Archive for February, 2011

Technology (and Teaching) versus Trees

There is a war going on.

It’s a war being waged on two fronts and has been the longest running war in my recent memory.

One that threatens to totally annihilate the other side and drive them to extinction.

What war might you ask?

The war between the increase of technology and those who are “tech savvy” and the “old schoolers” who tolerate technology and its uses but cling to their old ways with a death grip.

The “tech savvy” says that technology is an essential benefit that will only improve our lives and remove us from the days of being slaves to the mountains of paper record keeping.

The “old schoolers” say that there MUST ALWAYS be a paper record of everything because computers and technology breaks down and the only way paper can be eliminated from their lives is to pry it from their cold dead hands.

Who is winning this war? No one.

We are at a true deadlocked stalemate.

While the advent of computers and technology makes some of our more mundane tasks in education more “efficient” and “paperless,” the “old schoolers” find new ways of re-introducing their time-tested ways of record keeping that stem from the times when monks sat in caves scribing on stone tablets.

Take for example:

1. Computerized attendance recordkeeping. How many times do we as administrators tell the teachers “keep your attendance on the system” only to have them keep paper records of their daily attendance instead and claim when asked: “I can’t access the system and get into my account?”

2. Inter-school and Intra-school communications. Schools and districts send communications through email. What do the “old schoolers” do? Print them instead of reading them on the computer and never discard them. They just keep them around, “in case” they need a copy. Needless to say they never need a copy and at the end of the school year when they are cleaning out their classroom, they have a small mountain of paper to move.

3. This is my favorite: Special Education Individualized Education Plans. Have you seen a typical Special Education office within a school? It’s a fire hazard waiting to happen. Boxes or cabinets stuffed with envelopes, folders, and binders of records for each student with special needs. Some of those require entire drawers or shelves for a single student. Districts have databases of these documents yet we STILL keep entire ROOMS of paper backups of files. We enter this information into the system then PRINT the paperwork. I actually worked at one school where in a routine check, the Fire Marshall told us to move the office to another location in the school because the current location was a danger to spontaneously combust and burn the school down.

Simply put, I actually think that the more we increase technology, especially in the 21st Century which is supposed to DECREASE the amount of paper we use, the more we INCREASE the amount of paper we use. It’s almost obscene.

Isn’t this the decade where years ago predictions were abound that we would be a paperless society? That by the year 2000 hands and wrists would be singing for joy because writing would be a thing of the past? Where students would be dancing in the streets because they would no longer have bad backs from lugging 80 pounds of books to-and-fro each and every day?

Environmental groups sing in chorus lines protesting the amount of paper we consume on a daily basis.

Are there any trees left on the planet? I wonder because at a few schools I have worked, the budget amount for copy paper (and other forms of paper; construction paper, bulletin board paper, etc.) resembled the national debt.

So what do we do? How do we solve this war and end it? We: being the individuals on the front lines of this battle.

Who will win?

Educators and the education field are certainly not exclusive to this war. The fields of medicine and law (ever been in a law firm or in a district court office), and a few others can also claim sides to this battle.

Each has soldiers who are on the side of innovation and on the side of resistance.

One side embracing new technologies and shunning the use of paper, the other side fiercely entrenched in bunkers loaded with paper piling up to protect their ways.

These same “old school” soldiers complain and fight back against the “tech savvy” with the argument: “handwriting is going to the dogs, since the kids don’t write anymore!”

The “tech savvy” fire back, saying: “our students need to embrace and continue to become more technologically literate to compete in a global society!”

See how they, the “tech savvy” fight with the language of Education and send their lobs of artillery through computer networks toward the enemy front lines.

What do the “old schoolers” do? How do they fight back?

They print the emails, arrange them in chronological order, punch holes in them, collate them, categorize them, color code them (with more paper mind you), and put them into binders, and send them back to the “tech savvy” weighing them down with loads of “backups” hoping to defeat them.

Stalemate.

Finding Silence (and Solitude) in a Sea of Sound

“Find your Happy Place, Happy!” said Chubbs.

You know I had to get my first golf reference in sometime didn’t you?

There is a time each day where I reach the point of no return with external stimuli.

When so much noise, talk, emotions, and elements of the job reach the boiling point.

I was watching the news recently and a story came on which said that our brains need some downtime during the day for us to stay alert and effective. That our brains and bodies are not equipped to be “on” for long periods of time without stopping.

I certainly agree.

As any administrator knows, we are “on” 24/7 and are expected to keep going non-stop no matter what is thrown at us. However, try to take a moment to yourself and it is almost frowned upon. On the other hand, how about you just try to take a moment at all.

Good luck with that.

I get to work early just to be in my office and have some  “me” time. I almost have to sneak into my office because once people find out the time you as the administrator gets to the office, that’s the time they will be there to “discuss” something with you. If you come in earlier, and they find out, they will be there earlier. Parents. Teachers. Students. Etc.

