Friday, January 22, 2010

Make a Difference, Not Excuses

I don't believe that at college one learns "how to teach". When attending the school of education one learns educational philosophies, best practices, and content knowledge, but the "real" learning takes place in the classroom. It is interesting watching fresh, new teachers enter the field thinking they know everything, and then realizing after just a few weeks in the trenches they know nothing. To become an accomplished musician, one has to make music, and to become a master teacher one has to teach. Just like music has changed and evolved over the decades so must teaching.

This is my thirty-first year of working in the field of education. I have gone through an evolution process throughout my teaching career. When I look back at some of my personal teaching philosophies I roll my eyes, make that tsking noise, and wonder, "What was I thinking?' I am not proud of some of the teaching strategies I have used, but I am proud that throughout my teaching career I have looked to myself to make a change. As the neighborhood I teach in has evolved over the years and has sent my school different kinds of students from military "brats" to English language learners, I have had to change my thinking to accommodate the different socioeconomic students.

In Arizona our "test" is called the AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards). Unfortunately, everything revolves around the AIMS. Whether or not a school goes into school improvement depends on how well a school does on the AIMS. The federal government has passed No Child left Behind, and this bill insists that by 2012 one hundred percent of students attending public schools must meet or exceed the standards as measured by the AIMS. 100%!
The grades that are scrutinized are third, fifth and eighth. There is so much pressure on third, fifth and eighth grade teachers to make sure that their students excel on the AIMS. Even though administration touts that everyone is responsible for a school's success on the AIMS, the heavy pressure is placed on third, fifth, and eighth grade teachers. One has to be extremely brave to choose to teach third, fifth, and eigth grade in Arizona.

I was a fifth grade teacher for many years and faced that tremendous pressure to get my students to do well on the AIMS. Eight years ago fifth grade at my school was not doing well on the AIMS, and I fell into a trap. A trap so deep I thought I wasn't going to make it out. I was snared. I fell into the trap of excuses: The test is too hard. The test doesn't measure what we are teaching. The test is too long. The students don't understand. It is . . . . It doesn't . . . . . . . . They can't . . . . . . They don't . . . . . . They won't . . . . . . . STOP! HELP!

Thank God, I was rescued! A colleague reached in and pulled me out of that trap. I started team teaching with Colleen Meyer. At the time we weren't friends, we knew we had the same philosophies and ideas, but what we didn't know was what we would be able to do together. I learned more from Colleen than I did from any college professor or mentor. The most important thing I learned was to stop making excuses and start making a difference. When we looked at data no longer did I say, "Oh great, they didn't get it!", we perused the data, found OUR problem places, and decided where we were going to make a change in our teaching. Over the years our teaching evolved and so did our friendship. I thanked God for Colleen daily because I was driving down the rutted teaching path, and she drove up and pulled me out of those ruts.

For every teaching excuse we made a change:

Our parents can't help our students with their homework. We expected them to do there homework. We gave our students our phone number and told them, "Call us if you need help on your homework or if there is an emergency." I have never had students misuse this privilege.

Our students need more help than we can give them. We expected them to be responsible for their learning. Our classroom was open all day. We arrived early (Colleen arrived really early), and our students started coming in early for help. We ate lunch in our room to help our students during their lunch recess. On days that we didn't have meeting our doors were open for any student to enter and ask for help.

Our students don't care about their progress. We expected them to care. We showed them where they were and where they needed to be, and we conferenced with them individually to discuss how that individual student was going to reach their goal.

Our students aren't motivated to learn. We expected them to be motivated. We created silly incentives, but most important we showered our students with praise. We honored our students. We celebrated their successes no matter how small.

When I stopped making excuses and started making changes with my teaching, my students soared. I believe teaching is the hardest job in the world. It is easy to fall into the excuses trap. If there is a teacher reading this that has fallen into a trap, don't despair, reach out for help. It is okay to ask for help. If the words, "They can't . . . " begins to appear, STOP, and say, "I will . . . ., They will . . . . ., I can . . . . ., They can. . . . " It is difficult clawing a way out of a trap, but it is possible!

Paco's Perspective

"Paco, Flip is just a puppy. He doesn't know about sharing toys." You also shouldn't make excuses for that dog!

The Flip Side

The reason I poop on Breann's floor is . . . . wait, don't make excuses, . . . . . the reason I don't always come when you call is . . . . .oops, don't make excuses . . . . . I'm thinking . . . . .I'm thinking . . . . . I'm thinking I don't get this game.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I Should Have Been a Cowboy

The state of Arizona is experiencing its worse budget crisis in recent history. The state of Arizona has a three billion dollar deficit. Over the past few years the state has got itself into this deficit by borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. Peter is now pissed, and he wants his money back. Peter has friends in the Mafia and so the state has decided to balance the budget. Since, fifty percent of Arizona's budget is spent on education (which happens to be in the bottom five for the amount states spend on education), then the cuts will affect the field of education the greatest. I should have been a cowboy.

