YOU CAN’T PRACTICE MAGIC WITHOUT MAGICIANS

“While his school was closed due to an outbreak of plague in 1666–67, twenty-five-year-old Isaac Newton showed his professor, Isaac Barrow, what research he was conducting in his spare time. Barrow immediately gave up his job as a professor and became a student of Newton. What a noble gesture. What ethical behavior. When was the last time you heard of a professor vacating his post in favor of a better candidate? And when was the last time you read about a CEO clearing out his desk when he realized that one of his twenty thousand employees could do a better job?” 
― Rolf Dobelli, The Art of Thinking Clearly

Last night, scrolling through my social media, I came across a post by Tennessee Lookout writer Nate Rau. Apparently, the Exit/In property was under contract to be sold to a hotel developer. Current owner Chris Cobb had been attempting to purchase the property that was home to the historic music venue, but it’s looking like his efforts will be for naught.

In case you are unfamiliar, the Exit/In is one of those historic small music clubs that once populated the country. Places like the Black Cat in DC, The Nick in Birmingham, Picassos in Bowling Green, the Stone Pony in New Jersey, or even CBGB’s in NYC. 500-1000 seat rooms that provided an intimate venue in which music lovers could enjoy their favorite bands and musicals artists.

The stage at the Exit-In, since its inception in the early ’70s, has been trodden by everybody from Vince Gill, to My Morning Jacket, to Steve Martin, and Kris Kristofferson. A young Jimmy Buffet cut his teeth on that stage. The back cover of a Police record shows Sting sporting the club’s T-shirt. It’s not hyperbolic to say that some shows have become the stuff of legend, and the club enjoys deep emotional bonds with the community.

Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I managed the club for around 5 years. Shows with Jack Ingrim, the Cult, Mavericks, Social Distortion, and Jeff Buckley, among others, will forever remain etched in my mind. We were young, free of responsibility, and basking in a semi-outlaw lifestyle. In honesty, it was probably a little less “sem” I than I care to admit these days. But the venue will forever be a cornerstone of my gloriously misspent youth.

Since my time ended – in the aftermath of 911 – Chris Cobb has done an exceptional job of keeping the storied venue on track. He’s provided a place for Nashville’s varied artists to create their own future legends. For that, he’s owed a debt of gratitude. Trust me, I understand the sweat and toil that go into keeping a 500 seat venue afloat and relevant. He’s kicked ass.

The threat to the Exit-In has been looming for a number of months, and I’ve watched with heightened interest. Strangely, I’m not sure how much I care if the venue survives or not. Yes, it’s historic, but is it the bricks and mortar that make it so…or is it something else?

For me, it was never about the building. The truth is, that building sucked. The roof leaked and the bathrooms regularly overflowed. The air-conditioning was never adequate, a situation only acerbated when the decision was made to paint the building black. Keeping up with the maintenance ate up a major part of my time.

Last night, as I lay in bed thinking about the pending possibility of a world without the Exit-In, I came to the realization that no matter what happens, the world will never be without the Exit. Because it’s not the building that created the memories, but rather the people that occupied it.

To me, the Exit will always be Kenny at the front door and Frank behind the soundboard. It’ll be Mary Beth, Brad, and Jason behind the bar. It will be Pirtle appyling his skills where needed. It’ll Mathew Ryan on stage. Or the Cactus Brothers. Or the Screaming Cheetah Wheelies. That’s what made the building the stuff of legends. Not the location.

I understand Cobb’s desire to keep the physical space, but the secret sauce will always be the people. Sometimes maybe it’s time to move the magic. I don’t doubt for one minute that Cobb could bring the same stuff of legend in another part of town.

The Exit-In was always a cornerstone of a part of town affectionately known as the “Rock Block.” At the end of the last century, Nashville was primarily a country music town. But there was a whole bunch of us who viewed the world through a different lens. The Rock Block and its independent-minded businesses served as a gathering spot for us. But it was always the people and never the businesses that served as the catalyst.

