Thursday, July 28, 2011

Here's To Dress Codes!

With school starting in three weeks or so, my thought have turned to Back to School shopping for clothes. I am thinking one new pair of khakis will do for me. Tan, of course.
One of the best days of my career? The announcement that ties were no longer required as a part of my professional dress. For much of my first 15 years in education, I was required to wear a tie and dress slacks and dress shirt in  the classroom with a rare exception of wind pants and a colored shirt. I once had to change twice a day, as I taught, coached, taught, then coached again. I almost developed a resistance to deodorant.  It was quite often a relief to have a game to go  to, as I could stay in one set of clothes. With the advent of a more modern approach and integration into the realities of the professional world, polos, sweater vests, jeans on certain days, and even a t-shirt for a special cause have become normal and acceptable during the work day.
 I believe that it is quite often freeing, makes students and parents who are more often than not,  not dressed in "Sunday clothes" more relaxed and with a sense of connection. It is a branding, also, of a team, when done right, with all dressed in black bonded together, for appearance and for purpose. The relaxation has made for better morale, in my experience, with consistently high professional standards not suffering. Special days for fundraising causes has led to Jeans Days. Now, piercings and tattoos and too much cleavage or tight clothing beyond breathability or even oddly colored hair, that is a generation or two away from being acceptable in my school district and most, I think, but that time will most certainly come. (Parents are leading the way in those areas, as they quite often dress as if they are going to the bar after their academic conference or registration meeting.)
 The key connection will be made, in humble opinion, with the fact that many churches now have youth ministers with tattoos, and "Sunday clothes" does actually mean jeans and boots and a polo or nicely pressed t-shirt. I saw a pallbear with a "gimme cap on not long ago. Church will determine what is acceptable with state in a liberating manner. Some irony there, I think.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer Vacation? 8 to 4? Not So Much.

Three reasons to teach? June, July and August. Three more? Spring Break and Thanksgiving and Christmas Vacation! This has been the age old mantra repeated by teachers certainly but also, I believe, by those who would denigrate educators. With so much leisure time they say, you don't necessarily need a professional salary but something more "reasonable." The really smart students become something more financially worthy, say, a doctor or lawyer.( Of course, they do have their gigantic student loans to pay off, also, so they need the money more. Right?). Whatever the justifications, the truth about time spent as an educator is incalcuable and doesn't have a clock-punching quality to it. Looking at a average school day of 8 to 4, most teachers I know arrive 30 to 45 minutes before that as a rule. Teachers at the high school level get roughly 25 minutes for lunch or less and one planning period, hopefully, of about 40 minutes. Tutoring is before school and quite often after, and when the planning period or tutoring time is taken by parent meetings, ARDs, 504 meetings, site-based meetings, club sponsorship, faculty meetings, curriculum meetings, tech training, very little planning or paper grading gets done. Teachers at my school must input grades on PowerSchool on an almost daily basis, update their Homework Online, which is lesson plans and PowerPoints and lectures notes for students, and turn in lesson plans on a weekly basis, so much of that must be done before or after school, and that is often from home. So, that 40 hour work week? For the most part, 50 plus hours or more. Add in the exhaustive task of maintaining discipline, teaching difficult concepts over and over again, and the sheer pace of sustained bursts as periods change, and therein will lie the reason so many burnout of the job. Now, as the school year has stretched into June on one end, and there is always the need for dreaded inservices and meetings before school starts, and the school year really starts the second week of August, the days begin to move closer together, and the summer becomes more of an illusion. Throw in week-long trainings or AVID conventions or summer school or Summer Academy, and the time shrinks more. (In a week or so, Amy will go to San Antonio to finish her THIRD week of training.) Watching Amy "wind down" by grading papers on a Friday night, so that she can enjoy Saturday afternoon, answering e-mails from angry parents from home, updating websites during a free moment, the reality, when rest comes, is that I, like so many, am making it on adrenaline and caffeine and sheer desire. The party never really stops.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Parents Just Don't Understand

