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Teachers and Administrators don’t Enforce Rules:   A Case against School Dress Codes!

 

Teachers who do not consistently enforce school rules are not always bad teachers or irresponsible individuals; sometimes some of the best most dedicated teachers in a school do not follow the rules.  Some teachers, like some school administrators, hate confrontation, and enforcing rules means confrontation with the student, confrontation with parents, possible confrontation with the administration, and often negative vibes from students as well as other teachers.  For some, enforcing rules makes their lives messy, uncool, or even unpopular.  Others don’t enforce the rules because they feel they have more important things to do, and then there are those teachers who do not agree with the rule, so they simply ignore it.

So, why have rules in school?  If so many teachers look the other way rather than enforce the rules, why should schools bother with rules in the first place?  The textbook answer is that rules ensure a safe and orderly learning and teaching environment, but do they really?  It can be argued that rules provide a fighting chance to bring order to the chaos; however, is that what educators really want?  No!  What teachers really want is for kids, parents, and school administrators to leave them alone.  For many teachers, rules are tools of convenience frowned upon as an inconvenience and waste of time that creates negative confrontations.  They see teachers and administrators who dodge the rules as the smart ones.  Maybe, they are right, and if so, maybe, rules are not needed in schools!

However, regardless of what some may think, there must be rules!  Rules are necessary to enable teachers to teach and students to learn.  Unfortunately, like all things, there are good rules and rules that are questionable or make little or no sense.  For example, rules dealing with dress codes most definitely fall into the questionable category.  As a former teacher and school administrator, I believe dress codes are necessary, but it has been my experience few teachers agree with me.  Very few teachers really care what students wear to class.  I say this because very few teachers write up students for dress code violations, and the ones that do are often ridiculed by their colleagues.  So why have rules, especially a dress code?  Why hold a student accountable for a dress code that five out of six teachers in the school day ignore?  What is the school administrator to do when the sixth-period teacher turns a student into the office for coming to class naked when that student attended five previous classes in the buff and not a word was said by previous teachers about exposed wingydings in class?  The only option the administrator has at the end of the day is to give the kid a hat and send him home.  Now, I am slightly exaggerating, but when it comes to dress codes, it is truly almost that bad.  I realize correcting a student for a dress code violation shaves precious seconds off teaching the test, especially when there is not a single question on the state assessment that deals with student nudity, unless, maybe, someone slips in a liberal writing prompt.

Over the years, as a school administrator, I developed and enforced more than my fair share of school rules including rules governing dress codes.  To this day, I have forty year old former students walk by me in the mall and intentionally pull their tucked shirttail from their pants with a wink (tucking shirttails was probably the most despised rule I ever implemented as a principal).  I was a stickler for rules, and maybe too much so, but I believed then, and I believe now if you have a rule it should be enforced.  I also believe using a rule for any reason other than its original intent (i.e., allowing students to break the rule as a reward) is counter-productive and sends a mixed message to students, parents, and the community.

Therein lies my issue with current dress codes in schools.  Instead of teaching a lesson or addressing a safety issue, dress code rules in many schools today have become a part of the school reward system.  If students exhibit good behavior for the month, if there is a big district game, if a student collects the most Popsicle sticks, if a student brings a dollar to school, and the list goes on and on, they are allowed to break the dress code rule on a specified day such as Friday.  For example, they are allowed to wear clothing such as jeans or apparel outside of school colors.  That may sound innocent, but if the rule was important enough to be created, it should be important enough to be enforced consistently five days a week.  If it is okay to excuse students from the dress code on a game day, as a fund raiser reward, or for any other excuse, why have the rule?  It is counterproductive to the intent and purpose of a rule to permit students or adults to break a rule as a reward.  I am not against rewarding students, but don’t reward them by allowing them to break school rules!  Schools always talk about teaching kids to be good citizens; how can teaching them it is okay to break rules be good citizenship?  We have enough rule breakers in our society without training more.  If it is okay to reward students by letting them break a rule, maybe that rule is not relevant and should be done away with for every day of the week and not just on special occasions.   If eliminating the rule for one day is not a problem, the odds are good it would not be a problem if eliminated completely.

When it comes to school rules, it is fairly simple.  If a school is going to have a rule, it should be enforced consistently across the calendar.  If a teacher signs a contract to work for a school district, the teacher should be up to the task of enforcing the rules of the district or look elsewhere for employment, preferably in another profession.  Enforcing rules is not a fun job for administrators or teachers, but it is a necessary job made more difficult when a rule is used contrary to its intent.  If a school ever finds it okay to allow students to break a rule, it is time the school re-evaluated that rule.  If wearing jeans to school is okay on certain days as a reward, then it is ludicrous to ban them on all other days since it is obvious jeans do not pose a threat to a safe and orderly school environment.

