“Everybody Hurts” – Prioritizing Mental Health In High Schools With Some R.E.M.

Everybody hurts. Sometimes.

Teach for twenty years in public high schools and you become entrenched in the lives of young people. Thousands of them. Literally thousands.

If you take the avocation of being a teacher seriously, then that investment in young people is not confined to the four walls of a classroom and not restricted by one or two school years. You will be invited to celebrate their weddings, meet their children, even work with a few in the same school. And those dividends are worth more than the paycheck.

But you will help families say goodbye to them as well.

Attending the funeral of a former student who seems to have his/her whole life to look forward to is one too many. Yes, there are tragic events that occur, but there are also other forces at work in the lives of many of our students that while unseen to the naked eye could be confronted to give the possibility of renewal and reclamation – if we are willing to invest more in our kids.

Addiction, depression, and hopelessness are becoming more prevalent in today’s youth, and this public school teacher can emphatically state that it is causing us to lose too many of our young people. And while society as a whole can debate the extent to which mental health issues should be dealt with, there should be no doubt whatsoever that more should be done.

I teach in one of the larger school systems in the state of North Carolina. In a workshop during pre-planning for this new school year, I was presented with rather disturbing statistics shared by our school’s social worker.

To summarize, social workers in my school system served 7,688 individual students for an average of 248 students per social worker. Those social workers received 13,995 different referrals and provided 21,716 different interventions – 192 of them were interventions for suicide which is a 53% increase from the previous school year.

Those numbers are for ONE school district in ONE school year. And that was only what was reported.

It is rather sobering that tragedy becomes the very instance that forces us to consider preemptive actions on mental health. Just like the idea that we can physically do things to make our bodies healthier, we can do the same for our emotional and mental well-being.

Because “everybody hurts.” But not everyone gets a chance to heal.

Think opioid epidemic. Think cyberbullying. Think xenophobia. Think homophobia. Think white supremacists. Think “The Wall”. Think transgender ban. Think Muslim ban.

Then think of how that is just a slice of what is going on. To be frank, it is no wonder why so many of our students look for ways to not hurt so much in a society that refuses to acknowledge that “everybody hurts.”

I am not convinced that people who take their own lives are performing selfish acts. If you have listened to people who suffer from depression or severe mental issues, it becomes apparent that the idea of suicide for many is actually a last resort because so many other options have not either worked or never presented themselves. Obstacles for healing have been placed in their way in the name of profit or taboo.

I am convinced that addiction is not a choice as much as it is a sickness, a disease, and every time there is an active period of substance abuse, the one thing that gets most compromised is the ability to rationally think about what is happening. It is almost like losing the very capacity to make healthy decisions.

R.E.M.’s song “Everybody Hurts” has come to mind for many reasons here in the last few days. During that presentation from the school social worker, I googled the lyrics on my phone. Afterwards, I listened to the song.

The words are sweet, concise, heartfelt and set to a somber, yet inviting rhythm. Stipe’s voice is clear and unfettered.

Later, I took time to look at the video made for the song. It’s been years since I saw it, yet the metaphor of the traffic jam with each individual contemplating what is happening in his/her life that keeps that person from being a shiny happy person is like watching a school day unfold in the halls of the buildings.

rem-everybody-hurts-1965-01

There are a lot of struggling young people in schools, affluent and poverty stricken alike.

Then I realize that the video is shot on I-10 in Texas (primarily in San Antonio).

That’s the same major thoroughfare that runs through Houston which has just been devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Yes, houses and schools can be rebuilt. Roads resurfaced. Material possessions can be replaced. Yet “homes” and “pathways” and “memories” cannot be simply restored. Attached to those are mental, emotional, and spiritual ties that need the most attention and most care. Life altering events can cause many teens to be at greater risk of suicidal thoughts.

For many students, school might be the firmest “constant” in a life that seems to be hopeless and alone. If we as a society were serious about the welfare of our students, then we would make more of an effort to offer avenues for help. We could make it a priority to staff schools with more social workers, give teachers more resources to confront issues that affect students’ wellbeing, and stop using a profit line as the final determination of health in society.

