My planning was first period.  Of course I couldn't show up on my first day unprepared, so I arrived at school with nothing to do but sit in the office and be nervous for nearly two-hours.  My classroom was occupied by another teacher, so  I alternated between sitting on the couch and pacing the floor in our social studies office. (This office has since been given away, but that's another long, sad story)

The bell rang, it was showtime, and I was as ready as I could be.  Days of planning, hours of practice, and the hour plus of final preparation behind me, I set out for the classroom.  The tardy bell rang and I quickly finished taking attendance and began the lesson for the day.  It was a good lesson and the students responded well.  But nearing the end of what I'd prepared, I noticed the clock.  It was still only 11:30.  The class was scheduled to end at 12:40.  I stalled and talked and tried to pry questions out of the class.  They were seniors and it appeared that no one told them that summer was over.  They sat, quiet and disengaged.  I strung it out as long as I could.  Finally, around 11:45 I threw in the towel.

"O.K. class.  I'm really sorry, but that's all I've got.  I don't have anything else for us to do today." I didn't have enough skill or experience to wing it, and I didn't know the course well enough to move ahead.  So we sat.  Did I mention my introversion?  I tried to make small talk.  Engage them in conversation about their summer, sports, family, anything.  Finally I gave up on even that and no one said a word for the final forty-five minutes of class.  Awkward silence and wasted time.

I really was a terrible teacher my first year.  Thankfully I got another chance.  Thankfully, today I'm able to smile for an entire period and get mostly the same in return from my students until the bell rings and we have to interrupt what we're doing so they can switch classes.  Thankfully, as hard as this job can be, with good colleagues and the right support and training, we get better every year on the job.

I doubt my story sounds nearly as traumatic to the reader as it was for me.  I'm sure there are much better first day horror stories than mine.  If you have a good one to share, post it in the comments below.  Maybe you will bring a smile to someone's face, or encourage a first year teacher who just experienced a terrible first day.  They might appreciate knowing how many of us have been there too.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Oh...It's On.

August 22nd marks the start of the 2012-2013 school year for Albemarle County Schools and after seven excruciating days...It's On.
 Can you sense our excitement?  Because we really are excited to finally have the chance to do what we do. Like the great Ric Flair, we can hardly contain our excitement. (How did it take this long for our first Ric Flair reference to appear?)
Wooooooooooooo!  He'd probably have been a great teacher.
So for all those beginning the year all over the county, state and country...students, teachers and others...good luck.
Like this kid, the TU ain't messing around this year...we're ready.

Let us all hope we get off to a better start than this guy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

"New" Virginia Teacher Evaluations- The Foundation for Merit Pay?

Merit Pay. A simple idea.  Increased pay will increase the amount of good teaching.   Based on the logical idea that the harder and better you work, the more your students learn and the better they perform.  So you deserve compensation accordingly.   But the practical world and theoretical world too seldom cross paths in public education.  There's too many moving parts.

Whether you stand inside or outside a classroom may have a large impact on whether you see such an effort as a good or bad thing.   The TU works in a classroom and sadly no bad idea stays dead long.  Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have shown they favor Merit Pay and have enacted policies to encourage it.  Many like-minded reforms gain widespread support at the onset, but when programs are implemented they often bring about troubling unforeseen consequences. You 'd be hard pressed to find those who thought in NCLB was a bad thing when it was passed...not so hard today. Maybe there's a lesson in that.

It is not easy to define good teaching. That reality makes Merit pay iffy. I've had kids in the same class earn the same grade and one would say I was great..the other might use more colorful language to describe my teaching.  Yet they are both correct.  One might vastly outperform the other on a standardized test despite my best efforts.  Or they might score the same  but I may have had to work much harder with one of them for that result.  So it seems reasonable I might suggest that merit and pay should stay far apart in public education.  I see people who make more money often doing less(I'm among those who make less so that cannot be seen as an objective statement).   Merit pay rewards in unreliable ways that can and have misrepresented student progress.  To suggest it should be the only way to measure teachers is dumb, to have student performance play a role might only be foolish.