Yes students (By the way, parents, don’t drop your child off at 6:45 a.m. thinking someone will be there to greet them and supervise them when the school opens at 8. We are a school, not a day care).

Sometimes I wish my brain came with an off switch. That way when I am in my “Happy Place” I won’t think of anything except what I want to. That is if I want to think of anything at all. Not the school, children, life, or whatever.

Nothing.

Silence is an unappreciated gift these days, one that students don’t appreciate either.

Why is it that when two students are talking, they are screaming at the top of their lungs even though they are right next to each other? Also, why do they seem to go crazy in a silent room? It’s like their brain suddenly goes haywire and forces them to make noise as if the silence is abnormal.

Teachers who are parents themselves also have my sympathy. How they get though the day with 24 hours of stimulus and sound is beyond me. One high school teacher I used to work with used to say the funniest thing about not being able to find his “Happy Place.” He used to say: “I teach first through eighth period each day and when I get home with the kids I have to work through periods ten through fourteen!”

So I try to find my “Happy Place” during the day to give my brain a rest. Sometimes it’s possible, many times it isn’t. Are we as workers, and not just in education, reaching the point where taking a break during the day is not possible? How many times have lunches become working lunches, if there is a lunch at all? And how many times are we expected to not take lunch, work straight through the day and somehow remain alert and effective?

I hear teachers say all the time: “Sometimes I don’t even have time to go to the bathroom!” I certainly sympathize though many people don’t. They really believe that people, and especially teachers should be able to go non-stop all day and not be worn out at the end. No matter what the students have done all day, no matter what was thrown at you all day, when they come to you at 6 p.m. (after the 100 people who came before them) they look at you and say “what’s wrong?” (and get irritated at the look you give them) not knowing or realizing that at the end of the day we just need some time, just a moment, for ourselves.

People seem to forget that educators are people too.

It is at those moments, many times where it seems like my office is the designated complaint center that I sometimes threaten (privately of course) to put a sign up in my office that reads: Your crisis is not my emergency!

I envy those people I know who can take a lunch or even a break and find their “Happy Place.” I used to know of a teacher whose school was three blocks from a golf driving range and he spent his lunch break there, hitting balls, enjoying his “Happy Place.” He would then come back to the school, refreshed, re-energized and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Two of my other friends are able to find their  “Happy Place” too. My friend Phil finds his place on a treadmill at 4:30 a.m. and Kim finds hers sitting at the Friday Club with a glass of wine, reading a great book (How she can do that with all the noise around her is beyond me but highly impressive).

Mine is sitting in total silence. For about 30 minutes when I get home after being “on” for 12 hours straight.

No sounds, no talking, no phone, no computer, no television, no lights…and no people. Just sitting and thinking about walking the perfect golf course, overlooking an ocean. Nothing but me, the ball, perfectly cut grass in the fairway, the hole on the green, and plenty of sunshine.

Bliss.

So no matter your profession, no matter what you do, you should find your “Happy Place,” go there, and give your brain a rest sometime each day. You will be much happier and healthier for it.

Trust me.

This is a little off topic I know, but this is something that has been on my mind for several days.

It seems that more and more, each and every day, a part of our community disappears. A part of our lives that we were used to seeing every day, everywhere no matter where we were. Any city, any place, any time, there they were.

Whenever we needed our literary works sent to far off places, there they were ready to accept them without complaint. We gave them our words, knowing they will be safe and sound, to be magically transported to where we wanted them to be and to the people we wanted to see them.

They were a staple of our communities. And now, more and more they are harder to find. If you are lucky enough to find one at all.

The few that are left (if you can find them) should be placed on some kind of “endangered” list before they all are gone for good.

I wonder if when they are all gone if people will speak about them as if they are reading an obituary (“We are gathered here today to pay our respects to a part of us that is gone…”). Or how we will describe them to the next generation what they were when they see pictures of them or when they come across the real ones saved or the replicas in museums.

I know you may be wondering where I’m going with this, my sarcastic side out in full force.

Where did all this come from. Well I had some words that needed to be taken from me and I couldn’t find my trusty delivery method. My little blue friend. I searched and searched, driving in my car for blocks (which seemed like miles) only to give up, defeated. I wondered where they all had gone. Who had taken them away?

Do you know? Do you know where they have gone?

Did you guess what I was talking about?

Hope you got a chuckle and a smile out of that. Have a wonderful week!

The rare moments that keep you going…

Often times in an educator’s career we talk about the rare moments that keep us coming back to work each year.

Those rare moments where through all the struggles, hardships, joys, and pains make it all worthwhile.

How many times have you been there at the precise moment in a student’s life where the light bulb of learning “turned on?” If you were there, did you notice it at that very moment?