The same playlist that has “Everybody Hurts” also includes some Soundgarden and Linkin Park. I know that Chris Cornell  is not foreign to today’s high school students. His music spans generations, and Chester Bennington is on a lot of student iPhones. There are students who wear Kurt Cobain t-shirts who weren’t even born until a decade after his death. Does that mean these students are contemplating the same end these musical giants had in the physical world? Maybe not.

Maybe it might be a way to not let go and to “hold on.”

Either way, what a powerful force it can be to always give students a means to “hold on” and not “be alone” in the very setting that most will inhabit – schools.

“Everybody Hurts”

When your day is long
And the night, the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on

Don’t let yourself go
‘Cause everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong
Now it’s time to sing along
When your day is night alone (Hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go (Hold on)
If you think you’ve had too much
Of this life, well hang on

Everybody hurts
Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts
Don’t throw your hand, oh no

Don’t throw your hand
If you feel like you’re alone
No, no, no, you are not alone

If you’re on your own in this life
The days and nights are long
When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
Everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes

So hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts

 

First Day Back to School, 2017 – Day 4,141– An Open Letter to Teachers

august-28-2017

Tomorrow begins my 13th year at my current school, the Home of the Titans.

Tomorrow begins my 20th year of teaching – three schools so far. Hope I stay at my current school the rest of my career.

Tomorrow is my 4,141st day in high school as a student and teacher (non-workdays) That does not include my stint as a student teacher.

Ironically, that number is much higher if I count all of the days in the summers I am at school making preparations for the coming school years and the official workdays.

If I was a coach, that number would be still much higher. But many people do not see that because they are fixated on teachers having “summers off.”

Tomorrow is my daughter’s 181st day of high school. Maybe she will say hello to me if I pass her in the hall.

And I am still nervous. Why? Because I want it to go well. Not just for me, but for my own children, and the students who will be in my classes.

I know what my lesson plans are. Copies are made. Notes ready to talk about. Books ready to assign. Webpages are ready and linked. Introductions rehearsed. Even some homework is planned. I have more ready to do than could ever be done in the allotted amount of time. Yet, I am still nervous.

But I am nervous for the right reasons. I want students to do well. I want them to succeed. I want them to become self-learners, and I want them to use me as a resource, not just a guide.

However, if you teach in North Carolina, there is a lot working against you. The the General Assembly has not been kind to public education in the past four + years. Vouchers, rapid growth of charters, disproportionate raises, school grading systems, misguided standardized tests, a neophyte for a state superintendent, etc. That list goes on and on.

Our collegiate schools of education are not at capacity. Governor’s School has been on a chopping block. There is SB599. Specials in elementary schools are threatened in the name of “class size.” Per pupil expenditure is lower than it was before the recession. Our state superintendent and state board of education have spent more time in court than on the job.

Yet…

I know that when I walk into my classroom tomorrow morning, I will be the teacher – constant,  inspired, ready to engage students, many of whom do not want to be there.

I want to be there. And my students will know that I want to be there.

If you are a veteran teacher in North Carolina (and that means you are not new), then I am proud to be called one of your ranks. If you are new to the teaching world, then I hope you will see that this is a noble profession filled with wonderful people. And we will gain back the respect of those who have put obstacles in our way.

I wish every public school teacher the best of first days.

Even if it is hard to sleep the night before such as it is with me.

I think you are the best of people.

Welcome Back to School 2017-2018 – Mark Johnson’s Empty Video Address

With a new school year starting in North Carolina, it usually is customary for leaders of school systems and individual schools to offer words of encouragement and support to teachers to help inaugurate classes.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson offered his first “Welcome Back to School” video to teachers this past week, and while it seems to say all of the “right” things, listening closely to what he does actually state and claim is a very good indication of the disconnect that he has with our state’s public school system.

Here is the link: https://youtu.be/B5Dwf–SoVs.

