Friday, December 5, 2014

Maker Movement

Friess Lake School has once again received grant money for our Maker’s Lab from Cognizant’s Making the Future education initiative.  They look for programs that “…seek to inspire young learners to pursue science, technology, engineering and math disciplines by creating fun, hands-on learning opportunities.  Makers are driven by the challenge of the projects they tackle, while also engaging in design- and project-based learning that can nurture creativity and develop proficiency in the STEM and arts disciplines (STEAM).”
As we continue to look for ways to grow the program, we are in partnership with School Factory, a non-profit organization that helps to foster value-creating communities and spaces that transform education, economy, and community.  School Factory supports and creates community environments like hackerspaces, makerspaces, co-working spaces, and other places where diverse communities come together to build, make, and teach one another.
School Factory has a mission to support us and help us develop the future of learning here at Friess Lake School.  
This is exciting, transformative work.  There is literally NOTHING else like this happening in our area.   As we embark on the journey, we are constantly challenged to ‘Think Big.  No.  Bigger than that!’  The Friess Lake Maker’s Lab is currently a two classroom place that is accessed by our students during the school day.  What happens in there can be magic.  That said, we’re thinking bigger.  We’re thinking of ways to expand the way of thinking and operating into other classrooms, we’re thinking of ways to include local businesses and the community, and we’re asking what else we should be thinking of doing.

Special Thanks to Cognizant, School Factory, the Friess Lake School Board, and to teachers Jerry Hoefs and Ashley Nesbit

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Vouchers: Path to Second Rate

Here is a brief excerpt from a Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance publication: 
Appendix #4: Vouchers: Path to Second Rate
Under the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide private school choice programs, state funds are used to subsidize the cost of children to attend private, primarily religious, schools
participating in the program.
Table 1 shows the expansion of vouchers since Wisconsin began subsidizing private education in 1989.

Today, there is a push to expand the statewide program by increasing the enrollment cap of 1,000 students.

This push is the quintessential example of ideology trumping evidence and violates the first rule of policy development--do no harm. Below, we summarize some of the primary arguments against the expansion of the voucher program, and cite leading editorial voices from major
Wisconsin newspapers.
Vouchers Do Not Improve Student Learning

The fact is that numerous studies from across the country have shown that students offered vouchers do
not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools. For example, in its analysis of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 2011, the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau released a five-year longitudinal study, which concluded that students in Milwaukee using vouchers to attend private schools
performed no better on standardized tests than their counterparts in public schools (see the study at ).
The Opportunity Costs of Vouchers: Path to Second Rate

For every dollar the State of Wisconsin spends on an ineffective program, such as vouchers, it loses the opportunity to invest in programs that are effective in improving teaching and
learning for all students.
In the 2014-15 school year almost seventy-five percent of applications for the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program were for students previously enrolled in private schools. 56  When you consider voucher advocates stated goal of a "voucher in every backpack" you begin to understand just how expensive it would be to fund two systems of education.  As of 2012-13,
there were 97,488 students enrolled in private schools who did not receive a taxpayer subsidy.  Multiplying that number by the current voucher amounts to totals over $700 million.
If leading states and nations continue to invest in proven strategies to raise achievement for ALL students while Wisconsin resources are tied up in an ineffective and expensive entitlement
the Badger State will relegate itself to a second-rate competitor on the global stage.
Judging from years of evidence in Milwaukee, where the (Milwaukee

Parental Choice) program has existed since the 1990s, there is precious

little data to show that students in the voucher program do any better

than students in the mainline Milwaukee Public Schools.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Editorial, February 19, 2013

Let’s be perfectly clear about this: Wisconsin cannot afford two parallel school structures — a public school

system, which is constitutionally mandated for those who profess to care about the state constitution, and

a private school system operating without the same mandates as the public schools.

Oshkosh Northwestern, Editorial, February 9, 2013

Vouchers Lack Public Accountability

Private voucher schools have little public accountability, which is in stark contrast to the strong controls imposed on public schools.  For example, private voucher schools do not have to comply with the state's Open Meetings and Open Records laws, are not required to meet the federal standards of hiring "highly qualified" teachers, and in fact, can even hire teachers who are unlicensed.
In addition, private voucher schools are not bound by most state instructional requirements, do not follow uniform state graduation requirements, and are not required to be part of the
state’s educator effectiveness system.  They do not have to accept all students, nor provide
students with the same due process protections afforded by public schools.
What guarantee do taxpayers have that the private “voucher” schools that open up shop have properly

trained staff and aren’t scams managed by someone simply trying to make a quick buck? And over time

what happens to the public school system in general as more money is diverted elsewhere while the public

system is left to deal with those students who have various special needs that require more resources?

That’s why expanding vouchers needs to be done only when everything else to improve the educational

environment has failed. And why in the world wouldn’t we all do what we can to help our local public

schools succeed?

Eau Claire Leader Telegram, Editorial, February 28, 2013

And the argument posed by some that “I pay property taxes so my taxes should go to the school that I

want my child to go to” is faulty. We don’t pay taxes to fund our child’s education. We pay taxes to fund

public education, plain and simple — and, again, mandated by the state constitution.

There are those with much money and many powerful lobbyists, in Wisconsin and across the nation, who

are pushing voucher schools as a way, step by step, to promote private education at the expense of public

education. Their ultimate goal is to have taxpayers pay for any student, no matter their zip code or their

income level, to go to a private school.

They have a foothold in our Legislature through campaign spending for like-minded legislators. They

have an ally in Walker. But they can’t be allowed to win.

Public education is on the line in Wisconsin. The governor’s plan is indeed a serious threat to those

870,000 children who depend on it.

Appleton Post Crescent: Editorial, February 23, 2013


Table 1: History of Wisconsin’s Voucher Program
Year    Act      Decision

1989 336 Open to pupils in City of Milwaukee

Family income less than 175% of the federal poverty level

Private schools had to be nonsectarian and in the City of Milwaukee

No more than 1% of the MPS enrollment could participate

No more than 49% of a choice school’s enrollment could be choice pupils

1993 16 Increased limit to 1.5% of the MPS enrollment could participate

No more than 65% of a choice school’s enrollment could be choice pupils
1995 27 Sectarian schools could now participate

Increased limit to 15% of the MPS enrollment could participate
Deleted the percentage limit on the share of choice pupils in a choice school
2005 125 Increased enrollment limit for the program to 22,500 pupils
Continuing pupils and siblings of pupils were eligible for the program if their
family income was under 220% of the federal poverty level
2011 32 Deleted the enrollment limit on the program

Raised the income threshold to 300% of the federal poverty level
Deleted the geographic requirement for schools in the program

Created a process under which a parental choice program could be created in
eligible school districts other than MPS
2011 15 Voucher program created for Racine

2013 20

Statewide voucher program established. Initially, it would be limited to 500

students the first year and 1,000 students every year thereafter.

