Tuesday, February 25, 2014

If I Die Today...

If I die today....

...Would my family be alright?

...Can my boys survive without me?

...Have I done enough?

I have no intentions of dying today.  Not many of us do.  I am 100% positive Tammy had no idea she would die yesterday.  It had been a normal day.  Work. Academic Boosters meeting at 6:30.  Spring sports meeting at 7 pm. Workouts at the hospital after that.  Dying was not on the agenda or even considered a remote possibility.

Reality check.  It happens.  It happened yesterday to a woman who was the picture of health and life.  Alcohol, drugs, violence, or anything else suspicious had no part in her death.  There is no one to blame and nothing to blame.  It just happened.  We may find out later that she had an unknown heart condition or something else but Tammy took as good care of herself as anyone can.

All I can think about is the family she left behind.  She had no intentions of leaving them.  Her husband and her two sons must learn to live without her.  How will they cope?   How well would my boys and my husband?

I have worked to raise my sons to be capable.  They can cook, clean, do laundry and all the other things to run a house.  I plan to be here for years to help them as they establish themselves but what if I'm not?  What if I'm gone tonight?

Last year our small community experienced a couple sudden deaths.  I started thinking then that I need to get my affairs in order.  If I had died then, my husband would not have been able to find anything.  I started organizing important papers and clean out files.  I still don't think Doug could find anything but it is getting more organized.

I also started worrying about all my online accounts.  My accounts were scattered.  I made a master list and explained it to my sons.  My husband is not computer savvy.  My boys would help him figure it out.

My oldest son has a clear vision of his future and has a wonderful woman in his life.  He will be fine.

My middle son has struggled with autism but it no longer defines him.  He understands finances and people.  He knows what he wants to do with his life.

My youngest son worries me the most.  He is only 10 years old.  He has much to learn.  I have much to teach him.

We have no control over the length of our life.  It can end without warning at anytime.  We must do the best we can.

Death of a Friend

Tammy- life eternal 
This morning started like almost every other school day.  I made coffee.  Put the dog out.  Fed the animals.  Drank coffee and checked email, Twitter and Facebook.  My favorite time of day.

All that changed when my son asked if I had been online yet.  Had I seen anything about an accident?  Had I heard anything about Mrs. Clifford?  I knew he was worried.  He pushed his young brother out of the room and spoke quietly.  He told me that his friends were all talking about Mrs. Clifford's death but he wasn't sure he understood the cryptic comments correctly.  He hoped he was wrong.

He wasn't..Once again, his class is dealing with the sudden and totally unexpected death of someone they all know.  Last year it was a classmate, Elliot, who died on a Wednesday.  He had been in school on that Tuesday and only complained of feeling a little sick in the afternoon.  This year they are mourning the loss of a classmate's mother and the wife of their high school principal.

Just like Elliot's death, Tammy's death makes no sense and was completely unexpected.  Tammy was energy, life, and health.  She exercised and lived a healthy life.  Of all the people I worry about dying, she was not one of them.  I envied her healthy lifestyle.  I try to eat right but have never exercised like Tammy.

I can't imagine our town without her.  Tammy was a force of nature.  She was the person who took charge and organized things.  She made sure things got done.  She was never a wall flower.  Sometimes she rubbed people the wrong way.  That happens whenever people aren't afraid to speak.  It happens to me all the time.

I deeply regret that we had a disagreement last spring and never resolved it.

I thought we had time.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Call from the School

I love the automated message systems that our school use now to keep parents informed.  Almost all winter long we have been getting call from our superintendent announcing a school delay or cancellation.  Mr Eaglowski records a unique message for each occasion and always gives an explanation for the decision.  With all the horrible weather this year, hundreds of people can now recognize their superintendent's voice even if they don't know his face.

The vocational school my eldest attends also uses an automated message service.  Sadly, they only use the computer generated voice or one that sounds just as generic.  This same system calls to report student absences.  I got an unexpected call from them today saying my son wasn't where I thought he was.
I quickly called the school office and asked about my son.  I said he should be there.  The secretary looked at her information and said the teacher had marked him absent.  At this point she could have said "well, he must be absent" but she didn't.  She dropped whatever she had been doing and worked until she found an answer.  

My son's class is Precision Machining.  There is no way she could simply make a quick phone call to the classroom and ask the teacher.  Odds are the phone would never be heard.  She walked to the room and found the class gone.  She tracked them down to the computer lab.  

Within a few minute she called me back with her results.  There are two "Nathaniels" in the class.  The teacher marked the wrong one absent.  A simple and easy mistake to make.  I am very grateful to her for taking the time to find an answer.  

In a time when so many things are computer generated and automated, it is nice to know that there is also a person I can call.  A real live person who will listen to my question and find an answer beyond the one on her computer screen.  

Thank you Sentinel Staff! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who is Getting Rich Off of Our Schoolchildren?

Who is getting rich off our schoolchildren?  Certainly not the schoolchildren, their parents, their teachers or even the college professors.