As he talks throughout the 3 and ½ minutes of the video, the transcript of his words are shown.

johnson video

I would encourage anyone to watch it multiple times and then consider the following observations based on what he says and what he claims. The purpose is to show that Mark Johnson does not have a firm grasp of either what the job of the state’s instructional leader entails or what is the actual terrain of public education in North Carolina outside of what he is told by those who control the General Assembly.

1. “The challenges that come with your profession…” –The challenges that good teachers face really become opportunities to teach and reach students. The problem with what Johnson says here is that the challenges that many teachers face in the profession are factors and obstacles outside of the classroom. Consider lower per-pupil expenditures, fewer resources, elimination of due-process rights, and other policies enacted by West Jones Street and passively approved by Johnson and you will see that the challenges that really come with the teaching profession in NC have their roots in Raleigh.

2. “We here in Raleigh continue to strive to put you in a position that you do best – teach.” – It seems that if such were the case, then defunding the budget of DPI by 20% over the next two years, not increasing per-pupil expenditures, eliminating professional development funds, eliminating class size caps, and threatening teacher assistant jobs would not all happen. Those very actions actually increase the work load of teachers and decrease the amount of time for planning and instruction. The only way that these could help teachers be able to teach more is to add hours to the day – not the work day, but the actual day which would require slowing down the rotation of the earth and its path around the sun.

3. “We have already eliminated tests such as the ASW’s, PISA, duplicative math tests.” – To claim that he has spearheaded the elimination of the ASW’s and the PISA is laughable.

Why? Because the ASW’s are not a test. That is the Assessment of Student Work evaluation component for teachers of subjects that are not tested by state tests. In fact, ASW’s were eliminated because of budget cuts.

I personally was on the ASW evaluation system. Right after I turned in my portfolio of year-long reflection , I received this notification:

This notification will likely come as bittersweet news to many of you. While much of your feedback indicates that the ASW process allowed many teachers to dig more deeply into their standards, engage in more reflective teaching practices, and receive the same “validation” as tested subject areas, I recognize that participating in the ASW process also pushed the boundaries of some individuals’ technological comfort zones and was a time-intensive endeavor.

 Due to budget cuts to the Department of Public Instruction, the paid component of the 2016-17 review process ended on June 23.  A small cadre of reviewers are reviewing the remaining Evidence Collections for CEU credit.  We will review as many 2016-17 Evidence Collections as possible this summer.  If we are not able to review collections at the same level as previous years, the final decision as to whether we release the 2016-17 results will be made by DPI leadership.  

At this time, there are no plans to replace the ASW process.  Teachers who formerly participated in the ASW process or locally developed plans will not have a growth measure moving forward.  Teachers who participated in the ASW process will not receive school-level growth.

Thank you for your dedication in learning and implementing the ASW process over the past 4 years. The ASW process was one of continuous improvement, driven by your feedback and rigorous expectations for yourselves and your peers.  To support you in continuing professional learning, many of the current ASW resources will remain available to you or be adapted and posted either on the ASW wikispace or specific content area wikispaces.  ASW training materials are, at their core, about excellent instructional practices in our performance-based classrooms and we want to ensure your access to these helpful materials in the future. 

Best wishes,XXXXX

What Johnson is taking credit for is his not understanding of what he is referring to and the fact that he is perfectly fine with budget cuts.

And the PISA? That’s the Program for International Student Assessment that is regarded as one of the best measures of how US students compare to their global counterparts. Only 5-6 thousand US students take the test per year. So, what Johnson is saying is that he stopped 150 students (approximately) in NC from taking a two-hour test that many in his political party use to argue their viewpoints about the deficiencies of public education.

4. The Testing Transparency Report and the ability to see what tests are required by the federal government, the state, or local. – This is Johnson taking credit for something that already exists. It’s almost like someone giving me a map book of roads in NC when I already have Google Maps installed on my smartphone.

Besides, with the emphasis that this state will be adding to each student’s performance on the ACT, it will be an interesting exercise in transparency. Consider that the state will require every high school junior to take the ACT and if he/she does not make a high enough score or have a certain GPA, then those students will have to take a remediation component their senior year on top of what his/her academic load is already.

