Saturday, October 5, 2013

Can you like my friend's page? It's for a good cause!

As I am raising money to update technology in my classroom, an old classmate of mine has agreed to donate one dollar (US $) for every person who likes his law firm's Facebook page.

All you have to do is visit the below Facebook page and click 'Like' and he will do the rest. Please LIKE McGrath, Gibson, LLC today!


Friday, October 4, 2013

You have the power to help our students succeed!

The key to preparing students for college and career is to provide them with the most updated education technology to help them learn and succeed.

In today's schools, technology makes the difference because we can ill afford to get by with the traditional rote memorization of facts and the same reading and recitation. We are responsible for preparing students to use computers and audio/visual equipment that they likely will be using in higher education and the workplace.

The challenge, however, is that creating a 21st century classroom for our students takes money. As I teach sixth grade world history and want my students to have access to a technology cart to help present lessons and show them how to make the most of today's communications (laptop cart, document camera, projector, etc.), I have signed up with a local fundraising site to help acquire what we need to help our students get to the next level.

My goal is to raise $1,000 to purchase a technology cart for multimedia presentations, a document camera (also known informally as an 'ELMO' projector), and audio/visual for students projects and presentations through this new fundraising website ( It is sponsored by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund (JPEF) to match donors with worthy causes in public education. An added benefit of donating through PowerUpJax is your receiving a detailed report of where the raised funding goes in my classroom.

Check the below link to donate today! I will have the added benefit of matching funds, dollar for dollar, from Community First Credit Union. Thank you for your support!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

In honor of Labor Day...

"Dignify and glorify common labor. It is at the bottom of life that we must begin, not at the top." - Booker T. Washington

I hope that this Labor Day is a reminder that all work has its importance in our society.

We fondly remember the days when we could look forward to graduating from high school and spending a career that ended with a nice gold watch and pension. Today, we seek a more instant reward as evidenced by the so-called celebrities who are famous for no real known reason or for reasons we dare not share with mixed company.

This Labor Day, however, I hope that we can honor those who indeed expend their effort to not only make a life for themselves, but to serve others. Generations ago, the mere idea of working meant risking life and limb to make a buck.

Thanks to the labor movement and social progress, we can afford to take for granted the protections and the regulations that allow us to live and work another day.

Monday may be a holiday, but it this day of leisure is best spent observing the long road that our forbears and our contemporaries have walked for us to benefit from the sweat of our hard work.

While some may deride the labor movement as being radical, we must always remember that men and women who provide goods and services are central to the success any economic system. When we abuse, mistreat or disrespect our laborers, we also cause grievous harm to our community and our long-term prosperity.

Look no further than when Henry Ford raised wages for his workers so they could purchase his automobiles and contribute to a greater society.

Look no further than the popular retailers whose low wages force their employees onto the public dole and place an undue strain on our welfare system.

A little respect and dignity go a long way for our workers and for humanity.

Happy Labor Day 2013.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Radio Free Spirit goes back to the 1960s

I was listening to the Cousin Brucie program on Sirius/XM when I found this little gem. If this has not been incorporated into the Mad Men soundtrack, it should. There is that wall of sound aspect to it that makes me fall in love with this song. Please also keep in mind that the lyrics whisper in ways that today's 'love' songs tend to scream. Give it a chance and let me know what you think. The school year is back in force and I wanted to post some light material for your enjoyment!

After you give this one a listen, also think about Spanky and Our Gang. I enjoyed their music going back to when I was in junior high school listening to the oldies station at night before I went to bed...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A royal pain?

The royal family in Great Britain is welcoming a new addition, and many around the world are joining them in their celebration.

Huzzah, right?

The joyful sentiment is not shared much by others who shrug and openly ask, "Who cares?" This, in my opinion, is that this is a legitimate question in light of how our modern world consists of various forms of government that involve power being handed down through means other than inheritance.

This skepticism rings especially true in the United States of America, a nation that violently broke away from its 'mother country' and has since taken pride in being a meritocracy. George Washington famously turned down being president for life and set a precedent for a new way of leading on this side of the pond. For those who are not Anglophiles in America, the spectacle of anything royal somehow triggers a gag reflex and cries of open apathy - or even antipathy.

Those who have taken to the streets to proclaim how little they care about the yet-to-be-named baby prince are sincere in their wish that we could focus on more important things. Sure, the arrival of a future king is not necessarily an event of interest to all, but what real 'news' occupied our attention in the previous days and weeks?

To be honest, the news has been a welcome distraction for me in light of racial tension, serial killers and political gridlock here in my country. The degree to which I care is no more than what other news dispatch arrives on my computer, but I do not shy away from showing some interest.

But why am I interested?

Sure, Great Britain is a constitutional monarchy that has whittled down royal power to that of a figurehead who graces national currency, but the British monarch continues to be the head of state. In that vein, royal watchers are no more annoying than those who are fascinated with our very own combination head of government and head of state. Remember when American women attempted to copy the look of Jackie Kennedy or those who stormed department stores to buy the same attire as Michelle Obama?

It's not all superficial, however. For all of the leisure and laziness that is perceived in the British royal family, let us not forget that they have a staying power that has withstood the overthrow of other monarchies. In modern times, the British royals survived two world wars, the violent overthrow of other monarchies and managed to keep healthy ties with their Commonwealth. And even as republican movements come and go, the House of Windsor maintains a reservoir of good will that other political institutions would envy.

And the media do play a role in preserving the royals' relevancy. Before the modern media, the royal family indeed lived a very cloistered existence. The public trusted in their monarchs simply through Divine Right. As other nations changed their governments, the royals needed to justify their expense to the public. King George V knew that, in light of radical movements and the overthrow of his cousins, he had to present his family as everyday citizens and to dispel the image of the debauched kings and princes like his father - King Edward VII.

The new media of motion pictures and radio gave King George V a powerful tool for public relations. The human connection of a king's voice and his ceremonial presence combined to cast strong ties within what was a Dominion of Nations. Those ties were tested during the abdication crisis of George's son, Edward VIII. Great Britain moved past the abdication and then buckled down through a war in which their King George VI and family would not abandon them.

As you can see, the history of Britain is infused with the story line of their royals' 'soap opera.' Historians still discuss the drama that pitted George VI against the Duke of Windsor and debate how the Germans may have planned to use the former king as a tool for invasion.

Hollywood even entered the fray of royal watchers with its moving 'The King's Speech.' The tale of overcoming a speech impediment exposed the private battle of a king for the entertainment of millions. The details of his struggle were given added gravity by his responsibility to his nation. A film about a man who stopped stuttering would not have meant as much without the narrative of a man who was to be the voice of his empire.

The rest of the Pandora's Box for the royals came with television. The documentary of a day in the life of Queen Elizabeth II may have been a watershed moment in how Britons viewed their royals and then, of course, there was Princess Diana.

The frenzy of attention increased with every glamorous photo-op that featured Princess Di. The royal wedding generated record ratings on television not because the television networks had nothing else to broadcast in the early morning. Public demand reached a fever pitch for those who daydreamed of a Cinderella-type possibly becoming the queen consort.

The royal soap opera rivaled fiction in the coming decade of Andrew, Fergie, Charles, Camilla, etc. This after all, was the generation of the future king. At least with Queen Elizabeth, she only had a few minor scandals from Princess Margaret. In the 1980s and 1990s, the family was publicly falling apart. It seemed to hit the bottom when Princess Diana was killed in 1997.

I guess that one important aspect of this new royal baby is that it appears to be a redemption of a family that went through divorce and strife out in the open. I am sure that there are days when the Windsors want to retreat into themselves. But, as Princess Diana's death showed us, there is always someone who is standing outside with a camera. Their shame has been public so much, it would at least be fair to broadcast their triumphs as well.

Maybe that is one reason to 'care.'

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Life, Love and Lilies: The Sanctified Self - A Book Review

This is one homework assignment that I take joy from!

After a relaxing Presidents Day weekend of hosting friends from Atlanta, including a post day trip to the Nation's Oldest City, I received a very thoughtful gift.

