Tag Archives: educators

The Continued Success of the Petal School District is not Luck!

Is the only constant in this world the success of the Petal School District?  I was blessed to serve twenty-five years as a teacher, coach, and administrator in the Petal School District, and it was a great school district before I arrived on the scene, it was a great school district while I was there, and it is a great school district today.  Recently, the state released school accountability scores and rankings, and the Petal School District was once again ranked in the top five school districts in the state (number one in mathematics).  No one was surprised because no one can remember when or if there was a time in its history that Petal was not ranked at the top.  The mark of a great school district, athletic team, or great business is the ability to sustain success over time regardless of who is at the helm or in the trenches, and the Petal Schools have done a remarkable job of maintaining success even when key personnel have changed.

In the past four years, the District has had two superintendents, changes in directorships, and multiple changes in school principals and assistant principals, yet, it has remained a top-rated school district.  That is amazing!  However, what is more amazing is the District has maintained its success even with the loss of some great teachers who have retired or moved elsewhere due to family and career decisions.  Common sense says for a school to be successful it must have great teachers in the classroom.  In fact, research supports a quality teacher in the classroom is the most crucial factor in the education of a child.  However, in an era of state and nation-wide teacher shortages, it is not easy to find quality teachers to replace outgoing quality teachers even for a school district, like Petal, with a strong discipline and academic reputation, so how does Petal do it?

Having worked in the school district, I am very familiar with the “movers and shakers” (great educators) among the teachers and administrators, but until recently, while browsing the District website I was unaware of the turnover that has occurred over the past four years.  The school websites are filled with new teacher and administrator faces at almost every school.  Most of the old guard is gone!  The people I always believed made the schools great were missing, but success marched on without them.  How could that be?  Maybe, there is truth to the adage, “One monkey does not stop the show.”

Before I retired, I often bragged, the key to my success at Petal High School was the quality of teachers that lifted me and the students on their shoulders and made what sometimes appeared impossible possible.  Although many of the administrators and teachers who carried me to success are now gone, Petal High School and the District continues to be successful.  That is not only a tribute to the recruiting efforts of the District, it is a tribute to the foundation on which the District is built.  Superintendents, directors, staff, teachers, principals, and school board members come and go, but the two constants, the two non-negotiables, that never change in the District are “everyone is accountable for learning” and an undying attitude that “ALL children can learn.”  These constants result in a successful school district year after year regardless who leads the way in or outside the classroom.

Faces change, but as the battle-scarred veteran teachers gradually move on to another phase in their lives, fresh faces arrive to grow into their shoes.  Like those before them, they pick up the banner of excellence, refuse to lower standards for themselves or their students, and rise above the crowd.  They do so because that is the PETAL WAY; the only WAY for a Petal educator!  Petal educators expect the impossible of themselves and the children they teach, they rise above their imperfections and the imperfections of their students and show them what may seem impossible is but a grain of sand in their shoe.  They lift kids – their own and the kids of others – on their shoulders and carry them – sometimes kicking and screaming – to heights they would never know unless their teacher sacrificed a piece of their life, their heart, and their soul to show them the way.

However, where does the district continue to find quality teachers who have the ability to pick up where the masters left off and walk in their shoes?  Contrary to widespread belief, good teachers are not a dime a dozen; they are few and far between.  They cannot be contracted through Amazon and arrive in the classroom in two days, so where are they found?  Maybe, there is a secret door hidden under a green moss laden bluff somewhere along the Tallahala Creek where teachers with iron nerves who do not know the meaning of “quit”, teachers with hearts of glass kids can look into and learn trust, and teachers with eyes that say, “I am here for you – take my hand” stand waiting patiently for their time to step forward and cultivate our tomorrow.  Or, maybe quality teachers are born somewhere off the Gulf Coast in emerald waters salted lightly with rock flour and wisps of dreams and hope.  More likely, there are no secret doors or emerald waters, only a one-time school boy or girl who grew up to be a teacher with dreams to save the world one child at a time, and was fortunate enough to find like-minded people in a place that has yet to give up on its children and their dreams – the Petal School District.