In other words, the state will be paying the ACT for a bunch of tests that teachers have no control over making and students who do not score high enough will then have to remediated with a program that is bought by the state and has to be administered in class while the actual curriculum is being taught. Oh, and the review materials for the remediation and retaking the ACT has to be bought.

How’s that for transparency? Which leads us to…

5. “Honor the things we do in a classroom.” – Teachers do not feel honored when they are having to champion an academic endeavor that they had no voice in helping fashion in a classroom already filled with other responsibilities and watch as third parties not only make and assess those tests, but profit from tax payer money in doing so.

That does not sound very honorable.

6. The link between high schools and community colleges. The community college link to local school systems is already in place. If funding was there, then more students could take advantage of it.

7. Teachers with “their own hard work, teamwork and leadership, have increased opportunities and success for their students.” – Those innovative teachers who have with “their own hard work, teamwork and leadership, have increased opportunities and success for their students” have been doing that for a long time. Claiming that it is a victory to have discovered these things is rather empty.

Interestingly, Johnson eventually makes the point that teachers’ time needs to be honored. If that were the case, then there would be more time for teachers to collaborate and have professional development that did not take away from their classroom planning. That time to collaborate and connect is how these great innovations become shared – from teacher to teacher, not teacher to Raleigh to teacher.

8. “I wish I could visit every school and talk with every teacher.” Johnson should make himself more available to the press, advocacy groups, and NCAE.

9. “Technology has made it possible to hear directly from every person.” – Hearing directly from people is different from listening to people. And communication has not been a strong suit of the Johnson tenure. In the summer of this year, Johnson instructed DPI to halt communications to districts through a key list serv. Hard to communicate when you are unwilling to, well, communicate.

10. “We want to know what you think.” – Johnson supposedly said he was going on an extensive “listening tour” when he came into office. He should already know what we think.

11. Short questionnaires. – I invite anyone to take any of these surveys and actually believe that the issues have not already been covered and commented on by teachers. The first claims to be about the school calendar. Much has already been offered by teachers on this subject. But if teachers had such a voice in this, then Raleigh would have already made the change instead of listening to the lobbyists for tourism.

12. “I want to represent your voice in Raleigh.” If anything, Johnson has shown himself to not represent teachers and public schools, but rather GOP lawmakers like Sen. Berger and Rep. Moore. The fact that he did not stand up and fight for funds for DPI and what it does for poorer more rural areas already shows that he is not a representative of our voices in Raleigh. It shows that he is part of the machine in Raleigh.

13. “The only country to have a dream named for it.” Johnson talks a lot of the “American Dream.” And it is true that we are the only country with a national ethos of a “dream.” But it is hard to dream and think it can happen when the reality of poverty levels and need in this state take away people’s ability to pursue dreams. They are too busy trying to get by.

Simply put, this video message is a clear indication that Johnson is not in touch with what his job entitles.

That is unless his job description is to help dismantle public education.

“Neighborly, Noble, and Nice” – The TITANic Standard That is Jim Coghill

It does happen fairly often.

Standing in a grocery store or other retail venue in the Triad area, someone will look at my garb, see that I am affiliated with West Forysth and comment that he/she went to West. Many ask if there are still certain teachers still at West or if I may have known some of their favorite educators.

That possible time frame can span a few decades as West has been a staple of the Clemmons community for over 50 years. Multiple generations have matriculated through its halls.

While I may have not had the privilege to work with some apparently tremendous people, I usually am able to name one person that I have worked with that most Titans from previous decades may know: Jim Coghill.

Mr. Coghill started at West in 1973. And while he may have “retired,” he never really retired because this man loves his school.

One could spend hours pontificating on what makes Jim Coghill an icon and a standard by which people should live. And one of the reasons that he is the best of us is because he genuinely thinks the best of “us.”

You do not meet many people who have spent over 40 years in service to one high school. Imagine the thousands of people who have been on the receiving end of a compliment, a kind thought, and a caring gesture on his part.

