Tag Archives: students

A New School Year: What Teachers Should Consider

Another school year is on the horizon.  Teachers are cramming in last minute vacations, working in their classrooms, and enjoying their last few mornings to sleep late.  After five years of retirement, I get a little nudge of envy this time of year when I pass schools and see teacher cars in the parking lots and coaches readying their practice fields.  Miles of bulletin board border stretches through schools across the nation as teachers take great pains to build “Welcome Back to School” displays.  Coaches scramble to ensure ice machines are working for the 100-degree plus heat indexes they will encounter in August and early September, and the excitement grows as band and cheerleaders roll out new shows and skits for football half-time and pep rallies.

Do I miss it?  HELL NO!  Global warming has so dismantled this old body, I wouldn’t last five minutes under a Mississippi sun in mid-August.  As for bulletin boards, I was one of those coaches who used the same bulletin board for sixteen consecutive years.  The school librarian or a lady teacher who felt sorry for me would help me change the border once or twice a year, but that was the extent of my bulletin board creativity.  No, I don’t miss the heat, the prep, or the job at all, but I do miss the kids and the people I worked with for so many years.

Since retiring, I have kept my distance from the school house, but at the beginning of each new school year I raise my head just high enough to offer a little advice to teachers.  During thirty-seven years as an educator, I learned a thing or two about the profession.  I learned the hard way through stubbornness, luck, trial and error, and from people a lot smarter than me that there are certain practices and principles that can make a teacher’s job a little less stressful and help them feel less alone.  YES, I said less alone!  Although surrounded daily by big and little people, teachers are in many ways engaged in the loneliness job on earth.  Often, they feel like they are swimming alone in a sea of negativity shackled by lead expectations and mandates few understand and fewer can explain [differentiated instruction in a classroom of thirty instantly comes to mind].  So, if I can offer a tidbit or two that might make a new or veteran teacher’s day a little better or prolong a career, I feel justified sharing the little I know.  Therefore, from the shadows of retirement where retirees become better teachers and administrators with each passing day, I offer the following advice, support, and consolation:

What Every Teacher Needs to Consider

  1. Teaching is not about delivering seeds; it is about planting, cultivating, and harvesting;
  2. Never sell your students or yourself short. Prepare for class, teach in class, and hold students accountable in class;
  3. Teach like you want your children to be taught. If you are not okay with your child’s teacher giving less than his/her best in the classroom, don’t settle for less than your best when teaching someone else’s children;
  4. Don’t worry about your pay. There is nothing wrong with wanting a pay raise but be thankful for what you have.  You signed a contract saying you were willing to work for a certain amount of money, so work for it.  The time to be unhappy with your pay is before you sign on the dotted line.  Kids don’t care how much money you make, and in the classroom, there are more important things for a teacher to worry about than a paycheck;
  5. If you would rather be somewhere other than the classroom, do yourself and the kids a favor and be somewhere else – preferably not in teaching;
  6. Worry only about the things you can control, pray about the things you might can influence, and don’t waste your time or breath on what you cannot control;
  7. Understand you will never be fully appreciated for all you do as a teacher. Don’t waste time or sleep worrying about it.  Refer to #6 when negatives get you down;
  8. Politicians are not your friends. Parents are not your friends.  Students are not your friends.  If you need a friend, or someone to be there for you when things go south, look in the mirror or look to your family;
  9. Although teaching days can become long and tedious, DON’T look for excuses to show movies, assign busy work, or allow free time in class! Very little if any student learning takes place during such lazy stagnant activities.  Teaching is about learning, and teachers have a limited amount of time to make learning happen.  DO your job to ensure students have a fair chance to learn in your classroom.  Students have greater respect for teachers who follow this practice;
  10. Be proud to be a teacher. Stand tall in the knowledge you are smarter, more courageous, thicker skinned, more loving, and more resilient than 90% of the population.  The other 10% are retired school teachers;
  11. Remember of all the professions God could have chosen for his son, he made him a teacher, so remember, as a teacher you represent the best of the best. You stand in elite company; and
  12. The best you can hope for in life is to have more good days than bad. Teaching is no different.

Finally, probably the two best pieces of advice I can offer are . . .

A GREAT TEACHER WILL ALWAYS DO WHAT IS BEST FOR HIS/HER STUDENTS!

and

GREAT TEACHERS TEACH AND DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!

