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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Midweek Meanderings 

This week seems so long after a holiday weekend! Working five days this week you say? Argh!

Remember when you were a kid and these little fads swept the school? The latest one in my school is putting an "X" on your hand. The deal is that people slap the "X" and then you have to ask someone out. One of the teachers called for me to come to her room because kids were all carried away doing the "X" thing and not the lesson. In between the time she called and I arrived, most of them had frantically rubbed the "X" off their hand. I asked someone to show me one and a brave soul did. I gave them a lecture about doing their work instead of this silly stuff and started to leave. Then I turned and told them that people had been asking other people out for a long time without having to have an "X" slapped.

I should've just called their bluff, walked around the room, and slapped everyone's "X". Then I could've told them that they HAD to ask someone out now and that I expected a report on it in 48 hours. That woulda showed them.

One of the things you get when working in a school is school pictures. Remember taking those? I still take them every year.
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I neglected to get my picture taken during the first round. The teacher in charge harassed talked me into sitting down for this one during retakes. There was a vague threat of putting something like this in the yearbook unless I submitted.
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We couldn't have that.

Words I didn't particularly want to hear from my ten year old daughter: "Dad, we need to go bra shopping soon." Then she got irritated when I joked about her lack of need for such a product. She said, "Men! You just don't understand. I need a bra Dad." *Sigh*

On the drive home Aubree was talking about Carrie Underwood and her new CD. She then fantasized briefly about being on "American Idol" and performing for the whole country. She said, "I'd be nervous but you'd be on the front row cheering me on." I agreed and then Patrick piped up, "I'd be there too but I'd be farting on the front row."

The more I think about those Sony music CDs installing a sneaky little piece of software on the computers of those who played the music, the madder I get. Who the hell does Sony think it is? Installing software that is hidden, can't be removed by the consumer without the possibility of crashing their computer, and opens the computer up to outside attacks is a crappy thing to do to people who just want to listen to music. They BOUGHT the music and should be able to listen to it anywhere without screwing up their computer. Want consumers to buy music and not download it from free peer-to-peer networks? Stop doing things like this. Now.

My Christmas card list has hit 30 and is still climbing. I'd love to send you a card. Please email me with your address if you want to participate.

A girl walked up to me at school, slid her arm around my waist, hugged me and said, "You're the nicest person at this school." Awwwww. I hugged her back and thanked her. Then she said, "can I have 35 cents? I want to buy a candy bar." I wish I had every dollar I've "loaned" out to kids in my career.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Ghosts of Christmas Past 

During the next month I thought that I would reminisce on some past Christmas holidays. Some of these posts will be fun and humorous and others will be much less so. This is the time of year that tends to take us back to times gone by. The memories can be heartwarming or they can be bitter ones. Emotions run high and I want to try and recapture some of those moments.

In 1978 I was a seventeen year old boy in his junior year of high school. My family lived in our large two-story brick home on Oak Street in the suburbs of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was a particularly bitterly cold Christmas Eve, but I had enjoyed swapping gifts with my family. My brothers and I retired for the evening in our upstairs bedrooms, awaiting the gifts from Santa that would be there the following morning.

It seemed like I had just gone to sleep when I felt hands shaking me and a familiar voice saying, "Brian, wake up. You've got to wake up." When I opened my eyes I saw my best friend Bob standing over my bed. I looked toward the window and saw that that it was barely light outside. Before I could ask him what he was doing there he said, "Mom's dead Brian." Then he burst into tears, standing at the side of my bed and looking down on me. I could only manage to ask how. The house she was staying in caught fire in the early hours that Christmas morning. She and her boyfriend were both dead. He wiped the tears from his eyes and we talked about his mom for awhile while the rest of my house slept. Then he was gone, back to be with his father and sister.

The rest of that morning was a blur. I know I received some gifts but they didn't mean much on that Christmas morning. I went to his house where I found Bob and his family sitting around the living room. Their presents lay unopened under the tree. His dad sat in his recliner lighting one cigarette from another. His sister sat wordlessly just staring off into space. We didn't talk much. I can remember the howling of the winter wind outside while we sat there.

Her name was Jimmie, a woman with a boy's name with a gruff demeanor that belied her playful nature. Bob's dad was an alcoholic and she had raised two kids with a husband that was drunk every day, had a hard time holding on to a job, and even a more difficult time holding on to money. He once lost the family car playing poker in a drunken stupor. On payday he would stand in line with the kids, taking a few dollars that she doled out for them to play with.

Then he stopped drinking after the doctor told him he would be dead in a year if he didn't. He cleaned up his act and was working steadily. You would've thought she would be thrilled, but she began drinking herself and going out with the girls after work. She left her husband and moved in with a boyfriend just outside of town. It was in that house she would die, the accident attributed to one of them falling asleep while smoking in bed.

I spent countless hours at her house during my adolescent years. She treated me as one of her own, and that was generally a good thing. She made my favorite meals when she knew I was coming to spend the night. She came to some of my basketball games and sat behind the bench cheering me on in that distinctive voice of hers. She liked to ruffle my curly hair and sometimes called me "Son #2". She told me once, "Brian, you're a really good boy but you're an onery little sonofabitch!" She bought gifts for my birthday and Christmas.

She had once been a high school basketball star herself. I saw pictures of the pretty blonde girl who averaged 20 points a game and had articles written about her in the newspaper. She had married a high school football star from a nearby school and started a family. Her face was weathered and you knew that her life had not been what she hoped it would be. She worked at the local Wal Mart and came home to cook and clean for her alcoholic husband and two kids. Her life wasn't an easy one, but she had wicked sense of humor and always seemed to have the right words for any occasion. I remember my friend Bob telling her seriously about his latest girlfriend and saying, "I'm in love mom". She chuckled and said wryly, "you're not in love son. You're just in heat!"

The next year at Christmas her ex-husband would get drunk for the first time in over two years. He blamed himself and his failings for her being in that house that morning. He would never be the same, would never remarry, and many years would pass before he dated again. I don't think Bob has ever been the same. A little part of him died that Christmas morning too. His trademark sparkle never seemed to shine as bright. His childhood was lost that night along with whatever innocence he had left. I know that Christmas is never a purely happy time for him and never will be again.

I think about Jimmie every year around this time. Twenty seven years later, tears still form in my eyes when I think about her. They flowed when I was writing this. She would be in her sixties now, a grandmother to a beautiful girl who graduated from high school last summer. Even after all these years, I can still see her laugh and still see her smile. I wonder what she would think of me now, if she would've been proud.

Jimmie? Rest in peace sweet lady.

Son #2

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Monday, November 28, 2005

Addressed To The North Pole 

Dear Santa:

I have been a very good boy this year. Ok, maybe very good is stretching it. But pretty good is still worth something, isn't it? After you've taken care of all the kids in the world, when you and Rudolph are heading home and just happen to fly over my house, I would appreciate you digging around in your bag.

I am proud to note that I don't need any of these things. My life will go on just fine if I never have any of them. I do want them all.

Electronic gizmos. Santa, remember when you brought me that chemistry set? That turntable/stereo set that was the rage back then? Well, my grizzled friend, a boy still does love his toys. I know that these things are not likely to be floating around in that red bag of yours, but it never hurts to ask. Does it?

An IPOD. I get orgasmic excited when I pass by them in the electronics store. Why do you tempt me so? It makes me feel like I should wear a condom in the electronics section.

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This monitor or one like it. My monitor now has little gray lines that are quite annoying to the eyes. This would fix me right up.

A DVD recorder along the lines of this. Way cool.

Books: You knew this was coming, didn't you? I did so appreciate those Hardy Boys mysteries you left under the tree every year. I'm a big boy now but I do enjoy reading. Its supposed to be a cold winter here. Drop a few of these for me to curl up with?

"Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln", by Doris Kearns Goodwin. As many people know, I'm intrigued by this time in history.