Yes, year after year, it amazes me how superintendents, directors, staff, principals, teachers, and even school board members can change, yet, the school district continues to not only be successful but thrive.  Working hard and smart with kids as the bottom line while plugging in a sincere love for them and passion for learning is a surefire formula for success, and that success becomes even more sustainable when everyone from the superintendent to the custodian understands everything a school district does is about kids.  “Doing what is best for kids” is what ensures success for the District regardless of who the superintendent or the teachers in the classroom may be.  When a school district asks, “What is best for the kids?” prior to every decision it makes, it cannot not help but be successful year after year.  That single question puts every decision and every action in the proper perspective for a school district.  It enables a small, underfunded (by the state) school district like Petal to succeed where others fail.  My hat is off to those who laid the foundation, to the old guard who remain as models of commitment and excellence, and to those brave new faces that are carrying on the tradition of Petal excellence.  My hat is off to the Petal School District for always putting kids first.  By doing so, the District will always be a success!  Congratulations, Petal educators for another successful school year! You deserve every accolade laid upon you!  Your success is not luck!  You work hard for your success, so take a few minutes to enjoy a job well done, then get back to work – the kids need you.

JL

©Jack Linton, August 24, 2017

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Cashing in on Fear:  The Catalyst Behind the Trump/Devos Education Budget?

The current focus on public school improvement is flawed.  Politicians, the public, and even some educators are caught up in a oversimplified mindset that lumps all public schools into one huge cesspool of incompetence.  It is dangerous to generalize anything, and public schools are no different.  It is not public schools in general we need to fix, but what is happening within each individual public school that needs our attention.  Many public schools are doing an excellent job educating children, but unfortunately, they are being dragged down the rabbit hole with those that are doing a poor job.

To say all public schools are bad and in need of improvement is a generalization that is simply not true.  According to education researcher John Hattie, the single biggest variance between a good school and a bad school is the quality of the teacher in the classroom.  Dismantling public schools in favor of charter schools and creating an open-door policy for parents to send their child to the school of their choice will not resolve inconsistent quality issues in the classroom.  Due to the human element, classroom quality issues are as likely to show up in charter schools as they are in public schools.  It is not a public school or charter school that makes the difference in a child’s education.  As Hattie points out, it is the quality of what transpires in the classroom that makes a difference.  Simply being hired by a charter school will not make a person a better teacher.  Enrolling a child in a charter school is not a guarantee of academic success or teacher competence in the classroom.  With the future of public schools in jeopardy and a shrinking teacher pool, it stands to reason today’s public school teachers will be tomorrow’s charter and private school teachers, so unless we resolve the quality issue we are doing little more than transferring the problem from one school to another.   Proponents of charters will argue charter schools will only hire the best teachers and cull the weaker ones.  They may try, but I am afraid they may find as the public schools have found, there are not a lot of master teachers walking around looking for a job.  Pile that problem on top of current hiring practices in many charter schools such as hiring unlicensed and inexperienced teachers and you have a recipe for disaster waiting in the wings.  Unless, charter schools can find the magic teacher formula that has eluded public schools, their savior status will quickly fade.  Unfortunately, at that point, we will have to sleep in the bed we have made due to a misplaced focus.

Some will say I am putting the blame on teachers, and yes, I am, but there is enough blame to go around for everyone including school administrators, school boards, politicians, parents, the public, and the students.  Everyone must share in the blame when students do not learn, but in rank order, teachers, students, parents, and school administrators are the most responsible.  Sorry, educators, but that is the bottom line truth in a nutshell.  Sorry, parents and politicians, but charter schools and private schools will not resolve the issue, especially since those schools have the same problem of finding quality teachers as the public schools.  At least, public schools have minimum standards teachers must meet to teach while most charters and privates schools can and often do hire almost anyone off the street.  Therefore, being called a charter school does not make a school better.  Regardless of what politicians say, and many parents believe, parent choice is nothing more than a distraction that takes away from the real education focus needed to fix schools and ensure students learn.  For any school to be successful – public, charter, or private –  the focus must be on quality, attitudes, and commitment. Promoting dismantling public schools shows a lack of commitment in any of these areas, and that lack of commitment has escalated over the past 16 years mainly for one reason – fear.