Last year, Cartwright School District (whom I happen to work for) had to make a nine million dollar budget reduction. In order to cut this much money, Cartwright had to borrow from Peter to pay Paul. Now, one would think that Paul would have learned his lesson with the state, but he must be co-dependent. Anyway, this year Cartwright has to make a $7.4 million to a $9.8 million cut to the M & O budget. Of course, cuts to the M & O budget involve cuts to the school personnel which includes teachers, principals, secretaries and aides. Aides will be let go, teachers salaries will be cut, teachers will be cut, assistant principals will be cut, class sizes will increase. It is called The Stack 'em Deep and Teach 'em Cheap Theory. I should have been a cowboy. I should have learned to rope and ride.

I have worked for the Cartwright School District for thirty years. This is my thirty-first year, and I should have received an award and gift for thirty years of service. I was overlooked and told that there was no more money for service awards this year. (That damn Peter-Paul thing!) But, really what was I going to do with $100 gift card to Home Depot; paint my room again? One reason I continued to teach for the Cartwright District was it had a great retirement package which is now gone. Now, I continue to work for the insurance which the district is thinking of changing or taking away. I should have been a cowboy. I should have learned to rope and ride. Wearing my six, shooter riding my pony on a cattle drive.

In the past, when there were budget cuts at the district I had no worries. I had seniority. I knew I had a job. Guess what? Not any more. The state of Arizona has taken tenure away from teachers. I no longer have seniority. I no longer have any job security. I could be riffed for no reason. If one is a numbers person, and if one needs to make cuts, it would be obvious to start at the top salary. And that would be me. I should have been a cowboy. I should have learned to rope and ride. Wearing my six shooter, riding my pony on a cattle drive. Just like Gene and Roy.

My New Year's Resolution was to NOT be a pissypants! So, I must look on the bright side. This next school year I will have a job. The Cartwright District has promised to honor seniority, this next year, but, at one time, the district also promised to buy back one's sick days at one's time of retirement. A promise to buy back sick days that the district might now just take away. OOPS! I will not be a pissypants! I will not be a pissypants! I WILL HAVE A JOB! I WILL HAVE INSURANCE (one way or the other)! And I LOVE my job. I really do. I don't like breaks. I would rather work. My job brings me joy. My job fills my heart. Even though I am asked to do more and more for less and less, I still love my job and I wouldn't want to do anything else!

Aw, let's face it, what else could a fifty-four year old crippled kid do? I am not fun, but I am funny. I could be a stand-up comedienne. Oops, I can't stand. I could sing and dance my way to fame and fortune. Oops, I can't sing. I could sell flowers in a tube top on the corner. Yikes, that is an ugly visualization.

I should have been a cowboy.
I should have learned to rope and ride.
Wearing my six shooter,
Riding my pony
On a cattle drive.
Just like Gene and Roy,
Singing those campfire songs.
Aw, I should have been a cowboy.
lyrics written by Toby Keith

Paco's Perspective

Yea, and I should have been a great dane, Miss Pissypants!

The Flip Side

I should have been . . . . I should have been . . . . I should have been . . . . okay wait, give me a minute, I'll think of something.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Uphill, Both Ways

Recently, I just turned fifty-four years. At one time in my life I thought that was extremely old. Then I turned fifty-four, and it didn't seem so old. Turning fifty-four gave me pause to think about my father who died at the young age of fifty-four.

My father was a country boy through and through from the tip of his cute little nose to end of his toes. He lived on a farm in Princeton, Missouri. He listened to country music. He knew how to country dance. My father had a country boy attitude. He was full of country sayings.

My father passed time when he was young like all country boys. He rode horses, helped with the farm, went hunting, and caused mischief. I remember my aunt telling me about when my father and uncle would go "frog giggin'". My father would make my aunt put on a heavy coat, and he would shoot his BB gun at her. If she yelled, "Ow!", he knew the gun would kill frogs.

I was extremely fortunate to grow up in a home with parents that accepted my brother's and my disability without a single grumble. There was never self-pity. (If there was grumbling and self-pity, my parents made sure we never heard it.) We were given the opportunity to do everything that other kids our age did. When friends of the family were camping and riding motorbikes, my father made sure that our family did the same. He built motorbikes with sidecars to accommodate our disability. I don't ever remember feeling depressed that I couldn't do what my friends could do because, I knew, all I had to do was tell my parents that I wanted to something and they would figure out a way to make it happen. My father was a visionary, and I believed that with his genius I could do anything.

