Spoiling Our Kids & Blaming Them For It

I admit that I don’t ask much of my child.  In part because I don’t run my house as my parents did, nor do I have the same financial issues or job requirements.  In short, I’ve given my child very few responsibilities, and, I’m sure, it shows.

From time to time, he’ll get snotty with me, and when I go off, I mention how I would never have done this as well as all the responsibilities I was expected to fulfill as a child.  I don’t know why I do it because it’s obviously not effective in getting what I want.  Probably because I don’t know what I want at that moment in time. I’m guessing I want him trained like I was; however, I’ve not taken any time, given any attention, or been willing to be consistent in training him.  His “failure” is really MY failure.

I’ve always known that when there are kid troubles that we should look to the adults.  It’s our job to model for them and act as guides.  Thing is, we’re really not that interested in doing so.  We want to TELL them what to do, we expect it done to our satisfaction, and then we’re mad when it doesn’t happen.  That’s just crazy, and it’s the best recipe for having poor relations there is.  After all, look at all the romantic relationships that fail due to communication and expectation issues.  Duh!

What really brought this home for me was a blog post that my cousin, Tiffany Heth, posted to her Facebook wall.  It’s called “Top Ten Mistakes Christian Parents of Teens Make”.  Now, we all know I’m not Christian, nor is my child a teen (yet).  However, that doesn’t mean I might not find something worthy and valuable in the article.  And indeed I did.

The article points out that spoiling kids isn’t just about access to money, it’s also access to too many opportunities.  I would include in that giving them experiences that aren’t age-appropriate.  We give and do for our children as a matter of fact, but then we’re pissed when they EXPECT these things.  Yet, if we really look at it, we are the ones who created the problem.  Remember, start as you intend to go.

One of the issues of the “modern world” is that kids today have too much.  This has probably always been the case.  But it seems that we never consider that parents these days GIVE too much.  Perhaps we should reflect as to why we do this.  For if we truly want to make changes, shouldn’t we start with ourselves? I would venture to guess that I’m not the only one with self-discipline issues.

Or is this where someone throws out “picking my battles”?


Computers & Education

I’m not a Luddite, but I do lean towards that philosophy when talking about “technology” in the classroom.

For those of you who either know me or have read this blog from time to time, you’ll know that I don’t really approve of computers for kids.  While some might think this is about me “protecting” my job as a teacher, and it may be (I hadn’t really thought of it that way until I was typing this), the fact is, I don’t see this “tool” as being appropriate for teaching.

There, I said, it.  A computer is a TOOL.  It’s one of many.  Like all tools, some are more suited for the task than others.  However, I find that the current flow is that computers are the way to deliver interventions to struggling students, to remediate them, AND to excel them.  This one tool does it all — it slices, it dices, it cooks, it cleans, it’s a miracle…. It’s a sham.

NO tool is everything to everyone in every situation.  This includes a computer and it’s software (or its app).  That we, as a society, are so hell-bent on having teachers PROVE they are DESERVING of their pay is insulting, but then to be that teacher and see how many people will roll over and play dead allowing some random computer program to “teach” their students is just mind-boggling.  You WANT accountability, and then pawn off this MOST IMPORTANT EDUCATIONAL GOAL onto a piece of furniture?  That’s just crazy.

And all that opining aside, the fact is the students HATE it.  We have kindergartners, who aren’t even LEGALLY REQUIRED TO ATTEND SCHOOL, forced to interact with computers for 100 minutes a week.  A casual person might say, “Well, that’s only 20 minutes a day.” BUT… School schedules are complex monsters, and school supplies are limited, plus… well, there’s the cost of licenses so only x many kids can access a site at any one time.  So, NO it’s not 20 minutes per day.  It’s generally three 45 minute sessions per week.  That’s just painful for everyone.

My students don’t really look forward to computer days.  They ask if they can sign out and just read.  They will do math or anything else.  They would LOVE it if I could manage to get them outside for regular PE, but I can’t.  I’m relying on brain breaks in class to get us up and moving.  I try to fit one in every 45 minutes, but it’s not always possible.  Yes, technology trumps outside time. Go ahead, ask where my day goes….

