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Dear Readers: Professional Development in the English Community! I Know you are Mesmerized 😃📚

My long journey into education, tough and fraught with peril, has been padded by a long list of fabulous supporters and teachers. Just this summer, I finished a week long training with 29 other people facilitated by a professional that truly knew his content and cheered us all on with a tasteful sense of humor that was both dry and engaging. Believe me, being treated like a professional after a long drought is definitely refreshing because the sense of collegiality and respect had become somewhat foreign to me. Prior to the weeklong experience, I also enjoyed two other summer trainings that incorporated fun activities into a socially relaxing environment. Both of the facilitators were prepared, the materials were of quality, and the content was relevant to the questions that had been roaming around in my head. Recognizing a teacher's right to professional autonomy and choice is what every experienced coach and facilitator prioritizes. Jim Knight writes about the importance of respecting a teacher's choice of professional development opportunities in his book, Instructional Coaching, a valuable 'must read' for anyone in education, especially if you suspect that you could be better supported. Reading the book can at least either validate your suspicions, or help you take advantage of opportunities available to you even if they are limited. In other words, you can fine tune your relationship with your coach if any trust exists. 

Whenever I have problems with parents or students, I try to think back to what I learned from student teaching. I worked side by side with an experienced professional, a truly amazing, organized, and well prepared teacher. She had a ton of tips and tricks that she shared with me that made it possible for me to imagine myself at her level at some far in the future day. No matter how hard I try, or how long I slog away at this, I will never be able to match her expertise because she is just that great. She shared her classes and her students with me for 14 weeks in a spirit of positivity and inclusiveness; she never complained about me because she was graceful and patient, consistently modeling professionalism. Whenever I raised doubts about my own competence, she would point out my strengths.

After I became certified, I started to venture out into other places for professional development. The Writing and Thinking Institutes at Bard can't be matched for intense instruction. Each group consists of at least 15 participants that work in both secondary and post-secondary schools. I managed to attend 3 summers in a row. The first summer I attended I took a weeklong seminar in creative nonfiction, and I can't recommend it enough. The professor that taught this section had lived on the Hudson for most of her life. The texts that she selected centered around the local river culture, and the discussions were thought-provoking. I learned about the area and the people, the history, and how the river sustained them. To say that a Bard Institute is inspirational is to understate the value. At the end of the week, my fellow participants and I had created a lesson plan for our own creative nonfiction unit. This sparked an interest in teaching and writing creative nonfiction, and I learned how valuable it is in the classroom for making students aware of our common humanity.

By the next summer, I was feeling as if I needed more instruction assigning and responding to student papers; I signed up for a seminar at Bard titled, Teaching the Academic Paper. Because I love composition theory so much, the class was a perfect fit for me. The week just seemed to fly by, and every evening was filled with English nerd-type fun. I even met Sondra Perl, a famous writer and leading composition theorist that I had always looked up to and had always felt intensely curious about because she had developed the 12 guidelines of writing that I like to use in the classroom. Finally, the following summer, I took a Bard institute titled, Writing with Technology. All of us participants bonded closely because this class required us to share our journeys into literacy. Not only that, I was able to take a super strong and super smart English professor with me. What could be more important to an English teacher than practicing the continuous cycle of reading, writing, learning, discussing, and sharing with some of the best people in the field? I hate to sound silly, but we were tighter, tougher, and stronger than the New England Patriots when our week together concluded. 

I've been fortunate enough to attend other advanced placement trainings and tons of other one-day seminars, writing retreats, and of course, the daily grind and struggle of grad work and teaching various preps; the intensity of these high quality experiences have helped me improve my teaching. Without dutifully attending these various trainings and zoning in on my grad work, I would be not somewhat mediocre, but truly mediocre. But at the end of the day it all comes down to the people that inspire you the most. Usually the toughest teacher with seemingly unattainable requirements ends up, often after years of agony, becoming the most important person in your professional life. But at this point, I don't have time to tackle becoming that well-versed in my subject even if I was that kind of genius. But I do know that after taking trainings and trainings after trainings, that I am able to learn from the work of other people, especially if it isn't garden variety. I know that at least a few of those people that bothered to teach me do still care about me, just as us fellow participants still enjoy keeping in touch. Being able to differentiate between a quality training experience and one that is mediocre and inspired by nothing but basic low rigor and test prep is an important skill in the education world. Teachers that invest in high quality professional development, that take the time to learn their subject, sometimes have to accept the superficial even though it isn't helpful. It is at those times that I reflect on the differences between quality and low rigor and try to develop fresh ideas for student learning. Now at the beginning of a new academic year, when I once again feel like running away rather than running to, it seems appropriate to reflect on what has brought me to this point.