I can count only three moments in my 16 years in education, but the most recent is probably the one I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.

Let me explain.

Due to factors out of my control, above my pay grade, and for another discussion, I have to teach classes as well as complete my administrative duties each day. This year, I am teaching in a primary special education classroom though the bulk of my experience is in high school classrooms.

Earlier this year I received a student, lets call him Marc, from the early childhood special education class. He transitioned to my primary special education class in the first grade, at six years old. He rarely spoke, knew few words, was an emerging reader, and couldn’t write anything other than tracing letters and words given to him. I began to try to teach him though his struggles made him apprehensive and defensive toward any new learning. He often refused to try to speak or write, choosing to just cling to me and follow me wherever I went in the classroom or school.

Soon Marc decided to say a few words to me and eventually we began to talk albeit only a few words each day. I would read to him and sometimes Marc would try to repeat the words back to me. I also made words on lined paper and Marc would trace them and sometimes say the word if I said it first.

Though he wasn’t much of a conversationalist, Marc spoke to me every morning with the most adorable smile and heartfelt greeting with a sunny grin and hug to match.

One day Marc and I were “reading” a book, Marc repeating the words I was saying softly while looking at the pictures. My attention became distracted by another student and I looked away but before I knew it, my attention snapped back to Marc because I suddenly realized that he was still reading on his own. I looked at him in the eyes, his eyes wide with joy, and he yelled out: “I’m reading!”

Right at that precise moment I could see that the learning light within him turned on.

We as educators often describe moments where our students are learning and what happens in that moment. But how many of us can pinpoint the exact moment where the learning begins? How many of us can say: “I saw it the moment it happened?” Those moments are extremely rare, and our profession allows us the privilege of being there to experience it during those special times they occur. They should be cherished and respected.

Well, to continue, Marc kept on reading and reading and reading. When he finished one book, he ran to get another one and read some more. Once he completed that book, he ran to get another one. This went on for quite some time that morning. It actually was a pleasure to see and I tried hard to fight back the tears of joy that I hadn’t realized were streaming down my face from seeing the delight in Marc’s eyes and soul because he was reading for the first time in his life.

Later in the day he also began to write…on his own. No tracing, no prompting, and with no assistance from me.

For the remainder of the day, I couldn’t give Marc enough work to do. He just kept asking for more and more work. He was so proud of himself and I couldn’t be happier. If I tried to go help another student, he ran and tugged on my shirt to give him more work or show me what he had just completed or just read.

Needless to say this was on of the proudest moments of my life not to mention my career. Though the life part of this statement is far more important.

For the next few weeks, I saw Marc make leaps and bounds in his learning and the happier he got with the increase of what he could do made my heart fill with happiness. Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t wait to see Marc the next day. Even his classmates became inspired to do more because they saw what he could do and remembered where he started. The others said: “If he can do it and learn, then so can I!”

Now, I wish I could give you a happy ending to this story and say that moving toward the end of the year Marc has surpassed his grade level and grown tremendously. However, unfortunately his mother decided to move and transfer him to another school.

I miss him dearly.

We only have few opportunities as educators or even as human beings to touch and inspire the lives of others. Though I was Marc’s teacher, I do believe I was the one being taught. Marc showed me that through it all, good and bad, day in and day out, everyone has a special gift and can learn more than they realize as long as they have someone who believes in them. At those moments we think we are ready to give up and quit, life shows you that our efforts are very much worthwhile though they may not come up as quickly as we would want them to.

I hope I have the opportunity to teach Marc again (or be taught by him again).

If not, I will cherish the moments I was with him and appreciate that as an educator and as a man I was able to be there the moment a young man began to realize he could learn.

Because at that moment, at 6 years old, his potential was endless: his growth pointed upward toward infinity.

Good luck Marc. May our paths cross again one day and you realize your true potential and success.

I have a hug and a smile waiting for you on that glorious day!

Can “Education” qualify as an official language?

Can the language you use at your job qualify as an official language?

I think so. I think I am officially bilingual.

Take for example this statement:

“My educational philosophy is that all students can achieve their maximum potential, given the proper academic supports, the most up-to-date technology, and using best practices in teaching, tracked through performance based assessments. These same students can and will achieve a level of mastery in all core subjects, quarterly and yearly which, when all students performing at their highest potential, will be more equipped to compete in a global society with minimal challenges. If we, as educators combine our skills through collaboration at grade-level and department meetings, and through professional development, we will achieve our common goal of making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in every school and meet the benchmarks of No Child Left behind (NCLB).”

Ok, did you know what I just said? If not, I don’t blame you. If, after you read this you still don’t know, don’t fret as the translation will be at the end of this column.