  • 1500 contact minutes a week gets divided up mostly as…
  • 125 technology
  • 500 to 600 for English Language Arts
  • 80 for supervising lunch because lunch is during my contact minutes
  • 100 for music, 60 just for standard operating procedures, 300 for math
  • 60 for library/girls’ & boys’ club
  • 60 for assigning/reviewing homework
  • 60 for transitions or breaks
  • 150 for science or social studies
  • leaving about 100 minutes left-over that tend to be eaten, no joke, by lost supplies, interruptions, melt-downs.  Sometimes, though, we get PE

The long and short of this long-winded tirade is that kids really only want technology when they are playing games and it’s fun for them.  Most only like school because it’s social.  Seriously, they come to school to be with their friends.  Therefore, this tool that makes them focus on a screen, tracks their time, and isolates them isn’t effective because… well, they don’t like it.

We would be well-served to remember that most connections are made through our emotions, not our intellect.  Truthfully, what’s in it for us?  This method… not much.

BAD Teachers

Education has been an issue for decades now.  You’d think if it were going to be reformed, it would have happened by now.  Instead, it appears that change is done in fits and starts, done and undone by whatever was popular at the time and replaced by the next popular silver bullet.  Allegedly nothing has changed, but since education lacks any really good, solid, honest data collection and aggregation system, it’s going to be impossible, really, to know what does or does not impact a child’s ability to take in new information and move forward.

When I first decided to become a teacher, it was because I was not happy with the jobs I was finding as merely a college graduate with an English degree.  For some reason that will NEVER make sense to me, a fellow Jazzerciser looked at me and said, “You’d make a good teacher.”  That, and the fact that a couple good friends were entering public education at the time, helped drive my course.

Now I was aware, based on my interactions with many people in the public and private sector, that many are not what we would call smart.  I assumed it was the education system, and in California, I still do to some extent.  Quitting my job, I became a substitute teacher.  However, rather than traveling from school to school and position to position, I spent 99% of my time at one school — probably the lowest school in the district and the county.  Once they found someone who could work and would stay, they clung on for dear life.  That’s how hard it was for them to find people to take positions.

I was offered a job almost immediately.  I turned it down because I just kept hearing a good friend’s voice say, “Don’t take a job and then quit.  It’s the worst thing you can do to kids.”  She, of course, was talking about the importance of community and stability for the students.  It’s like being a mom, at some point it’s no longer about you.  I turned down positions for 6 months before I took one — alternative.

I was replacing a teacher that was considered bad.  Now, here’s the thing, to be bad at a school that was clinging to dear life anyone who would commit was mind boggling.  How could that be?  However, when I entered the class it was clear.  These students, low but smart, wounded beyond all belief, shoved into the corner of the school based on their bad behaviors, had done next to nothing since school started.

I’m serious.  They had nap and snack time.  Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders?  NO!  Yes.

The room was a mess.  There was no teaching map.  There were no books or supplies.  She took them on walking field trips to the ice cream store because it made them happy.  Or they went on hikes because they needed nature.  I’m not sure what her philosophy was, but it wasn’t “Let’s rebuild these kids, get them emotionally and academically on par, and return them to their herd.”  It was likes she was the zookeeper for exotics.  I finished my term and said no to a second.  There was nothing joyful about the position, the students, and the assumption that I alone could do this without help.

So, the bad teacher was replaced.  By someone who was CLUELESS.  I don’t know which is better.  However, that’s not really the point of this long-winded blog.

I was offered a 6th grade CORE position the next year, which I would teach as I took my credential classes. I had an amazing year with my students, learned a lot, and got great help and advice from my administration and colleagues.  I didn’t know a thing, but that was OK because I had people to help me learn and practice what I didn’t know. I was hooked and ready for me.  I was fortunate because across campus was a younger version of me hating every second of her first year as a teacher.

Her team was apathetic.  They, in fact, didn’t collaborate.  There was a different teaching and life philosophy from each one.  They would have team meetings because it was expected; nothing came to fruition.  We attended staff meetings. She, like me, coming from private sector held up the school’s expectations because THAT’S YOUR JOB.  My 6th grade CORE colleagues that I worked with (because not all of them did) also held up the expectations.  Then again, we’d all gone from private sector to public education.  We’d had what I would refer to as REAL jobs.  We had different attitudes.

Her team held the idea that you say yes in the meeting, make no waves to be noticed, and then return to your classroom, shut the door, and do whatever you like.