"The Year of Magical Thinking", by Joan Didion. This memoir of grief sounds like something I need to read.

"The Lincoln Lawyer", by Michael Connelly. I'm a fan of legal thrillers and this one is by an author I've always enjoyed.

"Sexual Intelligence", by Kim Cattrall. Being sexually unintelligent is not something I want to be.

"1776" by David McCullough. One of the best history writers of our time takes on this most important year.

Mary, Mary, by James Patterson. Another Alex Cross novel. I can't resist'em.

Consent to Kill, by Vince Flynn. Every year about this time Flynn comes out with another thriller. Every year I buy it or receive it as a gift. Every year I enjoy it immensely.

"A War Like No Other", by Victor Davis Hanson. Its all about the Athenians and Spartans. I'm hoping this will be riveting history.

"1491", by Charles Mann. A look at the Americas before Europeans arrived.

"Next Man Up" by John Feinstein. A look inside the N.F.L. by a very talented writer.

"The March", by E.L. Doctorow. Historical fiction based on Sherman's "March to the Sea".

"Character is Destiny" by John McCain. A collection of heroic stories.

"Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis" by Jimmy Carter. I do like to do some serious reading now and then.

"The Singularity Is Near" by Ray Kurzweil. The Author's discussion of humans transcending biology.

"The History of Love" by Nicole Krauss. It sounds like a good read.

"One Shot" by Lee Child. Jack Reacher is an engrossing character.

Music:I do love me some music Santa. You know I do. I remember those KISS, Boston, and Led Zeppelin 8 tracks you got me way back then. If you dig around in that bag and find an extra one of these I would kiss you on your chubby cheeks. Not on the lips though. A man does have his pride.

"The Bootleg Series" by Bob Dylan. What if the answer really is blowing in the wind?

"American Idiot" by Green Day. Not much of an album title but the few songs I've heard have been pretty cool.

"How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" by U2. These guys still rock.

"Birthright" by James Blood Ulmer. A masterpiece by a blues genius.

"80" by B.B. King. The old master collaborates with Van Morrison, Elton John, Roger Daltrey, etc.

"The Magic of Christmas" by Ray Charles. Have I ever mentioned that I love Ray Charles' music and that I love Christmas?

"Magic Time" by Van Morrison. Morrison's return to his R & B roots. I've heard "Stranded" and liked it a lot.

"The Long Road Home" by John Fogerty. Those singers that have a voice you'd recognize anywhere? John Fogerty is one of those.

Odds and Ends: You knew there had to be a few more things Santa. Right?

I love neckties. I enjoy wearing funky neckties. Serious suit. Funkadelic ties. Thats the ticket. It gives the kids at school something to talk about.

How about this one Santa? Wouldn't I look cool in it?

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I kinda like this Carpe diem tie as well.
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The Norelco Wet-Dry Shaver. I think it would trim me up rather nicely.

Perhaps a little Drakkar to make me smell good? Its the only cologne I wear now.

It is getting cold outside and I do have a jacket fetish. I could warm up in one of these.

Santa? Stop yawning. I'll stop! If you can't accomodate me, thats ok. I don't need any of this stuff. There are certainly boys out there more deserving than I am. But remember this. I've set out a lot of cookies and milk for you over the years. Once they were even homemade cookies. You've also got to admit that I've been pretty good. Reasonably good you say? I'll buy that.

Ho Ho Ho!



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Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Good Old Days 

Its common for middle aged people like me and those who are older to talk about the "good old days". I'm as guilty of it as anyone. You know what I mean. We talk about how there was less crime, the streets were safer, schools were better, fewer people got divorced, everyone helped everyone else, and life in general was better than today. There are some nuggets of truth in there, but for the most part life today is far better than the "good old days" ever were.

I'd rather have my kids growing up today than any time in the golden past. My daughter won't be shunted to a "traditional" girl's job and stand a better chance of achieving her dreams. My son won't be sent to an institution. They both stand a better chance of living long, healthy, and productive lives.

As for the good old days? There were certainly some desirable things about them. But they really weren't all that good.

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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Women and Leadership 

Recent polls show Hillary Clinton and Condoleeza Rice as serious contenders to be the next president of the United States if they choose to run. Both are highly educated, professionally accomplished, articulate, and intelligent women. Certainly they are as well credentialed (if not better) than the men who have held that office. Before now, no woman has ever had a serious shot to ascend to the highest office in the nation. Not all that long ago it was considered to be impossible. A woman just couldn't be elected. Why?

When I was growing up I remember hearing the argument that women made their decisions with their emotions and not by logic and reason. Therefore, the argument went, a woman did not have what it takes to be president, a C.E.O., a governor, or even a school superintendent. We can't have someone running around making all those emotional decisions can we? Where would we be without leaders making important decisions through a coolly reasoned process, assembling all the facts and making a reasoned decision? Thats what we guys do best right? Take the emotion out of things. I also heard the P.M.S. jokes. Half seriously, people would say, "do you want a woman with her finger on the nuclear trigger during that time of the month?"

There are other arguments as well. How can rough-and-tumble soldiers respect a female commander in chief? Substitute executive vice presidents, department heads, police officers, construction workers, or other male-dominated roles and you'll hear the same thing. Being president has always had a macho factor associated with it. A number of presidents have been generals in the army. Others have been decorated war heroes. Franklin Roosevelt took great care to hide his disability from the nation. People have responded to presidents with a "swagger". It symbolizes a cockiness and a confidence that we might hate in a friend, but don't mind in a leader.

My dad graduated from high school at age fifteen and from college at nineteen. He took a teaching job in a a rural Oklahoma town, and right before school started the principal left town. To fill the spot the superintendent made my father the principal in spite of his youth. Why? He was the only male teacher in the building. A woman couldn't be a high school principal in those days. An elementary principal, yes. High school? No. So my dad was the principal of a school where several of the students were older than he was.

Perhaps I look at things differently working in a profession where females still make up a majority. I have worked for both male and female principals and school superintendents. My sample isn't big enough to draw a conclusion, but I can offer a few observations based on my experience. I found the stereotypes to be almost totally reversed. The females I have worked under have been firm, tough, assertive leaders who have a decision making process that is based on a combination of philosophy and facts. They have been more detail-oriented than the men I've worked under and had a strong philosophical base. They don't lose their temper or their cool any more often than the men have. I've seen a female principal coolly fire an employee in difficult circumstances. I've seen her hold her ground under belligerent attacks.

I also found little resentment among men serving under a female leader. Most of the resentment I've seen comes from other women. I've been perfectly comfortable serving under both men and women. Its never been an issue for me. If you can do the job and care about kids I want to work with you.

Toss out the stereotypes. Men can be weak and emotional. Women can be cool and logical. In this day and time we should know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. If a woman has what it takes to be president, I want to vote for her. If she has what it takes to be a school leader, I want to work for her. If she has what it takes to run a large company, I want people I care about to work for her.

So is there a "female perspective" to leadership? I've heard it said that a woman would be less likely to take us into a war. A mother's perspective on combat? That a woman would be more compassionate, more likely to extend help to the downtrodden. More concerned about education and healthcare than the "macho" areas of defense and national security. I'm not so sure. I think there are compassionate, soft and fuzzy men and women who can make very difficult decisions without breaking a sweat.

Not only do I think there are women capable of leading this country, I think we are approaching the day where gender won't even be relevant. I don't know whether Hillary or Condi would make a good president, but they've earned the right to make their case to the people. We've gone too long in excluding half of the population from consideration. I hope we can judge them and future female candidates by their merits and not their genitals.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Weekend Roundless 

There will be no weekend roundup this week. There is simply too much going on this weekend for me to be able to the roundup justice. I did my Black Friday shopping, found some good deals, and was able to take care of most of the Christmas shopping for the kids. I had our photo taken, moved a sofa from my brother's house to mine, and intend to relax this evening.

