LESSONS ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM

2

“Sometimes it’s not enough to know what things mean, sometimes you have to know what things don’t mean.”
Bob Dylan 

“The Guide says there is an art to flying”, said Ford, “or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”
Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything

I recently saw a quote on Twitter that said, if you are a teacher who says you learn as much from your kids as they do from you, then you are in the wrong profession. It was worded a little more eloquently, but that was its general gist.

I think the person who posted it was under the impression that the teachers who say that meant they literally taught kids algorithms while the kids taught them diagramming sentences or something like that. My interpretation was that while teaching kids, and interacting with them, you’ll find yourself being exposed to all kinds of unexpected and unpredictable experiences, and since the goal is to create lifelong learners, it lays to reason that one would learn from these experiences. hence the basis for the quote.

As we get older and become adults, we change the rules. It seems that we learn things as a child, and then discard them because they don’t suit our needs as adults. We preach literacy but never pick up a book. We talk about the importance of critical thinking and then we regurgitate things we read on the internet without doing the simplest of fact checks. We limit our kids’ screen time out of fear for what it could be doing their brains and then we spend a day bingeing on Housewives of Rutherford County. If you are not careful, working with kids will expose the inherent hypocrisy of adulthood. How you deal with that exposure is up to you.

This weekend we were at my 8-year-old son Peter’s Jiu-Jitsu tournament. He’s been rolling for about 3 years now and he’s passionate about it. At the tournament, competitors fight in a gi and a non-gi division. He fights at the advanced level and as a result, on Saturday morning he pulled a tough opponent. Fights are 3 minutes long and after starting out with a strong double-leg takedown, Peter found himself locked in a  triangle leg chokehold. He was able to break the hold several times but was unable to get traction in order to score points. He lost the match 3-2.

After the match, he was appropriately dejected. “What are your thoughts?”, I asked.

Thoughtfully he replied, “Tougher match then I thought it was going to be. I’m going to have to fight him from the bottom next match. Sucks. But otherwise he’ll get me in a headlock again, so it’s what I have to do.”

To be honest, I was a little taken back by such succinct analysis. I expected to hear some excuses, maybe some tears, perhaps some accusations of cheating. Peter offered none of that. After his analysis, he picked up his medal and then scampered off to his friends. They proceeded to cheer on other teammates, swap stories, wrestle a bit, and climb a few things. You know, all the things that young men – truth be told, old men as well – like to do when they are in the company of other like-minded young men. The loss was put in proper perspective and he’d moved on, refusing to allow it to color the remainder of a glorious day.

I was nervous as the second match approached. Peter lined up against his previous opponent. Right from the beginning, it was clear that he’d followed his analysis and made adjustments. Not only did he win this match, but he dominated from start to finish despite the relatively close score of 5-0. After the match, Peter congratulated his opponent on a hard-fought battle and two of them amicably strolled over to the podium to collect their respective medals.

I couldn’t have been prouder. My pride was not derived from the win, though I certainly was elated by it. My source of pride was in the process employed to achieve victory. He’d created a plan. The plan didn’t work. He honestly evaluated the plan. He’d made an adjustment to the plan based on honest self-examination and then employed a new plan that proved to be successful. If he learns nothing else growing up, this process alone will serve to make him college and career ready.

I started thinking, how many adults do we know that routinely employ this process? I can say that few of our leaders on a national, state, or local level have shown this ability. Excuses come quickly to their lips. Or it is somebody else’s fault. Recent history is rife with tales of leaders employing the same strategies over and over, never adjusting, but always expecting different results and then shocked when outcomes don’t change.

Peter’s behavior that day was a subtle reminder to me to be vigilant with my actions. Rigorous honest self-inventory is regularly preached at AA meetings, but it’s not sound advice for the addict alone. It’s a strategy that we all need to practice. I needed a refresher on that lesson and Peter was just the kid to deliver it, by the same token by voicing my recognition of that lesson and taking it to heart, I was also teaching a lesson; one is never too old or too wise to learn and sometimes the most obvious lessons come from the most unobvious places. In my humble opinion, schools need more teachers that are willing to learn from kids, not less.

ADDRESSING THE TROOPS

Yesterday Dr. Joseph trekked down the street to MNEA headquarters to address members. I watched the video and I bet you are not surprised that I have some observations.

On the positive front, I do give Dr. Joseph credit for stepping to the front of the room and taking questions head-on. Unlike other district listen and learns, this one started with no prescribed expectations nor the establishment of norms. Instead, Dr. Joseph just stood in the room and answered questions. Many of the answers may have been questionable, and we’ll look at those,  but the manner in which he interacted with educators was quite refreshing and clearly appreciated.

Obviously, the first issue raised was teacher salaries. The short answer from Dr. Joseph was basically, I’d like to give y’all a raise but I’m broke. So y’all need to come up with a plan and then get out there and advocate for it. Let me know when you come up with it and I’ll be sure to tell people I love teachers. Have I mentioned I’m broke?” Joseph’s words were more eloquent and included a few jokes, but that’s what I got out of it.