 

Teaching is an awesome ride for those with the courage and perseverance to stay in the saddle, but it is not for the faint of heart, the selfish, or the lazy.  It takes a special person to be a teacher, and I pray God’s blessings will be with all those special people during the coming school year.  WELCOME BACK!

JL

©Jack Linton, July 20, 2018

Why Kids Misbehave in School

Five years into retirement and I still read school related articles from time to time.  Although there have been changes since I retired after 37 years as a teacher, coach, and school administrator, the articles I read prove some things never change.  Student behavior or misbehavior is one of those things that remains relatively the same year after year after year.   As long as there are schools, there will be kids who, for whatever reason, choose to be rebellious, defiant, disrespectful, and obnoxious.  Why?  Every year countless articles and books explore that question, but to date, no one has come up with a better answer than kids are human, and humans are impulsive, unpredictable, and make dumb choices.   Education discipline jargon changes yearly, and new enlightened gurus appear on the scene proposing the newest and greatest solutions ever conceived, but like the gurus before them, their solutions often prove ineffective and useless for dealing with negative student behavior.  The number of books published annually on this topic is a clear indicator there is not an easy answer or cure-all solution.  Education authors lay the blame for school discipline problems on bad apples, the teacher, poor parenting, peer influence, bullying, stupid choices, and academic difficulties, but the truth is school discipline problems are caused by all of the above laced with a healthy dose of animalism, humanism, and hormones.

If you follow Facebook, you will most likely be led to believe kids misbehave because they are mutinous little hellions, they come from bad stock, or they are simply BAD APPLES.  Fortunately, such reasons are rarely the case.  In my experience as a teacher and school administrator, I seldom faced a disobedient or rebellious student who was a pure evil BAD APPLE.  As a good friend often reminds me, “God don’t make no junk,” and tongue in cheek bad grammar aside, he is right.  All children have worth; it sometimes takes extra patience and prayer to find it in some, but they all have worth.  In my 37 years as an educator, I would say less than 1% of the students I dealt with for behavior problems were just plain bad, and even that handful usually went on to become responsible citizens as they grew into adulthood.

“It’s the teacher’s fault!” is the number one cry of too many parents when confronted by reports their child is misbehaving at school.  Many parents like to point at the teacher as the problem because they are frustrated themselves with junior’s behavior, or they are not adult or savvy enough to understand most teachers will do backflips or whatever it takes to avoid having a parent conference due to a child’s behavior.  Teachers want to be left alone to do their jobs, and there is maybe a 1% chance they will hold a grudge against a child, take revenge against a child, or intentionally do anything to a child that will ultimately result in a hostile parent conference.  Teachers have degrees for good reason; they are smart, and it is not smart for an adult, especially a professional, to create circumstances that result in extra work and stress.  However, teachers are not perfect, so it could be the teacher’s fault if a child misbehaves, but not likely.

Likewise, the number one reason teachers give for student discipline issues in the classroom is “poor parenting.”  Although, they rarely know for sure, teachers are often quick to blame mom and dad for the child’s disruptions in the classroom.  They see disrespect, rudeness, and defiance as traits of poor upbringing, and although there is some merit to such perceptions, there are often other influences or factors that are the real cause.  Parents, like teachers, are not perfect, but most of them do the best they know how to do when raising their children.  Like teachers, they despise parent/teacher conferences and would as soon get a root canal as attend one.  Both teachers and parents need to understand, student misbehavior in the classroom is the student’s fault; there is no one else to blame!  The student made the choice to be disruptive or lash out, and the student should be held responsible for his/her disruptive behavior!  It is important to understand why they chose to act out, but it is just as important, if not more so, to hold them accountable for their actions.  Consequences for poor choices is the only way to teach children to be responsible, caring human beings.

Although schools are much more aware of bullying today than a few years ago, it still happens.  In cases where a child is bullied by another child, we often think of the bullied child as one who withdraws within himself, isolates himself, or becomes depressed and even suicidal; we think of a helpless victim.  However, a bullied child can sometimes lash out.  As a defense mechanism, such a child can take on the role of the bully with his peers or even become a disruptive force in the classroom.  Such a child is not a bad apple, mistreated by teachers, or the product of parental malpractice; the bullied child takes refuge in the only protection he sees available to him – “if you can’t beat them, join them.”  By becoming part of the problem, the bullied child builds a wall of protection that shields him from further torment and provides some semblance of sanctuary.