She left teaching for good based on this type of “cover your ass” and “protect yourself” attitude that she thought was endemic of teachers as a whole.  I’ve stayed with teaching because I always find those people who believe as I do.

Thing is, no one on her team was considered BAD.  They weren’t getting attention one way or the other.  They were, in fact, mostly invisible.  No one could accurately describe how or what they taught.  The prevailing thought was that they came in, did their jobs, and the kids learned.  Maybe… Maybe not.

I think we should stop worrying about BAD teachers because those teachers really will reveal themselves over time.  No one wants someone who is bad for students in a classroom.  However, for all the “THE UNION PROTECTS BAD TEACHERS” rhetoric going out there, it’s forgotten that the people who have to address this was the ADMINISTRATORS.  You know, the ones who should have noticed in the first place, but didn’t or didn’t care.  So now they HAVE to pay attention and put in the due diligence to remove these teachers.  THAT is a HUGE task — no joke.

In the meantime, however, the middlin’ teachers are just plugging away like coming to work is the same as showing up at a car wash.  They do what’s expected, no more, and often don’t follow anything innovative — be it academic, community, or behavior plans — because it requires MORE of them.  They aren’t there to make change.  They are there to teach only.  And by teach, they mean deliver the content as scripted.  No more, no less, unless money is attached.

Because these teachers don’t want to be SEEN, they blend in.  They make no waves.  They come with no big ideas, goals, or different ways of doing things.  They are the same day one year one as they are day one year ten.  They aren’t about to draw attention to themselves because then they MIGHT have to put in some work.

Teaching is hard work.  It’s more than content. And we’re barking up the wrong teacher when we concentrate on “bad”.  We should be concentrating on fair, average, middlin’ and not making waves.  Because I guarantee you, when you bring in the reform, these are the ones undermining it and NOT delivering the content.  Even your bad teachers will try unless they are burned out or have given up.  No, it’s your “get along with everyone” and “make friends with the principal” ones that are your problem.

You’re just to blind to see.

How to Hire a Superintendent

According to Suzanne.

In my warped world view, superintendents tend to just jump around district to district.  They stay long enough to have appeared to have done SOMETHING, but not so long that they actually have, thus managing to appear competent. Or at least not incompetent.

I feel like many areas of public life, not enough scrutiny is placed on the person who is going to be leading our students into the future.  In fact, I think that school districts operate a bit like incredibly lucky Exxon Valdezs or Costa Condordias.  We’re just one  catastrophe away from learning our leaders are, for all intents and purposes, drunken cowards who have no clue what leading really means and will feign ignorance at the first real sign of having his/her feet held to the fire.

My solution? Well, since I keep being told it’s the 21st century (like I haven’t figured *THAT* out), I feel we go all social media and Survey Monkey on them.  It seems to me that outgoing superintendents should be mourned.  The whole district community should be saddened at the loss of a true leader, and work towards keeping him/her.  A superintendent’s departure shouldn’t be treated as though it’s no different from being told it’s Tuesday or hot outside.

School districts should be polling potential candidate’s former district asking parents, students, teachers, management, faculty, school board, community members, and all other district employees a series of questions designed to find out WHAT, if anything, that person did during his/her tenure, as well as if they will miss his/her leadership, name five accomplishments or improvements, and name five outstanding issues.  We should be asking about leadership style, accomplishments (BEYOND the job description), visibility, insight, innovation, and community building

It’s surprising to me that in THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY we are still just looking at cover letters, resumes, and letters of recommendation.  There doesn’t appear to be a comprehensive Google search, full review of a candidate’s teaching style and ability, as well as checking out more than the references provided?  Where are our school boards going beyond to actually hire the best people for leading our learning environments?

If it were me, I’d expect the candidate to come in knowing the district, walking me through the plan to maintain or improve, and have a clue as to who the stakeholders are. After all, if they’re only selling themselves that doesn’t help me see what they’re going to do for the district as a whole.

Then after all that, I’d post my top candidates and ask the community to submit follow-up questions, comments, concerns or even “this seems like the best person for the job”.  When we’re talking a QUARTER MILLION dollars and up, we should be getting the best.  Furthermore, let’s treat them they way they feel teachers should be treated.  You get renewed based on the test scores, you’re an “at-will” employee, and raises will be based on evaluations from the classroom.