Since 9/11/2001, America has been at the mercy of fear.  Fear is the root of our current state of dysfunction in all areas of our lives including education.  We are currently in a state of dysfunction that is more dangerous than maybe anything this country has ever faced; we fear terrorists, we fear immigrants, we fear the Republicans, we fear the Democrats, we fear conservatives, we fear liberals, we fear any belief outside our own, and we fear and mistrust the color of a man’s skin.  This is not the first time in our history we have been in such a state of distress, but it is one of the few times in our history we have allowed fear to rule our lives and distract our focus.   In the 1960s, we feared thermonuclear warfare with the Soviet Union, but instead of allowing that fear to distract us, we used it to sharpen our focus.  Out of that fear, we put a man on the moon, built a national highway system second to none in the world, put greater focus on math and science in our public schools, and created the Internet as part of national defense.  Fear created a constructive response rather than the unconstructive response we are seeing today.  Since 2001, we have used fear as an excuse to fight two wars against terrorism with little to show for the loss of blood of the brave men and women who served our country, used fear to turn our political system and nation upside down, used fear to turn citizen against citizen, used fear to isolate ourselves from the world, and used fear to create a dysfunctional education dialogue that threatens to destroy an institution that helped make America great – our public school system.  In the 1960s, we turned fear into productive action while today we have allowed fear to drag us into uncooperative thinking and inaction.

Over the last 16 years, fear has ruled our lives and governed how we respond to events and issues.  Our answer to just about everything today is to lash out negatively, cast blame, and think in short term solutions.  The current dysfunctional focus on public schools is an excellent example.  In the 1960s, when we were caught up in an arms race with the Soviet Union, we did not scrap our education system or try to improve it with our heads in the sand.  Of course, back then, there was an “us versus them” mentality in America and not the present “us versus us” mentality.  Today, there is a political venom flowing through the veins of our country that no amount of antidote is likely to cure.  We are trapped in pockets of group think where outside views are considered a threat and too often solutions are reactions to distractions rather than the real issues.  Charter schools and vouchers are prime examples of such distractions.  These vehicles of parent choice distract from issues such as teacher quality and child poverty.  Such distractions can easily be seen in the education cuts proposed by President Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy Devos in their 2018 education budget.  Instead of cutting vital education programs that support millions of public school children across the nation, they could have easily used a portion of the $21 trillion saved by dropping out of the Paris Climate Accord to fund their pet charter school and voucher projects, yet they chose to cut public education by over 9 billion dollars or roughly 14 percent.  Why?  Could it be they understand the best time to push a personal agenda is during times of fear?

Any budget is a statement of values, and the Trump/Devos education budget is no exception.  Anyone who looks closely at the suggested budget cuts and to the areas the cuts are redirected can see the ultimate goal is to dismantle public education in favor of parent choice options.  If passed, the Trump/Devos budget will cut the United States Department of Education funding by $9 billion and redirect $1.4 billion of that money to school choice.  The cuts will eliminate at least 22 programs including $1.2 billion for after school programs which will have a negative impact on 1.6 million, primarily poor, children; $2.1 billion for teacher training which is a vital component for developing quality classroom teachers in both charter and public schools; $27 million for arts education; $72 million dollars for international and foreign language programs; and $12 million dollars for Special Olympics programs.

President Trump and Betsy Devos say the federal government does not need to be involved in these programs.  According to them, the programs being cut can be more effectively handled and funded at the state and local level.  Maybe, they can be handled more effectively at the state level, but how can a poor state such as Mississippi fund these programs when it cannot afford to adequately fund the state public school programs it has?  Mississippi can’t, so where does that leave after school programs, arts education, foreign language programs, and the Special Olympics in the state?  It means either the citizens of Mississippi will pay higher taxes to foot the bill, or those programs will be discontinued.  Likely, the programs will be dropped or phased out.

Most people in Mississippi will feel some concern for losing after school programs, arts education, and especially the Special Olympics, but in a state where so many believe English is the only language needed in America, the loss of foreign language will barely be given a passing thought.  That is a shame.  I have a PhD, but by global standards I am illiterate.  I regret to say I speak one language, English, and although that has been good enough for me, it most likely will not be good enough for my grandchildren and especially my great grandchildren.