If a school rule can be suspended as a whole or in part as a reward, then the rule has little if any bearing on the orderly function of the school and should be eliminated from the student handbook altogether.  The purpose of a school dress code is not to teach kids that rules are made to be broken or to provide a cash cow for local clothing vendors.  The purpose of the code is to enhance school safety and student learning five days a week.  Giving students permission to break a rule periodically sends the message to adults and students alike that the rule has little to do with safety and learning – at least not every day of the school year.  The bottom line is enforcement of rules must go beyond convenience; teachers and administrators should enforce the rules (dress code or any other rule) or dump the rules!

JL

©Jack Linton, February 12, 2017

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Twenty Tips for New Teachers (or Veteran Teachers)

Over the years, I have been asked numerous times for advice or tips I would offer new teachers or veteran teachers.  I always respond by saying the little I know is the result of professional reading (at least thirty minutes daily) and mistakes I made as a teacher and a school administrator.  I think the biggest mistake most teachers make is looking for perfection.  This mistake can cost them their joy as a teacher.  It causes them to lose sight of what teaching is about and why they signed on to teach in the first place.  Sometimes teachers become so blinded by the pursuit of perfection, they lose sight of the good they do, and as a consequence they drum themselves out of the profession.  No matter how badly they want it, there is no such thing as the perfect student, the perfect parent, or the perfect teacher, so my advice to teachers is to STOP looking for perfection, and replace it with an expectation of always “putting forth the best you can do.”  That is the highest expectation, teachers can ever hope to achieve from their students; it is the highest expectation they can ever expect of themselves.  Next, I would advise teachers to MAKE TEACHING A COMMITMENT:  commitment to the teaching journey, commitment to learning from mistakes, commitment to professional learning, and commitment to NEVER giving up on students or themselves.  After that, I would offer the following advice and tips:

  1. You WILL make mistakes – learn not to repeat them – learn to apologize and move on! Making a mistake is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign you are not sitting still;
  2. It’s okay to have fun! Good teachers figure out how to make learning fun!
  3. Use handouts as a teaching tool, not a “keep them busy” tool. Remember, teachers teach and subs give handouts!   Which are you?
  4. Use pre-test to assess your student’s existing knowledge. Pre-assessments will help you make your teaching more relevant and their learning more meaningful;
  5. Communicate with parents often! Nothing can be more unsettling to a teacher’s day than a surprised or angry parent who has been kept in the dark about their child’s progress;
  6. Greet students at the door like you are happy to see them – not like they are the plague;
  7. Be on time for duty! The safety of students and your career is on the line.  Monitoring duty in the cafeteria, in the hall between classes, before school, or after school is a necessity!  It is not a useless punishment your uncaring principal has placed on you;
  8. Make note of teachers who always complain and are unhappy – be nice to them, but stay away, unless you want to be like them;
  9. Be proud to be a teacher! You have the most important job in the world.  You influence young lives every day, so decide every morning if it will be a positive influence or a negative influence;
  10. Assign seats! Especially until you get to know your students.  Assigning seats also makes it easier and faster to take roll;
  11. If you do not plan to discuss and review homework in class the next day, DO NOT assign homework! Homework is only effective if it is used as a formative tool with timely feedback to students;
  12. DO NOT assign work in class that will not be discussed, reviewed, or graded. Like the teacher, students DO NOT need busy work;
  13. Never make an online assignment without first checking the websites, including links to other websites. Ask these questions – Is it active?  Like most everything, websites do not last forever.  Is it blocked by the school filter?  If blocked, seek help from the school technology person to unblock it.  Is it appropriate?  Make sure the content is appropriate for the student age level you teach as well as for the community the school serves;
  14. Always, always, always preview movies to be shown in class. Movies should be used sparingly in class and then only in small clips to support discussion of the lesson.  Showing a movie that takes up one to three days of class time is poor practice and a waste of instructional time.  Showing a movie in its entirety is lazy teaching;
  15. If you assign a book or website that may be controversial to students, their families, or the community do the following: (1) meet with the principal and seek his/her support by explaining why you have chosen the material and its value to the learning process; (2) Send home a notice to parents/guardians that some content may be offensive and explain why you believe it is necessary to use the material in class; (3) offer an alternative assignment for students and/or parents who object to the content (use of offensive language, use of graphic sex, etc.);
  16. Never argue with a student in class! You are the authority in the classroom!  If a student wants to challenge authority let him/her challenge the authority of the assistant principal or the principal;
  17. Teaching for student success:
    1. Pre-assess (pre-test) knowledge;
    2. Provide students learning targets based on pre-assessment needs;
    3. Teach what you want them to know;
    4. Use on-going assessment (formative) throughout the lesson. Check frequently for understanding;
    5. STOP and re-teach if and when necessary;
    6. Assess what you want them to know (summative);
    7. Use summative assessment as a formative tool (feedback) for student learning; and
    8. Re-teach if and when necessary.
  18. Being a TEACHER is NOT about teaching; it is about LEARNING! You may be the greatest presenter of content of all time, but if your students don’t learn, you have failed as a teacher;
  19. Remember, it’s okay to breathe! Teaching is a monstrous responsibility, but if you teach with the same passion and compassion you expect from your children’s teachers, you will be okay; and
  20. Enjoy the teaching journey! You are a part of an awesome group of people.  You are a teacher because you care.