Family income less than 185% of the federal poverty level
Those special-interests groups, which are offshoots of national groups and get much of their money from

outside the state, have mixed motives. Some of their supporters are truly devoted to preserving private,

especially religious, education. But others on a national level see the voucher push as a way for them

to make money investing in private schools. And others, for philosophical or political reasons, want to

undermine public education. Whatever the motivation, these groups are extremely well-financed and

well-connected politically.

The half of the state’s population that knows little about voucher schools needs to learn—and learn

quickly. This push is coming hard already. And the future of public education is at stake.

Appleton Post Crescent: Editorial, March 23, 2013


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Narratives and anecdotes

The State of the Union Address has become high theater, and the nature of the speech has changed over time.  President Reagan perfected the use of the personal story as a way of making a larger point.  He told real stories about real people, and often had them in attendance.  Those stories resonated with the American people and helped President Reagan achieve some legislative victories.  He and his speechwriters were able to "shrink the change" from a huge federal policy or program down to one person or small group.

The State of the Union Address has never been the same - as every subsequent president has tried to use personal stories and anecdotes to advance their own legislative ideals.

Here is an example of that technique from the folks in the School Choice movement:

Nice marketing.

Public schools have endless stories just like it.  Here at Friess Lake, we once had a student who became homeless during the course of the year.  There are no shelters or halfway houses anywhere near our district, so when the child was transferred there they should've had to attend the local, urban middle school.  Through extraordinary effort- we found a way to keep the child coming here.  Usually, that meant that one of our employees voluntarily drove down to a halfway point to meet a van twice a day.  And more, so much more.

Friess Lake was an oasis for this student, as so many public schools are for so many kids.  That's the real story of public education.  We have tons of real stories about real students who have been supported and nurtured through difficult times and against long odds.  Often, that support and nurturing is done anonymously and, historically, most of the people offering the extra support and nurturing were union employees. 

Gasp.  Wait.  What?  Public sector employees that care about kids and families?  Yup.  If you don't think that is happening- turn off the TV and get out more.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


In the wake of every election, there is often one political party that appears to be on the verge of death.  In the wake of the Democratic wave of 2008, some pundits breathlessly pronounced that the Republicans were DOA as a national party.  Then 2010 happened.

Right now, it looks pretty grim for the Democrats.  Rightly so, as they ran a bunch of lackluster candidates with no real message.  Democratic apologists who try to put lipstick on the pig and dismiss the results as nothing more than a typical second term midterm result are doing the party no favors.

Arguably, the Republicans could've seized control of the Senate earlier, but they continued to run some loopy candidates and tripped over themselves.  To their credit, Republicans seem to have learned some valuable lessons in the last couple election cycles.  There are now formidable Republican incumbents at every level of state and federal government across the states.

Democrats have a thin bench at the moment, and seem to be pinning all of their hopes on a successful Presidential run by Hillary Clinton. 

It is true that the 2016 Senate map is more favorable for the Democrats, but they still need to come up with a message that resonates with people.  Rote repetition of "I'm for the minimum wage, birth control, abortion, illegal immigration, and- oh by the way-Republicans are scary" is NOT GOING TO GET IT DONE. Enough already.

The Democratic Party is not dead, but it is not well, and it will not recover without undergoing an autopsy and honestly confronting the results.

I often wonder if we would be better off as a nation without political parties.  Interesting question, but also totally hypothetical.  We have a two party system- with independents and third parties occasionally nibbling at the margins.  In that scenario, it's best for the country when both parties are functional, on message, and bringing something valuable to the table. 

It's been awhile since both parties were legitimately strong at the same time.  I miss those days, and I actually believe it's better for the country when that is the case.  That said, it wasn't the Democratic Party's job to fix the Republicans a few years ago- and it's not the Republican Party's job to fix the Democrats. 

Time for an autopsy of the Democratic Party.  And then, if they're smart, they will pay attention to what they learn.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Thirty Seconds to Mars, EMI, Corporate Tycoons, and Education Reform

I recently watched a documentary about a lawsuit between the band Thirty Seconds to Mars and the record label EMI.  I only know a little bit about Thirty Seconds to Mars, very little about EMI, and virtually nothing about the record business.

A few things I learned:
  • The record business is notorious for signing bands to really bad deals.  
  • The music industry is being radically transformed and the old models no longer work- for anyone
  • The music industry has a history of being "invaded" by people who made their money elsewhere and believe they can apply the same business practices and principles to the music industry.  That seldom ends well, and certainly didn't in the case of the guy who bought EMI
  • Thirty Seconds to Mars is a better band than I realized!
As I reflected a little bit on the show, I couldn't help but draw a parallel between the music industry and education.  The old models don't work in either industry, but that will be a separate post. 

Today, I'm going to focus on those who have had success in one industry and think they can swoop in and tell those in other industries what to do.  The titans of industry are now treated as the kings and saviors of education.  "We'll just take these business principles that were so effective in helping me build my company and apply them to education.  These 'government schools' have never been accountable, they're failing, they need people like me to save them."

Whatever.  Way back in the day- I taught and coached in Texas.  One of our main rivals was a school named Brazoswood.  We had a cheer for them: "Go back. Go back. Go back to the 'wood.  Your team ain't got no hustle and your coach ain't no good."   

That's kind of how I feel about the corporate leaders who are running around with all their ideas about education.  It's not that I don't think they should play a role, or that there are things we in education shouldn't do differently.  It's the arrogance and the lack of listening that drives me nuts.

The more I read about the design process, done right, the more I appreciate how good design changes come about by listening to the end user and developing empathy and understanding for the end user.  It doesn't start by coming in and saying: "Do this.  It worked for my (computer) business, and it will work for you."

Show me a corporate CEO who believes that listening to teachers and parents and students is the first step in the process and I'll show you a CEO who can help bring about worthwhile reforms.  Part of that listening will undoubtedly show that there is not a 'one size fits all' remedy for American education.  Equally important, there is no 'one size fits all' narrative for American schools either.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Numbers don't match the Narrative

The narrative is that public schools suck.  Why sugarcoat it with a nicer phrase?  That's the narrative: public schools suck and the public wants out, the public demands accountability, the public demands a voucher in every backpack. 

