Category Archives: Education

Enough is Enough: School shootings

I just sent off a letter to the editor at the KC Star.  Sometimes I just have enough.  Even though I already posted once this morning, I turned to the electronic of the KC Star and could not stop thinking about what has happened in Florida.  I can’t let this slide.  I can’t say enough about how change is needed.  Therefore, here is one of my entries I am calling Enough is Enough.  Please share if you agree.


Seeing Florida mom Lori Alhadeff’s outrage pains me and justifiably so.  The raw emotion should trigger the entire country’s sense of enough is enough. She rightfully screamed into the camera and asked that our country fix a problem that cannot be ignored another day, another week, another month.   

As a retired teacher, I hear the news and cringe.  I know the faces of the students, and I know them personally.  I may have taught in the Midwest, but that does not lessen the outrage I feel as the long litany of school shootings continues.
Young people carrying guns in backpacks is simply unacceptable.  Young people in school must focus on preparing for the adult world being educated how to learn, how to question, how to create, how to dream.  Schools must be filled with teachers and administrators focused on teaching the individual to the best of that student’s ability.
Our society is out of time.
Stop reacting and start shifting the paradigm now.
Education has become a numbers game:  educating all students as a mass, not as indviduals.
Education must value the students each as an individual at all cost.  And yes, it will cost; but we must not allow the cost to slam the door shut on the country’s future.
Enough is enough!

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Filed under Education, Enough is enough . . ., Paradigm Shifts

Reality through R-2’s class of ’72

Admittedly graduates of 1972 are facing a new reality–we are reaching traditional retirement age.  Last week my hometown class faced the reality with the death of our classmate Steve.  The event might not seem noteworthy, but only one other classmate Debby has died and that was due to a train wreck within the first year after graduation.

Flash ahead to the events of another tragic school shooting this week.  How do these become connected?  For my classmates education was valued.  We were taught that school came first.  We were pushed to focus on academics even before sports–I know, that may shock many today.

My parents tasted college, but never finished a degree plan.  We lived in rural American when family farms were the norm in the Midwest.  They instilled the value of education for my brother and myself so we did complete college, even achieving our masters later in our adult lives.  We were blessed to have our parents and live in a rural community.

Reviewing the circumstances of the 1972 Class from Montgomery County R-II, I cannot escape making observations that may be overlooked in our current school environments, especially after this week’s horrific Florida school shooting:

  1. Numbers.  The size of our schools continues to grow reaching the size of a city.  How in the world can students be individuals if they are forced to bump shoulders, often literally, in the halls and classrooms of a building?
  2. Testing.  Another concern is that success in school is based on numbers, not on student individual growth.  The individual is lost in the demand that testing prove achievement. Some testing is necessary, but just as a marker not a permanent diagnosis.
  3. Teachers.  Value teachers!  What other profession places educational demands at the cost of the individual without fair and equitable salary and benefits.  The profession cannot maintain the gifted teachers who are called–yes called–to step into the classroom alone with 20-30 kids who no longer value education and/or have no stable home environment to support them as they step into the classroom.
  4. Students.  Yes, there are those who do value education, are respectful, and have a supportive system, but sadly they are being outnumbered by the students on the opposite side of the spectrum who need schools to be a safe, supportive, nurturing environment that can teach them how to dream, set a path to reach that dream, and to work successfully towards that dream once they are fed, clothed, and housed safely.

The classes of ’72 is waning and the generations now entering into the profession of education may not have any of the critical skills or understanding of how to teach the masses who are now generations removed from the Greatest Generation and its values.

