Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Tell Me, Where Did You Sleep Last Night...?

I participate in a men's bowling league.  It's a nice temporary escape from reality and helps sharpen my conversational skills with men who spit a lot and neglect bathing.  

The other night a guy a few lanes over came in with a couple of kids.  I won't pretend to know the whole back story.  I assumed they were his children, but I suppose it's equally possible he was 'watching' these two kids for someone else.  He bought the children some soda, a pizza, and hoped they'd leave him alone while he rolled.  

A bowling alley on men's league night is about as appropriate a place for children as a strip joint.  The language would generally make most sailors blush, and alcohol, tobacco, & personal shame flow like water.  As I am not beyond belting the occasional expletive after leaving the fucking 10 pin (again), I wasn't overly thrilled to have two small children ear shot from me.  This is after all, my night off from being a dad and an educator.  

Around 9:00 pm, the older of the two kids (I'd estimate 3rd or 4th grade) went to sleep on some coats along the back wall roughly between the beer counter and the 'not responsible for lost items' coat rack.  Seeing a kid sleeping on the ground upset me....and then my mind went back to my day job.

What happens at school the next day?  This little girl has spent her evening, basically by herself surrounded by loud noises and strangers who smell like a perfect blend of Camel Wides, lane oil, and BO.  She was sleeping on the floor, in public, while her teacher perhaps assumed she was in a warm bed (and had been there since a reasonable time).

Will her teacher assume she's studied for her test?  Will she give her a second chance to prove she has learned the material if she fails because she's tired and couldn't study because she wasn't at home though it was beyond her control?  Will her teacher scold her in the hallway for not having done her homework?  Or will the little girl cheat and never learn the material so she's isn't punished by grades and lectured by her teacher?  Will the little girl thoughtfully explain to her teacher that she was couldn't work on her poster board because she was at a bowling alley and didn't get home till after 11:00 pm when her daddy stopped drinking and woke her up to ride home?  Or will she lie or not mention it because no kid wants to ever believe their parents are losers no matter how obviously it may be to others?

Are there perhaps kids in this little girls class who have it worse?  Is sleeping at a bowling alley better or worse than trying to sleep while parents fight (or party) late into the night?  Do teachers, particularly of young children who have little/no control over their time, stop to consider the above questions/scenarios when they are making sweeping decisions about grades, learning, and possible punishment?  My fear is not nearly enough.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

"He'll Thank Me Later."

One of our students came to school this week, a third grader, and confessed that his father had hit him with a belt because he was not answering math facts quizzing fast enough.  He told his teacher he knows the answers, but he gets nervous (no shit...).  Further, the child is autistic.  Most of us at the school don't think that the father really understands this or the associated challenges.

Stories like this are heartbreaking and send emotions reeling.  What the hell is wrong with this father?  You should have to pass a test to prove your capable to have kids! That poor boy!  (Insert your favorite agency) should be called! That child should be taken away from that monster!!!

All fair and perhaps true.  What really hits me though was when I stopped to think about the father's perspective.  This man, however moronic or ill advised is actions may be, believes he is helping his son and supporting the school! He no doubt believes that math is important and this son needs to demonstrate success in school in order to prosper at some later time.  How else would/could you explain his actions?

What could cause anyone to possibly believe flogging a boy over math automaticity was a good thing?  Maybe we need to look in the mirror.

Generations of sorting & ranking kids, creating unnecessary competition among students, class rankings, etc. have helped create a culture where these (often terrible) things go on.  I can think of countless (perhaps less extreme) examples of punishments (and rewards) set forth by parents based on school performance.  This is list that includes things like withholding food, denying participation in sports/clubs, and (perhaps) less extreme physical actions like spankings.  This is done in the name of 'tough love' with a 'they'll thank me later' mindset.  Maybe.  Or they'll  suffer psychological damage and do the same thing to their own kids when they struggle in school.    

It is imperative that we begin to shift from a culture of sorting & ranking to a culture of learning.  We must legitimately welcome failure as part of the learning process and reteach our parents who were schooled under a pedagogically dated way of thinking.  There will always be lousy and abusive parents I fear.  Let's not provide any excuses for them along the way.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

It's The Little Things That Piss Me Off Vol. 2

Impossible mandates, crazy parents, bullying... Sure those things are job irritants.  But it's the little things, the day-to-day things, that really drive me nuts.  Do I have bigger problems?  You bet.  Right now though, I'm not worrying about them. 

"Did You Two Call Each Other? Hehehe."

Look, there are three primary colors, three major secondary colors, plus black & white (which I guess aren't considered actual colors)- that brings the count to 8.  My success on the craps tables is enough for me to acknowledge I'm not Rain Man when is comes to calculating odds, however in a building with dozens or even hundreds of people working, even I can calculate that the odds of two people wearing a blue shirt on the same day are pretty decent.  

