Friday, May 27, 2011


People use signs to give information, direct visitors, and occasionally inspire. Statements placed on signs are usually guiding phrases, such as, park on left, main entrance, no smoking, etc. Sometimes organizations, including schools, use signs to inspire. Normally, these inspirational signs are not too direct, but encourage amenability without offending, such as, We miss100% of the shots we don’t take, Learning Zone, and other inspirational quotes.

I recently attended a presentation at one of my neighboring schools, Norwood-Norfolk Central School, who used signs that were informational and inspiring. These signs were also extremely direct, which is a rare combination. As I walked into the school I noticed some large signs hanging on the outside of the building, which said, Norwood-Norfolk Teachers Work Hard and Care Deeply. My favorite said, Norwood-Norfolk Teachers Believe and our Kids Achieve. Kudos to the NNCS Board and Administration for saying what needs to be heard; a strong, commitment statement to your community about your teachers – your teachers should be proud.

While I feel the same about the faculty and staff at AAK, I have never posted signs such as these. I should.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Pondering Perspectives

In the past few weeks, I’ve experienced the entire gambit of emotional endurance; often within the span of a few minutes while discussing only one issue. Concerns with many issues have had multiple levels and perspectives and my thoughts have been polarized.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, …”
Charles Dickens

While my quandaries pale in comparison to the turmoil Dickens wrote of between England and France during the year 1775, the month of May has left me with a somewhat deeper understanding of this age. In that setting, there was social upheaval and turmoil which eventually led to the French Revolution. I feel this fervent passion of revolution building now, not between social classes, but rather within our own individual senses and sensibilities.

This internal controversy, for me, is most prominently displayed with my impression of standardized assessments. State exams hold the promise of accountability and ensuring an equitable education for all, but conversely we have been experiencing the negative ramifications of this obsession with standardized tests, such as, stress, fatigue, burn-out, anxiety, etc. Included in my polarized version of today’s educational landscape is the anticipated rebirth of APPR. I’m excited about the potential but terrified of the effects if not properly done. To continue my dissection, Common Core standards are coming and they hold tremendous power to bring an equal education to all children, rich or poor, but are we taking state autonomy away by endorsing this? And, is this necessarily bad? My conflicted feelings aren’t diminished as I move towards more trivial pursuits. Has spring really been worth the wait? The sunshine that we have received only serves to bring light onto the destructive nature of floods. It’s certainly warmer out, finally, so now the black-flies are able to take flight. These, Tale of Two Perspectives, or conflicts, has also been in my mind as school districts look to dismiss many experienced teachers while recent graduates look to compete for nonexistent jobs. Will we lose valuable resources as teachers move away from education?

Recently, while attending an awards ceremony at SUNY Potsdam, which saw many of the newest members to the teaching profession receive recognition, our own Mr. Vroman delivered a stunning oration. One of his many jobs, most of which he volunteers for, is as the Vice-President of the Alumni Association at SUNY. In this capacity, he was to simply hand out the award for this semester’s outstanding student teacher. He completed this task, but not before conveying to the audience his version of these conflicting feelings. He spoke with sensitivity regarding the current job prospects. He affirmed many of these young teachers’ concerns. Then, he brought the ultimate message of what it means to be a teacher and why this noblest of professions is worth the endeavor. He spoke to the internal conflict these bright, new teachers were feeling and he pressed the message of what it truly means to be a teacher. I was awe-struck.

Pondering writings from notable authors holds much curiosity and interest to me. I’m fascinated with the perceptions of other people. I also enjoy reading quotes, famous speeches, and literary pieces; I always find relevance and comfort in their words. The words spoken by Mr. Vroman ranks among the highest-caliber of speeches penned. I found his presentation of the conflict all teachers experience extremely profound. His message touched everyone in the room and we were all better because of it.