Here is the latest from the pro-voucher crowd, trying to explain and rationalize how the voucher program is not a subsidy to people who were already attending private schools:

OK.  They might have a small point there, but here are the larger enrollment numbers for the State of Wisconsin.  Public vs private school total enrollment for the last three years:
  • 11-12     871,105 vs 124,668
  • 12-13     872,436 vs 122,949
  • 13-14     874,414 vs 119,801
In spite of the ongoing narrative about how horrible public schools are and the attempts by voucher proponents to make it sound like every public parent is just waiting desperately for action that will allow them to escape their local public school for a voucher school... for the last three years*, the overall number and % of students attending public schools is UP and the overall number and % of students attending private schools is DOWN.

Maybe it's that the economy is bad and people can't afford private school.  Nope, that can't be it, because I am reminded via a constant barrage of commercials that "it's working."  The economic reforms, that is.
So it is easier than ever to attend a private school and the public schools, according to the narrative, are terrible places that expose kids to horrible things.  And yet, public school enrollment is slightly up, and private school enrollment is slightly down.  Maybe public confidence in the public schools is really pretty good, and maybe the reason it's pretty good is because they like what they see in their local schools.
Maybe it's time to stop listening to the professional polemicists.  Methinks they have a purpose other than telling the truth.
*Might be an even longer trend, but I just looked at the last three years for two reasons- time and the recent legislative changes.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Broken Process

The TV was quietly on in the background as I ate some toast this morning.  When the morning news program went to commercial- it was a series of political ads.

Each of the candidates for Attorney General were accusing the other of being soft on crime- especially in cases of children and pornography.  This is always the case- with the ads- that is.  I seriously don't remember any candidate for Attorney General who was not accused by their opponent of being soft on crime and practically best friends with every pervert in the state. 

Those ads are a sign of a process that is seriously broken.

In other races, the minimum wage is getting lots of attention.  Republicans are lined up in opposition, as they have been from the beginning, and Democrats are acting like raising the minimum wage is an example of fighting for the middle class.  Wrong and wrong. 

A slight increase in the minimum wage isn't going to hurt business- that old line just isn't supported by facts.  We've had a minimum wage now for over a generation.  Some of that time period has seen explosive growth, some has been tough economic times.  The minimum wage is a bit player in that grand scheme.  Conversely, the Democrats who act like raising the minimum wage is some ticket to economic prosperity are fools. 

The minimum wage is a "red squirrel."  That is, a distraction.  Nothing we do with the minimum wage is going to have a significant impact on the underlying economic issues facing us in the region, as a nation, or globally.  Both parties are wrong in their approach.  As usual.  Both parties are guilty of "playing politics" with an issue in a way that they believe helps their party- on the perverse notion that the ends justify the means.

Republicans always argue that government doesn't create jobs.  Always, that is, unless Republicans are in control of state government- in which case they take full credit for every job gained and blame forces beyond their control for any job lost.  Democrats want to help small business, they just can't ever seem to find a tax or regulation they want to dump. 

On and on it goes.

I watch the TV ads and candidate interviews.  I listen to the candidates list specific numbers regarding how their programs and policies will make a positive difference.  I don't believe a single word they say.  Not one.  Sadly, not even from a candidate I happen to like or agree with on key positions.  Too many lies and distortions for too long.  Too many ruthless and media savvy PAC's out there deliberately making things up.

American hero, icon, and former Kansas Senator Bob Dole once proclaimed of another candidate (a candidate within his own party)  "Tell him to stop lying about my record."

The process is broken.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Schools today are better than ever. Period.

I went to college in the early 1980's.  I was "trained" to teach 6-12.  The number of classes that I had that prepared me to deal with special education students, struggling students, differentiated instruction or assessments = ZERO.  The same was true for anybody I knew in the 6-12 arena.

This was at a well respected college. I taught for ten years.  I'm not trying to brag, but I was considered to be an excellent teacher.  I accumulated lots of great feedback- formal and informal- from colleagues, evaluators, students, and parents.  Many others who were doing similar things received similar feedback. 

I wouldn't take back everything and look upon those ten years as a failure, but I would say- without question, hesitation, or reservation- that it is a lot harder to be considered an excellent teacher now. 

I didn't have a clue how to deal with a reluctant or struggling reader in a middle or high school core content class- and either did my peers.  Most of us tried some things- but those interventions were based on gut instincts and/or worldviews, not any empirical evidence or actual knowledge of what works. 

Back then, we got accolades just for caring.  That isn't even close to being good enough anymore. 

The same goes for special education students.  I wanted to help them, but didn't have any great plan as to how to do so.  Some special education teachers were amazing and provided ideas, some not so much.  No one ever threw an IEP in my face and told me it would be followed or I could expect disciplinary action or a lawsuit.  Par for the course now.

Differentiated what?  Why?  How?

How did I assess learning?  Grades.  How did I determine grades?  I added up the scores and divided by the number of assignments.  End of story.  Retakes?  Late work?  Nope!  Grading and assessment was the first area where I realized that there had to be a better way.  So, after a few years of very traditional grading practices, I did start experimenting.  As those who've worked with me since can attest, I still think we can improve our assessment practices.

The overall point of this rant is that those who think that education was better in some bygone era are fools.  There, I said it.  Not misguided.  Not mistaken.  Not just wrong.  Fools.  Fools who are foolishly wrong.

I represented a lot of what was supposedly so good in that era and I am the first to admit that it doesn't hold a candle to the best of this era.  Not even close.

Teaching was never easy, but it has become extremely difficult.  Our public schools were never perfect, and they aren't now either- but they are better than ever.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Diane Ravich: What Matters Most

If I could say it any better, I would.

We have completely lost our minds with standardized testing.  The entire field of education, and educators (ie, me), deserve some blame.  Too many years of opposing too many tests led to an inevitable overcorrection.  So, I'm willing to bear some responsibility for the mess we've got- but enough already. 

We don't need to eliminate all standardized testing.  But we do need to ask serious questions about who the tests are serving, what is truly being measured, where the money is going, and what is the purpose of the test.

Too often, in my opinion, the answers to those questions are: Politicians, Socioeconomic Status, Big Corporations, and Destroying Public Education.  Change those answers to: Students, Stuff that matters, Professional Development, and Honest Accountability- and you've got an assessment I can fully support.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Vote FOR Public Schools

                               A guest post from the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance

Vote For Your Public Schools

As Election Day approaches, there are a number of vitally important issues facing Wisconsin that have potential long-term consequences for our state.  We encourage all voters to think about the future of public schools in their communities.

Wisconsin has a strong tradition of first class public schools.  We all know that high quality public schools help prepare our children for life, boost home values, and improve our state’s long-term economic growth and quality of life.  We need to continue investing in the strength of our communities.