I recently read over 80% of the world’s population has access to a cell phone or mobile device, and within a year – a couple at the most – that number will grow to 90%.  According to David Rothkopf, author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow, we are possibly only a couple of years from every man, woman, and child in the world being connected for the first time in history through a man-made system.  Companies like Amazon have already gone global, and others will soon follow.  I am not talking about moving companies overseas; I am talking about Internet presence.  Amazon can touch anyone in the world whenever they please.  That is the future for all of us.  Our kids better be able to communicate with the world when that happens.  They will not only need the latest and the greatest technology tools, but they will also need a second language and preferably a third language if they hope to compete in the world market.  Speaking only one language will no longer be good enough even for Mississippi, yet, we have a President and Secretary of Education who want to cut foreign language programs.  Why?  How does that make any sense at all unless we are in such fear of the world that we plan to remain isolated indefinitely.

A contributing factor to fear is the unknown, and since 2001, as a nation we have been grappling with fear of the unknown:  fear of unseen and often unknown terrorists, fear for our livelihoods amid fluctuating markets, fear of leaders who so often put their personal agendas above the good of the people, fear of losing our guaranteed rights as citizens, fear of changing attitudes and values, and fear our public schools are no longer in capable hands.  We have seen our leaders grasp at straws for solutions, and turn against each other in the process.  We have witnessed politicians wage war on science somehow ignorant to the facts that throughout history governments who denounced science often lost.  We have watched as our leaders and our people have grown closed minded to the diversity that made us the greatest country in the world.  And, now rather than focus on the real issues, of teacher quality, academic support systems, and poverty, we are watching helplessly as our leaders slowly dismantle a once proud education system that produced Americans who revolutionized land and air transportation for the world, turned simple farmers into a skilled labor force for industry, and lay the knowledge foundation that led to the world’s first heart transplant, harnessing of nuclear energy, put the first man on the moon, and produced some of the world’s greatest literary giants.  Unfortunately, our leadership is in the market for a new vehicle, and they will not be satisfied until that vehicle is sitting in the garage with or without wheels.  It is sad, they do not understand there is no need to reinvent the wheel; all that is needed is to fix a spoke or two in the old wheel, so we can focus on what really matters – our children’s future.

JL

©Jack Linton, June 18, 2017

Ten Teachers Schools Need to Fire Immediately

I am a firm believer there are many more good, even outstanding, teachers than bad teachers.  However, I sadly admit there are teachers who need to be chased out the school house door as far from teaching as possible.  They are not necessarily bad people, but they lack the “want to,” the “get up and go,” and in some cases the “content knowledge” to be a good classroom teacher.  Their lack of capacity to be a good teacher, their lack of passion for their profession, and for some, their lack of compassion for their students shows in their poor preparation for class, wasting student time showing movies and assigning busy work, and their disregard for school policies and procedures.  Such teachers are a black eye to the teaching profession and fodder for those who badmouth the profession.

As much as I hate to speak negatively about teachers, there are a few nauseating rotten apples that give all teachers a bad name.  The good teachers know who they are, but they won’t say anything, and the students know who they are, but no one in the schools will listen to them.  However, being retired, I can say who they are and even call them by name!  With all the negatives floating around about public schools,  it is imperative these deadbeats, these non-professionals, these blights on the good name of teachers be sought out and identified.  It is time someone told these poor excuses for teachers they are paid to be prepared for class, they are paid to teach and not show movies, and they are paid to enforce and follow school policy.  If being prepared is too difficult, if teaching takes too much effort, or if they don’t like the policies of the school district paying them, they need to find employment elsewhere – preferably outside teaching.  It is time the bad apples were called on the carpet to either put their classroom in order or pack their bags!