A more likely reason for unruly behavior at school is peer influence.  When growing up, did your parents ever say, “If Susie jumped off a cliff would you also jump off the cliff?”  Mine did, and quite often!  If you are 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18 the answer is “YES! You would follow Susie off that cliff!”  Middle and high school students are likely to try anything, regardless how stupid, if they think it might be fun, make them more popular, or get them noticed favorably by their friends.  Peer influence is more of an inducement for disruptive behavior than all the bad apples, vengeful teachers, poor parents, and bullying combined.

Sometimes students misbehave at school because something is out-of-whack at home.  Students from good homes with the best parents are not immune to behavior problems in school.  There are times when things go wrong in the best of homes with the most loving and caring parents.  In a world of shrinking commitment, children are often the unintentional victims of family quarrels over finances, infidelity, and divorce.   Such potentially life altering events in a family cannot help but ride to school on the shoulders of children who out of hurt, frustration, and feelings of betrayal and abandonment act out contrary to their norm.  In my experience as a school administrator, roughly ten percent of student behavior issues were the result of problems at home – not issues of bad parenting, but issues that threatened to tear the family unit apart.  Under such conditions, even the most even keeled child can break and lash out.

The number two reason for student misbehavior in school is stupid choices.  As smart and sophisticated as kids are today, they still make stupid choices.  It is no secret that teen elevators do not always go all the way to the top floor.  They are not only at the mercy of peer influence and pressure, but all too often, they are impulsive and empty minded.  Little thought is given to consequences for their actions.  For example, I still recall the stench of deer urine a student poured in a friend’s locker as a practical joke.  The books in the friend’s locker as well as the books in adjoining lockers were saturated and ruined with the stink.  The smell was so bad the whole locker section, approximately thirty lockers, had to be closed off and two classes had to be evacuated and reassigned elsewhere in the building.  On top of that, the student had to make restitution for a couple hundred dollars in damaged textbooks.  Was the student who committed the foul deed a BAD APPLE?  No, but he caused a major disruption of the school day just the same!

Finally, the number one reason for student misbehavior in school is by far the saddest – academic deficiencies.  When I was a high school principal, my assistant principals and I studied discipline data religiously.  We especially focused on students with habitual discipline problems.  We combed the data and reviewed cumulative folders looking for clues that might show how to best intervene with the student.  What we found was over fifty percent of students with habitual discipline issues were a grade to two grades behind, struggled academically in two or more core subjects, and could not read on grade level.  Academically, they had little hope for passing to the next subject or grade.  They could not keep up, so they disrupted class out of frustration and to cover up their academic difficulties – primarily, their inability to read.  If a child cannot read when he reaches high school, he is lost, and there is little that can be done to get him/her back on track.  Therefore, what else can a child do but act out and become a discipline problem?

During a school year, school administrators, especially at middle schools and high schools, will be confronted by discipline issues ranging from mean spirited to ridiculously stupid.  Except for a very few kids, they will find BAD APPLES are rare, and misbehavior is a human reaction to the cards life deals, or the result of stupid human choices.  Over time and with help, 90% of kids learn to deal with life’s ups and downs as well as learn from the stupid choices they make.  These kids move on to bigger and better things in life.  The other 10% is why principals, assistant principals, and guidance counselors earn their paychecks.  If they don’t give up on that 10%, ninety-nine percent of the time, those horrible little hellions are also likely to turn out all right and become productive citizens.  When that happens, teachers and administrators should write their own book!  They did something right, and it should be celebrated and shared with the world.

