Why Teachers Suck …

Rarely do I ever reblog anything, but as a public high school teacher in a state whose legislature is bent against public schools, I will gladly share with anyone.

Bert Fulks

A friend and I were grousing about ignorance run amok.

“Americans get their information from internet memes,” I laughed.  “And in the true spirit of democracy, dullards who have never cracked a book will cancel the votes of people who actually have a clue. What could go wrong?”

“You know what the problem is?” Tim challenged.  “Our country’s a mess because teachers suck.”

teacher2I bristled.

Although I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, once a teacher, always a teacher.  Plus, I have family and friends still slugging it out in the trenches.  I know their battles and the wounds they carry.

“Dude, do you know what teachers endure on a daily basis?” I asked Tim.  I found that, no, he didn’t.  I fear most Americans might be as clueless.

I emailed a former colleague (she’s two years from retirement) and asked one question:  “How has education…

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Sen. Ralph Hise’s Huge, Humongous, Heaping Hummock of Hypocrisy and Hubris

Gov. Cooper has no constitutional role in redistricting, and we have no order from the courts to redraw maps by his preferred timeline. This is a clear political stunt meant to deter lawmakers from our work on raising teacher pay, providing relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew and putting money back into the pockets of middle-class families.” – Joint Statement, June 7, 2017 concerning Gov. Roy Cooper asking for a special session to redraw districts in North Carolina declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States.

That joint statement was made by two lawmakers who helped lead the redistricting in 2011 that led to the ruling just recently passed by SCOTUS – one of whom is Sen. Ralph Hise.

Hisemug-214x300

Furthermore, the above quote might be the richest, most potentially fertilizing statement made in the current legislative session when one considers the speakers, the subject, the audience, and the context.

Sen. Ralph Hise should be no stranger to special sessions. He has gleefully been a part of at least three in 2016 that were so politically motivated that the rest of the country looked at North Carolina in disbelief. The March 2016 special session brought us the economically disastrous HB2 bathroom bill that targeted the LGBTQ community unfairly under the guise of nonexistent transgender assaults in public restrooms.

Then there were those two end-of-2016 special sessions that proved that the GOP controlled NC General Assembly was hell-bent on making sure that the democratically elected governor did not have as much power as his predecessors did.

And Hise said they were there to make sure we were taking care of those hurt by Hurricane Matthew.

But wait. Sen. Hise is also the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Elections who currently faces charges of “pocketing” money from his own campaign (http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/2017/05/09/breaking-senate-elections-committee-chair-violates-disclosure-law-suspected-excess-payments/#sthash.WPouXpgI.3b7ZgFWz.dpbs). And he was also key in putting a provision in the Senate budget to stop SNA food assistance benefits that are funded federally for over 130,000 people in the state.

So as far as political stunting is concerned, Sen. Ralph Hise would certainly know it if he saw it, but it would be a huge, humongous, heaping hummock of hypocrisy and hubris for him to even suggest that of Cooper as the governor asks for a special session to address the findings of the highest court of the land which in the last month has issued three rulings that have cast North Carolina as the most racially gerrymandered state in the union.

However, if Hise wanted to exchange the hypocrisy for honesty and the hubris for some humility then he might have hummed these words:

We have been attempting to limit Gov. Cooper’s constitutional role in redistricting with our own gerrymandered majority’s special sessions because we so stupidly passed a discrimination bill that ruined Pat McCrory’s chances of being reelected, and we have no explicit order from the courts to redraw maps by his preferred timeline even though some of the people who are trying to limit his constitutional role may actually be unconstitutionally elected. This is a clear political stunt by us meant to deter lawmakers who actually serve the citizens of North Carolina from our work under the red herrings of raising teacher pay, providing relief to the communities affected by Hurricane Matthew and putting money back into the pockets of middle-class families when we actually are crafting more policies to alienate people and putting money back in the pockets of those who have put money in our pockets.

A Thank You Letter to Graduates From a Middle-Aged Public High School Teacher

class-of-2017

Dear Graduates,

Tomorrow, I will be a part of what I believe will be my twentieth high school graduation as a teacher (student teaching included).

And every year, it gets a little different, but for the right reasons.

If I do the math correctly, I literally have had thousands of students come through my classrooms whether to take a class from me or to be a part of a club or extracurricular that I helped sponsor. Add to that the familiar faces that engaged me throughout the halls of the schools where I have taught, especially the place where I now teach.

Not everyone gets a chance to be enmeshed that much in the lives of others. Good teachers see that as a gift, and I try and be a good teacher because I have come in contact with great young people like yourselves.

