“What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accomodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damn fool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.”
“Actually, all education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education. What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book. You must fill in the colors yourself.”
Over the last decade, I’ve discovered that parenting is an odd beast. Everybody has a different strategy, and outcomes often vary over interpretations never anticipated. I find myself in a place of contradiction o a fairly regular basis.
When the kids were two and three, I was so impressed with myself because I’d drilled into their head that if you fail at something, you had to get back up and do again right away and they’d embraced the edict. Clapping my self on the back, I said, “Self, you are brilliant, You are instilling grit in these kids!” That was until my daughter marched herself right back up to a high perch after just falling, and narrowly avoiding injury.
I ran towards her wildly waving my arms, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, where are you going. You almost got seriously hurt. Didn’t you learn anything?”
She looked at me earnestly and replied, “But you always said, if we fall we have to get right back up again.” Oops, maybe there are some instances where my edicts should be challenged.
It was in that moment that I realized that I had been parenting to the peanut gallery. I wasn’t paying attention to her needs and what was best for her – analyzing strategies and making changes where necessary – I was parenting to impress others. I wanted them to look at me and see just how together I was. I wanted you to think I was cruising at this parenting, not the reality, that I was, and still am, hanging on for dear life.
I wanted you to say,
“Look how he’s instilling these solid beliefs in his children.”
“Look how bold and serious he is.”
“He never seems to waver in his knowledge of what is best for his children.”
“By God, he’s a good dad.”
The truth is, I have no idea what I am doing half the time. The onset of puberty by my eldest has probably dropped that ratio to a third. At some point though, I’ve lost focus on what you think of my parenting job and have instead been forced to focus on what my kids need. I’ve become willing to look the fool if it means I’m delivering for them. I’ve learned to let them be angry at me if I think it’ll get them something they need.
My wife and I try to stay consistently on the same page – after all, that’s what all the experts say is important – but there are times that I may be speaking too harshly to the kids or going to easy on them, and she’ll jump in and alter my approach. Admittedly, I’m usually not appreciative, it’s hard to be corrected at the moment, but usually, it’s the right advice at the right time and my feelings are secondary to doing right by the kids.
When it’s not the right move, we discuss it later and make adjustments. It’s important for my kids to get a consistent message, but more important is the message that people who love each other can disagree and still love each other. The other important message is that Daddy is not all-knowing and sometimes he gets it wrong, the important thing is not to be so afraid of how you look that you fail to do the right thing when it’s offered to you.
These are the thoughts that went through my head as I watched last night’s Metro Nashville Public Schools board meeting play out. After the board opened the floor for comments on the recently completed audit/investigation by the Metro Government audit department, board member Amy Frogge read in a dispassionate voice a long list on transgressions that included several instances of laws being broken and board policy not adhered to. All of the charges included extensive supporting documentation.
At the end of her speech, comments from fellow board members focused not on fixing the problems of financial fidelity, but rather how the board could avoid continuing to be viewed as dysfunctional. There was little concern expressed about addressing an apparent inability to follow procedure and protecting taxpayer investment. Instead, the impetus was clearly on cleaning up the board’s image so that they could procure more of that taxpayer money.
It should be noted as well that board member Will Pinkston chose the beginning of Frogge’s speech to exit the meeting. He continually refuses to be present when the most important board conversations are taking place.
The overwhelming theme of this board and administration over the last 3 years has been one of focusing on how people knew about problems, instead of actually tackling those problems. Name me one instance where a problem has been acknowledged, a wrong step taken, and a corrective action offered.
Earlier in the day, a report on HR issues was delivered from the law firm Bone Mcallister. The report when commissioned was announced with great fanfare. Per Dr. Joseph,
“We are not doing an investigation,” Joseph said. “We are looking at processes … We are looking at cases completed — if they were done appropriately, the best practices and a look over policies.”
Hmmm…the processes must have not been very good because upon receiving the delivered report, Board Chair declared the findings privileged and not subject to open record requests. That action comes on the heels of Dr. Gentry delivering a soliloquy on the board floor about our inability to move on from the discussion of HR failings and offering that numerous attorneys had informed the board that HR leaders had done nothing wrong. Apparently, that’s not the findings of the lawyers at Bone McCallister discovered. If they had, I guarantee this embargo wouldn’t be in place.
Once again, the impetus is on appearance. and not on acknowledging and offering corrective steps. Board vice-chair Buggs stated that she is solution driven and so she wanted to know what the next step was. In AA we like to say, you can’t fix a problem until you acknowledge you have a problem. Are we supposed to believe that the administration will address issues without the watchful eyes of the public when they refuse to even take the first step of acknowledgment?
Evidence in that department is slim. Last June the metro auditor delivered a report that was inclusive but came with but two recommendations.
- Determine if the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education could benefit from a cost accounting report that separates central office costs from other district costs.
- While still complying with existing Tennessee Department of Education reporting requirements, if the cost accounting report in “1.” above is determined to be a benefit, define central office expenditures and determine if the ongoing Oracle R12.2 Enterprise Business Suite implementation project could facilitate budgeting and tracking of central office versus centralized services costs.
That audit was delivered nearly nine months ago, but during budget talks this year, if the mayor asks about what steps have been taken to address those issues, what do you think the answer will be?
As a parent, I care not a whit about winning parent of the year or how you perceive my parenting. My sole focus is on my kids and how they are doing – physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. In evaluating their state, I’m rigorously honest. There is too much at stake not to be. The MNPS board needs to take a similar approach.