Brenda Bunch Strickland gave me an autographed copy of her book, "Life, Love and Lilies: The Sanctified Self." Even though the weeks have passed since then, I knew that the time would finally be right for me to read Brenda's thoughts on life, love and lilies.

Thankfully, after a school year of challenges, I sat down in a quiet waterfront park here in Bath, Maine to enlighten myself with Brenda's unique perspective. I managed to breeze through but also to savor her words like the sweet summer air around me and the cooling waves of the river at my feet.

Firstly, don't let the title fool you. This book is specially created for those who believe that being 'sanctified' is about as rarified as becoming a saint or a martyr. In reality, Brenda shares her thoughts about how we can achieve our potential as spirits in the material world.

For this lifelong journalism student, Brenda skillfully breaks down the who, the what, the when, the where and the why of our very existence. With as much reason as passion, she takes me on a journey into purpose, existence and the road ahead. The usual baggage of sin, fear and guilt are set aside so we can learn to travel light.

And what a trip it is. Brenda understands that it takes universal thinking to understand the universe. She does not limit herself to one path or condescend on other beliefs to make her points. She embraces all that is good and I know that the good returns her gentle hug.

Yes, the bookstores are populated with religion, new thought, new age and all that could keep a thinker occupied for centuries. Yes, we may never grasp the answers to all of life's questions in this lifetime. Brenda, however, has a worldview that make her efforts worthy of recommending to all who want to begin somewhere.

Central to her book, in my opinion, is the Bible verse from the Book of Matthew. We are to behold the lilies of the field as they toil without worry for their sustenance. This has been misread by many to think that we can just sit there and expect good to come our way. In practical terms, Brenda explains that even the most leisurely and lovely among us have work to do as the lilies serve to hold the ground together in the face of erosion. We, too, have our work and we too can lay down our worries to make room for the best that we deserve.

I hope that you consider looking up this great book to read for yourself! To order a copy ($20 plus shipping), call 404-734-8827, email, or visit

Friday, July 12, 2013

Reunion and retreat. Thanks JD Peeps!

The best thing about my junior high school years is that I am here in Bath, Maine for a week.

Twenty-five years ago, I met a snarky, sweet and pretty girl in my ninth grade art class in Orange Park, Florida.

Not only did we have an art class in common, we shared an English class. We joked about substitute teachers whom we referred to as feminine hygiene products, we passed notes when our peers were discussing 'Alas, Babylon' and we rocked out to the Hoyle Dempsey morning show on the WAPE-FM.

We shared so many laughs in our freshman year. We were not typical freshmen because we were on top of the heap. The junior high school pecking order led directly up to the ninth graders who knew not very much of the coming sophomore slump.

Then, she was gone. I sorely missed my art buddy whose sense of humor made me openly wonder if we were long-long siblings. Just as she opened my eyes and ears to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, she was gone.

This was the heavy price that I paid for being a Navy brat. I knew that whatever bonds that I formed would be torn asunder by Uncle Sam's dictates that my friends' parents would be stationed to any random duty station if to point out that my socialization and friendships took a back seat to our national security.

Tenth grade for me was a letdown without her. She must have made a mark in our town because rumors came and went around our Sunshine State suburb that she was dead. Whatever the truth was about this mysterious friend, I thought fondly of the nearly 180 days that we sat in tiny desks with the kind of dialogue that now permeates the typical teen sitcom that populates American television.

Although she was gone, she was the template for all of my future friendships. When I joined my church youth group, when I started an underground newspaper, when I eventually went away to college. The ones who drew me the closest were the ones who seemed to step right out of Spy Magazine.

Or the Village Voice

Then along came MySpace.

Seeing that I halfway feared that I would have to conjure up a seance to reunite with her, I decided to search her through social networking.

It almost did not happen because I was reluctant to join MySpace. After all, what were the odds of finding people with whom I wanted to connect? Once I got on, I began making connections with folks who were unseen in years.

On a whim, I looked her up. I found her. I sent her a message.

As far from Maine as she was, she and I crossed the span of decades to reconnect. I could hardly wait to make the trip of the East coast to see her again. Thanks to Amtrak's USA Rail Pass, I embarked on a journey to rediscover myself.

Much like I thought that she had left this mortal coil, there was a younger me that I thought had surely been exterminated by adulthood and broken dreams. I saw life as a never ending trail of disillusion and failure as I did not quite measure up to what was expected of me.

The creativity, imagination and zeal that drove the freshman me became liabilities for a middle aged teacher who found himself demanding the kind of conformity and compliance of students that would have surely earned himself the 'douche' tag from a younger me.

But I digress. The train trip that I took was a shot in the dark that I was going to find a Pine State paradise. Unlike most gambles where I leave with a lighter wallet, I found my visit to be a tonic for the soul.

It was not just the salty breeze and the New England charm, it was a long lost sister whose reunion also reunited me with myself. Not only did I drink a lot of Moxie, I found my mojo again. The spirit of a fourteen-year-old boy returned to remind me that there is plenty of fun to be had in life.

As I write this entry, I am thankful for spending time with her and her family. They are the most gracious hosts and their town is a getaway. The ties that we restored have also restored me. That is why I love summering up here. I dedicate this blog entry to M.C. and her wonderful family.

As the next school year begins for this middle school teacher, I already am dreaming of my return to this Down East Shangri-La.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Common Core and World History - Are YOU ready?

Common Core is coming!

Schools across the nation are prepping for adoption of Common Core Standards to ensure that all students are learning what they need to make it in the world and the workplace.

If you teach world history (especially elementary or middle school levels), I have created a helpful resource that connects the new Common Core with social studies education. I wanted to have a ready source of activities that could be used in the world history classroom and I have made my work available for social studies teachers.

For only $29.99, you can access my materials and use them in your classroom. I did the work to save you time so you can focus on having a great school year ahead.

Please visit my page on Teachers Pay Teachers to purchase your copy today!

I also have a PowerPoint presentation on cognitive complexity that will help you incorporate rigor into your social studies work. This cognitive complexity slide show is useful for social studies teachers on all grade levels from middle to high school!

Depth of Knowledge and Cognitive Complexity

Monday, June 24, 2013

Buy my book! It will change your life :-)

Last year was my twentieth high school reunion and, although it was great to reconnect with my classmates from Orange Park High School's class of 1992, there was a reunion that I had later on that meant a lot to me.

While cleaning up around my apartment, I found an old journal of poetry that I wrote during my freshman year of college. Two decades later, I revisited the thoughts of a vulnerable 18-year-old student who was on his own for the first time in his life. At first, I was depressed because I was surrounded by a lot of uncertainty. But, as time passed, I found my voice amid a heady optimism that marked the pre-9/11 world of the 1990s.

In my journal, there are poems of sadness, separation and then joy and life. I marvel at how I took the time to express myself in a journal when I thought that nobody was watching or listening. I shared my thoughts at a random poetry reading here or there, but soon put away my poetry journal for what I deemed to be more 'grown-up' things.

In the last year, I gathered the courage to publish a selection of my poems and share them with the world. Back then, when I was editing my college newspaper, I knew that my audience was limited to the faculty and students of South Georgia College in Douglas, Georgia. I don't know how I would have reacted to today's World Wide Web, blogs and the Information Age. The title of my book is "Twenty Years Later: A Collection of Poems from a Past Life."

As my work was intended to help me through dark times, I promise to donate proceeds from my book to help with mental health services for today's young people who need to find a way through what appears to be the great unknown in their lives. Please visit the link below and purchase a copy! It is only $4.75 on Amazon.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Public libraries are part of the Information Age

It is a half-baked idea to believe that our public libraries are obsolete. To believe that the Internet is making a redundancy of brick-and-mortar learning is akin to tossing out our ovens simply because our microwaves can also heat things.

The ability to boil water, however, does not immediately translate into being useful for something more elaborate, like Baked Alaska. Likewise, pointing and clicking may be great for someone who is looking up who starred in what or who sang what. This superficial ability to find fast facts, however, should not be confused for the deeper challenge of performing scholarly research.

Just because we have computers, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can access what appears to be an infinite source of knowledge, we ignore the quality of the information in favor or the quantity of what we think are facts. According to the Digital Library Federation (DLF), less than seven percent of online information meets the standard of being appropriate for educational or scholarly purposes.