JL

 

©Jack Linton, April 18, 2018

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

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

It’s The First Day of School, Teachers Don’t Worry

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About low pay – they can’t afford what you are worth;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About long hours – artists never see the clock;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About politicians – they’ve never had your back;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About public opinion – they haven’t a clue what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About evaluations – they need you more than you need them;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About teaching – make compassion your passion;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About state tests – teach their content with your heart;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About personal breaks – teachers have big hearts and bladders;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            About not being good enough – your best is all anyone can ask;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That America’s kids are behind the world – you know that’s B.S.;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry

            That parents don’t like you – sometimes they don’t like themselves;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Smile – Feed a young soul with your light;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Pray – Stay humbled by the lives you help shape;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Play – Laugh, dance, and celebrate the day;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Stand tall – Not many have the courage to do what you do;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Seize the moment – Be ready to make a difference;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Give – Your best gift is that you care;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Love – You teach because you love kids;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            You have the most important job in the world;

It’s the first day of school, teachers don’t worry –

            Take a deep breath and enjoy the ride!

 

Remember the three most important influences in a child’s life are  . . .

  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Teachers

Everyone else is gravy or sour milk.

 

JL

©Jack Linton,  August 3, 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

Rosie: A Real Diamond

All of us have diamonds in our lives.  Maybe we don’t have diamonds on our fingers or around our neck, but when we slow down our never ending rush to get through life and shove the noise and clutter aside, the real diamonds, the ones that really matter, come to light.  Diamonds that are more precious and valuable than any gem mined from the ground.  Diamonds that can never be taken from you; they are the rocks on which your life is built.  They are mined from your life experiences, your heart, and your soul.  They are the people who stand above all others; people who make and made you the unique person you are; people who believed in you and still do; people who supported you when they would have been wiser to run; people who protected you from the storm; people you depended on when the world and even some friends turned away; and people who stood beside you when you were alone.  Most often these people are family and close friends who know your heart better than anyone, but sometimes that special person, that diamond, is someone you work or worked with such as Rosie.

Rosie and I are now retired, and rarely see each other anymore, but I recently saw her in a local store, and as always she greeted me with a hug and a smile that radiated she was truly glad to see me.  That was the same smile she greeted me with every morning of my fifteen years as an assistant principal and principal, but not just me, she greeted everyone with that smile, which didn’t cheapen it in the least since everyone knew it was genuine.  She was secretary for close to thirty years to the first three principals at Petal High School ending with me.  She knew every student by name, over a thousand of them at the time, served the teachers with passion, and kept the administration in line.  She had her hand on the pulse of everything from curriculum, don’t think for a moment that she didn’t  know what kids were supposed to know and be able to do, to discipline (If you ever get her alone, get her to tell you the “two socks” story).  For thirty years, Miss Rosie, as the kids called her, was Petal High School, or like I think of it – Rosie Kinard High School.  No one ever gave their heart and soul to a school more than Rosie.  Working at Petal High School was not a job for her; it was her school, her kids, her teachers, her principal and assistant principals – it was her life!

When I was named principal of Petal High School, Rosie became my life support.  She was my secretary, actually she was everybody’s secretary, but she was so much more than that.  To the kids she was a mama, a counselor, and a friend; to the teachers she was their biggest fan and supporter; for me, she was my partner.  Together we ran the school.  This tiny woman was a fireball of energy, still is, who knew more about the school in her little finger than I would ever know.  She was the glue that in many ways held the high school together; she certainly held me together.  I learned early, as I am confident the principals before me learned also, to bounce ideas off her.  As principal, I could often gauge how teachers would react to my ideas by her reactions.  If I ran an idea by her, and she said, “Oh, that is wonderful, why haven’t we thought about that before,” I knew the chances were good the teachers would be excited about the idea as well, or if she said adamantly, “That’s what is best for these kids,” I knew there might be a fuss, but it would be worth the fight.  However, if she responded with something like “You’re the principal, so I don’t see that there should be a problem,” I knew the odds were good the “ice cream” was about to hit the fan.  I learned to value her opinion and look for her insightful cues, and by doing so, she helped me become a better person and especially a better principal.

Rosie is what my grandfather called “good people,” to which I would only add “REALLY good people!”  She cared about people not because of their position, who they were in the community, economic standing, the color of their skin, or the persuasion of their heart; she cared about them because she truly loves and cares about people.  As school secretary, she was compassionate to all people – children, teachers, parents and school administrators.  She was not perfect; she could get feisty at times, but if she did, she would apologize for days afterwards.  In the history of Petal High School, there have been many diamonds that should not be overlooked, but I was there for 25 of the school’s first 40 years, and I can say no one was more important to the success and reputation of Petal High School than a little lady who made “peanuts” for a salary.  She gave her all to the school she loved, and when she retired, she took a piece of all us with her, but she left behind an integral part of the foundation Petal High School is built upon – her heart.