These tips are basic, but if followed, they can serve the new teacher or the veteran teacher well.  Teachers must always maintain high expectations, accept nothing but the best from their students, and never give up on the least of them or themselves.  A tall order, no doubt, but kids will tell you – GOOD TEACHERS CAN DO ANYTHING!

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2016

Warning Shot Fired at State Educators by Mississippi Legislature

After House Bill (HB) 449 in 2015 and HB 49 in 2016 failed to become law and silence state educators, the Mississippi Legislature may have delivered a coup de gras with the recent passage of HB 1643, Section 44.  Section 44 reads . . .

“None of the funds provided herein may be expended to make payments or transfers to the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents. Furthermore, none of the funds provided herein may be expended if any local school district expends any public funds to make payments or transfers to the Association.”

Over the years, the Mississippi Association of School Superintendents (MASS) has been a major education liaison between educators and the Mississippi Legislature.  After July 1, 2016, Section 44 may put an end to that relationship, but as grave as the loss of an association devoted to promoting and improving education may be, the gravest consequence of Section 44 may well be the silencing of educator voices across Mississippi.  By prohibiting payments from public funds to MASS and threatening to withhold state funds to any local district violating Section 44, the legislature fired a warning shot aimed at all state educators.  They sent a strong message that if any educator dares side or speak against them, as some superintendents did during the controversial and heated Initiative 42 campaign in the fall of 2015, there will be consequences to pay.

Bill author, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Herb Frierson, R–Poplarville, made it clear Section 44 of the bill is retaliation for what he called personal attacks against state officials by state school district superintendents during the Initiative 42 campaign.  He said, “When they attack people like that, they’re biting the hand that feeds them, and maybe the next time they need to think about that.”  However, the record supports the problem goes much deeper than Initiative 42.  Prior to the Initiative, House Education Chairman, John L. Moore introduced HB 449 in the 2015 legislative session that threatened to penalize educators $10,000 dollars for exercising their freedom of speech on school related issues.  He renewed his effort to silence educators in the 2016 legislative session when he introduced HB 49, which was basically a repeat of his failed 2015 bill.  The objective of both bills was to silence the voice of educators across the state who spoke in protest against state legislators who refused to honor the law and fully fund education.

Frierson said, “There’s very little trust between the leadership and school administrators and most of it goes back to the 42 campaign.”  He is right; little trust exists between state leadership and educators in general, and the vindictiveness of HB 1643, Section 44 will do nothing to build trust between the two factions.  The distrust between the two, which began long before Initiative 42, will only grow deeper as a result of such pettiness.  This rift began when state legislators repeatedly went back on their word to fully fund MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program), and refused to work and listen to state educators on education issues.  This divide escalated with Initiative 42 when legislators placed an alternative measure on the ballot, which confused the issue and made it difficult at best for the Initiative to pass.  Trust between the two deteriorated further when legislators misled state voters with threats of budget cuts to other agencies if the Initiative passed – cuts that nevertheless became a reality after the Initiative was defeated.

HB 1643, Section 44 was a stroke of political genius.  By taking a less direct route than Moore and embedding the retaliatory action against school superintendents in the appropriations bill, Frierson kept his intentions under the radar as a part of the greater bill.  However, the impact on educators will be everything Moore hoped for, if not more.  Section 44 is most likely a death blow to MASS, and due to fear of reprisals against them, it may likely usher the end of educators speaking out for fairness, integrity, and common sense on education issues.  As Frierson would say, “If it does, it does.”  After all, why should free speech stand in the way of the greater power of the state legislature?

It is ironic some of the exact things the Mississippi leadership detests most about the federal government are forced on Mississippi citizens by the state leadership.  They detest the federal government usurping the power of local government, yet Section 44 tells local school districts how to spend local dollars.  They openly despise Common Core Standards because they argue the federal government bullied schools into using the standards or risk losing federal funds.  Doesn’t Section 44 do the same when it threatens to withhold state funds from local school districts that fail to take part in the legislature’s vendetta against the superintendent’s association?  It appears the Mississippi Legislature may be as power hungry if not more so than the federal government they rail so vehemently against.

