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.

 

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be Like Coach Murphy, The Titan of Titans

One of my first memories of Coach Murphy actually came at a Home Depot in Winston-Salem. I had on a West Forsyth t-shirt.

Murph had on West Forsyth garb as well. He recognized me and came straight up and told me that the football team was going to Asheville the next Friday for a game against A.C. Reynolds. He wanted to know if I was going because he sure was going to be there.

Of course, he was going to be there. He is one of the main cogs of the West Forsyth athletics program.

I was beginning to come to more athletic contests as I had become fully convinced that I was a part of the West Forsyth community and my investment in being a part of the school’s culture was growing. And I got to met Coach Murph in the process.

And when he approached me in that Home Depot on the western side of the Twin City, he had already designated me a friend because he had met me before and knew that I rooted for West Forsyth.

That steadfast loyalty to those he knows at West Forsyth has always amazed me. In 2012,  the Winston-Salem Journal did a story on Coach Murph and what he means to West Forsyth – http://www.journalnow.com/journal_west/sports/pat-murphy-a-fixture-at-west-forsyth-is-a-titan/article_92ae90b8-2dd2-11e2-a4c6-0019bb30f31a.html. It’s fantastic.

One of paragraphs in that story did strike me as I read it again.

“Joe Murphy, Pat’s 80-year-old father, said that Pat was stricken with a mental disability at birth. He’s the one who drives his son across the street every afternoon at 2 to the high school, so Pat can get to work.”

As the father of a child with special needs or developmental delays or whatever people call it in conversation, I have come to realization that it may not really be a disability that happens to be identified with Coach Murphy.

Actually, it seems he has an ability that most of us do not have: the intangible gift of lifting others.

Two quotes stand out from that story said by two men whom I deeply respect.

“If you are really having a bad day, just go hang out with Pat a little while. You’ll be all right.”

“He has always been so positive, so kind, and he never forgets things.”

In a country that has expressed itself in such divisive ways of late, it seems that what Coach Murph embodies and shows on a daily level might be one of the saving graces for keeping communities together. And it’s especially good for our young people to see.

Last week, WFMY did a piece on Coach Murph:  http://www.wfmynews2.com/sports/coach-murphy-motivates-at-west-forsyth/462667345.

In it, the sagacious Coach Snow said,

“He is a major part of West Forsyth, and he’s been a major part of West Forsyth for a long time (26 years to be exact).

I don’t know what we’d do without him,” Snow said. “He gets after the kids, he does the right thing, our kids love him.”

Think about all of the very things that people attribute to Coach Murph:

  • positive
  • kind
  • loyal
  • focused
  • selfless
  • consistent
  • the belief that “we will win”
  • stays through thick and thin
  • friend

I hope someone says that about me someday.

That’s why I want to be more like Coach Murph when I grow up.

Go Titans!

murph

 

 

 

Addressing Charlottesville In Class If School Met Tomorrow

charlottesville

I spent the better part of a seven hour drive today thinking about how I would talk about the events of Charlottesville to my own children. One is a rising sophomore where I teach and she’s bright and perceptive and has a great sense of self.

It took about ten minutes to finish that mental conversation with her. Why? I know her. She knows me and she knows she can ask me anything. Plus, she knows how I feel.

My other child has a developmental delay. Children with Down Syndrome sometimes process events differently. But ironically, he seems to instinctively know the concept of love, tolerance, and inclusion better than anyone I know. In fact, he teaches me daily.

He also has a unique understanding of seeking to be understood and advocating for oneself. Because he still is trying to develop his oral communication skills, he resorts to a variety of ways to communicate with me and his family his needs. There is sign language, tone, facial expressions, actions, lack of action, pointing, rise and fall of voice, and sometimes physical contact.

All of that involves the use of language in a variety of forms.

I primarily teach a rhetoric and argumentation class. If school actually convened tomorrow, there would be no way that class could carry on without touching on what occurred this past weekend.

I begin each first class of the week with what I term “The Items of the Week.” It is a list of topics that made headlines, political cartoons, printed ads, and possible video clips that highlight what happened the past week in the world.

“Charlottesville” would be the first item. It may be the only item.

AP English Language and Composition invites students to consider the world around them, especially the part of the world that is not within the close confines of their own environments. It is a course that examines how people use language to convey a message for a purpose considering audience, style, tone, and strategies.

And what I mean by language is many times beyond the verbal.

So, we as a class look at why the items of the week made news and how those events could be interpreted by a variety of audiences. Political cartoons are visual arguments as are ads and we talk about intent and appeals.