If you are in need of some reading material I can recommend that you surf the blogs on my blogroll to the right. They are excellent.

TGIF everyone and have a great weekend! :)

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Midweek Meanderings 

Here we are on Thanksgiving night. I've rounded into holiday form rather quickly. I'm stuffed. I don't think I want to eat for a week. Ok, not really.

Aubree had basketball practice Monday night. About thirty minutes before practice she said, "its time to go dad." Now? Why? She replied, "my friends and I like to be early so we can sit there and talk before practice." Hmmm. She looked sheepish and said, "we like to watch the boys who practice before we do." Boys? "Yes, we just like to look at them and tease them." TEASE them? "Yeah, we laugh at them when they have to run." Whew.

Jennifer asks this question in a recent post:
If you had to choose between not having sex (including sexual related activities) for the rest of your life, and being poor, what would you choose?
Rich and in celibacy!
Lots of sex and no money!

Can I do a Deion Sanders and just say....both? While waving goodbye to my bulging mutual funds I guess I'd have to choose "B". Lifelong celibacy is just not an option for me.

I'm one of those earlybird shoppers. I have the adds for all the sales. I'm plotting my strategy tonight and will be up at an ungodly hour to brave the crowds and get those bargains. I'm on a budget, so I have to get the most I can for the money.

I thought I'd share a few photos from our Thanksgiving celebration:

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My dad holding court after the meal with my brother Kerry and his wife Karen.

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My youngest brother Matt and his lovely wife Stephanie.

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Patrick watching a little television this afternoon.

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My brother Scott relaxing after the feast.

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Aubree with one of those funny little looks she has.

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Patrick playing with my niece Kyra. She was yelling "PATWICK!!!"

We had a blast. There was lots of delicious food and good conversation. The kids are spending the night there tonight so that I can go shopping EARLY tomorrow.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving 

I do love this holiday. I'm such a sap you know. These warm, fuzzy holiday celebrations are the stuff I'm made of. I enjoy celebrating with my family and all the laughter that entails. I love the pre-Christmas feeling. I savor the time with my kids that is not spent in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

Everyone knows the history of this day. The original Thanksgiving celebration was a celebration of a good harvest, and more basically for just being alive. When thinking of what it is I have to be thankful for, that is a good place to start.

I am thankful to be alive and breathing for yet another year. As I wrote in this post, I know I'm lucky just to be here.

I am thankful for my children. They are truly a part of me and it is inconceivable to imagine a life without them. They make me whole. They make me smile and laugh. They make me responsible. They are my everything.

I am thankful for my good fortune. I honestly have very little money but I haven't missed any meals, have a roof over my head every night, and if I manage my money carefully, the occasional fun time out. Others do not have nearly as much and I'm very thankful that I do.

I am thankful to live in this country. Without waving the flag too much, I know that I live in a nation that affords me a great deal of freedom and a chance to achieve my dreams. It is not perfect, but it is my country and I'm very proud to be an American.

I am thankful that so many of my fellow citizens see others in need and reach out to them. The outpouring of support for the displaced people of New Orleans was so gratifying. I dream of the day when it doesn't take a disaster of that proportion to make us all realize our duty to each other.

I am thankful for those out there who do dangerous and thankless work on behalf of all of us. Emergency room doctors. Policemen. Soldiers. Firemen. Teachers. Electrical line workers. High wire construction workers. Emergency medical techs. Social workers. Neighborhood volunteers. Those people and so many more make great sacrifices and take great risks to make life better for the rest of us.

I am thankful for the women who have shared my life at different points. Although things didn't work out, I learned from them and am a better person because of it. I am thankful for their love and it will always be returned by me.

I am thankful for the girl that I am currently spending my time with. She is a wonderful person and I'm glad that she has chosen me as the love interest in her life. I am thankful for her tolerance and patience.

I am thankful for my kids at work. They are not perfect either, but they are my little lambs and I am fiercely protective of them. I'm privileged to have been chosen to work with them and I try to never forget that.

I am thankful for my good health. While age has inflicted a bruise or two, I am still a healthy middle aged man. I am perfectly capable of riding a bicycle, playing basketball, having sex, or going on a mountain hike. I try not to take that for granted either.

I am thankful for special friends. I won't mention names but you know who you are. Old buddies. Former girlfriends or lovers. Someone who has filled a void in my life with a well-timed chat or phone call. That person who has shown an interest in my life and let me into theirs. I am thankful for your friendship, your companionship, and your love. How is it that I'm so blessed to have you in my life?

I am thankful for my parents. They are such fantastic people and I would think that even if I didn't call them mom and dad. They keep me grounded and remind me of the values I grew up learning.

I am thankful for my brothers. Great guys, every single one of them. They are all happily married and either have children now or one on the way! They also have great taste.....all of them are married to beautiful, kind, and wonderful women.

I am thankful for my blog friends. Very thankful. I've said it before and I'll say it again here. Y'all rock and I am so grateful that you let me share part of my life with you and that you return the favor. I wish I could meet all of you.

I am thankful for my co-workers. Do you know how inspiring it is to see so many people who are passionate about helping kids? Going to work is a joy for me and that is one of the many reasons.

I am thankful for good books, good music, and good movies. I love losing myself in a good book, relaxing or rocking out to kick-ass music, or letting a movie take me somewhere I haven't been before.

I am thankful that I am who I am and for my journey of accepting that.

I am thankful for the developmentally disabled man who stands shivering in the cold ringing the Salvation Army bell. I am grateful for the salesgirl who has been on her feet for ten hours but still manages to give me a warm smile. I am thankful for the blogger who takes the time to send someone she has never met a sweet email or a pick-me-up card. I am thankful for those who are standing in a soup kitchen at this very moment, preparing a Thanksgiving meal for those who otherwise would not have one. I am thankful for the soldier who stands post in Iraq in the most hazardous of conditions, regardless of his politics. I am thankful for the artist, the film director, the actor, or the singer who brings beauty and creativity to this world. I am thankful for the young family who is driving down the highway tonight, making a long trek to spend time with their children's grandparents. I am thankful for the young person who is studying over the holiday weekend to get into college and make this world a better place. I am thankful..........

for you.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Holiday Cheer 

I casually mentioned it in a previous post, but I wanted to elaborate on it more. Like last year, I would love the opportunity to send you a Christmas card. I fully intend to have a picture of my little family to send along with each card. I sent out dozens of them last year and it was a most enjoyable experience. I loved the cards I received as well. It is my very small way of spreading holiday cheer to many of you who bring me cheer throughout the year.

Email is great, IMs are fun, and giving and receiving comments on blogs is wonderful. But there is nothing that replaces a "snail mail" letter or card. Very few people write letters anymore. I've looked at my parent's scrapbooks and seen hundreds of letters and cards. In these high tech modern times we tend to let that form of communication slip. At least once a year it would be fun to revive it.

I do understand the need for anonymity that some of my readers have. If this in any way makes you feel uncomfortable, please don't feel obliged to participate. I do understand. I do pledge of course not to reveal your personal information to anyone else.

Sound like fun? Email me at princ61@gmail.com with your address and I'll send you a card. I'd be happy to reciprocate my address for anyone who desires it.

I wish all of you the best in this upcoming holiday season!

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Monday, November 21, 2005

Leaving No One Behind 

Taken a look at schools in this country lately? You should. It affects each and every one of us.

Education today is undergoing the most dramatic changes in my lifetime. Not since the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 was passed has there been a bigger shift in the way your children are educated. That act pumped in big federal dollars to schools to assist children who were growing up in poverty. Title I of this law gave the national government a foothold in public schools and has been reauthorized repeatedly since then. The most recent reauthorization? The law known as "No Child Left Behind". NCLB was a culmination of years worth of reform movements around the country. Accountability swept through state legislatures and made its way into national law.