Do I have recommendations?  Certainly,

  1. Reduce the size of schools.  Create a learning environment that is safe, family-like, and supportive.  I realize the cost is beyond consideration, but why not be inventive and establish settings in some of the places that are unused during the school week.  Think about empty store fronts, empty Sunday school classrooms, office buildings.  Use the spaces effectively and reduce the physical size of the schools were kids are crammed into one place.
  2. Establish reasonable testing expectations.  Numbers are NOT the only way to measure student growth.  You cannot boil education down to one standardized set of scores.  No child should be left behind, but education is not about a set of numbers, it is about growth and nourishing our young people to be the best they can be.
  3. Value teachers.  Provide a reasonable financial package, including appropriate benefits for teachers that attracts them into the profession rather than turn them away.  Teachers are life long learners, but the salaries do not support continued education even while requiring more formal education.  Masters degrees are expected within five years of starting one’s career.  Sadly the income cannot sustain a teacher to live at a comfortable standard and pay for the coursework demanded of the profession.  There is very little incentive to invest in teaching as a lifelong profession, especially if wanting to raise a family, too.
  4. Students are important.  Every teacher must be taught the neurology of learning and the development markers that all students inevitably must face and manage.  Education is malleable, not concrete.  No one student follows a prescribed formula. Each student is different and all teachers must be taught to know that and even to recognize that reality.  Students must be valued.  Students must not be just a number.

Our society must accept the reality that we are far removed from the Greatest Generation.  The truth is the potential for each generation to be the greatest is always present.  The horror is that we are not acknowledging the potential in our individual students by the devaluing of the human factors in education.

Our culture places the dollar before education.  Education is how we make American great again.  When we prioritize the profession, the teachers, and especially the students then we will make American great again.  This week’s violence must not be forgotten.  Let’s use it as a cry for the change at the very foundation of our society–our education of the future.  This is the way to stop the violence in the schools–shift the value, even the paradigm, of education in our schools today.

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READ! For crying out loud, READ!

Yes, I am on a rampage.  I grew up reading.  My school was rural and small.  I only had about 13 in my class, but I read.  I read almost every book that sat on the shelves in my classrooms of Bellflower Elementary.  I read what was available.

This morning I started looking up information online and I realized that I miss reading.  And I read.  I miss reading novels.  I miss reading magazines.  I miss reading for fun.

After becoming an adult, reading became more focused on need than fun.  Reading filled a purpose more than it did down time.  But reading provided me the skill that was so necessary to manage the complexities of adulthood.

Now, the skill of reading is becoming lost.  Or maybe not.  As I was on line this morning, I realized I was reading.  I was using my learning skills that started me reading and searching for information.  I used a different format–the world wide web, but I am reading.

The epiphany then caused my mind to leapfrog (a term I use to explain how ADHD causes my brain to jump from one thing to the next) to my concern about how kids today do not know how to read.

Of course our schools are showing students how to identify the characters in the alphabet and how they make words and how to read them out. But I see major ommissions that we are not doing in our schools–and remember, I am a retired teacher.

As students in the 1960s one of the skills taught was how to use a textbook.  How to use a dictionary.  How to ask questions that taught us how to move from one word to the next to the encyclopedia–yes, that set of about 26 books that all families thought they had to own.

I have taught school.  I know that our curriculums are so focused on making sure the students are “learning” according to the scores on all kinds of standardized testing.  But, and this is huge, but are our students able to use the knowledge successfully on their own–can they study independently.

During my teaching at Wentworth Military Academy, a private company was allowed to come in and provide individualized training on how to read, how to speed read, how to improve study skills.  Unfortunately my long term memory has lost the name of this company from Massachusetts, but I remember the lessons.

Then during the 1990’s I was fortunate to join forces with the Orton Dyslexia Society, now known as the International Dyslexia Association today.  I attended the national conferences and was trained in the Orton-Gillingham methods for learning language.

I can assure you that very few teachers today are pressured to teach the study skills that takes the basics of reading and pushes students to the level of becoming effective, successful self learners.

What happened this week?  I worked with a very small group of rural American elementary students.  Every time I step into a small group of kids, I am saddened how poor the skills for learning are evident.  We must teach the kids to read, and with that comes teaching them how to study–how to learn.

Yes, there are methods to use that work.  But instead of focusing on successful scores on standardized tests, focus on the skills.  The end result will be successful adults who can adapt in the ever-changing world.