I would love to say that I got into teaching riding on a wave of positive ideology prepared to sacrifice myself into a life of service worthy of a feel-good movie about teachers.

I didn’t. There were selfish reasons why I got into teaching and there continue to be selfish reasons why I remain in teaching.  One is that I like to listen to myself talk. Another is that I like to engage people in conversation that requires thought.

And, it keeps me young – at heart at least. I still get run across athletic fields, scream for the home team, dress in spirit wear, and still learn about the very things that I went to school for and go to games for free.

I actually keep thank you notes and letters from students. I will take them out every so often to look over them when I need some validation. Teaching is a hard occupation, especially in North Carolina where the terrain of politics and reform has changed so much that the structure of public schools has had its foundations cracked in multiple places.

But if there is one thing that my almost twenty years of teaching has taught me to be grateful for is that what keeps everything together are students. And so I want to thank you for that and for…

  • every eye roll that let me know my jokes were overused,
  • every groan given because of an unannounced in-class essay,
  • every comment about how my clothes did not match,
  • every gasp of relief because you actually passed the test,
  • every vulgar word you put in annotations about having to annotate,
  • every bite of food you took in class when you were not supposed to,
  • every excuse for not doing homework,
  • every confused, far-off look you gave because you were not paying attention,
  • and every non-sequitur you offered to keep the class off topic.

Why? Because those instances made me decide to be a better teacher and those instances pale in comparison to all of the other intangibles could never measure or put a monetary value on.

Those instances also made me learn to celebrate every victory you had in class or out of class.

So many people will measure you with standardized test scores, transcripts, and other arbitrary measurements. I don’t really see you as standardized people.

I hope you don’t see yourself as “standard” either.

Many of you will be leaving home to venture new roads. Remember to call your loved ones and there are many of use teachers who would love to hear from you no matter how long it has been. In fact, most of us will always consider you our students.

My classroom is always open to you.

Just make sure you check in at the front office.

 

 

 

 

 

What’s The Frequency, Donald? A Dan Rather / R.E.M. Jam

Frequency: noun  fre·quen·cy \ˈfrē-kwən-sē\
plural – frequencies

  1. frequent repetition Rain fell with frequency.
  2. rate of repetition She went with increasing frequency.
  3. the number of waves of sound or energy that pass by a point every second (Tune the stereo to receive a specific frequency of radio waves.) – Merriam Webster Dictionary / merriam-webster.com

 

rather

So, what’s the frequency, Donald?

In a presidential tenure set on blaming the media for character assassination, Donald Trump’s penchant to gravitate to outlets that pretty much cater to his narrative is obvious. Simply follow the praise he heaps onto Fox & Friends on an almost daily basis on Twitter.

Look at his hiring of Steve Bannon of Brietbart as a chief strategist.

Look at his extolling the “service” of Alex Jones.

Fox & Friends, Breitbart, and Info Wars all reside on their own frequencies. Each resides in a select ideological range, a couple more extreme than the other. They offer Trump his amphetaminic drive, the one that allows him to tweet at all hours of the night. They are his Benzedrine. They allow him to drown out the rest of the frequencies on the dial of media and coverage.

Like any American, he has the right to listen to and pander to the voices that validate his narrative, but it does not mean those voices speak truth.

On December 4, 2016, a man named Edgar Maddison Welch from North Carolina entered a Chinese restaurant called the Comet Ping Pong in Washington D.C. with an assault rifle demanding the owners to confess to child sex trafficking, a false allegation perpetrated on far-right media. Welch discharged his weapon, but no one was hurt. He was caught and pleaded guilty in court. He will be sentenced later this month.

Welch had listened to the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory through a frequency of media outlets like Alex Jones’s Info Wars and allowed speculation to become gospel. He acted out based on an alternate reality and almost destroyed the actual reality of innocent people.

Interestingly enough another man from North Carolina committed an act of enigmatic violence perpetuated by a conspiracy theory back in 1986. Bill Demain explains the incident in Mental Floss, a rather fantastic periodical.

“At about 11 pm on the night of October 4, 1986, CBS anchorman Dan Rather was walking along Park Avenue in New York, on the way back to his apartment. Just as he neared the building’s entrance, he was accosted by two well-dressed men. One asked, “What is the frequency, Kenneth?” Rather replied, “You must be mistaking me for someone else . . .” With that, the man knocked Rather to the ground, and as he kicked and punched him, he repeatedly asked his strange question. Rather called out for help, and a moment later, as the doorman and the building’s super arrived on the scene, the assailants fled.

