Saturday, October 25

Just a little respect

There is a great "My Turn" in the October 20 issue of Newsweek. Heather Robinson left a youth services profession to go into teaching. Like many other teachers, she is tired of people treating her work as a teaching professional as though it was a short-hour babysitting job.

Americans talk a lot about the quality of education and are quick to place blame on teachers. Undoubtedly there are some bad teachers, but there are bad CEOs (we've seen a lot of evidence of that recently), bad plumbers (including those with licenses), bad politicians, and the list can go on and on. We don't hear too often about the good teachers or the exemplary ones, but there are a lot of very good teachers working hard in their classrooms to help kids learn.

I work with teachers all the time; some more directly than others. I'm constantly impressed by the work they do, by their passion for their craft and their students, by their concern that they aren't doing enough or can't do more. I hear about their exhaustion, their frustration with uninvolved parents and with administrators who are slightly above clueless or just so taken with their own authority and position they are not effective.

Ms. Robinson spoke of her frustration that people too often thinking teaching isn't a real job, that the hours are cushy, that she gets summers off, that she might get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Too often people think teachers are done with their day when the last school bell rings. Those are people who don't know actual classroom teachers because then they would know that there is grading to do, planning to do, IEPs to manage, and so much more. Most classroom teachers will spend at least a few hours each evening finishing their work day and far too many still feel behind.

The really good teachers don't have the summer off as many are inclined to believe. That's the time teachers can really focus on improving their skills and understanding of teaching, get recharged through professional development, catch up on their research and reading, and revisit all those notes on lesson plans to make changes for the upcoming year.

Every day is not remotely close to the same. Even if a teacher has the same course four times in a row, the kids are not the same, so the teaching and learning experience constantly has to be managed for the group of kids at that time. And though 4th period may be the "quiet" class and 7th period the "rowdy" class, there are times when even those class personalities are not the same. As Robinson states, "Teachers are not on autopilot--we make thousands of decisions each day while working hard to produce a quality product that provides each student with what she needs and deserves" (p. 19).

She goes on to say "After all of the long hours, grueling days, mountains of paperwork, emotional exhaustion, and misperceptions about the profession that I dearly love and would trade for no other, we continue to pour ourselves into the work because it's too important not to. How can we not give all of ourselves, our intellect, and our talents to this work? After all, it is our current students whom we will be voting for in a future presidential election, who will care for us when we're ill, and who will educate our grandchildren" (p. 19).

Teaching is a profession. An honorable and important profession.

Be thankful for the teachers who touch your life, who touch the lives of your children, your family, your friends, your neighbors. Be thankful for the teachers who taught you how to read, how to think, how to do math, or how to improve on any of those skills. Be thankful for the teachers who challenged you and encouraged you, who made you believe more was possible, that you were capable of reaching farther and doing more than you could imagine. Be thankful for the teachers who weren't as good because they made you appreciate the good ones even more.

Please treat those teachers with respect and honor their profession for the important role it has in the fabric of our society.

Sunday, October 19

Birthdays. Days of celebration. Of self-indulgence. Of self-reflection. Days of fond memories or painful ones. I met someone the other day who hasn't celebrated a birthday since she's been married because her husband doesn't believe in birthdays. She didn't seem bitter about it or resigned to it, but perhaps they celebrate each other differently and don't need a single day to focus on the other.

I've not been a big fan of birthdays and not because I don't like getting older. I don't like getting older, but I'm not one to let my behavior or self-perception be dictated by a number. People who know me could tell you that. I used to think I didn't like birthdays because I don't have a lot of fond memories of birthdays. But then people made a big deal about my 29th birthday when a friend threw a huge surprise party. I was thrilled but a little embarrassed that people were paying so much attention to me. I have realized that while I don't mind the recognition, I don't like too much attention.

One of the things I do like about birthdays is hearing from people who care about me. In our busy electronic lives you'd think it would be easy to keep in touch, but somehow it's still hard to keep in touch with people of any degree of acquaintanceship or friendship. So a birthday allows us to make that special effort to reach out to someone and express whatever sentiments are appropriate for that relationship.

This particular birthday is not a Significant one in that it is a 0 birthday (30, 40, 50, 60). But I've made a commitment to do a few things for myself between this birthday and the next. One of the things is to take care better care of myself and that includes the occasional indulgence. Yesterday morning a friend of mine and I walked to breakfast. A bit later in the day we got a massage. Later that day I had dinner with a friend. In between I talked with friends who called on the phone; friends I don't see often and whose friendships I value immensely. It was a deliciously pleasant day. I have a ticket for hot air ballooning next Sunday at sunrise, weather permitting. That will be awesome.

My birthday also reminds me that I need to reach out to my friends, to the people I appreciate and value and let them know they are valued. Reconnecting with friends is another gift to myself. I can only hope that my friendship may be valuable to others.

Friday, October 17

Thinking about the economy

I'm not usually one to think much about the economy. Like thousands of Americans, I groused about the cost of gas. And I'm truly enjoying the much lower prices. Like thousands if not millions of Americans, I was outraged by the bailout. I've often wondered how and why our economy is driven by Wall Street. How did brokers and speculators become the arbiters of the economy? How did the economy work before there was Wall Street?