Isn’t it also ironic America’s most basic right, free speech, is the right many Mississippi legislators want to strip from state educators?  In the United States of America (Mississippi is a part of the United States), instead of reprisals against free speech, shouldn’t there be reprisals against those who advocate such?  However, retaliation against either side will not resolve this issue.  As Frierson said the issues boil down to trust, and at this time neither the legislature nor state educators trust the other to do their jobs effectively.

After the defeat of Initiative 42, Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves spoke about pulling both sides together as a family.  That has not happened.  All anyone needs to do is examine such bills as HB 49 and Section 44 of HB 1643 to see educators are not regarded as family by the state legislature.  If they were family, legislators would be more inclined to listen to them, and not try to silence them.  However, maybe Mr. Reeves’ words were for show only, and what Frierson, Moore and many others in the legislature really want is for educators to prostrate themselves before them.  If so, who is next – small business owners?  Ministers?   Simply put, Section 44 is nothing less than heavy handed tyranny that should scare all Mississippians into waking up!

JL

©Jack Linton, June 4, 2016

Seven Apps that Will Improve Your Life!

There seems to be an app for everything these days. There are game apps, apps to waste your time, utility apps to pay your bills, movie and television apps to keep you entertained, and apps that can provide the latest weather forecast or give you directions to the new supermarket that just opened. I have heard there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.5 million apps available for app enthusiasts. That is absolutely mind boggling. How can that many apps possibly be needed much less used? t believe it is humanly impossible to turn on that many apps in a lifetime much less actually use them, but I know some friends and relatives who are doing their best to prove me wrong.

Of course, apps are not all bad. There are some that are very practical and useful. When used wisely and properly, apps can actually enhance our life experience. However, the key is practicality. Do we really need all the apps that are floating around in cyberspace? No, what we really need is more practical apps and less gamey, cutesy, waste-of-time applications that serve little purpose other than to separate us from our money. For example, I have been waiting and waiting and waiting, but I have yet to see an app that addresses or provides a solution for such issues as the looming death of interactive human conversation caused by the human nose attached 24/7 to a cell phone screen, texting while driving or the lack of cleanliness of fast food restaurant and gas/convenience store restrooms. I honestly believe practical apps that address such issues would be welcomed by everyone. People have suffered too long without help with such perplexing problems, so if I was an app programmer or if I knew someone who was, the first thing I would create or ask to be created would be the following seven apps:

  1. Talk to Me:

Problem: Everywhere you look people have their eyes glued to the screen of their iPhone, android or tablet. Even when visiting friends or family there is always someone with their device in hand browsing the web, texting, twitting or playing games. Since everyone has their eyes glued to the electronic device in their hands, family gatherings, parties and social visits have deteriorated into awkward silence. The art of social and family conversation is dying in our society. What can we do?

Solution: The Talk to Me app is the answer! Talk to Me is an app that will rejuvenate interest in person to person conversations and save parties, family visits, and other social gatherings from the abyss of electronic rudeness and silence.

How It Works: There is nothing for the user to do. Talk to Me is a standalone app that would come on all iPhone, androids, and tablets. It automatically activates when a second party voice is detected in the room. When activated, the device screen flashes a warning telling the user the device screen will go black in thirty seconds. Once the screen shuts down, the screen will remain black for at least thirty minutes of no use or lack of live conversation in the room. In other words, the device screen will not light up when other people are present and engaged in conversation. The theory is that without the distraction of electronic devices people will engage in conversations rather than engaging their thumbs.

  1. Poo Detector:

Problem: (1) You are traveling on vacation, and you stop at a gas station or fast food restaurant to go to the restroom. When you enter the restroom, you are overwhelmed by the disgusting smell of excrement. Why wasn’t there a toxic environment sign posted on the door? (2) The family has just piled into the car for a trip to the movies, but by the smell, someone must have stepped in dog poo. Who? (3) There is an awful odor in the house. You have cleaned the cat’s litter box and checked behind the sofa for any surprises Rover may have left, but you cannot find anything. Company will be arriving shortly, so what do you do?

Solution: The Poo Detector app is the answer! Poo Detector is an app that pinpoints disgusting odors as well as alerts the user to toxic stench that should be avoided.

How It Works: Use Poo Detector to . . . . (1) Open the gas station or convenience store restroom door far enough to extend the app into the restroom. If the restroom smells disgusting, an alarm will sound and a voice will warn, “TOXIC! TOXIC! DO NOT ENTER! WARNING DO NOT ENTER! TOXIC AREA! If the restroom is safe to enter, the app will play, “Welcome to My World;” (2) Who stepped in the poo? Wave Poo Detector over each person in the car. Poo Detector will announce, “CARGO CONTAMINATED! PLEASE REMOVE!” when the guilty party is located [Works not only with poo, but there is a body odor setting as well]. (3) To find where that disgusting odor in your house is originating, turn Poo Detector on and simply walk around the room and watch the odor meter. The meter will read from COLD to WARM to HOT to YOU FOUND IT the closer you get to the source of the poo odor.

