Saturday, April 29, 2006

Reality Vs. Ideally

My love for literature led me, partially, to teaching English at the high school level. On my Pre-College English class's blog In Need of Coffee, I give in the sub-heading the following thought:
When a student understands the words of a text, interacts with those words beyond the assingment given, allows those words to have meaning in his or her life, there is no greater satisfaction for a teacher of literature.

The converse, I suppose, would also be true. That, when a student fails to understand the words of a text, fails to interact with those words beyond the assignment given, and fails to allow those words to have meaning in his or her life, there is no greater disappointment fo a teacher of literature.

I've heard too many of my students proclaim their dislike for a novel, short story, or autobiography without even approaching any of the deeper meaning of the text. Maybe some students are incapable of seeing beyond the words written; perhaps some don't want to see beyond the words written. Either reason saddens me at best.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Defining a Student

Though I am at home with Baby Tate (see previous post), I have kept up on the happenings at school. In an e-mail, a teacher who works with struggling students, asked her classes what it means to be a student. She didn't share their responses, but did feel that their ideas and our ideas are very different. She asked us to send her our definitions of student. I wonder if you all might share your definitions of the word student.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Does it get more important than this?

Mr. McNamar becomes a father to Tate Rose. She, of course, is her mother.
And just as important, though born in the Pacific Northwest, she is a part of Red Sox Nation!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Post on Posts

I have watched the counter at the bottom of my blog continue to grow quickly as a result of the Washington Post's article on educational bloggers mentioned me and this blog. I have been uncertain whether I should respond in any way to the article.
Here's the quick of it. My blog was mentioned because a year ago I wrote about student attire at our prom. And while the Post did not villify me like some local news stations, I wish the article had considered all of the other content that I write on. I believe I am much more than that one post a year ago.
I would rather have been noted for this post, this post (which, thanks to google, is read often), or this post.
But, I thank the Washington Post for their judicious and balanced remarks regarding the post they reference, and for even considering what I have to say as important enough--or controversial enough--to mention in their prestigious pages.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Letter to Oprah

Dear Oprah,

Thank you for your concern regarding education in America. Your recent show brings to the attention of our nation the plight of the education system. Unfortunately, Oprah, even you will find that the issue goes much deeper than what Bill and Melinda gates can afford.

In one segment, the founders of what sounded like a charter school, KIPP, believe that there is too much blaming going on and not enough coordination. They certainly are correct. But at one point, one of the men said that we, the teachers, are responsible for failing schools. He implied that their method of 24 hour contact availability is one of the reasons why KIPP succeeds.

I won't lie; I enjoy my home life. And, this profession that I have chosen does get treated like the others that are on-call 24 hours a day.

I love teaching. I have succeeded with some students and failed with others (just like Senators have suceeded and failed). I have been responsible for some students not succeeding, just as a I've been culpable for their success (just like Presidents succeed and fail). But, as I reflected on my talks today with 38 failing 9th graders in my English 9 class, I couldn't help but feel terrible. Am I responsible for their failure? I am wondering what the founders of KIPP, or Bill and Melinda Gates could do to help me. You see, of the 38 who are failing, all of them have assignments that they did not turn in; and not just worksheet time fillers. I mean real and substantive assignments. One student told me that "I just didn't feel like doing it."

Certainly I am not responsbile for that, am I?

The question for billionaire Bill is, how can our society fund these small schools, and when are we, as a society, going to really value our educators. Bill doesn't have to worry about whether he can afford his Medina, Washington home. I have to worry about whether I can afford my nearly arrived daughter along with my 1700 square foot home in Snohomish County, Washington.

Now, normally I am not one to complain about teacher pay; but when billionaires start bitching about the education system, I get a bit testy. We live in a society that is willing to pay our U.S. Senators, even the less informed ones, 162,000 dollars (, but our average public teachers a mere 46,752 dollars (NEA). I don't want to sound unpatriotic, for fear of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity (and even Allen Colmes), but these senators don't serve as important of a role in society as the average teacher. Yes, Oprah, that is a case of blatant bias, but I believe it.

The truth is that this issue is deeply fractured. Your guest was correct in stating that we need to come together and the blame game needs to stop. But, while NCLB holds me accountable for making students learn, no one is willing to touch the issue of holding parents and students accountable as well. I need a license to teach. I am held to a high standard, and rightfully so. But what measure is in place to hold the the parents to that same standard? When that happens, on a federal level, my guess is that more of my colleagues will sit at the table and break bread with anyone who wants. We are in this business to serve our students, but the profession has long been treated as a ministry like Mother Theresa helping the poor of Calcutta.