The police took a statement, but no one was ever arrested or charged” (http://mentalfloss.com/article/49147/music-history-20-whats-frequency-kenneth).

Dan Rather was at the time the face and voice of CBS Evening News. Later in the same article Demain explains that the man who committed that act of violence was caught:

“The incident was strange, but it got even stranger. In 1994, a North Carolina man named William Tager shot and killed an NBC technician, Campbell Montgomery, outside the sound studio of the Today Show. Tager had tried to enter the the studio with an assault rifle, and Montgomery died in an attempt to block him. Tager was arrested and reportedly told police that the television network had been monitoring him for years and beaming secret messages into his head. He apparently came to NBC looking for a way to block those transmissions.

Tager was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years in Sing Sing prison.

His story took a sci-fi twist when he told a psychiatrist that he was a time traveler from a parallel world in the year 2265. A convicted felon in the future, Tager said he was a test-pilot volunteer in a dangerous time travel experiment. If he was successful on his mission, his sentence would be overturned and he would be set free. The authorities in the future kept tabs on him via an implanted chip in his brain. During the examinations, Trager also confessed that he had attacked Dan Rather because he mistook him for the Vice President of his future world, one Kenneth Burrows.”

Apparently, Tager was trying to find the right frequency for his altered reception. What he believed was an alternate reality and acting upon that altered the reality for real people.

Michael Stipe is quoted as calling the attack on Rather “surreal” and “bizarre.” He said,

“It remains the premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century. It’s a misunderstanding that was scarily random, media hyped and just plain bizarre” (https://redice.tv/news/strange-story-behind-r-e-m-s-song-what-s-the-frequency-kenneth).

Hence, came the song “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”, the first song released from the album Monster.

And currently we have a lot of the same ingredients – media hype, bizarre stuff, unsolved American surrealist acts with Russian twists, and randomly scary stuff. Even Dan Rather is a part of it and this post is being written in North Carolina where surreal stuff has been occurring nonstop.

Trying to decipher the lines of the song without knowledge of the attack on Rather would still be quite the task in deconstruction.

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I’d pegged you an idiot’s dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider’s screen
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh

I’d studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
Richard said, “Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy”
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

“What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rear-view mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand
You said that irony was the shackles of youth, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I couldn’t understand
I never understood, don’t **** with me, uh-huh

But there is a quote by Michael Stipe in Genius that says,

“I wrote that protagonist as a guy who’s desperately trying to understand what motivates the younger generation, who has gone to great lengths to try and figure them out, and at the end of the song it’s completely f***** bogus. He got nowhere” (https://genius.com/Rem-whats-the-frequency-kenneth-lyrics?referent_id=555666#note-555666).

Now while someone may read this and think that it is purely an act of fanboydom, it is rather (pun intended) interesting how small this world really is and how intertwined paths really are.

We just experienced an acrimonious presidential election that saw a divided nation not popularly elect a president who plugs into only certain parts of the media for validation and shuns what others have to say. There was another older man named Bernie Sanders who seemed to vibrate on a different frequency that pulsated with a younger generation, galvanizing them into enough of a frenzy that Hilary Clinton’s ride to the nomination was much less smooth than anticipated.

And it may be safe to say that appealing to younger generation is what anyone who hopes to be in a position to run the country must have. The electorate is getting younger. Just ask the executives at Fox News when they look at the average age of viewers as they scramble to replace Megan Kelly and Bill O’Reilly.

That same growing Gen-X, millennial electorate thinks differently than the Baby Boomer generation. They operate on a different frequency. They certainly plug into a different frequency. Actually, they plug into many frequencies.

Ask Teresa May what frequency she was plugged into when she made the rash decision to create a special election to bolster her party’s majority in order to negotiate a tough stance on Britain’s exit from the European Union.

All of a sudden she no longer has a majority. Too many younger voters in England on a different frequency.

Didn’t Trump praise the Brits on Brexit? Didn’t Trump go on Alex Jones’s show to praise what he has done?

Since “Pizzagate” Alex Jones has offered a water-down apology for helping to spread the conspiracy theory that helped to lead Welch to almost commit an act of massive violence. More notably, Jones has been embroiled in a custody battle over his own children in a divorce case in which he “admitted” that his persona on his radio show was partially an act to boost ratings.

A fake frequency with an alternate reality that others take seriously and act upon in the real lives of real people.

Others like Edgar Maddison Welch.

Others like William Tager.

Others like Donald Trump.