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Raw Writing: Thoughts on a Cold Saskatchewan Night and Climate Change

Falling down the stairs and jamming my foot under the metal bookcase reaffirmed my belief in my lack of grace and physical talent. The fact that I’m having trouble typing this proves I’ve been lazy about writing since I finished up grad school. The humiliating trip to Macy’s today for interview clothes did nothing for me except lower my self-esteem. When I read the news, I can’t decide what depresses me more, the dead immigrants washed along the shore of the Rio Grande, or the mestizo children without blankets, toys, toothpaste, or soap. Maybe the picture of the mountain lion in the LA Times hurts me because I know it will probably become extinct, a victim of my exhaust pipe and the electricity that I burn. Maybe I know that the immigrants are no luckier than the mountain lions. Maybe I know that my own luck is worn thin.

Years ago, a kind and clueless fellow traveler that I spent some of my valuable free time with suggested that I was depressed and that I might need some prescription pills to balance me out. If I took pills, he theorized, I wouldn’t get so upset about whatever it is that I sit around and read and think about. According to him, I could have more fun because I wouldn’t be so serious. I told him, while I was sitting amidst a large circle of newspapers and books, that the only thing that really depressed me was his lack of interest in anything important, letting the argument dwindle into the growing bank account of relationship resentment. A few days later, fueled by impatience and anger, I found myself walking away from my friend in the cold Saskatchewan winter dressed in little more than a short black dress and plastic boots, my knees shivering, but my lips mashed together in determined silence. As the cold wind slammed ice pellets into the bare skin of my neck and face, I vowed to never speak to him again; I never did. I walked past the parliament buildings, the ice rink, and piles of snow oblivious to my own watershed moment. Even though I felt alone and misunderstood, I felt like something important was imminent.

I pointed my nose back south some weeks later in search of something meaningful, and I never navigated north again. In other words, I became different because of my experience with triviality and my struggle against its temptations and misleading messages. I became an avid onlooker and less a flirtatious socialite. In fact, much of what had once meant something seemed to suddenly mean nothing. I looked back on the moments in my old life, the times when I thought I was standing up for something like family or friendships, and I realized I was just standing there by myself like some statue in a park. But even worse, I realized that even if everything in my reality was normal and happy, it could still ultimately lead to nothing.

My awareness of superficiality only deepens as world problems become more complex and out of control. Climate change is the watershed moment for everyone. If people refuse to join together in an effort to abate this catastrophe, then we will all be facing a collective version of our snowy night alone on a freezing street. The closed government buildings, the passing cars, the kissing couples dressed in furs, the scrunching of cheap plastic boots across an icy street, all of it will be the height of nothing. No one will be here to remember even one starry night of any of this. No one will be able to help us.

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Fake Apologies, Cowards, and Nothing Burgers

            Fake apologies, the stuff of cowards, come from a place of deficit. Usually the person doing the apologizing fears some kind of a loss, such as a sports contract, a job or bonus, or some position of privilege. They may even consider the recipients of the apology not an intellectual equal, so hubris and arrogance override good old common sense. If someone is giving you a fake apology in front of a camera, during a recording, in front of your boss, or some other “staged” moment in time, consider it a nothing burger.

            A true apology takes incredible courage, and it often comes at a huge personal cost. Someone has to admit that they have been weird, rude, or threatening, or that they have cheated or lied about something. The words must be chosen carefully. For example, if someone tells you that it isn’t their intention to make anyone “uncomfortable” then you can bet that they are lying while apologizing. Of course, when someone is screaming at you across a crowded room, exerting their white male presence, and acting like a sexist idiot, then the full intention is to make you feel “uncomfortable.” The person issuing the apology should at least be courageous enough to admit what they did. This apology is clearly a total nothing burger.