But in this case, it would seem as if one event (or series of events that occurred in one locale) would dominate the “Items of the Week.”

And I would let it. For the whole class if needed.

It is not my job to tell students what politics they should have or how they should feel about certain things. But it is my job to allow them to voice their concerns and discuss openly anything that may be pertinent to their learning. And in my class, this certainly qualifies. It is also my job to expose them to how language can be used to achieve a purpose. Again, this qualifies.

When I  became a public school teacher, I took an oath to teach whomever came into my class regardless of race, creed, gender, religion, etc. and maintain as best I could an atmosphere of safety and tolerance. If someone posed a threat to that, then actions had to be taken. The idea of community is sacred in my classroom.

When I became a parent, I took an oath to teach my children the best I could between right and wrong and how to treat others and to be part of a community.

And as a teacher and parent, I have a responsbility to stand up for people and to stand against hate.

That’s why “Charlottesville” would be the first and only item on the list for tomorrow’s hypothetical class.

 

Maybe, I would show them the variety of statements made by people in power concerning the events from this past Saturday and make a list of the charged and weighty words they used like “white-supremacists” and “bigotry.”

Maybe, I would show them news accounts from different news outlets and let them see how the same events could be interpreted and presented in a variety of ways. What CNN posted and what Fox&Friends talked about his morning were almost polar opposites.

Maybe, I would show them interviews of eyewitnesses.

Maybe, I would let them read commentary or op-eds from a variety of sources.

Maybe, I would remind them that they had all read books that dealt with hatred like Night by Elie Wiesel.

Maybe I would show them tweets and Facebook postings.

Maybe, I would show them a list of people who had not issued statements concerning the events who normally make comments about almost all events. Our current president comes to mind. Amazing how loudly silence speaks.

But I would not field any comments or invite discussion until I had the class do one thing.

On a piece of paper that I would not take up or force them to read in front of the class (unless they wanted to), I would ask them to define the word “HATRED” – its connotations, denotations, and actions associated with it.

Then we would start class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Request To Former Students From Me As I Enter Year 20 of Teaching 

Actually, it’s more than one request. 

Officially, pre-planning for the 2017-2018 school year starts next week. And yes, I am looking forward to it. I love what I do and where I get to teach. 

In the nineteen years that I have taught, I estimate that I have taught upwards to 3000 students, graded tens of thousands of essays (AP Lang will do that), taught over a 200 different novels, plays, and longer works of nonfiction, and written hundreds of unique college recommendations. There is not a grade level that I have not taught – remediation to advanced. 

I would do it all again. But I am in a place of  reflection and I would like some perspective from those who have been in my classes. 

So I want to see if any of my former students would let me know the following if you are willing to offer your answers in the comments of this blog post or on Facebook or any other means. 

What work of literature or nonfiction was your favorite that you have never forgotten its impact?

What assignment still stands out as one that really made you think and extend yourself? 

What skill did you learn from class that has served you well?

Do you remember where in the classroom you sat?

I am thinking of posting on my blog the “Items of the Week” every Sunday night for those who know what they are (AP Lang students).  Do you think that would be a good thing?

Again, do not feel you have to answer but I would like to know. And if you would be so kind to share with others that you know who might have had me as an English teacher. 

I sincerely appreciate your help, feedback, and time. 

But mostly, I am grateful to have been a part of your lives. 

In Praise of the High School Band – Again

band

In less than two weeks, my high school will play its first football game. In fact, before students even take a class, two games will have been played and put in the record books.

And the band will be there with them.

There is a tradition at the end of each game in which the marching band plays the school’s alma mater as the players come near the stands and raise their helmets in tribute to the school and those who support them.

They stand in front of the band. The student section stands beside the band.

It is done whether the game is won or lost. And I marvel at the energy and commitment of our band and how willing they are to travel with the team.

I have also thought many times about the huge presence that our band (and for that matter, any school band) has in the culture and fabric of our school.

Well before school year even officially starts as I begin planning for the year and coming to school to secure resources and get things ready, our band and color guard is already preparing for their season.

Hours of concentrated collaboration. Months of dedicated preparation.

Their season is literally the longest of any “team” in our schools and they are a team. Think of all of the competitions, jamborees, county and regional concerts, and parades. And think of all of the games where the band has led the crowd in its mood.