Today, many candidates for state office are already on the record supporting the expansion of taxpayer subsidies for private school tuition in the form of vouchers.  We believe there are three key questions about public education that citizens should ask of candidates before entering the voting booth on November 4th:

·         In the past several years, Wisconsin school funding has not kept pace with the rising costs of providing quality educational opportunities for children.  Would you support increasing school revenue limits annually by the cost of living?

·         Do you support private school voucher expansion in Wisconsin?

·         If so, how do you propose to pay for these growing taxpayer subsidies for private education?  By raising taxes?  By reducing educational opportunities for public school children throughout Wisconsin?

We believe that public education is, has been, and always will be the most important institution in the development of this great state and this great nation.  What’s more, we believe that our support for our public schools helps define us as a people.  Why?  Not only do we believe we have the responsibility to provide our own children with a quality education; but, more importantly, we believe we have the same responsibility for our neighbor’s children.

Now is not the time to support an expanding entitlement program that provides taxpayer-funded private school tuition for the few at the expense of the more than 850,000 children that attend Wisconsin public schools.  Now is the time to invest in the heart of your community – your public schools – for your children, your neighbor’s children and a brighter future.

Monday, September 29, 2014

School Choice- via Rep. Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake)

Outgoing Rep. Kestell reflects on legislative career

By Jason Smathers
Sheboygan Press
10:41 p.m. CDT September 28, 2014

Rep. Steve Kestell believes his best asset in the Legislature was stopping "bad bills."

Yet, as he exits the Legislature after 16 years as a state representative, the Elkhart Lake Republican said he sees one potential mistake on the horizon: school choice expansion.

While the outgoing education chair said he supports the notion of choice, he warned that state leaders could put the state back into the sort of "fiscal mess" they found themselves in before Act 10 if they don't think the idea through.

"This is a case where ideology sort of overwhelms good sense and judgment," Kestell said. "Where people who should have known better and are good mathematicians aren't willing to do the math. It's because they don't want to show what would be detrimental to their plans. And the math doesn't work. It just doesn't work."

Kestell, speaking to the Sheboygan Press in an exit interview, said that expanding school choice could exacerbate already declining enrollment in rural schools. With the state funding schools on a "per pupil" basis, the former Howards Grove school board member said he fears there's no plan on how to handle that funding squeeze.

"That [rural schools] problem will be on steroids with the wide-open school choice program cutting across the state," Kestell said. "No one has even tried to explain how we're going to deal with that as a state. No one has tried to explain how we're going to fund parallel school programs. Because that's where we're heading."

Kestell said he already took issue with one aspect of the initial statewide school choice program, which gives students publicly funded vouchers to go participating private schools. While Kestell hoped the program would benefit poor students stuck in failing schools, there was nothing in the final budget that specified it would go specifically to children currently in public schools.

As a result, around two-thirds of those receiving vouchers in the first two years of the program already attended private schools. He said that while the main authors said they didn't intend for that to happen, they didn't try to fix it either. That, Kestell said, was because there was a campaign fighting any fix.

"It's sort of like if you went to the bank and they gave you too much change for their check, you started a campaign saying, 'I'm going to keep this! How dare you!' That's kind of what happened there. So going forward, one of the biggest reasons given for vouchers is gone and without explanation."

Kestell's disappointment over the state's direction on education issues extends to the issue of school accountability. While the Legislature passed a bare-bones version of a bill near the end of session, it came nowhere near addressing the sanctions Gov. Scott Walker originally wanted. While conservatives and the state Department of Public Instruction battled back on those details, Kestell said during one committee meeting that one of the sides has got to compromise.

That, it seems, has not happened yet, Kestell says now. He attributes part of the failure to State Superintendent Tony Evers, whose department decried later versions of the bill as emphasizing "punishment and labels, not support for struggling schools." While he said that Evers, also from the Sheboygan area, is a "nice guy," he said that DPI has become too partisan during his tenure and needs to "play it straight" when presenting information like state test scores.

"If facts are on your side, that should be sufficient," Kestell said. "Give people cold hard facts without window dressing, without skewing, without making arguments. Just give people facts.

Kestell has faced his own fair share of criticism in his final terms in office. When he supported Common Core standards, he got a barrage of hate mail, while several activists in the Republican Party pushed a party resolution to censure Kestell and Senate Education Chair Luther Olsen.

In addition, he was one of only four GOP state legislators to vote against the state budget, a choice he attributes to not knowing the full impact of last minute additions by legislative leaders.

Kestell said it was after the budget vote that he was leaning toward retirement. It was only because of the "no confidence" resolution pushed by Common Core opponents that Kestell held off on the announcement longer than he normally would have.

"I just didn't want to give those folks the satisfaction of thinking they'd gotten to me," Kestell said.

But he doesn't regret his decisions. Kestell said that he made the best decisions given the information in front of him. Whether it be Common Core, the budget or school accountability, Kestell says he did what he believed was right.

"I made a point of telling the truth," Kestell said. "I think sometimes I did that too much for some people."

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Office, Office Space, and Public Education

I loved the TV series 'The Office."  I also loved the movie "Office Space."  Both were exaggerated takes on working life in corporate America.  Both poked fun at some of the inane business practices and cultures that can permeate a company.  Both built off of truths, but took them to extremes for comedic effect.

The shows worked because there was enough truth for people to connect with the characters, even as they recognized the 'over the top' nature of the events.

The narrative around public schools has been a steady drumbeat of how terrible they are and what a threat they pose to our nation's future.  The worst case outliers are presented as normal public schools, while the very best charters/vouchers are highlighted as being typical of those institutions- and both of those narratives are false. 

I don't know of anybody who would claim that public schools are perfect.  They are not.  A few are, truly, underperforming.  However, just as Steve Carrel- as Michael Scott- was not a typical boss; truly failing schools are not a typical representation of public education. 

The Office was a comedy, and people got the joke.  The attack on public schools is serious, and it's based on an ideologically driven agenda that distorts reality.  The question is, "For whose benefit?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Hypocrisy

As I read the attached article, I can't help but wonder how many of these parents- the ones willing to shell out $35,000+/year for their own child's education- complain about the high costs of public education and support policies that reduce spending for public schools.

I freely acknowledge that a perfectly legitimate argument can be made in favor of reduced spending on public schools.  I'm just saying that it seems overtly hypocritical to make that argument while simultaneously spending huge sums of money on your own child's education.