Mr. Coghill still substitutes for many teachers on campus and he serves as an athletic trainer for many of the sporting events doing what he does best – taking care of people. He innately embodies that virtue of treating others as he would want to be treated.

Mr. Coghill has many times come to me to share news of something that he thought I might want to hear: news of a former student, a conversation he had with a parent, or that he ran into a friend of mine who asked him if he knew me because he had on his West Wear that day.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that Mr. Coghill does something that people these days do not do much – he takes notes. There is always some sort of pen/pencil and pad at his disposal so that he can mark something – a date, a request, and quote – and have that to share later with another person always with a contagious positive energy that keeps him youthful.

Because, I have not seen him age a bit in the 10 years I have known him.

There are some people who are walking repositories of memories and stories of certain places. Mr. Coghill is that for West Forsyth. However, there is nothing that suggests to me that he will slow down.

Great teachers seem to paradoxically be empowered simply by empowering others. They retain a vigor, a passion, a drive to give to a community.

That’s why some day I hope to be as young as Jim Coghill is now.

In the 2013-2014 school year, West Forsyth restarted its literary magazine under a new title, The Nine Muses.

Guess whose poem is on the back cover of the  first new issue? As it should be.

“West is Best”
As so many people are Neighborly, Noble, and Nice

“Tempus Fugit” for me I know
So where did all that time go?
A few years there, but many right here
As West Forsyth became so dear,

The fun began back in ‘73
As I started a career that was great for me.
Students would come and certainly did go,
But gosh it was fun even making little dough.

Rewards did come as the years went by
And the dough got better without a sigh.
A main concept evolved pretty soon;
One word stuck out being “neighborly” the tune.

Teaching positions would change with time,
So two more words I happened to find.
“Noble” and “nice” were added for me
So one plus two would then make three.

Hopefully I touched a few lives each year
As neighborly, noble, and nice did appear.
Could it make a difference and hopefully so
With the next generation as time should go?

Athletic training arrived in ’87.
Could it possibly have been something from heaven?
I learned from a man whose name was Ed.
He taught me so much in what he showed and said.

Course work came along for three summers real soon
And a little more dough helped out with the tune.
I finally was licensed in this great sports field
Making things complete in helping to heal.

Now I have started to see the years quite well
In being so much fun so I wanted to tell
Thank you to the many people at West
As I will always know you are the best.

West Forsyth High School

 

Concerning the Mental and Emotional Health of Public School Students

To say that our young people deserve the best education possible goes without saying, and with the North Carolina General Assembly’s glossy championing of “reforms” like charter schools and vouchers to promote “school choice,” it can be easy to overlook the reality that faces schools when they are underfunded.

With all of the talk from legislators like Chad Barefoot, Jerry Tillman, Phil Berger, and their cronies (as well as the oblivious state superintendent who did not fight against cuts to DPI), please do not forget that per pupil expenditure when adjusted for inflation is remarkably lower than pre-recession days.

Add to that the refusal to expand Medicaid in North Carolina, a plague of poverty that affects almost one in four public school students, gerrymandered districts, and an unconstitutional Voter ID law and one can see that what has really happened is not just a systematic dismantling of public schools but a weakening of the very students and families who are forced to look to public schools for help beyond academics.

I am reminded of all of the “pro-life” rhetoric of many of our NC lawmakers. Take Lt. Gov. Dan Forest for instance. He once stated on his website,

“I believe strongly in the sanctity of life, and I have had the privilege of seeing many pro-life bills passed during my time in office. I am committed to standing up for the most vulnerable among us.”

Forest also was quoted during the debacle that was HB2 “Bathroom Bill” (which a version of just was defeated outright in TEXAS),

“We value our women too much to put a price tag on their heads.”

Pro-life means taking care of people outside of the womb as well, and if there is no such thing as needing to put a price on a “head” especially in defense of a phantom menace, then would it make sense to protect our most vulnerable against something that is very real and very present?

In a workshop during pre-planning for this new school year, I was presented with rather disturbing statistics shared by our school’s social worker who works on a variety of campuses within the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County School system.