Lab Rats?  The result is not always what is intended.  NCLB anyone?
 New York City tried and failed with a merit pay system.  Many other districts across the country are sticking with theirs(Houston, Denver, Chicago). Who's right?  More on this later.  I recall an article and a quote from DC Chief of Human Capital(whatever that title means) “We want to make great teachers rich.”  I'd sit that cat down and say."You can't."  If he questioned why I'd ask him to find a good teacher who took the job with getting rich in mind.  I'd then say that person is an idiot.  No offense.  If you try to sell me on something by saying "You COULD make up to $X" I will bet its either Amway or an offer written on a sign on the shoulder of the road at a stoplight.

Teachers should be paid more but we remain in sometime horrific working conditions because of the non-monetary rewards.  My colleague has called teaching a life giving profession and at times that is so true.  Merit Pay discussions are not one of those times.  It would in fact suck the life and energy from far too many teachers.  We are not lab rats after all.  Here's a news flash.  Morale matters.    Merit systems show up in a puzzling variety of ways.  If it was so simple and so effective then it should look the same everywhere.   It does not.  The simple reason is because it does not do what it promises to do long term but decision makers still accept the premise. 

I will be the first to admit that the way we are compensated today, based solely on degrees, years experience and additional duties doesn't always make sense.  There is differentiation but I think the wrong people make more money.  But if it is nothing else it is predictable and predictability in public school budgets is important.  That is not certain under a merit pay system.  There is individual merit pay and also some exploration into providing bonuses on the building level for a sort of pooled merit pay.   The attractive part in principle is that if you do a good job you students are better served and you stand to make more money.  The frightening part is that students might learn less on the whole and teachers also stand to make significantly less money over time.   If we are asked to "compete" for bonuses from a fixed amount of funds that won't foster much cooperation and collaboration, the lifeblood of teaching and developing new new young talent.  Merit supporters dismiss this and use all sorts of misguided analogies to paint opponents as whiny alarmists.  I am a lazy teacher who took the job so I wouldn't have to work hard and I'd still get paid...right?

What do teachers think will actually make them better?
Sure in some other jobs people make more or less based on performance but don't drink the kool-aid and believe what you hear from "meritists".  This commonly believed trend is in no way true in many fields and based on the changing economy the number of jobs where productivity affects pay is in decline.  Some suggest it is true in less than 6% of the workforce.(that article is a must read)  But we are not talking about other jobs where units sold, or contracts closed are tangible and make sense.  We are talking about education and our kids.   We are talking about teaching young people.  Are we able to create something that rewards MERIT in something as complex as education?  Give that some deep thought.   Is merit pay the way to achieve an improved teaching workforce?      Hardly.   I believe and some evidence and studies confirm it will achieve the opposite and do more to drive away good teachers rather than attract them.  We aren't lab rats after all    There are countless variables at work and so many moving parts that creating an equitable and potentially effective system becomes too colossal a task to complete.

One flaw is that teacher performance is only part of the equation and the students are not incentivized.  Numeric measures grow to misrepresent what students are actually learning since what is being measured becomes the focus.  I believe as a teacher I could be more effective teaching fewer students with fewer preps and more planning time.  Yet this is not even in the discussion. If indeed people did work harder why not pay me per unit..I mean pupil?  How about simply by the hour?  Money, that's why.  Many criticize proposals as simply an effort to save money and not truly a way to improve education.  I'd add that however you choose to measure teacher performance, it will always fail to fully measure everything that is involved in what good teachers do. 

With revisions to how teachers statewide are to be evaluated the cynical eye might spot a clear framework for the implementation of a statewide merit pay system. That worries me.  I've read enough to confirm my suspicions that people with influence want to bring Merit Pay to the Commonwealth.  Revised versions of a evaluation standards are intended to provide a more uniform and "objective" way to evaluate teachers.  And don't forget one that is driven. 
In April of 2011 Governor Bob McDonnell announced a pilot program to institute merit pay in  169 "hard to staff" schools across the state.  In response Kitty Boitnott of the VA Education Association, which represents teachers had this to say:   “Paying teachers to work in hard-to-staff schools is one thing, but it’s totally different to allocate pay based on how students do on an SOL on a given day in a given year,

