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Posted by on in School Culture

complacency

I just finished reading one of the best books ever. The Operator by Robert O’Neill is the story of the Navy SEAL who dedicated a good chunk of his life fighting for American freedoms. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, it should; he’s the SEAL who fired three rounds into Osama Bin Laden.

The boy from Butte, Montana, gave his all for all of us for over 16 years. He didn’t stay 20 years (20 years gives a pension and benefits); he left after 16. He left for a myriad of reasons, but the biggest factor was how he was becoming complacent when he was going on missions. He shared about one specific mission where he was so lax that he was smoking cigars a few minutes before a planned ambush of terrorists. After the ambush, he was hanging out with guys who were tossing around damaged RPG heads as if they were nerf balls. O’Neill said flat out that if he kept up his complacent ways, it would literally kill him, which had me thinking.

What about those in education who become complacent? The teacher who is waiting until 25 years? The principal who won’t do anything that would “rock the boat”? The superintendent who is just trying to keep everyone happy? All of these complacent actions are killing the creativity of both staff and students and dashing the hopes of some, keeping them from being the best they can really be.

We’ve all seen these so-called educators in our schools. We’ve either subjected to them as a student, worked with them as coworkers, or even supervised them. If you think that none of them are where you work, you’re being foolish. They are everywhere. Some are placed in positions that have the least student contact, some have positions created for them (or a position is created to keep them occupied and out of everyone’s hair), some become lapdogs for administrators, and some even brainwash an entire community into thinking that they are so important that whatever they do is equally important. What these people project versus what these people do is just flat out sad. Their complacent attitudes end up just wasting space and tax-payer dollars.

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Posted by on in School Culture

In my capacity as Head Stage Manager Guy at my school, I have spent my day on duty for a concert sponsored by a local church. It makes for a long day, but the crowd is always pleasant and the featured band this year is one my kids used to listen to growing up (Audio Adrenaline, for you people both of faith and also of a certain age, though like most decades-old bands, they are now essentially a ghost band made of all-replaced parts).

At any rate, during set-up this afternoon, I ran into a former student I haven't seen in years. I'm going to call him Bob.

I had Bob as a freshman and as a junior. Bob had some real strengths as a reader and a writer, but a low level of achievement. Some days he was a real pleasure to have around-- outgoing and genial. Other days he arrived at school with a great deal anger stuffed inside. He could be that kid who tries to teach you a lesson by figuratively punching himself in the face over and over. And he would periodically disappear for many days at a time. Big on drama, low on responsibility. Occasionally really cruel and thoughtless, but with occasional flashes of real kindness and decency. Still, most days he flopped into his seat like a lanky pile of loosely associated parts, smiling at things like the sheer hilarity of me asking him to try at whatever we were doing.

As a freshman, Bob was an "at-risk" student with no real support system at home (what at my school we sometimes call "better off raised by wolves") and group of friends who shared an interest in better living through pharmaceuticals. As a junior, he was circling the drain, hard to reach and with no effs left to give. Before the end of the year, he dropped out.

That was a few years ago. Today, he approached me and stuck out his hand to say hi. I asked him how he was doing, what he was up to. In the intervening years, he has earned a GED and gone to tech school to become certified as a welder. Now he is considering leaving the area for work or joining the armed services. He says if he does that he'll use the time to leave the area and get a good start elsewhere he comes. "I've seen too many guys come back here and screw it all up," he says.

I've heard versions of this story a thousand thousand times; so has any teacher who's been at the work for more than five years. It is the umpty gazillionth piece of proof that just because a student doesn't march right through twelve years of school and get the good grades and ace the swell tests and show the correct behaviors-- it doesn't mean that young human is doomed.

You know all the stories. Kid takes six years to finish high school and one day a light bulb goes on and she says, "I'm going to make my life different than this." Or the other stories. Honor student blows up his marriage ten years later by getting caught in a motel room trading sex for drugs with a minor. And THEN gets his act together and gets into a healthy marriage with beautiful children. My director of special ed tells the story of a student with special needs who could barely pass, well, anything, but declared her intention to become a nurse and all her special ed teachers tried to gently steer her away from it and now, today, she is a By God Nurse. My director of special ed tells that story and says, "Now I never say 'never'."

These are the stories I think of when some government bureaucrat announces that we should be able to look at a child and declare definitively whether that child is on the correct direct path to College and Career Readyville. Are you nuts? Have you met some actual humans? For anyone to look at a young human and declare, "I know what path you are on " is just nuts. For many, if not most, we reach our destination in our own way, in our own time. Insisting that everyone should reach the same place on the same path in the same way is just... well, dumb.