READ!  Read anything, everything whether in the form of a handheld book or whether it is on line.  Read.  Think.  Study.  Ask questions.  Think and then read some more.

In today’s world the immediate availability of all forms of texts is at our fingertips.  Access it.  Read it.  Ask questions.  Think and then read some more.  Teachers, stop and teach how to read.  Teach how to study.

And new teachers, if you have insecurity about how to do it–read.  Ask the experienced teachers that students seem to love what they do.  Remember your own learning expeirences in your favorite classroom and analyze it.  I lay odds that the teacher there was demonstrating how to learn.

READ!  And then read some more.  It is critical to the well-being of our global community in virtually every facet of our lives.  READ!

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Back home

IMG_2003Over the weekend, we traveled through six states.  We followed what had been a rare southern winter storm, seeing as much as 10 inches of snow outside of Padukah, Kentucky and finding that Florida really can be cold, too.  What a treat it can be to step away from a daily routine, but coming back home is also a treat.

The hours and hours in the car can be exhausting, but also productive.  Getting home, the routine quickly kicks in and yet there is new energy to do those daily chores that seem so tedious.

The traffic can be overwhelming and leaves one a sense of claustrophobia, yet the traffic teaches us the power of patience and forgiveness, too.  And then, coming home the traffic seems to be no problem at all.

The speed of the trip did not allow for sightseeing, but seeing the many miles of road shows many interesting things.  For instance, we were very impressed by the fences that line the highways of Florida.  Very little roadkill was visible and the idea seems so logical, especially when crossing back into Missouri we can hardly travel a mile without roadkill.

The miles that we traveled were also tree-lined.  So much of the highway system along these states were literally lined with trees, especially pine trees.  I also was surprised how many miles of the interstate also had a barrier of trees between the two separate lanes–whether east and west or north and south.  The tree-lined highway makes the insanity of traffic less stressful–at least for me as a passenger this time.  Back home, the interstate system really is not tree-lined.  Of course that is environmentally natural, but I certainly appreciate the miles that are cedar-lined or Ozark oak-lined.

The hospitality of the South is also evident.  The clerks and the servers that greeted us as we made refueling and food stops is refreshing.  Only once did we run into a questionable situation and that was in our home state as we departed.  The host seated us, but we never were served.  We literally had to get up and leave.  Fortunately, we did not ever have to do that again.  In fact, the service we had at the stops after that were delightful.

The food.  Maybe there really is nothing more to say, other than one goal we make on our trips is to avoid the typical chain restaurants that exist around our home, and to really get a taste of the region.  We had two meal stops, on the way home, that were outstanding.  One in Tallahassee at Wahoo Seafood and a second in Marion, Illinois at 17th Street Barbecue.  There is no way to explain the exceptional taste of those stops except I would plan a trip back just to enjoy those flavors again.  Back home, for instance, I tied to make homemade mac and cheese to match the one in Tallahassee.  Close, but not quite.

The point of the trip was a graduation ceremony.  In today’s world of on-line education, all too often the students do not opt to join in a graduation ceremony.  But we made the decision to invest in the ceremony and I am glad we did–despite the long hours in the car.

Celebrating life events has a value that cannot be explained logically, but psychologically it is wise.  I was so impressed by the Walden University’s skill at putting on a ceremony that pulled together hundreds (I have no idea of the final count) of graduates–bachelors, masters, specialists and doctorates–to celebrate with family and friends.

The graduation speaker was Soledad O’Brien.  What a treat for me.  Soledad has been a journalist I enjoyed and had lost track of her.  Seeing her name as the speaker, I looked forward to listening to her.  She was real, honest, personable, and professional.  No boredom at all and great words to mull over in the days, weeks, months ahead.

Thank you, Walden.  You made the experience personal and impressive from the check-in to the following reception.  You have let us return home with memories.

But today, I am back home and have finished catching up the laundry.  Today the goal is to return to the ‘work’ routine that I need to re-establish.  The trip provided new experiences and a winter-time break, but now back to daily life–mac & cheese, puppy love, laundry and all.  What a treat the weekend road trip was, but back home looks pretty good, too.