  1. Out of Context:

Problem: Facebook participants are always looking for good quotes that illustrate their personal, religious, and political views. However, it is not always easy to find quotes that meet their needs, so what can they do?

Solution: The Out of Context app is the answer! This app is a quote generator for use with Facebook. Since there is often little regard for the contextual meaning of quotes used on Facebook, Out of Context is the perfect app for the mindless Facebook user. It simply generates meaningless random quotes based on the user’s category choice.

How It Works: You are logged into Facebook, and you decide you want to share your political or religious philosophy and opinions with your Facebook friends. That is easy enough to do, but you also want to use a quote that will make you look like you know what you are talking about. That is when you pull out the Out of Context app, choose either the politics or religion category (There are 15 other categories to choose from as well.) and push the generate button. The perfect quote appears on your screen. Being random, the quote may not be in the context you intended, but you are on Facebook, so the odds of anyone noticing are slim and none. Enjoy your notoriety!

  1. Text Detector:

Problem: Texting and driving continues to be a major problem, especially among teenagers and the 20 to 35 crowd. What can you do to make sure your loved one does not text and drive?

Solution: The Text Detector app is the answer! This app is designed to incapacitate the vehicle in which the texting is taking place.

How It Works: There is nothing for the user to do. Like Talk to Me, Text Detector would be designed as a standalone app that comes installed on all iPhones, androids and tablets. It automatically activates when a driver of a vehicle uses one of these devices to text while driving. The app is activated the moment the car engine is started. If the driver of the vehicle tries to text while the vehicle is moving, the screen of the device will flash a warning, and an electronic signal will be sent immediately to the vehicle’s onboard computer to shut down. When the vehicle shuts down, it will maintain power long enough for it to be maneuvered safely off the main road. The vehicle will not restart until after a thirty minute delay, which gives the companion app, Text Now and Pay Later, time to do its job.

  1. Text Now and Pay Later: [Works in conjunction with Text Detector]

Problem: This app answers the question, “What can I do to get texting drivers off the road?”

Solution: Text Now and Pay Later is an app designed to notify authorities when the driver of a vehicle texts while driving.

How It Works: There is nothing for the user to do. Like Talk to Me and Text Detector, Text Now and Pay Later is a standalone app that comes installed on all iPhones, androids and tablets. It is designed to work with Text Detector. It automatically activates when a driver of a vehicle starts texting in a moving vehicle. When activated, the device sends vehicle registration information to law enforcement agencies. The registration information is then processed and a traffic violation fine is issued electronically to the owner of the vehicle. As the application title says, you can Text Now and Pay Later.

  1. Movie Zapper:

Problem: Inconsiderate people using cell phones to text and check email in movie theaters during the movie. What can be done about this rude, disrespectful, distracting and annoying problem?

Solution: Movie Zapper is the answer! The app is designed to inconspicuously Zapp annoying phone users in movie theaters [Note: the app Zapps the device not the user].

How It Works: You have paid over sixty dollars for tickets, popcorn and drinks to take your wife and two kids to the movie. You are enjoying the movie, when the screen light of a phone flashes on a couple of rows in front of you. You can’t believe how crude and rude some people are, but you don’t sweat it since you activated Movie Zapper on your phone prior to the start of the movie. When a cell phone screen lights up anywhere in the theater, Movie Zapper sends an electronic signal to the offending device and its screen immediately goes black. The only down side is the muffled obscenities of the foiled user as he/she stuffs the device angrily back into their pocket or purse. There are few things sweeter than knowing you just Zapped some jerk using a cell phone in a movie theater. Movie Zapper is the best friend a movie goer can have! It works in the background on your electronic device as a light sensor. It screens the theater for electronic devices with lighted screens. When a device screen anywhere in the theater lights up and some inconsiderate slob begins texting or checking email during the movie, Movie Zapper plunges their device into blackness.   Another caveat is that the person you Zapped will never know who Zapped him unless you are unable to keep a straight face. Another great use for Movie Zapper is that it can also be used during business meetings or social gatherings where you want people to pay attention to people rather than the electronic device in their hands.

  1. Readlock:

Problem: Children and teens would rather play on their iPhone, android or tablet than read. What can parents do to promote reading?

Solution: The answer is Readlock! The app would deny access to all device functions until the user unlocks it by reading for a designated time period into the device’s built in microphone, to the parent or in silent mode for a designated period of time. The designated reading time is set by the parents.