Ironically, the link between Trump and Dan Rather is strong as Rather very much uses his voice to offer perspective on today’s political climate. Rather has taken to Twitter quite often himself to give his take on Trump’s actions and words. However, while he may provide pointed remarks at Trump, he usually deals with Trump’s inability to listen to different frequencies like when Trump alienates certain parts of the media or starts barking about “fake news.”

Going back to Stipe’s explanation of the protagonist of the song, a couple of words resonate loudly – “desperately” and “bogus.” This country has never had a president who so “desperately” wanted to make people connect with him, but rather than act on what others say or do, he reacts in response; therefore, there comes the eventual disconnect.

That disconnection is both figurative and literal. Look at the approval ratings for Trump starting to hit the mid-to-low 30’s with over 55% of people showing disapproval. That’s a disconnect. And look at the wall, the travel ban, the pulling out of the Paris Accord, and the disastrous trip overseas that cannot be spun enough and people see more disconnection.

Yes, Dan Rather is an old protagonist himself, but he doesn’t ask what the frequency is. He tunes into a multitude of them. He isn’t trying to figure out how to appeal to the younger generations; he’s protecting their right to know the truth and to be themselves.

Freedom of the press is in the First Amendment. And while there will always exist a great amount of spin in what we read, the need for a free press as a means of checks and balances in this country is greater than ever. It gives us a range of frequencies to tune into.

Dan Rather knows that.

Donald Trump is scared of it.

R.E.M. sings about it.

And if you want to argue that the media has too easy a time of being able to sway how people act and think, then it might be time to start talking about investing more in our public education system and teaching critical thinking skills rather than test testing skills.

Just look at Donald Trump’s budget for public education.

 

 

Put It In Green & Gold Lights – Public High School Sports Are Important

This evening a rare sight was seen in Winston-Salem. The lights of the Cardinal Hotel (the Old R.J. Reynolds Building that looks like the Empire State Building) were changed to green and gold to commemorate the state champion West Forsyth Girls’ Soccer State Championship won in Raleigh on May 27th.

building

The same gracious act was done for the the West Forsyth Softball Team when they won the state championship last year. While I can not say that it has ever been done for other schools when they won state championships, I am proud to see that a local public school get that kind of attention from the community, especially in the political atmosphere that public schools are having to face at this current time.

I played organized sports throughout childhood and in school. I even played intramurals in college, and while I was a legend in my own mind and my embellished accomplishments grow the more I talk about them, there is no question that participation in sports (and extra-curriculars period) helped me in high school.

In fact as a veteran teacher, I can assure you that sports (and extra-curriculars) of any kind can help any student in high school. Furthermore, they help the communities those schools are a part of if…

THEY ARE STUDENT CENTERED.

And what I saw this year at West Forsyth was student centered support. Administration removed obstacles, coaches prepared players, players executed.

But those coaches were still teachers who taught a variety of subjects. Those players were still students who took classes and performed well on assessments, and those administrators made sure that the school operated well.

Parents supported efforts. Friends came to games. Many traveled. They all encouraged no matter the outcome.

It was about the students, except this time it happened to be outside of the classroom.

Those lights that were displayed tonight in Winston-Salem were a way of “paying it forward.” They were a small but powerful token of appreciation for representing a community in a classy way.

It is also a reminder that hard work does pay off and that there are so many things that can be accomplished that can not be measured by a test score or even a scoreboard.

There’s not even a common core standard for that.

And it brought lots of people together.

One big home field.

 

 

 

A Year Ago in Titan History – Another 111 Miles Dominated

This Sunday will be the baccalaureate service for seniors at West Forsyth, and I am honored to share in that celebration for many reasons.

One is because West is graduating another stellar group of young people. Another is because it is a time for positive reflection on accomplishments done.

But I would be remiss if it did not remind me of last year’s West Forsyth’s Lady Titan Softball Team who like this year’s Ladies Soccer Team also traveled 111 miles to Raleigh to bring home a trophy for our school.

It is not ironic that the softball team had to “weather the weather”, so to speak, as the soccer team had to. Ask anyone who was present for the first game of the series and had to endure the rain and the elements to see if we could sweep that day. They understood just a little of the anxiety that accompanied the wait those ladies gracefully weathered. They had to travel back home in most cases because the state commission cancelled the game and rescheduled for Sunday, the day of last year’s baccalaureate.

So, that senior-laden team went another 111 miles and won the state championship on a Sunday afternoon. The seniors who had wanted to go to baccalaureate had to miss service. They were too busy representing the school elsewhere.

Besides, God was present there in Raleigh as well.

And like that soccer team that won this year, that group of ladies on last year’s softball team were family. They had lost games, won games, improved, handled setbacks, practiced, attended classes, and in many cases grown up together – for years. Plus they were led by great coaching.

