My last rant for 2012

Naughty-Charcoal-Funny-Christmas-Gift

Hold on, boys. This one’s gonna be bad. I’m on a rant, and there’s no stopping me. My only apology is that it comes on Christmas eve (even though the date posts as Christmas day).

I mean no disrespect, not to my employers nor to my co-workers. We’re all doing our jobs to the best of our abilities under conditions of which we have no control.

But I have decided on this day I am a conscientious dissenter. I do not endorse the current trend of data-driven education.

Before I get started, let me say that data does not scare me. I have always had exceptional test scores. My students have to work hard to fail my class, and I never curve grades. When my students leave my class, I’m confident they know how to write. When I don’t do a good job, I do my best to fix the situation. I don’t need a computer program to tell me if I am not doing my job. I know–I don’t like the way it feels. I am intrinsically motivated to do what is best for my students.

So what’s the problem with data-driven education?

It’s dangerous.

Why?

Data-driven education promotes competition—external competition, the need to beat others. And what’s wrong with that, you might ask? Let me give you a few reasons.

Let’s suppose there are teachers whose sole motivation is to promote themselves. Instead of doing what is best for the children, the teachers will more than likely endorse programs that look good on paper but create a disconnect between teacher and pupil.

If teachers’ jobs are based on test scores, how long will it be before teachers resort to cheating? Oh, say it isn’t so.

Don’t be naïve. Baseball players do it. Football players do it. Performance enhancing drugs help them keep atop the stats. No, I don’t expect teachers to take drugs—but if there were such a drug, I would have no doubt suppliers would make a pretty penny.

And if test scores are paramount, how long will it be before students resort to cheating? ACT? SAT? EOC? Core curriculum?

And drugs? Yeah, performance enhancing drugs are already out there. Kids take them to stay awake to cram. Just how many Red Bulls can one kid endure?

And let’s talk reality here. The purpose of our current education is to increase the AVERAGE and BELOW AVERAGE students’ abilities to perform well in science, technology, engineering, and math. Now we’re including language. My question is WHY?

Let’s suppose all the AVERAGE students get their degrees in engineering? Just how many jobs will be available for the average engineer? My bet is that the jobs will go to the OUTSTANDING candidates—as they should. Well, that is, IF there are any outstanding candidates left.

I am the mother of a child who was in the gifted program. I can’t think of anything above average the schools did to enhance his specific abilities. If our attention is focused on helping moderately motivated students score well, how will the highly motivated, exceptionally talented students get the assistance they need?

And if we’re talking reality here, let me add that there are some students who are quite content NOT going to college to major in something in which they have little interest, regardless of their test scores. I saw a former student in the Walmart checkout line yesterday. I’m pretty sure he is now working at a plant in town, probably making a lot more money than I am making as a teacher. And he and his three children looked very happy. He told me I made a difference in his life. You know what? I call that success–for both of us.

If my students do what they love, they will never have to work a day in their lives.

I do not support this data-driven regiment. It does not paint a picture of the truth. Just because students make advanced scores on a test does not mean they will enjoy, excel in, or even pursue a certain field.

The current trend in education is to make all teachers teach the same subject the same way and give the same test. Can you say cookie cutter curriculum? I feel as though the powers that be (beyond my district, of course) are trying to brainwash me to be assembly line worker.

Again, I respectfully disagree. I am not afraid I can’t knock the top off test scores. I’m afraid I will. I am very competitive, and I am tenacious.

But I don’t want to change. I like the way I teach NOW. It works. Teaching is NOT about me. It’s about the children.

THE CHILDREN.

If we continue with this data-driven trend, we are going to drive home the point that competition, the need to win, is paramount. The need to win teaches the importance of self. It teaches NOTHING about sacrifice.

Let me transition to the end of my rant by mentioning the names of two teachers: Anne Marie Murphy (52) and Victoria Soto (27).

These teachers are remembered NOT for their outstanding test scores but for their sacrificial love for their students.

Ms. Murphy’s body was found covering the bodies of her children as she tried to shield them during the Sandy Hook shooting. Ms. Soto hid her students in cabinets and faced certain death when she faced the gunman.

And you know what? You can check all the state manuals, but I’m willing to bet the teachers had to deviate from the day’s SPIs to instinctively do what was best for their children.

Producing high test scores does not scare me. However, having someone force me to change what I know is right deeply disturbs me.