How It Works: Readlock is parent activated. When parents activate Readlock on their child’s electronic device, the child cannot gain access to the device until the child reads to the device for a certain amount of time. The reading time required to unlock the device is set by the parents at intervals of 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and one hour. To gain access to the device, the child must read into the device’s built in microphone for the number of minutes set by the parents. What the child reads is up to the child – books, poems, magazines, etc. Once the required reading time is met, the device will allow access to all its functions. The app uses voice recognition, so there is little chance anyone except the child or the child’s parents can unlock the device. The voice recognition feature will also effectively prevent the child from trying to circumvent the process by laying the device in front of a television or radio. If parents want their children to read more, Readlock is the answer. It is a simple premise – No read, No device! Of course, parents could always take old fashion measures and take electronic devices away from their children until they read, do their homework, do their chores or join in a family conversation, but for too many parents that would require an additional app called Parentballs that is still under development and not yet ready for mainstream America.

These seven practical apps would definitely make a positive difference in our lives.  I believe the market is wide open for such practical applications of technology.  I, for one, would be first in line to purchase each and every one of these apps. Now, if I could find a BS Detector app for politicians; oh, I’m sorry, there is one – when they open their mouths.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 23, 2015

The Monk in Santoni Oxfords and the Ten Commandments for Educators

Many years ago I made a pilgrimage to Woodall Mountain, Mississippi. I had heard stories of a wise monk draped in the cloak of Southern evangelism preaching from the mountain’s summit. According to the stories, during the summer months of June, July, and August, a monk, who spoke with gentleness and wisdom intertwined with intoxicated tidbits of misplaced hell, fire and brimstone, held counsel with despondent teachers. If you were willing to endure the blistering heat of the Mississippi summer to sit at his feet and listen, the story tellers were adamant that you would be blessed with a life-altering miracle. As a struggling second year teacher, I desperately needed a miracle, so I journeyed to Iuka. Mississippi and located the mountain.

I drove my 1979 Ford Fairmont up the steep rocky incline to the summit where I found an aging observation tower standing in a gravel circle. Not far from the tower there was a bench where a solitary figure reclined gazing out over the hardwoods and pines that were interrupted here and there by patches of farmland colored in various shades of green and brown. When I approached the bench, the man turned to me and motioned to a place on the grass at his feet. He looked very much like the Buddhist monks I had seen on television and in National Geographic magazine. His bald head signified his commitment to the Holy Life and his yellow robe, drenched in sweat from the merciless sun, represented his devotion to virtue; however, that was where the similarities to the television and magazine monks ended. The pressed black slacks under his robe made visible when he crossed his legs, his highly polished Santoni Oxfords, and the diamond and emerald rings that adorned the fingers of both hands spoke volumes about the Americanization of his commitments.

Once I was seated on the prickly sun parched grass, the monk began to speak. As he spoke, the sun sucked sweat bubbles from his bald head where they sparkled and sizzled for a brief moment before flowing in great droplets down the back of his neck, down the sides of his cheeks and down his forehead into his eyes. Watching him continuously wipe the sweat from his eyes, I remember thinking, I bet he wishes he hadn’t shaved his eyebrows. It didn’t take long before we were both scarlet faced and boiling in our sweat, but not once did his words falter. He spoke to me for three hours. His words flowed seamlessly from the wise and simple counsel of the bhikknu to the nostril-flaring indignation of the Southern evangelist and played as true as any infomercial I had ever heard. When finished speaking, he slowly licked his cracking sunburned lips as he studied me.  “You are not buying any of that bulls#%$ are you?” he asked.

Thinking I had somehow offended him, I apologized profusely, but he raised an open hand to silence me. He reached inside his yellow robe and pulled out a rolled piece of goat skin and handed it to me. I remember recoiling from the rancid smell of the goat skin and thinking why would this monk offer me a very sharp cheese wrapped in goat skin. I untied the thin cord, and the goat skin unfurled over my hand. There was no cheese, but the rotted-feet-stench of Limburger cheese radiated from the 14 inch by 24 inch skin.

“I believe the list on the scroll will be more to your liking,” the monk said, his face also distorted by the foul odor.   With his hands clasped prayerfully to either side of his nose, he bowed respectfully and hurriedly walked away disappearing between two young water oaks that led to a trail down the mountain.

The ten decrees hand printed on the goat skin were more to my liking. The simple commandments, especially written for educators, were perfect for my needs.  I always thought it was uncanny, even a little unsettling, that the monk happened to have a scroll inside his robe tailored to my specific needs. How did he know I was a teacher?  He never asked, nor did I volunteer the information.  But, that is like dwelling on spilled milk; it doesn’t really matter how he knew.  All that matters is that he shared the commandments with me and ultimately saved my teaching career.

Until now, I have never shared the commandments in their entirety with anyone, but the time has come to share. Maybe, there is an educator somewhere who needs a nudge or even a huge eye opening kick in the rear like I did. Maybe, there is an educator somewhere who is looking for a “silver bullet” or their own savior monk to right their ship. Or, maybe, there is someone who simply needs another list. Whatever the reason or the need, I believe the commandments are a difference maker; they were for me.