There is no single piece of office humor more unfunny and yet unrelenting than the "Did you two call each other" followed by the light-heart laugh which falsely suggests the speaker has said something amusing.  This knee-slapper is apparently as times as the road crossing chicken!  

Sometimes this gets taken to even more idiotic level when one of the people wearing the same color provides positive affirmation to the original comment by showing visible awe and says something like, "I know!  And I saw Jennifer earlier and she's wearing blue too!"  

Also covered here is the equally stupid, "I didn't get the memo" crack from the individual who isn't wearing the same color as two other people in the hall at that moment.  

Let's shed our neckties and our professional dignity- it's Friday! 

There are many, many, many misinformed people who believe that teaching is an easy job and a profession that is chosen more for the time 'off' than anything else.  Teachers seems to be constantly trying to defend the worth of their profession with people who work outside the field and disparage our work.  Why the hell then would so many educators fight soooo hard to wear jeans at least once a week.

The notion that it's okay to dress unprofessionally 20% of the time (every Friday) is absurd and degrades our profession.  When parents visit schools and see staff in jeans, t-shirts, shorts, sandals, and other ultra-casual dress items it reinforces the negative stereotypes that dog our profession.  When the community is asked support schools through referendums, we want them to envision a classic professional, not someone who appears to be heading to Ribfest.  It's considered a "white collar" profession for a reason.

Please note that the faded t-shirt with the elastic long gone from the neck line that just also happens to have your school logo on it also looks like total shit.  Couching it as having school spirit is just bad rationalization.  Take it off, maybe use it to dust, and then throw in the garbage.

This awesome clip from Curb Your Enthusiasm hits the nail on the head.

"I've only got a fifty."

This certainly isn't instructional, but after a long week I enjoy a social libation (or seven) with colleagues.  Every school or district I've ever worked at has always had at least one guy who seems to never have anything but large bills when the check arrives.  "Can ya get me?"  Trust me dude, the bar can provide you change for that Jackson.  Just toss it in there and watch the magic of modern mathematics take place.

Often times this person arrives a little late to give the impression they haven't been there long enough to warrant contribution to the tab of people who have been there from the beginning.  They also usually have great taste.  "Do you have Grey Goose?"

Installment one this mad rambling can be read here....  

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Unexpected Present

I was packing up my office in preparation for a new job in a different town/district.  On my desk was a little ceramic teddy bear sitting on a book with a small pile of books next to him.  It was about three inches high and very clearly came from a dollar store.  The community I was leaving was poor and I had been touched by the gesture  of receiving it as a Christmas gift from a student. I kept it displayed on my desk as a sign of my appreciation. 

When I got to my new office a few days later and started to unpack I found the teddy bear desk ornament.  I hadn't planned on keeping it (you simply can't keep every drawing, card, or small gift that children so generously give you over the years) but felt wrong throwing it away at my old school.  Just as I was about to pitch, I instead decided otherwise.  Instead, I quietly went and placed it on my new secretary's (Linda) long desk.

My first week at new school, the retiring principal (a nice guy named Fran) and I worked together to help transition.  Throughout that week, I kept watching the bear and waiting for Linda to say something about it, but she never did.  The bear was moved all over the desk so she clearly was aware of it's presence but made no mention of it.

On the Friday of Fran's last day the three of us went to lunch and Fran decided to skip out early and get a round of golf in while his wife still thought he was working.  Linda and I headed back to the school to finish out our week.  Almost immediately upon entering, Linda picked up the bear and gasped, "Ugh, now that Fran's finally gone I can throw this AWFUL bear he gave me away!"

Having just started Linda still didn't really know me.  I lowered my eyes a little and softly said, "I gave that to you Linda." Hi

You can only imagine what happened.  Here is a secretary with her brand new boss, and she believes she's just highly insulted him.  She turned a crimson red and stammered apologies of all varieties while looking for the most important spot on her desk to re-set the bear.  When she did finally set the tiny statue back down, the head fell off and rolled across office floor.  Linda practically had emotional breakdown as she chased the broken Dollar Store bear head across ugly gray Berber carpeting.  

I could stand it no more and erupted laughing. I tried to reassure her that the bear was basically garbage and it was no big deal that it broke.  But Linda would have none of it.  The next day the bear's head had been Super Glued back on and sat proudly on the front and center of her desk where it remained.

Over the years the bear became a fun memory for the two of us.  I really believe that humor a staff shares can become a binding point in tougher times (which seem to be multiplying like Gremlins...).  Linda was later moved to another position in the district.  I'll drop by to say hi when I can, and the bear still rests proudly next to the photographs of her grandchildren!