I recently reread a draft of a recommendation I wrote for a band member a couple of years ago. It stated,

“We are fortunate here to have an extremely talented, motivated faculty and student body. Our school rates extremely well academically and our athletic teams compete at the highest levels, but what makes our school complete is that all students can find an outlet to pursue their interests. That is especially seen with our  Marching Band. __________has been a member since 2011 and the number of accolades and awards that this marching band has received is staggering. Starting in July, members begin practice for the fall, yet because of the many competitions and opportunities to perform in showcases, their actual season takes nearly six months. Members who finish each season are awarded athletic “letters” and the pride that these students show in being part of the Marching Band is contagious. The student body respects the band as it respects any of our other sponsored sports.”

If you ever get a chance to see how well kids can work together collaboratively, then go witness how the school band operates.

If you want to see a group of individuals completely dedicated to a vision defined by a common goal, then go witness how a school band operates.

If you want to see dedication to performance and arts, then go see a school band perform.

And if there is any lawmaker, school board member, or citizen who does not think that the arts and music should not be taught and nurtured in our public schools, then I invite you to go to a game and stay for the halftime show or go to a jamboree or showcase and catch a glimpse of how many of our students are displaying teamwork while growing in mind, body, and spirit.

And if there is some sort of fundraiser that a band member of any school is trying to help raise money with, then help out.

The two frozen Moravian chicken pies in my freezer this past year was money well spent.

The work ethic, collaborative mentality, preparation, and attention to detail that these band students bring to my class is priceless.

He Speaks! But Says Nothing – Mark Johnson’s Interview With Carolina Journal

Earlier today, Mark Johnson tweeted the following self-promoting plug that touts the past to explain his lack of action on the present and lack of vision for the future. 


It doesn’t take much to realize that there is nothing  Johnson has done that has provided any “change” to the status quo. In fact, he has been nothing but a rubber stamp for the policies that those in power in Raleigh have enforced on public education here in North Carolina like Sen. Phil Berger whose birthday was this past week. 

And Johnson made sure to celebrate it. 


Nothing screams “I am for not changing what is happening in public education” like celebrating Phil Berger’s birthday. 

If you click on the link in Johnson’s tweet mentioned earlier, you will be directed to a transcript of an interview Johnson actually gave – to the Art Pope/John Hood affiliated Carolina Journal. 

In what seems to be a series of softball questions (slow-pitch) thrown to a man against no defense in the field, Johnson literally shows us that he has done nothing. 

Nebulous. Noncommittal. Lack of specificity. 

And a fear of actual teachers. 

Take a look at how he answered the question concerning his communication with NCAE. 


I will go on a limb here and say that many concerns have been communicated. 

The problem is that those concerns have gone in one ear and out the other of Mark Johnson. 

Seems that Johnson is ready to make sure that we have “more of the same.”

But it is nice to see him actually talk to some sort of media outlet even though it is akin to Trump giving an interview to Hannity. 

That’s Worth 50K? Really It’s More Money That Could Be Spent on Public Education


Allowing Tom Hofeller to redraw legislative maps for our gerrymandered state is like letting an arsonist loose in a drought-ridden forest and giving him matches to play with.

Take a read : http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article166115407.html.

Fifty thousand dollars is above the salary of a highly qualified veteran public school teacher who raises student achievement consistently in a poverty-stricken district and never complains.

Hofeller gets that much for redrawing legislative maps in a matter of days that he will intentionally use to create more gerrymandered districts.

But it should not be a surprise as those who want to keep the maps gerrymandered will pay good money to do so.

The state could just save the money. I would actually take fifty cents and do it myself and the result would be more fair.

Revisiting That Open Letter to Mark Johnson, Candidate for State Supertintendent, Concerning Remarks on Poverty and Student Preparedness

Below is the transcript of an open letter I wrote to Mark Johnson almost a year ago when he was running for the office of state superintendent. I revisit it to compare what he has done in office in these seven months on the job to what he claimed he was going to do.

Judge for yourself and see if there is any correlation.

 

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I read with great interest your essay posted on EdNC.org entitled “Our American Dream” on September 7th. Because you are a member of the school board from my own district and the republican nominee for State Superintendent, I was eager to read/see/hear what might distinguish you from Dr. Atkinson.

I agree that there is a lot to be done to help cure what ails our public education system, and I agree that we should not be reliant on so many tests in order that teachers can do what they are trained to do – teach. I also positively reacted to your stance on allowing local school boards to have more say in how assessment portfolios are conducted and focusing more resources on reading instruction in elementary grades.