Factor in to this how the DLF says that the average college undergraduate may be using search engines to conduct a comprehensive search but results in only a ‘surface’ web that consists of only .03 percent of the actual Internet. The other 99.97 percent of the Internet goes unread, including journals, periodicals and other publications that are central to research.

This global approach to fact finding actually enhances the need for local public library systems. Special collections in many libraries provide access to rare or unique media (e.g. photographs, newspapers, archives) that could not be either located through a search engine or purchased for an e-reader.

Libraries have the ability to loan these selected items to other libraries for public use or share through public databases. This is a free aspect of public libraries that would be a costly service for someone to maintain the same ties and services with the number of institutions that work with our libraries.

Public libraries have already survived their predicted demise. Bookstore chains went the ‘big box’ route with stores that became new gathering places for readers. Their coffee shops and comfortable chairs, however, may have invited a lingering customer to read a couple of magazines. I grew up at a time when it was taboo to pick up a magazine at the convenience store.

“What do you think we are? A library?” said the cashier. Then, if we wanted to read it, we had to buy it. Bookstores became libraries in that customers became used to previewing a book at the bookstore and then bought it online.

As the large bookstore chains close, with them goes the physical space that readers have for discussing books, meeting authors and sharing ideas. The public libraries were doing this all along and will continue to serve communities in this capacity – including reading to young children, organizing youth interest groups, teaching important job skills or promoting literacy.

The biggest misconception in the debate over the relevance of public libraries is that everybody has Internet access. It seems like everybody has a smart phone, a tablet or a laptop within reach. According to The New York Times, however, one-third of Americans do not subscribe to Internet services. This may account for the 26 percent of respondents in a Pew survey who visited their public library for wireless or computer services. It looks like our public libraries continue to be necessary in the lives of those who do not have the means of accessing information. This is why the free public library movement began and why it will continue to serve our community. With a Pew survey saying that over 91 percent of Americans believe that public libraries are important to their communities, the proof is in the pudding.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Pine State of mind

I started off my Memorial Day weekend 'summering' in Maine here in my very own backyard.

Thanks to an invite from the mother of a former student, I was tipped off to the inaugural Moxie festival at the A La Carte Catering on First Avenue North in Jacksonville Beach.

Although I teach middle school at the beach, it is usually a rare treat for me to cross the 'ditch' (More formally, the Intracoastal Waterway or San Pablo River to partake in some New England cuisine and camaraderie.

Upon my arrival, I was greeted by Jennifer Lobrano Plouff, the event coordinator/chef/owner. She made me feel at home and like a member of the family as she regaled me with some fun facts about the oldest soft drink in America. She also treated me to a taste of Moxie barbecue riblets and complimentary sips of Moxie.

After I placed my order for lunch and entered their raffle for some Moxie memorabilia, I picked up an application to join the Moxie fan club, er, New England Moxie Congress. For only $10 a year, I get a subscription to their 'Nerve Food News' and stay in the loop on all things Moxie.

Speaking of the New England Moxie Congress, this 'loosely-knit band of Moxie enthusiasts' said that the A La Carte Moxie festival is the first one of the year. Kudos to A La Carte!

As I dined on my lobster roll, chips and Moxie (natch), executive chef/owner Roger Plouff gave an interesting talk on the history of Moxie. It am sure that my fellow patrons were as enlightened by this lecture as I was. For one thing, I learned of how the 'Moxie man' depicted on their cans and bottles was the inspiration for Uncle Sam's famous 'I Want You!' recruitment posters and how there is a tragic Moxie connection at the old Aragon Hotel in downtown Jacksonville (Forsyth and Julia Streets, in case you want to know where...)

It was a fun lunch and learn as I heard one patron speak of taking a regimen of Moxie mixed with milk to gain enough weight to play high school football. We also related how to find Moxie in local stores (e.g. Fresh Market)

Now that I am back home, I am ready to spread the good news about this unique place here in North Florida. A Boston transplant or New England exile would find the best cure for homesickness at A La Carte. This definitely tides me over until I return to Maine to see my big sister and her family up in Bath!

For more information on A La Carte Catering, click here!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Radio Free Spirit: Mad Men edition

Having seen the latest episode of Mad Men, I was once again reminded why they have such an awesome soundtrack on this popular television series.

Take a look at this gem from the "Man With a Plan" episode. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

She will always be there to kiss it better.

Our mothers know the right thing to say and the right thing to do for us to heal when we are young. Their healing words and deeds help to create happy, healthy and whole lives for us as we move from scrapes and cuts to greater challenges that we face.

This is what makes motherhood a sacred part of our society. Besides the American flag and apple pie, it is our mothers we celebrate as part and parcel of our very existence as citizens. But what is it about our mothers that inspires such heartfelt emotions and causes us to shout “Hi, Mom!” when we are on camera. What is it about our mothers that allows us to fight to the death should someone besmirch their reputations?

Wherever we stand with our mothers or where they reside in this universe, we are their living legacy. Whether because of them or in spite of them, it is up to us to create a new world for us and our children.

They nursed us. They fed us. They clothed us. They introduced us to all we know about ourselves and our humanity. They truly do work for a higher power. Even when they feel powerless to fight the greater challenges in our lives, they continue to help in whatever way they can.

We are their pride and joy and they are our foundation forevermore. And the greatest gift a mother can receive in return is gratitude expressed for their labors, their sacrifices and their love on our behalf.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Playing games with teachers is not very fun

It is time to stop playing games with teachers.

The politics of public education today reminds me of Calvinball.

I learned about the art of absurdity from the old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Although I was in junior high school at the time, I still remember the game in which Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend changed the rules as their game progressed.

This is how education reformers are handling teachers and the work of teaching in public schools. We believe that, by repeatedly changing education, we will finally arrive at the panacea. Instead, we continue to discard failed plans and replace them with temporary fixes that end up failing in the end.

If we truly appreciate teachers, as we should this Teacher Appreciation Week, we can craft policy that really works for our public schools.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Radio Free Spirit - Bonnie and Clyde

Thank you, Joan Holloway and Mad Men for this genuine musical gem by Serge Gainsbourg and Bridgitte Bardot. 'Bonnie and Clyde' is a beautiful song in my opinion because it exemplifies the simple and understated beauty of the French that shows our often gaudy and overblown American popular culture how to truly entertain on a more sublime level.

Fun fact: I had the opportunity to work with a student who is directly related to Clyde Parker. To a history geek like me, it's very interesting...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Homegrown business needs your love!

I am biased, I must say in advance because I am promoting a great business that happens to be owned and operated by a person who happens to be a former student of mine - and this student is going into the United States Air Force! Well, this former Airman First Class is going to ask for your help anyway!

Pyne Tree Organics makes organic soaps, candles, shampoo and other toiletries and is not just a part of the process, Pyne Tree Organics IS the process. Not only does Pyne Tree create, Pyne Tree will teach others how to make organic goodies of their own.

Pyne Tree Organics of Yulee, Florida is now vying for funding to help their dream come true. Intuit is sponsoring a competition that will help support 15 homegrown businesses. To vote for Pyne Tree, please visit Small Business Growing Strong and vote for Pyne Tree Organics!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day

DIVINE MIND is the one and only reality. When we incorporate the ideas that form this Mind into our mind and persevere in those ideas, a mighty strength wells up within us. Then we have a foundation for the spiritual body, the body not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. When the spiritual body is established in consciousness, its strength and power is transmitted to the visible body and to all the things that we touch in the world about us. - Charles Fillmore, Prosperity

Earth Day is a special celebration of us and our environment. As we express a common desire for a better world, we begin from within. How we treat our planet is directly related to how we treat ourselves and each other. Yes, we want to have a clean planet for our children and future generations. We, however, take the first steps on this journey by promoting our own divinity and transmitting that into the larger perspective of improving our world.

My thoughts on Earth Day 2013 are that we are responsible as individuals to affect the kind of change we seek to promote understanding, conservation and preservation. We begin by acting locally and thinking globally to make Earth Day a reality in our daily works throughout the year and in the course of our lives. Of course, it is easier said than done, but we have to begin somewhere.