"Yes, your salary and job security depend on this student."
Many of the measures used under the pilot are simply derived ratings from SOLs.  I and many other well informed people contest that student performance on standardized tests are a poor measure of teacher performance.  Few sane people argue that.  The issues relating to the secrecy, merit, quality, and efficacy of such tests are something the TU and countless other teachers have blasted as highly flawed.  Yet standardized testing continues to be the favored approach by too many politicians and legislatures across the country as a barometer of how we are doing.   No longer a measure of just students or schools, but now individual teachers.  The key phrase I've heard used quite a bit over the last year and in particular over the past week is Student Academic Progress or Student Academic Growth.  As I write these blogs I often circle back to the constant effort by many to turn teaching from an art and into a quantifiable science.  And starting this year I will be assigned a numeric value to how well I teach. 

Maybe this effort grows from the Feds and the Race to the Top program's preference to states that had something along the lines of merit pay.  Maybe it is an effort to level the playing field and find was to more objectively measure non-core teachers in subjects like art and music.  Maybe it comes from ALEC or the Gates Foundation and their deep coffers. It is coming from somewhere and wherever that is, they are unfamiliar with good teaching.  Let's look for a moment at how VA  judges its  teachers:

The Guidelines for Uniform Performance Standards and Evaluation Criteria for Teachers set forth
seven performance standards for all Virginia teachers. Pursuant to state law, teacher evaluations must
be consistent with the following performance standards (objectives) included in this document:
Performance Standard 1: Professional Knowledge- 10%
The teacher demonstrates an understanding of the curriculum, subject content, and the
developmental needs of students by providing relevant learning experiences.
Performance Standard 2: Instructional Planning-10%
The teacher plans using the Virginia Standards of Learning, the school’s curriculum, effective
strategies, resources, and data to meet the needs of all students.
Performance Standard 3: Instructional Delivery-10%
The teacher effectively engages students in learning by using a variety of instructional strategies
in order to meet individual learning needs.
Performance Standard 4: Assessment of and for Student Learning-10%
The teacher systematically gathers, analyzes, and uses all relevant data to measure student
academic progress, guide instructional content and delivery methods, and provide timely
feedback to both students and parents throughout the school year.
Performance Standard 5: Learning Environment-10%
The teacher uses resources, routines, and procedures to provide a respectful, positive, safe,
student-centered environment that is conducive to learning.
Performance Standard 6: Professionalism-10%
The teacher maintains a commitment to professional ethics, communicates effectively, and takes
responsibility for and participates in professional growth that results in enhanced student
Performance Standard 7: Student Academic Progress-40%
The work of the teacher results in acceptable, measurable, and appropriate student
academic progress.

Standard #7 sounds good doesn't it?  But ask yourself for just a moment how that will be demonstrated to someone.  It quickly devolves into either an over-reliance on standardized testing or on a subjective judgement leaving uncertain outcomes.  This creates a threatening shadow that hangs over you as a professional.  Not the best environment to do your best teaching.

In the hopes of receiving a positive rating should I set low growth goals for my students so that they will meet expectations?  Or should push them risking that the appearance they fell short?  Should I target what is on the test, inflating perceived growth?  Will I be as likely to innovate and experiment or will I play it safe with more regimented instructional approaches?  Thinking more broadly can you even measure all that a teacher does?  And if you do, how in the world can create a measure of good teaching that fails to even watch the teacher teach?     

I simply cannot support any measure of a teacher that does not not involve spending time in that teachers classroom.  Further any system that undermines the collegial nature of education and fosters a more competitive environment is bad.  No it is worse.  It threatens the very fabric of what the best practices in teaching and learning are.  A proprietary, for profit, competitive, business minded approach to education is a terrible idea.  So for those arguing in favor, please stop.  Not only are you doing things most teachers oppose you are potentially making them worse teachers and thus hurting our pupils.    I'd strongly encourage fellow teachers in our state to educate themselves on these changes and speak up if they oppose them.