However, I did not read much else that gives me as a voter the immediate impetus to rely on you to lead our public schools, specifically your words on student preparedness, the role of poverty, and school funding. In fact, many of the things you say about the current state of education in this op-ed make you seem more like a politician trying to win a race rather than becoming a statewide instructional leader.

You opening paragraph seems to set a tone of blame. You stated,

“Politicians, bureaucrats, and activists are quick to proffer that public education is under assault in North Carolina. They angrily allege attacks on the teaching profession; furiously fight against school choice; and petulantly push back against real reform for our education system. But why is there no comparable outrage that last June, thousands of high school seniors received diplomas despite being woefully unprepared for college or the workforce?”

In truth, many politicians and bureaucrats have engaged in attacks on the public school system and its teachers. Just look at the unregulated growth of charter schools, the rise of Opportunity Grants, and the creation of an ASD district. Look at the removal of due-process rights and graduate pay for new teachers.

Not only am I a teacher, but I am a parent of two children in public schools, a voter in local school board elections, and an activist. I have fought against school choice as it has been defined on West Jones Street with Opportunity Grants and charter schools because it has come at the expense of traditional public schools that still teach a vast majority of our kids.

And I would like to hear what you think real reforms are. Your op-ed would have been a great place to outline (not just mention) some of those reforms.

But your last sentence in that opening paragraph (“But why…), I believe, shows a disconnect between what you believe to be happening and what the truth is.

This past June I wrote an op-ed for EdNC.org entitled “Zero to Fifty” (https://www.ednc.org/2016/06/15/zero-to-fifty/  ) about the policy of some school systems like the one you serve to mandate that students not receive a mark below “50” for a quarter grade no matter their performance in class. A student may never turn in work or refuse to participate, but he/she is guaranteed a “50” as a final grade for a quarter as stipulated by the local school board. That means that you are partly responsible for the very condition you bemoan, especially when you say, “This upsetting list goes on and on while North Carolina education leaders brag that 86 percent of students receive a diploma.”

When the “0 to 50” rule went into effect, it was coupled with the state’s own statute that all schools have a ten-point grading scale. That means that of all of the possible grades a student could receive as a final grade (50 scores points), only 10 of them were failing grades. In essence, the system that you represented on a local level pretty much told teachers that they had to pass students who may have been “woefully unprepared”.

And believe me, we teachers were screaming about it. You could even call it “comparable outrage.”

You also stated, “The education establishment and its political allies have one answer that they have pushed for the past 40 years – more money for more of the same.” First, I need for you to define “same.” In the years I have been in NC, I have been through many curriculum standards, evaluation systems, pay scales, NCLB, Race to the Top, etc. Secondly, who is the educational establishment? The people I see dictate policy in schools on West Jones Street certainly are not the same people who were crafting policy ten years ago. And less than fifteen years ago, North Carolina was considered the best, most progressive public school system in the Southeast. Is that part of the “same” you are referring to?

You also state that “nearly half of all those graduates fail to meet a single readiness benchmark on the ACT, almost half of all graduates who go to community college need to take remedial courses, and many employers say they can’t find good candidates due to a “lack of education credentials.”

Using the ACT might not be the best benchmark for student achievement. North Carolina is one of only thirteen states that requires all students (EC, LEP, etc.) to take that exam which has no impact on their transcripts, provides no feedback in its scores on how to improve student achievement, and is administered on a school day in which other activities and classes take place. Most states only have paying students take the ACT on a Saturday; those students have an investment in the results, hence higher scores.

I agree that “most teachers and school leaders work tirelessly for their students despite the challenges.” But as a teacher I cannot really give credit to lawmakers in Raleigh for seeking much-needed, overdue raises for them. Those “historic” raises are not what they really appear to be, especially in light of countless rebuttals to the contrary such as this from your hometown paper – http://www.journalnow.com/opinion/columnists/stuart-egan-about-those-teacher-salaries-and-raises/article_556420c9-9f7e-5a7b-a7d6-35b8a91e484d.html .

You go on to say,

“But no matter what we pay our educators, the system in which they teach is broken. Until we confront this fact, we limit the potential of our teachers and, sadly, of our students. Ask any educator about how much time they are forced to stop teaching and focus on testing at the command of the NC Department of Public Instruction.”

Placing the entirety of blame in this instance on DPI seems a little narrow-minded. What I hear a lot of teachers talk about are actions done by the legislature such as:

  • Elimination of due process rights for new teachers
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed for new teachers
  • Revolving Door of Standardized Tests
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil now than before 2008
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Incorporated the Jeb Bush School Grading System that really just shows the effects of poverty
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Expanding Opportunity Grants
  • Uncontrolled Charter School Growth
  • Virtual Schools Run By For-Profit Companies
  • Achievement School Districts
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program

Are you willing to confront those people on West Jones Street?