We are surrounded by what we might call challenges that put our future in peril. I would dare say, too, that we live among an infinite number of solutions of all sizes that we can summon for our use if we enter into the silence and seek the right answers. We can all be problem solvers if we connect with the mind that is the source of our power.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

An open letter to Boston

In ‘Atom Smashing Power of Mind,” Charles Fillmore writes, “The great and most important issue before the people today is the development of man's spiritual mind and through it unity with God.”

Although tragedy has befallen your city and our nation, I affirm that our connection with Spirit continues in earnest because it is our mission to transcend the physical world of pain and seek our true existence as children of God.

I stand with you in prayer and contemplation and reaffirm our continued unity with our creator.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Library Appreciation Week 2013 :-)

This week is Library Appreciation Week and I would like to begin by dedicating this blog post to Mary Sapp. When I was in junior high school, Mrs. Sapp was our librarian - or media specialist in 'newspeak.' I already was an avid fan of books and media, but Mrs. Sapp helped cultivate in me a desire for learning that remains with me today.

Where did this reading jones begin? My earliest memories of reading come from those formative days of reading Dr. Seuss books with my mother who stayed home with me during the day to enrich my ever-expanding mind. I remember eagerly running to the mailbox to pick up the latest edition of Highlights Magazine. I recall the day that my mother arranged for me to get my first library card even before I entered Kindergarten. And, as the late Paul Harvey liked to say, there was the rest of the story...

I do not know where my learning would have gone without the likes of Mrs. Durbin and Mr. Harbin at W.E. Cherry Elementary or Mrs. Brummitt at Orange Park High School. I felt at home in the Media Center (Or library in 'oldspeak') because the educators who worked there were like travel agents who arranged for me to see new places and experience new awakenings with the opening of every book.

All along my path to today, I am grateful to the free public resources that have been, and hopefully will continue to be, available to people of all ages. Andrew Carnegie was right when he set about making knowledge and enlightenment available to the masses. Even among the captains of industry during the Gilded Age, there was an appreciation for the power of the pen and the impact of the page. The greatest ancient libraries eventually met their doom, but we are much more evolved than allowing our stacks to fall to the wayside for the sake of so-called progress.

This week, I implore you, your families, your friends and your communities to save our culture by appreciating our libraries and advocating on behalf of these hallowed halls of knowledge for ourselves and for those tho inherit our culture and civilization. There, of course is a price to our support but our libraries have a value that is priceless!


Radio Free Spirit

The sound of this song is relentless in my mind and it wears at my soul like a gentle stream breaking down a boulder and eroding it into a trillion little pebbles that find new homes downstream. Each pebble either finds its own new home on the bed of the stream or finds itself in the hands of someone who seeks a keepsake for their own use. Lovely song by an awesome group - Telepathe....

The Miracle Worker

"My heart is singing for joy this morning! A miracle has happened! The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed!" - Anne Sullivan

If you have read the classic story "The Miracle Worker" by William Gibson, you already know of the struggle it took for Anne Sullivan to bring light and learning into Helen Keller's life. Sullivan and Keller go hand-in-hand, quite literally, in the latter's life story of overcoming darkness to find true enlightenment in this world.

Today is Anne Sullivan's birthday and serves as a lesson for those educators and mentors who often grow weary and frustrated in their work against all odds. Yes, there are those among us who choose to remain blind and there are those of us who soldier on and never surrender in our daily war against ignorance and metaphysical blindness. We can open our eyes if we want and we can when we have inspirations such as Anne Sullivan in our lives.

We all have our road to Damascus or our water pump where our minds awaken to the reality of our potential to opening new doors to the future. Anne Sullivan opened that door and ushered her young charge into a new world and a greater future. It took two, however, as this 'Aha!' moment broke new ground for the student to move forward upon her new found epiphany with her teacher.

Whoever your guide is in life, know that that person or persons are catalysts who merely help you find your voice and your spark. It is up to you to light that fire and keep it burning for yourself and your world.

Happy Birthday, Anne Sullivan!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Radio Free Spirit

What has surprised me about my blog is that I am getting quite a few hits from viewers of a music video that was a spiritual inspiration for me in my younger years. I hope that this video clip provides the same inspiration for visitors that it has given me. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Failure by design

If teachers were to grade their students in an inconsistent, convoluted and subjective manner, they would be run out of the teaching profession.

In their crusade to point fingers and direct blame for the failings of our education system, however, our state's leaders created a similar system for evaluating our teachers.

Florida's policymakers turned a deaf ear to the teachers who tried to point out the inadequacies of the Collaborative Assessment System for Teachers (CAST) when it was being fast tracked through the lawmaking process for the sake of winning a pot of gold from the federal Race to the Top (RTT) grant program.

Nevermind that Florida is the same state that continues to refuse expanding Medicaid on the ground that they do not want abdicate states' rights to empower Washington to impose its will on 50 separate sovereign entities.

The rush to create a data-based evaluation system replaced the thoughtful and reflective process of passing laws with a frenzy to chase after federal funding and with a political power grab that still leaves local school districts dizzy with confusion and disarray.

I was encouraged to read in the Orlando Sentinel a thoughtful column by Beth Kassab that exposes the deficiencies in the CAST system and how it actually hurts the teachers whom we trust to educate our children.

For example, she shares the story of how one Central Florida high school is one of the highest performing schools in the state. This 'A' school enjoys a graduation rate that is the envy of others and yet their learning growth was negative.

"How can this be?" asks Kassab, "How can a school with excellent student performance be populated with clueless teachers?" I know how these same education professionals can improve a school grade and yet be subject to the sanctions and condemnation that are designed to punish more than enlighten.

There are serious inconsistencies in how we rate our schools and our teachers. While FCAT is the instrument for measuring student growth in language arts, mathematics and selected science courses, it was left to the individual school districts to create assessments for the non-FCAT courses. This resulted in a patchwork of 67 school systems with varying benchmarks for student success. The state decided that all courses would have some form of assessment for all non-FCAT courses, but failed to support this mandate with funding. Instead of a reliable system of tracking student progress, we are doomed to compare apples with oranges across county lines.

What is the most absurd aspect of the testing and data driving our perception of public schools is that FCAT scores are often used to tell us what non-FCAT teachers are doing for their students. For example, a guidance counselor or an art teacher can be judged based on schoolwide FCAT numbers. Furthermore, reading scores are being used to indicate the quality of a history teacher's work. The measurements are all over the place and can potentially harm those educators who are indeed trying their best.

Besides the assessment part of teacher evaluations, our leaders presumed that the observation-based section of teacher assessments would be equally objective as the CAST instrument invited administrators to monitor their teachers in the classroom based on one day's worth of sitting in a classroom and using this single class period as the basis for judging a year's worth of teaching.

This, in my opinion, is rife with politics because administrators are given free reign to make up their minds based on an hour's worth of what they see. This simply encourages teachers to design lessons that are geared to impress their superiors and these dog-and-pony shows fail to actually reflect the individual talents for which we have trusted our educators with using in their respective classrooms. Once the observation is complete, the evaluator's word is gospel and all else be damned.

In an age of high stakes testing, this is a most perverse form of high stakes evaluations. Failure to make the grade based on these flawed metrics can ultimately result in teachers' pay being frozen or even in their termination. Yes, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

"We can be an 'A' school and conceivably get that [paycheck] bonus, but if we get three negative scores in a row then the teachers can all be replaced," said one prinicpal in a letter to state lawmakers, according to Kassab's commentary.

Yes, this is a messed up system that is supposed to help our students, but in the meantime is destroying Florida's teaching profession.

For more information about Kassab's commentary, please see this link.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

We live again

In “Talks on Truth,” Unity co-founder Charles Fillmore urges the disciples of Christ to ‘raise the dead.’ The shrouds of death may not be visible to our eyes, but we each know a Lazarus who awaits the quickening that only Truth can provide for being born anew.

When the sun rises each morning, our physical bodies go through the movements and motions of the day, but often without purpose. The routine of our lives becomes the shroud that cloaks our brilliant spirits from the dynamic world of the living.