If you had asked me years ago if I would bet on Bob, I would have balked. He had tools, but not many, and he seemed determined to trash them. And yet there he was, standing before me like a grown-ass man with his act pretty much together, confident and determined.

To imagine that we can see to the very core of another person is startling hubris. To declare that someone is certainly doomed, that their problems are inescapable solid-state fundamentals of who they are, or that we can prescribe for them what they need or have or lack-- that's just a failure to understand what it means to be human.

I've seen the same line on several t-shirts tonight. It seems like an appropriate to this string of thoughts, even with the folksy non-standard English:

Lift your head. It ain't over yet.

To give a student a test, or to sum up their status in school, to tell them, in effect, just put your head down, because it's over for you-- I can't think of a greater crime to commit against the young humans in our charge. Ignore the test. Skip the test. Forget the pronouncements about college and career readiness.

Lift your head.

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Posted by on in School Culture

I wrote this a week ago. It doesn't feel any less real today.

So today we had early dismissal so that we could spend the afternoon running active shooter drills.

Loads of local law enforcement and other agencies participated in the drill. We had fifty-ish hand picked students to play the part of student victims. We had several previous PDs to go over how to handle ourselves. And we had two live "bad guys" with blank-firing guns to make it all nice and realistic.

We ran four drills. Because my room is far off in one wing of the building, I missed most of the excitement. I did not even hear the gunfire or the screams, and would not have known what was happening had the office not provided announcements (as part of the drill) like "Shots fired in the science wing." That was for three of the drills.

We were not, of course, told what simulations would be run. I don't know if it would have helped. Probably not. But Scenario #3 turned out to be a lunch shift. My lunch shift.

The shooters prepped the students and put them at ease. Selected some to stand against the wall and be shot dead, a couple of others to be wounded. Administrators, observers, local press stood along the walls to watch.

My usual post is on the wall with the entrance doors. The shooter fired first outside, in the hall. The shots were loud-- we knew they were coming and the students still shrieked in surprise and alarm. The shooter entered and began. My colleagues at the other end yelled for the students to go toward them, to get out. I had to walk the length of the cafeteria to get to an exit, the shooter to my right, executing the four pre-selected victims. Students dove under tables, huddled against the wall. I waved them up, toward the exit. We go out, went around the building to the safe zone.

I don't know if I saw all the students. I don't know if I got them all out. I'm pretty sure I didn't, and even with preparation and the fact that it wasn't real, the choice between shooing them out and lagging back to make sure they were all up and moving while the gun was still shooting- BAM BAM BAM BAM-- was a little bit beyond my processing powers in that moment.

I won't lie. I was shaken. I'm still shaken. We debriefed at the end of the day and the law enforcement folks said we did well. Maybe that's true. All I know is that tonight instead of thinking through how to cover the reading in my classes tomorrow, I'm replaying and wondering how many pretend students I got pretend killed today. Maybe I would do better if the real thing happened, having been through this training. But right now, having this business take up space in my head is, well, troubling.

Is this part of the job now? I suppose it is. Maybe it is. This is certainly not the first occasion to think about it. It's been over a decade since a shooter went to a prom less than an hour away from here. But damn-- all the things you do to get better at the work, at your craft, and then this on top of all that. And now it's not just did I get that concept across, did I reach that student, did I get that planning done, but also, did I get any students killed today. I absolutely cannot imagine how teachers go through the real thing ever deal. I want to find every one of them and give them a huge hug.

I'm springy. I'm resilient and stubborn. I write what bothers me out of my system. I'll be fine tomorrow. But I'm not fine tonight.

 

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Posted by on in School Culture

no excuses

This Might Get Ugly...

I'm going to start by fully understanding the vulgar gestures you may want to make towards your computer screen or the nasty emails you might write to me after reading this, but I think it needs to be said. But I believe that, by the end of this, you will at least partially agree.

First, let me admit

As a teacher I know it's one of the hardest jobs in the world. I fully admit that trying to educate students who are lacking necessary skills, two to three grade levels behind, unmotivated, and we'll just say "challenging" can be extremely challenging. And let's not forget all those ridiculous management issues you shouldn't have to deal with, but do very day because "hey, it's part of the job." Trust me, I get it. I really do.

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Posted by on in School Culture

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We didn’t do anything.

 

She transferred here from a different school. I don’t know why. She was mostly quiet, but it was not difficult to get a smile out of her. She said she wasn’t good in science, but was killing it in chemistry, perhaps the hardest science of all. I’d like to think that in the 3 months I knew her, I reached her and got to know her a little.

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