We didn’t gather at the Gold Rush out of a need to eat. We gathered there because of a desire to seek out like-minded folks. Even the corporate restaurant that anchored one corner of the block, Fridays, operated with a decided anti-establishment attitude. The corner of the bar populated by both politicians and bookies. I still chuckle at the memory of the day management cut off the bottom foot of the men’s bathroom stall.

People have been fighting to preserve the Rock Block for the last several years, but in my eyes, it all ended when the commemorative plaque went up. We didn’t gather on the block because a sign told us this is where we would find like-minded folks. We congregated because a friend of a friend told us about this part of town where things ran a little bit differently. It was kind of a secret place, whose location was only shared through individual networks.

As I was lost in rumination last night, it dawned on me, the way we treat the Exit-In is not dissimilar from the way we treat public education.

Education policy conversations continually treat school buildings as sacred places whereupon entry learning magically takes place. The conversations around serving students impacted by the pandemic have all centered around buildings, assessments, programs, and assorted as sundries, with little focus applied to the actual source of the miracles.

If you never hear anything else i say, hear this. Even if you buy into the concept of “learning loss”, there is not an assessment, program, or building that will adequately solve the issues students face without people. In other words, you can’t practice magic without magicians.

You will not find a single story of how an assessment saved a student’s life. No tales of, “I was floundering until I took that TCAP test in 6th grade. Man, suddenly the world opened up for me.”

There are no stories of students entering a building and instantly feeling at home. There are plenty around custodians or cafeteria workers making students feel seen.

Nobody will tell you how they floundered until their school district switched from one curriculum to another. They will tell you how a teacher introducing them to ” The Outsiders” changed everything, or the same with, “The Hate You Give.” It was teachers who walked them across the rainbow bridge.

Tutors are nice. And Navigators can help make districts aware of individual students’ challenges. By neither are serving a role that teachers haven’t filled for decades. Under their current incarnation, they serve to provide a cheaper means to achieve the same role as that of a high-quality teacher. Focusing on the newer roles also comes with the added benefit of not having to actually engage in a dialog with teachers.

MNPS is poised to spend millions on programs, and supplements, while we expect gratitude for tossing teachers a mere $1000 bonus as supposed compensation for a year of sacrifice and dedication. A year that forced many of them to completely relearn their profession and came with a high personal cost.

Really think about this for a second, MNPS in just the last two months has received $400 million in federal money. Without a blink of an eye, nor proper vetting they were willing to hand over $18 million to Meharry Medical College for a 4-month plan that potentially might make schools safer. But teachers, who for the last 12 months have labored constantly to address student needs get a mere grand, that once taxes hit, might stay above $800.

Don’t think I am forgetting support staff people either. Schools do not function without them. Cafeteria workers, janitorial staff, para-pros, substitutes, crossing guards, bus drivers, and front office workers, all contribute to an environment that facilitates learning. But what do you get out of the $400 million? 500 bucks.

Meanwhile, Great Minds, Amplify, and publishers stand to make millions off of curriculum purchases. Testing companies will not see a drop in profits post-pandemic. Non-profits like TNTP, Education Trust, and SCORE will see millions flow into their coffers. Per usual, everybody will benefit save those doing the work. Because we always discount the importance of people.

Oh, leadership never fails to provide lip service, mindlessly reciting phrases off of a PowerPoint from an SEL workshop they attended but in the end, it’s always programming over people.

Yesterday, Channel 2 ran a news story that clearly illustrated that point. The story raises questions around the argument that 3 out of 4 MNPS students fail to read on grade level. Forget, the arguments around the veracity of the test, and focus on the proposed solutions – programs and data. The same things we’ve been relying on for over a decade.

Over the past year, we’ve rushed to declare virtual learning a complete failure. Nevermind that the instruction offered in August is not the same as that offered today. Even though the focus has remained on a return to buildings, teachers, have worked to improve practice and the results for those who didn’t quickly abandon any chance of success, have been enhanced.

Over the last week, my 6th-grade daughter has come to me with thoughts on Julius Caesar, while my 5th-grade son brings new insights into squids and starfish. I hear my daughter laugh and giggle with classmates over remote classroom discussions. I hear her frustrations when she gets a question wrong. Yesterday, she bragged about the teacher telling her she, “really brought it” that day. Later today, we’ll work on some math concepts that are challenging her. In other words, school is happening.