            An “authentic” (a word usually overused by fake people but used now in the spirit of jest) apology, at least between people and not institutions, can be done with a card, or in a private moment. A vow to undo whatever harm has been done is usually paired with a sincere apology.

            People of courage typically apologize with sincere remorse and will fully confess to whatever it is that they have done to hurt someone else. Cowards will stage some kind of a fake apology and offer you a nothing burger thinking that you are dumb enough to accept it. Cowards tend to gather in groups, so you might experience backlash if you fail to accept a cowardly and insincere apology. Remember, cowards know they are cowards, and they actually live with this shame day in and day out. They are recognizable to one another, and this fearful condition, this lack of courage and sincerity, programs itself into the fabric of their everyday lives. Because of this, they trust no one, and a plastic and superficial life is all that they know. They skip from one cowardly incident to another, randomly hurting the people they interact with, handing out nothing burgers right and left.

            Bill Clinton might be the daddy of them all when it comes to handing out the nothing burger. In his apology to the American public after the Lewinsky scandal, he admitted to his sexual peccadillo, but he soft pedaled the enormous lie that he told: “I never had sex with that woman.”

            We all know that he told this lie out of fear so he could keep serving the interests of American politics, but we also know that every single one of his apologies were just a huge order of nothing burgers. When Clinton realized that he was caught and he had no way to cover up the peccadillo, he should have volunteered the truth and mixed that with a sincere apology (I’m just kidding).

The most tragic thing to come of the nothing burger is the unwitting people it involves. Without putting much thought into anything, an unwitting person might say that you should accept a nothing burger and move on with your life. But moving on without expecting sincerity enables the coward to feel courageous about a couple of dangerous things: hurting the same person again, or simply finding a new person to hurt. A cabal of cowards can exist institutionally because they’ve been allowed to hand out nothing burgers as a matter of tradition. When cowards begin to think that their behavior is acceptable, then they are willing to go further.

            Apologizing is hard work, and it does take effort and courage. But when you’ve apologized for the damage that you’ve done, other courageous acts become easier. Apologizing cleanses the soul, clears the air, and creates lasting bonds of respect and humility. Handing out nothing burgers to the people you have hurt proves you are just a coward.

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Why Visiting Craigslist Can Lead to a New Relationship

    

    For the first, and only time in my life, I clicked around on Craigslist and ended up in a new love affair. The object of my affection is a two-year old parrot-like little bird with glossy green, red, and blue feathers, a Conure. I adopted him from a sweet little lady in Willis that lives in a bona-fide ‘tiny’ home. Her daughter and two grand-children were about to occupy the empty space in her front yard in a trailer, and this meant that she felt uncomfortable keeping the little bird with so much going on. I agree with PETA, birds are meant to fly and not climb around in cages, so I am happy that I adopted my feathered friend and didn’t buy. He should be able to live in good health for at least 18 more years, so that means he might actually outlive me if he doesn’t have an accident or illness.

    His previous pet-parent explained that my bird takes a bath every day, and I felt skeptical about her claim until I saw his enthusiastic scrubbing in his cereal-bowl-sized, stainless bath tub. He started out by dipping his little neck and face, scrubbing and plucking, and then he jumped in and did a full body wash—he looked so serious and sweet splish-splashing around. I think he felt a little chill after bathing, sitting on his perch with his feathers all poofed out. He looked like a big feathery and glowing, dignified, green ball with a sense of pride and vanity. But then after drying a bit, he started jumping around and squawking like he always does. I carried his cage out to a sunny place on the porch, and he stood on his perch with his eyes closed just soaking in the sun like he was dreaming of some faraway beach or tropical paradise.

   
    He has a name, but I haven’t been able to determine whether or not he is actually answering to it, but I do know that I’ve already spoiled him. He likes fruit and leafy greens, fresh. And if he doesn’t get his treats early in the morning he squawks and fusses at the top of his lungs. Sometimes at night he feels grumpy. His bedtime is early, by nine. Last night I tried to lure him out of his habitat and onto my hand, but he bit down on my finger as hard as he could, wiggling his jaw to make sure it hurt. I realized he was just tired and wanted me to leave him alone. He is adorable and sweet, and I couldn't have found a better relationship clicking around on Craigslist. But I'm not doing it again!