In some ways, he’s not wrong. That’s why I argued on Friday that the work of the compensation committee is way behind schedule. By now there should be a specific ask identified and an elevator speech built around it. All through the holidays, at every gathering and cocktail party, that elevator speech should be shared, establishing the narrative that this is not something we want to happen, but rather something that is going to happen. Get the raise and then build out the rest of the compensation package after you’ve hooked people into believing.

The problem with presenting the ask in January is that budget season has already started and now you are competing with all the other asks. How do you make teacher raises stand out from more money for SEL? Or more money for EL? Or more money for special needs kids? What happens is that since you haven’t established teacher raises as the number one priority in the pre-season, you are now competing with everybody else in the open season.

Joseph repeatedly makes the assertion that we are an underfunded school district. He compared MNPS funding per student of around 9k to the 16k per student that his previous district provided. A question and an observation here.

I’m curious whether that difference in funding is a choice or a necessity. What is the average cost to educate a student in each district? Other than the basic difference in the cost of goods, what’s the difference in demographics? It’s long been established that middle-class White and African-American families do not send their kids to PGCS and I’ve warned about the danger of reducing MNPS schools to only those who have no other options. It’s entirely possible that the difference in funding per pupil stems out of necessity and not desire.

Dr. Joseph talks extensively about a tax increase for Nashville property owners. It should be noted that a tax increase was part of the package at every one of his previous stops as well. So all those schools were underfunded as well. I found it a little disconcerting that Joseph talks in very expansive terms about the pending tax increase. I get the sense that a little 50 cent tax increase is just the appetizer and I’m really curious about just how much of a tax increase would be enough to satisfy his hunger. The average Nashvillian is already struggling to live in Davidson County, a large tax increase could prove extremely detrimental to many.

Things got interesting when teachers started asking about scripted curriculum and the lack of books to support that curriculum. That criticism was again met by cries of austerity. Joseph makes the claim that when he got here, there was some good work going on in some schools but some schools were suffering from serious low expectations, so they had to implement the scripted curriculum. We can argue the merits of that assumption at a later date but note that he goes on to admit that currently, certain schools have more resources than other schools and that leadership is in the process of trying to ascertain what schools have what. In other words, 2 and a half years in, we have no idea who is actually using what and doing what. Some schools are doing well and others…are struggling. It doesn’t sound like much has changed to me.

Some teachers politely pushed back against the scripted lessons, saying it hindered teacher autonomy and made them feel disrespected. Joseph said by all means if you can develop a curriculum that is on par with the IFL units, go for it. Of course first, we will have to establish a review board that is capable of reviewing those lesson plans and certifying them as comparable to the IFL units. Furthermore, he doesn’t expect teachers to be curriculum experts or assessments experts and…well you get the picture. The lips are saying one thing but the message delivered is another.

I do need to point out that he regularly refers to the budget for textbooks as being 2 million dollars. This years budget is $2,167,000. Last year it was $2,167,00. The year before it was $3,303.000. And the year before that it was $5,723,100. We’ve known for at least 5 years that we would have to purchase new science textbooks this year. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. So perhaps the budget should have been set at that previous mark of 5.7 million this year? It still would have been short but by not nearly as much.

My last observation is more of an impression then fact based. In Joseph’s speech to teachers, I didn’t a big sense of support for principals. In fact, he was often critical of principals and quick to blame them for culture problems. He proudly cited the steps that he’d taken to reduce principal autonomy. It may have just been him pandering to the audience he was talking to, but if I was a principal watching this, I wouldn’t get a strong sense of anyone watching my back. Just the opposite, if problems arise, I’ll probably be the first one under the bus. Again though, that is just my impression and I could be wrong.

The rest of the Q and A was basically Joseph beating the same drums he regularly beats – he’s a reading specialist, underfunded district, things were horrible when he got here, teacher voice, equity. If you’ve heard any of his previous speeches you know the songs. He has added one weird one though, we are now growing faster than the state in literacy.

That’s like being at track practice and saying the coaches son and I are the two slowest kids on the team but I am improving my times faster than the coaches son. Neither one of us is competitive but we’re growing faster than the other slow poke, so gimme an attaboy. I don’t think that would fly and I’m not sure most of Dr. Joseph’s speech did either.

QUICK HITS

An email went out this week informing principals that the accommodations for special needs kids and EL students that were not provided during Fall MAP testing would be provided for MAP testing that starts next week. I’d like to say I’m pleasantly surprised but if you’ll remember I predicted this back in August. What would make me pleasantly surprised is a big red disclaimer noting the discrepancy when results are discussed after the latest round concludes. Let’s see if that happens.

Congrats to the awesome John Overton High School Marching Band for receiving a Superior Rating and placing 1st in class at Contest of Champions this past Saturday at MTSU. Although they did not make finals, they were chosen to perform for the crowd as the Exhibition Band and also marched with the Finalists in Pass and Review at the end of the night!

