Thursday, April 28, 2011

Maddie and Lola are awesome

After last week's rant I was going to try and come up with something really light hearted and funny for this week's entry. I'm still annoyed with the lack of concern for the education of our children in this country, though, so I can't do that. Instead I decided I'd show you why I care so much about this topic and what motivates me to keep pushing the issue. So, i'm going to tell you about my kids and show off pictures of them.

Maddie and Lola are my girls and my reason for everything. Maddie's 8 and Lola is almost 2. "Wow, Tim, that's quite an age gap," I can hear you saying. Yes, it is and my wife wrote an explanation for this that I could never top, so just go to her far superior blog to read it*.

Anyway, my girls are two sides of a coin. They couldn't be more different in many ways, but they complement each other beautifully and are so amazing together that I can't even stand it. I'm a lucky guy, indeed. I love 'em both madly and am pursuing a life as a teacher because of them. I owe it to them to fulfill my purpose so I can make sure they pursue theirs with equal conviction.

Whatever, bring on pics of the kids.

So there you have it. My kids are incredible and full of awesomeness. That's why I get so fired up over things like I do. I get fired up for your kids too. They all deserve it. 

* shameless plug for the wife's blog. She's awesome and her blog is too. I love her as much as my kids, but she won't be happy if I put a picture of her on here. Ooooops:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

it's not all puppies and sunshine, kids

I’ve had a hard time coming up with something to write this week. I feel like I’ve hit a wall; not with the blog, I can keep pumping smart-aleck commentary without taking a breath. Just ask my wife. I’ve hit a wall with regard to my journey, as I’ve come to call it.
I think it’s easy to not face your fears and pretend that everything is OK all the time. At some point, though, you’ve got to wake up and assess the reality around you. And my reality is that I am bummed out right now. Don’t misunderstand; I still feel I’ve made the right choice in hitting the reset and starting over. I love the time I get with my girls and am committed as ever to public education. What’s got me bummed out is how education, and the professionals committed to education are being diminished and used as a scapegoat for “what’s wrong with America today.”
I think I’m bummed out for a couple reasons. For one, budgets are getting slashed and I’m worried that I’m investing all this time and money and won’t be able to get a job. This is the pragmatic bummer. I am responsible for a family and need to support them and I lie awake at night afraid I have set my family back for my own selfish goals. I think I’d make a pretty good teacher, but I’m worried I won’t get the opportunity if things continue to decline. This is not the big bummer that has me down.
The big thing that bums me out is how it has become so easy to point at teachers, teachers’ unions and front-line education professionals as the “problem.” I have strong opinions on what the problem is (and they are the same as they were before I decided to teach).  I think far too much emphasis has been placed on “results” and not enough on education. Sure, test scores can be valuable; but they are not and should never be the be all end all of whether a student is learning. I want to educate, not be a test prep facilitator. The core of this issue and my greatest peeve of the modern view of public education is that somewhere over the last decade someone decided that EVERYTHING should be run like a business and focused 100% on ROI (that’s Return On Investment, for those of you lucky enough to have avoided the cubicle farms all these years). It makes me want to scream. A business model doesn’t work on everything. Heck, it often doesn’t even work in business. The only return on investment that should be worried about when it comes to education is that our kids are learning. It doesn’t take a winner takes all test one day out of their year to determine that. It takes engaging with them, spending time to create understanding of their world and teaching them how to communicate that understanding to others. Assess their skill at that. I wrote essays and reports, took short answer quizzes and tests all through my academic life and, frankly, I turned out to be a pretty well-rounded, intelligent, and successful guy. So did many other of my friends and family.
We’ve only been “failing” at education since we based everything on a high stakes snapshot test. There are a hundred reasons that these tests don’t accurately reflect knowledge, capability, or learning. What they do reflect accurately is test taking skills and the level of preparation they were provided. Yay.
It’s time we as a society woke up and realized we took a wrong turn somewhere on the road to education. The teachers, principals, and school boards didn’t take that turn; they were guided down it by Federal mandates. Let’s get back to educating and away from just measuring. It’s pretty easy to leave no child behind when you aren’t moving forward. Contact your representatives, senators and even the President and tell them that education deserves better, and so do our kids.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll try to be funnier next week.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Crap I don't miss about corporate work

I was all set to write an angry, serious post this week (and still might; it's only Sunday...) about investing in Public Education. I need to give that more thought before I launch into a tirade so here's a little lighter view of things.