Until we improve innovation and transparency at our highest levels we will never get the educational system our students deserve.  In other words, stop TELLING me it’s the 21st Century and actually start HIRING like it’s the 21st Century.

Things to Do for The Holidays

This is not my post — at all.  I was talking with my BFF, Cassie, and she remarked that she wanted to compile a list of activities she and her boys could enjoy during the holidays.  Whether she knows it or not, she’s all about making traditions.  So I sent this list to her, and she remarked: “This is going to have to be blogged!!!!!”  Unfortunately, I’m still not sure if she meant her or me.  Therefore, I’m posting the list.  I won’t be performing the list.  I hope that she will be taking on parts of it. 🙂
However, if you need ideas of what to do over the holidays, here are some that I dreamed up.  Mostly it’s about using YouTube to immortalize/embarrass your children.  I’m like that.

The List

  1. Ding Dong Ditch with “gingerbread” houses.  This is a variation of May Day or You’ve Been Booed, only leaving a “gingerbread” house made from graham crackers,  canned frosting, and candy.  Imperfection is part of the charm. Here are two sites to give you a frame of reference. http://beenbooed.com/ and http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Gingerbread-Houses-Using-Graham-Crackers
  2. Driving around looking at lights — extra points for letting any teenager in the family do the driving in the snow
  3. Sending videos of the family singing Christmas Carols to out-of-town relatives
  4. Popping popcorn on your stove/fireplace
  5. Making suet bird feeder thingys for the birds (suet, seed, peanut butter, that kind of thing): http://www.instructables.com/id/peanut-butter-bird-feeder/ or http://web4.audubon.org/educate/educators/bird_feeders.html — remember to get pictures of the project, the hanging, and the happy customers
  6. Seeing Santa at the mall and getting the entire family in the picture.  Extra points for awkward teenager on Santa’s knee poses.
  7. Family secret Santa — pick each other’s names and do little things for each other or give small, but useful gifts.
  8. Family game night — anything that brings people together.  I suck at this so the only game I’m good at is Family Flux.
  9. Hot chocolate and Charlie Brown/Grinch — talk about the true spirit of Christmas
  10. Tape your kids in a duet of Snow Miser and Heat Miser from A Year Without Santa Claus.  Upload to YouTube.  Count your hits. (partial lyrics here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snow_Miser)
  11. Host a dessert party –everyone brings a dozen or 2 dozen sweet treats.  Sing and hang out. Extra points for each person bringing 12 copies of his her favorite mantra/Bible verse to share.
  12. Teach your teenaged son or daughter to do doughnuts in the Walmart parking lot (OK, maybe not!)
  13. Sledding or ice skating as a family — make up some special “reward” for whiners. LOL.
  14. Festival of Trees or Holiday in the Park — whatever your town does to celebrate the winter
  15. Make paper snowflakes and decorate the trees outside
  16. Visit the senior center – take candy, toiletries, and gift cards.  Listen to their stories.
  17. Watch 24 hours of “A Christmas Story”
  18. Dress someone up as Ralphie — post to YouTube! LOL.
  19. Decorate the house — pay attention to weird places — the bathroom, kitchen cupboards, etc.
  20. Find 12 things per person to donate to Goodwill, Catholic Charities, etc.
  21. Dress someone up as Linus from Charlie Brown Christmas to repeat the Bible verse at the end.  Post to YouTube.
  22. Make some sort of Christmas yummy together. Eat or donate or both.
  23. Actually go to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.  See what it’s all about.
  24. Listen to Bill Cosby and laugh.
  25. Snow Angels (if it snows).  Get pictures.
  26. Make a blanket fort in your living room.  Hunker down with books and read to each other
  27. Tape yourself reading “Night Before Christmas” for the future
  28. Shrinky-dinks!
  29. Celebrate Posada
  30. Teach your son/daughter your favorite holiday recipe
  31. Teenage Secret Santa/Snow In — invite your child’s teenaged friends, make each bring a gift, draw a name when they come in and put it on the gift, watch “cheesy” Christmas films and hang out.
  32. Volunteer at the soup kitchen or church
  33. Hugs — one each day +1 working up to 24 hugs by Christmas
  34. White Elephant/Regift party — invite friends, teenagers, family, and have them bring weird gifts or things they don’t want — trade.  When done, anything left over is given to charity — no hard feelings.
  35. Coupons for Grandmas — 12 things to do or help
  36. Gift jars — what makes you special — try to fill one jar per family member — one idea per week (52)
  37. Family memories — sit around and share family stories — write them down or record them
  38. Gratitude cards — one card per day — “What I love about you is ..”
  39. Make a terrarium
  40. Plan a spring garden — flowers or food
  41. Family prayer time
  42. $20 Family Dollar — each person has $5 to spend at the dollar store.  What do they get and why?
  43. Stockpile Twinkies and other Hostess products.  Make each other do silly tricks for them.
  44. Each person writes a “story” for the yearly holiday letter.  Sign holiday cards and mail them no matter the date — even if they are late. 🙂
  45. Gather all the change in the house and give it to the first bell-ringer you find