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Suzanne Collins: Reading Revivalist

Having just finished reading Book One, The Hunger Games (HG), I cannot contain myself any longer.  Thank you to Suzanne Collins for writing a book that reaches out to younger readers and even to myself.

This is my third reading and I am using it in my alternative ed classroom.  Often reading is an impossible task, but right now HG is working.  Even I have struggled to find reading which holds my attention from one book to the second to the third!

HG leaves my heart racing, my emotions in a swirl, and a deep-seeded sadness.  Why?  The timeless storyline of star-crossed lovers is just one reason.  Then there is the eternal battle between good and bad.  How can the reader deny the sense of agitation in the midst of the battle!  And the music created by the mockingjay!  Of course, it is silent reading so there is no true music, but in my mind there certainly is.

In fact, putting the full realm of my feelings into words is difficult–especially since most say I am so wordy.  Yet, this trilogy has sent me into an entirely new world of the future, but also of the ancient world filled with gladiators.

I find myself struggling with the political conflict presented, too.  Not only am I a language teacher and trained journalist, but I like history, esp. American history and politics.  These books create an echo in my head that shouts an alarm.  Why do people have to be so power crazy?  Why does HG leave me with a sense of doom?  Is it because of the power struggles we witness in government?

There are so many things that go running through my heart–err, I mean head–while reading these books that I closed HG tonight almost drained, yet oddly pumped up by adrenalin.  I have a sense or urgency to open Book Two and I know I cannot do it at this moment.

Suzanne Collins is reviving reading at a level that even young people clear up to adults and even seasoned, near retirement teachers cannot put the book down.  Thank you, Ms. Collins.  I just really regret that I will have to put the books away after this semester.  Maybe in August I can begin the journey again.

And just for the record, the trilogy fits into a school semester.  I find so many literary elements, so many themes, so many characterizations, so much conflict in the story line, so many twists, settings that identify regions of the US and a style which lends to literary analysis.

This is a book that offers much for concrete readers, but possible is even more valuable for the higher order thinkers.  The series lends itself to developing curriculum which focuses on rigor and relevance.  The alternative ed arena proves it and reading can be revived!

Again, thank you, Ms. Collins.  Thank you, Katniss, Peeta, Haymitch, Cinna, and all the others who bring the story alive.  Thank you.  I cannot wait until I can return to your world and share it with my students.

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Snow Day #5.5

We are no where near the Northeast and their record for snow this winter, but here we go again.

Today is one filled with anticipation.  The mist is icing, the roads treated, the parking lots icy, and the text alert came–school is letting out early due to the weather conditions.

As a teacher, snow days are secret blessings for many; yet snow days create nightmares for curriculum development.  Teachers also see major problems with snow days:  lack of student focus, disruption of routines, no school work done while out, rebuilding classroom structures, reviewing content that is now days cold, and the list continues.

As a parent, I know the snow days cause problems, too.  What about child care?  What about lunches?  What about boredom?  Maybe one of the questions should be what about fun?

Since the advent of electronic games and the increase concern for safety out on the streets, young people are inside not outside.  The emphasis on 60 minutes of sun loses on snow days.  The cold, the elements, the lack of appropriate outdoor clothing and little supervision is more a formula for trouble than FUN.

Snow day #5.5 cannot be changed.  The weather is what it is, but how we manage it is the key.  As long as everybody is home, safe and dry, then #5.5 will come and go.  Tomorrow–well that may be snow day #6.0.  Let’s learn how to have a sixth day of fun.



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Paradigm shift needed for teaching

I decided that I would post the following reply to a cousin who is working on some research.  I just keep going over these ideas about education and think it is time for a major paradigm shift.  How can we sit back and watch the profession fall apart.

We needed dedicated individuals who know they can make a difference as teachers and we need to give the teachers the environment, the encouragement, and the confidence to do the job they are asked to do.  We should no longer expect teachers to clean up all the society’s ills dealing with the future generations in a six hour block of time.