The thesis of this post comes courtesy of my friend Mike. He's not at all corporate, but he has a business and his comments about work last week got me thinking about how happy I am in my new pursuit and how little I miss that world. Without further stall, here's the crap I don't miss about working in the corporate/business world 9and probably a thing or two I do...)

First- I do not miss the politics/game-playing. I realize this goes on to some degree in all lines of work, but I have never seen it so hideously as in my corporate experiences. Instead of working hard to accomplish objectives, energy is wasted making someone else look inferior or incompetent. So basically nothing really ever gets done and the world is a death spiral of blaming someone else (which is really easy to do when you've been busy thinking of ways to toss Bob under the bus instead of getting your ducks in a proverbial row). Ever read Dilbert? It's so popular because it's accurate.

After that comes hiring and firing. These go together, because it's a vicious cycle. hiring is awful because it takes FOREVER to find the one good applicant in a steaming pile of crappy resumes. I won't go into specifics in this space to protect the innocent, but I've had some doozies of interviews too. You know where the phrase "...but they looked good on paper..." came from? Interviewing some idiot with a resume that looks too good. Resume seem perfect? skip to the next, 'cause it's probably 85% BS. I have found that seemingly flawed resumes with great attitudes made for the best interviews and were probably some of the best hires I ever made. Firing people sucks, even when they deserve it. Even if the person screwed up royally after chance and chance and chance again to fix things, firing them is awful. You're messing up someone's day and/or life and it's no fun. I found a hundred ways to rationalize firing folks and was justified a good 95% of the time (I guarantee I made mistakes or rushed judgment in at least a couple cases, that's why I hated it). Firing,  sorry, I mean "laying someone off" is even worse. Ugh. Here's some poor soul who showed up, did what they were asked, but the numbers dictate they had to go. It's awful and wrecks morale like nobody's business. I was fortunate in that I didn't have to do the deed in layoff situations. But, I was the ferryman on the  River Styx. As a mid-level manager, it was up to me to pull the damned from their cubicle, escort them to the little conference room of doom, then collect them and help get their personals out the door. There is no small talk that works in that scenario, trust me. One story on that one- The very first experience I had with layoff-escorting I had to walk this guy out. I didn't know him at all and we do the silent walk of discomfort across the building, when at the exit he says, "oh no, I forgot my keys." Yep. we had to walk all the way back to his desk, get his keys, and return to the exit. Good times. 

Reports. For the sake of reporting. So many hours of valuable work time wasted making reports that no one will read, understand or care about. My favorite line about reports was "this is for the execs, so make sure there aren't many words and it's really colorful." What I'm basically saying is, see, I'm totally qualified to teach your second graders. I've educated my bosses.
Conference calls. No further explanation needed.
(no, it could not)
Meetings. They're like conference calls, except it's harder to ignore the other participants, and there is no mute button.

There's plenty more I don't/will never miss. But, I don't want you thinking it was all bad. I miss:

The people (mostly). I've been lucky to work with a number of really cool people. The bummer about workplace relationships (not that kind...) is that when work no longer ties you to those people, you drift away at breakneck pace. It's sad, sorta, that I don't get the camaraderie on a daily basis I used to enjoy. The morning walk for coffee was one of my favorite things, and I can't really explain why because it had nothing to do with getting out of the office. It was the morning BS session of the guys from the office and it was fun. At least I can get coffee whenever I want now, and don't have to go to meetings; I can live with the trade.

I miss the paycheck. Really I do. Let's be honest; I am not on the path to riches and glory in the world of education. I made more in my last year as a middle manager than I probably will in any year as a teacher, and I wasn't in the top tier of "industry averages." It's a good thing that wealth doesn't equal success. I've got a dream family, the best friends a guy could ask for and a life that is ridiculously fulfilling. i need to pay the bills, but I don't need to chase the dollar. Slowing that roll has actually been nice, and living simply has its benefits (but that's a topic for another day).

