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...