My division seems for now to have avoided the pitfall of simply plugging in SOL scores into Indicator #7.  That is a good thing. But we have to comply with new standards established by the DOE.  When push comes to shove the bottom line is simple: Is merit pay effective long term?
Getting ahead of yourself?  If only it were this simple.
Much of our state's course seems plotted by the Virginia Association of Superintendents.  They do not seem to overtly favor merit pay, but the politicians they influence often make choices based on what is politically expedient and cheaper, not what is wise.  In the "cost versus benefit" discussion their short attention span means they only hear the word cost.  Only time will tell.  Virginia's plans seem to be driven or at least be driven by the Education Commission of the States which seems to lean far more toward the establishment of that system.  That statement is backed by four of the conclusions summarized fro their report Teacher merit pay: What do we Know? :

Each of the studies of the four pay-for-performance systems found no conclusive
evidence to link the new merit pay system with higher student achievement. There are
several potential reasons why there is a lack of conclusive findings:
1. The programs are too new:
2. The implementation of the programs has been too limited:
3. Funding levels may not yet be significant enough:
4. The level of incentive pay may not be high enough to promote change:
5. Perhaps merit pay does not contribute to student achievement:

At least in #5 they are thinking like a teacher.

I'll conclude with an excerpt from the  Educational Reform in Virginia: Blueprint for the Future of Public Education  by the Virginia Association of Superintendents
Page 38 begins the discussion of Merit Pay:

Merit pay programs for educators — sometimes referred to a “pay for performance” — attempt
to tie a teacher’s compensation to his/her performance in the classroom. While the idea of merit
pay for classroom teachers has been around for several decades, only now is it starting to be
implemented in a growing number of districts around the country. One example of the increased
interest for merit pay systems can be seen in the recent increased funding level for the federal
Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF). The TIF program, which is run through the United States
Department of Education (USDOE), provides funding to school districts to help them implement
merit pay systems. The USDOE has increased funding for the TIF program this year by more
than four-fold — from $97.3 million to $437 million. But with all of this increased interest and
funding for merit pay programs — what if anything do we know about the costs versus the
benefits of these systems?

Think what you want.  Just remember in education, it is never THAT simple. Money matters but the last thing I am thinking when I am working my tail off teaching is how much I am getting paid.  Is that simple enough?


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why Do I Do This!?

First, let me complain.

I just read the comment on our last post.  "It took all of 10 mins for our meetings to suck the joy of being back right out of me."  I know what you mean.  My co-author told me about having his e-mail password expire this summer.  After talking to several different people at different locations, he finally resolved the problem.  We concluded that it would be nice if just once in our profession we could make a request and get the response, "o.k., I'll take care of that" instead of having to go through a chain of people to finally get connected to the right people.

In four days of being back to work, we've had meetings consume the morning of all of them.  Both of us have been asking for new (or just new to us) furniture for the last three years.  Especially Lindsay after finding mold growing on his old ones after last summer.  We found someone who knew someone that let us go to county storage to look, so hopefully we might get a set of matching "like-new" desks in our classroom.  Now we've got to figure out how to get chairs. 

I decided that as someone near forty years old with a master's degree, a bright blue desk chair with foam padding falling out of the back was a little less than professional, so I broke down and dropped $100 for a real desk chair since I didn't see one coming in the near future.  Apparently the thirty-year old "wardrobe" in my room is too large and heavy to move, so I guess it will stay another thirty years.  To liven things up a little, I went out and bought some decorations for the walls.  As I started to hang one of them, I thought of the "lipstick on a pig" quip from several years back.  So I spent the better part of the afternoon painting.  I'm afraid the nicely painted spot above my door just highlights the chipping and dulled paint on the rest of the door.

It doesn't seem like teachers are valued for doing solid work.  Unless you're doing something newsworthy, innovative, or unique, you're just kind of ignored.  So I was feeling a little down.

So, second, whatever the opposite of complain is...

C-Ville Weekly
I had a chance to write a piece for a local newsweekly called the C-Ville Weekly.  They ran it this week, and as I re-read it, I noticed that none of the stuff I complained about above.  I wrote it over the summer, and it reflects what I truly think of teaching, not the day-to-day frustrations that I'm facing in the right now. 

A former student read it and sent me a message with these words: "I learned today that there is much more emotion to a teacher than what the students see- and that's very nice to know." 

Unrelated to the article, another former student contacted me tonight and offered these words: "I just wanted to take a second and say thank you for introducing me to psychology. I love what I do and I wouldn't change it for the world. Keep up the great work, teachers like you make a difference."