I'm going to get away from the jargon and try to discuss what is going on out there in schools. Your elected officials looked at public schools in the United States and didn't like what they saw. This country spends over $500 billion on its public schools, most of that money coming from local property taxes and state taxes. The thinking was....what the hell are schools doing with all that money? We give those school boards big wads of cash without regard to what kind of a job they are doing educating kids. Some schools are doing well. Others aren't. What we are going to do is hold schools accountable for results. If their students aren't showing progress in reading, writing, and math, we want heads to roll. They passed "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) with huge bipartisan majorities. Its changing the face of American schools in many ways, good and bad.

Yes, schools have been giving tests for years. Remember those achievement tests you took? I was proud as punch that I was reading at a college level in 6th grade. We took them, our parents and schools got the results, and the averages were published. But no one was using those tests to hold anyone accountable. They weren't used to evaluate the teacher or the school. They were used to evaluate the student's progress.

NCLB changes all that. First, all of the kids take the test with very few exceptions. When I first got into administration in the early 90's it was an open secret that schools encouraged their special education students to take a couple of days of vacation during testing time. No more. For the test to be valid, 95% of the enrolled students have to take the test. Last year I was calling parents of sick kids at home and asking them to drag their student to school for a couple of hours to take the test. Every kid counted. I sent a staff member to go knock on doors of absent 8th graders. We needed them all. If 94.5% of our kids take the test and make a perfect score? We flunk as a school. That is very bad.

So what is being tested? NCLB requires each state to develop "standards and benchmarks". Simply put, the state defines what an 4th grader, an 8th grader, or a sophomore in high school should know. This information is distributed to schools and we are expected to teach "the standards". Remember when your elementary teacher taught a six week unit on dinosaurs or that really cool weeks-long unit on butterflies? No more. When I first started teaching, you taught the "curriculum" which was very broadly defined. I wasn't supposed to be teaching polynomials in my American History class, but if I wanted to spend two months on the Civil War and two days on World War I, there was no one to argue with me about it. No more. Teachers are no longer free agents who can teach what they want when they close that classroom door. We don't teach the curriculum in that sense. We teach the standards. If a principal in any American school today walks in a classroom, he/she expects that teacher to be doing any activity that relates to those standards. If dinosaurs aren't in there, the teacher better damn well not be spending time on it. Too much is at stake.

Then lets suppose that all of your students as a whole make "Adequate Yearly Progress". This just means that you've scored high enough to avoid getting in trouble. You're golden then, right? Not so fast. Kids are broken into subcategories and all of those subcategories must also make "AYP". Its broken down by gender, race, and handicapped status. If your school as a whole does well, but your Hispanic students or special ed students don't? You flunk.

So what happens when you flunk and don't make AYP? Parents are notified that their kids are attending a school that didn't do very well. If a school stays on the list for a couple of years, parents are offered free tutoring at the school's expense. If it continues to stay on the list, the state steps in and bureacrats who haven't seen the inside of a classroom for 20 years will run wild down the halls. Improvement plans will be drawn up. The principal will probably be fired, transferred, or reassigned. The same could happen to the teachers. In large school systems parents are offered the opportunity to transfer their kid to a school that isn't on "the list". My current school isn't on "the list" and we have several hundred transfer students.

So what do I think of all this? It may surprise you to learn that I don't object to accountability for schools. We're spending the hard-earned bucks of the taxpayers and they are entitled to know that their money is being spent well. If students aren't learning to read, write, and do math, there is something wrong that needs to be addressed. Educators should be expected to produce results. I do believe that every child can learn and that we should aggressively make it our mission to assist every child to reach his/her potential. Those who don't want to do that should be out selling used cars or asking if you want fries with your order. I'm proud of the work I do and I don't have a problem with being evaluated.

I don't have a problem with "assessment" either. Good teachers have always tested their students and used that information to help kids who are falling behind and to improve their instruction. If the kids don't "get it" you can't just shrug and move on. You've got to go back and do it again. Reading is especially critical. Every facet of becoming an educated person depends on it. Have you looked at math textbook recently? You can't do math now unless you are a strong reader. So I'm all in favor of testing as long as we use the results to help kids. Please also recognize that some kids are not good test takers. We try and teach them that skill, but many struggle with it. That kid who is playing "connect the dots" on that test? He and a buddy or two may cost someone their job.

But you know something? Thats not anywhere near all of what we do in school. We have kids walk in on Monday morning who haven't had a decent meal all weekend. A school in my district has a full blown medical clinic operating inside its doors. Students and parents in that school get free medical care and prescriptions for a buck. Other schools have social service caseworkers right there. Parents actually pick up welfare benefits inside their kid's schools. A lot of our kids show up with severe emotional needs. Tried to teach a kid who is severely depressed lately? Or a girl who spends her evening hours slicing on her arms with a razor blade? Perhaps a kid who is living in a car with his mom because dad tossed them out and moved his girlfriend in? I'm not making excuses....I don't believe in making excuses that any kid can't learn. I am saying that many people out there don't understand the unique challenges that public schools face today. Private schools? Many of them do a fine job and provide quality education to their students. But how many of them have students with dual diagnoses of mental retardation/bipolar disorder? We have several. We take every kid who walks through the door. Its apples and oranges.

Schools are much more than places with "consumers" who take "assessments" that provide us "data" that we "disaggregate" and "improve" so that we won't be embarassed by the local TV and newspapers. We're slowly becoming full blown social service agencies that provide everything from free breakfast to intensive counseling. I deal with kids every day who deal with challenges that would have been unfathomable to me at their age. I grew up with educated parents in a middle class suburb with clean and safe schools. Many of my students have none of those things. They start off in the hole and it is all of our responsibility to help them get out of it.

So lets do the testing and have accountability. Lets just don't fetishize it to the point where that is all that matters. The teachers in those "failing schools"? Many of them are working their asses off in the most troubled environment. They've chosen to work with the most challenging kids. In many cases they are doing a better job of teaching than those in the schools that are "passing." There are schools in my district that will never have to worry about being on "the list". Does this mean that their principal and teachers are doing the best job? Of course not. My own school is a "borderline" school. We have several hundred new transfer students this year. Those students might cause us to "fail" and get on "the list". Are my teachers doing a worse job this year than last? Think about that next time you see those "lists" published.

I had a student in my office last week that spent the night at a different house every night for a week, passed around like a baton. He has no idea where he left his math homework or his English book.

Assess that.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Who's Your Daddy? 

It was one of those all-kids, all-the-time weekends. We had a lot of fun. I thought I'd share a couple of pictures and some vignettes from this pre-holiday weekend.

Aubree is now playing basketball on her school's fifth grade team. She signed up Wednesday, practiced on Thursday, and played the whole game on Saturday. You must remember that Aubre is a little girl but she is fairly athletic. She was the smallest girl on the floor Saturday afternoon and also the fastest.
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I have to bite my tongue when I watch her play, remembering I'm there as a dad and not a coach. Still, I couldn't resist barking out encouragement and a few suggestions. Her team had one very big strong girl who got most of the rebounds. Most of the offense consisted of this girl throwing long passes to Aubree. It almost looked more like football, a receiver going out for a pass. Over and over. She managed to score a couple of baskets in her team's loss.
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I did make the mistake of asking her on the way to the game why she had to apply lip gloss to play basketball. That earned me one of those, "you just don't understand" looks that I occasionally get when asking questions about ten year old girl customs.
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I also spent a lot of time with Patrick on a homework project for one of his classes. The assignment was to find seven songs that represent different things about your life, burn them on a CD, make a CD cover, and be able to explain the lyrics of each song. His selections?

A Song That Represents Something You Do Well - "Bicycle" by Queen
A Song That Represents A Goal You Have- "Turn The Page" by Bob Seger
A Song That Makes You Feel Good- "Some Gave All" by Billy Ray Cyrus (he heard this song at a Veteran's Day assembly a couple of weeks ago and has been talking about it since.)
A Song That Represents A Place You Are Most Comfortable- "American Pie" by Don McLean
A Song That Represents What Kind of Friend You Are- "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Middler
A Song That Represents The Kind of Friends You Have- "You've Got A Friend" by Carole King
A Song That Motivates Or Inspires You- "Its A Long Way To The Top" by AC/DC (he listened to this over and over playing the air guitar quite well)

I did get credit on the CD as the "producer".

