Thursday, September 29, 2011

It Happened to Them

I read a recent blog by Marilyn Rhames, a teacher who experienced an epiphany-type event. Her words, which I read this past summer, have stuck with me and forced that all-too-clear reflective lens to the forefront. This author, as a young teacher, experienced working in a school which had an ineffective leader, unknowing teachers, and chaotic students. She didn’t stay too long and decided to leave that school for a more affluent community. While working in these new surroundings, she did what many of us do every day – she talked with her peers around the proverbial water cooler and commiserated.

On one such day, the talk was animated. A few teachers were reminiscing about their classroom horror stories at other schools: John dashed out of the classroom ... Sarah threatened to jump out the window, again ... Joe knocked over bookshelves in a fit of rage.... And in her desire to fit in and one-up the last tale, she began to share about the unbelievable dysfunction at her old school. As she spoke, she conveyed that she was persevering to educate the youth despite the insanity within that school system. She was the heroine of the story, fearless and unafraid.

That’s when it happened. As she reports, a quiet and unassuming social studies teacher said four simple words. “It happened to them.” He said again, "It happened to them, not to you. You tell the stories like it's some kind of entertainment, but it happened to them—the kids. They are the ones who 30 years from now will remember these stories with tears in their eyes." He went on to explain that he, too, used to complain and feel like the victim until another teacher rebuked him with those words. He felt compelled to pass that wisdom on.

It happened to them. Since reading this truth, I have been twisted by my past actions. I’m glad that I’ve been set straight and I’ve attempted to approach our current educational issues with this in mind. Educational reform isn’t about administrator or teacher rights – it’s about student rights. As Ms. Rhames points out, “Our needs are important – I have a mortgage; I have a family; I would like to retire one day – but they are not the core issue.”

As we endeavor to create policy, from the state/federal level right down to the building and classroom level, educators and policymakers must boil down the discussion to two essential questions: To what degree will this policy enhance student learning and how will we know? In the current climate of education, these questions must not be ignored. As was so eloquently stated by Astrophysicist Jeff Goldstein, “The teacher lights the way.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rules to Live By

Those who know me understand that my belief in self-reflection runs deep. Solid and honest hindsight is how we are able to move forward. Well, I thought you’d enjoy “reflecting” on these thoughts and rules from the past. Enjoy.

Following is a list of rules for a teacher in 1872:

1. Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church.
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every good teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not be a burden on society.
8. Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity, and honesty.
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves.

(This list of teacher rules can be found on page 29 of Raymond Bial’s One-Room School (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999).)

Following is a list of rules for a teacher in 1915:

1. You will not marry during the term of your contract. You are not to keep company with men.
2. You must be home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
3. You may not loiter downtown in any ice cream stores.
4. You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairmen of the board.
5. You may not smoke cigarettes.
6. You may not under any circumstances dye your hair.
7. You may not dress in bright colors.
8. You may not ride in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he be your father or brother.
9. You must wear at least two petticoats.
10. Your dresses must not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankles.

(This list of teacher rules can be found on page 29 of Jerry Apps’ One-Room Country Schools: History and Recollections from Wisconsin (U.S.: Palmer Publications, 1996).)

Following is from an Oswego yearbook, 1931: (Thanks for sharing this, Dave.)

The Teachers Pledge

Reverently do I pledge myself to the whole hearted service of childhood.
Earnestly will I strive to keep my body, mind and affections fit for childhood’s service.
Cleanly will I live so that I may prove worthy of the faith reposed in me by the children whose lives I am to fashion.
Justly and patiently will I deal with each child so that the best in him will blossom and bear fruit.
Cheerfully will I cooperate with my co-workers to further the welfare and progress of the children entrusted to us.
Diligently will I prepare myself and practice my profession as though I expected to be a teacher all my life.
Gladly do I accept this opportunity: through the nurture of its children, to leave this world better than I found it.
Richard K. Piez

I hope you enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Patriot's Day

Patriot’s Day is observed on September 11th. Since this falls on a Sunday, we’re recognizing it today, September 9th. Patriot’s Day was signed into law on December 18, 2001 as a day to remember those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on our country. It’s been 10 years, but I vividly remember what I was doing at the fateful moment I learned of the attacks. This is the day I learned what terror really meant. Former President Bush described the attacks as, “Evil, despicable acts of terror.”

In recognition of Patriot’s Day, our school will endeavor to create a human flag. This event will take the coordinated efforts of everyone in the school. It may take an entire period, but the learning experience for our students, none of whom remember this tragic day, will be one they’ll remember forever. I’m proud of the way in which the faculty and staff have embraced this learning opportunity. A main tenet of education is to produce a citizenry which can self-govern. If there was to be a silver lining in this dark cloud of our American History, it would be the ideals of national pride. Those very ideals were the target of the 9/11 attack on our country. It was an attack on our freedom – which can only exist if education continues with its production of a self-governing citizenry.

I found it interesting that September 11th is also the National Day of Service and Remembrance, calling upon Americans to make an enduring commitment to serve their community and our nation. Both the National Day of Service and Remembrance and Patriot’s Day are intimately connected and it is most appropriate to celebrate our nationalism with a commitment to serve. President Kennedy’s inaugural words from 1961 still ring true, “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country”.

So, while we carry on with our most noble of professions, I continue to ask more from you. An additional duty, extra class, or simply your understanding – our task to prepare the next generation of citizens is daunting. I also ask for you to look towards the community for opportunities to volunteer, to become involved, and to make a difference. To emphasize this need, think about your own personal mentors. I imagine that they were active in the classroom, community, and various organizations.

Be proud. Fly the red, white, and blue. Remember the sacrifice of others. Make a commitment to serve.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sacred Trust

“A Sacred Trust for educators and parents. We’ve got to be that light.”
-Jeff Goldstein

The excitement and anxiety surrounding the beginning of school is an experience which I relish. Colorful notebooks, fresh pencils, new clothes, and the smells of floor wax and cleaner all bring me back to fond memories. This is my twentieth year as an educator and I’m as nervous as I was in seventh grade. I walk the halls with great anticipation. Serving the dreams of children is an awesome task and I want to live up to the expectations of our students.

At our first faculty gathering I shared with you a production of Jeff Goldstein’s keynote address to the NSTA was put to music as a gift to teachers. What a gift! With unwavering script, Jeff points out the magnitude of our position in educating young minds. A Sacred Trust is, quite simply, the best way to characterize the world’s most noble profession.

During our first meeting we discussed many of the converging issues, changes, and challenges facing education at the national, state, local, and building levels. While we brace and prepare, doing more with less, it’s critical to keep Jeff’s simple phrase as our focus. With understanding that our mission is a Sacred Trust, we will weather the changing roles each of us is facing. Further, we will have a better product and process afterwards. While reflecting on Mr. Brady’s admiration of The Greatest Generation and how they may have approached the issues of today, a quote from an unknown member of that generation comes to mind, “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” We are facing unprecedented changes in education in a post-recessional climate and we will prevail. With our clearly stated mission and the Essential Elements in our pocket, AAK will remain a beacon of excellence for others to follow.

I expect this school year to be exciting. I anticipate each child and their bright expressions as I greet them on Tuesday. I look forward to finding solutions to the unforeseen. I’m curious to see the processes develop with how we accomplish our goals. I want to celebrate success. In summation, I can’t wait for school to start.

Have a great year!