Wednesday, August 30, 2006
I continue to have Kayla in my thoughts and prayers this evening. I continue to urge all of you to visit Susan's blog and post words of encouragement to Kayla. She will need them all in the days and weeks to come.
Things continue to go well for the kids in school. I went to Aubree's "curriculum night", met her teachers, and followed her class schedule. It is always odd going back to this school where I worked as the assistant principal ten years ago. There are still a few of my old friends around, including two of Aubree's teachers. I also find it interesting to experience these events from a parent's perspective.
One of my pet projects this year are some experimental classes of the same gender. I'm creating two "all boys" and two "all girls" sections in the seventh grade. I'm also ordering books for the teachers and hope to spend the year discussing with them and learning how boys and girls learn differently. There is a lot of research that backs up the notion of same gender classrooms at the middle school level, and I'll be very curious how this works out for us.
I'm currently reading "Hear Our Cries, Boys In Crisis". I'll be writing a post about this later.
We are planning a little trip over the Labor Day weekend. The problem is finding accomodations at this late date. I know, I know...lack of planning! Even if we can't find somewhere to stay overnight, there are a number of places we can take day trips to.
Aubree and her friends made big plans to camp out in the back yard Saturday night. They were very sure that was what they wanted to do. Even when the rain started they were determined to stay. Terri and I took odds as to when they would give it up. Sure enough, at about 9:30 three wet girls decided that camping out wasn't such a great idea that night.
We had a student take a swing at one of the security guards today. For his trouble he got pepper sprayed, which I can assure you is extremely unpleasant. An hour later, walking through that part of the hall was still irritating to the throat.
So how is YOUR week going?
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I'm someone you've never met and I know you don't know who I am. I am familiar with your story through your aunt Susan, and I felt compelled to write to you in this very public way.
You have been in a long fight with this bone cancer that has led you to this point, having a surgery to remove your leg. I read in Susan's blog that you are in good spirits about your surgery and that you view this as the start of your recovery. I am amazed that you have this kind of spirit and are able to face such a traumatic event with such a positive attitude. I'll tell you this straight out....I'm not as strong as you are. Vickie said that you were her hero. I hope there is some room for another, because you are a hero of mine too.
Through the magic that is the internet, there are people all over the world that are aware of your surgery and have you in their thoughts and prayers. I am proud to count myself among those who are virtually holding hands and thinking of you in this time.
Kayla, you are a young woman and much life is ahead of you. There is much you can do, much you can count on, much you can believe in, and much to look forward to. You are bigger than this cancer and stronger than it could ever hope to be.
There is a movie I've been wanting to see called "Invincible", a story about a man who overcame adversity and lived his dream. His name is Vince, and I'm sure he'd agree that his adversity and his courage pales in comparison to yours.
I came across this poem and it made me think of you:
Give Me the Wind.
I am at my best with the wind in my face,
When overcoming the challenge, with pace.
The pace that requires more effort, more strength.
But once gained momentum, endures with great length.
It's easy to sit back, placid and calm
Comfort is only a relative balm.
It seems an advantage, better than strife
But is dulled by stagnation, stifling life.
Progress needs movement, energy, drive,
No chance for improvement if you do not strive.
Nothing's for nothing: cause and effect.
That which you work for, you've more chance to get.
So give me the wind, let it blow in my face,
The more I confront, the more strength I'll embrace.
Steps are not mounted, nor challenge o'ercome.
Without certain courage or effort be done.
You have the wind in your face, but with your determination, your courage, your zest for life, and the pull of those who care about you, you can turn it around in the weeks and months to come.
That soft gentle breeze you feel at your back? That is those of us, many of whom you've never met, holding our virtual hands and putting some wind at your back. I hope we can make it a gale force gust that can give you some comfort.
I am urging all who read these words to place you in their thoughts and prayers tomorrow.
We're with you hon. God bless you.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Several times people asked if I needed help. I politely declined all offers and kept plunking away. It is fair to ask the question.....why didn't I delegate all or part of this task? Its not like I didn't have other important things to do. But I chose to keep this one all to myself. I felt very proprietary about it, wanting to make sure it was done right the first time.
Our computer data management system is a little, shall we say, archaic! It is DOS based and not at all intuitive. We have clerical staff that could've handled the data input. They know how to make that clunky software work, but they don't know how to make the educational decisions. We have counselors and others that could make the educational decisions. They know the students and the course offerings. But they don't understand the software and data management very well. Then of course, there is me!
I felt like I'd be better off just doing it myself rather than having to tutor people, answer tons of questions, and fix mistakes. I'm not saying this in a proud way. Being able to delegate is an important measurement of leadership. This is one of the areas where I feel like I have some struggles. When I know what I want done I tend to grab it all for myself. All the literature and research on leadership/management indicates that learning to delegate is the mark of an effective leader. Me? I'm not there yet.