Aubree told me that I needed a bumper sticker for my car that said, "Who's Your Daddy?" and that when she had a car of her own she would have one that said, "Daddy's Girl".

Patrick asked for a 10 month advance on his allowance so that he could buy a new TV. No dice!

Aubree cleaned the entire kitchen without being asked. Major brownie points for that girl!

Patrick cleaned his room without complaining. Brownie points there too!

While installing new antivirus and anti-spyware software on Aubree's computer, I also installed parental controls. I know she's not doing anything harmful online but why tempt fate? I didn't say anything to her, just installing it and turning the computer over to her. About a half hour later she came out and said, "whats up with the parental controls? What is the password?" I asked her what page she was trying to look at and she showed me a Google search for an anime cartoon character. Some of the pages in the search would load with the controls and others wouldn't. She said, "I've seen this parental control thing advertised on TV but I never thought it would happen to me!"

We had a good time together this weekend and now are looking forward to a holiday week!

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Lucky To Be Alive 

I was watching something on TV last week, and one of the characters said to the other, "you're lucky to be alive." Luck indicates that there is an element of chance....of risk. I'm lucky if I win the lottery or get three blackjacks in a row. I'm lucky if lightning strikes a short distance away and never touches me. I'm lucky if a tornado passes over my house. So I was thinking, what does it mean to be lucky to be alive?

I am the luckiest guy in the world to be alive and typing these words today. What are the odds that I would be here? They were totally against me. Millions to one. How so? Well, let me explain.

What were the odds 100 years ago that this unique human being named Brian would be sitting here today? Neither set of my grandparents had met 100 years ago. What are the chances that all four of them would meet, give birth to my parents, therefore giving me a chance to exist? If any of my grandparents had chosen to marry someone else I never would've existed. My parents wouldn't have existed. My grandparents would've had children and grandchildren, but I wouldn't be among them. I never would've lived.

But they did meet, marry, and have the children that became my parents. What are the odds that my parents would meet? What if my dad had taken a different job somewhere else? What if my mom had fallen in love with the football team captain and married him? What if my dad had fallen for a lovely waitress in a restaurant? I wouldn't be here. What if my dad's little sperm hadn't swam as strong as they did in 1960? What if my parents had conceived a month or two later? Once again, I would never have existed. They would've had a child. It just wouldn't have been me.

But I beat all those odds and was conceived. My mom didn't have an abortion or an accidental miscarriage. She didn't fall down a flight of stairs. I survived those nine tumultuous months in her womb. A lot of kids conceived at the same time did not. I was born. I gasped my first breaths of air. I didn't contract any mysterious infections or die of SIDS. I survived.

I made it through a fairly typical childhood. Those falls from climbing trees didn't break my neck. I didn't drown when sneaking off to swim in the creek near our house. I didn't run my bike in front of a car. I wasn't murdered by a deranged lunatic. I didn't die from some childhood accident. I survived sampling mothballs when I was five years old. I continued to grow and mature.

I became a teenager. I was a typical teenage driver, but somehow I didn't die in a traffic accident even though I had one at high speed on the highway. I drank alchohol but never succumbed to alcohol poisoning. I got in fights but no one ever stabbed or shot me. I participated in sports but never died in a freakish incident like many you read about today. My heart was strong and I was able to play basketball into my college years. I stupidly jumped off a high cliff and only landed in deep water.

I became an adult. I've been driving a car for for 28 years now. In all that time I've never had a serious accident. Think about it. We drive these huge tons of metal just a few feet from each other over roads and highways at high speed. I've survived that for all these years without ever getting hurt. I haven't contracted AIDS in spite of not always practicing safe sex. My body has held up through all the abuse I've put it through. I've walked through high crime areas at night without being killed for the few bucks I've had in my wallet. I've hiked in the mountains without falling and breaking my neck. I've fished without being bitten by a poisonous snake. I've flown in many airplanes that didn't crash. I've flirted with married women and their husbands haven't killed me. I've never been in a school where a student has used a gun. I haven't contracted a deadly disease.

Through all of those daunting odds I'm here. I'm alive. WHY? By all rights, I shouldn't be. No gambler would've bet on it 100 years ago. Or 50 years ago. Maybe not even 4o years ago. There are human beings who never existed because I did. All the many things that would've precluded me being here didn't happen. When you look at it that way, I am one lucky sonfabitch. Who am I to beat those kind of odds? I'm just a guy. A guy who is here against all the odds. A guy who looks at his life and thinks, "why am I here?"

Is there a reason I'm here or is it all just cosmic chance? Out of all the possible people that could be alive on this planet today, why am I one of the lucky ones? The chosen ones? Was it all just a stroke of luck?

I'm a middle aged man who has had his share of successes in this life and some miserable failures. I think I've helped a lot of kids. I've done a decent job with the two children I've been blessed to have share my life. I've spread some love around to the women I've been fortunate enough to share my time with. I've contributed ideas and inspirations in the schools I've been fortunate enough to serve. I've loved and I've lost. I've danced and I've cried. I've beamed proudly and I've hidden in dark corners where no one can see me.

Since men and women first carved on cave walls, they've asked this question. Why am I here? What is my purpose? What is the meaning of life? It could all be gone tomorrow. I could fall asleep tonight and never wake up. I could die in a car crash tomorrow. I have to believe that I am here for a reason. I have to believe that I have something to share or something to give. I feel like I'm a man in search of his destiny. I've found some of it, but pieces still remain out there like a treasure hunt in progress. There is a reason I'm here. There is something more for me out there. I'm happy in my life, but feel like there are things I'm missing. What are they?

I'm here and so are you. We shouldn't be, but we are. That is exciting. We've all won the lottery of life, every single one of us. We've beat the odds. If any of us aren't here tomorrow we are already winners. We beat the odds. There is so much more to learn. So much more excitement to be had. So much fun to be enjoyed. So many moments to be savored. In Louisiana they call it "lagniappe", a little something extra that you don't expect. Every moment from this one forward is lagniappe. We shouldn't have it but we do. Whether that lagniappe is one day or 10,000 days it belongs to us to take what we will from it and give what we can to others. Statistically speaking, I've got thirty more years to play with...maybe a little more, maybe less. Another day to teach my kids. Another day to teach yours. Another day to make love. Another day to learn more. Another day to grow as a person.

That puts a smile on my face. Its all lagniappe baby. All of it. Every minute. Every day. Every month. Every year.

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Weekend Roundup 11-18/11-19 


Its the weekend before a holiday. Next week is a short work week, and as much as I love my job I'm looking forward to that.

I'm thankful to have found so many excellent posts to read. I think you'll agree once you peruse them with me.

The Funky Cowboy broke up with his girlfriend. Mind of Me let his son know that he was aware of his cyberspace activities.

New Wave Gurly is fed up with bureaucratic bullshit. Hillbilly Mom is fed up with Amazon.com.

Edge is Vegas bound. Breazy isn’t bound anywhere this year. She is home for Thanksgiving.

Greek Shadow shares a story about one of his professors. Thomai shares a sighting of someone from her favorite director’s films.

Dawn had a migraine headache. Stephanie has everyone fooled.

Lu’s son wanted to know what was for dinner. Keb wanted Josh Lucas….at least in her dreams.

Rachel’s daughter demonstrated a very generous spirit. Babs demonstrates her knowledge of mountain music.

Irina got to see a United Nations vote. Jennifer got to see a lot of snow.

A movie reminded Roselle of a sweet memory. Walker’s brother called him an idiot and it reminded Walker of his brother’s own deficiencies.

