TEACHER IMPACT COMES IN MANY FORMS

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“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
Theodore Roosevelt

“Everybody gets a tag. If you listen to a Velvet Underground record, you don’t think, ‘Godfathers of Punk.’ You just think, ‘This sounds great.’ The tags are there in order to help try to sell something by giving it a name that’s going to stick in somebody’s memory. But it doesn’t describe it. So ‘depressing’ isn’t a word I would use to describe my music. But there is some sadness in it — there has to be so that the happiness in it will matter.”
Elliott Smith

As of late, I’ve spent a fair amount of time ruminating on the teachers I had growing up. I was fortunate enough as a kid to attend a number of very different schools. My father was military and so I attended an urban school in Texas, schools on bases in Colorado and Germany, and a rural school in Pennsylvania. At all those schools there were teachers that left a mark, and some not so much.

There was Mr. VonHendy in third grade. He was in his early thirties and the epitome of cool in that 70’s beard and turtleneck manner. He was fun to cut up with, dated the attractive social studies teacher, and we all wanted to be like him. In 5th grade, it was Mr. Anthony, a large man who was the opposite of Mr. VonHendy, but he knew all kinds of cool stuff and would show you how to use the encyclopedia to find out even more cool stuff if you asked.

In Junior High school I had an English teacher, whose name escapes me at the moment, that brought the classics to life for me. Since I was in trouble so much in her class, she’d probably be shocked to learn that I credit her with my appreciation of those said tomes. She taught me not to get hung on the language of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, or Dickens, and to instead focus on the themes which have proven universal. She might have scared me a bit, but thanks to her the fear of heavy reading left me. She also inspired my love of the Romantic poets by drawing the parallels between Byron and Doors vocalist Jim Morrison, Shelly and deceased Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

There was Herr Paultz my German teacher I loved to spar with. “Weber, you are good at walking on the fence”, he was fond of saying, “But someday you will fall off.” Oh, if he only knew. We might not have bonded but I certainly learned a lot from him.

Ms. Whitock was my drama teacher who pushed me to realize my potential, taught me the value of hard work, and scared the living bejebees out of me. Not to mention that I thought she might be a little crazy.

Mr. Denis, as I’ve mentioned in the past, was sarcastic and biting, but taught me lessons about environmental science that are still relevant today.

Mr. Melinkoff was a diminutive teacher of social studies who brought Russia to life for a bunch of High Schoolers. Mr. Below taught high school English and was a member of our church, maybe the nicest teacher I ever had. Both approached their subject with a difference in temperament, but a shared passion.

There were some bad ones as well. My high school soccer coach for three years, who spent the majority of that time telling me how the kid at a neighboring school was so much better than me because of his work ethic. He got so mad at me one time for letting a goal go through, that he kicked a medicine cabinet all the way down the sideline berating me the whole time. Truth is, he’s been a major influence on my coaching style. He showed me the wrong way to do things, and I avoid making those mistakes with my son’s teams.

These days, I read social media posts and articles where so much is said about the need for teachers to love their students. I find myself wondering, did any of those aforementioned teachers love me? To be honest, I don’t think so. I’m not even sure all of them liked me, and I am sure I was a source of major frustration to many of them. But loving me wasn’t their job. They had something more important than love for me, they had a love of teaching and a love of their subject matter that they wanted to pass on.

In the 90’s I found myself in need of legal representation. I hired an attorney with a flawless reputation. After telling him my tale over the phone, I asked him if I needed to come by the office.

“Will it make you feel better?” was his reply.

I got the message. Was I looking for a friend or was I looking for a lawyer? I chose the latter and never regretted it.

My teachers in school were cut from that cloth. They had a job to do and they were passionate about it. No matter what the subject was, I could feel those teachers excitement in exposing me to it. To this day I don’t pay attention to news about Russia because Mr. Melinkoff asked about my feelings but rather because of the feelings I got when he described being in the streets of Moscow to me. It all about the passion for learning as opposed to the passion for me.