I remember reading stories about Jimmy Carter doling out time on the White House tennis courts when he was president. I'm sure the president of the United States had much better things to do with his time than setting up people to play tennis. I'm light years away from having the responsibilities of the president, but it is a struggle for me sometimes to be able to delegate and let things go. Sometimes I force myself to do it but it makes me nervous.
So what stands in the way of me being a delegator and thus a more effective leader? Certainly part of it is that "if you want something done right you have to do it yourself" attitude. I'm surrounded by talented people and it is important for me to use their talents effectively without letting my sillly ego get in the way.
I think sometimes I also don't want to pile any more on the plates of my people who are already working very hard. So I play a bit of the martyr and say, "No worries. I'll just do it myself!" While this may feel psychologically good, it once again is not being an effective leader. Sure, I should monitor the burdens on the staff so that no one feels unfairly overworked, but I also have to be willing to ask people to do things that their job description entails.
So here is a goal for myself this year. Be willing to let some things go. Be a competent and effective delegator. Use my teaching skills to help other adults learn how to do things that they need to know how to do. Be willing to step in when asked or needed, but trust people to do their jobs.
My payoff if I'm successful? Being able to spend more time with students. Being able to spend more time in classrooms. Being able to focus on the big picture and the future, and not getting stuck letting the trees obscure my view of the forest.
Now if I can just delegate mowing the lawn..............!
Friday, August 25, 2006
TGIF baby! It has been a very busy week indeed.
I enjoyed some time looking around some of my favorite blogs. I hope you enjoy it too!
My pledge to myself....I will not think about the master schedule this weekend! I will not think about balancing classes. I will not think about the teacher who isn't happy with me about class assignments. I will not!!!
Where are those mojitos anyway?
Have a wonderful weekend my friends.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
I received my grade from my summer class and was very pleased to see an "A"! I really sweated the research paper which made up a large part of the grade. I am really striving to have a 4.0 in this program.
The question was asked in comments about how Patrick's school was going. The CIA probably gets more information out of Al Queda operatives than I get from Patrick about his school day. "How was school Patrick?" "Fine Dad" "How were your classes"? "Great". "Did you have fun today?" "Dad, why do you have to ask so many questions?" He is excited about the field trip Friday to Incredible Pizza. THAT he will talk about! :)
You knew it had to happen. Aubree and I are both huggers. We hug and usually kiss every time she goes anywhere. But when I drop her off at school in the morning she doesn't want to do the hug thing anymore! I asked her about it and she denied that she was embarassed for people to see her hug her dad goodbye. She says, "I'm just in a hurry dad!" So today she asked if I would drop her off at the street instead of driving into the circle drive. She reached over and gave me my hug. Ha!
I am massively snowed under at work trying to get all the kids where they are supposed to be. The reading lab kids. The Algebra I kids. The advanced Language Arts kids. I did massive surgery on the master schedule today so that it all makes sense now. We'll get there. Just remember when you see those pretty printed schedules from your kid how much work goes on behind the scenes to make it all happen.
We had a substitute teacher who didn't do the attendance properly. A mom was called and told her son was absent all day. He wasn't. She wasn't happy. I don't blame her. I told her I would investigate and make corrections in our system.
A student was mad at another student. She went down the hall and in frustration threw her books. Unfortunately for her they shattered a window. Middle school kids and their emotions...ain't it grand?
We have a student who failed most of her classes last year. She is a master at getting out of class, making excuses, and playing the adults against each other. I saw her out of class for the third time today and called her into my office. I told her that this gig was up and that I was instructing her teachers not to allow her out of class for any reason. She said, "Mr. S., don't ya love me?" I said, "I do hon. I love you enough not to let you fail five classes like you did last year because you won't stay in class. Sometimes when you care about people you have to put your foot down and hold them accountable. That is what I'm doing with you this year."
All of our students will be going on a ropes(challenge) course in the next few days. We hope to build some camaraderie and teamwork to get the year off to a good start. I plan on joining at least one of the groups if I can get our scheduling in some semblance of order!
I think I need to go to the grocery store and pick up a few things. I see where Terri used brown sugar in her coffee this morning!
The Oklahoma Blog Award nominations are open. I plan to submit my nominations this weekend and I urge all my fellow Okie bloggers to do so as well. We have a fantastic community of Oklahoma bloggers and many of them are worthy of recognition. My kudos to Mike at Okie Doke for putting all this together.
My grandmother who lives next door is 86 years old and quite frail. She may have to go live in a nursing home if some arrangement can't be made. That saddens me. She is a proud independent woman.
The kids are slowly getting their biological clocks reset to school hours. They are still a bit grumpy in the mornings, but are getting a little better each day.
So how is YOUR week going?