Why?  Because one of the cornerstones of that argument is that money doesn't matter, that $9,000-12,000/yr. is more than enough to provide a high quality education, and throwing more money at public schools doesn't make them any better.  Fair enough.  Make that case and walk your talk.  But, to me, making that argument while spending three or four times that amount to ensure an elite educational experience for your own child is hypocritical.

The articles doesn't make the connection.  There may not be one.  I could be wrong.  However, experience leads me to suspect that a healthy majority of the parents who are lining up to spend this kind of money for private schools are also supporting vouchers, tax cuts, and other policies that would take money away from public schools.  Some of them are likely to be the talking heads we see on TV taking potshots at public education costs, while writing out a tuition check for their five year old that equals the per capita income in Wisconsin.  

On another note, the whole situation described in this article, and the mindset and lifestyle that goes with it, is insane:

Bonus article!  The Dangers of Income Inequality:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A "Fringe" angle on school politics

I read this post from Seth Godin earlier today:

People who like this stuff...

like this stuff.

When you work in a genre (any genre), break all the rules at your own peril. Sure, you need to break some rules, need to do something worth talking about. But please understand who the work is for.
If it's for people outside the genre, you have a lot of evangelizing to do. And if it's for those that are already in it, you can't push too far, because they like the genre. That's why they're here.

Those who have walked away probably aren't just waiting around for you to fix it. Those who have never been don't think the genre has a problem they need solved. Blue sky thinking isn't really blue sky thinking. It's a slightly different shade of the blue that's already popular.

It's a little like the futility of the "Under New Management" sign on a restaurant. People who like the place don't want to hear you're changing everything, and people who didn't like the old place aren't in such a hurry for a new place that they'll form a line out the door.

The opportunity is to create a pathway, a series of ever-increasing expectations and experiences that moves people from here to there.

As I read it, I couldn't help but think of school politics- primarily the School Report Card, due out today, and the ongoing Voucher School Debate.

If School Report Cards and Voucher Schools were available for purchase on a site like Amazon, it would be easy to predict what the people purchasing those items would also be interested in buying.  The algorithm would be pretty simple.  If you like Vouchers, you might also like...

Godin speaks of an opportunity to create a pathway that moves people.  As much as I like and respect his work, I'm not seeing a pathway to move people on this one.  Not on this issue, not at this time, not in this area.  Entrenchment is the operative word of the moment. 

Fortunately, people here love Friess Lake School!  Sadly, that does nothing to diminish their support for Vouchers.  We are a great school district, but we're not an outlier.  Great school districts are the norm in Wisconsin.  In my opinion, the "People who like this stuff also like..." algorithm is off when it comes to many school issues- including vouchers.  As far as I'm concerned, if you like and support great public schools, you SHOULDN'T like vouchers.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Using test results to evaluate teachers

Using standardized tests to evaluate teachers is gaining prominence in education.  Many people are convinced it is a good idea.  I've always felt it was a bad one.  I keep waiting to read something that convinces me otherwise.  

I'm just sitting down at the end of the first day and flipping through the latest edition of the Phi Delta Kappan and I came across an article by W. James Popham entitled "The right test for the wrong reason."  Popham is professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA.  I've been reading his articles for years and have always found him to be an interesting and thoughtful writer.

A few quotes that I found to be compelling:
  • Increasingly, America's educators are being evaluated on the basis of student performances on tests that were created to yield comparative score interpretations rather than to measure instructional quality.  This is a terrible mistake.
  • ...we have no meaningful evidence at hand indicating that these tests can accurately distinguish between well taught and badly taught students.
  • The evidence to support the accuracy of such score-based inferences about instructional quality is essentially nonexistent.
  • The only way to begin changing an indefensible practice is to set out seriously to alter the practice.  It is time, indeed past time, for those of us who recognize the seriousness of this situation to don our alteration armor and head into battle.
Popham, W. James.  Phi Delta Kappan  September 2014  The right test for the wrong reason  pp. 47-52

We tend to circle the wagons around an idea and ridicule those questioning the idea du jour.  Using standardized test results to evaluate teachers is all the rage, it is widely viewed as an idea whose time has come.  Maybe.  But, as Popham makes clear, not with these tests.  These tests have some value and merit and uses.  Evaluating teachers is not one of those uses.

I'm still waiting for someone to show me how it is a good idea to use our current standardized tests to evaluate teachers.    

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Wow.  Just.  Wow.

For the past week or so, I've spent at least a little bit of time each night riveted to the TV and following people's comments via social media.  This morning, I found myself awake at about 2:00 am watching the police captain's press conference.

What a genuinely decent man.  He didn't cause this.  It struck me that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons, and also what happens when there is a total breakdown in trust and relationships.  What's happening now, I think, reflects the breakdown of relationships and trust between the people of Ferguson and those entrusted with governing and policing the community.

Whether it takes a day or a few weeks, the nightly chaos in Ferguson will, indeed, end.  Even though that seems like the main thing right now, that's actually the easy thing.  The harder thing, the thing we still haven't figured out as a nation- is race relationships and power (political, economic, and judicial) relationships within the context of race.

The sad truth is that it is not hard to find examples of excessive force being applied to people of color, but it is very uncommon to find people of color, in power, using excessive force against white people.  That excessive force can be a tragic and sensational event like the loss of life in Ferguson, but it can also be found in the more mundane statistics of poverty, unemployment, incarceration, etc.

Every major storyline has the same list of characters- and "opportunists" always play a leading role.  In this case- opportunists vary from the petty criminals doing the looting and acts of violence to some leaders looking to make a name to some journalists looking for fame.  Complex storylines also always carry enough varying details to allow anyone to pull out a few things that could fit any ideology.  In other words, we all need to be careful that we aren't just "Seeing what we want to see."

In my opinion, the main thing is that another young life has been lost, needlessly.  The young life once again belonged to someone with dark skin.  As great as this nation is, and as honorable as the vast majority of police are, and as much as we white folks want to think that we live in a 'post-racial' society that affords equal opportunity and equal consequences- sorry, we've got to come to terms with the fact that there is still much work to be done. 

Those of us- like me- who have reaped many benefits from this nation, from growing up when we did, where we did, with the parents we did, and with the support of our communities; we need to find ways to pay it forward.  And those ways need to be more focused on opportunities for all.

I'm not calling for a new government program or more money.  That's not going to solve this.  We need to engage with and support people in other racial communities in ways that we haven't done yet.  Or, at least, haven't done as systemically and consistently as we should. 

In other words, the story isn't about that one police officer, or the looters, or the local or national leaders, or even Michael Brown.  The story is about our willingness to look inward, reflect, and make changes in our own ways of doing business. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

(Via: Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension) What we need to remember

Great post- had to share.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes!