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To summarize, social workers in the Winston-Salem / Forsyth County School system served 7,688 individual students for an average of 248 students per social worker. Those WSFCS social workers received 13,995 different referrals and provided 21,716 different interventions – 192 of them were interventions for suicide which is a 53% increase from the previous school year.

Those numbers are for ONE school district in ONE school year.

When students are hungry they cannot learn as well. When students are not healthy, they cannot learn as well. When students are insecure, they cannot learn as well. When students are mentally and emotionally hurting, they do not learn as well.

Yet, people like Dan Forest (who sits on the state’s school board and is a huge proponent of “school choice”) keep championing anemic public school budgets and misplaced priorities when it comes to fully funding schools.

You might be surprised to think that in the school where I work which has the largest student body of all system schools, we have a nurse on campus for only one day of the week. Each guidance counselor in my school has nearly 500 students under his/her care. There is only one school psychologist that serves our school and she has many campuses under her care. And you just saw the numbers that our system’s social workers face from just school-related referrals.

But we have a lawmaking body who believes in cutting teacher assistant jobs, limiting resources, removing class size caps, and holding certain types of classes hostage like the arts and PE that could help the mental and emotional welfare of students all the while touting their “surpluses” and “pro-life” stances.

That’s just plain hypocrisy.

Fully-funding schools means putting an ample number of professionals in place who can help students with any obstacle that could impede his/her personal and academic welfare.

While many in the general public only see academic achievement scores and while legislators seem to care only to see a few people tax dollars, public school teachers and staff members see individuals who sometimes have incredible barriers to learning and growth that must be confronted.

If the trends that our school’s social worker presented show no change in the public school culture that is being fostered by our state government, then those statistics will become even more stark.

And we will lose more of our students to maladies that could have been confronted both in schools and in society.

That’s not “pro-life.”

Too Many Books To Read, So Any Suggestions?

I simply gathered the books laying around the house that are not on bookshelves that I am either reading, just finished or am about to get to when God makes days longer and the hours pass more slowly.

And I got this:

books

I think that I find some sort of comfort in having a lot of printed material at my disposal. And while I may not get to every book that interests me, I am glad that I always have “company” when needed.

It is rather fascinating to think of my favorite books and ponder why I was drawn to read it in the first place. In the stack above, The Brothers Karamazov is the only one that is written by a person who is dead and is considered classical literature (although a few of these are highly regarded modern pieces).

Three of those books are by authors I consider my favorites. Each was referred to me by another avid reader. In fact, most every book in this picture is in my house because either the author or the book was suggested to me.

So, I would like to know (if possible), what books any of the readers of this blog might suggest to someone who is interested in Shakespeare, religion’s role in society, the evolution of language who realizes this stack has only two female writers, and still has a love for great literature.

Add a comment to this post or message me privately.

Or try telepathy.

 

Teachers, What We Do Cannot Really Be Measured

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Public school teachers,

You can’t really be measured.

In fact, those who are measuring you do not have instruments complex enough to really gauge your effectiveness.

If you are a public school teacher in North Carolina, you are always under a bit of a microscope when it comes to accountability. Everybody in the community has a stake in the public education system: students attend schools, parents support efforts, employees hire graduates, and taxpayers help fund buildings and resources.

But there are those who really question the path that public education has taken in North Carolina and lack confidence in our teachers and their ability to mold young people. The countless attacks waged by our General Assembly on public schools is not a secret and part of that is framing teachers as the main culprit in our weakening schools.

Why? Because it is easy to manage data in such a way that what many see is not actually reflective of what happens in schools. For example:

  • We have a Jeb Bush school grading system that “failed” schools where wonderful learning is occurring.
  • We have lawmakers allowing charter schools to be created with tax payer money without much regulation.
  • We have an unproven voucher system that is allowing people to send children to schools that do not even have to teach the same standards as public schools.
  • We have an Achievement School District established even though no real evidence exists in its effectiveness.

Since you are a government employee, your salary is established by a governing body that probably does not have a background in an educational career. In fact, our state superintendent is a neophyte in education.