Teachers need to be able to teach, and all the other issues need to be handled by professional counselors, social workers, and other support staff.  Americans need to prioritize education and they need to understand what it takes to educate the students.

Here is my conversation which starts with the basics of classroom instruction but spins off in how we can shift the paradigm:

Kagan or Kagen, as I am unsure of his spelling, is one of the gurus or cooperative teaching structures.  I think  his full name is Stephen Kagan.  We have used his work a great deal and when coupled with Marzano understanding really leads to higher order thinking skills.

The PNI is a method to have students reflect on a reading and state (I require full sentences) something that is positive, something negative and something interesting.  I changed up the order and added the application question to finish up the HOTS thinking into a more synthesis level.

The scoring guides make grading so much easier on major projects and the small daily activities you do.  I can do about 30 pineapples in 10-15 minutes if I have no interruptions.  While students are doing them I can grade as they hand in, too, since the time it takes varies a bit among the students.

Now remember, a full class for me is about 10-12, which is comparable to 25-30 students in a typical high school classroom.  I suspect in a typical classroom, I would have 10-15 minutes at the end of class to grade while they were working on homework or a practice activity.  When we had 75 minute classes, it was easy to get them done, but now we are back to 60 minutes and I am struggling with the grading on a daily basis.

I make take some papers home to grade, but I seldom do it.    If I have 30-45 minutes plan a day which is not interrupted, I can easily keep up with the paperwork at school.  The problem I am having is student engagement begins when I arrive at 7:30 and continues until they all leave round 2:30.  There is no uninterrupted time.

I have learned that the at-risk students have a “schedule”:  Monday, review the weekend’s activities–parties, arrests, fights, etc.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday–student can focus on school work without too much trouble so that is the meat of the learning activities.
Friday–planning for the weekend takes priority so I have learned to reduce the hour’s teaching activities and focus on cleaning up problems from the week–missed assignments, incomplete work, and redos.
Not fighting through the at-risk schedule makes the teaching much less stressful.  Sometimes you just have to adjust and accept that variables that are at your hand.

I have long been a proponent that school districts need to reevaluate the expectations they have for teachers:

First year, rookie teachers should not have any other additional activities assigned to the.  If they want to coach, they can as an assistant but not the head coach.

Second through the fifth year teachers do need assistance with their structure.  Mentoring is ok, but most schools do not structure that in a reasonable manner and put the burden on the mentor who is also a full time teacher.

Mentoring teachers need to be just that, mentors.  Identify a well-experienced, flexible, and inventive teachers to serve as mentors.  Assign them a set of young, inexperienced teachers and allow them to teach only one or two classes.  The other teachers are their students and their responsibility.

I also think you should take away tenure.  Too many tenured teacher are complacent and no longer attempt to hone their skills.  Remove that security and implement a program that encourages teachers to continue learning, too.  The profession has had some opportunities to do that, but the cost is becoming prohibitive.  Time to start thinking outside of the box and work with the teachers.

Finally, after working on compensation for over 10 years, I think it is time to evaluate the work environment.  The work environment is as much at fault as low pay for encouraging teachers to stay in the profession.  What in the world makes a teacher want to stay in that building, classroom, or even the teachers’ workroom to get the work done.  Consider child care issues.  Look at flex time (which we worked on and finally have here in Warrensburg).  Look at job sharing.  And for crying out loud, keep the most excellent benefit package possible.  People are willing to work a little less if the benefit package and the positive atmosphere keeps them happy.

The expectations that are being placed on teachers is absurd right now.  There is the tutoring–after school.  There is the social service work we do.  There is counseling that is not available through the school counselors as they only deal with testing and scheduling.  Social workers need to be paid like high school counselors and not the hidden salary schedules of the district which are so low it is not even above board knowledge that they exist.

Oh, I could go on and on.  Unfortunately I do not know how to get this message to go beyond.  We need it out there loud and clear.  We need mavericks that will promote this and develop it in the schools.

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