Having reached that part of the year where schools starts to intrude back into our conscious thought, I had to reflect on the need for "battle" with the four scholars at my house, and I do believe firmly that parenting is not something I get to quit doing, at any point, sadly, even though I Love Lucy is particularly calming, and I have reached a Zen state of relaxation.
Parenting in whatever form it may take, aunty, mom and dad, grandmother  or even great grand mother, is the absolute foundation of student success in most cases. Stability at home, with expectations and boundaries and discipline and support, can transform an average student into a wunderkind, and  the lack of the above can most certainly sink the mission before it is started. Working in a a school that has multiple means of knowledge of academic success, such as PowerSchool or Homework Online and Facebook and Twitter and many websites and robo-calling and constant feedback would seem to be almost overkill, but in many cases, the assumption that all are plugged in may be fundamentally flawed, as so many don't seem to have a clue about what is going on with their student until time has passed to a bad outcome. Emergencies seem to occur, when calamity itself could have been afforded with some simple due diligence. It is a ponderer.
My speculation takes me down a road too certain. My belief is that the gap is that there are no bedtimes in place and no restrictions on Halo and unlimited texting and cars that the parent couldn't afford until they were 30, and so many go on vacation when school is in session. I have failed to stay amazed at the number of times that I have seen parents simply give up when things get tough, when the law gets involved, when truancy letters arrive, when summer school tuition is due. It is the painstaking, diligent, hardnosed, caring parent whose student doesn't fit the high achieving mode that touches and surprises me and more importantly acts as a anchor for their child. This doesn't end at 40, much less 14, and those that hang in there, even feeling called to do an often thankless job, have my respect and affection and open admiration.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Money Does Make the School Go Round

More money helps in education and anyone who says otherwise has an agenda to either save money or attack the idea that public schools can work effectively. Air condition and heat a room properly, have the top technological advances such as Whiteboards or projectors or the use of computers, and you will educate better. Smaller class sizes means that each student gets more attention, and that the teacher is able to grade faster, give feedback quicker and have better classroom management. This is not brain science, yet witness the Legislature move to attack our schools as a means of  "cutting fat" or making schools become efficient. This year saw pay freezes and cutbacks and school closings, all over the state. Next school year may be worse.
This, as we implement a brand new series of tests in the STAAR, a 400 MILLION plus investment in supposed, new rigor. The Texas Legislature, in their wisdom and goaded on by Tea Partiers, hard right wingers and with the willful compliance of too many administrators and school boards looking for a easy way out, has now placed the fate of veteran teachers the honor and fair treatment of their careers in the hands of principals, as there will be no need to respect experience and longevity will not be considered as a quality, when it comes to contract time.  Watch the success and output of our schools become less successful after that, desipite the fevered work of educators, who will deal with a pressure not felt before in decades and less prestige and security, all at once.
I will have a freeze on my pay next year, while health insurance goes up 10%. This may mean I contribute less to retirement, go out to eat less, put off braces for one of the girls for another year, if possible. I can't put a dollar value on what I gain intrinsinctly from doing my job, but I don't think I will be able to hide my monthly anxiety about not feeling that I can see a light at the end of the tunnel where the feeling of financial security awaits.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It's A Female's World!

Education is a female's world, even at the high school level, as the vast majority of teachers and staff and even a good portion of administrators are women, and this will increase exponentially over the coming years,  as more females are in college and going on to leadership positions. This can make for some truly wonderful daily moments, as my experience has been that women love to eat well, care about their appearance,  the daily niceties more, and while it may seem sexist, from a male perspective, they often  look more professional in an attractive, personable way to me. I have often been the only man in the room for meetings, for trainings, and I have rarely been embarrassed by their candor or the topic of conversations, (blushing on a few occasions but trying not to show it). and while it has been a gradual and steady adjustment over the years, I have reached a great comfort zone with the agendas and handouts with a steady balance of personal asides ("What shirt are we wearing tomorrrow?"), and there is a postive vibe more often than not. I will say that women in general have an endurance to do the job more than men, in my experience, although that passion can get wearyng, also. But, my mentors in recent years have been women, and I have never gone without insight when I have asked for it or help when it is needed. I will say that this has placed a firm femiinist streak in me, and I will be very accepting of a future political shift.