The standards of the very curriculum that you must teach may not even be written by educators. And the tests that measure how well your students have achieved are sometimes constructed by for-profit companies under contract from the state government. Those same tests are probably graded by those very same companies – for a nominal fee of course. And now that we have less money spent per-pupil in this state than we had before the start of the Great Recession, we are demanded to teach more kids in bigger classes with less resources.

There simply is a lot working against us.

However, if anything could be said of the current situation concerning public education in North Carolina it is that teachers have not failed our students. That’s because you cannot simply measure students and teachers by numbers and random variables. You measure them by their personal success and growth, and much of that cannot be ascertained by impersonal assessments.

Nor can a teacher’s effectiveness truly be measured by “student achievement”. There is more, so much more, working within the student/teacher dynamic. Take a look at the definitions of three words often used in our lexicon: “art”, “science”, and “craft”. These definitions come from Merriam-Webster.

  1. Art: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation
  2. Science: the state of knowing :  knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding
  3. Craft: skill in planning, making, or executing

Every teacher must display a firm foundation in his or her subject area. However, teaching at its source is an art and a craft. A teacher must marry that knowledge with skill in presenting opportunities for students to not only gain that knowledge but understand how they themselves can apply that knowledge to their own skill set.

There are not many people who are masterfully skillful without having to develop their craft. They do exist, but the term “Master Teacher” is usually given to someone who has a “skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.” That “Master Teacher” has perfected an art form and married it to a science. And most of all, that “Master Teacher” understands the human element.

A good medical doctor just does not deliver medicines and write prescriptions. There must be willingness to listen in order to make a diagnosis and then there is the “bedside manner”. A good lawyer does not just understand and know the law. A good lawyer knows how to apply it for his or her client in unique situations. A master chef doesn’t just follow recipes. A master chef takes what ingredients are available and makes something delectable and nourishing. A great teacher does not just deliver curriculum and apply lesson plans; a great teacher understands different learning styles exist in the same classroom and facilitates learning for each student despite the emotional, psychological, social, mental, and/or physical obstacles that may stand in each student’s path.

How schools and students are measured rarely takes into account that so much more defines the academic and social terrain of a school culture than a standardized test can measure. Why? Because there really is not anything like a standardized student. Experienced teachers understand that because they look at students as individuals who are the sum of their experiences, backgrounds, work ethic, and self-worth. Yet, our General Assembly measures them with the very same criteria across the board with an impersonal test.

Ironically, when a teacher gets a graduate degree in education, it is often defined by the college or university as a Master of Arts like a MAEd or an MAT, not a Master of Science. That’s because teaching deals with people, not numbers. When colleges look at an application of a student, they are more concerned with GPA rather than performance on an EOG or EOCT or NC Final.

And when good teachers look at their own effectiveness in their art and craft, they usually do not let the state dictate their perceptions. They take an honest look at the each student’s growth throughout the year – growth that may never be seen in a school report card or published report.

Like many veteran teachers, I have taught the gambit of academic levels and grades from “low-performing” freshmen to high achieving AP students who have been admitted into the most competitive of colleges and universities. And while I may take pride in their passing state tests or AP exams, I try and measure my performance by what happens to those students later in life.

  • When a student ends a “thank you” card because she felt like she learned something, then I did a good job.
  • When a student stops me in the grocery store years after graduating to introduce me to his child, then I made an impression.
  • When I read an email from a student in college who sends me a copy of her first English paper that received one of the three “A’s” given out of a hundred students, then I feel good about what I did in the classroom.
  • When a student comes to visit me on his break and flat out tells my current students that what I did in class prepared him for college, then I was successful.
  • When a former student emails me from half-way around the world to tell me what life is like for her since graduating, then I am validated.
  • When a parent comes to you to ask how his/her child could be helped in a matter totally unrelated to academics, then you have made an impression.
  • When you speak at a former student’s funeral because that student loved your class, then, well that’s just hard to put into words.

None of those aforementioned items could ever be measured by a test. Students do not remember questions on an EOCT or an EOG or an NC Final or a quarter test. They remember your name and how they felt in your class.

