Monday, July 26, 2010

Dialogue #2 (Week of 7/19/2010)

Very few weeks are like last week. A trip North to the beautiful Apostle Islands, a phone call from the Therapist of my birth mother who would like to see me after 49 years, and my bosses boss saying, "Your position has been cut." All within 24 hours.

My disdain for what I witnessed within the district as an employee of Chicago Public Schools fits perfectly with how it began - chaos and misunderstanding on every level. Not only have I lost even more respect for them, I must seriously reconsider my commitment to an institution that cannot put the needs of children ahead of their own selfish interests in adult game playing and malice. The way our children turn out should not surprise us; they are simply products of what they see modeled by us on a daily basis.

What is strange to me is that I believed so strongly in education only to find out that I probably won't be able to do the work I love. To feel today that what I did does not matter or that my doing it does not matter. Repeatedly I was told I was secure in that I had teacher's status (Coach). Stranger still to realize that teachers have been targeted (in some cases I am glad that they have been)and I will end up having no protection from my Union because the cuts are for "financial reasons" and this takes precedence over what I believed to be true about my rights as a paying member of the Union.

How sad I am today to know that our institutions do not have the courage or strength to do the right thing when it needs to be done. I honestly believe we would not have been in this position of playing Russian Roulette with teachers (you see this cut has nothing to do with me, my writing, my skills, my strengths, my talents, my awards, my many students who come back to praise my work!) if we had long ago found a way to measure the talents of the teachers teaching, to actually evaluate their work and promote them based on excellence. I mean, have we not demanded this from our children with standardized testing? Where is our standardizing the measure of teaching? How dare we not demand it of ourselves. So I guess, ironically, we have no one to blame but ourselves for standing quietly by while teachers we know were not effective were getting the same "superior" ratings as we were. We were silent and now they are coming for some of us who did not speak up and demand justice and equality.

Even sadder, the new ideas for how to evaluate teachers and promote teachers and ultimately student performance in America do nothing to change this. All ideas for reform will find defeat without a sincere effort to build relationships and create atmospheres of healthy competition within our schools.

My employers at the District and School levels have no say and no answers about what has happened to me. How is that possible? I am in the live art of building relationships with teachers and students and the people in charge have never seen, heard, or learned my name? How could I have even been offered the job, a promotion they called it, knowing that less than six months later I would not be kept on or sent back to a school? Why would they actually ask me to become the Interim (another promotion the second month) knowing that I would be asked to leave?

Regarding my birth mother. I have lived and learned that life is very short. My wish for all people is that they do not live with regret. To be open to what this woman (Kay) will bring to my life I am sure will be a never ending gift as she and I attempt to make sense of the past with the knowledge that all has turned out pretty well.

It is clear at this moment that I am about to be part of something much bigger than myself - a woman who gave birth to me is about to re-enter my life. Like two rivers that have come back together after a long separation the shore will shift and refine but land on either side will be safely in reach - new and uncharted but ready for exploration.

The trip north to Bayfield and the islands, perfect. The peace of the lapping water, the expanse of Kaleidescopic sky, the green islands stretching in all directions may have helped prepare me. Mother nature has never been predictable. In fact, she has an amazing capacity for surprize, terror, joy, and peace. But Nature also heals.

What we can learn from her, is perhaps nothing more than the lesson we've forgotten: Her definition of nurturing. What is a nature preserve that does not protect and encourage new growth in the forest? What is an oil company that does not prepare for the consequences of faulty inventions? What is a school that talks about programs, skills, and rights but never remembers to pay attention to the lives in front of them? What is a school without it's teachers and students? The last answer I know - an empty building. Perhaps there is a reason that classroom management is the number one problem facing teachers: civil unrest.

For once in my life I am not sad for me. I am sad for those who do not yet know what I am writting about. Those who stay married to the masters of fear and do not find the courage to live deliberately and with integrity, die spiritually. Once we lose our spirit the body soon follows.

There are many, many uknowns right now. All of us are facing great changes in the world around us. My reality may shift like the sun setting over Lake Superior, but my core commitment to serve children not a beauracracy cannot. There may be only one star tonight, but it is bright, and I will honor it. We must let those that love us, nurture us as we make it back from the woods of confusion to the clear daylight of civilization. So while I rely on nature to sustain me now, I do so with the knowledge that my job is to nurture, to serve.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dialogue #1

Plato used them wisely. Einstein and Galileo called them thought experiments, but they are in effect quite similar, so why not educators? It all started with a colleague of mine who reminded me of their value in a world that seems to value intellectual property even less. Then I saw a quote:

Fighting against a sense of despair
will only make it worse.
Instead of letting despair feed on itself,
do something
positive and proactive to break
the pattern.

I have recently learned that loving children and education is not enough. Watching television recently, I heard Duncan, Gingrich, and Sharpton pontificate on the subject of school reform knowing that they have not been in classrooms or schools (except for Duncan). Ironically, however, I agreed that accountability is the problem on all levels: teachers, students, parents, and administrators. I wondered all day about how and why our individual solutions get lost in the morass of bureaucracy.

Riding the bus and train this weekend, I saw 23 billboards promoting services, making announcements about new International Baccalaureate (IB) partner schools, and charter schools. When did reform become a matter of publicity? Working in a school daily I see firsthand how many of these initiatives never make it to the child. All these programs have been approved by whom? And when you see them in place the paid employee of the program is often watching a video on his/her computer because there are no students using his/her services.

Having a program does not mean using a program. When did we start teaching programs instead of children? Accountability is great but who decides what accountability is and how it will be measured? Does anybody truly know which program or approach to reform can and/or will work? Who do we trust? Most of us know that we need to invite students daily to learn and that measuring what students have learned begins with a relationship not a practice test. What, then, do we need?

It seems that even if we are not asked directly, to maintain our sanity and our own visions we need to dare to believe our ideas matter. What do you think? Einstein knew that imagination or vision was more important than facts or data. In other words where’s the vision? Where do we want to go? I want to imagine a world where a school or system believes what we do matters and can change the world. Perhaps this is a beginning? Let’s go back to thinking: our minds, ideas, and creativity matter. Let’s begin to dialogue again.

Forget your institution, your school, your classroom, and give yourself permission to think again. Do not despair, repair. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Men and Guns

By Andrew Flaherty

Below the orange glow of your smile
And a surface of promises
Made by hand and mind and heart
Black words rally
Attach themselves again but
Forget to talk, to sign the language
Forget to marry, to unify the mind
With the beating of another heart.
And ammunition lingers
In the cartridge of your gun,
Words wait for triggers
In the nib of my pen
Both fire shots
That tear the
Soul’s corridor ~
Red blood
Black bullets
And ink ~


By Andrew Flaherty

I’ve lost a poem
A seed that I loved
And planted,
Its green leaves
Falling from my memory,
The trunk of paper
I wrote upon is gone.
It spoke of my love
For a singular
Cotton wood tree
That danced a tango
In an old spring garden.
Undressing without shame,
I sat cloaked
And she dabbed
Winter residue
From the corner pockets of my
Hibernating eyes.
As I wrote
She consoled me
As I read
She healed me.
It left me wondering
Where things go when
They slip from our hands,
Left me wondering if all things
Must return to the earth,
If this poem, if all poems
Are underfoot
Long after they blow
Into the wind of our imaginations.