That’s the lens that I look at the recent Social and Emotional Learning movement through. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of sensitivity, empathy, and treating all with respect. But I think that’s all part of just being a decent person. Do we really need to invest millions of dollars and hundreds of hours in professional development to ensure that teachers are dealing with kids by being decent people? Shouldn’t we assume that the vast majority already are?

Think about this for a moment. Why do most teachers go into teaching? Financial reward? Looking for a low-stress job? Fame? Summers off? It’s none of those. By and large, it is a desire to be of service in preparing young people for adulthood. Odds are, if you are not sensitive, empathetic, or compassionate, you won’t be drawn towards the teaching profession. Odds are you wouldn’t take on gobs of student loan debt in order to pursue a degree that would enable you to practice a profession in which you’ll earn one-third of what your peers do if you didn’t already have the basic SEL tenets down.  It’s like taking a student right out of the seminary, hiring them at your church, and then enrolling them in classes proving the existence of God.

The building of relationships is huge, and obviously, I formed strong ones with some of my teachers, but authenticity is so important in forging lasting relationships. I see all the memes about teachers being positive, and charged up, and always energetic. That’s exhausting and just unsustainable. That’s also not a realistic mindset to model for kids that are just trying to get through life under some horrible circumstances.

Kids get it. Some days suck and seeing your teacher react to a tough day and persevere can be powerful. Especially if they are doing it in a manner that appears authentic and not some manufactured public display. It’s empowering to know that you can have days where you are just not feeling it, and tomorrow will be better.

Not every teacher practices SEL in a manner that looks identical, nor should they. There are a lot of kids to reach and a lot of different means to reach them. Let’s empower teachers innate abilities as opposed to creating some cookie cutter model that in the long run is not going to prove any more effective.

I just can’t buy into the narrative that there is a large number of teacher lollygagging around the teachers’ lounge talking about how dumb their charges are and how much they can’t stand them. Those people tend to get naturally weeded out and discover that there are a lot of easier ways to make 43K a year.

I’m not saying every teacher is spectacular but before we go devaluing them, let’s try paying them a solid salary, provide adequate resources, and allow them to utilize the inherent skills they have worked hard to develop. We used to kind of do that. I acknowledge that my generation has made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve done alright at keeping this country afloat and moving forward through some turbulent times. The last 30 years have seen some transformative social change and huge growth in technology. It would seem that our primary education has served us well.

One quick side note. I do find it amusing that there is a STEAM initiative due to the supposed need for people in related industries. But who’s getting the big money? Why those with Liberal Arts degrees of course. But are we rushing off to increase Liberal Arts programming?

Getting back on track, we think we understand the real impact of teachers but I question whether we really do or not. If we did would we be continually overloading them with initiatives that make it harder for them to fulfill their true mission? If we understood their true value would we continue to ignore their input?

District administrators like to take marginal results, be it test results, survey answers or otherwise, and offer them as signs that district policy is working. But how do we know that? How much of those results are the by-product of a teacher using their god given talents and skills to make damn sure that as many kids as possible make progress? How do you differentiate between growth that transpires due to policy and that which transpires due to teachers being willing to climb over glass shards to serve their kids? Have you ever met a teacher that says, “yea, that policy doesn’t work so we are just going to let it fail?” I haven’t. It is because most care that deeply.

Right now you are probably thinking, “All right TC, this is all mildly interesting, but what’s your point? What are you trying to say.”

I guess my point in all of this is, that if are going to have really great teachers we have to quit adding to their plate and start trusting that they are the experts in their field. We have to quit tightening the definition of quality teacher and start realizing that quality teachers come in all shapes and sizes. We have to recognize that some need more professional development and managing more than others. Differentiated management is every bit as important as differentiated learning. In other words, we need to free the inherent passion in education instead of continually trying to condense it into a prescribed look.

Maybe what I’m trying to say, is let’s try a little more substance and a lot less style.

QUICK HITS

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, H.G. Hill Middle School teachers and students will be participating in the Rise Against Hunger project. Volunteers are needed to help package meals. You can sign up to volunteer or learn more about the project here.

