“Uncertainty is an uncomfortable position. But certainty is an absurd one.”
Last Thursday I had the pleasure to attend, along with my 10-year-old son, an event honoring former Overton High School athletic standout Mookie Betts. Betts, for those unfamiliar with him, is what is often referred to as a generational athlete. He is in a class with the likes of Tom Brady and LeBron James.
Since breaking into the Majors in 2015, he has won 5 Gold Gloves and 4 Silver Slugger Awards. He’s been on 2 World Series Champion teams – the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s been named league MVP once and been a runner up twice. In 2018, Betts also became the first player in history to win the MVP, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove, a batting title, and World Series in the same season. His gravity-defying leaps in the outfield and the excitement he brings to the base path have electrified the game at a time when it has fallen out of favor, eclipsed in popularity by football and basketball.
Whatever Betts has accomplished on the diamond is dwarfed by his contributions as a man. Stories abound about his buying strangers groceries in the midst of the pandemic and handing out food to the homeless after Game 2 of his first World Series. Writer Wayne G. McDonnell says it best, “Betts possesses a philanthropic heart, a keen self-awareness, and the conscience of an activist passionately working for societal change while being a world-class athlete.” Betts does all of this with a unique sense of humility and grace.
If that is not enough, Betts is apparently so loyal to his alma mater that even as he reaches the heights of superstardom, he is rarely too busy to join Overton’s current crop of ballplayers on the practice field. I was struck by this quote from an article in the Tennessean on last week’s event. It comes from Overton’s sophomore catcher and middle infielder Tommy Zarth:
“We’ve all gotten kind of used to (Betts) coming out and helping because he comes so much. But it’s still cool, though. It’s still fun. He’s a great teacher.”
Let that sink in. Can you imagine a high school player saying anything similar about Brady or James? The fact that he gives so freely of his time that his presence assumes a sense of normalcy is a true testament to the way he has chosen to live his life.
The only drawback to Thursday’s event was that not enough students were present to hear the words spoken, both from Overton’s long-time baseball coach Mike Morrison and Betts himself. A highlight for my son Peter was when, post-ceremony, Morrison told him that he himself had played for Crieve Hall Little League, Peter’s league, back in 1967.
The words of the coach and the player were words that kids today need to hear now more than ever. They spoke of what’s possible when talent meets access and when hard work meets mentorship. Before arriving at Overton, Mookie enjoyed the fruits of his athleticism without having to work very hard. As he related to the crowd, Morrison was hard on him and his immense talent earned him no special privileges.
He told a story of showing up to a game with the wrong jersey. Morrison could have just let him switch jerseys. After all, he had the correct one in his bag. But that’s not how things worked with Overton baseball. Rules were rules, and they applied to everybody. Betts didn’t play that game, and he ran instead. He points to that moment as one in which the importance of detail was driven home to him, freely giving credit to Morrison for giving him the tools to tap into his immense athletic gifts.
After the ceremony, Peter got his hat signed by his idol. Thank you to board members Emily Masters and Dr. Berthena Nabaa-McKinney for facilitating a very special moment for a young man. Most people would have put that hat in a case or other secure location. But for Peter, it has become a bit of a talisman. He wears it often and proudly. As I look out the window, watching him hit into a hitting net during a break from classes, I see the hat perched upon his head. A symbol of what is possible when you are talented, work hard, and live right.
The idea of sports figures as role models has fallen out of favor over the last several decades. Still, the importance of a mentor can not be overstated. We all need examples of what it means to truly live our best life. At some point, Betts may stumble. We are all human after all, but I think that somehow even if such a failure should occur, he will handle it with such grace and class that others will be able to learn from it.
Peter has chosen Mookie Betts as his sports idol, and I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased with his choice. Thank you, Mookie Betts, for proving that superheroes exist, and better yet, they walk among us.
On Friday, I took a look at the decision by MNPS to keep elementary schools open despite increasing cases of COVID-19. Some folks pushed back against my assertions that schools could not adequately function during this time due to the spread of the virus. They pointed to articles that claim schools are not spreading the virus. Per Johannes Huebner, the head of the pediatric infectious disease department at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Hospital in Munich, “Most of the infections are brought into the schools by adults, by teachers, and then spread among kids. But most of the time, it’s only single cases. It’s two, three kids, five maybe that get positive.”
Add Nashville’s Mayor John Cooper’s voice to the chorus of those pushing back over concerns with the virus being spread through schools. In his view, outbreaks and transmissions were expected, and he goes on to say this:
“There is a lot of transmission going on in the community and after hours, but I think we share the teachers and parents deep concern about the safety, but right now we have not detected children in school as being the source of that concern.”
The best I can tell is that this argument puts forth the idea that infections come from the community, but once brought into schools, the protocols in place minimize the spread, thus making schools relatively safe.
