Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Naughty List

Tonight she asked if I could snuggle in bed with her.
She wanted me up close and holding her hand...that's rare these days, so I went with it.
She didn't say much.
But the quiet wasn't comforting.
It was heavy and it made the room seem extra dark.

All of a sudden, out came the question...
"Do you think I'm on The Naughty List?"


Let me set something straight right now.

I'm not a fan of the Naughty List.
I don't use it...or talk about it...or even mention it.
And she hadn't done one thing that would be even close to earning The Naughty List distinction and yet, here it was.

I'm not a fan of doing good because you are guilted into it.
I know that must seem ironic since I am most definitely Catholic and we are good at guilt.

I'm all about doing good, being good, acting good 
because it's the right thing to do...
because that's who you are...
because you know what's important and you value it.

So the tiny voice asking about The Naughty List sunk me.

I had to snuggle in bed and take a deep breath and think about things...
I got close to her soft sweet cheek and whispered to her the only comfort I could bring.
"I know for sure you're not on The Naughty List.
For sure.
No doubt about it."
"Remember, I'm friends with Santa...good friends...I know."

Her body softened ever so slightly and I held her hand in the dark.

I inwardly cussed out whoever created that crappy old story we dish out to poor unsuspecting kids.

We know when we blow it.
We don't need The Naughty List adding another layer to our Big Mistake.

I tried to explain about the process of living and the idea that mistakes are just part of the deal.
I tried to assure her that the normal, day in day out, stuff of life was just that.
Santa understood.

But it's a tough gray zone.

We make mistakes...does that make us "bad"?
Are we only as good as our last mistake?
How do we ever make up for our mistakes?

Do you ever get off The Naughty List?


In the dark, listening to her breathe, feeling her familiar little hand, smelling her sweet Caroline scent I remembered another mother on another December night fighting for her life.
She died on December 23rd. of breast cancer. leaving behind a 4th grader and a 2nd grader when Jack and Mary Kate were in 3rd and 1st.

There was a time, long ago, when every mommy moment of mine was suffused with all of the mommy moments she had never had...that her boys never knew.
In my kids' teen years, when it was hard, I held close the privilege it was to be right there in the center of the ugly.
Even when it was extra hard I thought of her...and her white chocolate and cranberry scones.

But I admit, I hadn't thought of her for a long while.
Until tonight...when my December 22nd sliding into December 23rd reminded me...
of how lucky we are to be right there for the hard-ness, the bad-ness, the I-can't-believe-this-is-my life-and-not-some-really-bad-movie ugliness.

Life is hard.
Really it is.

Why add The Naughty List?

Tonight, as of this very minute, it's gone.
Santa has no list.
He doesn't need one.
Dude, you are good...so good...and if you're not...well, we'll deal.

You don't need no list to tell you a thing.

Trust your gut.
Know yourself.
Own your actions.
Fix your mistakes.
Make it better.
Move on.

Tonight I'm grateful for late night snuggles and quiet questions in the dark.
That's the good stuff.
The Naughty List, on the other hand, well, that can hit the road.

And Mary Lou, we still miss you.
Still don't understand.
Still wish it weren't so.

December 23rd is hard.every time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Have Some Data Too...

Ummm...hello, out there...anybody home??

Can we talk for a minute?

Can we discuss what on earth is going on for teachers right now?

Our world has had an information explosion and schools have been bringing up the rear.
We have old fashioned desks, limited wi-fi, email that barely works, projectors that still use VCR tapes (no joke) or CD's for music and an old computer or two hanging around the back of the room, posing as a computer center.

Of course there are fancy districts with the latest technology.  
Those lucky teachers might have smart boards, doc-cams, the ability to stream something from their computer onto a screen or even a class set of Ipads.
But that's a tiny portion of our school districts.
Many are sadly out of date.

Shame on you Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Apple and the rest.
Have a symposium or some sort of summit, pat yourself on the back for your initiative, your drive and your stunning intelligence and for God's sake get some leadership going.