Still keeping an eye on the Denver School District’s search for a new director. I think there are a lot of lessons for us in their search. The biggest lesson for me is this one from the Chalkbeat article,

Several board members emphasized that while collecting the community feedback was valuable, they want to show how the feedback plays into the new superintendent’s selection, and continue to connect with community members after the search is over.

“This is a beginning. This is not a project that is done. We’re trying to learn a new way to engage our community,” board President Anne Rowe said.

That’s the ticket.

Back in February, the San Diego Free Press wrote an article about DPS that I think raises some serious alarms. The Bennet referred to in the quote below is the at the time superintendent Michael Bennet.

“DPS was so dysfunctional, Bennet concluded, that he could not fix it without significant outside pressure. So he asked several foundation leaders to create an organization of civic leaders, chaired by two former mayors, to push for change and support the board when it promoted reform. They called the initiative A+ Denver, and it has championed the portfolio strategy, along with the Piton, Donnell-Kay, and Gates Family foundations.”

Hmmmm…and…

To retrain all those bad teachers in Denver, Bennet turned to the high priestess of the bad teacher movement, Michelle Rhee and her The New Teacher’s Project (TNTP). He also started importing Wendy Kopp’s Teach For America (TFA) candidates.

I’d read the whole article. Some of it is a little too familiar for comfort.

POLL QUESTIONS

We had a good response to last weeks questions. Let’s review.

The first question asked for your opinion on the MNPS fall break being aligned with TSU’s homecoming festivities. Traditionally that has been the highest day of teacher absenteeism for the year.  Out of 155 responses, 68 of you, 44%, responded that you thought it was more important that fall break occurred at the completion of the 1st quarter. 36, 23%, of you indicated that the alignment bothered you a great deal. Only 7 of you felt that it was a necessary compromise.

One of the write-in comments questions why I always have issues with black events or black board members. That’s a valid question, but I’m not sure it’s legitimate. While I have been critical of African-American board members Sharon Gentry, Tyese Hunter, and JoAnn Brannon, I feel it’s always been for legitimate reasons. I’ve also been critical of Anna Shepherd, Mary Pierce, and Will Pinkston and nobody has accused me of being biased toward white woman and schoolyard bullies. At times I’ve even criticized Jill Speering and Amy Frogge. Going forth I’ll try to be more cognizant of any percieved biases but if I feel criticism is warranted, I’m going to say it.

1 above good idea; not enough teachers OR subs as it is 1
Honestly sad. 1
it’s interesting that you always seem to have issues with AA events and board me 1
Start in Late Sept and end late May. Cut all the breaks 1
Is the message that it’s ok to miss professional development? 1
Ridiculous board can’t get ANYTHING done well. Do your job. Get it done. 1
Low tea. attend. on Fridays+TSU HC attend. = chaos. 1
Another weapon of Mass distraction 1
If PD is important, how are the absent TSU-goers benefiting? What a farce! 1
Having a PD/planning day before break instead of after was ROUGH 1
Shows what our admin values-race over kids 1
Bull squat 1
How many board members skipped the meeting? How many teachers skip? #trend 1
MTSU? or did you mean TSU?

The second question asked for teacher confidence in getting a raise next year. Results indicate some work needs to be done to secure that confidence. Out of 145 responses, 54 of you, 37%, felt as confident that the Titans were going to win the Super Bowl this year. Closely behind with 50 votes was, ‘I think it will be talked about until Dr. Joseph’s contract is renewed and then disappear in a wave of excuses.” None of you indicated that you were 100% confident. Here are the write-ins:

Please don’t renew Joseph’s contract 1
It needs to be a significant raise. Teacher’s can’t afford normal life in Nash. 1
If no, expect a mass exodus in some schools 1
We are not receiving our raise that the state already gives 1
This 15 year vet will be leaving the district if I don’t get a raise. 1
I need my step raise at least!!! 1
I only feel disdain from superintendent and his folllowers. Zero faith. 1
If not, I am forced to actively look to leave the district. 18-year veteran. 1
Why are we adding another Executive Officer?
The last question asked for your opinion of Board Chair Sharon Gentry’s propensity to sermonize during meetings. Out of 133 responses, the majority of you, 55 %, indicated that it made you crazy. The number two answer indicated that you felt it was the least of your concerns. Here are the write-ins:
What has she accomplished? In no position to preach. 1
Better than a Fran Bush’s Inappropriate scoldings and lectures 1
White members have given “sermons” and you praise them 1
She is encouraging diviseness. 1
She loves to listen to herself even if no one else does. 1
She actually mocked teachers wanting/fighting for a real wage.wow. 1
I still can’t get past her being selected as chair. 1
She needs to stop all of the talking. 1
Wasting her breath & tax-payer dollars 1
Boring at best 1
Why is Dr. Joseph sleeping with employees?!? 1
She is the reason there are so many failing schools 1
Big turn off

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon. Peace out.

 

 

 

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2 comments on “LESSONS ARE WHERE YOU FIND THEM

  1. sooxie516 says:

    Teachers need a raise…a big raise.. and we need it now.

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