I used to play softball. I did all right. When I moved to Murfreesboro, I had a coach who didn’t know much about pitching. I had been playing pitcher with older players ever since I was in junior high. This coach tried to get me to change, but instead, I respectfully and conscientiously found the rule book and proved he was wrong. He conceded. He had misinterpreted the rules.

Teachers and parents must step up and take back what is right. Our children are not protoplasmic bodies that are all alike. They are living, breathing souls with individual purposes.

Spending time getting to know individual students is worth the effort so that teachers can help them achieve their purpose. Sticking to the SPI every moment diminishes bonding time, and, thus, students become mere products on the assembly line.

Parents, do you really want your children to lose out on cutting out pumpkins in the fall, swapping Valentines, playing tag at recess, or eating too many cookies during the Christmas party just so teachers can prepare them for tests that will make or break the teachers’ individual careers?

These tests don’t really test the children–they test the teachers’ so-called effectiveness. There is no formula, however, to account for the students’ emotional or physical well-being on test day. Surely these factors do matter?

I know of a student who went straight from the ER to a test because he was afraid to miss it. Do you really think his test performance accurately portrayed the effectiveness of his teacher? Is that fair?

How about the child whose parents’ fought the night before the test? How about the child whose puppy was run over the morning of the test? How about the child who is so bored with testing that he would rather make pictures with the bubble sheets than focus on the test?

Parents, you KNOW the effectiveness of your child’s teacher. Do you really need a brochure at the end of the year to tell you if your child learned anything?

The special days that put standard SPIs on hold are often what motivate children to love school. Children who can’t read well sometimes are the best artists. They’re proud of what they CAN do when maybe they CAN’T test so well.

And never mind allowing the children the time to form social bonds. Already we have conditioned our children to interact almost exclusively through technology. Now we’re taking away the limited opportunities they have for real face time. Once children leave school, they go home to a TV, an iPod, a cell phone, or a video game. They don’t play with each other anymore, at least not in person.

I’m sure all of our students will eventually get the mediocre stamp of approval when it’s time to promote them to the next grade.

But what have we taught them? Have we helped them find what they love to do? Or will we have brainwashed them into preparing for a career they will hate?

What about the gifted auto repairman who has a knack for making engines purr? What about the artist who paints the next masterpiece? What about the musician who composes a song that brings comfort to a spouse who has just lost her husband of 50 years?

How will they find their gifts if no one gives them the opportunity to explore, to deviate from the imposed curriculum? Do we really want all of our children to be the same?

That’s it, folks. My rant. I guess I’m on Santa’s naughty list for sure. There will be a stocking of coal left for me. Or a pink slip.

One more totally inappropriate blog

I should write a blog about blogs a writer should never write. Every day I come up with yet something else that’s not printable.

Don’t jump to conclusions. I’m not talking about X-rated or even R-rated material. I’m talking about the stupid, “you-had-to-be-there” kind of ideas that only you and your dog—or cat—would find hilarious.

But  considering the kind of week I’ve had, I am breaking my “no rant, no stupid” blogging rule, and I’m ranting about a topic that’s dear to my heart—and other body parts.

The bathroom.

Most of you have “normal” jobs. I am a teacher. There is nothing normal about being a teacher. We never grow up. We’re conditioned like Pavlov’s dog to respond to bells, and if we know in advance we’re going to kick the bucket, we’d better turn in our lesson plans a day early.

And we teachers have limited privileges.

“Yeah, right. I’d like to have a two-month vacation,” you say.

Believe me. We pay for our two-month “vacation,” both literally and figuratively. We don’t work 9-5, or even 8-3. We take our work everywhere we go, on vacations, to our kids’ ballgames. I recall one pregnant teacher phoning in her lesson plans while she was the delivery room.

But the basic necessity we teachers lack that most other members of the workplace take for granted is the opportunity to go to the bathroom as need arrives. We must pre-schedule our visits—or not go at all. To a teacher, a semi-private bathroom, one we don’t have to share with students, is a luxury.

It never fails. Every time I make a quick trip to the student restroom, which is closest to my classroom, I’m under constant scrutiny. I’m the enemy. The students shut up then whisper, “Not now. Teacher.” Then everyone shuts up to see what I’m going to do.

Awkward.

Here’s the problem. The teacher bathroom at my school is on the opposite end of the building from my room so if I need to visit, I must manuever through hundreds of students during class change or slip out of my room during instructional time and hope, nay, pray, my students don’t torment each other or—worse yet—an administrator doesn’t enter the room without me present.