My father never spanked us. I only remember him taking his belt off, snapping it, and threatening to use it, once! The only thing my father had to say was, "I am so disappointed in you!" When he said that I would crumble. Sadly, for my mom, my father left all the disciplinary actions to her.

My father always had interesting wise words of wisdom and odd sayings. We always heard the familiar, "When I was your age . . . . . . ." I remember continually being told, "When I was your age I had to walk to school every day. I had to walk five miles uphill in the snow."

We would reply, "Really, Dad, uphill, both ways?"

"Yes, I lived in a very hilly area," he would explain.

"And always in the snow?" we would inquire.

"Yes, I only went to school on snowy days. I had to work in the fields the days it didn't snow."

My mother would chime in, "Don't let your father fool you. He rode a horse to school. The horse knew the way so well that your father slept both ways, and it wasn't uphill. And it definitely wasn't in the snow."

My father had a unique way of describing people and events. I had a friend in high school that loved my father's saying. She would write down what he said, and she would tell him, "Someday I am going to write a book of your sayings." She didn't write a book, but I am happy to share them with my readers. Here goes:
  • He was shaking like a dog shitting razor blades.
  • She is homelier than an old mud fence.
  • That boy could eat corn on a cob through a picket fence.
  • It is colder than a well digger's ass in July.
  • It is hotter than nickel night at the whore house.
  • It is a vicious circle, like wiping your ass on a hoop.
  • He is so skinny he has to run around the shower to get wet.
  • You can't carry a tune in paper sack.
  • She was so ugly we had to tie a pork chop around her neck before the dogs would play with her.
I don't have many memories of my father. If I had known he was going to die at such a young age, I would have been sure to take "mind snapshots" of my father. Remember it is never too late to take "mind snapshots" of your family and friends. Don't forget to make memories.

Paco's Perspective

How's this for clever sayings?
  • Flip is dumber than a box of rock .
  • Lights are on, but . . . . . . . .
  • There are bats in the new kid's belfry!
Don't stop me now, I am on a roll.

The Flip Side

Paco twirls like . . . . . twirls like . . . . . . . .twirls like . . . . . . . ,okay, I give up!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Patience of Job

I have two dogs. One is a maltese and terrier which makes him a Mallmutt. The Mallmutt was dumped near our home. He was brought home in hopes of finding his owner and if not, then he would be taken to the Humane Society. But, everyone in the family fell in love with Filp, the Mallmut,t and he is now a much loved member of the family. My other dog is a chihuahua and his name is Paco. Paco is not a normal yippy-yappy snarling chihuahua. From day one I made sure that he was socialized. If anyone asked to hold him, it was allowed. He was raised with a five year old girl that carried him around everywhere she went. He has played surgery, beauty parlor, house, school and prison with the five year old. I have found him wrapped in blankets in a stroller and even stuffed inside a box. Paco has the patience of Job.

Paco is now three years old and I get worried that someday he will lose his patience. When Flip showed up Paco had to share his toys, bed, food, and loving. Because Flip is a stray he is a bit food, toy and bed aggressive, and Patient Paco just goes with the flow.

This past week a dear friend, Rhonda, and her granddaughter, Lexi, came to visit. Lexi latched onto Paco like a leech to skin. She carried him everywhere. Lexi would pick Paco up under his front legs and tote him around, and Paco would just look at me as if to say, "Hey, I thought we were done with five year olds!" Lexi would fling him on the bed and jump on the bed with him. She would lay on top of him. She would hold him up in the air. She would fling him off the bed. For the entire visit a moment didn't go by that Paco wasn't being kid-handled, and he NEVER growled or snapped at her. Lexi was twenty pounds of energy in a five pound bag!

Lexi said, "Caffy (that's me), Paco is my new BFF."

"Really? You like him that much!" I replied.

"Yes, I love Paco. Paco is the best chickachickahuahua in the world," giggled Lexi.

Lexi is right. I was never a dog person, and I never thought I would become one, but I have. Paco is, also, my BFF. He is always happy to see me. He is so happy to see me he twirls when I come into a room.(Actually, he twirls when anyone comes into a room.) Paco follows me wherever I go. He guards me continuously. Paco knows when he is needed. Paco is the best chickachickahuahua in the world!

Paco's Perspective

Yikes! That giggling Lexi was a handful. I haven't seen her today. Did she go home? Please tell me she went home!

The Flip Side

Hey, what about me? I am good dog! I am a good dog! I am a good dog! Paco isn't as patient as you think.