Dove reports on a very old tortoise. Cheryl reports that it is her birthday!

M_D had some happy thoughts. Karen had some good blood test results.

DL wonders if she is normal. Safiyyah wonders about research that shows that more intelligent women are less likely to marry.

The Real Me needed a hug. Joan needed to find her Christmas graphics collection.

Dwayne went shoe shopping with his wife. Sarah is going to the hospital for surgery.

Pat created the perfect man in her story. It wasn’t exactly the perfect man that was hitting on Restless Angel.

Susan introduces her non-conformist son. Teresa introduces some cherubic history.

Chicky Babe discusses music videos and sex. Lime discusses parent-teacher conferences.

Sally’s daughter is having a birthday. Vickie is peeling away some of her layers.

Phoenix shares some of her sources of inspiration. T. Marie shares what she did with her sick day.

Colleen had a discussion with her therapist. Steel Cowboy had an inspirational moment at a school board meeting.

Maddy wonders if she’s confused us. MrsCoach2U wonders why young boys are always playing with their “thing”.

Joe offers some thanks. Tisha offers advice about what not to do at senior citizen’s night at the buffet.

Monica asked for prayers for her son. Scorpy asks why things always happen whenever you have a little extra money saved.

Sleeping Mommy discusses the value of cousins. Jack discusses a parent who publicly humiliated her child.

Jules is living a little left of right. Simply Satisfied is thinking about regrets.

Margaret received a lot of good feedback at parent-teacher conferences. Stationery Queen will be receiving requests for Christmas cards.

Mary Lou misses her girl. Darla misses having sex as often as she’d like.

Carol shares some blonde jokes. Michael shares an inspiring interview.

MamaKBear didn’t have any fun in court. It sounds like Pearl did have fun at the hockey game.

Mystic wonders if he knows. Pauly wondered why his cab driver wouldn’t talk.

Guy’s daughter shares some pictures. Trucker Bob shares the story of a trip to Arkansas.

Meg has a lot to be thankful for. Faith has been going through some difficult times.

Aka Monty is planning to do some drunken blogging. Kim is enjoying Martha Stewart’s new show.

FlyGirl wondered if she should go get coffee. Redneck Diva wondered when winter hit.

John has an opinion about opinions. Asp has an opinion about the new Harry Potter movie.

Melanie is stepping back from blogging. Muse likes to take risks and not always follow the safe route.

Have a fantastic weekend my friends.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Midweek Meanderings 

Its truly a manic midweek. Work, kids, job, principal's academy, basketball games. My time is being pulled in all different directions.

Someone let this guy loose in the school hallway today. A man on a mission I'm sure!

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I had the pleasure last weekend of meeting the ever-so-talented Babs and her family. We made a surprise appearance at the knife show where her husband was displaying his wares. We chatted with him for awhile, and he called Babs to come down and join us. She was lovely, easy to talk to, and I think all of us enjoyed it. Meeting other bloggers is just way cool.

I got flirted with by a woman in a drugstore near my school today. I must say that this doesn't happen very often, but when it does it certainly lifts my spirits. We middle aged bald school administrator types don't usually get talked to this way! I was looking at some items on a shelf and one of the store's workers was sitting on the floor stocking a display shelf. I heard a voice say, "you certainly look very nice today." I didn't even turn around because I was sure she was talking to one of her coworkers. She said, "sir, I don't know if you heard me but I said that you look very nice." I turned around and I was the only person there. I blushed and said, "thank you very much." A few minutes later I walked back by and she said, "if you keep doing that you're going to distract me from my work!" I laughed and told her that she'd made my day. She said, "if you wear that suit very often you'll get your day made a lot".

I spent some time with my principal today talking about my professional future. She has been so supportive of me that it just blows me away. She's not just my boss. She's my mentor and my advocate. That means so much to me. I don't know how I can ever repay her.

Aubree's school counselor called me today. She told me that Aubree was very articulate and very kind to her classmates. She said that a lot of the girls in her grade had issues to deal with and that Aubree was a support to many of them. This made me very proud. She then told me that Aubree told her that she had moments of sadness related to being adopted. The counselor told me that she'd talked about this with Aubree, but thought she might benefit from more intense counseling sessions. A local mental health agency has counselors that do visits in the school and several of her classmates are benefitting from the service. She discussed this with Aubree and told her that if she wanted to do it she would call me and ask for my consent. Aubree told her, "my dad will give his permission. He always supports me." I did indeed give my consent and thanked the school counselor for being there for my daughter.

Have you ever went to a movie and realized a few minutes into a show that you've read the book? I went with my date to see "Derailed" last weekend. The plot sounded very familiar to me. After I few minutes I turned to her and said, "I've read this book." This is not the first time this has happened to me. The movie was good, but knowing how it would all turn out did take some of the mystery out of it.

I had to suspend a boy today for bringing a pocketknife to school. In this day and time that is a huge no-no. I told his mother that when I was going to school most boys carried a knife in their pocket. A fair number of them even had guns in their trucks in the parking lot. It wasn't considered a big thing. Columbine and the other school shootings have changed the way we view our kids and the way schools operate. Its a sad thing.

The kids piled into my car at my parent's house a couple of days ago. Patrick plopped into the back seat and I turned around to talk to him. Then I turned and talked to Aubree for a minute and began to drive away. I heard, "STOP Dad!" Patrick had gotten back out of the car to pick up something in the yard and I hadn't realized it. He was standing there at the curb as I was driving away. Aubree thought this to be hugely funny. Patrick didn't see the humor at all.

There is a group of boys in special education classes that like to salute me. I walk by and they all snap to attention and give me a salute. I play along, salute back, and say, "carry on gentlemen". Sometimes I do an inspection. "Tuck that shirt in soldier!" The ROTC instructor saw me the other day and said, "Brian, you've really got to work on that salute."

During the day I shake a lot of kid's hands, bump a lot of fists, and do a lot of high fives. You may not know it, but there are a lot of ways to do handshakes, fist bumps, and high fives. A lot of the kids have different ways to do them and they expect me to learn THEIR way. I think I'm getting better. One version involves both people sliding their hands to the other's elbow. You move your hands down their arm until your hands reach each other. You do a quick grip, and alternately pound your closed fist on top of the other guy's closed fist. Then you bump your knuckles together and give a thumbs up sign. I think I've got that one down to a fine art.

Is Thanksgiving really only a week away? My mom has decided to let a local restaurant prepare the Thanksgiving meal for our family. Everyone will bring desserts and drinks and we'll have our meal at my parent's house. I'm looking forward to it. I might pitch in and make my cornbread andouille stuffing. But a desert? I think Betty Crocker and I might become close next week.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Wits End 

Its time for another school tale. It is one that brings up several interesting issues.

I called the mother of one of my students at work today. I've called her there many times. I called to tell her of her son's latest misdeeds, of the many days of detention he would have to serve, and my promise to him that he would be suspended if he was sent to my office again. As always, she was agreeable, pleasant, and cordial. He's been in trouble a LOT this year. I don't even have to introduce myself to her. She knows my voice the instant I say her name.

"S" drives his teachers crazy. His team of teachers is the best in my building. They are highly experienced, patient, and really good at working with kids. If my child attended my school, I'd want him/her with those teachers. "S" seeks attention. Lots of attention. He will freely admit this in candid conversation. He cannot stand not being at the center of things. The teachers have tried all manner of strategies. After all, he's not the first attention-seeking kid they've dealt with. But they tell me that on many days they simply cannot have class when he is in there. He makes noises. He constantly throws things at other kids to get their attention. He bangs on his desk. He has facial and hand tics that appear to be involuntary and are a source of great amusement to his classmates. He's combative and argumentative, and I spend a fair amount of time persuading the other boys in his classes not to beat him up. ADHD? Almost certainly. Other issues? I think so.