There has been talk about a recession for months. We're in one; we're not in one. We're in one and it's bad; we're in one and it could be worse. None of the so-called economic experts seem to know or agree. I don't know about you, but that makes me very nervous. If professional economists don't know what's going on, how in the world can the average American have any idea? Of course we don't know and most of us don't really want to know. Perhaps we think economics is too complicated and just hope someone will fix it.

Recently, though, I've developed this somewhat aberrant interest in the economy. An extension of the economic climate, I suppose, and the feeling of utter helplessness as I watch our so-called leaders and the candidates for president behave like the Keystone Kops. The absence of leadership, the absence of honesty, the absence of regulation is an incredible tragedy.

So a colleague of mine told me about an episode of Bill Maher during which David Walker, former Comptroller General, appeared. Now I'm a moderate Republican with random Democratic leanings, but I'm not a fan of Bill Maher. He's a bright man, no doubt, but a bit too left for my taste. Anyway, I was intrigued by the interview, so I did a bit more Google research and found information about a document titled I.O.U.S.A.: The Movie so I had to backtrack and discovered a few companies using the name Agora.

That intrigued me because Agora was an open place for assembly in ancient Greece. I didn't spend a lot of time at Agora Financial (I'll go back later), but also found a web site for Agora Entertainment, which is, of course, a part of Agora Financial. But there I found information about the book I.O.U.S.A. which led me to an article I can't find right now which led me to some other books about the economy and what incredibly bad shape we're in right now.

So, I went to Barnes & Noble after work tonight and bought I.O.U.S.A.--in addition to a few adolescent literature novels (it's research, really) and a few picture books (also school-related) and The Economist. I find I'm increasingly fascinated by this labyrinthine world of economics, but even more intrigued by the role of the taxpayer.

We really do have a starring role in this continuing drama. The federal government cannot function without us. Neither can the city, county, or state governments. And that seems to be one of the points of some of these economists. None of us wants higher taxes but nearly everyone wants a certain level of service. That doesn't come for free.

Of course, we also want our civil servants (there's a long riff on that phrase of civil servants who are often not particularly "civil" and are not remotely interested in being a "servant") to be individuals of integrity, who are willing to be transparent and held accountable for their actions. Raise your hand if you remember the last time any politician or government official at any level of any government was scrupulously honest, willing to be transparent and accountable.

And there, my friends, lies the problem. We don't trust Congress; CBS reports a 12% approval rating. Fifty-seven percent of Americans polled believe the economy is the most important issue. We may not understand the intricacies of the economy, but we understand when things seem to be spiraling out of control.

Quite honestly, I think Barack Obama will be elected president. It's nearly a foregone conclusion. The Washington Post just endorsed him though it also stated its concern about his relative lack of experience. The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times have also endorsed Obama, which comes as no surprise to me. Apparently the Trib hasn't backed a Democrat in years, but Obama is also a hometown guy. The article in the Post states this: "Yes, we have reservations and concerns, almost inevitably, given Mr. Obama's relatively brief experience in national politics. But we also have enormous hopes."

It's that last sentence that scares me. Mr. Obama will inherit some huge problems, including the biggest, most serious, and most far-reaching: the economy. He needs to have a definitive plan that involves more than bailouts. He had better make sure he has the keenest economic minds accessible to him and be willing to ignore them when they get too cerbral about economic practices of the everyday folks. And he had better be prepared to get very very busy his first day because he won't have the full 100 days to demonstrate his competence and capabilities to those who have placed such high hopes in him.

Obama has been talking like a miracle worker. A political, financial, and educational wizard who can and will institute change. Expectations for him have escalated beyond reason. He had better be able to institute startling changes within a very short period of time. People are counting on it. People are counting on him. The economies of the world are counting on him. Within a short period of time he has to demonstrate his leadership and institute change. He won't have 100 days.

Thursday, October 9

Is the Sky Falling?

This morning's news brought the report that the Dow had dropped to an historic low and on the anniversary of the historic high from 2007. Why are the so-called financial wizards so surprised? Didn't they live through preceding bursting bubbles? Were they so incredibly arrogant they thought it wouldn't happen to them? Or are they that stupidly greedy? I'm voting for the latter by the way.

We also learned this morning that AIG had planned an event at the $400 a night Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay in California. And that event was scheduled to take place after we had just handed them a pile of money AND they asked for another $37.8 billion loan. What is even more appalling is that AIG had already spent about $444K on some other event. An AIG representative claimed that this Half Moon Bay event was a key meeting, an annual event for 50 AIG employees. Can you say "junket"? Can you say "boondoggle"?

Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate's Finance Committee, understandably went ballistic. He sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke "demanding to know what powers the Fed has to fire AIG staff, limit executive compensation and assess the activities of AIG's senior management. Baucus also asked Bernanke for names of Fed employees who authorized or knew about the retreat, and what the Fed is doing to recoup any unauthorized expenditures." Awesome.