Those who truly live are able to consciously live each moment of their day with an awareness of all that we do. The roads each morning are populated with self-driving drones that happen to have someone sitting In the driver’s seat.

The coffee that is supposed to sharpen our senses creates a false reality of being awake. We know this because our make our daily commute in a fog of unconsciousness that may be punctuated by the perfunctory ‘good morning’ and saluations that we share with our colleagues.

When we work this way, we are mere instruments or tools that are part of a larger, lifeless machine that pays our wages but does litle to foster the life that we wish to support. We prosper in our pay but atrophy in our daily transactions with our clients and customers.

Many of us openly wonder if our ideals are dead. We recall the years of our youth when we dreamed of a world where we were truly following our ambitions and surrounded by hope.

Since those halcyon days, we are led to believe that adulthood has no time for our starry-eyed optimism as it is not practical or relevant to what we are doing today. The only thing missing is a death certificate.

The naysayers and critics around us think that they are helping us when they discourage us and they shame us into believing that we cannot achieve our potential. We fail to realize that ego-driven attitudes serve to keep us underfoot so our so-called friends can climb over our metaphysical corpses.

These crosses that we bear in life and the caves in which we entomb ourselves do not have to be the end of our story. The message behind Easter is that we can breathe new life into ourselves and resurrect the spirit within us that wants us to live the life that we are truly mean to enjoy.

When the sun rises on Easter Sunday, this is a moment of clarity for us to seize and embrace. We can remove the shroud and we can push that rock that blocks our own caves. We can step out into the daylight and claim the rest of our lives with joy knowing that we are living eternal life as taught by the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

Our mental and physical withdrawal from our world can and will be reversed by finally appreciating that our presence requires our presence. Besides simply showing up wherever we go, we must enter every room and every place with the essence that expresses our true being.

As Fillmore said, death is the cessation of our vital functions without capability of resuscitation. We know that death is a lie in this sense. Our time for resuscitation is now. Our time for applying the story of Easter to ourselves is now. Our time for being born again is now.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thank you, Diane Ravitch!

My friends at the Clay County Education Association informed me this morning that my open letter to Governor Rick Scott was posted on Diane Ravitch's blog.

Dr. Ravitch is a respected and renowned education advocate and I believe that it is an honor to be included in her blog!

An open letter to Governor Scott

Friday, March 22, 2013

One woman's journey to fight HIV/AIDS

For much of her life, Christin Norris has been making strides to end the disease that took her uncle’s life.

When she was eight years old, Norris lost her uncle to HIV/AIDs. Even then, she recognized the need for advocacy and support.

“My grandmother and Uncle John walked in the Boston AIDS Walk together in 1993. The very next year, he was taken from our family,” said Norris.

When Norris was in middle school, she found her own voice in the fight against HIV/AIDS when she struggled with finding a topic for a writing assignment.

“I finally thought of my uncle and the words began to flow onto a tear-stained paper. After that poem, I began to write more and speak more about my family’s loss,” said Norris.

Norris eventually grew up to become a language arts teacher at Mayport Middle School, where she is sharing her own passion for reading, writing and understanding.

“I tend to surprise myself with the passion I have for promoting awareness,” said Norris, who each year presents an age-appropriate lesson for World AIDS Day on December 1.

“I want my students to be aware of the epidemic. Yet, I don’t want to scare or astound their parents with a full-blown lesson,” she explained in light of varying sensitivities to the subject. In another annual ritual, Norris has taken up her uncle’s torch in raising funds through Boston’s AIDS Walk. Her goal this year is to raise $1,000 in advance of her taking part in this year’s event on Sunday, June 2.

For Norris, this work continues to be a family affair.

“My grandmother, who is now 79, has been busy with her advocacy efforts for 20 years and does an amazing job organizing ‘John’s Team’ and getting an incredible outpouring of support from friends and family,” said Norris.

As for Norris’ late uncle and best friend, she said, “I know he’s laughing his big and hearty laugh with a smile that spreads ear to ear as he watches my friends and family fight in his memory.”

To contribute to Norris’ team effort, please visit the following web page: John's Team

Saturday, March 16, 2013

RACE: Are We So Different?

We are different, but only on the surface.

I applaud MOSH for their exhibit that takes an honest and earnest look at the manmade racial categories that overshadow our God-made humanity. It is called "Race: Are We So Different?"

If we are to close our eyes and listen to our brothers and sisters around us, we might have a greater perspective to what they are saying.

Instead, it is impractical to expect us to go about our lives blind to the amount of melanin that defines our individual existence. Reality demands that we see our world in terms of colors and hues that force us to face stereotypes and perceptions each and every day of our lives.

Although I grew up in Orange Park and was sheltered from the crucible of busing and desegregation that defined much of Jacksonville’s local history, I faced the subtleties of race when I attended public schools in Clay County.

As a black student in a majority-white school system, I was fortunate to be staffed into the gifted program. I had the opportunities to take advanced and honors classes that I knew were not enjoyed by my peers of color.

It was a challenge for me to find students or teachers who looked like me. To their credit, Clay County’s public schools were focused on my education regardless of what color my skin happened to be. The fact that I am a productive member of society could be credited to the dedicated men and women who mentored me along my search for knowledge.

This, in my opinion, is the essence of what a color blind society should be. All that I knew was that I had the chance that generations of families risked their lives to attain – a free, quality education for every student. Surely, there were times when I witnessed racism but my youthful optimism permitted me to believe that these incidents were manifestations of the dying gasps of a truly lost cause. This is a mindset that I understand was a luxury that could be afforded to a young suburban upbringing. I am grateful that I did not have to endure the reprisals, recriminations and retaliation that marked the education of many in my generation.

Even when race riots erupted at my high school in the early 1990s, I had the perspective to know that good and bad in our world were not as simplistic as racial lines and stereotypes. This was a defining point for me because I was exposed to the dangers of race matters when they are not addressed in a healthy way.

Today, I am glad to know that our city is taking an honest look into the issue of race to help us come together and learn something new about ourselves and our community.

Perhaps, one day, we will all be able to list ‘human’ when we see ‘race’ on a form or document to complete.

The dream as envisioned by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a society that sees character over color does not have to be impossible.

See you at MOSH!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A day in the life

In my opinion, teachers are misunderstood by those who seek to reform education because they believe that we are an army of Miss Halseys (Like in 'Bad Teacher') who slumber while their young charges muddle through yet another video with nothing to truly learn. This ugly misconception of the teaching profession has ruled the day and has allowed politicians and bureaucrats to exact whatever punishment they saw fit on men and women who serve our students in ways that would shatter the awful stereotypes that hold educators in such low esteem.

In a way, I do not mind the scrutiny that I receive because I indeed am earning a living from taxpayers' dollars and I have decided that I would account for what I do in the classroom for the sake of transparency and truth.

On March 7, 2013, I decided to keep a log of what I do in the classroom to illustrate the time, talent and treasure that I invest for the sake of teaching my sixth grade students.

Let's begin at 08:09 when I park in the parking lot at my workplace and sign in at the front office. I pick up a stack of Beaches Leaders newspapers that are central to my Newspapers in Education program. The Beaches Leader has been gracious to donate copies of their paper to promote literacy in my classroom. Many students have used articles from this paper to read and complete current events assignments. I agree with the 50-year-old institution when they say that readers can be leaders.

Once I am settled into my classroom at 08:14, I log into my school-issued laptop computer to check my email. I send an email to administration and guidance about a student who is having disciplinary issues. I include the student's parent/guardian and other teachers to ensure that we have a positive and proactive solution to his impulsive outbursts in the classroom.

After I finish with my email, I turn to some housekeeping in the classroom. I have work areas to which I provide pencils, crayons, markers, colored pencils, tape, staples and facial tissue. Each work group can work freely without having to trek across the room for their supplies. I can also thank my students and their families for their donation of supplies as needed.