I know, I know...not your focus.

But you sure love to provide the data, don't you?

I have this job where I get to go around to all sorts of schools in all sorts of districts and see what's going on.  
I work with the best teachers who mentor my student teachers.
It doesn't matter how fancy the technology, the size of the cafeteria or if the school has a garden, a PE instructor, or a science lab.

It's the teachers that matter.

In the poorest districts, in the richest districts and everywhere in between the divining rod of excellence is the teacher.

And, boy, am I privileged to see excellence in action.

I'd like to be the Lorax and speak not for the trees (they seem to have plenty of people wanting to talk for them) but for the teachers.

The-day-in-day-out-nitty-gritty-not-glamorous warriors that take our children and love them like their own. They plan, teach, re-teach, assess, reflect and just generally obsess on how to help their students succeed.  These people come in early, stay late, use their own money, attend conferences on their own dime and with their off time and they love it.
They sign up and stay in the trenches for decades.
Not for any reason other than that is their life's calling.
They care.
They take pride in their work.
It matters.

Guess what has happened?

We've turned students into a commodity.
We can collect data on them.

Like the early cave man, we are hypnotized by the fire we've just discovered.
We can't stop staring...and we are getting burned.

We are drowning in data.

Oh, it's so very sexy.
Bar graphs.
Line graphs.
Pie charts and percentages.

Can you really measure a six year old like that?


But it better be a damn good test.

And trust me, I haven't found a single one that slides into the "damn good" category.

Most are junk.
Testing on standards that aren't used anymore.
In ways that are pedagogically unsound.
Most of the numbers are meaningless...but they are numbers and that makes them powerful.
Very powerful.

So powerful that I sat in a lunch room today with two stellar first grade teachers, one with 26 years worth of expertise and one with 28 years, who were shaken to their core.
These two are no joke.
They embody every single accolade I can  possibly think up:
a true advocate for every child
child centered
miracle worker

Those two people got data from their principal that gave them a sleepless night.
Their scores in literacy were down.
Way down.
The lowest in the district.

Alarm bells went off at the district level.
The data had spoken.
One of the teachers actually said, "Yesterday was the worst day of my teaching career."

No one bothered to wonder out loud why that data was so off.
Like the proverbial 5th grade science experiment, nobody bothered to ask a question.
Or hypothesize.
Or just say...sorry, that doesn't make sense.

The data had spoken.

Ummmm...yoooo hoooo....can you all pause for a minute?

I have data too.
My data says that after 28 years of learning your profession you actually know something of value and it's damn hard to measure.

These two are experts in teaching reading, writing and math but they are living sensei in the bigger picture.
They know how to comfort a child.
They know how to inspire a child.
They make school magical and wonderful and creative and fun.

They know what to do for second language learners that do not know a single word of English but get tested in it.

They know how to help the child whose mom "just forgot to pay that bill that keeps the lights on".
The child who's hungry.
Or dirty.
Or hungry in their heart.

No test measures those things.
There's no data on that.

And guess what??
What those teachers do day in and day out on behalf of the most vulnerable, voiceless victims in this whole data game is nothing short of heroic.

Shame on administrators who believe the data first.
Shame on parents and cities that take pride in high test scores when in reality all it measures is privilege and access to opportunity.
Shame on testing companies who make gobs of money convincing districts that they don't need field trips but instead a whole lot more tests...that measure what exactly?


Spoiler alert: There's quite a bit of teaching and learning that is hard to quantify.
And I would argue that the non-quantifiable things are truly what matter most.

How do you measure a teacher who won't give up on a child?
A teacher who believes that every child can learn?
A teacher that can transform the way the child sees himself?

Tonight I am grateful for two very special teachers and the tidal wave of other similarly fantastic teachers who never hear this:

You rock.
You stay strong and drown out the nay-sayers.
Own it.
I am proud to know you and see your excellence in action.

No test can measure what I know to be true.
You are what every educator aspires to be.
And the test is what has failed, not you.