All I want for Christmas

This past week has been a whirlwind on my emotionally, sparking my brain to fill with thoughts about the world today.

Last weekend, I received word from the Michigan Education Association (Teacher’s Union) that the Michigan legislature was going to take action on Right to Work bills before them on Tuesday 12-11-12. As a local union leader this was upsetting that such a divisive issue would be voted on quickly, without public debate, during a “lame-duck” session. I made plans to head to Lansing to voice my concerns, also contacted my legislators to share my feelings. Feelings of anger and resentment filled my brain on Monday.

Tuesday came and I awoke early. Abandoning my students for the day to head to Lansing in protest. I arrived early in the morning and sat in the gallery of the Michigan Senate as thousands filled the lawn.  I listened to chants, protest cries and eloquent speakers voice opposition to the bills. Concerns and objections fell upon deaf ears, as bills passed mostly along party lines to an instant signature of the Governor, who previously state he did not want to see a “right to work bill” on his desk.

Disheartened by the lack of a democratic process, on Wednesday I returned to my classroom. Students arrived early stating they “missed” my presence (having missed 3 days in two weeks). The teacher from across surprised me with a large Starbucks cup filled with a sweet tasting latte. She stated “for all your efforts on our behalf.” For the first time I felt valued as a union leader. My students appreciated my return as well. Asking why I had to miss school and begging me not to miss again. My heavy heart was lifted, good will exists in the world. Coming home that night I noticed a friend on Facebook, paying it forward with her children by handing out lotto tickets to strangers in the parking lotto of the local supermarket.

Thursday I was greeted with another gift from a co-worker, this time lunch. Wow! what had I done for two days of gifts? Pride of working with a caring staff overwhelmed me. It was catching on with our students too. Walking around the building I noticed the boxes for our holiday food drive were filling up. By this point in the week, many staff members had come up to me to voice appreciation for my efforts and the value of the MEA.

Friday arrived and I was in good spirits again. Anticipation of our holiday staff party and the weekend break were dominating my mindset. A causal check of Facebook between classes on my cell phone changed everything. A childhood friend, who lied in Newtown, CT and attended Sandy Hook Elementary posted a comment about a helicopter flying over. I had no idea what it meant. Returning to class, my curiosity was sparked. What was going on. At the end of my fourth hour. I checked the web to investigate further.

The horror that occurred left me (and probably everyone else) shocked. Asking Why? Our staff party all of a sudden wasn’t so festive. Leaving many asking questions that could not and will not be answered. I was uplifted again by the generosity of yet another co-workers gift of beer presented to me at the party. Even in light of the days events she thought of me.

Saturday arrived with busy family activities. Basketball camp for Griffin my 8-year-old son and then a scout trip to Cranbrook Science Center in the afternoon. It wasn’t till evening that I slowed down to think about all that had transpired the day before. I turned on the news to find out more details. Seemed like plenty of white noise, talking about the shooter, his family and speculation on how he obtained the guns. Checking twitter with my phone, I saw a line about not making the shooter an anti-hero and for society to focus on the victims. I liked this and was ready to turn off the news coverage.

But I am so glad I didn’t. The next person I saw on the coverage was Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old victim Emilie Parker. I could never imagine the grief he was and still is dealing with. I would have been okay for him to stand their and voice his anger. He did not. He voiced his condolences to all involved in the tragedy including the shooter’s family. Robbie Parker is the shining example of how to look horror in the eye. He loved his daughter Emilie this is so clear. He doesn’t want her death to taint her wonderful life. Robbie Parker is one of the true Heroes in all of this. Modeling how to face tragedy.

After hearing him speak. All I want for Christmas is good will towards all. In this day an age of wanting material goods, the latest and greatest items. We need to return to the Christmas spirit of helping others and the giving of ourselves. Avoid the advertisements that make us desire more “stuff”. Focus on how we can make someone else have a better day.

The saying goes what comes around goes around. Pay it forward so we change our culture, in turn this type of violent acts will cease to exist.

Teachers need to be accountable, but to whom?