The Ten Commandments for Educators

  1. Thou shall slow down and take a deep breath before you react;
  2. Thou shall give audience to your “gut feelings.” If it doesn’t feel right or your gut feeling says “no,” don’t ignore the feeling. Take a step back, take a look from a different angle and call a friend;
  3. Thou shall not turn away from common sense;
  4. Thou shall not tear down a fence unless you know why it was built;
  5. Thou shall ask before any decision, “Is this what is best for children?”
  6. Thou shall not let pride or an omniscient point-of-view stand between you and knowledge.  No one may be as smart as you or know half as much as you do, but it does no harm to listen;
  7. Thou shall not be reluctant to offer second chances least you be denied yourself. If you cannot give a child a second chance, don’t ask or expect one for yourself;
  8. Thou shall stand blessed before children. When you stand in front of a classroom of students, act like you want to be there;
  9. Thou shall not take yourself so seriously. Education is a serious business, but don’t take yourself too seriously. The art of play is the key to learning;
  10. Thou shall work with the precision, the skill, the focus and the mastery of the surgeon.  As an educator you perform brain surgery every day; for Heaven’s sake GET IT RIGHT!

I kept these commandments with me everywhere I traveled as a teacher, and a year never passed that I did not take time to review them and do my best to apply them as a professional as well as in my personal life. The commandments are not a magical “silver bullet,” but they they are reminders of what it means to be a professional and the responsibilities and commitments that go along with being a professional. I have not been back to Woodall Mountain, but I like to believe the monk is still there every summer counseling young teachers and even veteran teachers when they are not too proud and smart to listen. To that monk in the Santoni Oxfords, I offer a heartfelt THANK YOU! You made a difference, and I will forever be grateful.

JL

©Jack Linton, July 31, 2015

You might need to go back to school if . . . .

Part III: Politics

Success in almost any field depends more on energy and drive than it does on intelligence. This explains why we have so many stupid leaders.  Sloan Wilson

Have you ever wondered why so many politicians claim to represent the people who elected them, but when they get to Jackson or Washington they become independent contractors representing special interest groups and personal agendas rather than the people? Listen to them speak; all too often they speak of the people, but not for the people. Although they may be elected under the umbrella of a certain party and therefore owe a certain allegiance to that party, they tend to forget their first responsibility is to the people and not the party. They are the elected voice of the people and not the elected voice of the party, or at least that is how it is supposed to work.

Such contradictions of purpose are common in arenas such as politics where there is little accountability. During elections, politicians know they can make any promise they need to entice people to vote for them. They know accountability comes once every two, four, or six years according to their office term limits, and more important, they know voters have notoriously short memories. Therefore, once elected, they can do practically whatever they want until their final year or maybe eighteen months in office when they once again hit the streets and airwaves campaigning, political hobnobbing, fabricating new promises, and padding their accomplishments to fit the ear of the voter. Face it, most voters are basically lazy; they rarely take a deep look into the past records of candidates they vote for in elections – locally or nationally. They simply vote for the party; they follow the lead of friends and relatives; they cast their vote based on image; or they decide who to vote for when they get to the polls and see the ballot for the first time, which means they often favor the incumbent.

In America, our leadership problems are as much the result of the laissez-faire attitude of the public as it is who the public elects. We vote out of allegiance to a party, we vote how someone tells us to vote, or we don’t vote at all. In today’s world, people even tend to shy away from voting their conscious for fear of being politically incorrect or out of sync with family and friends. The days of deep independent, intelligent thinkers have been replaced by strict party allegiances, apathy, and fanatical bigotry sometimes thinly veiled by the auspices of patriotism and religion. When it comes to putting the right people in leadership positions, we are our own worst enemy. We are guilty of paying an unbelievable amount of lip service to the political process, but when it comes to voting and accountability, we display an incredible lack of interest. We talk a good game, but talk is about all we do when it comes to politics. So, maybe, its time the voting public went back to school and learned about their responsibilities as a citizen . . . .

You might need to go back to school if . . . .

  1. You believe the Tea Party is the party of the people;
  2. You believe Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Tea Leoni’s character on “Madam Secretary” have more than hair color in common;
  3. You believe the Mississippi Republican party supports public education;
  4. You believe either party – Democrats or Republicans – holds all the right answers;
  5. You believe the nationwide GOP push to privatize public education is for the good of children and not a ploy to line the pockets of the private sector eager to get its hands on education dollars;
  6. You believe Mississippi does not have the $1.3 billion it has shorted education over the past few years, or you believe the $1.3 billion Nissan received from Mississippi during the same period came from the tooth fairy or Santa Claus;
  7. You believe like 4% of the American public that “lizard people” control our society through big business and politics;
  8. You need or allow a political party to do your thinking for you;
  9. You can identify the Three Stooges but not the three branches of government; and
  10. You believe a “merge right” highway sign is an invitation to a Ted Cruz political rally.