Medication you ask? This is an issue that requires a lot of finesse. School personnel are not allowed to tell parents to put their children on medication. There is a good reason for this. I'm not a doctor and shouldn't be giving medical advice. I think sometimes that too many kids are put on medications these days. The "Ritalin generation" is huge out there. Most of them are boys, and many of them are medicated who in my opinion are just ordinary, rambunctious, red-blooded boys. But for some kids it is a lifeline. They simply cannot function in school without medication to control their impulsivity and hyperactivity. In my opinion, this kid is one of those. He was on meds in elementary school but his parents made the decision to pull him off of them. He had some side effects and they were not convinced that the medication was making that much of a difference. But there are new meds out there all the time and sometimes it takes awhile to get the right medicine for the child at the right dosage. I've tried half a dozen times to broach this subject with the mother without actually saying the words...."please take your child to the doctor and see if there is a medication that can help him." She finally told me that she had an appointment scheduled for him in the near future.

I sat her son in the office in a little desk behind the counter, next to one of our secretaries. I brought his assignment from the teacher, gave him a stern warning, seated him at the desk, and told him to work there for the last hour of school. In the span of fifteen minutes he terrorized the office, making noises, throwing things, and mouthing off to the secretaries. They brought him back to me and I fulfilled the promise I'd made to him earlier. If there is anything I've learned in all my years working with kids, it is to never make empty promises. If you say you're going to do something it is important to follow through. I informed him that he was being suspended from school for five days.

So I called her back at work again and told her what had happened. She was in tears and very frustrated. She told me that she was getting in a lot of trouble at work over the phone calls from school and the repeated absences to deal with school issues. The boy's stepfather has basically washed his hands of the whole affair. His father doesn't want any part of it. She feels alone, frustrated, tired, and at her wit's end. Her employer is hassling her.

I run into this quite a bit. Many people work at jobs that discourage phone calls at work. I can understand that. You want your employees to spend time working and not on the phone. But it irritates me that some employers won't work with families that have children who need extra attention. It puts me in a bind. The parent works all day. Its my job to communicate with them about their child's progress at school. I don't want to get them in trouble but I need to talk to them. Its not like she's planning a date with her boyfriend or gossiping with a friend. So what do I do? Not call her? There are some things I can do in writing, but usually when I'm dealing with a student they are in at least moderate trouble. Its a balancing act. With a parent like this one I try not to call on the small things.

She needs that job. She also needs to be responsible for her son and available to talk about his issues. My heart went out to her. She's finally moving on the medical issues. She's trying to do the right thing, but her son is making her life very difficult. I sympathize with parents like these more than they know. As a single parent of a son diagnosed with A.D.D., Aspberger Syndrome, and autism, I have had to field phone calls from his school. Patrick doesn't have behavioral issues at school of this severity and I've never been asked to come pick him up. I'm fortunate enough to work in a profession and in a job where that isn't a problem. I'm available to talk. I can leave and go to his school if need be. I have family that can back me up.

Being a parent is difficult in the best of situations. Stir into that mix a child with significant behavioral and emotional issues. Add a dose of single parenthood or a spouse that doesn't want to be involved. Toss in an employer who only cares that you make a certain number of widgets today and could care less that your kid is in serious trouble. Mix in problems with medical insurance that seems to pay for less and less and costs more. Sprinkle in a total lack of backup and support from family.

What do you have? A salad of frustration, anger, and hopelessness. What is a person to do in a situation like that? I view part of my job as being a resource to parents. I wish had magic words. I wish I could pull resources out of a hat. Sometimes I can come up with a good suggestion or can hook them up with community agencies. But often all I can do is listen and be sympathetic while still representing the view of the school. Their frustration frustrates me. I want to be more. I want to do more. I want to have the answers.

I'll think about "S" tonight and in the days to come. What can we at the school do to help this young man and at the same time allow other kids the opportunity to learn? I'll make my rounds, talk to people, bounce some ideas around, talk to a friend who has tons of experience in behavioral issues, and brainstorm with his teachers. He needs to be in school. They'd eat him alive in alternative school....not an option in this case. I'll try to come up with an individualized plan that meets everyone's needs. If it doesn't work, we'll try something else.

Hey, no one said it was easy, did they? That is why I make the big bucks. *Cough*

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Heaven Knows 

While browsing a bookstore recently I saw a familiar book. Like millions of other people, I've read "The Five People You Meet in Heaven". If you haven't read the book, it tells the story of an amusement park mechanic who tries to save a little girl, dies, wakes up in heaven, and is told by others there that his life had more meaning that he'd ever realized. Its a poignant book and I highly recommend it.

If I end up in heaven I'd want to meet a lot more than five people. Five? I'd want to do that before breakfast on my first day beyond the pearly gates. Where would I begin? My family members that got there ahead of me? Famous people? Co-workers or former students? If I have to die to get there I want to meet them all.

I'd see my "Grampy" (maternal grandfather) sitting at a table playing Yahtzee. God wouldn't put Grampy there without a Yahtzee game. He'd call me "Briny" like he always did and ask me to join him in a game. He'd whisper stories to me about playing practical jokes on the angels. Do angels have a sense of humor? They'd better. I'm betting his eyes would still have that twinkle in them that I loved so much.

I'd find "Papa S"(paternal grandfather) tinkering around on something. Even in heaven things must break down and need to be fixed. He's the man for that. He could fix anything. While the rest of heaven was still snoozing comfortably, he'd be up working. He was an intelligent, soft-spoken man on Earth. I never heard him raise his voice and I'm sure he'd stay that way throughout eternity. If they have cows up there he'd be the one tending them.

My sister Missy would be smiling. She had the most beautiful smile you've ever seen and I've missed it. That smile would surely light up the heavens. She'd say, "hey there big bro!" We'd have a lifetime of catching up to do. I'd find her at peace, something she could never find down here. She'd be found wherever the young children congregated. She'd be happy. So would I.

I'd have to find my students who left this life prematurely. Jerry Don?Blake? Kyle? Paul? Its good to see you guys. There is the matter of homework that is way overdue. I tell you what though...I'll let it slide this time. You can probably teach me the ropes up here. Jerry Don, would you mind teaching me how to weld? We've got lots of time. Blake? Do they have a four square court up here? Are you still so competitive? Kyle, go out for a pass and I'll throw it deep. Paul? We never did get to play that one-on-one game. Tell you what....first one to a million wins.

I'd love to have a cigar with John F. Kennedy and talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I don't know if they allow cigars in heaven. Surely, being a president must still give you some privileges! Curious soul that I am, I'd have to ask about Marilyn Monroe.

I'd want to talk to Abe Lincoln and ask him where he found such strength in such difficult times. How he sat in that house and made lonely decisions that saved a nation when hope looked lost.

Mrs. Bennett, you were the toughest teacher I ever had. You were also the best one. You knew I could do it and you pushed me hard to get there. I've always regarded my experience in your algebra class as a turning point in my life. You gave me a reservoir of confidence that I could dip into many times over the years. Let me see both of your cheeks because I want to kiss them. I never really got geometry. Think you could spare some time to teach me?

Elvis, is that you over there? I know this is one building you'll never leave. Would you mind picking a few tunes? I'm sure you get a lot of requests, but I'd really appreciate it. Think those angels would back you up on those harps?

Ray Charles! You can see up here, can't you? Dude, do you know how much I've loved your music? If I'm up here with you I'm hoping that they played your version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at my funeral. If not, I need a pass to go back down there and kick a couple of butts.

I think I see Martin Luther King Jr. Hey reverend? Did they tell you how inspirational you still are too people down there? How your passion and intolerance of injustice changed the lives of so many millions of people? How many people lived their dreams because you had one?

Its not even time for lunch yet and I'm all worn out from all this visiting and from the excitement of seeing you people.

I'd want to tell you all and many others that like the character in the book you meant something to me. Some of you I was very close to and others I never met. Some of you didn't even live in my time. We all swim in the pool of life. What we do causes ripples that affect others. We're here. We make a difference in people's lives in positive or negative ways. Then we're gone and those ripples are multiplied.