Teachers aren’t supposed to talk on the cell phones during class time. Sometimes we can’t even answer when nature calls.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m one of those people who have recurring dreams—and they’re all about bathrooms. I find that bizarre, don’t you? I decided to do a little research to find out why. I didn’t consult a medium or witch doctor. I Googled.

Psychologists suggest my bathroom dreams reveal I am repressing my feelings and not admitting to how I really feel about something.

Well, great. Blogging is a wonderful idea. Letting go of my bathroom troubles is cleansing, renewing. Maybe I can just rant and flush these troubles away.

Yeah, right.

This past week I suffered a great dilemma. When I arrived at school, I had limited time to carry in my book bag and the many bags of groceries I brought for our annual Thanksgiving food basket drive. I knew I would have to make many trips and then go sign in and do hall duty before school started. Somewhere in between those duties, I needed to go to the bathroom.

My first trips to my room were easy. Arms loaded, I balanced just right, and unlocked my classroom door. I still had a few minutes to spare. With only one bag left in the car, I estimated I could do it…sign in and visit the ladies’ room before the bell rang. I rushed back to my Explorer.

Then it happened.

When I picked up my bag, a jar of peanut butter fell out. And it rolled. And rolled. Underneath the SUV next to me.

Keep in mind, I was dressed in my professional attire, not my Saturday afternoon jeans and t-shirt.

My school is undergoing extensive re-modeling; construction workers abound. I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of them, but I got down on my hands and knees on the gravel drive and peered under the automobile.

I couldn’t reach the peanut butter.

I had my options. I could leave it, waste the money, and turn in an incomplete basket. I could ask the driver to move the car, or I could go inside and hunt for a broom to whack the peanut butter closer so I get my fingers on it.

But here’s the problem. I had limited time. I didn’t want to waste the money or the time it took to hunt down the driver or a broom.

So I did what any insane, improper, undignified teacher would do. I put down the bag, dropped to my belly, and crawled combat style under the SUV to retrieve the peanut butter.

Total humiliation. (If a construction worker asks you about some nut rolling around in the teacher parking lot, please pretend as if you know nothing.  Let’s keep it our little secret.)

And you want to know what’s worse? The next day our school had a lock down during our first period class. I followed my principal’s directives. I locked my door and told my students we were completely safe. NO ONE could get in.

And then the ceiling gave away, and the roof started leaking. Drip. Drip. Drip. But we still had a huge barrel to catch the water from the many other episodes of leaks we’ve had since last year.

There was one problem. I had to go to bathroom. I could not leave the room for any reason. The class period extended for another forty minutes or so.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

But we were safe. NO ONE could get in our room because I had locked the door.

But the door opened.

And a man entered.

And he carried something in his hand. I thought it was a Glock. It was a flashlight.

One of our hard-working maintenance personnel peeked in to check on my ceiling. He arrived just in time. The ceiling immediately exploded with multiple leaks, and we only had one bucket.

Drippity, drippity, drippity, drip, drip, drip. And I still had to go to the bathroom.

But I couldn’t go to the bathroom, not even the next class period.

I was scheduled to be observed as part of our state evaluation program. If I left my room, I risked points being deducted from my score for not being on time and prepared.

Drippity, drippity, drippity, drip, drip, drip.

There are those times when a teacher has to do what a teacher has to do.

The principal announced the end of the lock down, and out the door I flew. I found my evaluator. I rescheduled my observation and rushed to the teacher’s bathroom on the other side of the building.

But it was locked. I couldn’t get in. Like my room, the women’s bathroom had suffered too much water damage and had to be closed for repairs.

ARRGGGGG!

So here I am at home on Thanksgiving break. Bet you can guess one of the reasons why I’m thankful. We have two bathrooms in our house, and when Mama says, “Mine!” my boys know I mean business.

Walk this way

Public domain photo

I’m not a world famous novelist or journalist. I’m just a simple person. I love God. I love people, especially those who feel unloved, and I want to be an encourager. I write from the heart. But the last three weeks have been so hard that I haven’t felt like writing anything at all, especially anything good or positive.

I shared my dilemma with my journalism students. We often talk about our personal writing struggles. They suggested I use my writing to work through my frustrations. I want to use my words to bless, not curse.

Then one of them suggested I write about Steven Tyler—a frequent topic in our random media discussions. He’s bad…in kind of a good sort of way.

Okay, I’ll confess. I like Steven Tyler. REALLY like. REALLY, REALLY like.