I am blessed to have many diamonds in my life, but Rosie will always be one of my very special diamonds.  She didn’t have to be there for me; she could have chosen to be a part of the storms, but rather she chose to take a young principal under her wing and protect him from the storms.  As a result, our time at Petal High School became a triumphant journey of adventure and fulfillment.  I always sincerely thank the students and teachers for that, but without Rosie Kinard, Petal High School would have been and would be today just another good high school.  Through her energy, courage, encouragement, passion, and compassion she helped mold the high school into the great school it is today.  Rosie is the real deal.  She is a diamond that I cannot thank enough for being there for me when I needed her.

So, if you see her about town, take notice of her infectious smile, and don’t be surprised if you get a hug.  Thank her for what she has meant to the Petal Community and the thousands of lives she has touched.  Tell her “Thank you;” she deserves it, and she has most definitely earned it.

Rosie, thank you for being a diamond in my life!

JL

©Jack Linton, April 30, 2016

Mississippi’s Next Best Chance to Adequately Fund Public Schools

The defeat of Initiative 42, Mississippi’s best hope to adequately fund K-12 public school education, was devastating to Mississippi public school educators and their many supporters. Since the defeat, the question has been, “What do we do next?” Like so many others, I questioned if there was any need to even try to fight the system any longer. However, after a lot of thought and soul searching, I am convinced that it is now more important than ever before to continue the fight. In fact, I have a plan of action that may sound far-fetched on the surface, but it just might work. The plan is at least a step to rekindle the flame that educators and parents must keep burning on this issue.

This week, the Powerball lottery is estimated to be at least 1.3 billion dollars! Since Governor Bryant seems adamant in his quest to reduce or completely eliminate state taxes, why not swap state taxes for a two dollar lottery tax? Such a tax would assess every family in the state an additional two dollars per family member to buy lottery tickets. (Okay, so the lottery plan is not exactly new, but I believe buying lottery tickets with state money rather than implementing a state lottery may be new, so please continue reading.) By buying over 2.94 million tickets and mathematically picking 2.94 million different number combinations, the chances of winning a Powerball lottery would increase dramatically.

Of course, there are people who might take issue with this plan as gambling, but isn’t any state funding a gamble lately? Governor Phil Bryant and House Speaker Phillip Gunn advocate reducing or eliminating state income taxes because apparently the state does not need the money, so it’s not like the money collected for lottery tickets would be needed elsewhere. The lottery ticket money would be an investment in K-12 public school education, and any money won through the lottery would be earmarked for education. Of course, earmarking anything in Mississippi might be considered a gamble, but heck, it’s only money, and if we listen to Bryant and Gunn, Mississippi has plenty of that, so why sweat spending a couple of dollars for each state citizen to play the lottery?  When it comes to funding education, it’s all fun and games in Mississippi anyway.

Everyone knows funding K-12 education is a game the state leadership in Jackson has played for years, so why not play the lottery game as well? Year after year they gamble with the future of our children, so why not play the lottery and give public schools at least a mathematical chance for adequate funding? The odds of winning the lottery if a lottery ticket is bought on behalf of every Mississippi citizen would be equal to or better than the odds to adequately fund K-12 education through the state legislature. When it comes to adequately funding education, Mississippi Republican leaders have shown where they stand on the issue. They not only stand on the issue; they stomp on it with both feet. Their campaign of misinformation and outright deceit during the Initiative 42 debate and vote showed their lack of concern for education and integrity, as well as their willingness to dupe the people. Initiative 42 should have made it clear that a Republican led state legislature is not about to support anything short of privatization of K-12 education. So, since money spent on a lottery would essentially be filling the pockets of someone in the private sector, state legislators should readily accept the lottery plan.

The only practical solution to the education funding issue in Mississippi is to participate in some way in a lottery. It is the only education funding game that state public school educators and their students have a chance of winning. The plan to assess a two dollar education investment tax on every man, woman, and child in the state to be used by the state to buy lottery tickets, may at first appear to be frivolous and pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but is it really? Mississippi educators have put their dreams and trust for a better tomorrow for the state’s children in the hands of the Mississippi Legislature for years with little to show for it. With a lottery ticket, although the odds would still be stacked against adequate funding, at least there would be a “snowball’s chance in hell” for adequate education funding in the future. Putting our trust and dreams in the state legislature has failed us miserably, so why not buy a ticket for the lottery where there is actually a mathematical chance for Mississippi’s teachers and children to win?