Why is it that in the educational field we find ways to make simple conversations more alien than they have to be? Is the quest to make ourselves look smarter in the eyes of non-educators so important that we strive to make them “feel” inferior and at times, ignorant?

Now, how about this statement:

“The student is not making adequate yearly progress toward measurable annual goals based on established state curricular standards”

Translation: your child is failing.

We can’t even say that a child is failing to a parent without speaking in foreign tongues. Instead of saying: “I’m sorry Ms. Understanding and Mr. Unclear, your son/daughter is failing,” we say: “Ms. Understanding and Mr. Unclear, your child/student is not making expected progress toward quarterly goals which does not allow him/her to master the given curriculum in the time frame given to him/her in comparison to his grade level peers.”

Now after the parent snaps back into consciousness and his/her eyes are no longer glazed like donuts, we attempt to “explain” and “clarify” what we just said but instead of speaking English, we continue to speak Education. “I’m sorry, Ms. Understanding and Mr. Unclear, the reason why your child is in danger of being retained at his grade level is that he is not making any attempt to meet the educational standards, based on state guidelines. There are several minimum benchmarks that he/she is required to meet and based on the classroom, district, and state assessments given to him during each quarter of the current school year, your son/daughter is not progressing at a rate that will ensure he/she continues on with his/her classmates.”

We even put what we just told them in writing and make them sign it (to guarantee receipt) before we send them home to decipher what we just told them. Is it any wonder that we get 100 phone calls after that? 90 of those calls are from the parent(s) trying to get answers for what they were just at the school about, but the other 10 from the district office trying to figure out what in the world we told the parent that has them so confused?

What is the district’s response? Call the parent back and explain it to them again.

Get out the smelling salts, I think they just fainted.

What ever happened to K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple, Stupid)?

So maybe that’s why we as educators seem to enjoy talking to kids over adults. They just tell it like it is and keep it simple.

Unlike adults in education who seem to relish in the creation of a more complex language that only other educators can understand.

Although my friends in the medical and legal professions would disagree and say they aren’t the only ones who have invented another language and can officially qualify as being bilingual.

Oh, by the way, the translation for the first statement is: “I really believe that if we work hard to teach kids well, then they all can learn and succeed!”

See, was that so hard? Simple sentence, easy to understand.

So the next time I am asked if I speak another language, I will say unequivocally: “Yes I can articulate the Educational language in an eloquent manner, both in the written and oral format, in the proper context using the appropriate grammar and vocabulary in daily conversations and communications.”

Translation: yes.

Send in the Clones

Districts are cutting budgets.Clones

Schools are cutting budgets.

Workplaces are asking workers to do more with less.

People are being asked to do more for less.

It sure does seem like the operative formula for saving money in schools and districts is: resources (R) – money ($) – staff (P) + more work for those that remain 🙁 – FURLOUGHS = A BALANCED BUDGET :)!.

So what is the solution? Maybe we should rethink the societal opposition to human cloning. Why do you ask? Maybe that way we can be in 100 places at the same time and be effective and not kill ourselves in the process.

Don’t believe me? Well let’s see. We get to work in the morning and parents are already there to talk to us about some issue. Meanwhile, we have a staff meeting to conduct first thing in the morning. If not a staff meeting, the district office is calling about something a parent called about or some paperwork they need submitted, or something they need completed that they need someone from the school to come take care of. ALSO, the students need morning tutoring but the teacher is absent and we have to fill in until someone can be found. BUT several other teachers called in sick and you need to find subs for them AND the orders for books, technology, or the like didn’t arrive and have to be checked to see what happened yet SUDDENLY someone from the district office shows up to do an audit of something and you have to sit with them while they go through it. HOWEVER it’s almost 9 a.m. and the remainder of the student body is arriving and instruction begins on time every day and every classroom has to be monitored. Did I miss anything?

Now I know this is a partial list and none of you have ANY of these issues first thing in the morning. Schools always run smooth and everyone is there every morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to teach the children.

But for those of us who have no arms from being pulled in more than two directions every second (we only have two arms), cloning ourselves seems like the only solution. That way, no matter what is going on, no matter the time, no matter the meeting, no matter where someone wants us to be, we will always be there. Though we need to find a way to link the clones to communicate the information given to them. That way, we will always be “in the know” even though we are not there, yet we are there.

Come to think of it, bad discipline issues by the students would take a nosedive because they couldn’t get away with anything anymore. Every time they turned around, “we” would be right there, watching.

One more benefit added to the list of having a clone.

We also have to find a way to clone our experiences so that we don’t have 100 people looking like ourselves but behave and act differently due to varying levels of experience. We also don’t want them to wise up and leave either. The whole point is to have “me” everywhere, all the time, getting things done. That wouldn’t work if “I” (the clone, or clones that is) decided to quit.

Now that, the nature versus nurture, product of our environment discussion, will have to wait for another day.