Common Core, Smarter Balanced Assessments, Funding, and whatever other political hot button issues- all take a backseat to this simple statement:  Remember, they are a child.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Vouchers: Redux

A guy I've known for a long time is running for the state assembly as a conservative Republican.  His background is in the banking industry.  He's a great guy, squeaky clean, upstanding citizen, wonderful father- all the rest.

We were talking the other day and he asked me about the Common Core.  I said what I had to say and then let the conversation move on to other things. 

After awhile, I asked him the difference between banks and credit unions.  He went on a diatribe (as I suspected he would) about the unfair advantages of credit unions and how the rules are different, the playing field isn't level, etc.  I listened.  Occasionally- I threw out a clarifying question like "So, it isn't fair when two entities- both delivering the same essential services- play by different sets of rules?"  He enthusiastically agreed!  Or, a restatement- "You're saying that the rules are so different that it's virtually impossible to even come up with a way to accurately compare the performance of a bank to a credit union."  EXACTLY!

Then things got interesting...

"So," I said, "you must be opposed to vouchers then."  Without a bit of hesitation or a hint of irony, he expressed his strong support for vouchers.  "Oh," I countered, "so you're just a garden variety hypocrite then.  A guy who wants a level playing field for himself, but isn't concerned about it when it comes to someone else.  Got it."   

He looked down, shook his head, and muttered "boy, I guess I walked right into that one."

We moved on to talk- pleasantly- about other things.

As I said, he's a great guy.  He's probably going to win.  I'm OK with that, but I do hope he reflects on our conversation before jumping all in on any new legislation to expand the voucher program.

I didn't even get into the completion angle.  Businesses collude and/or carve out niche areas all the time.  His bank is one example.  They provide a nice range or services on fair terms, they do so competently, and they don't engage in the kind of crazy nonsense that seems to be the norm on Wall Street.  They don't compete with anyone though.  Not really.  Not really.

I could easily argue that a school faces more competition than a local bank, but that's another post!

Sharing from "The Becoming Radical"

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Please Stop

 I was driving in to work today and I heard a soccer player who had been injured early in World Cup play say that "Everything happens for a reason."   I hear that phrase all the time now- especially after tragedies- and it about drives me insane.  No, it doesn't.  At least, it doesn't in the context that it is being said- which is that it is part of God's Plan.  There may be several 'reasons' why that player tore a hamstring at that precise moment- but none of them were because God intended for it to happen all along.

Two parents die in a car crash leaving behind a bunch of small children - "Everything happens for a reason."  Well- if you mean that the driver was drunk and driving too fast- then yes, the crash happened for a reason.  If you mean that God intended for this to happen as part of master plan- then please just stop talking to me.  That's nonsense and theological gibberish.

A small child dies.  "Everything happens for a reason."  Or, worse "God needed another angel."  Please.  Stop. 

We live in a broken world.  The fact that God is powerful enough to be able to use people to find good in tragic situations does not mean that God needs bad things to happen in order to use them for a greater purpose, or that everything that happens- good or bad- happens because there is a pre-plan from on high. 

I wanted to go fishing this morning- actually went to the marina and was ready to launch, but my battery was dead.  Now- the reason I arrived at the marina with a dead battery is that something was drawing on the battery in the 3 weeks since I last used the boat, and I didn't check it last night.  The reason is not that it was God's plan for me to come to work and not go fishing this morning.

If each of us was simply a marionette, controlled by a puppeteer god- there would be no need for grace, or forgiveness- or Jesus.  We are not marionettes.  Everything does not happen for a (God induced) reason.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Brown Bear, Brown Bear...

Our Kindergarten class frequently has "Sparkle Tuesdays."  The idea is that the kids 'sparkle' and show off their reading progress to the adults who come in to listen to them read.  In return, the students receive a sticker on their paper hats.

I stopped by for a few minutes recently, and one of the students read the classic:  Brown Bear, Brown Bear. What Do You See, by Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle.  That was always a favorite book of my own kids, and we read it over and over again when they were young.  The girls are now both engaged, our son is almost 20, so those days are a distant memory. 

I heard a great quote the other day: "Sometimes a memory escapes from my eye and rolls down my cheek."  That's pretty much what happened as the Kindergarten student read the book.  It brought back a lot of great memories- and a few managed to 'escape.'

Thursday, May 29, 2014

More on the Common Core

Once again, the anti-Common Core crowd is trying to rally the troops in southeast Wisconsin.  A group of Catholics submitted a petition to the Archbishop, asking him to remove Common Core from Catholic Schools.  The traveling band of Common Core critics is making an appearance in Kewaskum next week.

The Common Core is a set of Standards.  Nothing about the way that the Common Core Standards were devised and implemented has been perfect.  The assessments- Smarter Balanced and PARCC- are a separate entity, but related.  The assessments give me pause.  I'm not sold on the amount of time we spend on this type of testing, I'm not sold on the quality of the assessment questions, I'm not sold on the way the results are used, and I'm not sold that there is all that much correlation between the test results (macro) and our future economic success as a nation.  I am not someone who readily accepts that the Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessments are going to save us from whatever it is that ails us. 

I think various shades of that sentiment are shared by a lot of people within the educational establishment.  I know some who are more bullish than me on either the Common Core or the Smarter Balanced Assessments, and others with even deeper reservations.   

However, what really drives me insane are the people trying to link the Common Core to socialism, homosexuality, communism, one world government, and promiscuity.  Seriously people?  There are reasonable concerns that one can raise against the Common Core and the Accountability Movement.  Claiming that the United States is going to be a bunch of 'everybody gets a trophy' homosexuals reading pornographic literature while living under Sharia law in a secular progressive socialist communist utopia where everyone has equal access to health care and no access to guns is NOT one of those reasonable concerns.*  (And yes, I get the irony of placing these discrepant concepts altogether.  Sadly, many of the loudmouthed critics do not.  Or- they do get it, but are playing on the fears and ignorance of those they are trying to persuade.)    

*None of these are included by random accident.  I have attended several anti-Common Core events and have heard every one of these raised as a concern.  I didn't include a couple of the more carnal claims.

Assess the situation for yourself::  Compare the current Model Academic Standards with the Common Core Standards and ask yourself which one has more academic rigor.  Or, scour the Common Core standards for evidence of any of the claims made by the hyperbolic critics.  Here is a link to the Common Core English Language Arts Standards:

Here is a copy of one slide from the link above:

College and Career readiness anchor Standards for reading

The K–5 standards on the following pages define what students should understand and be able to do by

the end of each grade. They correspond to the College and Career Readiness (CCR) anchor standards

below by number. The CCR and grade-specific standards are necessary complements—the former

providing broad standards, the latter providing additional specificity—that together define the skills and

understandings that all students must demonstrate.