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Moonlight Ramble 2018: Better than EVER 🐾🚴🏼‍♀️🔱👻

Last night we loaded up the bike, the dogs, and the dog trailer and headed over to Houston for the big Moonlight Ramble. We met up with hundreds of other cyclists at Saint Arnold's Brewery for a costume and bike contest, and then we hit the road at midnight on the most challenging ride ever! It was challenging for me because I haven't been training, and dragging Bill and Bob in the trailer added at least 50 pounds to my load.

We went up and down a few freeway interchanges and I literally thought I had downshifted to the last gear on a couple of hills. Other people zoomed by me as I struggled to pedal my load of dogs up the hill, and I was starting to worry about my Trek bike since I haven't taken it in for a service in at least a year. We made it through the rough part, at least initially--but not everyone. Some lady on a pink street bike with lights blinking all over the wheels wiped out right in front of me and went over the curb divider on one of those little uphill struggles. 

I hated to see that, but not as much as I hated to see those little hills. Last year was literally the easiest ride ever, level road, and it was a short ride too, only about 10 miles. This year was quite the workout...I rode 16 miles in 1 hour and 40 minutes and that includes a break at Houston Community College. 

I did get behind the main group of riders, and I did decide to take the short route. The short route and losing sight of my fellow cyclists meant that I actually got lost on the way back. This not only added distance to my ride, but it also added a ton of anxiety. I was somewhere on Canal Street in an unfamiliar area, and literally nobody was around except one other lost cyclist dressed in a skeleton mask and a creepy white onesie. 

I never did get back on the right route because I couldn't keep up with the guy in the skeleton mask because of the dog trailer. I ended up running into one of the ride organizers on Jensen Street and he told me how to get back to Saint Arnold's Brewery. He politely told me what to do, but I felt like he was secretly amused by my predicament.

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The Wonderful Beer Garden at Saint Arnold's! They really welcomed us with red carpet service!

 

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Such a cute, scary couple! ❤️👻

 

I really wasn't going to go to last night's Moonlight Ramble, but my son and his friend volunteered to help me with all of the equipment and the dogs, and they scolded me for "being bummed out." I am so lucky to have such wonderful young people in my life--they grabbed their skateboards, and away we went. It was a fun night that I will never forget! Thank you Houston!

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Bob and Bill waiting to ride!

 

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This bike played music!!!

 

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I'm not sure, but I think this group won a costume prize!

The People and Subjects that Paulo Freire was Fighting For: Composition and Education, the Poor and Oppressed

 

I've been working on a paper that examines the effects of standardized testing on secondary students. I'm most interested in essay responses and how they interfere with an expressivist pedagogy. I'm trying to argue that even though an essay prompt might have good intentions, it still caters to what Freire would call "the banking model of education" because the test is more constructivist--it doesn't allow students to display the ability to write in an authentic genre because the test itself becomes a genre. 

For example, in the state of Texas, ninth grade writers are asked to compose an expository piece inside of a box on 26 lines. Teachers in schools with socioeconomic deficits really stress over this piece of writing, and it can be taught throughout the school year. While students are being forced to respond to a prompt in a 26 line essay "that explains something" they are missing out on the joys of composing authentic, expressivist writings that explore current events, inner peace, self-exploration, or other topics of interest. 

For example, in one extremely poor urban school students were given a state prompt that asked them to explore and explain why it is important to trust someone. Most of these students had never trusted anyone and with good reason. In fact, someone that was trusting was considered foolish. The neighborhood consisted of mostly public housing and crime was a part of every student's life. Asking them to write about "trust" was a completely inappropriate topic, a topic that was basically foreign to them.

If English teachers are cultural workers with a mission to humanize and teach empathy, then how did they become aligned with this form of oppression? Is the energy, effort, and time wasted on teaching students to write to a standardized test really an act of oppression?

I think that Paulo Freire would say that we have lost our way, and that we have become the oppressor. If "oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization" as Freire says they are, then does the modern English teacher fit this mold? Freire makes a distinction between "systemized education" and "educational projects." Projects involve the student, while systemized education is a top down form of management that disregards the problem with oppression. 

