AN EXPERT AT EVERY TURN

“It takes less time to do a thing right than to explain why you did it wrong.”
Longfellow

“What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool 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.”
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

In 2001, I took over duties as the general manager of the Exit/In. For those of you not familiar with the venerable rock club, the Exit/In is a 500-seat music venue that was established in the early 70’s. Over the years, everybody from Jimmy Buffet to The Cult to Vince Gill to Fear has played the storied venue.

Shortly before I took over, the building had been painted black. While it looked cool, the unintended consequence was the absorption of additional heat in the summertime. Coupled with an aged structure and an equal aged air conditioning unit, temperatures in the club often became unbearable for popular shows.

It wasn’t long before the heat, and the AC unit, in particular, became my primary nemesis. The owner at the time refused to invest any more money into the club, and no matter what I did, it was never cool enough in the building. Also unbeknownst to me, 3/4 of the population that attended shows at the club were AC experts. Ones that were willing to offer their insight free of charge.

My days regularly consisted of me using a variety of strategies to get as much out of the AC units as possible and employing a variety of other strategies – cooling the building early, staggering sound checks, limiting the use of stage lights until show time – in order to get the building as cool as possible. Invariably throughout the evening, despite my best efforts, the room would become hot. As a result, people would point out this fact and offer their unsolicited solutions.

The solutions, while often well-meaning, didn’t take into account anything that I’d already done. They came without a complete assessment of what was materially or financially possible. They didn’t take into account any of the conditions of the building nor the activities during the day that contributed to the temperatures in the club. They were unaware of any of the conversations that regularly took place between me and the owner.

They just assumed that I was unconcerned about the problem or ignorant of the means to solve it. I would come in from scrubbing the filters and goosing the motor only to be told that if I cleaned the filters more regularly and made sure the belts were tightened, I’d get more out of the units.

I’d get off the phone with the club’s owner after spending an hour arguing about the need for a new unit only to have a patron explain to me that the units we were utilizing didn’t produce enough BTU’s to adequately cool the facility.

At first, I tried to patiently explain the situation to patrons, but as time went on and my workload increased, I grew weary of the effort. I’ll admit that I became a little testy about air conditioning, often snapping at people at the mere mention of the words “air” or “conditioning” in a sentence. More and more, I stayed in my office during shows or just generally made myself less available.

It was an absolutely miserable summer, and to this day, I still twitch when somebody mentions air conditioning.

Lately, I’ve been following the re-ignited Reading Wars via social media and unsurprisingly, the arguments have evoked similar feelings.

Emily Hanford, per her own website, “has been working in public media for more than two decades as a reporter, producer, editor, news director, and program host.” Throughout 2017, Hanford produced a series of well-received pieces on Dyslexia. In September of 2018, Hanford shifted gears and focused on how children are taught to read, writing Hard Words, Why Aren’t Kids Being Taught to Read.

Hanford’s primary argument was that teacher prep programs were not properly training teachers and thus teachers were doing instruction wrong. Teachers and schools were short-shrifting students when it came to phonics, and as a result, many kids, as evidenced by standardized tests, were not reading on grade level. Since Hanford had written so much on Dyslexia, it’s not surprising that her postulates rooted in brain science gathered attention.

In the last year, Hanford has produced 3 more pieces, all in the same vein. All proclaiming that teachers are doing instruction all wrong. As a result, a battle that was settled nearly a decade ago has been re-ignited.

Now to be clear, I’m not a proponent of anything ever being completely settled. Everything is subject to change based on emerging evidence. If new evidence has emerged, then, by all means, we need to alter our strategies. However, as Nancy Bailey points out, Hanford’s “scientific proof” has been touted in the past.

As part of NCLB, George Bush pushed a reading program called Read First. In speaking before a Leadership Panel in Florida, he introduced the program with the following statement, “One of the unfortunate aspects that we find in many States is that there are great teachers who have got wonderful hearts who don’t know how to teach reading, that don’t know the science of reading.” Hmmm… sounds familiar.

Across the United States, we are now experiencing a shortage of people willing to enter the classroom under current conditions. Pay and discipline are huge contributors to the current crisis, but professional culture is equally important. A major component of culture is the respect you are afforded for the knowledge you have obtained as it relates to your profession.

Teachers will almost unilaterally tell you that it took them at least 5 years before they really felt like teachers. The reason for that being teaching is a profession filled with variables. No two schools are alike. No two classrooms are alike. No two students are alike. It takes time to understand all the nuances and challenges that go into educating young minds. Yet people who are either far removed from the classroom or have never set foot in one have no qualms with pointing out teachers’ shortcomings based on their limited experiences.

