Monthly Archives: December 2014

Thank You for a Great Year: My Christmas Wish List for Mississippi Education

This will be my last blog for 2014, so I want to close the year by saying thank you to everyone who took time to read the articles. A year ago this month I set a goal to write and publish at least one blog/article per week. I wanted to write at least 52 articles that would get at least 1,500 views/readers by the end of 2014. To date, the weekly blogs have received 11,416 views and counting. I don’t know if this number is good for a blog, but it is so much more than I expected that it blows me away, but regardless of the number, I am honored and humbled by the readers who followed and shared my blogs throughout the year.

The topics varied from nonsense to serious issues, but whatever the topic, I did not shy away from stating my opinion. There were a few who took exception with my outlook, but many more voiced their support. I say thank you to both groups: Thank you to those who took exception with my views and caused me to slow down and look at things from a different perspective; and, a special thank you goes to those who supported me and gave me the encouragement and courage to keep writing. One thing I learned through this process is that the daily headlines are a great source for writing topics, but it takes a lot of work to go beyond the headlines to discover a new topic or angle week after week. Yet, my goal was not to just find a topic, but to create a piece that would make the reader think, smile, or stop and say, “What the hell?” If I failed to do any of those, I failed as a writer by leaving the reader indifferent. Hopefully that did not happen, but if it did, I apologize, and thank the readers who stuck with me.

Looking back over the 52 blogs, it is easy to see that at least half dealt with education. That is understandable since I spent 37 years in education as a teacher, coach, and administrator, but even more important I believe education is one of the most crucial issues facing Mississippi. So, I decided to visit the topic one more time for this last blog and share my Christmas Wish List for Mississippi Education. Of course, the greatest single thing that could happen for education would be for everyone to put their differences aside and work together for the common good of all children in Mississippi. Who knows, maybe Santa Clause has a miracle in his bag for 2015 – stranger things have happened.

My Christmas Wish List for Mississippi Education:

  1. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for Mississippi legislators to make education a priority and fully fund education;
  2. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for Obamaphobia to not get in the way of doing what is best for our children’s education;
  3. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for state political leaders and educators to stop looking at each other as adversaries and begin working together for what is best for the education of our children. Of course, the only way that will happen is for state educators and state legislators to learn to trust and respect each other;
  4. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for the Governor and Lieutenant Governor as well as all Mississippi Legislators to listen to state educators from the State Superintendent on down who have embraced Common Core Standards as what is best for our children. After all, the educators are the experts;
  5. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for the Common Core naysayers to look at the standards before accepting everything negative they read on the Internet or hear through the grapevine as Common Core gospel;
  6. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for our political leaders to put their political ambitions aside and do what is best for our children’s education;
  7. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for Mississippi educators to present a united front and let their voices be heard loudly and clearly in support of what is academically best for children; and
  8. ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS is for all Mississippians regardless of their stand on Common Core Standards or any other education issue to put their politics and differences aside and have a joyous and Merry Christmas with their families and friends while remembering the birth of Christ as the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas to all who made this blog writing experiment a success in 2014, and may God bless each of you and your family during this joyous season!

JL

©Jack Linton, December 17, 2014

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Mississippi Bullies and the Common Core Carousel

Educators are not perfect, but it is rare to find one who does not care for children and have their best educational interests at heart. They devote themselves to years of rigorous training to become knowledgeable education leaders in the classroom as well as knowledgeable school administrators. Yet, some politicians would have the public believe Mississippi educators are not equipped or competent enough to make educational decisions for what is best for Mississippi children. The recent comments by Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves promoting kicking the Common Core Standards out the door and setting up a task force composed of parents and legislators to rewrite the Standards is a prime example of their lack of confidence in the expertise of Mississippi educators. While educators across the state from the State Superintendent of Education down voice their support for the Standards, Bryant and Reeves have turned a deaf ear to them. When asked to clarify their opposition to the Common Core Standards, Bryant and Reeves point to the failed argument that the Standards are Obama’s standards and not the State of Mississippi’s standards. Although it has been pointed out again and again that the President had nothing to do with writing the Standards, Bryant and Reeves refuse to dismount that dead horse. It is unfortunate that their Obamaphobia blinds them to the promise of a better education and future that the Common Core Standards hold for the children of Mississippi.