I’m not sure I buy that, but okay. It still doesn’t account for the staffing problems created by a need to quarantine. If janitors are forced out, who provides the deep cleaning necessary to ensure that spread doesn’t occur? If bus drivers are out on quarantine, who transports the kids? If administrators are covering classrooms, who is handling their responsibilities? That’s just a few examples of the issues currently faced.
A popular narrative being put forth by those pushing for a return to school buildings is that the teacher’s union is fighting against the opening of schools because their members are living the easy life at home. Returning to school means a return to work. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The amount of work being done currently by teachers and principals is indescribable. Throughout the weekend I searched for a way to adequately express the current workload and the toll it’s taking on our educators. But it is impossible to adequately describe. Unless you are an educator or the spouse of an educator, you just can’t grasp the sheer volume of work required under current circumstances.
One thing I’ve learned over the last decade is that if educators give 100%, we’ll ask 110%. When they deliver that 110%, we’ll expect 120%. The expectations just continue to grow, and somehow educators, at great personal expense, meet those demands. Perhaps that’s where the ed reform crowd got the idea all you had to do was raise expectations for students and they would deliver. Unfortunately, that strategy only works on a select crowd, and it’s not sustainable.
Invariably, I’ll read criticisms of teachers slacking off or taking advantage of the system. And yes, those instances are out there. The teachers who don’t work extra hours. The ones who aren’t going the extra mile for every kid. The ones who aren’t sacrificing personal time in order to improve student outcomes. Those are called “outliers,” Go look up the word. It means someone who stands apart from others of his or her group, as by differing behavior, beliefs, or religious practice. Not the norm. Those teachers not busting their ass right now are outliers and should not be used against the vast majority of educators.
Here’s the other part of the equation: In-person instruction has been developed over the last 100 years. 100 years of research and practice and we still, arguably, haven’t perfected it. Remote education is brand new to virtually – pun intended – everyone. That means teachers and principals are suddenly learning new practices while meeting current expectations. What it amounts to is me expecting you to service my luxury automobile in record time while you are still reading the manual. In most worlds, that would be considered a ludicrous proposition, but hey, these are teachers and everyone knows they have superpowers, right? After all, last Teacher Appreciation Day we handed out the “Teaching is my superpower. What’s yours?” mugs.
In reality, it’s even worse than that. The proper illustration would be more like asking you to fix my luxury automobile while only giving you random pages from the manual – promising the rest will be along at some point or my regular mechanic will be free eventually.
Jeff Bryant has a must-read article on how poor school leadership has only exacerbated the remote learning challenges. He quotes Michael Barbour, a professor at Touro University in California and an expert on K-12 online learning:
“Any school leader who didn’t reach out to teachers to ask what had worked well and what didn’t, and then use that [to prepare for the fall reopening], committed a dereliction of duty,” Barbour tells me, recalling the moment when schools closed suddenly in spring 2020. “After all, we knew this was a pandemic… not a one-time thing.”
Unfortunately, this quote holds all too true for MNPS. Think back to this past summer. What was Nashville’s school district focused on? The focus was on teachers doing PD on the new literacy curriculum and how we were going to open school buildings come August.
“School district leaders spent so much time over the summer trying to create reopening plans that would meet safety guidelines for classes inside school buildings that they had little time to focus on improving online academic offerings,” Hannah Natanson and Valerie Strauss warned in The Washington Post in August.
Unfortunately, that primary focus on occupying buildings has never left us. But why should we be surprised? It is the means by which we attempt to address all issues involved with public education.
How do we address discipline issues in schools? By making sure kids stay in the building.
How do we address the social issues associated with poverty? By making sure kids stay in buildings.
Charter schools are a threat, but why? Many reasons of course, but basically because they put children in those buildings instead of these buildings. We are concerned with kids being in these buildings and not those buildings. You’d think we were all a bunch of property managers.
And we are doing it again now. How do we address shortcomings in remote learning? By finding a means to get kids back in the building.
I’ve always argued that services are more important than location. The overarching question we should be asking is how do we meet the needs of kids, not where do we meet their needs. For some, school buildings are clearly the best opportunity. Others, maybe not so much. But again the focus needs to be on how do we get the needed services to children, not where.
Clearly at this juncture, keeping kids in buildings is not a viable solution unless we are prepared to offer a commitment to substantially increasing resources. Something we’ve long been reluctant to do.
This is not an issue just playing out in Nashville either. Cities all across America are wrestling with how best to serve kids and their families. Per Chalkbeat:
Just this week, the Detroit school district suspended all in-person learning until January. Health officials ordered schools in Indianapolis to do the same. Philadelphia put its plans to bring young students back at the end of this month on hold indefinitely. And some of Colorado’s largest districts are reverting to remote learning after quarantine requirements made staffing buildings too challenging.