Ten Teachers Schools Need to Fire

Schools Need to Get Rid of these teachers . The teacher who . . . WHY?
MOVIE DIRECTOR uses class time to show movies from beginning to end under the pretense of teaching, but all they are really doing is wasting valuable instruction time. This person does not understand how to utilize movies as a teaching aid and needs to be trained, this person is lazy and looking for ways to kill time, or this person is incompetent in his/her content area.  The bottom line is either train this person or show him/her the door.
SLOTH regularly comes to class unprepared to teach. This person is lazy, has too many irons in the fire to prepare properly, or has other priorities over teaching.  Not replacing this person is an injustice to students.
 LOST DUCK hates his/her job as a teacher. This person is in the wrong profession and needs help finding something he/she will like better.  Take care to steer this person as far as possible from teaching.
DREAMER doesn’t hate teaching, but would rather be somewhere else teaching. Rather than cultivating green pastures where he/she is, this person is looking elsewhere for greener pastures.  Help this person locate that pasture – quickly!
BABYSITTER regularly gives busy-work assignments to keep students occupied rather than teach. This person doesn’t know how to teach or doesn’t want to teach.  Schools need teachers, not babysitters!  Get rid of this person and hire someone who wants to teach!
PLACE HOLDER teaches for a paycheck until something better comes along; It would be cheaper and the kids would be better off with a substitute teacher than this dud.
WARM FUZZY does not support or enforce the school rules and policies. This person makes things harder for everybody – themselves, colleagues, students, parents, and administrators.  Part of a teacher’s job is to support and enforce school rules and policies.  If a teacher cannot do that, the teacher should be assisted in finding another profession.
SCROOGE does not like kids. A person who does not like kids should not be a teacher.  This person needs a one-way ticket on the first train out!
BORN PERFECTION  

does not see a need to read or study professionally to become a better teacher – knows it all.

 

Teaching is a life time commitment to personal and professional learning.  Over time, those teachers who think they are above such a commitment, refuse to make such a commitment, or do not have the capacity to commit to personal and professional growth become a liability to the school learning environment and should be replaced.
LOUNGE JOCKEY is negative about kids, colleagues, parents, and the administration. This person is a cancer.  Cut this person before he/she sours everybody.  The Lounge Jockey loves to ride gossip, talk about everyone, and meddle negatively in everyone’s business.  Over time, this person’s negativity can ruin a school.

If you recognize a teacher on this list, try to talk to them, but be careful.  Confronting such an individual could be like telling a mama one of her babies comes from bad seed.  No matter how true or how nice you try to say it, you better be ready for fireworks and heavy duty explosives.  Therefore, it might be wiser to discreetly share this list with a bad apple teacher by circling one of the ten names in the chart and placing it in the teacher’s mailbox or leaving it on the teacher’s desk.  Will such action make the teacher change for the better?  Probably not, but it might encourage them to move to a charter school (Just joking – bad teachers don’t belong in any school).  The bottom line is that either colleagues or administrators need to get the attention of these people and help them change or move on.

JL

©Jack Linton, March 30, 2017

Public School Educators should follow Trump’s Example

The title of this article is probably one of the stranger things I have said, but it is true.  If public education is to survive, it is imperative public school educators take lessons from Donald Trump.  They must study the way he orchestrated his speeches into repetitive “trumpet” calls to action that ultimately sent him to the White House.  They must pay close attention to how a man who is intentionally simple and self-promoting could get inside the heads of a nation and become the most powerful man in the world.  Public school educators must learn to play Donald Trump’s “trumpet game!”  Their survival most likely depends on it.

If public school educators learned to use Trump’s “trumpet” formula, there is no reason why it shouldn’t work for them as well.  What Trump did was not magic or sleight of hand.  It was not even complicated, but it was brilliant.  His speeches were nothing more than self-marketing at its most flamboyant and magnificent.  Of course, most educators are not as ostentatious as Trump, but they could still learn from him by studying his rise to power.  When it comes to marketing, educators have a lot to learn, and there is not a better teacher than the current President of the United States.

If people hear something often enough, they begin to believe it – good or bad.  If people hear whimpering, whining, and apologies often enough they begin to believe something is wrong.  Therefore, it’s time educators stopped whining and being apologetic!  Educators need to learn from the President to be more aggressive and self-promoting.  They need to start telling the public what they want them to know, and they must keep preaching that message until the public believes it.  The days of the sweet little timid unassuming school teacher are over.  If public schools are to survive, confident self-promoters, not afraid to toot their own horn, are needed, and Trump’s formula is the vehicle to enable teachers to market themselves successfully.  For instance, look at the following example of how a teacher might sound using the Trump “Trumpet” Formula:

How Teachers Might Express themselves using the “Trumpet” Formula

Hello America.  I am a public school teacher – a great teacher.  My friends tell me I am a great great teacher.  People I don’t even know call me and tell me how very very great I am.  Believe me I am a great teacher.   But, my profession is under attack by a misinformed public and politicians.  Politicians are total scum bags.  They have fought against me and other great public school teachers for many many years, but they can’t beat us.  Can’t do it.  Total losers.