I remember when I first started writing this blog how I’d rush home to my wife – a classroom teacher – touting some amazing program somebody had just told me about, only to have her explain to me the flaws of said program. Or the opposite – I was convinced something was horrible only to have her explain to me how it incorporated other strategies that I was unable to recognize and, as a result, was extremely effective.

What I learned was that as much as I thought I knew how to recognize good teaching, in reality, I had no idea. That is true for most of us.

It was at that point that I committed to talking to as many classroom teachers as possible before I even entertained an opinion. As a result. I’ve built up quite a network over the last several years in order to understand, in a limited way, what goes into teaching. When I point out shortcomings in MNPS’s literacy policy, it’s not me interpreting science or drawing my own conclusions, it is me pulling out common threads from conversations with people who have educated themselves both in classrooms and in front of them as well.

Going back to that teacher shortage: why would you accept a wage that is substantially less than your peers to do a job that physically puts you at risk, only to have people who never do the job tell you that you suck at it? Critics will counter that they are only looking out for kids, and that’s their concern. I don’t know how many times it has to be said: teacher issues are student issues. If there are no teachers to teach students… you are doing students a disservice.

I’m not arguing against a robust conversation around literacy. It’s a great and necessary conversation to have, but you have to give some extra weight to the opinions of those doing the work. Interestingly enough, you never see a plethora of classroom teachers on Twitter arguing pedagogy. Instead, it’s reporters, administrators, researchers, and yes… know-it-all bloggers. Teachers, for the most part, are too tired from the daily toil of educating kids and are of the opinion of why talk when no one’s listening. We need to do a better job of listening.

For further clarity, I’m also not arguing about special education strategies. Over the years, we’ve let too many kids slip through the cracks because of a failure to provide dedicated resources. The gains in addressing the special needs of dyslexic kids have been tremendous over the last several years, but have only come about because of the fierce advocacy of parents. That can’t be downplayed, but neither can the hard work of our professional educators.

Education advocacy takes teamwork to be effective. Too often different groups with the best intentions find themselves at cross purposes because of an unwillingness to engage with schools of thought. Nobody wins, especially not kids, if we continue to fight the same fights over and over and if we continue to fail to listen to those who interact with students daily.

We can not continue to ignore and belittle classroom teachers while expecting them to continue to educate our children. It’s imperative that we treat them like the experts they are. Ignoring them comes at our own peril.

MAYOR’S RACE IS DONE

As predicted, last Thursday Nashville elected a new leader. Belated congratulations to newly elected Mayor John Cooper. Cooper ran a highly disciplined campaign and as a result, received nearly 70% of the votes cast. The day after the election, the Tennessean’s David Plaza opined, in typically out-of-touch fashion, why Briley took the historic loss.

Per Plaza: “Briley is a good mayor who has served honorably and with a commitment to service, but he made too many short-term political calculations that kept feeding that angst.” We can argue whether Briley is a good man or not, but the jury is in on whether he was a good mayor or not. 70% determined he wasn’t.

Plaza goes through and lists several challenges Briley made. Interestingly enough, he fails to mention some of the mayor’s biggest gaffes: Briley’s support of Shawn Joseph, his criticism of board members who were working to protect the public’s interest, and the failure to acknowledge growing teacher dissatisfaction. These all greatly contributed to his downfall.

Briley’s tenure was one marked by repeated acts of pandering. Unfortunately, he had a propensity to choose the wrong people to benefit from his pandering. In order to appease Nashville’s black political class, Briley failed to acknowledge that many of MNPS’s black families were dissatisfied with Joseph’s leadership. This allowed the issue to become racially divisive when it should have been focused solely on performance. Ripples of this failure still resonate and will continue to do so for many years.

Briley worked hard to keep a job he never seemed to really want, and throughout his tenure was a picture in contrasts. He tended to approach things in a manner that ran counter to Nashville’s majority of citizens.

Despite losing the general election by 10 percentage points, he refused to concede after the general election, yet offered up a concession speech 15 minutes after the polls closed. Conceding after the general election would have allowed him to champion his favored causes without having his advocacy viewed as campaign stunts. It was clear to most weeks ago that he had no chance of victory.

This election also included four City Council At-Large seats. Much has been made of the victory of Nashville’s first Muslim candidate, Zulfat Suara. I’ve seen her celebrated because of her religion and her gender, but what hasn’t been celebrated as often is the fact that she was a damn good candidate who ran a damn good campaign. She did not win because of her religion, gender, or skin color. She won because of a deep understanding of the issues and a willingness to embrace the public.

What deserves greater attention is the fact that a conservative candidate, who was not nearly as good a candidate as Suara was, also won an At-Large seat, gathering more votes than she did, and that’s Steve Glover. Glover, during his term as council member for District 12, was unable to get much passed. As a candidate, he conducted several lightly attended education summits and staged an ill-conceived campaign stunt by suing Metro Government over Mayor Briley’s recent immigration executive order. Yet he still managed to secure an At-Large seat.