Forget the first four paragraphs.  I'll teach in a moldy, humid, poorly furnished basement for the next twenty-years on the energy provided by an affirmation like that.  Come on 2012-2013, bring us the best you've got.

Monday, August 13, 2012

10 Ways to Avoid the Back to School Blues

It is that time of year again and proof that the passage of time is relative.  Summer months go by at least three times as fast as the ones during the school year.  What August really means is students and teachers are headed back to school.  This is often accompanied by an unmistakable decline in happiness.  Most teachers love their work and working with their students, but they are after all, human and it is work.

So a post to share proven ways to avoid the Back to School Blues is warranted.  A more fitting title of the post might be “Ways I distract myself from Going Back to School.”  The time frame for commencing such activities varies depending on the acuteness and severity of the anxiety and depression that seizes all teachers.   I recommend ignoring the encroaching deadline until the weekend before and then employing these measures with great haste, leaving little gap between them. 

My normal approach to avoid dealing with emotions would be to go fishing but as my children age, the guilt of being apart from them right before I go back to work gets the better of me.  So now I stay close to home but it could be argued I’m not spending time with them since I try to stay so busy.

Do Some Work
If you like me are a 10 month employee this has little appeal.  But easing into the first week might be useful since anyone and everyone who is a 12 month employee has spent the summer coming up with ideas for meetings to completely occupy the first week and keep you from your own classroom preparations.  Still, the prospect of  burning up your last precious few hours loses its appeal fast.

Watch a Movie
 We had some suggestions a while back but pick one you like.  Maybe revisit a movie from your youth(Goonies,  Karate Kid, Beverly Hills Cop…just from 1984).  If you have the time maybe screen all the Harry Potter films, Star Wars Episodes(Purists know there are only 3 real ones  Ep. IV, V, and VI).  Just steer clear of flicks like Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, The Champ, or Titanic.  Blah on the first and last one on that list.

This is almost too obvious.   For centuries Western Civilization has used alcohol as a means of escape. There are some beautiful wineries in our area.  As I am of northern European descent I have always preferred Hops and Barley to Grapes but to each his own. This activity can be combined with a few others but one must be responsible. 

 I like to start with our vehicles. Give them that once a year wash and vacuuming.  Discovering once lost items under the seats is always uplifting.  Plus the extra cash from change pried from sticky cup holders and underneath the floormats will buoy spirits and wallets.   The main downside is the challenge presented by having two small children who deposit all manner of food stuffs amidst the car.  Approach this with a sense of wonder as it is true what they say about McDonald’s food not changing appearance after a few months. 

Exercise your Green Thumb
Want more corn kids?  Too bad.
Urban or rural most people can find some green space to tend to nearby.  If you keep a garden it is a great time to make the most of what remains.  This summer has been tough on agriculture and my corn crop was no exception.  Taking out some frustrations on the squash bugs offered an outlet and I felt much better after disposing of a dozen or so with my flip flop.  I also mowed the lawn, ran the weedeater, and pulled some crab grass from the mulch. Seeing as this is weather dependent, you'll need an alternative. Something like a visit to the supermarket and a good imagination might suffice.

Take  a Dip
In this diversion we took a trip to the pool where my sister lives. It is a beautiful farm in the western part of the county.  The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains made it  hard to pout.  The only down side was when we went to retrieve Spiderman from the skimmer we found the corpse of a large rodent…likely a vole.  The resident Jack Russell took care of the remnants.  We also took advantage of the county’s local park and ran over to the beach park where I snuck in a few casts.  We topped it off by heading next door for a visit to the lowest maintenance kind of pool, the next door neighbor’s.

Try to Figure Out the Last Episode of Lost Again
I’ve never really felt we covered this topic in sufficient depth on TU, maybe some day. 