Teaching is the best profession in the world – not the oldest, but the best.  Public schools have all the best teachers – the best tile on the floors – the best ringers in the bells.  Other schools fail in comparison.  Look at charter schools – total disaster.  They are not even real schools.  They’re fake.  They’re fake schools.  Public schools are real.  Tremendous schools!  Public schools have cafeterias.  They serve the best government commodity food in the world.  It’s true.  The cafeterias are the best, they are.  You can eat “pig-in-a-blanket” with syrup for breakfast.  The ladies in the cafeterias serve the best cheesy cheese over rice in the world for lunch.  You can even grab and squeeze their biscuits, it’s fantastic.

Public schools are the safest schools.  They have the best walls around them – chain link walls, walls of iron and steel.  Great walls that can be seen from Mars – so far away they look like tiny Ninja fortresses.   And, think, the parents of ELL students – non-English speakers – paid for it.   It’s true.  Public schools have the best arts and sports programs in America – in the world.  They’re great – tremendous!  Unlike some schools, public schools even make time for academics.  People tell us, very very important people, tremendous people, that America has the greatest underfunded education system in the world.  It’s unbelievable.  It really is.

Support public schools.  Tell your sons and daughters to support public schools.  America has a great great dependency on public schools.  It’s huge.  Tremendous!  Friday night football in the fall, Prom – backseat romps in the spring, and baby’s first holiday onesie at Christmas.  Traditions we will lose unless America stands tall for public schools.  If Americans allow politicians to screw public schools, traditions will die and societal problems will grow.  Believe me, they will become huge!  They will be enormous!  It’s true. Please don’t.

Last but not least, public school teachers totally understand it’s gonna be politicians first – Republicans first, Democrats second.  But, can we just say, “Public School Education,” third?  Is that okay?  It would be tremendous.  Huge!  Friday night football would remain king!  People, great great people, special people, people I don’t even know, will call it huge.  Tremendous!  Together we will make public schools great again big time.  Thank you.  You’re great – the best.  It’s true.

[End Teacher Example]

Hey, this worked for Donald Trump!  Verbally repeat or publish something often enough in social media and people will eventually start to believe it.  How else could a billionaire with no political experience and little in common with the masses get enough votes to become President of the United States?  His looks are not that appealing, and he doesn’t come across as overly smart, so what made him interesting enough to win the confidence and trust of the people?  The answer is simple.  Although his message was rarely clear and to the point, he kept to the point.  His message, “We will make America great again,” never wavered.

Though simplistic, he was never uncertain about where he stood.  He never backed down.  He got inside America’s head and he stayed there with a simple combination of telling people what he wanted them to hear and what they wanted to hear over and over and over again.  Throughout the election campaign, he was the dominating aggressor to the point of being rightfully labeled a bully, but he never strayed from his message nor was he ever boring.  Americans love to be entertained, and he delivered big time!

Educators can learn a lot from Donald Trump.  To change attitudes toward public education, educators need to take his lessons to heart.  Like Trump, to win, educators must get inside people’s heads.   They must develop a message of simple, but aggressive repetition.  For example, if teachers had maintained a unified repetitive stand that Common Core Standards were GREAT, TREMENDOUS, and WOULD MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN, instead of becoming boring unsure defenders of the standards, the negative hoopla, most likely, would have, in a very short time, faded away without the need to drop the standards, change the name of the standards, or any other such nonsense.  Educators must learn to say what they want people to know and remember, and like Donald Trump, they must say it often.

However, probably the greatest lesson educators can take from Trump is simplicity.  According to a report by Evan Puschak, founder of NerdWriter, Donald Trump favors simple sentences when he speaks.  He rarely uses complex or compound sentences.  Puschak stated 78% of Trump’s words are one syllable with only about 5% of his words having three to four syllables.  In a separate report by Matt Viser of the Boston Globe, Viser used a Flesch-Kincaid analysis of answers Presidential candidates gave to debate questions to determine Trump’s responses were consistently on a fourth grade level – simple and easy for anyone in the audience to comprehend.  In the world of communication, simplicity is power.