At 08:33, I convert documents into PDF format using the scanner/printer that I purchased out of my own pocket. It has been a mission of mine to share materials electronically with my colleagues by placing documents on the share drive for retrieval instead of being a slave to a file cabinet that seems to be like the Bermuda Triangle for finding activities and assignments. In this case, I am scanning a reading passage about the four forms of government (monarchy, tyranny, oligarchy and democracy) in ancient Greece. It is helpful for me to be able to click on one document and make them readily available to my classes.

I scramble to the copy room at 08:39 to make copies of my rubric for my ancient Greek government foldable activity. The copier is out of order, so I go back to my room and print a set from my classroom printer. Along the way, I donate $5 to our softball coach who is selling doughnuts. I grab a doughnut for a quick breakfast and then, after completing my printing, I go back to cleaning up my classroom, which is littered with stray papers here and there and misplaced pencils and pens. I do not blame the custodian as much as I blame students who do not take more pride in our classroom. At 09:01, I answer my telephone. It is a parent who informs me that her daughter is under the weather and cannot make it to school today. With the parent's permission, I send an email to the student's other teachers and the guidance secretary asking them to provide make up work for the ill student.

Almost ten minutes later, at 09:10, I mentor with a student who is going through a bad patch. This revelation is encouraging because I previously believed that he was simply being lazy in the classroom. His explanation of his personal situation helps me to empathize with him. He promises to do his best in class in spite of his issues at home and he tells me that he trusts me as someone who can listen and support him. I explain to my mentee student that we should at least inform his ESE teacher that he is going through a bad patch so we can best help him along the way this year. We share the same explanation with the student's paraprofessional who visits him in class on a regular basis.

At 09:28, it is my chance to make last minute preparations for my school day. I collate the printed work, I set up foldable graphic organizers with my mentee's help and I go to the gym at 09:45 to retrieve my first class of students. Our school uses guided movement where teachers are responsible or escorting their students to and from each of their classes.

At 09:50, I pass out materials and supplies for the students to review in the time before the pledge of allegiance and the morning announcements and I take attendance on the computer's online gradebook. One student comes in late to class again and I send him to the school counselor because I am concerned about his repeated, albeit excused tardiness to school. After the 09:55 pledge of allegiance and announcements, I give a lesson on what we will be doing next.

The students, while I finish up prepping their supplies, read silently from the Beaches Leader newspaper. Some students needed constant reminding to stay silent. One student was relocated to another part of the classroom for failure to comply.

To begin each class, I explain the evolution of ancient Greek government. We have a brief dialogue about how Greeks eventually found democracy to be the right form of government. For ten minutes, my students then read supplemental information on the four forms of government that existed in ancient Greece. They used the information from the text to create a foldable activity that classifies each form of ancient Greek government and describes who they led the Greeks into Democracy. I wrote two 'Happy Grams' for two students who were reading their background material and working hard to stay on task.

While they worked, I worked with individual students who needed clarification on what to do with their work. I also fielded an email from a family who wanted me to send make-up work to their absent child and I obliged. I admitted another late student into the classroom at 11:00 and asked him to work in the hallway with two students who earlier asked to work in an area where they could focus.

At 11:13, I announced that it was time for clean up CHAMPS. CHAMPS is an initiative from something called Foundations - designed to teach students rituals and routines in the classroom and to teach how to create safe and civil schools. The students cleaned up while I distributed copies of our class newsletter to take home. I dismiss the students based on what groups were the quietest and were following the rules. I pass out cookies as positive reinforcement for those who exited the classroom with the least problems.

During the transition period between classes, I speak briefly to a teacher who is having disciplinary issues with a mutual student of ours. Shortly afterward, I verbally reprimand a student for shoving a classmate in the hallway. At 11:25, my next class of students enters the classroom and I assign the reading lesson that will help them prepare for the foldable work. Five minutes later, I admit two students who were finishing work in their previous class. At 11:45, I clarify the instructions for one student.

Before we leave for lunch at 11:50, I take attendance on the computer. I was disappointed in the class because, at 11:52, there were some students who cut in line and would not comply with my request to walk to lunch in an orderly fashion. We returned to my classroom and I admonished them for not knowing how to transition to the lunch room like they were supposed to. We arrive late to lunch and I pick up a phone message from the office and needed to return that call. I missed lunch because a telemarketer left me a message. At 12:09, I took a water and restroom break. I went back to the classroom to continue my work until it was time to retrieve my students from the lunch room.

At 12:20 we left the cafeteria and the students made a visit to the restrooms. The students behaved much better upon their return from lunch. At 12:26, we were back to work. I took one student aside and asked how she was doing because she was having a family issue that was distracting her from her work.

At 12:28, I emailed the school counselor for help with another disciplinary issue. Minutes later, my assistant scholar bowl coach needed to drop in my classroom to help prepare for the district championship game that will be at our school on Monday. At 12:38, I referred a student to the school counselor due to a sensitive issue. I redirected students who were off-task at 12:42 and also helped other students who needed my help.

After circulating around the classroom for ten minutes, I began to prep for the next class.

At 13:16, the assistant scholar bowl coach returned for additional work. At 13:19, I announced time to clean up and distributed copies of our class newsletter. After ten minutes, we transitioned to the next class. I accompanied the students to their next class and met briefly with a colleague about one student from my next class who was not behaving and received a completed book report from a student whom I assigned a biography of Ronald Reagan because the student expressed an interest. At 13:34, I verbally reprimanded one student for not lining up with the rest of the class before admitting the students into the classroom.

At 13:36, I distributed the reading material that would serve as the source material for the foldable activity. Two minutes later, a student asked for a witness statement to complete regarding an incident that occurred in his previous class.

The next 20 minutes are spent handing out supplies to complete the foldable, redirecting students who were off-task, loaning a pencil to a student and offering help where needed. At 14:14, I wrote a hall pass for a student who needed water. I then had to ask students to refrain from eating sunflower seeds in my classroom and to put away their sunflower seeds.

At 14:20, I helped a student with defining key terms and then helped a student start the project over again after making an error on the first draft. I wrote another hall pass for a student to go to the restroom, but cautioned the class that we would have to have a group restroom break at the end of class to prevent me from having to write too many hall passes.

At 14:25, I handed out positive reinforcement cookies while I prepped the materials for the next class.

Because the clock was out of order, I checked my cell phone to monitor the time before clean up and dismissal.

At 14:40, it was time to clean the classroom and prepare for my promised group bathroom break.

At 14:42, I distributed the class newsletter, gave positive reinforcement cookies to student who helped with passing out the class newsletter.

At 14:50, we went downstairs to the restroom and get water. A group of students was so disruptive in this class that I had to remind them eight times to stay in line. I explained that this group bathroom break would not continue as a practice. At 15:02, the students lined up an transitioned to their last class of the day. I spoke briefly with the assistant principal and handed her the student statement that was written during the previous class.

At 15:06, I returned upstairs to greet my last class of the day. I asked a member of the scholar bowl team to come to my classroom as well. The last class of the day is quite rowdy and took a few minutes for them to settle down and for me to distribute their work to be done I gave the scholar bowl team member a letter written by our state representative in honor of our team's season.

At 15:18, I received peanut butter cookies made by a student's family.

At 15:20, I continued to pass out supplies and had to redirect some students to stay on task.

During the next ten minutes, I read an email from a concerned parent and sent a reply and also took attendance for the remaining two class periods on my laptop computer. 15:41 came around and I discussed the assassination of President Lincoln with a student. I shared an article about the last living witness to the assassination. At 15:45, it was time to clean up the classroom. Some students were not following the rules. I took extra time to explain that I would not be sharing positive reinforcement (e.g. cookies) if students chose to be loud and not remain in their seats at the end of class. I spoke with two students at the end of class who explained that another student was making offensive jokes. I verbally reprimanded the student and asked him to refrain from that behavior again. I released the students and told them that they would get cookies on Friday.

Busy day.

After school, I then attended a district level meeting that ran from 16:30 until 18:30.

I hope that I provided a glimpse into what I do each day...

Monday, February 11, 2013

A matter of principals and principles

There is one question that I dread receiving as an educator.

“Why don’t you look into becoming an administrator?”

