Wednesday, August 17, 2005


Ten years ago, around this time in August of 1995, I boarded a plane in Connecticut and landed in Seattle. It was not the start of a new life, but a continuation of the one I had been living. Late that August, I started my collegiate career, one that lasted a little longer than I had intended, and with a far different degree in hand. I have said on this blog before that I wish my former students the best in all that they endeavor to do. Those students that were Seniors last year, find themselves in a similar postion that I was ten years ago. I will repeat my thoughts agian, in case any of them stop by for a visit: represent our school well, your parents honorably, and yourself honestly. Enjoy your time and don't give up. Next summer I will have finished teaching Freshmen, I think I will miss these emotions I feel today.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Back to School

Okay, I still have another two weeks before having to officially return to duty, but now that I have finished teaching summer school and entertained my parents, sister, brother and sister-in-law, as well as their two children, it is time to focus once agian on teaching.

I can say that I am feeling a sense of urgency, today, only because I realize how much I have to do. There is more than one pre-year meeting to attend--always enjoyable--and more than enough preparation. I've mentioned it before; but as I am still uneasy about it, I will mention it again. I have to teach a new grade level this year. This means yet another year of wondering if I am on the right track or if I am even getting anything valuable done. It sure will be nice to teach something more than once.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Proficient Teachers

Someone recently gave me a copy of Simple Truths for Teachers, one of those pithy ispirational books. I'll have to admit I always enjoy pithy proverbs, whether for the soul or the work place.
One of the maxims reads, "You cannot put a price on a proficient teaching. It is invaluable."

I find such statements heartwarmingly naive. The kind of naivety you hope every one of your students holds on to in the face of MTV and No Child Left Behind. It is true, though, that proficient teaching is difficult to come by some of the time, and not attainable all of the time. Yet we as educators are faced with the challenge of mounting pressure from our government, both state and national, to be absolutely proficient.

As a tangent thought, considering that Senators and Congressmen perform such highly important duties, casting votes that have implications beyond our current generation, shouldn't all elected officials have to be highly proficient. Ted Kennedy is highly proficient at alcohol consumption and general crabbiness. Rick Santorum is highly proficient at putting his foot in his mouth. But are these men and women proficient at their jobs? Are there any tests to take in order to retain their position?

Sorry, one of those days. But with all of this proficiency floating around, I ask you, are you proficient? What makes a proficient educator? It will be nice to hear from actual educators on this subject as opposed to wealthy businessmen and lawyers who used their wealth to get elected to a public office. And though I doubt any of those important elected officials read what this lowly teacher has too say, if you are one, I guess you can chime in!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Here is your certificate, now the parents own you.

One of the drawbacks to teaching, and unlike some teachers I don't find too many, is that upon receiving a contract we suddenly find ourselves scrutinized by more people than I am comfortable with. Our students watch us; our peers watch us; our administration watches us; our district personnel watch us; the parents watch us. The government even watches us.
The difficulty for me is that it means I am always on stage. The opportunity to be human goes out the door. If one of the many people watching you finds they don't like something about you, life can become quite difficult.
Over at Right on the Left Coast a fellow teacher is under attack, by an irate parent, for his commentary on an act of protest. His follow-up post receives quite a few comments. In looking back at the frenzy I created a few months back with a post about a tradition at my school (I removed the original post and replaced it with an apology--though I DID NOT HAVE TO), I must consider what, if anything, we lose as individuals when we become teachers.
Clearly there is a code of professional behavior, but does that code mean we must lose our right, away from the school to live within the bounds of the law. It is one thing if a teacher is violating a law, of course we should face up to the penalties that our laws state. But if a teacher feels the need to write, on his blog, about a social movement or anything else, does the employing school or a parent, have any right to censor that speech?
A perception lingers, perhaps from an age when teaching was done in a one room school-house, that teachers are somehow the embodiment of what the community values. But clearly this is an unattainable goal in modern society. My values as a teacher are potentially far different from that of the community I teach in. Perhaps I am too conservative or too liberal. Too youthful or too old fashioned. We should have the right, just as anybody else in this world, to have opinions and share them.
One of the people I respect the most in my life is a boss from a hotel I worked at. He is African-American and lived in the heart of Texas during a time of great prejudice and hate. I asked him once what it was like to experience injustice and hateful put-downs. How could he tolerate the beliefs of those people and not want to be the same way back. His response forever shaped the way I approach people with different values than me. He said, "You know what, people can believe any way they want. They have that right. They can say what they want, because they have that right. It doesn't mean they are right, only they have the right. "
Frankly, I am tired of living in a world where we cannot speak if it doesn't match-up with what others are looking for. It doesn't matter to me whether you are religious or not, politically to the right or to the left; we need to be able to have a voice of affirmation or dissent.
As teachers, we should be a representation of the world around us. Our administrators and central offices should not expect mindless lemmings. Our students and parents should not expect us to be the same as them. There is much more to education than algorithms, timelines, chemical equations, and iambic pentameter. There is something to be said about learning how to accept others while disagreeing with them. There is something to be said about evaluating one's personal beliefs through honest and open discourse.
If we are constantly looking to do battle over the inconsequential differences, we will never find a way to compromise on the issues that do matter.
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