Typically, standardized tests are equated with power, both financial and political, as profits are made and student needs are ignored. The standardized test is a neoliberal and far right conservative manifestation that touts educator accountability but fails to allow the pursuit of a problem-solving style pedagogy. Freire teaches us that:

"In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people's historicity as their starting point."

Why not understand the origins of our students? When people become "aware of their incompletion" then education becomes an "ongoing activity." Standardized testing symbolizes an oppressive barricade, a box much like the one the students are forced to write in. The test becomes an education completed, or in some cases it becomes an education never accomplished. 

Either way, both outcomes send our students the wrong message. 

 

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The Problem with the Cat Squad: Writing and Thinking

Today I am writing to discuss the dancing mumble jumble of the early beginnings of the classical swing and sway of turbulent female bonding gone tragically wrong. A typical feminist will recognize the innate, positive qualities that exist in another woman and seek to hold that person strongly aloft, high above the fray of angry meanderings and petty jealousies of the frantic and dramatically superficial class of thinker. But I am not to enjoy this type of strong hold because I have been dropped into a shrieking palisade of surface thinkers, a menagerie of spite and pettiness, with a faded and dying disco ball twerking its last twerk. How did I get into this sometimes humorous but never painless amateur dance amid a cliquish cesspool of languishing performers? I was duped—that is how. I was sold a bad bargain, and I was convinced that I would be protected. I listened to a detractor, and as you know, detractors want nothing to do with strong women. The typical detractor (male or female) is looking for women that will handily destroy other women, and by doing so the detractor can continue an egotistical power trip. Maybe I should speak the truth, and just tell it like it is—the word ‘detractor’ is insufficient, while the word ‘quitter’ is more accurate.  A ‘quitter’ is always happiest with the status-quo. Quitters never analyze the depth and honesty of their actions--they just stop trying to grow.

At any rate, I have only myself to blame for this death-march-waltz because even if I were completely androgynous and I hid my feminine power side, I would remain a target. Basically, for those who manipulate so that they can continue to live in a state of languor, any sprite of positive energy is a threat; intelligence becomes as unwelcome as a broken heel during the fox trot.  I could try slide stepping my stronger moments on a soft shoe, and maybe that would endear me to my attackers, but I simply can’t; I refuse to bore my audience by becoming a wall flower.

I want every woman I meet to succeed in a place that is appropriate for her, but I am unwilling to support the kind of woman that is a traitor to her own struggle. We all must practice at becoming more self-aware and be cognizant of what it is that we are aiming to do—we need to study our motives and question our ethical assumptions about what is right for others. Only until we are completely conscious of our innermost motivations, can we be assured that we are treating each other with respect and kindness.

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Somewhere in the Middle East, Late 50's

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If you recognize this scene, leave a comment and tell me what you know 😊

        It is so much like me to post something and then write about a completely different topic, but this time I’m doing it because I really don’t know much about this picture. I know that my father took this shot somewhere in the Middle East during the late 50’s. He worked and lived there, and all that I know about this part of his life is that he enjoyed the experience. I can’t remember much about my father, but I can remember some of the most important things that he told me. I asked him why he traveled so much, and he told me that he was a gypsy. He said that most gypsies travel by road, but he liked flying. I remember thinking about him flying on his planes as I rode down the highway in my grandmother’s big Buick with my hands out the window, watching our shadow race along beside us.

        Whenever someone would ask me “what” I was, I would proudly tell them, “I am a gypsy.” I started to dress a bit Bohemian as a kid, but then I took the thing to the next level when I dropped college for long distance trucking. I lived out of my truck just like a gypsy for decades, and I finished school in between because I knew I didn’t want to live on the road forever. I wanted to be able to experience people from all over the world without having to continuously travel. I wanted to stay home in Texas. Now that I live in the most diverse place in the United States, I am able to work with people from every corner of the world, and I think my father would be happy with my decisions.

            When I look at this picture, I am struck by how the little boy is marching behind the line of soldiers. We know that our actions and our traditions impact our children, and this picture is a representation of that. Just as my father influenced me with his open mind and love of travel, the little boy in the picture is following what he knows. I hope his life is a happy one.