Oprah, my favorite author, Frederick Buechner, speaks of one's vocation as a calling, and that in all truth, more often than not, our vocations chooses us as much as we choose it. I find this true. I would not want to be doing anything else in the world. My superintendant says that teaching is the most important job on earth. It is time this nations shows my profession that they believe that.


Spring break ended on Sunday, but I just can't seem to shake the mental laziness that accompanies a week long break from students.

Thanks to all of you who visited over the last week, and especially those who commented on my plea for help. My student's essay has been received warmly, and, thanks to Burt from NET, who is helping to edit the essay for publication.

Oh, by the way, classroom teachers are not on the list of top fifty jobs to have. But, oddly, adminstrators just made the list. Maybe it is time to make the switch!

My wife is due to give birth to babyTate in a week. I can't wait.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


It's the first Saturday of my spring break and I'm sitting in Starbucks grading essays. Now, don't feel bad for me, I bring it upon myself. But, for what often ends up depressing, the most recent batch of essays provided me with great satisfaction. And now, I need the help of the blogging community.
I read an essay, the likes of which I have never read in a Pre-College class. This essay has a future, should it find its way into the right hands. It is an essay that, when I finished reading, I felt like I had just finished reading an essay in a respected magazine or anthology. I once had a professor tell me a sermon I wrote for a Homiletics class could be published, but he never helped me. I want to help this kid. If you know of a way to get work published, please let me know. Here are some excerpts:

Black community--grammatical error, or bad combination of words?

Imagine taking a one thousand piece jigsaw puzzle nearing its completion, and wiping it clear off the table, sending the pieces scattering--in other words, imagine the Black community. A group of people who once shared, participated, and had fellowship, now kill the memebers of their own communit at extreme rates--the Black community is imploding. Once a group that would fight against all odds, they now will fight anyone who doesn't wear their colors. During the Slavery Era, these traits could breathe, create beautiful music, and throw a knockout punch; it acted as a true community.

The Civil Rights Era, most prominent in the 60's, sprouted the best Black leaders to ever walk this earth. THis era shot out Black talent faster than a Muhammad Ali jab. Black kids had people they could idolize, better yet, aspire to. From the darkest corners of Ralph Ellison's mind, to the untarnished prowess of Rosa' Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., this will never be an era forgotton by Blacks--or so I hoped.

What happened to this community? How could a community on the rise, suddenly be on the verge of its demise? The problem lies in the quality and number of Black leaders. Not Black leaders like Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, mere ripples of the true greats. Only Black leaders such as Barack Obama, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cornel West, and Oprah, can attempt to fill the empty shoes of lets say Stokely Carmichael, or Ralph Ellison. Mention the names [with the exception of Oprah] to any Black kid and you'll get a blank stare--are those rappers or sports stars?

He points out that the superstars of rap (50 Cent) and athletics (Shaq)get too much credit for meaningless gift giving at Christmas time and hails two athletes who help towards really building the community--Jalen Rose and Warrick Dunn. He explores W.E.B. Dubois's The Talented Tenth. He continues...

Rappers, Black athletes, and Black stars may not provide the most intelligence that the Black race has to offer. They do meet two other requirements though, don't they? They have the two most driving forces in a community--money and power. The upcoming generations of Blacks have become slaves to these forces: Get Rich or Die Tryin', right 50?

Black America faces much trouble. Fathers have disappeared, kids get neglected, and most leaders have abandoned the pack. The future of the race depends highly on education, an unknown in the Black community. No wonder the college-attendance rate of Black students stands at an abysmal 26 percent. If things couldn't get any worse, 23 percent of the students go off to college not college ready. So of the Black students that do attend college, only a small percent fair a decent chance.

Part of being in a community requires fellowship. Most people would agree that Bill Cosby has gone above and beyond in his effort to strengthen the Black community. Like Rose and Dunn, Cosby has put on his latex glove [sic] whipped out a scalpal. They have realized that no matter how a body looks on the outside, if the visceral organs do not function properly, the body as a whole will go to waste: Kids, meet your real role models.

What happens when these kids see some of the great Black leaders get shunned? Even more importantly, what happens when these kids see these great leaders get shunned by their own community? In 2004, Cosby spoke at the NAACP's Gala to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education....

Everything Cosby says holds true: I'd back that speech up with my life. The black community labeled Cosby an outcast due to his speech. Speaking the truth got him ostracized by the Black community. The NAACP, the cornerstone of the Black communities' defense, tore Cosby apart. Most communities cherish their great thinkers, not pull a Galileo. Just like Galileo, Cosby's wisdom will become a realization in the years to come: Come on Black America, Black on Black will only set us back.

He finishes with a few examples of things that bother him and more from the Cosby speech. His final line:

Wake up Black America.