A commentary on Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities, stated this concerning the conflict experienced in 1775, “…turmoil leads to an awakening. Flowers bloom where before nothing could grow…” I suspect that my inner turmoil will continue to focus toward resolution through the crystal clear lens provided by Mr. Vroman.

Friday, May 6, 2011


“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.”
Antoine de Saint-Exuper

This past week a historic event took place which brought my reflective lens out for a cleaning. I wasn’t sure how to respond to the news that our military, specifically SEALS Team 6, finally “got” Osama Bin Laden. I didn’t find myself in the mood for a celebration, but I certainly feel an astounding amount of relief. Ten years; it’s been a long-time coming, but now the “hunt” is over. The man who has been the face of terrorism is no longer a direct threat to the people of our great country. I admire our men and women who have dedicated their lives to my safety and I hope for their safe return. This news came just as my nephew was returning from a year-long tour in Afghanistan. He’s now home with his wife, getting acquainted with his baby daughter, born two weeks after his departure. It was a satisfying week for me.

While I stand firm in my patriotic resolve, there is a part of me that speculates how our educational system would vie if our teachers garnered the same level of support that our soldiers received. For the past ten years, when military missions yielded small incremental gains in Afghanistan, we all realized that the fault was not with our men and women who were in the trenches. We spoke of failed policies and looked toward the leadership. There was not one mention of our soldiers being lazy, overpaid or having too many benefits.

Unfortunately, in education we see this blame-game from community, media, and governments. When our students perform below proficiency levels, there is no acknowledgement to the many factors which influence the results. We simply blame the men and women who are in the trenches. Our military, when faced with obstacles in reaching success, were provided additional resources and training. They even offered incentives to enhance recruiting efforts. Our educational system must do the same. We know that a good teacher is worth their weight in gold and that a poor teacher will negatively affect a child’s future. This is the main reason for my total endorsement of the Essential Elements, which provides a landscape for teachers to develop and a model for student success. As we face our obstacles, it’s important to remember that the Essential Elements are the vision, I know that we have the will, now we must find a way. Keep yourself above the media frenzy which seems to populate the education articles in recent headlines. We know the truth.

This is Teacher Appreciation Week. I’m unsure if there’s any irony in the fact that this is also the week we’ve begun our state assessments. Either way, I know the extent to which you have gone to ensure our students are prepared. I appreciate that you’re “in the trenches” and admire your successes.

Once the sunshine returns, we should hang our American Flag proudly and be thankful that we do live in a country that endorses freedom for all. Public school is the best representation of those ideals.

Thank you and enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Thought-Provoking Quotes I've Recently Read

For the Love of Learning is a blog written by Joe Bower, a Canadian teacher I follow on my iGoogle page. He has the following words displayed prominently on his blog, “Teachers who blame students for being bored is the equivalent to yelling at the hammer after you strike your own thumb.”

Another blog that I follow, Mind Dump, written by teacher and educational leader Scott McLeod, had an interesting comment to one of his entries. “Why is it that every generation panics about the next generation, and is wrong every single time?”

David Coleman is a nationally known educational leader who has been instrumental in the creation of the Common Core Standards. I participated in a NYSED webinar who fortunately had him as a keynote speaker. I didn’t read this quote, but rather heard it and quickly wrote it down. “Much of the work done towards the development of the common core standards was done by New York State. The standards stand on the shoulders of the work done by New York."

As I experience the changes in weather that has seen bright blue skies, dark skies, rain, wind, hail, and then back to bright blue – all in the span of fifteen minutes, I have been reading a lot from the weather pages. John Ruskin, an art critic and poet, wrote, “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”

Kin Hubbard, cartoonist and journalist, entertained me the most when he wrote, “Don’t knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn’t start a conversation.”

I found my final quote while moving some items around my basement in an effort to make room for rainwater. Basil Cruikshank, my grandfather, wrote a short, humorous poem on an old baseball he gave to me, which ended with the profound sentence, “Don’t give up the ship unless it’s sinking.”

Enjoy your weekend