And the crowd that traveled the 111 miles on both days would have kept traveling because that’s what family does for each other.

Many of those ladies who graduated from last year’s softball team were the first to congratulate this year’s soccer team and boys track team for state championships.

Family.

111

If Donald Trump Sampled R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming” Without Giving Credit

 

Instruments tuning in an amazing way.

Piano comes in like pushing aside the leader of Montenegro to get in front.

Begin singing.

 

“Nighttweeting”

Nighttweeting can happen any night.

The photograph in the cover of a book I never wrote
shows much less hair than I comb over now.
Every late tweet reveals a disconnect with what’s real
Still it’s so much bigly.

Melania slapped my hand while visiting the Saudis
Approval rate is low.

Nighttweeting comes in chaotic times.

I’m not sure all these people understand
It’s not like I’m trying to hide
The fear of getting caught
Colluding with the Russians.
They’ve taped me while naked.
Can these things just go away?
That’s why I fired Comey.

Nighttweeting, Remembering that night
When I got fewer votes
My thumbs are getting tired
And I only have these two
Side by side in twittersphere here on my own account
The dim tide of my mind
Could not stop my nighttweeting.

Thought that ruling the world
Would be easier
Than selling the Trump brand
Yet all laugh quietly
Underneath their breath

Nighttweeting

This phone screen reflects
Every pursed lip a reminder
Nighttweeting
It’s my diary.

The only thing I read.

REM nightswimming

Remember, You’re The Titans

I imagine most of you have seen the movie Remember the Titans about a public school in Virginia the 1970’s being desegregated and how its football team became a vehicle for positive change.

I watch it every chance I get. There’s a hopeless romantic still inside of me that likes a feel-good movie that actually is based on real events. That and my aunt who is an actress is in it

It’s rather neat to see her on screen and say, “Hey, I know her.”

titans

We play a clip from the movie before football games that has Denzel Washington’s voice giving a pep talk to his players.

It sounds cliche’, I know. But if you remember, that was an actual team from an actual small town in the south and the local public school was a fundamental part of those kinds of small towns like West is to Clemmons.

West Forsyth is one of those few remaining schools in our area that can be claimed by a small town. It has been that way for three generations. All of 27012 feeds into West along with other surrounding areas of course.

So what happens at West happens to the town. And we are the Titans.

If you remember, the team from the movie as they walked into the stadium after warmups had a dance that brought them together.

Sound familiar?

And that team became family, albeit in a relatively short time.

You ladies are a family. Anyone who watches you play sees how you pick each other up, celebrate each other, and refuse to let setbacks keep you from achieving. And you instinctively understand that the power of the team as a whole is more than the sum of the individual parts put together.

Any competitor would have been disappointed in circumstances that would lead to having to play away from a home field advantage on campus, but what you ladies proved this past Thursday is that when you are with family, you are always home.

You ladies are family, so no matter that color of jersey you wear, you are the home team.

There will be a lot of people from your hometown traveling 111 miles to come see you play tonight on your “home” field. There will be parents, friends, coaches, students, teachers, and others who may have never kicked a soccer ball in their lives there to watch you play.

And there will be many more following from their homes via social media, texts, phone calls, internet, etc., but expect a crowd there at our Raleigh “home” field.

There are not many public schools in the state outside of metropolitan areas that have caused powerhouse programs to travel all the way to Clemmons, NC to play in state championship playoffs for multiple sports.

Tonight is no different. Even though the other team is traveling ten short miles, they still have to get into a vehicle and drive over to a field that tonight for a few hours will actually be part of the 27012 zip code – your home field to be exact.

There is no need to tell you that the other team will “remember the Titans.” They’ll know. You will leave it all on the field tonight.

Just remember that you are the Titans and there will be a very large family gathering tonight.

At our home field.

With the coolest flag of any school.

Your Yuck, His Yum – A Musing With Malcolm

Mustard and Ketchup

Batman and Robin

Coffee and Cream

Beans and Rice

Baseball and Hot dogs

West Forsyth Titans and 111 mile drives to Raleigh

Raleigh lawmakers and public school advocacy – well, maybe not

and…

Pancakes and Ranch Dressing?

At least to this little man.

​We are sitting at a restaurant, specifically Stratford Station Grill. Malcolm loves seeing George. Great food and they treat my kids like their own.

He gets pancakes. I get chicken souvlaki with a side salad. He has syrup. I have ranch.

He sees an opportunity and makes it work for him.

I didn’t need all of the ranch anyway.