Sunday, December 22, 2013

Last Minute Christmas

     As usual, there will be some "down to the wire" scrambling to fill slots, check boxes, fulfill some requirements. Tension will ride shotgun on the drive to make sure I've done all I can, all I should. The whole time I'll be kicking myself for not getting this done sooner: putting that aside; having this out of the way. Things have a way of filling up hours and days, and then the finish line is here. Race over-but did it end well?

     Life? End of the year measure of my worth as a teacher? Christmas shopping? It could be any of those things, because they are each consuming and loom over daily existence this time of year. Having them all on my mind has prompted me to pause, and reflect. My happiness comes from the happiness in the world around me. So my wish list, while it may contain a power tool or two, is filled with stepping stones on a happiness path. It combines with the things I am thankful for: starting with blessings close to my heart and home, expanding to large-scale blessings. Idealism has always been my weakness, but I refuse to give up on the right thing because it is an unlikely thing. When my oldest first sat on Santa's lap, she asked for world peace. When anyone asks me my favorite color, my answer is "all the colors of the rainbow". It is in that spirit I finally get down to some last-minute holiday reflections. Giving thanks, and making wishes.

First: The things I'm thankful for. My wish list will come later.

How fortunate I am, for the family I have
     I do not fool myself here. My wife is the biggest blessing in my life. Maybe it was on me to be smart enough to know the right girl when I met her, but she is the right one. Without her I would not have what I have, be where I am, have the three most amazing daughters...

     Here, my three daughters enjoy some time with two cousins (my three on bottom, two cousins above). More than anything, I want this early stage of their lives to be filled with theses memories. As many opportunities to play, to get together, to stay up late talking and laughing, to get up early...wait...who am I kidding-to be woke up early by me (one of my greatest pleasures). These are the times that build a foundation and form bonds and the ability to make the bonds that are most important.        
     Without my wife, without my girls, without these cousins (and several others you don't see in this very cute picture), the opportunities to have moments like this would be far less likely. It really is the best kind of magic. Not to shamelessly promote strangeness, but check out how the kids in this family spend their time (I think a new video has been posted, and another coming soon)

If I count my blessings, this is where I always start. I am very blessed with family, and good times.

How blessed I am to be doing what I love
     Maybe it doesn't always feel like a blessing in the moment, or at the end of the day, but there's a reason I do this job. There is something very powerful in helping students learn, to see it happen, to have the opportunity to come up with new ways to help struggling learners. There is something empowering about working within a community of educators and learners that continually make this kind of thing happen, and in building a network of connections within this profession that extend far beyond the walls of my classroom and school, and beyond the borders of my community and state. It may be a battle: helping students to overcome the challenges they bring with them to school everyday (and sometimes the challenges you know they go home to every afternoon). It may be a challenge facing the artificial weights and measures being forced upon these learners, my colleagues and our public schools.

     But it is exciting to see the community coming to life to question and take to task the policy makers and their masters attacking public schools, and it is a little funny (in a very sad, but somewhat refreshing way) to watch these serious politically oriented spin-meisters begin to adhere to the immortal words of the great master of dodgeball, Patches O'Houlihan

1) Dodge,    2) Duck,    3) Dip,   4) Dive, and....5) Dodge

     Education reformers, and the politicians and policy makers/enforcers doing their bidding are having more and more difficulty justifying both what they are doing to public schools, and how very different their prescription (and definitions) for success are from the paths they feel entitled to for themselves and their own children-usually protected in private schools and secure homes away from the ravages of the policies they promote. Almost weekly, there is some new forum where very knowledgeable and articulate people give a very solid piece of their mind. School boards, education department leaders, elected officials are facing groups of community members, parents, professional educators, even students themselves armed with truth, insight, valid criticisms and questions.

     The response most often given is some combination of the "Five D's of Ed-Reform" strategic talking points and PR: 1) "Bad/expensive teacher/failing school;  2) How good all these tests are for children (for everyone else's children, apparently);  3) The demands of some intangible "jobs of tomorrow" and more rigorous "college readiness" goals (despite the abundance of low-wage jobs over career opportunities, and the crushing college debt saddling many un-and underemployed);  4) How poorly U.S. schools participate in elevating us in the "global economy" competition with bastions of civilization like India and China; and 5) Back to "bad, expensive" teacher/failing schools. We just can't afford to reward workers who have dedicated their working career to our society...those looking to further game our economy want easier access to those pension dollars and zero consequences for their market gambling debts.

     The "ducking" and "dodging" (with cautious semantics and "stay the course" language from elected officials, especially those with higher aspirations) shows how these officials know that they must exercise caution, and know where the butter on their bread comes from. The scapegoating of public schools for inequities created by the private sector has become the favorite pastime, and the agenda has become more and more driven by covert, private interests.. It is continual ducking, dodging, etc as it becomes more and more difficult for them to avoid the truth: economic and social reforms are the prerequisite to improving educational outcomes for the most needy. Appointed leaders can repeat half-truths repeatedly. They are simply following orders and don't directly owe voters a thing.

     Note the evolution of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has gone from aggressive insistence on teacher evaluation agreements, a lack of decisiveness and then later rejection of Buffalo schools attempt to inject some not-made-for-television reality and reason into the obviously rushed (and for what purpose other than to decimate bargaining rights, teachers, public schools...?) timeline for eval-by state test (tests which are still not in their final form), appointing and stroking (as "an expert") a TFA newbie to NY Deputy Secretary of Education, call for the "death penalty" on "failing schools"... He was once a public school reform lion...or maybe strutting peacock. We pay too much, we get too little...When public school and teacher-bashing was in fashion, and would bring corporate support to his political future, the Governor was all about puffing up and spreading his colorful reform feathers.
     But there is now some anxiety at the state level, and being the foot-soldiers of the fabulously wealthy is becoming a dangerous occupation-whether you "won" an election or not. The kind of agitation sweeping the state (and the nation) is the kind that gives rise to true third parties and their outsider candidates, not mere cosmetic branches (like the TEA party), and even a quasi- Democrat knows when to play proud eagle and when to play sniveling opportunistic weasel, hoping to curry favor with a disenchanted potential voting base.

     Cuomo, the once vocal public school antagonizer has been watching these public forums on education. Any good politician sticking a whetted finger into the air would, and seeing the massive unrest to outrage over how NYSED and Commissioner King have proceeded, he has backed off. After throwing a brick through the window, he looks around at the folks behind him-shrugging and refusing step up. Instead of the hammer, he brings an ear, ready to listen, and a brain apparently capable suddenly of reason-along with cold feet eager to back away from the reform he so actively pushed:

“The governor is not in charge of the State Education Department,” Cuomo said.

OH YEAH???? Check this out!!! JUST SAW IT: Tisch is told she will get this done or guess who?

What happened to THIS governor? He clearly felt pretty comfortable giving some direction to SED in 2011.

Merry Christmas to me. I am very blessed with being on the right side of this battle.

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