Thankfully, I am usually not sipping from the coffee that provides me with the sweet nectar of wakefulness for the day as I would surely be spitting it out in a random state of incredulity. Why do many good teachers refuse to cross over into the ‘dark side?’ There are quite a few Jedi knights in the classroom who would indeed make lovely principals and assistant principals, especially considering the increase in pay.

While the pay jumps a bit, the stresses and responsibilities make an even larger jump for already beleaguered educators.

When I am asked this question, I immediately think of the study in which college students were asked to play prisoners and wardens. In an experiment that made Lord of the Flies look like an Outward Bound romp in the wilderness, these students devolved into madness and depravity that destroyed the spirits of those who participated.

In this study, which needless to say, will never be conducted again, the randomly appointed wardens became drunk with power and took on a sadistic role that degraded the dignity of those who were once their peers in the classroom.

Egads, my friends! This Stanford experiment was all too real as the guards exacted psychological torture that were all too real to the same classmates who were their study partners a few weeks before. All it took was six days to teach us that this study was all too real a study in human depravity. Guards assaulted prisoners with fire extinguishers. Prisoners were forced to use buckets for toilets. Prisoners were forced to sleep naked on the cold, concrete floors of their simulated cells. When the experiment was called off, protests arose from the guards who liked their jobs a bit too much. Society learned that the roles that we play can sometimes take us over and make us forget our own humanity or the humanity of those around us.

But, I digress. The reason why I would never be caught dead lording over my colleagues is not because of a personal vendetta against any administrator in particular. The reason why I would never in a million years desert the classroom is because I wish to keep doing what I do best – nurture young minds and enrich learning to the best of my ability. I would never wish to get the amnesia that many folks get when they earn that much-envied promotion to what is considered the next logical step of their career. Most importantly, I do not want to be the good teacher who becomes a rotten principal.

I know that many people will ask me why a principal or any other administrator would take leave of their senses when they are working in the same schools with the same children as their subordinates. Allow me to provide some insights, with some help from One Mean MFA’s blog ( and from colleagues who would like to speak up but either can’t or won’t for obvious reasons.

• The best educational leaders never forget that they were once followers. Once we get that office, it is tempting to cloister ourselves in an echo chamber that leads us to believe that we were specially ordained to command from on high. Unlike teachers, for whom it takes an act of Congress to be able to relieve themselves in a timely manner, administrators take for granted the simple dignities of having unlimited restroom privileges. While us humble teachers would be strung up for denying a restroom pass to a student, we face serious health problems that arise from putting our bladders on hold for the lion’s share of the school day. Furthermore, administrators have the luxury of closing the door to the world when they are overworked or overwhelmed. In this ivory tower, they can actually do their work in peace. The average teacher, however, must stay on his or her toes throughout the school day – balancing the duties of taking attendance, passing out graded work, delivering lessons, collecting work, disciplining students, cleaning up the room for the next class, setting up electronic equipment, writing hall passes, loaning supplies, grading papers, helping students, redirecting students, and a slew of other actions that go unnoticed by the people who once did the same but now are oblivious of. The insular trappings of an administrator’s office also come with a cliquishness that permits them to choose favorites and dish out perks and privileges that betray the equality and fairness that is supposed to exist on campus. Either we are all in this to accomplish a common goal or we are not.

• The best educational leaders never forget that they were once children. It should be obvious that none of us were born directly into adulthood, but there are many administrators who behave as if they have no earthly idea of how a child actually behaves. They treat every character, behavior and social aspect of the child as something that is directly connected to the teacher’s success or failure as a person. I admit that I was not the most attentive student in the classroom and was not the most ideal student to have in the classroom if the teacher was being observed by a person with a clipboard and that institutional amnesia that allows them to judge the teacher on the merits of a few supposedly bad apples. Perhaps I have failed as a teacher if the commissars and inspectors from administration grill my students on their lessons using the jargon that would trip up even the most gifted of children. We, as educators, know of the gotcha tactics that are used to trip us up. For example, it seems like administrators take a secret course in how to select the most out of it student and ask him or her which state standard he or she is learning. If the student fails this impromptu quiz, it is apparent that the teacher is a slacker who is dooming the class to a life of either a succession of probation officers or a menial living working at a half-empty strip mall. Please do not misunderstand me; I believe that standards are important as we should communicate what lessons need to be taught. I also am a firm believer in the Understanding by Design methods that create lessons and learning by identifying the goals of what is to be taught and working to meet those goals. What offends and outrages me is that a generation of educators is learning how to game the system by coaching their students on what to say when the clipboard wielding men and women walk in and start asking questions. There is no more fun in learning when the education Gestapo takes a more active interest in the aesthetics of a classroom that seem to be designed for their approval as opposed to the actual needs of the students. In my decade plus of teaching public schools, I have yet to encounter a student who can adeptly say to me, “Mr. Meeks, I am learning NGSSS SS.A.2.3.1, the essential question is ‘how has geography affected the way people live?’ and I am developing a word wall that includes the following terms: scribe, famine, empire and exile.” It would a lie for any teacher to claim that they are able to corral malleable young minds into a mindset that reeks of a Stepford community instead of a true laboratory of learning. The behaviors in the classroom that we once accepted as part of our youth are now openly condemned. There was a time when students had down time for the sake of giving their brains a rest. Today, any break in learning is seen as a demerit for teachers. I understand that classes must never be seminars in coloring and playing around, but we are raising a hardened and harried generation of students who associate school with non-stop work and no joy.

• The best educational leaders always practice what they preach. Only a heartless tyrant would run a classroom that is filled with constant condemnation and criticism. The same, in my opinion, applies to an administrator who believes that the beatings should continue until morale improves among the faculty. In my classroom, I have created incentives that regularly recognize students for their accomplishments. It is healthy to balance negative with positive feedback to create an atmosphere in which students are not afraid to make mistakes. Similarly, if we work in a school where the administration is always on the warpath about something and all of the teachers and staff are walking on eggshells, we are not working in an environment that is conducive to learning. For every educator who loses his or her cool and yells at or snaps at a student, there is an educator who toils away in fear that their work is constantly being criticized with no pat on the back from upstairs. These teachers are not manic depressive or bipolar but perhaps may be lashing out because they are being subject to the kind of workplace abuses from their superiors that manifests itself in unhealthy communications with students. While it is inexcusable for a teacher to verbally abuse a child, it is equally inexcusable for an administrator to create a climate of fear and loathing that affords subordinates with no real help or assistance. Speaking of communication, teachers are now on call every hour of the day. There is no escape from email messages asking about grades, classwork or homework as parents and families have access to their children’s grades online. Teachers must juggle their daily schedules around parent conferences which they are required to attend and address. The teachers have an open door policy that necessitates good listening skills and being responsive to the needs of their charges. Many administrators, however, claim to have an ‘open door’ policy but are far too eager to use that open door as an avenue to shut down dialogue, retaliate against outspoken teachers and ignore legitimate needs of their faculty and staff.

• The best educational leaders always understand the big picture. While students spend most of their waking hours inside the school house, there indeed are factors that are beyond the control of the teachers. Thanks to Response to Intervention (RtI), we are beginning to craft teaching to meet the needs of students who all were not raised by June Cleaver. The factors of poverty, abuse, hunger and neglect must be factored into the work that we do for our students. These circumstances are directly connected to the inability to create perfect children as the government demands. The budgetary limitations that restrict how we aid students, however, allows bad administrators to oversimplify problems and make scapegoats of the very teachers how have worked to comfort students who lost a parent, spend money from their own pockets to buy lunch for a child, lend school supplies to students who do not have a permanent home of their own, or wince when they see a child come to school with bruises from a beating from a parent who decided to take out their anger on the nearest person. Many administrators are willfully ignorant of the teachers who deal with situations that were unimaginable even a decade ago. Teachers have to work in an atmosphere in which students are coming out as gay, students are being bullied on the Internet, students are witnessing their parents wrestling with the demons of drug abuse, students are missing school to take care of their siblings. The solutions that educators seek, develop and implement will never be included on their respective evaluations because this is the kind of work that, although it is ignored, still needs to be done by someone.

