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.

Curiosity

Isn’t it funny how you can accept a concept basically all your life but not “get it” until someone else’s words trigger a deeper understanding.

For me, that concept is curiosity.

My favorite grad professor made a statement in class this summer about how the key for students’ success correlates to their level of personal curiosity.

We teachers can’t teach curiosity, but hopefully we can make the information so inviting that the students want more. In educational jargon, the students become so engaged in the subject they’re studying that they delve into their personal critical thinking skills to go beyond the target goal.

Curiosity is the key to survival, for if we as a people fail to assert our curiosity, we will fall deep into a pit of apathy and lose all problem solving and initiative taking. Then we will fall susceptible to mind control and submission.

I can’t imagine a life without curiosity. I guess that’s why I like to write. But writers don’t have dibs on curiosity. If scientists and mathematicians don’t ask questions, we will never have the answers that cure diseases, create durable structures, or harness energy.

Lately, I’ve been very curious about God. I have a myriad of unanswered questions, but the one thing I know for sure is that God is love.

I want to tell a good story. I want to make readers laugh—and cry. I want to make readers think. I’m a writer, and I’m a Christian, but I’m not necessarily a Christian writer. I’m a writer who writes from the Christian world view. Perhaps, however, through my simple anecdotes, readers can learn how to find love, how to find God.

But how does a writer convey the message that God is love? Sometimes I have to explain it to myself.

Love is powerful. There is nothing anyone can do to stop love. God loves all people, even if they hate him and even if he dislikes their actions.

But he’s the rule maker. He’s in charge. If he doesn’t want to allow anger, hatred, bitterness, murder, etc. into his home, that’s his business. He prohibits these things because they destroy love.

I make the rules for my personal life: Don’t lie to me. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hurt my family. Don’t use me. Don’t manipulate me. Don’t control me. Don’t ridicule me. Don’t take me for granted.

If people choose to cross these lines, I can shut the door and keep them out of my life.

Likewise, there is nothing that can force love. Not presents. Not money. Not power. Not flattery. Not bribery. Not bargains. People try all of these methods to earn God’s favor, especially when they try to make their own rules while living in his house.

It’s impossible to force love. I can’t make another person love me. I don’t try. I will never beg or plead. Ever. I would rather walk away and keep on walking. Either love is, or it isn’t.

God doesn’t beg either, but because love cannot exist in an environment of evil, God made the Way for imperfect people to find a place in his home.

Again, you can’t force love, but you can leave the door open and wait for it to walk in. God has done that, but when he chooses to close the door, well, that’s up to him.

I’m a teacher. I know. I can’t make my students love me. I can’t even make them like me. It’s up to them. I’ll never beg or bribe them. I’d rather accept the truth than live a lie.

As a writer, my goal is to create characters that echo the same emotions and struggles that all people go through. It’s inevitable. When readers get into a book, they readily identify with one of the main characters and live vicariously through him or her or it. They feel what the character feels.

I think we all seek love, regardless of our ages, but teens, especially, crave love. Unfortunately, what they often settle for is not love—it’s a cheap counterfeit.

I don’t be a Pollyanna, but I like happy endings. My manuscripts are full of humor, of course, but what I really want to stand out in them is love—not just romantic love, which may be lust in disguise, but real love.

And what is real love? It’s not so hard to define.

  • Real love protects. The counterfeit hurts.
  • Real love puts others first. The counterfeit doesn’t care about others as long as its own needs are met first.
  • Real love forgives. The counterfeit holds grudges and reminds others of their failures.
  • Real love offers hope. The counterfeit delivers despair.
  • Real love is truth. The counterfeit is just one big lie.

You are the main character in your own life. Where is your curiosity taking you? Do you ever question love?

My Lucy gene

Some time ago, I heard that I was the topic of conversation among some of the women at the church I used to attend.

“Is she just weird?”

Well, instead of you speculating, allow me to clear up any misconceptions. The answer is yes. There is absolutely nothing normal about me.

I am a writer.

At first the comment really hurt my feelings, but then I realized that, hmmm, we writers are a special breed. We spend hours at a time with people who do not exist. Our characters talk to us, and we listen. And sometimes we don’t even know what we’re writing. We just grab on to the coat tails of our God-given creativity and go where the story takes us.

All writers, however, are not alike.

Some writers are uber serious. They may be historians or explorers or scientists. Most of these writers are gifted time travelers, and they can go anywhere and do anything their imagination allows.

Me? Not so much.

That gene isn’t necessarily found in my writer DNA. If so, it’s recessive. But my Lucy gene is dominant.

Surely, you know I’m referring to Lucy, aka Ethel’s sidekick and Ricky’s wife. Maybe you have the Lucy gene too. Take this little test to find out for sure.

  1. You have a voracious appetite for adventure, but you never consider the consequences of a plan gone awry.
  2. “No” is never an option. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to make it happen, never considering what could go wrong.
  3. You often find yourself at the wrong place at the wrong time.
  4. Grace is not your middle name.
  5. You have a limited sense of direction.
  6. You are a poster child for victims of Murphy’s Law.
  7. You have a history of getting stuck in awkward situations.
  8. You kind of dig going incognito.
  9. When things get out of control, you don’t ask for help. You always try to solve the situation yourself.
  10. No matter how bad a situation gets, your intentions are always good.