Unfortunately, unlike Donald Trump, educators like to put their “smarts” on show when they speak, especially in front of the public.  As a result, they often speak over the heads of their listeners or down to their listeners.  They hit them with professional jargon and acronyms until they put them to sleep or turn them off completely to what is said.  Therefore, when it comes to communicating with parents and the public in general, educators would do well to forget their diplomas and the fancy cute acronyms, and speak the language of the people.  When it comes to communication, the old adage, “keep it simple stupid” (KISS) is by far the best strategy.  If you don’t believe it, ask Donald Trump; his “trumpet” call took him all the way to the White House.

JL

©Jack Linton, February 4, 2017

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

Shame on Mississippi: Hell No! We are Better than This! Ten Tips for Surviving Mississippi’s Apocalypse

Shame on Mississippi, shame on our state leaders, we are better than the backward, intolerant image they have painted for us!  State representative Karl Oliver summed up the state leadership’s attitude all too well with his response to a concerned Mississippi citizen, “I could care less.”  That attitude, that lack of concern for the state’s citizens, image, and future, has become evident in the actions and inactions of Mississippi’s leaders, especially the Republicans.  As a result, the state is trapped in a nightmare.  From education to religion, we have been bullied, led astray, frightened, and held hostage by state legislators, the lieutenant governor, and the governor who are dead set on recreating Mississippi in their image.  With dead end funding for education; brainless, reckless abandon for throwing away state money; introduction of laws that violate the First Amendment rights of teacher citizens, attention to frivolous personal agenda laws in lieu of addressing the state’s crumbling infrastructure; the passage of the most blatantly discriminatory law since the Jim Crow era; and an atmosphere of hate and fear married to a lack of common sense, Mississippians might think they are living in a Class B movie written and directed earlier in his career by Quintin Tarantino, or that they have been “hogtied” and dropped into the NBC TV series, You, Me, and the Apocalypse.  Mississippi is engulfed in turmoil and craziness like nothing it has seen in over fifty years.  Unfortunately, unlike a Tarantino film there is no end in sight, nor is there a bunker, like the one in the NBC series, for people to hide until the madness is over.

So, how can Mississippians survive the political and social craziness and injustice that is strangling the state?  That is not an easy question to answer, but here are ten survival suggestions that might at least save enough Mississippians to pick up the pieces and carry on if the carnage ever ends:

Ten Tips for Surviving Mississippi’s Apocalypse

  1. Trade in your flip flops for wading boots! More than likely, the crap is only going to get deeper as long as the present leadership has power in Jackson;
  2. Stay out of the sun! You don’t want to chance getting too dark;
  3. Never, ever, walk into a business in same sex pairs whether you are a couple or not;
  4. If you are gay and invited to a snipe hunt, DON’T GO!
  5. Incorporate yourself! State legislators may be reluctant to pay for the education of the state’s children, but they will give you the shirts off their backs if you can show you are a corporation in need of tax breaks and/or exemptions;
  6. If you are gay, buy a Ford or Ram truck, and become one of the boys (oops men);
  7. To steer clear of discrimination pick any sin you like except homosexuality;
  8. If you are an educator, I am sorry, but you might not survive. Under the present Republican leadership in Jackson, in the coming years, it will be easier for a pig to fart Dixie in a tornado than be a teacher in Mississippi;
  9. Speak out against being last, ignorance, discrimination, civil injustice, and abuse of political power! Okay, this one probably should not be on a survival list; and
  10. DO what Jesus would do and PRAY for the Pharisees.

Good luck friends!  We are stuck in this Class B movie by our own doing, or lack of doing!  With our vote and silence, we have allowed our elected state leaders to run our state into the ground by permitting them to prey on the people’s fear of rich, lazy educators, fear of government interference, and fear of tolerance for their fellow man.  Unfortunately, it won’t change overnight, and there is not a bunker deep enough to shield us from the damaging fallout caused by their pursuit of personal and party agendas as well as their mindless recklessness.  We are going to need people of action, a lot of luck, and a mountain of prayers to get out of this mess.  We need more Mississippians standing up and shouting, “Hell no!  We are better than this!”

JL

©Jack Linton, April 10, 2016