On Thursday night, after working all day and attending a union round table discussion about education, I met up with an old college friend at the bar to catch up. He is a vice-president of a small financial services company, lives in an affluent community, and enjoys the finer things in life. After getting past the normal pleasantries and catching up with news about each others families, he asked me Why I was on his “side” off town. As I attempted to explain about the “education reform” movement in the state of Michigan and how it is affecting teachers, he asked “Shouldn’t it be about what parents and students want?”

This question rings true: Shouldn’t education reform be about what the community wants? Not what legislators desire. I agreed with him, since I have never had a parent complain about my instruction and the district where I work typically has strong parental support for what the schools are doing. Parents are always thanking the teachers for the job that they are doing working with their children. “I won’t want you job!’ and “You are a saint!” are comments often overheard at conference time.

“So why are we reforming schools?” Was the question he asked. I answer that it seems to be about accountability and money. Being from a sales background he agrees with these motives. Teachers should be accountable for sure but to what? Now teachers are accountable to their district, community and ultimately to their students. Reformers desire teachers to be accountable to a standardized test. Which is right?

From a business perspective the test is easier to measure and attach funding. Tests are part of a business model. Test producers also sell books, software and “canned programs” to schools. They can make it advantageous to schools to buy their products or use their online programs. In turn these companies can make millions off of educating our youth. Do these results show we have made a true difference using their measures? That can be debated. Many would argue the same or similar results would prevail if we stuck with what we have now.

Teachers should be accountable to their students. Students’ individual needs have to be addressed and accounted for on a daily basis. NO standardized test can measure all the “teaching” that goes on in the classroom. Communities and locally elected school boards have to monitor and decide if schools and teachers are doing what is necessary. Each community will be different, just like each child is different in the classroom. Society cannot us predetermined benchmarked norms to decided if a school is effective. That would be similar to measuring a parents effectiveness based on how the child meets development standards.

Society needs to stand up to the corporate take over of our education system. School boards are elected for a reason: to hire leaders that will create schools that meets the communities needs. We cannot let a publishing company mandate what every school district needs. It is funny that GOP leaders don’t want this to happen in health care (Obamacare) but support it with education!

Where have you gone Heathcliff Huxtable?

As I scan the sit-com options for today’s youth, a show with positive educational role models is lacking. Think back through my TV viewing life, the last “popular” show that really showed positive educational values has “The Cosby Show”. The show featured two educated parents struggling to raise their 5 children. Many of the episodes focused on family values and education. Sadly, “The Cosby Show” has been in re-runs since the spring of 1992. Where are our youth to find positive role models in today’s media?

For starters, many have pointed out that today, many kids don’t watch traditional “network” television. If they do, shows like Two and Half-Men, Big-Bang Theory and Modern Family dominate the sit-com genre. Values and education are a bit lacking in all of them. Dramas seem to be more about crime and punishment these days that education. Even the reality shows are devoid of values in fact the often offer quick fixes to life’s problems than promoting a hard-working lifestyle.

Many boys today look to sports for role models. 20 years ago players seemed to be loyal to teams and worked hard to succeed. Now we have superstars who want to team up so they can get an easy run to the finals instead of being loyal to their fans. Or we have a league commissioner who feels that teams need to put on a great show instead of valuing the health of their players. Sports seem to focus on the money that players and owners make instead of how to be good citizens. Sure, our athletes do have foundations and do work to improve society but it is not the focus of sports coverage.

Today’s youths seem to consume most of their media on-demand. You-tube is very popular as well as Netflix. Who is guiding them to shows that will have positive impact? No one, most children watch TV by themselves and seek entertainment that excites them. Educationally valuable shows and clips are all over You-tube and Netflix but so are clips and show that model poor behavior. The bad seems to have more draw to our youth when they are left to their own choices and not exposed to educational programing.

I personally find it ironic that almost all programing for our preschool children has positive educational value. Check out shows like, Barney, Clifford, Curious George or WonderPets. But once our children become school aged, their options dwindle down to shows with zero value for education or character development.

Has the loss of Heathcliff Huxtable affected our youth? Well, I would say our youth need to see good models and champions of strong values, education and hard work. “The Cosby Show” provided those models that seem to be missing in today’s society. I hope media programmers find the errors in their ways and provide us with another strong role model soon. Our youth really need more than politicians words saying “family values and education are what we stand for!” When we are absent of a true highly visible role model in American Society today.