Both of my kids have formed relationships with their teachers. Some stronger than others, but that’s the way it works. Still the connections are as strong as any formed in the past.

They are also forming relationships with fellow classmates. Recently some of the boys were disparaging to girls, and my daughter paired up with other girls in the class to set them straight. A conversation that continued after class and has helped form a friendship.

Virtual learning has been far from perfect, many continue to struggle, but it’s ever-evolving. An evolution that will continue with or without our endorsement. But its evolution will continually be hampered if we only worship at the alters of the past and fail to acknowledge the key role teachers play.

It’s amazing how hard we work to distance ourselves from those who most impact student learning. It’s always a program or curriculum that will turn the tide, despite a body of evidence that continually shows that the most important in-school element towards a student’s success is a teacher or principal.

Here’s the ultimate test for you. Flip the payouts. Pay teachers and principals what district leadership and corporations get paid. Take the money you were going to invest in programs and assessments, invest it in people – support staff, as well as teachers. See who still shows up to do the work.

We need to stop assuming that location translates to magic. We need to stop thinking that if we write spells out, anyone can recite them and magic will ensue.

Somewhere out there in Nashville right now, I’m sure young people are gathering to create their own art. It’s likely a dilapidated building somewhere in a neglected part of town. They are coming together and creating art that represents their time and their mindset. As it should be.

It’s likely art rooted in the past, but with significant alterations that reflect the current times. It’s a place where someday they’ll look back at with fond memories. Memories they’ve created and not inherited.

That’s where I’d prefer to focus my energies. Instead of merely preserving past success, let’s build on it and create something that serves, and belongs to, the future.

Perhaps it’s time we all followed the lead of Isaac Burrow.

SHORTCUTS

If it’s not already, “the term high-dosage tutoring” needs to be on your watch list. It’s another one of those seemingly benign terms that serve to hide ill intentions. Recently SCORE held an infomercial for the term, and the Tennessean published an opt ed by Victor Evans, the Executive Director of TennesseeCan. Both serve to illustrate true intentions.

Evans bills himself as a former teacher, but as usual with the privatization crew, that means 3 years teaching Social Studies over a decade ago.

While tutoring is certainly a valuable tool, to present it as a path to success without major input from a teacher is disingenuous at best. It’s worth noting that while districts are struggling to fill teaching pools and substitute pools, both SCORE and Evans see no problem securing enough tutors. Both tout a potential teacher pipeline as a benefit of “high dosage” tutoring. Neither discusses additional responsibilities of teachers in coordinating efforts.

The SCORE presentation included advice to make sure that districts ensured that tutors had access to “scripts”. Scripts that I’m sure are provide by suppliers of “high quality curriculum”.

We can not forget that this financial blizzard with soon recede and decisions about funding will once again be scrutinized. When leaders are faced with investing in tutoring programs at a lower level versus investing in teachers at a higher cost, where do you think they’ll go? When the decision is between an inexpensive alternative licensing plan or a costly investment in teacher salaries, which do you think we’ll win out? I assure you it won’t be students.

Keep in mind that virtually every challenge we currently face in education policy sprung out of the massive investment of Race to the Top. Ideas that pre-implementation sounded fantastic. Ideas that were promoted by the very same folks offering advocacy today. If we learned anything from past infusions of federal cash, please let it be that of being deliberate when investing resources.

SHORTCUTS

Riddle me this, why does MNPS continually cozy up with those who do not have their best interests at heart? Why do they give credibility to organizations that continually work to undermine them? In attending SCORE’s presentation on ‘High Dosage Tutoring”, I was shocked to see MNPS’s head of Strategic Federal, State, and Philanthropic Investments Keri Randolph as a panel member. SCORE is not now, nor will it ever be a friend to public education. Their history shows the opposite, a legacy of advocacy for failed policies that serve to benefit their pocketbook while hindering schools.

A further illustration of the aforementioned comes from a virtual forum held mid-week by the Education Trust on school financing. That panel consisted of former Bredesen policy chief Drew Kim and former SCORE head Jamie Woodson. The duo attempted to sell a version of history in which they fought for increased funding. Unfortunately for them, the internet exists.