It is still early in the 2016 legislative session, so there is always hope for improved education funding, but past experiences tell us not to get our hopes up. With hair brain schemes to eliminate state taxes and make more public school dollars available to private schools, anything close to adequate funding is not looking good for public schools. The only hope and prayer for K-12 education is for an outlier Republican legislator (not sure if such a creature exists) or a Democrat legislator who has yet to give up the ghost (such a creature is definitely mythical in Mississippi) embraces the wisdom behind the state purchasing massive blocks of Powerball tickets from Louisiana to bolster education funding. However, even if enough support could be garnered for such a plan, and the legislature designated lottery winnings go to K-12 public school education, everybody knows there is no guarantee the state Legislature would stand by such a commitment.

Commitments to education funding are arbitrary in Mississippi. As long as state legislators are not bound by the commitments of preceding legislatures or by their own laws, it will remain so. Presently, any device or action orchestrated by legislative action to boost education funding can be argued in subsequent years as nonbinding. Legislators can and have successfully argued that the current legislature cannot be fiscally bound to the fiscal commitment of a previous legislature (i.e. MAEP funding). In the case of a lottery, that would mean if a Mississippi ticket won the lottery, state legislators would most likely rescind all or part of their commitment to education and place 50% of the winnings in the state rainy day fund, give 35% of the winnings to the corporate world, keep 10% of the winnings for legislative expenses to organize and implement the lottery plan, and send the remaining 5% of the winnings to the public school districts. Afterwards legislators would brag about the financial windfall they had engineered for the good of Mississippi’s children and teachers. Sadly, the public would buy it. Educators would meekly take their windfall and continue to do the best they could with what they have. However, on the positive, Mississippi might jump from 50th in per student education expenditure to 48th in the nation, so bring on the lottery! After the defeat of Initiative 42, at least a lottery might once again give Mississippi educators and their supporters some hope for a better future for Mississippi’s children. Under our present leadership, a lottery is by far our greatest mathematical chance for adequately funding education in Mississippi.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD  January 12, 2016

Christmas Wish Lists for Teachers, Students, Parents, and State Legislators

Before Santa arrives in a couple of days, I am sending him the following Christmas Wish Lists. I hope his sleigh is not too overloaded to at least squeeze in a few of these Holiday wishes. Regardless, all of us need to be thankful for the many blessings we already have, and rejoice with the opportunity a new year brings to dream of the possibility of better days ahead.

Christmas Wish Lists:

Teachers’ Christmas Wish List for State Legislators:

  1. SUPPORT AND RESPECT FOR TEACHERS: Teachers desperately need – Mississippi desperately needs – a year where state legislators support teachers and public school education instead of putting both at the top of their hit list;
  2. ADEQUATELY FUND PUBLIC EDUCATION: After the heated battle and close defeat of Initiative 42, teachers need a sign from state legislators that they care about teachers and public education. Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves said after the defeat of Imitative 42 that teachers are not the Legislature’s enemy, and he called for a time of reassurance and healing. Did he mean what he said? Finding a way to increase public school funding would certainly serve as evidence that he was serious and not just spouting more political rhetoric;
  3. TRUST OF TEACHERS: Teachers need to be heard! Hopefully, 2016 will be the year state legislators treat teachers as trusted professionals and listen to their views on education as closely as they listen to the views of non-educators in the public;
  4. IMPARTIAL/FAIR DECISION MAKING: To be fair and impartial, state or Federal legislators who send their children to private schools should not be allowed to have a voice in the public school discussion. Their choice to send their children to private schools shows a lack of commitment to resolving public education issues in favor of deserting the ship completely. Their choice also represents a potential conflict of interest that is compounded by a conscious or unconscious bias toward public education;
  5. ACCOUNTABILITY EQUITY: If teachers are to be held accountable for the success of students in the classroom, state legislators should be held accountable for providing the resources and support teachers need to do their job, and parents should be held accountable for providing support and a learning environment in the home. It is time we embrace the fact that when schools fail, it is a collaborative effort by teachers, parents, students, legislators, universities, and even society. To correct the inadequacies in public school education, we must first recognize that we are dealing with a widespread human epidemic and not just an incompetent teacher problem.