Key Ideas and details

1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific

textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting

details and ideas.

3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure

4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and

figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g.,

a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as

well as in words.*

8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well

as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the

approaches the authors take.

range of reading and Level of text Complexity

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Memorial Day

I first heard Wes Moore speak a few years ago, and that led me to buy his book The Other Wes Moore.   This recent Wes Moore TEDTalk seemed like a fitting post for Memorial Day:

Thank you veterans!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Lies, Accountability, and Statistics

The following is an excerpt from a recent post at "The Becoming Radical" blog.  This article was posted by Paul Thomas.

The first paragraph is worth reading over and over and over and over again.  And again.

Throughout the 20th and into the 21st centuries, we have found no correlation between how U.S. students do on test comparisons (among states or internationally) and claimed goals such as international competitiveness or the robustness of the U.S economy. None. And while we are at it, over the last three decades of accountability, we have found no correlation between the existence or quality of standards and measurable student outcomes. None. Again, it is a political lie to continue to cry “crisis” over test scores. A lie.

While I remain certain that accountability built on standards and high-stakes testing is a fundamental flaw in education reform, political leadership and the media are not doing us any favors either. This latest “high school achievement crisis” based on a rush to misread NAEP data is but more of the same—lamentably so as we certainly could do a better job even within the flawed test-based culture of U.S. education, as Matthew Di Carlo has outlined.

Childhood is steeped in a series of lies—what Kurt Vonnegut has labeled “foma,” although many of these lies are not so harmless: the Easter bunny, Santa Claus, work hard and be nice.
But one truism from our youths must be accepted as fact: Action speaks louder than words.
If we apply that to the USDOE, then we are likely to recognize just who is telling lies and about what:
  1. Lie: U.S. schools, teachers, and students are failing because of low standards and expectations.
  2. Lie: New standards and new tests will save public schools.
  3. Lie: State X is worse than State Y because NAEP (or SAT) scores say so; the U.S. is falling behind Country X because PISA scores say so.
  4. Lie: Poverty is not destiny.
  5. Lie: Arne Duncan (or Bill Gates or Michelle Rhee) knows what he is talking about.
  6. Lie: Education reform is the Civil Rights issue of our time.
  7. Lie: U.S. education is struggling because of “bad” teachers who are too hard to fire.
  8. Lie: Charter school X is a “miracle” school.
Truth: The USDOE is the embodiment of “lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Friday, May 2, 2014

Restructuring, Mergering, Visioning

The educational landscape has experienced unprecedented change and upheaval over the course of the last few years.  In light of all the changes, the Friess Lake Board and I share the belief that it makes sense to look at restructuring.  We believe that the timing is right- precisely because we are fiscally solvent and instructionally strong.  

We believe Friess Lake is well positioned to face the challenges as an independent school district, but we also believe it made sense to take another look at what advantages might be obtained by consolidating.  Consequently, we approached area K-8 districts to see if they were interested in pursuing a consolidation study.   At this time, the other districts were not interested in pursuing a study.  We respect that.  We will continue to do what we’ve always done- which is to work as hard as we can to provide a personal educational experience that is rich with opportunity to develop higher level thinking, problem solving, and leadership.

A slightly longer explanation:

For generations, students have come to Friess Lake School and received an excellent educational foundation.  Local residents made the decision to be an independent K-8 district in the 1950’s, and it is hard to argue with the wisdom of that decision. The status quo has served us well.  However, the model was formed in a completely different era, with a different educational landscape and a much different set of expectations for schools.

While I don’t want to claim that modern challenges are greater than those faced before, I do believe that many of our challenges are significantly different from those faced in the past.  That belief leads me to one fundamental question:  Would we set up the exact same structure for area school districts if we were starting over today? 

The Friess Lake School Board and I believed it was worth having a serious discussion with other districts to determine if the existing design was best poised to serve the future educational needs of area students.   We didn’t initiate these conversations because we believed that joining forces was our only option.   We initiated the conversations because we believed it was the responsible thing to do for our students and our taxpayers.  Business and industry must be ready and willing to adapt to changing conditions and so do schools.  Given the often glacial rate of change to government entities, it is especially important to try to see into the future.   

The Richfield and Friess Lake Boards conducted a financial study a couple of years ago.  That study showed that a merger of the two districts would’ve caused a fairly substantial tax increase for Friess Lake residents.  As a result, those talks halted pretty quickly.

There have been a lot of changes just in those last two years, and we wanted to see if the new numbers might be more favorable.   We approached Richfield and they agreed that it was worth discussing at the School Board level.  At their Board meeting, the general consensus was that the timing wasn’t right.  They are open to the idea of discussions in the future, but not right now.  Since they took no action to approve another study, we didn’t either.  Both districts will continue to work together when they can, and independently when they must.    As a frame of reference:

  • There are 449 Wisconsin School Districts.  In terms of size, Friess Lake ranks 416th, Erin is 381st, and Richfied is 344th.  We are all among the smallest districts in the state.   Many of the districts smaller than Friess Lake are either rural or specialty schools in urban areas.  In fact, there are very few smaller public school districts located in a metropolitan area anywhere in the entire country.     