However, the greatest irony when it comes measuring a teacher’s effectiveness in the manner that NC measures us is that is it a truer barometer of how much NC is being hurt by this current administration and General Assembly.

  • Think about Medicaid not being expanded.
  • Think that nearly a fourth of our children live in poverty.
  • Think about the unconstitutional Voter ID law that had to be overturned.
  • Think about the lax regulations for fracking and coal ash ponds that hurt our water supply.
  • Think about less money per pupil in schools.
  • Think about that our own state superintendent has been a no-show for public schools.
  • Think about what HB2 did to us.
  • Think about cut unemployment benefits.

All of those affect students in our schools. And we still do the job. Rather, we still heed the calling.

That’s the best measure of what we do.

That and the drawer where I keep all of those cards and letters because I keep every one of them.

Dear Sen. Barefoot, Say It Isn’t So!

sayitisntso

Dear Sen. Barefoot,

News tonight that you will not seek reelection to the NC General Assembly in 2018 was rather surprising.

Your meteoric rise in the leadership ranks of the state’s GOP hierarchy seemed to be a sign of more to come. At a young age, you became the the co-chairman of the Senate Education and Higher Education Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Education and Higher Education that were instrumental in deciding the allotment for classroom size and for public school resources.

With the release of the new legislative maps, there will be a lot of conjecture as to why you saved your news for tonight. Maybe the new maps that were released (because the original ones that you were able to get elected within were gerrymandered) would hurt your chances to get reelected.

Maybe a”doubling” of your district would hurt your chances to gain another term. However, since the person whose district might merge into yours is also a GOP member, it would not really change the ability for your political cronies to keep a hold of the majority.

In a news report by WRAL, you were quoted (from your released statement that is linked to the report),

“As my legislative responsibilities grew over the past five years, so did my responsibilities at home. I feel now is the right time for me to focus more on being a dad than a State Senator, and so I won’t be running for re-election in 2018” (http://www.wral.com/sen-chad-barefoot-won-t-seek-reelection-in-2018-/16893984/).

I am a dad and a husband – best endeavors I have ever undertaken. And I commend your wanting to focus on that part of your life.

You also said in your statement,

“…we knew when I ran for the State Senate six years ago that serving in elected office might not be something we could do for the long haul “(http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Barefoot-Announces-That-He-Won-t-Seek-Re-election.html?soid=1108923576284&aid=wvpuuGTP42M).

But I am going to honest with you. I don’t believe that you are simply going away into the private sector. You will be back in some capacity.

Someone who was part of probably the most expensive state legislation races, who has become a co-chair of two of the most powerful committees in the NCGA, and who single-handedly has crafted some of the most altering legislation to “reform” public education is simply going to leave that behind?

I don’t believe it.

When Sen. Phil Berger said in the WRAL report, ““We’ll miss Chad’s thoughtful leadership in the Senate, but I commend him for choosing to spend more time with his young family and wish him every success,” I heard something else.

I heard, “We are grooming Chad to become better acquainted with other aspects of state-run agencies so that he can be of service to the NC GOP.”

Whether that means state-wide political office (consider that Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest is already ramping up a campaign for governor) or an appointment to a state job in some sort of educational venue (community college?), I am sure that you will be back in a position of lucrative service.

The man who brought us SB599 (alternative teacher pathways), proposed to end Governor’s School and launch a special “Legislative School”, helped slash budgets for DPI, and held “specials” hostage through HB13 is not simply going away that quickly.

Even if you did simply cut ties with political endeavors and state-wide office seeking, you could never really leave. That’s because in your short tenure, you have left an incredibly big scar on public education that will take years to heal because so many actions that have affected us in public schools have your fingerprints all over them. Things like:

  • Teacher Pay still low on national scale
  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Misplaced Bonuses
  • Last in nation in Principal Pay
  • Standard 6 and Nebulous Evaluation Tools
  • Push for Merit Pay
  • “Average” Raises
  • Health Insurance and Benefits Attacked
  • Attacks on Teacher Advocacy Groups (NCAE)
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

And for that, I will keep writing to you.