 

Teachers’ Christmas Wish List for Parents:

  1. BE POSITIVE ABOUT SCHOOL: At home, parents should be positive about school. If they speak negatively about school and teachers at the dinner table, their child will carry that negativity to school;
  2. BE THERE FOR CHILDREN: The most positive and lasting imprint on children is a parent who is always there for them. Children do not need parents who make excuses for them. They need parents who are adults and not best friends. They need parents who hold them accountable for their actions. They need parents who understand that today’s excuses may be crippling their child’s future;
  3. MODEL LEARNING IN THE HOME: Parents need to turn off the television and let their children see them read a book! Parents need to take their children to something other than a ball game or the movie. They need to visit a museum, an art gallery, or hike a trail with their children. Parents need to make learning an active part of the home;
  4. TRAIN CHILDREN EARLY: Parents should train children from an early age to get up and go to school. They should train their children to be on time to school. If such simple training does not exist in a child’s early life, the consequences could impair their ability to maintain a job and make a living for themselves and their family later in life; and
  5. MUTUAL RESPECT: Nothing positive is ever accomplished through yelling and abusive language. In today’s world, both teachers and parents have a difficult job, and the only way to make it less difficult is for teachers and parents to work together. The primary function of a teacher and a parent is to build a better human being, and that can only be accomplished through mutual respect between teachers and parents and love for the child.

 

Students’ Christmas Wish List for Teachers:

[Note: These are actual student wishes I collected over my years in education.]

  1. GET RID OF TIME WASTERS: I once asked a group of high school students the following question, “What is one thing you would tell your teachers they could do to improve your classroom experience?” Their number one response was “Quit wasting my time!” They told me teachers should get rid of time wasters such as worksheets, classwork and homework that are rarely discussed, quiet time in class, free time in class, and boring movies that sometimes go on for two or three days. They said they hated assignments that were obviously given for no other purpose but to keep students busy and quiet;
  2. THE TEACHER’S UNDIVIDED PRESENCE: Students want teachers to act like they want to be a teacher! They do not respect teachers who through action or words make it known that they are a teacher only until they find something better to do. Kids know when teachers would rather be somewhere else;
  3. CONSISTENCY IN THE CLASSROOM: When it comes to discipline, students want teachers to be consistent and fair. Teachers should not write a student up today for something they let the student get away with yesterday. If it wasn’t bad enough for the student to be written up and sent to the office Monday, the same behavior shouldn’t be bad enough to write up and send the student to the office Tuesday;
  4. RESPECT FOR ALL STUDENTS: Students want teachers to respect them for who they are – not who the teacher wants them to be; and
  5. CHALLENGE ME: Students, especially high school students, want teachers to make their time in class worthwhile! Don’t just give them information; teach them to apply and use the information. Teach them how to learn!

 

Parents Christmas Wish List for Teachers and State Legislators:

  1. TEACHERS: Treat my child like you would treat your child in your classroom;
  2. TEACHERS: Communicate with me regularly. Please call me! While email is a convenient means of communicating, it is also the most impersonal form of communication. Keep me informed!
  3. TEACHERS: Treat me with the same respect you expect me to treat you! Don’t talk down to me because you think I am uneducated or a poor parent;
  4. LEGISLATORS: Quit pointing fingers of blame at teachers and parents! Quit talking, listen, and put money for education where your mouth is!
  5. LEGISLATORS: Model accountability! Be as accountable for your actions as you want teachers and parents to be.

 

Legislators’ Christmas Wish List for Teachers and Parents:

SORRY, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out what our state legislators really want! Lately, it seems the only thing they want or need is our vote. Once they have that, they pretty much write their own wish list and do as they please.

Oops! That was certainly not in the Christmas spirit, but maybe by this time next year things will be different and more positive between educators and state legislators. At least that is my Christmas wish.

 

I hope each of you (yes, even state legislators) has a Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year wrapped in all of God’s blessings! Until 2016, this is JL signing off.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD December 22, 2015

Petal School District Tells the Nation, “We are not last!”