• The best educational leaders believe that putting students first does not mean putting teachers last. Every idea that comes down the pike might look great on the surface, but that does not mean that we must jump on every passing trend and fad like a fickle socialite who changes wardrobes with every issue of Vogue. The justification for spending massive amounts of tax dollars is just as silly. We are told that, if we do not blindly drink the Kool-Aid of the latest administrative fancy, we do not care about the children. While it may work for totalitarian regimes to hide behind the children to push their twisted agendas, it is counterproductive to demand that educators jump on the bandwagon to adopt the next big thing only to see it discarded the following year. This, in my opinion, is why so many veteran educators look at these whims with a jaundiced eye. A bad administrator does not listen to experience, but yearns to purge the learned hands in the classroom and replace them with more obedient rookies in this anti-tenure environment. Thankfully for other professions, they are not subject to the same instability in their respective fields. The clergy have been working with sacred texts that are older than time. Attorneys study laws that have descended from the same codes in place since the time of Robin Hood. Physicians, although medicine has made leaps and bounds over the centuries, are still faithful to the same fundamentals that the ancient Greeks pioneered. The same cannot be said for teachers, who witness the creation of program after program, attend training and professional development, spend their precious time executing these fabulous plans and then bide their time until something better comes along. Do they rebel? Do they mutiny? Do they strike? No, the keep doing what is right for the students.

At the end of the day, the main reason why I cannot move into that comfortable office is that I cherish my freedoms too much. I can take the time to express myself about what troubles me in public education. I can advocate for issues in which I believe. I can look myself in the mirror every morning and say with pride that I have done something for the betterment of society. It’s not that administrators are useful idiots or cowards who dare not do the same, but they agreed to take on the duty of leading at a price. If I was a principal, I would not take the risks that I do by speaking out. Yes, there is retribution exacted on loud mouths like me, but I would get beaten down no matter what I did if someone really had a mind to take me down a notch. I only fail if I do not bother to try. This is why I continue to work alongside my comrades in the trenches and why I continue to speak up on our behalf.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why I teach and why I fight

I am a teacher because I want your children to succeed.

This is why I maintain a transparent grading process for students and their families to completely understand how I arrived at my grades and how we can work to remedy these grades if indeed we are all trying to make a good faith effort to improve their learning.

I am a teacher because I want your children to make real progress.

This is why I stay up late at night grading papers in my pajamas and this is why I accept late work even if it means that I have to alter my home, family and private life to help your children make the grade. This is why I will often drop everything to even help former students who need letters of recommendation for scholarships, for admission to college and even when they need a job reference.

The politicians and administrators cannot say the same for educators.

This is why I work under a system that uses an evaluation tool that, when it is completed, is written in stone. There is no changing or altering teacher evaluations to include our own efforts to improve ourselves. There is nothing in this instrument that addresses what we do beyond preparing our students for the test that drives everything that we do in the classroom.

The politicians and administrators use the ‘bad’ teachers to justify their witch hunt against all teachers, good and bad. What they do not understand is that the bad teachers may be more effective at coloring between the lines and putting together a show that impresses the right people while the good teachers are forced to spend their own time, treasure and talent on efforts that ultimately get absolutely no recognition.

The politicians and administrators are not interested in teachers who do the right thing.

If they indeed really cared about helping good teachers become better, they would be as swift with the praise as they are with the condemnation. Why is school recognition money distributed at a snail’s pace while the negative news of school grades and teacher growth plans arrives faster than a delivery boy can bring a pizza to my doorstep? I have learned in my professional development classes that it is important for educators to give praise to their students often and efficiently. This is why it makes me and my students happy when we celebrate our successes publicly. I also learned to keep my criticism of student work private as I know that they can do their best when they are not under the pressure of knowing that I will broadcast their failings and challenges. So, why do we treat educators any differently? The main reason why teacher morale is so low in this time of testing and evaluations based on testing is that every day is judgment day for us and the powers that be are much more interested in proving their point that the teaching profession is populated by men and women who rank down there with horse thieves and convicted felons. The system is rigged to punish more than help.

This is why our state legislature and Department of Education are scrambling right now to adjust the teacher evaluation that they created – because there were too many ‘good’ teachers. Surely, there has to be something wrong with this evaluation system, right? There are too many C, D and F school grades and too many teachers who are graded as ‘effective.’ Don’t worry, there will be changes made to make sure that this never happens again. You can take my word for it when I say that next year’s evaluations will present a more ‘realistic’ picture of how awful our teachers ‘really’ are.

The politicians and administrators cannot handle the truth.

This is why we have educators who attempt to present their side of the story and are rebuffed in their efforts. I have a colleague in Florida’s public schools; she sent a portfolio of data and anecdotal evidence of her work to the human resources department of the school system because of the poison pen evaluations that she received from her administrators. They made it a sport to walk into her classroom and degrade her teaching in front of her students.

They took an almost sadistic joy in telling her that, in spite of being a National Board certified, she was not making the grade for her students. They ignored the fact that a former student of hers went on to win the Emmy award for the writing skills that he learned in her classroom. None of what we really do in the classroom matters when politicians and administrators have made up their minds that we need to be taught a lesson. The politicians and administrators do not care what we say or do.

This is why I had a private meeting with some influential people and said that I would be quiet and let the system fix itself. This is why I decided to be polite and back away from being such a loud mouthed activist for a while. What came of this? Some of my fellow union members accused me of selling out because the same shenanigans continued to come from politicians and administrators regardless of what I said or did not say. I learned how to play along and get along and go nothing in return. I extended an olive branch and ended up with a knife in my back.

I will use whatever constructive and legal means that I can to advocate for my profession and for my students. I will use whatever constructive and legal means to exercise my First Amendment rights to challenge the system that attempts to use the tired and trite platitudes that they are putting children first – while insisting that they must put educators and education support professionals last.

This is not a partisan crusade that I am launching today. The late Senator Jim King happened to be a Republican but also happened to be a friend of our state’s public schools. Former governor Charlie Crist was a Republican at the time that he vetoed legislation that I believe was designed to harm our educators. I believe that the leaders in Tallahassee happen to be misguided because of my silence and because of our collective silence. If we do not speak up, they will assume that we approve of everything that they do. There are men and women in our state leadership, beginning with Governor Rick Scott, who are making long overdue overtures to us. They are extending a hand to us that I want to accept in earnest as it takes us all to create a better education system for Floridians that works for all Floridians. That is why I wrote this message, and I approve this message.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Viola Liuzzo and our comfort zones

As we observe Black History Month, we remember the heroes of the movement that expanded rights and freedoms for us all, regardless of race or ethnicity. Hidden among the legendary figures of that turbulent time is the name of someone who is nearly as obscure as the life that she lived and lost.

The 1960s were the decade of Donna Stone and June Cleaver, so we don't normally give much currency or credit to the 'average' housewife of that era. The women of that time were supposedly mopping floors while wearing a fabulous mink stole, cleaning toilets with a string of pearls around their neck or fussing over a fixing dinner for a surprise visit from her husband's boss.

These indeed were comfortable times for many suburban Americans who watched helplessly while young people from all walks of life risked their lives in the killing fields of the Deep South. So, why did Viola Liuzzo, a white woman from the Wolverine State, take it upon herself to leave her domestic life to get entangled in the bloody civil rights movement?

She saw the injustices being committed against her fellow human being. The flickering images of Selma inspired her to stop viewing life from the sidelines and she took a stand; she was already attending her local Unitarian church in Michigan and joined the NAACP. This however, was not enough.

Mrs. Liuzzo believed that she was fighting everyone's fight when she decided to go south to do what she believed was the right thing. She marched from Selma to Montgomery to show the voices of hatred and intolerance that the voices of love and peace are louder than any bigot.

Mrs. Liuzzo, tragically, was killed by four klansmen for committing the unforgivable sin of ferrying protesters in her family car. She left her comfort zone, as many Americans dared not do, so future generations could enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we take for granted today.

Mrs. Liuzzo's death did not end injustice or prejudice, but opened the eyes of a nation to what can be done for others. If only we would leave our own comfort zones to take the brave step toward building a better nation that works for all. We are Mrs. Liuzzo's legacy if only we speak out wherever and whenever we can.

Thank you, Viola Liuzzo (1925-1965)