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John Eckert Sr. (somewhere in the Middle East)

 


Five Ways to Survive the Drama King or Queen at Your Workplace

            Just when you started to think that your life had become dull and uninteresting to other people, you suddenly realize that you’ve been a long-running target of the weak-minded and categorical. I say weak-minded because even with a solid education the cause of your misery is still oblivious to common sense and the surrounding world with all its peculiarities, and I say categorical because even though they (he, or she, or the person in transition) rejects insulting classifications and stereotypes that could easily be applied to them, they fall into the trap of outwardly embracing what it is that makes them repugnant in the first place. Happily playing at therapy and liberally applying labels to other unsuspecting people is just daily business for people running on an intellectual deficit.

So, how do we outmaneuver and protect our finances and career, our sanity, from this abuse and assault on our character?

  1. Don’t play nice and don’t help them. People that run around slapping labels on coworkers and acquaintances do not deserve your help. No matter how tempted you are to point out the obvious, or cover for the person, resist. If they are running around judging you, they are somehow in deficit. This means they will lie to obscure the truth about themselves. Labeling other people makes it convenient to dehumanize. In other words, they will never care about anyone that isn’t a convenience to them.
  2. When you are targeted by a person in deficit, do not turn the other cheek. I’ve done this before, and it does not work. Be totally proactive and completely truthful. Do not allow them to bully you, and do not share in any of their blame. I’ve tried to compromise with a person like this before in an effort to make peace and, sadly, it does not work. When someone is pretending that they are qualified to psychoanalyze you, or if someone thinks they know your character better than you do yourself, beware, because they are in search of drama and attention at your expense. This tendency to slap labels and stereotypes on other people will create a sense of isolation ultimately lending itself to inauthentic and dishonest, two-faced relationships.
  3. Keep your sense of humor even as they devalue you. Remember, those obnoxious lips and mouths are really crying out from pain and insecurity, and you can help them coexist without exclusion if you demonstrate your own courage and resilience. Most of the time they are operating from that lonely place of deficit, and that is a place of fear and uncertainty. The attack on you is an act of cowardice. Recognize it for what it is and be glad you are not in that place.
  4. Practice articulation. If you are unable to explain to other interested parties why you think you are a target, then you might be misinterpreted. This happened to me, and this inability to share my thoughts in an articulate and powerful way hindered my ability to convey the truth. I was simply underprepared, blind-sided, and in a state of shock. Prepare to defend yourself at all times. People that backstab you and label you will stop at nothing to destroy you. You have been reduced to a category, a label, or stereotype. Do not soft peddle your defense in an effort to protect your own humanity. The deficit, the cowardice, is real.
  5. The five-year rule. I always tell my students that they will never know how they will feel about someone, or some situation, in five years. Never take an action against your attacker that might cause you shame in the future because nothing is more destructive. Instead, mitigate the damage to yourself by maintaining a sense of dignity. You know that you are more valuable than the careless and irresponsible label that your pretend psychotherapist, or attention seeking gossip, or fake friend, has tossed in your direction. Be strong and resist the temptation to take revenge.

Finally, I would like to say that it is important that we do everything in our power to keep our children safe. That means doing our best to monitor their movements and give them rules that we are able to enforce. If we give our children mixed messages, if we fail to support them with consistent discipline and structures, then we not only endanger them physically, but we also create mini-dramas that will produce more confused and intolerant adults with social and intellectual deficits.

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Unknown Artist


Thoughts on Trump, Literacy Coaching, and Writing for My GIS

Like usual, I couldn't be more disturbed about the incompetence going on in Washington. I've been reading this book by Kurt Eichenwald about Enron and why it failed, and so many of the people at the top of that organization had no business working with large sums of money and creating financial vehicles like hedge funds. They had no business buying up water utilities and shuffling funds around. This compares to the Trump administration in a bunch of frightening ways, and I am tired of just watching the train wreck in slow motion. Some nights after reading in that book, it's hard to sleep well. And then I wake up in the morning and turn on the news, and Trump has already been up since before dawn making a fool of himself and taking the entire country along on his weird little ride.