Extra, Extra, read all about it! The Petal School District in Petal, Mississippi proves its students can compete nationally! The scores recently released from the spring 2015 PARCC assessments show Petal students scored above the state average as well as above the national average. In a state regarded as an academic bottom dweller, and academically hailed by its own Governor as a “dismal failure,” this news is simply amazing! So, how did this happen? Was it luck, or was the assessment flawed? Neither! The success of the Petal School District is the result of high expectations and hard work by students, teachers, parents, school administrators, and the community. Despite a less than education friendly state legislature, a statewide backwoods aversion to rigorous curriculum standards, and inadequate state public school funding, the Petal School District continued to be successful by putting the needs of children first.

The educators in Petal thumbed their noses at education floggers in the Mississippi Legislature, parents who cried homework was too hard, and a public more interested in their pocketbooks than funding education. They showed what can happen when kids have adults – teachers, school administrators, parents, and the community – who believe in them. The school district demonstrated that success in school is a lot like Christmas; it begins with faith and believing – faith in teachers and believing all kids can learn. Maybe, if state leaders demonstrated the same faith and support for educators and a stronger belief in the ability of Mississippi children to learn, all Mississippi children would have a chance at the same success. .

Many years ago, Petal took a leap of faith out of concern for the education of its children, and that faith and belief that a good education is at the core of success in life have propelled this small community to the forefront of public school education in Mississippi. Petal is an example of what can happen when everyone in the school district and the community commit themselves to common education beliefs. In Petal, high educational expectations are not confined within the walls of the schoolhouse; the same high expectations are held by the community, a major reason for the success of the school district. As a result, although the district feels the sting from the lack of support and insufficient funding at the state level, the district is not crippled or held hostage by the state’s indifference. When it comes to education, Petal’s unwavering commitment to children carries it through the hard times. It is sad the Mississippi Legislature does not have such a commitment.

The Petal School District and community should celebrate and be proud of their historic accomplishment. For the first time, Mississippi children had an opportunity to showcase with other children across the nation, and though the results show Mississippi has work to do, successes like Petal show Mississippi does not have to be last. For children and teachers to be able to compare themselves to other children and teachers across the nation is an invaluable tool. Unfortunately, the Governor and the state legislature did not see it as such and forced the Mississippi Department of Education to drop the PARCC assessment for a less rigorous, more Mississippi friendly assessment. Mississippi school children do not need a watered down Mississippi friendly assessment that will serve only to once again produce an unrealistic sense of accomplishment and success. In an age of escalating knowledge and constantly changing career opportunities, our children should be challenged to rise above the ingrained idea that “if it was good enough for my mama and daddy and their mama and daddy, it is good enough for me.” Our children are better than that; our children must be better than that to have the lives we dream and work for them to have. Thankfully, Mississippi school districts such as Petal recognize this and do everything humanly and fiscally within their means to challenge and prepare children to compete not only nationally but globally.

Although not perfect, the PARCC assessment provided a truer picture of where Mississippi students stand academically as compared with other students across the nation. It gave a more realistic picture of student strengths and weaknesses than any of the previous Mississippi friendly as well as educator friendly assessments the state has administered. It is deeply troubling that Mississippi leaders objected to such a potentially motivating and strategic educational tool; I can’t help but wonder what it is about Mississippi children that our state leaders do not believe in or want to hide. I am fairly certain though that whichever it is will be well hidden by the new state assessments; at least to those who choose to review it with a blind eye.

Regardless, school districts such as Petal will continue to thrive even with a watered down assessment; it will just make success a little more difficult. The Petal School District holds to a set of core learning principles that guide everything it does with the belief that all children can learn at the center of those principles. That belief is not a paper belief, but a real breathing conviction that children come first. It is a belief that the leadership in Jackson would do well to replicate. If the public and state leadership had the same unwavering commitment to put children first, Mississippi could move mountains. However, until such a glorious day arrives, it will take school districts like Petal to dare thumb their noses at the naysayers and dare say, “It’s for the kids!”

Congratulations Petal! You have once again made us proud! You have given hope for a brighter future for all Mississippi children during this Christmas season. Merry Christmas, and May God continue to bless the school district, the educators who work so hard for children, and the community that supports them so well.

JL

©Jack Linton, PhD   December 19, 2015