Life is all about how we affect other people. The older I get, the more I realize this. Our passion becomes the passion of others. Our strength becomes something that others use to pull themselves up just as our weakness can help drag them back down. Our wisdom becomes a beacon of light that others can use to find their way. Our generosity becomes a spark that can light someone's fire just as our selfishness can extinguish it. Our love becomes such a healing force that it can change someone's life forever.

Whats it all about anyway? Its about a teacher who gives a damn. Its about a parent's unconditional love. Its about a grandfather's hand around your shoulder. Its about that person who always puts a smile on people's faces. Its about a daughter's gentle kiss on your cheek. Its about helping someone get on their feet. Its about really noticing those around you. Its about giving when you have nothing left to give. Its about a lover's embrace when you need it the most. Its about cuddling with that special someone on the couch during a rainstorm. Its about noticing that kid that seems invisible to everyone else. Its about extending the hand of friendship to someone who doesn't appear to deserve it. Its about good friends sitting around the table playing cards. Its about taking whatever gifts you have and letting the fruits of those gifts become nourishment for others.

I know what I'd say to those people in heaven. But I'm not there yet. I can still control what people will say to me. I can still make a difference. I still have talents to be utilized, knowledge to be exploited, and love to give. I still have some ripples to make and the time to make a difference. Thats my challenge.

I do love a challenge.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Shadow Knows 


I spent Friday "shadowing" a veteran principal in my school system. Its the first of five such experiences I will have this year. So what does a shadow do? He follows his target around all day long, sitting in meetings, eating with him, observing interactions and leadership style. The idea of the program is to let you see a "pro" in action from the beginning of the day until the end.

I have seven years of experience in school administration. I've been a vice principal and served as an acting principal at a large school for several months. In my current job as dean of students I interact constantly with my building principal. I know a lot of what the position entails and I've worked with some stellar building administrators in my time. Still, it is interesting to see how different people approach the job.

I spent my day following "P" around. "P" is Italian, originally from the east coast, and a very nice guy. His style is frenetic and rapid fire. He moved constantly juggling a number of different tasks. I thought I'd share what the day was like....a shadow's day.

His school is a "demonstration school" with a focus on building a microcosm of society within the school walls. The philosophy is heavily centered around "action learning" and I've never seen so many student projects displayed in so many places at the same time. As we walked around in different classrooms he'd point to rainforest projects or economics charts and ask the teacher, "when are you displaying these?"

This was a school where students wear uniforms. I followed him into the cafeteria where we ate breakfast while he scanned the room, calling students over for uniform code violations. Shirt not tucked in? Wrong color undershirt? Skirt pulled up too high? All of the students were instructed to go to his office and wait. Gum chewers? They went there too. We went back to the office and he dispensed with them quickly.

The nature and location of the school draws many children of some of the city's noted citizens. A lottery is conducted each spring to see which incoming 6th graders are lucky enough to be admitted. The school has about 200 fewer students than my own and has a more intimate feel. He pointed out the mayor's son to me in the hallway and the daughter of a noted attorney.

Then it really got interesting. A conference was scheduled between the principal and the parents of one of the students to discuss high school placement for next year. Yawn, right? I thought so until I was introduced to the parents. The father of this student is a noted novelist. I've read all of his books. He has 10 million copies of his books in print and is my dad's favorite writer. Unbelievable! I was hyped. I can't say who it was because of the nature of the meeting, but many of you would know the name. Highlight of my day!

I had to laugh when a parent called to chew on him about something one of the teachers had said to her child. He agreed with her but that wasn't enough. She was going to have her say and have it loudly. He held the phone away from his ear and chatted with me and you could hear her going nonstop. He'd get back on, say, "mmmm...hmmmm", and go back to chatting with me.

Its interesting being a shadow. People were very nice and did what they were supposed to do. They prentended I wasn't there. Its kinda cool to observe a school all day like that without being expected to do anything but watch. Kids looked at me with curiousity. Who was this guy in a suit hanging around the principal all day? Most dared not ask. If "P" was uncomfortable with my presence he did a nice job of hiding it.

Now its back to the real world. Tomorrow I go back to my building. The odds are that I'll have more severe things than gum chewing and uniform violations to deal with. I won't be able to walk down the hall without hearing my name called. No noted novelists will be coming in to meet with me. Thats fine with me.

If someone was shadowing me, they would notice me smiling when I walked in the door.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

Weekend Roundup 11/11-11/12 

It is Veteran’s Day and I’d like to salute all of the veterans who read this. Thank you for your service to our nation. I spent my day shadowing a veteran principal. More on that later.

In the meantime, I took a look around at some great blogs this week. I think you’ll enjoy it if you look too!

Teresa is happy that her Colts are undefeated. T. Marie is happy she got to go to the spa.

Pat has some good things to say about Bill Gates. Greek Shadow doesn’t have many good things to say about standardized tests.

Sometimes Maddy wants to keep people out. Sometimes Ellen is just hanging in there.

Lewis shares the prologue to his novel. Colleen shares why she started her blog.

Leslie found a Starbucks and met a friend. Lime found some prehistoric porn.

What did April do while her boss was away? Find out here. What made Phoenix go woot? Find out right here!

The Real Me had a strange day. Jules has a questionnaire for men, and it’s a short one.

Dawn has some of her Christmas shopping done. Ahem! Walker has a ticket to New Zealand. Woohoo!

Steel Cowboy shares some of the wisdom of Lou Holtz. Irina shares her thoughts on the riots in France.

Babs didn’t realize it was her wedding anniversary. MamaKBear made sure her husband would remember their anniversary. It’s Valentine’s Day! (#2 on her 100 things)

Keb discusses “finishing”! ;) Joe discusses his improved attitude.

Sarah has a brain wart. Breazy had a much better day!

What to do when your freezer is left unplugged? Buffi can tell you. How does a single woman reply to a married man’s attention? Thomai shares her response.

Dove’s guy is going to Iraq. Trucker Bob’s ex wife came out of her surgery and is doing ok.

Karen has a very dirty mind. (Scroll to “A Dirty Mind is a Bad Thing to Waste”) Sleeping Mommy has a new ceramic business going.

Sue is learning how to write magazine articles. Lis was taking a lot of blog quizzes.

Susan discusses the meaning of happiness. Dee discusses exercising childhood ghosts.

Lil Bit has finally decided to unpack. Lu has decided to show us some skin…someone else’s!

Carol pays tribute to her sister. Mary pays tribute to the movie “Elf”.

DL just quit her job. Ginger just created some rap music.

Meg writes about what she is thankful for. Monica writes about emotional blackmail.

Melanie doesn’t want to need anyone. Pearl doesn’t like the paperwork, but she will enjoy her new home!

Margaret gives herself a gymnastics parent score. Funky Cowboy gives himself a weekend away.

Mercy thinks she should get paid if she is going to have the title. Hillbilly Mom thinks her substitute teacher should follow her rules!

Safiyyah had an encounter with a jerk. Lisa had an encounter with a helpful mechanic.

Simply Satisfied explains why she doesn’t just leave. Veronica explains the changes she feels.

Scorpy just sold her house. Bsoholic just talks about stress at the office.

Restless Angel is playing with snowballs. Mary Lou is doing a lot of nothing!

Stephanie shares some words to live by. Aka Monty shares some movie quotes.

Michael recommends a movie. Pauly has ideas about secret structures.

Faith shares some pictures of her new house. Trick shares what is going on in her life.

Asp wants you to open your credit card bill. John wants FEMA to stop rewarding the irresponsible.

Mind of Me wants a divorce. The Real Me wants to be seen kissing.

There are even more I'd like to link to. Many more. But you know what? I've got a weekend ahead and I think I'll go enjoy it. I hope you do the same!

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