  • Between 1990 and 2000, the state of Minnesota had a 20% reduction in the number of school districts.  Many merged for the first time- a few that had already merged once, merged again.  Quite a few of the mergers involved three or four districts coming together.
  • Vermont is considering a plan that would reduce the number of school districts in the state from 273 to 50 within six years.
Extended thoughts:
My wife and I are once again facing the decision of trading in one of our current vehicles.  There are lots of choices out there- and as we look at what we need our next car to do, we face the same decisions everyone does about the relative value to place on different aspects- one of those being gas mileage. That got me thinking about systems, and the relative efficiencies of systems.
In terms of cars, engineers have done quite a bit to maximize the efficiencies of gas engines- and they’ve made amazing improvements over the last 25-30 years to maximize the efficiencies and capabilities of that system- some of it through improvements to the engine, but also moving from V8s to more 4 and 6 cylinder options and lighter materials- but still, the system itself still has some inherent limitations.
The real gas mileage breakthroughs have come via alternative options. 
Those alternative fuel vehicles are still cars- they still operate virtually the same to the end user.  Drivers can seamlessly go back and forth between an alternative vehicle and a traditional gas vehicle w/o having to reorient themselves on the basic principles of driving.  While the underlying changes are pretty dramatic, they really don’t impact the end user very much.  
Between 1990 and 2000, the state of Minnesota had a 20% reduction in the number of school districts.  Many merged for the first time- a few that had already merged once, merged again.  Quite a few of the mergers involved three or four districts coming together.
These were typically rural districts spread out over many miles, each with schools that had proud traditions and years of competing against each other.  No two districts were perfect equals- each entered into the new partnership with different strengths and weaknesses. 
The process wasn’t easy or pain free or without controversy- but they’ve realized that they could survive and thrive together, or perish as enemies.  It makes for some interesting matchups- in the recent Girl’s Class 2A State Semifinal game, the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale- Geneva Panthers beat the Howard Lake- Waverly-Winsted Lady Lakers.   Names like these might be a cheer leader’s nightmare, but the communities have figured it out and made it work.
Mark Twain once said- “It’s not what we don’t know that gets us into trouble, it’s what we think we know for sure.”
As I’ve listened to people talk about possible concerns with mergers of schools in this area- I’ve heard things that MIGHT be true posited as things that ARE true.  I’ve heard a lot of concerns about operational minutia, money, and snapshot comparisons of districts.
I’d urge caution on those fronts.  The relative strength of any of these small districts has ebbed and flowed over the course of my time here.  The brutal reality is that we are all extremely vulnerable- both to disruptive internal changes, and to external threats.  Merging alone wouldn’t eliminate all vulnerabilities, but there are times where a little more size and assets can help mitigate the ups and downs that every organization faces.  Merging would allow us to eliminate some inefficiency in our current system.  In an area that prides itself on its’ fiscal conservative bona fides- that would seem to be reason enough to bring this option up for public discussion.
While some of the upcoming challenges are well known to us, we must always be mindful that some challenges come seemingly out of nowhere.   Vouchers, charters, virtual, and private schools will all pose challenges and competition in the years ahead- but so could a for profit school. 
Finally- if all some area school districts did was merge- that would be a lost opportunity.  It’s not about recreating a slighter larger version of the same system- it’s about creating a better system.  Seth Godin notes that people no longer care about an organizations history, or how many years they’ve been doing something.  They want to know- in our case- what we’re doing today and tomorrow to help children learn. 
The new F word is “Fear.” People are afraid of blame, so they play it safe- or at least, what they think is safe. 
Keeping the status quo system here might seem like the safe, prudent move, but fate has placed us in positions of leadership during an era of tremendous upheaval and change.  We need to think bolder and bigger than we’ve had to think in the past.  By engaging the community in an open conversation about that - we risk very little.  Our kids, collectively, and our communities, by extension, stand as beneficiaries.    

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dear Kill-Joy, Take a Breather

Hilarious and spot on post from the AFFECTIVELIVING blog, by Chase Mielke:

Photo accessed via

Dear Kill-Joy, Take a Breather.

Glance around your classroom, or house, or job. If you work with groups of kids, chances are you’ll notice some things.

- You will notice one kid picking his nose. Hard. If he’s older, he may be trying to hide it. Under 10 years old and he is proudly showcasing his gold. Regardless, no nose picking is truly discreet, so now notice the other two kids looking with horror at him.

- Notice the one kid who looks as if she just downed a gallon of Fun Dip — tapping her pencil, shaking her head to music no one hears, getting up - sitting down – getting up – sitting down, narrating it all with odd sound effects.

- There’s also the kid who is in the middle of the grandest of illusions right now. Spot him by the depth of focus he has on the birds outside the window. You can try to interrupt him, but he’ll just turn your reality into some futuristic battle (and you’ll be on the losing end . . . unless he has a crush on you).

- In a few minutes one of your kids is going to have an emotional crisis. The cause is not really important right yet; you’ll find out more when he or she calms down in 30.7 seconds. Just know it’s the worst crisis any human has ever experienced ever in the history of all history.

- Then, of course, there is the kid waiting to cook up some condescension. He was born with an innate mastery of ways to get class off focus or pit you in a power struggle. You can call him, “Nemesis” if you like, or “Kurt” will do.

- If your clientele is young, you’ll have your Mucus Sponges, your Sleeve Eaters, and your “Everyone-needs-to-know-what-I’m-thinking-this-very-second” Blurters.

- If you work with the pubescing ones, you’ll see your “We need a writing utensil today too?!”s, your Hall Pass Addicts, and your “Everyone-needs-to-know-what-I’m-thinking-this-very-second” Blurters.

Your class is filled with these creatures. They are unpredictable. They are needy. They are extreme. They are like cats on “the nip” in a small space. Their constant eccentricities have been dripping away your patience bucket since the moment the honeymoon phase was over.  It’s April.

You chose the situation you are in when you decided to work with kids. Now you have two other choices:

1. Get annoyed by how stupid, antsy, smelly, and forgetful these kids are. They’ve been on this freakin’ planet for at least four years; they should have figured it out by now!


2. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to laugh at how silly, energetic, fragrant, and developing these kids are. Their brains are still developing; you get to help them figure parts of life out.

We all get to make this choice every day. Every one of the 180 + “Here’s some data!” + extra required PD days. Yet, each additional month we spend in the trenches of child development leads us to forget that we can choose our outlook on our students.

Kids are either spawns of Satan’s annoying cousin, or they are hilarious. Your perspective decides.  And, in order to see beyond the demons, one must have a sense of humor for the chaos that is education.

We have to come to terms with one thing: If you have no sense of humor — or you lost your sense of humor — you have no business in the classroom. [Insert exasperated, curmudgeonly comments here].

If you cannot muster up a basic joy for the job of teaching these developing brains, do yourself and society a favor and find something else to do that does bring you joy.

Why? Because, people who cannot love the process of learning cannot keep the love of learning alive in children. If you treat teaching as a chore (and heads up: your nonverbals are screaming it to your students), your students see it as an even worse chore . . . with no pay or benefits.

Now this, of course, does not mean that one must take every situation lightly. “Devin, you’ve failed your third test in a row. Isn’t that hilarious?” Not cool. Nor does it mean we must abandon all rules and expectations or ignore holding high standards.  Believe it or not, it IS possible to hold students accountable without being a caffeine-deprived, fire-breathing dragon. And yes, there are real concerns and issues in education and society. But, Carter acting like a squirrel shouldn’t top the list.

We often let the little things — the insignificant things — consume way too much space in our minds. We let Laura’s eye rolling, and Logan’s question-we’ve-already-answered-twice, and that stupid fuzz on the side of notebook paper become the biggest issue of our day.  And, the double-whammy here: the king of our worries is the lord of our perception. In choosing to let little things stress us out, we start creating our own annoying little world.