Tomorrow Metro Council meets at 5 to discuss and then vote on the funding for a new building for the Nashville School of the Arts. The old building has become completely inadequate, thus the importance of this initiative. It was 10 years ago that a new building was initially proposed, the time is now to get things moving. Please call your councilman and tell them this needs to get done.

Some new interesting artwork has begun to pop up around the district. I’m curious to see just how far it spreads. Thinking of making up and selling t-shirts.

The MAP testing window opens up this week for kids in grades 2-9. Parents were not officially notified, but accommodations have been returned to all EL and Special Needs kids. These accommodations – read-a-loud text – though outlined in individual IEPs and available through the MAP platform were not provided during testing at the beginning of the year. Please keep in mind this will have an impact on scores this go around and any future conversations on growth should recognize this variant.

Election day is tomorrow. If you haven’t voted yet, please make plans to do so. I’d like to go ahead and put one more unabashed plugin for Bob Freeman if I may. He’s run a fantastic campaign. One that illustrates exactly what he’ll bring to the job.

In some ways though,  I’m kind of disappointed that the election is coming to an end because that means no more comically unhinged attack fliers directed at Bob. He must have scared somebody because I’ve gotten at least a flier a day for the last 10 days, and I’ve already voted. Rest assured that none of the attacks are rooted in fact. Bob will make a great state representative, but only if you do your part and vote for him.

“He’s a very charismatic, very forceful person,” says at-large Metro Council member David Briley, “We’ve invested a lot of money in our schools over the last few years, and none of us wants to see that money wasted because we were afraid to make some changes.” Who was he referring to when he made that statement and I wonder if he remembers making it?

We talk a lot about the importance of having a person that looks like the majority of the children in MNPS as a director, but there is one glass ceiling that has yet to be broken. MNPS has had two men of color in the last 20 years but never a woman. Carol Johnson was the school boards initial choice before Pedro Garcia was hired. The official story is that Johnson was offered the job, negotiated a $30k raise, and then turned it down; electing to stay in Minneapolis. The unofficial story has always been that she was pressured to decline by board members who at the time would have preferred a man. It’s a bit shameful that an organization predominately made up of women has never had a woman at its head. Oh well, one glass ceiling at a time.

Croft Middle School is planning to do some tree planting in two weeks and they’d appreciate your help.

As part of their Veterans Day activism, J.T. Moore Middle School students are collecting items for care packages to send to troops overseas. Deadline for donations is Nov. 15. Packages will be mailed on Nov. 16. Please help by dropping items in the front office. – at J. T. Moore Middle School

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at the results from the weekend polls.

The first question asked for your opinion on the new charter collaborative. 39% of you answered, “here we go again”. 25% of you were unclear on the need it was addressing. 3% of you felt that the collaborative would provide a fresh voice in the conversation. Here are the write-in answers:

Negative 1
Worried 1
Does it really matter? We little people have no control. 1
Power in numbers 1
Why are they not collaborating with MNPS teachers it’s well? 1
When can we focus on retaining the quality teachers still left? 1
More money wasted!! Why can not the office of charter schools handle it? 1
organizing the opposition 1
Can’t believe it’s even a thing. 1
Joseph is luring Gini Walker to his side and sadly it appears to be working

The second question asked for your thoughts on the recent action taken by TSSAA over an altercation that transpired at an Antioch/Overton football game. 30% of you felt that it was appropriate, with 22% of you recognizing the need to take decisive action.