They join schools in Newark, Boston, San Diego, and many smaller districts in scaling back or scrapping their school reopenings — an illustration of how the country’s failure to contain the coronavirus has continued to disrupt the education of millions of students. Some of the school districts now closing buildings completely had already been open only for students with disabilities, English learners, and young students, for whom virtual learning is a particular strain.
Yes, everybody would like to be back in school, but it’s just not viable at this juncture. The continued argument over the viability of in-person schooling is only hurting what should be our true focus: educating kids. Instead of arguing about the safety and feasibility of opening buildings, let’s focus on improving student outcomes remotely. Let’s focus on doing the things that will mitigate the dangers of opening school buildings – wearing masks, social distancing, slowing community spread.
Yes, all of this is extremely difficult and costly. But do you know what’s more difficult and expensive? Going to a funeral for a teacher or student who dies from contracting COVID. Dealing with a teacher or student who has long term effects from contracting COVID. Replacing teachers who broke down, mentally and physically, due to unrealistic expectations and demands.
Now, I do agree with groups like Let Nashville Parents Choose who are demanding that the district produce and share a plan for the remainder of the school year. The district may argue they have one, but if so, they aren’t sharing it properly.
Getting irritable and claiming you have a plan without presenting evidence of such is not a plan. Refusing to provide a detailed report at every board meeting is not evidence of a plan. Presenting desired outcomes to principals and telling them to “figure it out” is not a plan. Plans require details, benchmarks, and alternatives. They require intense communication as well. All of these ingredients are currently missing from the strategies currently being employed by MNPS leadership.
I’ve always maintained that in the event leadership fails to create a viable narrative, the troops will create their own, and seldom will that narrative be one that benefits leadership. That is where we live right now. It is past time for leadership to grasp control of the narrative. But remember, any attempt to do so should begin with asking teachers and families the following:
What do you need?
What are your biggest challenges?
What can I do to help?
Interesting news coming from out of the West. Per Chalkbeat, less than two years after being appointed superintendent of the school district where she was once a student, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova announced she is leaving the district and her home city to take a job in Texas. Cordova, if you’ll remember, was a popular local educator who assumed leadership when a superintendent search committee failed to offer any other finalists. Almost immediately she found herself at odds with the teacher’s union when they went on strike for increased pay and a reduced central office footprint. I’m sure there are more than a few lessons to glean from her tenure.
Diane Ravitch shares the views on school re-openings of Benjamin P. Linas, an epidemiologist, who writes in VOX that both blue and red states are doing the wrong things about the pandemic. The blue states are too quick to close down schools and the red states are too quick to keep them open without proper safety measures. I’m not sure about the feasibility of all of his points, but they offer room for discussion.
Tomorrow and Thursday, the TN House Government Ops Committee is meeting. This should prove interesting coming on the heels of recent correspondence between the committee and Education Commissioner Schwinn (20-10-16 TED Inquiry).
In case you weren’t aware, both AC/DC and Chris Stapleton released new music on Friday. Both offerings are superlative. Just so you know.
Let’s take a look at your thoughts from the weekend.
The first question was around individual school usage of the recently purchased Florida Virtual School curriculum. Remember it’s supposed to be the primary curriculum for all MNPS schools, and at a recent school board meeting, MNPS Chief of Schools Mason Bellamy asked board members to advocate for its continued usage. Bellamy must be seeing something different than y’all. Based on responses, 77% of Nashville schools are utilizing the curriculum in a manner consistent with Bellamy’s vision. Only 15% voiced positive feedback. Hmmm… here are the write-in votes:
- It’s terrible. Who made this decision?
- Trying our best to use it, but it’s not ideal
- Using as required then scoring low on evals as a result
- Even district personnel privately acknowledge its deficiencies
- Not my class
- Used as a supplement
- Total disregard. Waste of money. Pay people.
- With widely varied fidelity
Question 2 poised an inquiry into the gap between the central office and schools. 66% of you felt the gap was rapidly growing, Only 6% thought it was shrinking. Here are the write-ins:
- teachers in school k-4 but central office is remote because it is unsafe???
- Bellamy needs to go-arrogant and clueless
- Schools are on the Titanic. Central Office is in the lifeboats
- I was on the right track until COVID happened
- Fat ass paychecks who do nothing but make it harder to teach.
- The pandemic makes it hard to tell at this juncture.
Question 3 attempted to gauge your thoughts on how safe schools were. 47% of you thought they weren’t currently safe, and getting less so. Only 3% felt they were pretty safe. The depressing part was that 16% of you questioned whether anybody really cared. Here are the write-ins:
- Russian roulette. Some teachers not taking it seriously either.
- My school is safe because students have not yet returned in person
- Are you kidding me? Awful. Covid breeding ground
That’s it for today.
If you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work to accentuate the positive.
If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.
A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.
If you so desire to join the rank of donors, 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, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.
Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience… send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them.