And speaking of that Jeb Bush School grading system that NC incorporated to designate school performance grades, they really highlight the issue of poverty you allude to in your op-ed. Specifically, you said, “The transformation of our public education system will open true pathways out of poverty.” I would argue that addressing poverty outside of class would help students inside of class as much if not more.

What the state proved with this grading system is that it is ignoring the very students who need the most help—not just in the classroom, but with basic needs such as early childhood programs and health care accessibility. These performance grades also show that schools with smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction are more successful, a fact lawmakers willfully ignore when it comes to funding our schools to avoid overcrowding.

Take a look at the following data maps available on EdNC.org’s Data Dashboard. The first shows a distribution of the school performance grades from 2014-2015. The second shows the number of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches.

map1

map2

If you superimpose them upon each other you will see the strong correlation between poverty and school performance.

Education can help pull people out of poverty. I will not argue that, but attacking poverty at its root sources will do so much to help education because it is a “moral obligation.”

I do not think that what you describe is the fault of the education system alone, and your experience at West Charlotte High School is not unique. Teachers who have taught much longer than your two year tenure, who have taught longer than you have been alive, who trained to be a teacher longer than you were a teacher, who have experienced procedure changes, changes in leadership, changes in curriculum, changes in salaries, and other seismic shifts in policy will probably affirm the idea that schools are a mirror of the society it serves. Other problems exist that education alone cannot remedy, especially when you suggest that we not spend more money.

So, I do agree that “many different challenges face us,” but I cannot “acknowledge the truth that our public education system needs to be transformed” totally when I believe as a veteran teacher that we need to transform our commitment to public education and prioritize that commitment first.

 

 

The Words “Standing Up For Public Schools” and “Full Communication” Have Never Described State Supt. Johnson

The Editorial Board of the Raleigh News & Observer minced no words in its central opinion piece from today’s edition. It is scathing and worth reading just for the use of diction to carry a rather stern tone (http://amp.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article164127362.html) .

From “Chipping away at DPI – and hurting kids:”

Mark Johnson, the new state superintendent who taught school for a couple of years before becoming an attorney and served on a county school board, could have fought against the cuts to his own department, and could now be standing up for conventional public schools and teachers and more funding – standing with Graham and Friday.

But he has chosen a different path, to advocate for more charters and more public money for vouchers and to stand with the Republican leaders of the General Assembly. Johnson clearly is the dream superintendent for Phil Berger, president pro tem of the state Senate, and state House Speaker Tim Moore. He will do what he’s told.

North Carolina’s public education system is in jeopardy. The public – parents, teachers, advocates – is going to have to stand up for the schools where Johnson will not.

And that observation is spot on. In fact, it was interesting where Johnson was actually standing when this editorial was being written.

From WCTI12.com (and ABC affiliate):

Mark Johnson, the department’s superintendent, visited Contentnea Savannah School in Lenoir County on Thursday and spoke about what is being done. He was at the school for the Teach for America Summer Camp, one of the very few like this in the country. In fact, Lenoir County is one of only two in the state with this type of program.

For the second year, Lenoir County Public Schools have partnered with Teach America for a Summer Camp. The program doubles as both a summer school program for students who need it and also as a training center for Teach for America (http://www.wcti12.com/news/local-news/lenoir/state-dpi-superintendent-assures-work-being-done-despit-budge-cuts/594222676).

Johnson was visiting a non-traditional public magnet school in the summer to observe Teach For America’s program. And in the wake of the drastic cuts to DPI’s budget that he never fought against announced something interesting.

Johnson also mentioned programs like the Teach for America Camp and STEM camps would not be impacted. Nearly 300 students and 40 teachers participated in this year’s camp.

Remember what that N&O edictorial said about Johnson not standing up for traditional public schools? Well, it could not have been more perfectly timed.

And to add more salt to the NCGA-inflicted wounds to traditional public schools, Johnson announced today that “full communications from the state’s top public school agency will resume Aug. 1” (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/07/28/superintendents-office-full-dpi-communications-resume-aug-1/#sthash.BKGQBSP2.dpbs) .

Odd that the words “full communiation” and a person like Mark Johnson would collide in the same sentence.

Because “full communication” and Mark Johnson have never collided in reality.