This incident is the root for some of my recent thoughts on SEL. As an athlete in High Schools, such an altercation would have never been tolerated. It was drilled in us right from the start that as an athlete I represented first myself, then my team, and lastly my school. That tenet was every bit as important as winning. The incident between Overton/Antioch was not an outlier. Over the last several years there have been more on-field fights than anyone would like to admit. It makes me question what guidance is being provided to these athletes. Here are the write-in votes:

Consequences are needed but these may punish more students that are not involved 1
they are not trying to keep suspensions down, good! 1
Why only “unfairly punishes Overton”? 1
Probably an adult issue that’s impacting students

The last question asked about the climate surveys that were just recently completed by teachers. The district has increased the importance of those surveys and as a result, there have been rumblings of administrators attempting to influence results. 42% of you responded that principals had merely pushed the completion of results at a greater frequency. 15% of you responded that it was business as usual. Here are the write-ins:

They know of it? 1
None. The results will be made public, and what bad principal wants that? 1
Email everyday 1
Lots but no suggested answers 1
Hmmmm 1
principals pressured to get teachers to complete 1
They are watching as we fill them out 1
We were directed to do it. So we did it. 1
Tons. Culture is horrid. If things stay status quo, most vets will leave soon. 1
Afraid of Dr Coverson.Someone help us! get him out 1

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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One comment on “TEACHER IMPACT COMES IN MANY FORMS

  1. I want to be thoughtful here and address many of the issues that you bring up but it is hard out here for a chimp as I am not from the area nor from the South and while some of what I observe could be regional and cultural I have seen/heard in my travels many Teachers et al address children as their “babies” and their “children” and I frankly have never understood that as they are not. True we are in loco parentis but that is only in a very tangential manner and for those in Middle/High school Students are often only in your presence two to three days a week for a few hours at a time. That said I have witnessed both Teachers and Students seemingly confused about boundaries and setting clear lines of expectations and behaviors that are appropriate for both Teacher and Student. Hence that might explain the incendiary behavior that has crossed into some very confusing and yes illegal acts.

    What I am also seeing is that current crop of new grads are entering the profession with a lack of training that emphasizes both the art and the skill of teaching. That may be due to the reform crowd who are trying to remove all elements of the personal in teaching which includes personal biases and emotions often connected to the field. I assume that is to make this as race/gender/ethnic neutral as possible and why we are seeing this again more confusion about segregation and what that means with regards to schools. I have read more studies about race and gender and learning of late but if a kid is learning from a PC that removes those elements no? So then what? We are incapable of learning from others let alone be in the company of them or is that one over the other.. is that making sense? It is now the “thems” and the “us”… this is not going to go well. We should all be able to learn, connect and identify with each other by finding common ground and that can be a myriad of things that a wider culture brings to the table. Life it a buffet and you don’t eat the entire table you sample what you know, try what you don’t and as my mother used to say “If you don’t like it don’t say anything play with it on your plate and look as if you like it.” She also said never take a drink from a stranger and if they offer dump it in a plant. And if there is no plant? Find one.

    Since I have lived here I have found the people particularly unwelcoming if not unkind. There is a larger problem here when strangers are always viewed as dangerous outsiders and the schools are breeding ground for this and all the SEL in the world will not change the culture. I spoke to two kids at a cross light as we were exiting a school and trying to be friendly and nice I was met with open hostility, mockery and the most rude behavior that two kids from an “acclaimed” school should not be exhibiting. Then irony the very next day I walked into my Yoga class and adults that could be very well their parents as they were in absolute histrionics over the fact that the regular Teacher was sending in a Sub. They were rude to the point of a distraction, talking over the Teacher, walking out leaving their gear and utterly disrespectful to the point it was distracting and at the end of class during meditation she said, “Let everything go including that you hated the sub and the class, let it all go.” Apple meet the tree as this behavior of mocking, demeaning and commenting on people all to their face or within earshot is quite commonplace here. I was at my coffee shop and the staff trashed a customer so often he finally asked them why they hated him. If they do it to him they do it to everyone, I know they do it to me and I have confronted them on it also.

    So how does SEL work when the adults in the room do not exhibit it to each other, to their own families, to strangers or to colleagues? I am rarely respected when I walk into a school and that starts at the office so I don’t expect the classroom to be much better. It rarely is. This begins as another issue that seems to be one of many talking points and there is just way too much at this buffet table to try to sample it all I am afraid.

    Truth here is like Sweet Tea you choke it down unless you can find a plant. This is my truth I hope you don’t choke on it.

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