Although it is easy to believe politicians are the blame for so many of our problems, it is not as easy to look in the mirror and see the real problem. If a politician or political system becomes unaccountable to the people, there is no one to blame but the people. When citizens fail to understand this simple truth, then maybe it’s time they went back to school and revisited Political Science 101 and History 101.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 23, 2015

Educating Mississippi’s Children: Can We Really do it on Our Own?

Mississippi State Superintendent of Education Dr. Carey Wright recently announced the Mississippi Department of Education will seek public comments for Common Core English and math standards. She said a committee of educators will then examine comments and issue proposals for possible deletions or changes to the Standards to the state Board of Education. Of course, Governor Phil Bryant and Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves applauded her decision, but why shouldn’t they? In their eyes, Wright’s study panel constitutes a softening of her support for the Standards. That might not actually be the case, but Wright, who is caught between a rock and hard place due to her support for the Standards and her future as the State Superintendent of Education, has taken the only action available to allow her to “save face,” confront public conspiracy hysteria, and appease the Governor and Lieutenant Governor as well as the Republican dominated state house and senate. If the results of the study point negatively at the Standards, Wright will probably be given the opportunity to renounce her support and be welcomed by Bryant and Reeves as the long lost “prodigal son” who has finally come to her senses; however, if the study sheds favorable light on the Standards, Wright’s future as State Superintendent of Education could be in jeopardy. The only thing that is for certain with the study is that regardless of the results, Phil Bryant’s distrust of the Standards and Tate Reeves’ political aspirations will not be curbed.

In spite of its detractors, Common Core Standards represent a major step in the right direction for the education of Mississippi children who year after year rank nationally at or on the bottom in academic achievement. The Standards are not a threat to Mississippi children; the threats that hold potential disastrous consequences for Mississippi’s children are the lack of support for a curriculum (any curriculum) that dares step outside public and leadership comfort zones, lack of understanding or interest in the basic concepts of learning, and the inability of many in the public and in state leadership to comprehend the long term and unintended consequences of their failure to embrace a rigorous curriculum that teaches children to be critical thinkers rather than masters of simple recall of information. There are those in the public and state leadership who believe Mississippians do not need curriculum or even funding help when it comes to the education of our children; they believe we can do just fine on our own. If that is true, why haven’t we done so before now?  Instead, on our own, we have demonstrated year after year that when it comes to the education of ALL children in the state, we lack the motivation, resources, and maybe even the capacity to pull ourselves off the academic bottom.

When the facts are considered rationally without acerbic denials, bitter accusations, and acrimonious blame, the only plausible conclusion is that as a state, we have passed the point of “do it ourselves.” Decades of bad choices, bad leadership, bad men in important positions, quality of education dictated by geographical boundaries, and an embedded belief by state leaders that education is just another item that needs to be funded have led Mississippi to the brink of educational bankruptcy. Our children – we – do not deserve that! Unfortunately, too few in the public and leadership have any interest in understanding the facts or making the tough education choices required to end such malpractice. But, maybe, we are incapable of comprehending our dire circumstances or acting for the common good of Mississippi.

The only way Mississippi can prosper is if its people are knowledgeable, educated, individually responsible, self-reliant, capable of critical thinking and willing to accept the consequences of their actions. The plantation fiefdoms of the 19th Century are long behind us; we can no longer prosper as a state where the majority submits to the will and thought process of a few.  We can no longer afford a society where prosperity is often little more than a trickle down from the affluence of a few. The future of Mississippi is in the education of its children – an education that must be more than “good enough” – an education that must positively transcend to future generations. While there is a time for Mississippians to take pride in our “home grown” “we can do it better” heritage, such notions do not always translate effectively to the real world, especially in education. In nearly 200 years as a state, Mississippi has struggled to consistently get the education of its children right, so why would the public, educators, and leadership in a state that ranks regularly in the nation’s bottom two or three in academic performance believe we now have the capacity to do better without outside help? When it comes to education, we have had multiple decades of doing it on our own with little to show for our efforts. Do we want to continue banging our heads against the wall and in five or ten years still be trailing the rest of the nation academically, scratching our heads and asking the same questions, and still pointing fingers of blame?  If yes, then all we need do is continue on the path we are going.  If not, all of us need to stop treating our children’s education as a game, a political gambit, and a whipping boy for our fears and insecurities. We need to embrace a curriculum that takes us out of our comfort zones and into the 21st Century; we need to rally behind education and not against it.

JL

©Jack Linton, May 17, 2015