Take care and come back for more; I swear it'll get better!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Friends, influences, and inspiring strangers

Well, school is back in session for me; Spring Quarter is in full effect, as the young hip kids say. Or at least they did when I was a young, aspiring-to-be-hip kid. Anyway, in one of my classes (classroom management, a class I am fully psyched about) we were asked to think about and share a memorable teacher with the group. I'll get to my choice in a bit, don't worry...As I thought about that question I was struck by how fortunate I have been to have had many wonderful teachers; but then I thought, "hey, teachers aren't the only people that shaped me into the burgeoning educator both of you are reading about today!"  To give credit where it's due, today I'll share a list of the people that have influenced me, helped me along, or simply earned my admiration.

  1. My parents (and my wife's folks) - No explanation needed here, I think, but you'll get one anyway. Years ago, the wife and I were talking with a friend and we realized that all our parents were still in their first marriages (25+ years in each case). Today, our parents are in the 40-years of wedded bliss ballpark. This is so inspirational to me as these people have made it work, through all kinds of circumstances, for a long time. It is uncommon to see today, and we can all learn from them. How did they get through the challenging days? What's their secret? If I could bottle and sell it, believe me I would. Good job moms and dads, and thanks for the example.
  2. My wife -  Insert sappy "awwwwww" here if you must, but Mrs. M. is five-feet, two inches of awesomeness. She is an A-mazing teacher and cares more for her students than any three normal people would be capable of. She has supported me in every step I have taken since we've been together (14 years of together-time and hitting 12 years of married-time this year), and believe me, there have been lots of steps. And, best of all she is the best mom EVAR. Which leads us to...
  3. My two girls -  Madzilla is 8, and the Lolamonster is 1.5. The cool thing about kids is they are always learning something new. It's a great lesson for the rest of us. Seize each day and learn something from it. Why are my kids so cool? Maddie is a bundle of creative energy; always drawing, writing songs or a new story, she is constantly interpreting her world in some new way. Lola is a fireball! She takes on her world with all the confidence available to one unaware of consequences. It's so much fun to watch her explore and learn. While I'm in school I'm also a full-time, stay at home dad. This allows me to learn and share so much with them and I count myself incredibly lucky to do so.
  4. Tom, Ari, Mike (and others...), my friend -  Each of these guys have made great things for themselves in life. When I check in on what's new with any one of them I find something awesome. Tom and Mike are both new dads and  I can relate to both of them in new ways now and appreciate their journey even more. Ari is an uncompromising individual and I am always finding my thinking or world-view challenged in some way by his stance toward our world. Thanks guys, you've been awesome.
  5. Sir Ken Robinson. Watch this and if you aren't challenged, concerned and inspired about educating the youth of the world, Google his name and watch some more. If that doesn't move you....I don't know what will. He has quickly become a major influence on my educational philosophy. Seriously, check him out; He'll make you think  
  6. Bill Gates - Not because he's loaded; not because of Microsoft; and not completely because of the Gates Foundation. The spirit of philanthropy he carries with him is phenomenal. He has given away billions ( more than a third of his personal fortune...) to help make our world better. I don't think it's practical for us all to follow suit exactly, after all he still has billions to spare; but, we can all be inspired to do our part when and how we are able.
  7. OK, OK, I'll get to the teachers. Like I said before, I have been blessed with many wonderful teachers. All of them inspired me in some way to be a teacher by the example they set. Three that stand out for me are Randy Crump, Melanie Shelnutt, and Linda Morrison. Coach Crump was the first to really challenge my thinking, and the first teacher to tell me to "get my ass in gear;" Yes, a direct quote and yes, I deserved it. He saw potential in me and opened my eyes to many different ways to look at the world. Ms Shelnutt was and is such an inspirational spirit. She founded and advised the Future Georgia Educators chapter in my high school and gave me my first chance to work with kids in a school environment, tutoring first graders. Finally, we come to Mrs. Morrison. She challenged us, pushed us and respected us all as not only students but as future participants in our democratic society. Even today, she calls on her students to voice our opinions (well supported of course) on the world around us. The reason she was noted as my "memorable teacher" in class the other day is this story: At my high school graduation, she was handing off diplomas on my side of the stage before we walked across to shake the principal's hand. As I approached she held my diploma back and asked me one question. "Are you going to teach?" she wouldn't hand me the thing until I said yes. I'll never forget that story and I'll never forget the teachers who have inspired me.
There you have it. These are folks I admire in some way or another. If you're on the list, thank you for all you've meant to me. Hopefully I've made you proud in some way as well. I'm ready to move forward and get to teaching, so I need to go do my homework now. Sorry it's taken me so long to make good on my promise Mrs Morrison:)