I’ve definitely got the Lucy gene. I’ve had it since I was a little girl. All I can say is I’m glad I don’t write serious drama. I can’t help the crazy predicaments I get into. But they make good stories. Take, for example, these situations.

  1. I am a problem solver. When I was moving from one apartment to another, I needed boxes, so I decided to check a dumpster. Little did I know that undercover detectives had set up a sting that night to catch drug traffickers. You know those scenes in the cop shows where the police jump out of nowhere ready to fire on the suspects? Yeah, well. At least I was not cuffed and fingerprinted.
  2. I always want to make a good impression on the job. I’m usually on my feet in front of the class all day. However, the one day I sat at my lectern to grade while my students worked, my principal came to my door. Both of my feet had fallen asleep. He motioned me to come to door, but I couldn’t move. I was stuck on a stool, and I was too embarrassed to tell him why I couldn’t go talk to him. All I could do was smile and wave and sit there. And sit there as he stared me down from the doorway. And sit there until he went away.
  3. When I was in college, my friend and I wanted to sneak into the boys’ dorm to play a prank on our boyfriends. We decided to go incognito, so we dressed in men’s flannel shirts and used our eyebrow pencils to draw beards on our faces. Three words—stupid, stupid, stupid.
  4.  I had a near death experience when I rode a horse at full gallop up a hill on ridge and my undergarment became hooked around the saddle horn and I was strapped to the horse and couldn’t move. All I could think was, “Of all the ways to die, why does it have to involve underwear?”
  5. I volunteered to sponsor a rock concert during Homecoming. I was a hero. I was the only adult in charge of 500 hormone-raging teenagers. They turned off the lights. They cranked up the music. The crowd went wild. The mosh pit thrashed. And a single red light stood out among the crowd. OH MY WORD! Someone had brought a cigarette into my concert. I had to take him down. I grabbed the culprit and yanked him over the back of theater chair and put him on the ground. I am five feet tall. I single handedly took down my cameraman who was taking pictures for our newspaper. The red light glowed from his camera. Thank goodness, Steve did not have to go to the hospital. He forgave me–I think.
  6. I sent two boys from the newspaper staff to dig a hole to plant a tree for our memory garden. One of the boys, a practical genius, calculated a more efficient way to plant the tree. He walked to the rental place next door and came back with a backhoe. So there was my student digging a hole on a methane field. This incident happened long ago. It really wasn’t my idea. (Please don’t fire me.)
  7. I had hall duty one morning and thought it hilarious that two dogs had found their way into school cafeteria. It was really funny until I realized the dogs belong to me. My half Bassett, half Beagles had tracked me all the way from home to the exact place where I was working that morning. I had to carry Beau and Dixie back to the car, one tucked under each arm, and these were hefty dogs mind you. I smelled pretty bad by the time I returned to school.

So, do you still think you have the Lucy gene?

Don’t fret. Just roll with it. And if there are any Ethels out, come see me. We’ll find an adventure and come back with a lot of ‘splainin’ to do.

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.

Limelight

For someone who absolutely hates being in the limelight, I sure did pick the wrong profession.

I am a teacher in a small town. I have taught for many, many, many years. Not only have I had almost every kid in the county in my class, I have also had his mama, his daddy, his sister, his cousin, and his next-door neighbor.

I’m not saying that teachers are treated like celebrities in a small town, but we tend to be “noticed.” It can be rather awkward at times, especially when shopping in the local Walmart.

I was once stalked in the local Walmart—in the underwear aisle. Now before you should think anything weird was going on, let me reassure you that my three stalkers, all students in my newspaper class, thought it funny to see their teacher in this part of the store. I think they were taking a bet on cotton or nylon. (This incident happened YEARS ago.)

I wouldn’t have known if one of them hadn’t confessed the next day. She was practically in tears, describing their devious acts of espionage.

How many times have other incidents like this happened?

The thought scares me. Needless to say, I’m quite cautious now. Even buying toilet paper in public makes me nervous.

You would think we’d get used to it. Everywhere we go, there they are, our students, our watchers. But it’s not all bad. Sometimes when you least expect it, these precious souls have a way of re-appearing, and we get to watch them.

Tonight I planned to head over to a neighboring town to catch my friends play music. One of my former students was in from college, and we thought we’d share a cup of coffee while she caught me up on her plans for her upcoming missionary work and current student teaching. But the place was packed—not a single place to sit.

So we decided to head to another venue known for its great live music. And sure enough, when I walked in the door, I saw familiar faces. But what caught my attention was the two performers. They were fantastic! I looked closer and realized I knew one of the two.

The performer who caught my eye was a former student and a very special friend of our family. I had known him for years. Quiet, unassuming, extremely witty, and multi-talented—these are just a few words that describe him.

I should also add extremely humble.

Up until this point, I wondered if he would ever get the recognition he deserved. An amazing musician from a multi-talented family, he always seemed content playing in the background.

But I always saw something more.

Tonight he took center stage. His voice rang strong and true. His fingers glided effortlessly along the neck of the guitar. Applause boomed after each of his songs. Call me sappy, but finally seeing him get the recognition he deserved brought tears to my eyes.

Our students watch us teachers. They see our every move, note our every mistake. And we teachers see our students. We see their flaws, and we see their potential for success.

Tonight I saw a soul shine. What better reward could a teacher receive?