How Can I Accomplish This?

The other day I ranted about politicians and unions.  Basically that teachers are being taken to task for what’s wrong with education and how our basic right to assemble or support our political causes is being threatened pisses me off greatly.  I think I pointed out that our (mostly male) counterparts are being protected because what they do is “important.”

Now I can see officers and guards being afraid of teachers and teaching.  Why?  Because IF this is true, then we (teachers) are putting them (officers and guards) out of jobs.  It is said that 3rd grade reading scores are used to predict the number of jail cells that will be needed.  Think about that?  How horrifying is that to consider?  That we might actually KNOW as early as age 9 that a child will end up as a criminal?

Then think about how messed up it is that we pour a lot of resources and money into that end of the outcome.  Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to fund education, pour money into early (and often) interventions, and to try to eliminate the need for jail cells?  It seems odd to me that, as a society, we’re willing to pay $47,000 (on average) per year per prisoner in California; however, we only pay $8,852 per student (when adjusted).  Mind you, we aren’t paying them to LIVE at school, but you get the point.

How do we make the huge shift to investment and funding people up-front rather than making huge cost shifts at the back to punish?  It seems to me that if this is true, then we need to make some radical changes now.

Now… How can I accomplish this?

BTW, is anyone amused (if you’ve read my stuff) that the average teacher spends between $2,000 and $5,000 per year to fund education out of their own pockets?  Yes, we’re trying to gift match the states!  Speaking of how do I change that!

Socks Doesn’t Share & Other Stories

Cardboard letter s Foam brick letter O Stickle Brick Letter c letter K letter S

Yesterday I walked into the computer room to find Keb playing World of Warcraft (WOW) while perched at the front of the chair.  I asked him if she had jumped up there when he left to go get something and was now too attached to move.  “No,” he told me.  “She jumped up after I sat down and just refused to move.”  😛

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Of course, this is my fault.  When we first got her, I wanted her to get familiar with us and have places she could call her own.  One day I just plopped her in the chair.  There she has dominated ever since.  Taed was annoyed with me because he didn’t want her to occupy his chair (eminent domain notwithstanding, there is a hair issue), but it was too late.  She’d already taken over like it was October 1939.

While I have been VERY happy that she uses the litter box and stays out of the garbage, she does seem to get up on things.  We found her package of “treats” gnawed on (of course some sort of aluminum wrapper) and some sick next to it.  She definitely needs access to food.  The other day she managed to get Taed to follow her downstairs to show him she was without food or drink.  Today, she discovered the food bag when I went to feed her.  I’m betting she will just help herself in the future.

She also has an incredible desire to be outside.  She is a thwarted huntress.  We should just rename her Artemis (given that she doesn’t know her name AT ALL it wouldn’t be a big deal.  Seriously, Keb thinks of her as Mittens, Taed calls her Lucy (after our old broken cat), and I refer to her as Boots (my Mom’s cat who Socks resembles) so she’s already confused) to seal the deal. She has jumped from our balcony railing to the neighbor’s garage roof.  She has climbed under our fence.  Truly, she wants to be outside chasing bird and squirrel.

And I had been perplexed about the number of small items in weird places. I’m now certain she either plays with them or drags them around or both.  Seriously, there’s a fuzzy pink toy at the end of our bed.  It wasn’t there last night.  Taed thinks she’s presenting us with her kill.  I don’t know.  I just know that it’s her house now, and I just happen to live here.