And so not to alarm my “normal” conservative family members and friends, please allow me to indulge in my infatuation from within an American Idol context. Yes, some of his Aerosmith lyrics are crudely suggestive. And yes, while I am adamant supporter of the First Amendment, I cringe when I think about how Aerosmith pushed for funding for federal funding of an explicit art exhibit in 1992. But let’s stick to this context—American Idol. Other than his occasional bleeps, Mr. Tyler is actually a pretty cool dude on the show.

There are two main reasons why Steven Tyler strikes a chord with me.

(Side note:  Despite what some of you might think, I won’t begin by talking about his hair—although I do like his long hair…and his feathers. It took me a while to believe he was actually wearing feathers, but that’s what they are, actual feathers in the form of hair extensions. Don’t believe me? Check out this salon that specializes in them.)

But I digress. Let’s get back to the point of this blog—two reasons why I like Steven Tyler on American Idol.

THE MINOR

The twinkle in Steven’s eyes suggests he’s a mixture of mischief and spontaneity, which if you know anything about me at all you know this is my kind of person. Steven makes the show more interesting. (Some days it’s all I can do to appear the calm, subdued English teacher. But what fun would life be if I didn’t talk my past a security guard into Fenway Park during the off season or if I didn’t accidentally find myself staring at a shiny badge during the middle of drug sting while searching for boxes for a move to a new apartment–just a couple of stories from previous blogs, I think.)

Steven Tyler doesn’t care what other people think. He wears what he wants to wear, he unleashes a quirky sense of humor the audience may or may not get, and he encourages whomever he pleases. In other words, he doesn’t give into the peer pressure of downing contestants just because Randy thinks they’re pitchy. And despite the gibes of his band mates, he followed the decision to do something “normal” like appear on a mainstream TV show.

THE MAJOR

Despite his outrageous rock n’ roll persona, Steven Taylor exudes compassion. He stole my heart the moment he knelt down beside the wheelchair of Chris Medina’s finance,  kissing and hugging her while reminding her how special she is. I also like the fact that, unlike Simon Cowell, Steven applauds the gospel roots of the contestants rather than showing contempt for their faith. Of course, Steven did grow up singing in a Presbyterian church choir.  He gets it. He has even voiced that he “gets it.” I wonder why he wandered away.

So in the context of American Idol, Steven Tyler is no longer the self-centered rock star with the ego-induced attitude. He appears the kindest and most humble of them all. Of course, Steven Tyler is on stage. He shows us what we want to see. We’re all on stage, aren’t we? Only God knows what’s really inside—good or bad.

I’m a public servant, a teacher. I’m on stage every day. Even when I’m sick with a fever or coping with the death of a loved one, I do my best to give my best performance. I shell out hundreds of dollars each year to equip my classroom or to buy things for a child who needs the help. I come in early and stay late and give away my time to someone else’s children. And not once have I ever raised my voice or said any child was “bad.”

My audience isn’t always so kind. Some of them take the term public servant and interpret it as “whipping boy.” They hurl hateful words at us teachers without regard for what it does to us emotionally. We’re the ones punished—or bullied—when their young princes and princesses don’t “make the grade”—literally now days.

What has all of that got to do with Steven Tyler, you ask?

Not much, really.

But on those days when my heart is too heavy to pour out anything good, on those days when the bullies make me their whipping boy, on those days  when I need a miniature vacation—an escape, I can point my remote to American Idol. I can pretend the American dream really can come true, I can listen to great music, and I can see the twinkle in Steven Tyler’s eye. It’s contagious. Before I know it, I’ve got one in my own.

And when I am heart is so heavy with grief and disappointment, I can do something goofy by writing about ceiling ninjas, pirates, or Steven Tyler. Maybe I can make someone smile—or even myself. Life is mean. We have to fight back if we’re going to help others get out of it alive.

And by alive, I do mean make it to eternity. Fighting back means using words to bless, not curse. Fighting back means trying to find the good in people, even when all they have to show is the bad.

Fighting back means not giving into peer pressure, the kind kids go through when they choose to go on a church retreat instead of a party…or the kind adults go through when they refuse to gossip during prayer meetings when their friends bring up so-called “needs.”

Fighting back means letting go of the ego and, instead, offering compassion. Fighting back means standing up to the bullies out there.

Fighting back also means letting go of the fear of being who God has called you to be. I just hope I don’t develop a taste for locusts and wild honey. But I sure do like Steven Tyler’s hair.

Don’t be surprised if the next time you see me I’m wearing feathers in mine.