These two politically motivated self-proclaimed education gurus also claim the Common Core Standards are too confusing and frustrating for parents to understand, so the standards must be thrown out or at least dumbed down – excuse me I meant to say amended.   However, as anyone with any common sense knows, the truth behind the frustration with the Standards can be directly linked to Mississippi’s failed education standards of the past. Maybe if Mississippi teachers had all along been teaching to standards half as rigorous as the Common Core Standards, there would be far less confusion and push-back against the Standards. Teachers who have embraced the Common Core Standards say it is the adults who are having the biggest problem with the Standards – not the children. But, maybe Common Core Standards are not really the issue at all; maybe the only real issue is Obamaphobia. I wonder if George W. Bush was still in office if the Common Core Standards would be an issue at all.

In another recent example of education sabotage, Governor Bryant openly doubted the authority of the State Superintendent of Education and subsequently the State Board of Education to make decisions about education policy. In his clueless overreach of his own authority, he said the power to make educational decisions and policy lay with the public and the state legislature and not the State Superintendent of Education. It is ironic that the Governor cries out against the tyranny of federal intervention in state affairs every chance he gets, yet he has little problem exercising his own brand of tyranny over the Mississippi Department of Education and educators in general. His lack of support for educators and the whimsical support of education by Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves are knives in the backs of educators who blindly voted for them in the last election. Unfortunately, if the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have their way, the real bloodletting of public education in Mississippi may have only just begun.

With the negativity and abuse continually directed at educators, it is a wonder anyone still wants to be a teacher. The ones still teaching are a testament to their dedication to the profession, their abuse repelling thick skin, and their love for the children they teach. Of course, educators know from the start that the life of an educator is not easy – never has been nor will it ever be. They enter the profession knowing they will never be paid adequately for the long hours they devote to their students, and that they will spend more time with other people’s children than they do their own.  Despite their sacrifices, teachers understand they will rarely receive the respect they deserve; however, they should at least be able to count on the respect and support of a governor and lieutenant governor they helped elect and not be cast as a scapegoat for political gain.

Educators work in a society where education is undervalued, and the political and public perception is a student succeeds in spite of the teacher and fails because of the teacher. Such views are disrespectful and are a major reason at least half of all educators leave the profession within the first three to five years.  Why stay in a profession where the political and public opinion is so sour toward your profession? Why stay in a profession where the opinion of every local yokel holds more educational clout than the opinions and expertise of educators? We trust our automobiles to the expertise of a mechanic; we trust the construction and safety of the many bridges we travel to the expertise of an engineer; we trust our physical well-being to the expertise of a medical doctor; so, doesn’t it stand to reason we should trust educational decisions impacting the future of our children to the expertise of educators? After all, the mechanic, the engineer, medical doctor and educator are the experts in their fields. If an educator’s expertise is always in question, why should a young educator stay in the profession? Why stay in a profession where the Governor and Lieutenant Governor believe they know more about education and what is best for children than the education experts? I wonder if any of the education naysayers in this state ever stop to think about what they are doing to public education. By itself, the number of educators leaving the profession is enough to show the crippling impact of negativism on public education in Mississippi as well as on the nation.

The Governor and Lieutenant Governor’s low regard for Mississippi’s educators is appalling, especially their total disregard for the constitutional authority of the State Board of Education and the State Superintendent of Education to make educational decisions and policy. Also, their disdain for standards designed to teach children to reason and think on their own is absolutely beyond comprehension. However, just as appalling and beyond comprehension is that Mississippi educators tolerate their disrespect. The words and actions of the Governor clearly demonstrate he regards educators as second class citizens not worthy of an equal voice with the general public. When he speaks about the public, he is referring to the public who will re-elect him for a second term and not educators. He understands politics and knows historically educators, due to their lack of unity, are not a threat to him or his policies. Why cater to the lambs when there are so many hounds and the wolves prowling at his door?