But such behavior does not bode well for the country. Not surprisingly, there was another ripple effect because of AIG's actions--the company's stock plummeted to a record loss. Who in the world--and I do mean world--should ever trust AIG again? Not the taxpayers and certainly not investors. AIG's leadership has demonstrated it is completely cavalier about its fiduciary responsibility and callous about the well-being of the American taxpayers who would have made that so-called key meeting possible. On the other hand, some really shrewd business person could be in a position to make quite an impressive move by taking over AIG.

Another company recently in the news for other reasons, Wachovia, has called off an all-expenses paid cruise to the Greek Isles for 75 A.G. Edwards brokers and their spouses or significant others. A Wachovia spokesperson claimed the trip was a way to recognize its top financial advisors. Hold on here a moment. Top financial advisors?? Seriously? And Wachovia is to have its bad debt purchased by the federal government, that is us, of course, that taxpayers? Seriously?

Clearly the financial wizards of this country were planning to operate business-as-usual with taxpayer money. They aren't repentant. They aren't troubled by their excess and lousy decision-making. They have no remorse about keeping ridiculous bonuses for running a company into the ground.

Looking at a list of stories on Yahoo!, I see these story titles:
  • Jobless claims drop from 7-year high
  • Retirement accounts have lost $2 trillion
  • Payrolls drop by most in 5 years
  • Factory orders drop by 4 percent in August

And, on top of that, Iceland may have to declare bankruptcy.

Though I still think we are in the middle of some financial forest fire, no doubt it is dangerous and difficult and lots of people are getting hurt. What I think the taxpayer's need to see if some financial responsibility on the part of those clowns on Wall Street and those in big executive offices with their ginormous golden parachutes. We need some remorse, we need to see some significant change of behavior, we need to see some change of practice, and we need to see some self-regulation.

Now that I think of it, I wouldn't mind seeing that kind of response and behavior in members of Congress. Instead of pointing fingers, it would be nice if the politicians and the business executives would actually do something constructive and behave responsibly. Talk about wishful thinking.

Monday, October 6

Campaign 2008: Let the Mudslinging Begin

I am appalled and I am saddened by the most recent turn of events in this year's campaign. I'm not surprised. In both cases it seems that mudslinging and negative campaigning is the option of the somewhat desparate. And hasn't anyone yet learned that the American public, for all its voyeurism through tabloids and TV, really doesn't care for negative campaigning? That we're smart enough to know that it's a disingenuous and seriously expensive form of not answering the questions?

Tomorrow night is the 2nd presidential debate and with this sort of atmosphere, it promises to have the potential of bombast and extraordinary political rhetoric. The debate on Tue, Oct 7 is supposed to based on questions submitted by the American people. I wish I'd known that was an option--not sure how I missed that--because I do have a few questions.

As sophomoric as it may seem, I wouldn't mind if the debate could actually entail a bit of role playing. Groups of people come up with scenarios that might even be variations of real-life past events. Let the candidates see the scenarios for the first time at the beginning of the "role play" and be given 3 minutes to come up with as many key questions, points, notes, etc. they can. As though they were in an emergency Cabinet meeting or whatever meeting the situation calls for. Who do they need what information from? What else do they need to know to make a critical decision?

Ideally the candidates would write on a screen similar to that one used in Jeopardy and ideally the screens could be displayed side-by-side at the same time. An earlier coin toss would have determined who would speak first to his scenario thinking and be given time to explain his thinking. What would be even cooler is if members of the audience could be allowed to ask questions, although it might make more sense for key members of certain agencies to be present to participate in a Q&A. Then we could see our future leader interacting with the very individuals or levels of individuals with whom they would be working for at least the next four years.

Obama says we need to know about McCain and Keating. Well then, we also need to know more about Obama and the Daley Machine and Obama and Rezko. Except we don't. What we need to know is how these people will behave as Commander-in-Chief. What we really need to know is, as much as possible, the details of any plans recognizing there is a great deal these candidates don't know and won't know until they get into office. What we really need to know who is these folks are considering for Cabinet officials or, at the very least, the specific qualifications for which they are looking in those members of Cabinet, especially the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and Security of Treasury. It wouldn't hurt to know who they're thinking of for National Security Advisor and, I suppose, Homeland Security.

But let's end the negative campaigning. Stop the smearing. Stop the mudslinging.

Dear Candidates: Talk to the American people about what you can do for the country and how we can help you accomplish your goals. Shut up about the other guy. Please.

Saturday, October 4

Edonis Project

Explore the edonis project ning an international teachmeet opportunity. As David Noble states in the Ning, edonis (educators online impact study) will run for at least three years, identifying, for example:
  • trends in educators’ use of Web 2.0 tools
  • impact on teaching and learning, and professional development
  • good practice
  • implications for the learning sector and government

Ning participants' involvement means replying to some questions, completing an occasional survey, participating in occasional online discussions, and more.

Quoting now, David says "The study will form part of my doctoral thesis, provisionally titled, 'Educators’ use of the social web to support teaching and learning, and professional development.' Your participation will be recognised within the published thesis and with a yearly Professional Development (CPD/PD) certificate. At each stage of the study, you will be able to choose to annonymise your contribution."