Who is reaping the benefits of all the "education reform"?  Certainly not the schoolchildren, their parents, or teacher or college professors.

Why are so many corporations and politicians interested in education reform?  There is big money (and votes)  in our country's education system and they want their piece of the pie.

More than 20 years ago I was a new teacher and had my first assignment as a long term substitute in a high school Learning Disabilities class.  During that time technology was just beginning to become a presence in the classrooms.  If I wanted my students to use a computer, I had to reserve it.

Yes, "it".  Singular.  There was one computer available for use and it was wheeled from classroom to classroom on a cart.  I did use that computer and helped boys who hated to write because their handwriting was horrendous find joy in writing a short story.  This computer was a glorified word processor and had no internet access.  It was a useful tool.

During that time, Channel One was just entering the classrooms.  Channel One is a program that places televisions and cable connections in every classroom as long as the students watch the Channel One news program every day.  The issues come not just from the news program and taking time away from instruction but from the commercials that accompany it.  Twenty-five years later, the program is still in classrooms.

As a substitute teacher, I have been in hundreds of classes during Channel One.  On average about 95% of the class ignored the program.  This is a completely unscientific figure but is also probably accurate.  This figure includes teachers.  So why is it still there?  Advertising.  Money.

Channel One Controversy Article from 1990

Every year there is a new and improved program that will revolutionize education and make it easier for our kids to learn.  My favorite is the "New Math".  Really?  How is math new?  What has changed in the past 3,000 years in regards to arithmetic and basic geometry?  Nothing.

The new math, I have learned, is a system of shortcuts.  Instead of "long division", the kids do "short division".   They are still doing the same work but are expected to do most of it in their head.  That is fine for math whizzes but not for kids still struggling.  It also goes against my number one rule in math...Show Your Work...Show ALL Your Work.  Most mistakes are basic computation mistakes and conceptual problems.  I can't the arithmetic error if it was only done in the student's head.

Another very basic but still costly "necessity" in the classroom...calculators.  I know.  Each calculator is not very expensive but the cumulative price is high.  I have also seen a reliance on calculator at such a young age that the students are forgetting their basic math facts.  There is no place for calculators in elementary or middle school classes unless they are used as a tool for the student to check their work.

I was trained as a middle school math and science teacher.  I have worked in countless classes including special education classes.  I remember teaching in a room equipped only with a blackboard, overhead projector, and books.  I remember learning in the same environment.

Now most students have endless resources available to them at the click of a mouse or a touch on their smartphone.   This access to information has not improved anything except the ability of corporations to market their products and make a buck off our desire to better educate our children.

Getting rich off of schoolchildren

Amazon.com: Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Monday, February 17, 2014

Standardized Testing: Who Profits?

Standardized Testing & Common Core: Follow the Money to Profits.

Common Core...Just the latest in new "revolutionary teaching" ideas that will save our country from impending doom.  It started with the Red Scare and Sputnik but was further fueled by the 1983 report "A Nation at Risk" which lambasted our schools.  This report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education was undertaken at the request of Terrel Bell, the Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan.  This report called for sweeping reforms and standardization of education.  It compared the problems with education to the very serious Cold War and not properly educating our youth was tantamount to educational disarmament.  This report brought education into the national spotlight and to the attention of the business community.

People saw an untapped market and very quickly education became big business.  Like our toothpastes and cars, the businesses and politicians were always looking for the "new".  With this "new and improved" systems to sell, school districts and parents are coerced into buying it.  If they don't, the other countries might continue to have better test scores.  The politicians benefit by renaming the programs every few years and making big promises to win votes.  Who wants to vote against our children's futures?

Standardized tests are the supposedly best way to measure our students' understanding of the material.  I graduated with a degree in Middle School Education shortly before standardized testing was beginning its cancerous growth.  In class we learned about testing methods and all the problems with standardized tests.  So why are they becoming the norm?  Someone is profiting but it's not the students. 

Recent years this supposed education revolution has taken on new life in the form of charter schools.  Some charter schools are great and live up to the promises.  Unfortunately, for each success there are countless failures that offset that success.  Recently in Ohio a great number of charter schools opened and closed just as quickly.  The waste of money, time and resources pale in comparison to the educational damage done to the students.  

The problems aren't limited to K-12 programs.  Colleges and universities have become more interested in there sports programs than in the education of there students.  If you doubt this, examine the salaries of the athletic departments versus the academic departments.  How many of the coaches are paid on the same scale as an associate professor?  How many are contract employees who do not qualify for benefits and earn only $17,000 a year despite working at three institutions? 

According to a recent report by NPR 76% of college instructors fall into this "adjunct" category.  Public school teachers earn twice or three times the wages of the college professors who taught at least half and possible most of their college classes.  They also enjoy benefits and job security.  Colleges cite rising costs as the reasoning for this trend. Forget about athletics for a moment, how many in the administration are "adjunct"?

‘A Nation at Risk’ Turns 30: Where Did It Take Us?