The MNPS board has to stop conducting business like they are the end product and shift their focus to ensuring kids are getting what they need. That’s not currently happening by any measure. Board members have put more of a focus on civility and their relationships with each other than they have on, teachers needs, student discipline, a curriculum that actually delivers, safety of teachers and students, and actual student achievement.
Discussion are focused on how actions make adults appear not on producing desired results for kids. “Yea us, we are social warriors who have reduced suspensions.”
No discussion what so ever on whether schools are actually safer and whether we are ensuring an environment where all kids can can effectively learn.
“Yea us, we are growing at a rate faster than the state.” No further discussion on kids actual achievement levels and whether he are adequately supporting teachers in a manner that will produce the best outcomes.
The focus has got to leave the boardroom and shift to where it belongs, the classroom.
Last week Dr. Joseph produced his self evaluation. I leave it here for you to read and evaluate. I’ll comment on Friday.
Last year, Scott Bennet, a long-term and highly recognized MNPS educator moved with his family to South Africa. I’d like to leave you with his words after being gone for a year.
ITS BEEN A YEAR
Back when I taught middle school an older community member came to my class every week and gave us one hour of his time. At first I was confused to why he wanted to help, but he told me he only wanted to be useful. After a couple weeks we found a rhythm. He would come in without expectations. He would read to kids in the library. He would review an assignment someone had missed. He would shelve books. He would photocopy. He would sort papers. He would tell students about his work. He would listen to the stories of their lives without judgment. He never asked for anything. He never said the work was beneath his pay grade. He was solely interested in showing up every week and doing what he could with that one hour regardless of how small the effort seemed. Every week for the entire school year, maybe 35 hours total, he was present. I’ll never forget how much that meant to me and to the students he worked with. It was a powerful reminder of the impact that the consistency of purpose can have.
It’s been a year. I deeply miss the kids and my co-workers and the energy we created in that yellow classroom looking out over the trees and traffic of Green Hills. It’s been another year and still the high school kids report at 6:50AM. I’m sure the buses still drop kids off to locked front doors at 6:25AM. It’s been another year and still metro teachers don’t have any form of maternity leave (besides sick days) or even a plan for bettering compensation. Another year of rising housing and healthcare costs. It’s been another year of nickel and diming teachers, prohibiting the use of online fundraisers and removing tax exemptions for classroom supplies. It’s been another year of sexual harassment lawsuits brought against central office and schools. It’s been another year of HR bumbling and school board infighting. It’s been another year, and yet again I think I was present at more board meetings than one of the board members. It’s been another year of half-truths and (while maybe not illegal) unethical behavior from the director.
I’d like to hear from my teacher friends back home that nothing’s changed since we left. But that’s not true. A year later and teachers and students are worse off. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still great work being done, but it’s a result of the sacrifices and the Herculean efforts of amazing people in-spite of the hurdles and problems created by central office and the board. I wish I could say that metro schools are a place I would like to return to, a place where I would like to enroll my kids and to work and grow as a professional. But that’s simply not the case right now. Besides the family of teachers and school administrators I know and respect, there is nothing attractive about the prospect of working there again. Based on the teacher turnover and vacancies, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Three years ago I felt that the district wasn’t moving, a rudderless ship. Now I can see it’s moving in the wrong direction. And as a teacher, a parent, a tax payer, and a voter, I don’t know which is more infuriating. It’s been a year.
“Over the last two hundred years there has been a great improvement in personal and public hygiene and cleanliness; and this was largely brought about by persuading people that the results of being dirty and apathetic in the face of disease were not acts of God, but preventable acts of nature; not the sheer misery in things, but the controllable mechanisms of life.
We have had the first, the physical, phase of the hygienic revolution; it is time we went to the barricades for the second, the mental. Not doing good when you usefully could is not immoral; it is going about with excrement on your hands.” – John Fowles, The Aristos.
I look at these pictures and think about what public education could be, what it should be. Not for I.B. or magnet or charter kids. For all kids. I’m only a day’s travel away from where I taught, but I feel so far removed from the struggles that my teacher friends still endure. I don’t want to, but I still find myself reading the blogs and newspaper articles and the tweets. I still text with teachers and students trying to support and empathize. The reality is that a year later I’m still overly invested in the work of that community like some sort of co-dependant ex-boyfriend. It’s a manifestation of survivor’s guilt I think.
So here is my request. If you have the means, please consider loving on a classroom or a teacher or a kid for the rest of this year. Say thank you by giving a little of your time or a few of your resources or even your attention to the needs of our teachers and students. Choose to donate a book, new or used, each week to a class library, buy a pack of copy paper or tissues or hand sanitizer when you are grocery shopping, or offer to volunteer at games or concerts or arts events. Reach out to specific teachers at your school and ask what they need. One hour a week, one book a month, listen to one student story at a time. As a species we seem to like the myth that big efforts lead to big results. But that’s not how lasting changes happens. I can’t run a marathon because of one good workout. Small efforts over extended periods of time result in big changes. Want to get fit? Don’t go to the gym for eight hours. Go for 20 minutes every day. Want to write a book? Don’t aim for 85,000 words in a week, write a good paragraph every morning for a year. Want to change education? Invest your time and energy in one kid, in one classroom teacher, in one school consistently and repetitively.
This is the only answer I have to frustration that comes from paying attention. In between the distracting news stories, I’m putting my head down and continuing to work where I am. I know that a year from now the board will be the same. The director will probably get a contract extension. Salaries will remain the stagnant. But I also know that those kids you read to, those books you donate, those teachers you support will be better off because of your small commitment to change. Be good and keep in touch.