My theories about incompetence isn't confined to politics; I'm worrying about other places too. When you are depending on your leadership to make good choices (because it's like you are on a bus careening down a dangerous mountain with a bunch of other helpless people when you are subject to the decisions of an incompetent team), your life is on a kind of holding pattern, like at an airport. For example, I went on an interesting job interview last year. The school was in a tough neighborhood and the principal was young and inexperienced. Honestly, she looked like she was just out of high school, and she even had a squeaky little voice to go along with her tiny, young appearance. She had the campus instructional coach sit in the interview, and at the time I didn't see anything wrong with that. And then in January of this year, I read an entire text book on coaching. It turns out that the instructional coach should never chime in on personnel decisions because that interferes with the trust that is needed between the teacher and the coach. The student's success in the classroom should be the goal of coaching, not deciding which teachers should win or lose during hiring season. To help students succeed, the coach has to be trustworthy and ethical so the teacher can feel comfortable asking questions and demonstrating teaching methods in the classroom. The coach is suppose to support the teacher in an objective and professional way. A coach that is critical and unethical, willing to gossip, or seek power over an individual's employment, is unworthy of the position. Coaches should never verbally abuse a teacher or make hateful and derogatory comments either, but most of us in education have seen this kind of unprofessional conduct at least once. 

But my answer on that day was pretty blunt. I told them that I respected credentials and experience, and that I was hoping to work with a team that had a campus wide learning strategy. But in some ways just relying on a person's credentials or education is an invitation to open Pandora's box because as soon as someone thinks that his or her terminal degree means it's okay to stop learning from colleagues, then the department or institution is limited to something that may not be what it appears, similar to Enron's CFO, Andy Fastow. So, if a team is looking up to someone that is believed to have all-encompassing knowledge, overloading this person's ego with decision making power or influence, and grooming them to serve at the top, then the institution will never know what it has been missing in the way of growth or innovation because it has chosen to overlook other perspectives. When an organization centers its attention on a particular individual, and relies on that individual as a source of guidance or constant advice, then the organization threatens its very existence because of this insulating factor. It's important to listen to every voice. Let's take a look at the relationship between Ken Lay, CEO of Enron, and Andy Fastow, the CFO. Anything that Andy did or said was supported by Ken Lay, and it took a string of whistle blowers and mini-disasters, and finally a major disaster, to get anyone outside of the company to believe that the entire organization was near financial collapse. It was basic incompetence 101 that brought Enron to its knees after years of mismanagement, and the fact that Lay was enthralled with an erroneous idea and image of Andy Fastow. 

This is why I have been thinking about writing some ideas about literacy coaching into my GIS. The way we do education in this country does need some revamping, but the reforms that have been tried so far have done nothing but harm students and teachers. Maybe if more teachers were encouraged to take advanced coursework this would help with student achievement. But ignoring professionalism has done nothing to improve outcomes, and just allowing anybody to coach, teach, or lead a school, is just as crazy as relying on a perceived guru. When I say ignoring professionalism, I think of the instructional coach example.

My first instructional coach has since retired, but I met her one night last fall on a moonlit bike trail. It was the strangest way to meet back up again, and I was so happy to see her. She had so much to offer me back at my old school in the way of knowledge and expertise, but she had no clue about the actual learning environment between her visits because all she was ever shown was numbers and data, so she was unsure of how to guide any of her teachers on that campus (an example of how misguided leadership can hurt kids). But our conversation was tinged with sadness since we both already knew from watching the news that my old school is in its seventh year of "improvement required," and will soon be closed, proving in general that drastic reform strategies fail our kids. 

Anyway, my GIS is my capstone course for my master's degree, and I want to expand on how standardized testing has affected student writing. I've already done some work in this area in previous courses, but I would like to offer some solutions on how to mitigate the classroom tragedies that are taking place everyday in public schools everywhere. I know that the emphasis on writing to an examination has overshadowed the creation of student writers per se. The drill and kill method of grammar instruction is once again overshadowing the more effective literature based method. Standardized tests cater to a certain demographic, and the writing prompts are evidence of this. I know that I can't change policies, but one voice at a time can help one child at a time. I hope that what I learn from my capstone course will help me become a better teacher.

Vogt, MaryEllen, et al. Reading Specialists and Literacy Coaches in the Real World. 2nd. ed., Boston, Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2007.

Eichenwald, Kurt. Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story. New York, Broadway Books, 2005.

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