The perception of educators as second class citizens is not likely to change unless educators are willing to take a stand against political hypocrisy, and Mississippi’s two-hundred year love affair with ignorance! Sometimes in Mississippi, we seem to be so proud of our legacy of ignorance and so in love with the past that we are blind to the future passing us by. Thankfully, educators are in the business of stamping out ignorance, but ignorance is like a forest fire.  Once out of control, it is almost impossible to get it back under control until it has burned itself out.  Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the “good ole boy” induced ignorance that has engulfed education in this state is anywhere near burning itself out. That is indeed unfortunate since Mississippi’s children can no longer afford to lose ground academically to the rest of the nation and world.

So what can be done? The first thing that has to happen if educators are to get the respect they deserve is they must stand up for themselves! The Governor believes education belongs to the public, so educators must show him they are an integral vote casting, tax paying part of the public as well. Educators need to unite and speak out LOUDLY! They need to speak out until they are heard and changes in attitudes and policies are made that provide a healthy education system for the children of Mississippi as well as respect for the state’s educators. There is more good happening in education in this state than “good ole boy” politicians such as Bryant and Reeves would have people believe. Regrettably, teachers do such a poor job of marketing themselves and the good they do that the good is often lost in the ever swirling clouds of political smokescreens.

Politicians such as Bryant and Reeves continually manipulate and create their own press by telling the people what they want the people to believe. When it comes to what is happening in education, the majority of the public knows only what they hear on the ten o’clock news and read in the newspapers. They believe the negative about education because that is what they hear and read the most. So, for public education to survive, it is critical for educators to create their own press. They must use every means available to promote the positives about their profession and themselves. They must make a concentrated effort to ensure the public hears and sees the good that is happening in public school classrooms. It is time for Mississippi educators to shed the lamb’s skin, and take on the mantle of the lion. It is time to tell Bryant and Reeves to leave their politics out of education, and let those who have the credentials to teach and make decisions about education do their job. If educators do not unite and speak out for themselves, there will be no end to the present Common Core carousel until it crashes and burns along with our children. If educators do not unite and speak out for themselves, there will be no end to the constant political bullying they receive at the hands of politicians such as Phil Bryant and Tate Reeves.

JL

©Jack Linton, December 12, 2014

From the Mouth of an Elementary School Child

“My mom is a stay at home mom. She can’t keep a job,” are the words of a second grader when asked about her mother’s career. Simple, innocent, and truthful, the words of elementary school students can sometimes be very enlightening. An elementary teacher once told me about a third grader who came to class without her homework. The teacher asked her why her mommy or daddy didn’t help her with her homework. The little girl shrugged and said they didn’t have time. Not one to accept excuses, the teacher pressed further and asked why they did not have time to help her. “They were playing in the bedroom,” the little girl said. Simple, innocent, truth comes straight from the mouths of little ones, and that is why a wise teacher once told me to always be careful what you say or do around children as well as how you phrase a question or assignment to them. If teachers are not careful, their words and actions can come back to haunt them, and even well intended questions and assignments can sometimes dig up more information than the teacher would like or need to know.

Children have unique perspectives of the world that can be comical, heartwarming, and even shocking. Their words can make you laugh, cry, or raise your eyebrows, and sometimes their words will lift you up as well as cause you to stop and count your blessings. The little ones, influenced only by their perceptions of truth and the world in which they live, speak their minds and heart. There is no agenda for their words, their words have few filters and their words reflect a simplicity and innocence that often leave adults shaking their heads in wonder. You never know what you may hear and learn from children.

As an educator, I have collected some of the unique things kids say in school, especially those that made me laugh. Of the treasures I have collected, I must admit I am a little partial to the gems that come from the mouths of elementary school kids although the words of middle school and high school students can sometimes be just as innocent and straight forward. However, unlike middle and high school students, the little people are rarely trying to be funny – they just are! Such is the case with the examples I share in this article. The student remarks are innocent reactions and bits of conversation between students as well as between students and teachers in grades kindergarten through sixth grade. Each statement is real and was spoken directly to me, overheard by me, or shared with me by a teacher. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

From the Mouths of Elementary School Children:

  1. Boogers taste pretty awesome: I overheard this one as two first grade boys waited in the cafeteria line. Apparently they had been picking their noses and comparing notes on what they found. I skipped lunch that day.
  2. My mom takes shots for her diarrhea: The little girl who shared this tidbit with her teacher apparently confused diabetes with diarrhea.
  3. My dog and little brother eat out of the litter box: I was in a first grade classroom observing a first year teacher. She read a story to the class about a little boy with a secret. When finished reading, she talked with the boys and girls about good and bad secrets. Before she could finish, a little boy raised his hand and said he had a secret. The teacher asked was it a good or bad secret? The little boy looked around the room and whispered it was really bad. The color left the teacher’s face as she feared the worse, but before she could take the child aside, he announced his secret to the whole class, “My dog and little brother eat out of the litter box.” As the class erupted in laughter, the young teacher laid a hand over her heart and sighed in deep relief.
  4. Cats are smarter than dogs; they don’t eat poop: A teacher shared this one with me from a class writing assignment about favorite pets.
  5. Mommy has a tattoo on her butt: I was visiting a kindergarten classroom where the teacher was reading Peter Pan to the class. When Captain Hook appeared in the story, she stopped to ask the children what they knew about pirates. One little boy said pirates had a patch over one eye, another boy said pirates had a hook for a hand, and a little girl offered that her daddy had told her pirates had tattoos. The teacher was about to continue the story when a little boy raised his hand and said, “My mommy has a tattoo on her butt.” The teacher’s jaw dropped, and she looked wide eyed at me. Trying to keep my composure, I waved goodbye and quickly left the room doing my best to not openly laugh in front of the kids.
  6. My teacher gets real still when she farts: Sometimes teachers have to be extra careful with student assignments. A fourth grade teacher gave her students an assignment asking them to write a paragraph about an adult they liked other than their parents. The paragraph not only had to tell why they liked the person, but it had to tell one “fun” fact about the person they chose. The teacher was flattered when one of her students chose her, but became concerned and embarrassed when the child wrote as his fun fact, “My teacher gets real still when she farts.” There are few things more fun for a nine year old boy than a fart.
  7. Did you see Mrs. ???’s titties when she bent over your desk?: On another visit to an elementary, I was walking down the hall when about twenty-five feet in front of me two second grade boys stepped out of the boys’ restroom on their way back to class. The boys did not see me as they continued laughing and talking. As they passed the open door of a classroom one of the boys said loudly, “I saw Mrs. _____’s titties when she bent over my desk!” You could hear an audible gasp from the classroom, and a wide eyed teacher stepped into the hall. I immediately called the boys to me and spoke to them about the inappropriateness of what I had heard, and then I escorted them back to class. That afternoon, I met with the superintendent about the need for a professional dress code.
  8. My teacher sleeps with her mouth open: This was another student quote overheard in the hallway, which caused me some real concern. However, the sleeping teacher turned out to be a substitute teacher who decided being a substitute was not a good fit for her.
  9. Nobody shoots snot rockets better than Billie: Two fifth grade boys from different classes met in the hallway, and decided to check out the unlocked and open janitor’s closet. They could have investigated the room without getting caught if they had not stopped to spit loogies and shoot snot rockets into a mop bucket in the corner of the closet. Their goose was cooked when a passing teacher heard one say, “That’s not bad, but nobody shoots snot rockets better than Billie.”
  10. You look like you need a hug; I’m a really good hugger: This is maybe my all-time favorite. On my first day as an education consultant, I was buzzed into an elementary school feeling a bit lost and wondering if I really wanted to be a consultant. As I approached the school office a tiny first grade girl, Amanda, was standing in the hall just outside the door. Amanda looked at me and smiled, “You look like you need a hug,” she said, “I’m a really good hugger.” That hug not only made my day, but made the whole job more worthwhile. She reminded me why I was there, and she turned a frightening day into a wonderful experience and a lifetime memory. Thank you Amanda.

One thing I have learned about elementary school children in my brief time with them as an educator is that they never fail to fascinate. Whether they are talking about their home life, their take on bodily functions, or winning hearts with a word, smile, or hug, they never cease to amaze. Their insight into their world and the world around them is priceless. They rarely miss anything, and when they decide to share, adults better hold on; there is no telling what they might say. Art Linkletter said it best, “Kids say the darndest things!”

JL

©Jack Linton, December 6, 2014