The reality is that the voice of conservative Nashville residents has been so marginalized in recent years that they are willing to elect a subpar candidate because that’s the only choice they have. Over in District 26, a similar scenario played out as Jeremy Elrod lost to the hyper-conservative Courtney Johnson in a move that will ultimately hurt Nashville’s working-class folks. One has to wonder how much Elrod’s wife’s performance as a school board member impacted his brand. Conservatives also picked up another win with Tom Druffel.

I know the Council is supposed to be a non-partisan affair. But if you’ve ever knocked on doors for a candidate – and everybody should – you know that the reality is that a candidate’s political affiliation matters a great deal. At some point, Nashville politics has got to become more inclusive. Nashville is not the San Fransico of the South, and continually ignoring less liberal voices will not end well for anybody.

QUICK HITS

Now that the election is over, the focus turns to who will play what role in a Cooper administration. Let me go on record here as saying I wouldn’t be shocked if part-time school board member Will Pinkston emerges in some position. I base this not on what people are saying, but rather what they are not saying. While I would be disappointed if Cooper falls for the Pinkston soft shoe, I’m pretty confident in Pinkston’s innate ability to alienate people. Therefore his role would be short lived.

Seems like Tennessee’s rookie State Education Commissioner Peggy Schwinn got her knuckles rapped pretty hard last week. Per ChalkbeatTN, in a meeting with State Senators Dolores Gresham and Mark White, the heads of the Senate Education Committee, the following message was delivered: “We’ve asked her to go back to our stakeholders to start a conversation,” White told Chalkbeat after the hourlong meeting. “We know we don’t have a perfect system, and we’re always looking to improve.” In other words, cool your jets.

It’s no secret that I’m extremely wary of Nashville’s budding relationship with Amazon. Last week, with a great celebration, it was announced that Amazon was partnering with MNPS for their Future Engineers Program.  It was such a big deal that even Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos showed up. Unfortunately, Bezos wasn’t available when Whole Foods – a subsidiary of Amazon – announced that it was cutting health benefits for 1900 part-time employees.

Business Insider interviewed one woman who was devastated. She said she would have to increase her hours to become eligible for full-time benefits and pay for childcare or shop for a new and potentially more expensive health insurance plan on the private marketplace. She spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. She was a 15-year employee. Do I have to draw a line of correlation here?

Congratulations to Hunters Lane HS alumnus Brandon Currywho is the 2019 Mr. Olympia. Curry is the first Tennessean to win the competition since the competition began in 1965. Rockin like Dokken.

Down in Chattanooga, they are still pretty happy with superintendent Bryan Johnson. Johnson, a former MNPS administrator is entering the third year of a four-year contract there. All but one board member rated Johnson higher this year than in his first year.

It seems that Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is about to lose one of his water boys. Long-time voucher proponent Bill Dunn reacted to news that Knox County School Board member Patti Bounds had formally filed to run against him by announcing he wouldn’t be running at all in 2020. I’d like to say I’ll miss Dunn, but that’d be lying, something I witnessed Dunn do often in order to pass voucher legislation. Remember, it was Dunn who quoted part-time school board member and blogger Will Pinkston’s resignation letter as evidence why vouchers were necessary.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a closer look at last week’s poll results.

The first question asked who you were going to vote for in the upcoming mayoral race. Not surprisingly, 84% of you indicated that Cooper had your vote. Here are the write-ins:

Clemmons 1
I moved to Rutherford. You know. Housing. 1
Not voting. Don’t care. Nothing ever changes. 1
None of the above 1
Mickey Mouse 1
Megan Barry 1
No one 1
Ugh cooper I guess… 1
shawn joseph

Question 2 asked if you thought MNPS’s culture was improving. 35% of you rated it marginally better, while 26% indicated things were about the same. 23% said it was worse. Those number shouldn’t be exceeding anyone’s expectations. Here are the write-ins:

Divisive, segregated and fraught with incompetence at ever level of leadership. 1
No central office is a train wreck and they treat teachers like crap 1
New Chair and Vice Chair there is hope on horizon 1
Teachers still stressed to the max but thankful SJ is gone 1
losing Shawn Joseph is a win

The last question asked for your current opinion of MNEA. Sadly, 29% of you still don’t see a reason to join. 23% indicated that the new leadership was a breath of fresh air. Got to to do better.

{YAWN}} 1
MNEA is a waste of $. PET is better. 1
Too over the top right now 1
Too expensive to join but would like to. 1
Just joined, cautiously optimistic

That’s a wrap. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive. If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com.

A huge shout out to all of you who lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity.

The official begging may have ended, but you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

 

 

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