Hit the Links
The TU got together for our Biannual golf outing at the famed Old Course at Meadow Creek Golf Course.    This was planned the week we got out but sponsors pulled their endorsements so we had to re-schedule.  We both play the lauded Wilson Tour Model II Irons.  Turner plays a more modern game while I prefer a more traditional one, favoring the wooden drivers I’ve had since I was 14.   The pace was painfully slow as we were locked in behind the Havercamps.   
The delays gave us plenty of time to chat at the tee box and plan some mischief for the upcoming schoolyear.  Toward the end of the round we picked up a 3rd player in a recent UVA Law School Graduate.  Despite his skill and the orange Hummer he arrived in we summoned all our hacker skills to quickly best him on our first hole together.  We out drove(with the persimmon wood mind you) him and then posted birdie and par raising the banner for underpaid educators everywhere.   Settling back in our unmatched skill level we completed the round somewhere near the century mark.  Later in the week I headed to Putt Putt and remembered that it is indeed fun for the whole family.  Especially when you are beating them all on your way to a 1over par.  That would have been lower had I not been distracted by my son whose first golf experience was highlighted by trips into the water hazard on the 17th.  

Pick Out Your Outfit
This will be more fun for those into clothes but the first day back with colleagues you want to look, cool, casual and still sporting your summer attire.  When students return you’ll need to look sharp and send the message you mean business.  For ladies pants suits, dresses and the like…for guys back to school means new sneakers.

Hang Out with Family
This seems like the perfect option.  Family first I always say.   But if both of you are experiencing the stress and feelings since you both work in schools, beware!  This can be a volatile scenario. 

Back to School is coming whether you like it or not.  The Olympics are over and the awful part of the political season is on the horizon.  We can’t stop time but we can make the most of it.  Unless of course you live on some weird moving island that has these stations and a big wagon wheel in a cave that affects the passage of time.  Who are we kidding, the end is near.  All you have to do is meet the year with the same sense of wonder and anticipation as you did your first year.  If you aren’t excited when those students start showing up and  you don't feel those butterflies on Day 1, well then, you need professional help.  More than a hastily authored blog post can provide. 

Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dear World by Dan Valentine

So it won't be today and it is my daughter not my son starting school but after hearing this read by the principal(credit him) of what will be my daughter's elementary school I thought it worth sharing.  Day One of the "Kindergarten Camp" went well and being in the high school as I am, I saw and experienced things from the other side so to speak.   We've dropped her off at a school before.  But it wasn't quite the same.  This is the real deal.  My little girl is starting school.  About the only the thing that provides me peace of mind as I start my own school year, is that along the way, she'll encounter people who will care for and nurture her.  They will give and share of themselves to make her better and help her grow. They will help guide and shape her into the person she will become.  In Teaching Underground spirit, there is no computer or test that can do that.  As the world spins by, the start of every year gives me pause and reminds me that every child is special and deserves to be treated as such.

Dear World      
by Dan Valentine
My young son starts to school today...It's going to be sort of strange and new to him for awhile, and I wish you would sort of treat him gently. You see, up to now he's been king of the roost...He's been boss of the backyard...His mother has always been near to soothe his wounds and repair his feelings.
But now things are going to be different.

This morning he's going to walk down the front steps, wave his hand, and start out on the great adventure...It is and adventure that might take him across continents, across oceans...It's an adventure that will probably include wars and tragedy and sorrow...To live his life in the world he will have to live in, will require faith and love and courage.

So, World, I wish you would sort of look after him...Take him by the hand and teach him things he will have to know.

But do it gently, if you can.
He will have to learn, I know, that all men are not just, that all men are not true.
But teach him also that for every scoundrel there is a hero...that for every crooked politician there is a great and dedicated leader...Teach him that for every enemy, there is a friend.
Steer him away from envy, if you can...and teach him the secret of quiet laughter.

In school, World, teach him it is far more honorable to fail that to cheat...Teach him to have faith in his own idea, even if everyone says they are wrong...Teach him to be gentle with gentle people and tough with tough people.

Try to give my son the strength not to follow the crowd when everyone is getting on the bandwagon...Teach him to listen to all men - but teach him also to filter all he hears on a screen of truth and take just the good that siphons through.
Teach him, if you can, how to laugh when he's sad...Teach him there is no shame in tears...Teach him there can be glory in failure and despair in success.

Treat him gently, World, if you can, but don't coddle him...Because only the test of fire makes fine steel...Let him have the courage to be impatient...Let him have the patience to be brave.

Let him be no other man's man...Teach him always to have sublime faith in himself.
Because then he will always have sublime faith in mankind.
This is quite and order, World, but see what you can do...He's such a nice little fellow, my son!