Back in 2007, legislation was introduced to fund schools at an increased level, with a higher benefit to Knox and Hamilton counties. That bill had no funding attached to it, and, as a senator, Woodson voted “Aye” on it. Senator Kyle introduced legislation that would serve to provide the funding for the previous bill, an additional $250 million. Some of that money would have been designated towards teacher salaries. That bill failed by a vote of 17 – 16, with Woodson among the ‘Nays”. Thanks for the advocacy.

Tip of the hat to House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent Dixie. This week the Chairman passed the SEM Advancement Act, a measure to help students across Tennessee gain better, more equitable access to advanced classes. Well done. Senator Yarboro carried the bill in the Senate.

Congratulations to Hume-Fogg High School, winners of this year’s MNPS Battle of the Books. The runner-up honors went to Hillsboro High School.

Educators of grades PreK–12 in all subject areas, who work in the public, charter, or private schools in Davidson & surrounding counties are encouraged to apply for membership in the Education Co-ops’s next cohort. It’s a great opportunity to expand your game and forge relationships in order to better serve students. Cohort 6 will meet virtually June 21 – June 25, 2021, and Cohort 7 will meet virtually June 28 – July 2, 2021. A mix of synchronous and asynchronous workshops and activities will support the creation of a community of teachers from all over. Check it out.

That’s a wrap.

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. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish 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.



Categories: Education

5 replies

  1. Just a slight correction:

    “I, the Director of Schools, along with the Board of Education and those who are on a flat rate or stipend only, such as substitutes and non-faculty athletic coaches, are not eligible to receive a bonus under this plan…though substitute teachers have already been eligible for extra bonus payments for working full-time schedules.”

    I’m a building sub and have spent countless volunteer hours, including creating necessary lunchroom barriers that the district completely failed to even think about. This is an incredible insult targeted specifically at us subs. What can we do?

    Nothing. Not one damn thing.

    I need the job. I’ll be there Monday, doing the work of sometimes as many as six teachers in a day. And I will get $13 an hour for doing it. The bonus the Director refers to us getting? $13 a day extra IF, IF we work three consecutive days. If we work Monday and Wednesday, no bonus.

    Like the Exit/In, we got bulldozed over a measly $1000. Feels great.

    • Words escape me. Completely unacceptable.

    • Wait a minute….are y’all not at 15 per hour?

      • $100 per day divided by 7.5 hours a day (7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.) is $13.33 per hour. I’m sure we would undoubtedly not benefit from any $15/hour minimum wage legislation; they’ll find a way around it. The $13/day “bonus” the director is referring to in her e-mail brings the hourly up to $15.06/hour, but ONLY if we work every single of the 180 school days. We work Monday and Wednesday but miss Tuesday, our pay for Monday AND Wednesday is $13.33/hour.

        While I’m doing the math … the absolute most we can make, if we work every single of the 180 days of school, with the $13/day “bonus,” would be $20,340 per year for full-time work—$20,000 per year less than even a starting teacher. With no pay in June/July. No benefits. No protections. They can fire us even for posting a comment like this one.

        Why am I subbing? Get what an idiot I am … so I can pay off a student loan for my master’s degree in teaching, get recertified to teach in Tennessee, and go to work full time as a “real” teacher for MNPS students. I’m also spending almost $1,000 of my own money for Praxis tests required by the state for certification. What a rube, huh?

        I’m there for the kids and the school and my colleagues, not the money, and very definitely not the district, and I get a great deal out of the experience. But to stiff us subs from even this measly bonus is evidence of the “value” (read: “contempt”) they place on the people that keep hundreds of classrooms going every single day. The kicker? That $1,000 would have been reinvested in my certification that would benefit MNPS. So, I’m pretty salty right now. Sorry.

        The kids are not alright. And the teachers are not alright. But we’re doing our best against stiff headwinds and winning small, un-standardized-test-able victories every day. Thanks again for another listen. Appreciate it and what you do.

      • Thank you. All I can say on so many levels.

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