Monday, August 21, 2006
- A rather tearful young man approached me this morning. It turns out that he was at the wrong school. That always seems to happen to at least one kid. We called his school and someone came over and picked him up.
- Motivational speaker Jason Dorsey spoke to our students this afternoon. Let me say it....this guy was good. Do you know how difficult it is to hold the attention of hundreds of middle school students in an auditorium? He had them in the palm of his hand and his message was spot on. We gave every kid a copy of his book "Graduate to a Perfect Job" and he autographed every single one of them. Yeah, even one for me! :)
- A mother brought her daughter in mid-morning. She sat in my office and we chatted while I made sure her daughter was enrolled in the proper classes. Apparently after she left my office she was stopped by the police, arrested, and sent to jail. She called a friend from jail to pick up her daughter after school. Unfortunately, the friend was not on the "list" of people allowed to pick up this child. Much drama ensued. I tried to call the jail and got a busy signal repeatedly. The phone numbers she listed for emergency contacts were disconnected. Finally, just before the police were called, the girl's stepfather showed up to take her home.
- Aubree liked her teachers at school but didn't like being bumped and jostled in the busy hallway. She also didn't like the boy who kept calling her "shorty".
- I walked by our office and heard a woman shriek, "Oh my God. Its Mr. S!" This was a mother of one of my students from my previous school. "I'm so glad you're here", she said. Then she announced to the office, "I love this man!" I think I might've blushed. We went back to my office, had a serious talk with her son about getting his grades in order this year, and got him settled in class.
- Our school has uniforms for the first time this year. About 90% of the kids showed up in uniform. This is better than what I expected.
- This correlated with far fewer boys wearing saggy pants. This I like! Maybe I won't have to use up as many cable ties this year to hitch up those pants.
- No time for lunch today unless you count that Slim Jim I had.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
We took Patrick and Aubree shopping yesterday for school supplies and clothes (like Aubree needs new clothes, but thats another topic!). Being the clothes whore that I am, I couldn't resist that bright red shirt with the matching tie either or those sharkskin slacks. Terri isn't even going to school tomorrow, but she and Aubree picked out a rather sexy top for her. We're ready to go. I must already be in the mode because I woke up at 6:45 this morning and couldn't go back to sleep. Me waking up at 6:45 on the weekend and staying up voluntarily? Hell isn't freezing over but there might be a frost warning going on there.
For my entire life I've loved the first day of school. Doing what I do for a living basically means that I just get to continue being a kid. An older kid to be sure, with specks of gray in my goatee, a little more paunch in my belly, and a lot less hair on my head. But still, I'm in many ways just a great big ole kid. I never had to graduate into the "real world" where you don't have two weeks off for Christmas and you don't get a spring break. During my short stint away from education working in the non-profit world I remember telling one of my superiors, "we really should have a spring break you know. Whats life without a spring break?" He thought that was hilarious and reminded me of it all the time. I told him we should toss in a nice long summer vacation while we were at it.
My mind drifts back to first grade. I went to kindergarten at my church's kindergarten program. It didn't seem like "real school". You just hung out at the church with all your friends from Sunday school, did a lot of crafts, and singing the "ABC song". But first grade? That was something different. My first grade classroom was in a small brick building with only four classrooms. You started in first grade at one end of the hall and finished up with fourth grade at the other end.
Mrs. Foshee was my first grade teacher. She was also the first African-American adult I can recall having any extended contact with. I didn't know what to make of her when I walked in that first day, clutching my new Big Chief tablets in my little hands. My seat was in the back of the room and I can remember watching squirrels play in the trees outside. I was so excited to be in school. I already knew how to read, and my biggest memory of that first grade classroom was BOOKS! She had books along the wall on a shelf, books in a spin-around carousel, seemingly books in every nook and crevice. I'd already read everything at my house and I couldn' t wait to get started on her collection. I'm pretty sure I read every single book in that classroom.
Twenty five years later I returned to my hometown as a middle school administrator. At our pre-school all employees assembly an elderly woman walked up to me and grabbed my arm. She said, "Brian, you better not have forgotten who I am! You're such a big impressive man now and I am so proud!" It makes my eyes moisten just to think about it and write it. My first day of school with Mrs. Foshee started me down a path that lead me to be a colleague of hers. THAT makes me proud, to share the same profession with someone like her.
Every year after that the pattern repeats. I'm happy to be out of school for summer vacation. Then August approaches and I can feel it surging through me. Its time for school. Some new clothes, a few supplies, and I'm ready to go again. Can you feel it? I felt it through high school. I felt it in college. I felt it when I started teaching. I feel it today.
Each year you get to create a little magic. Greek Shadow knows what I'm talking about. So do Margaret, Ellen, Ginger, Hillbilly Mom, Cindra, Janet, Erin, Denise, and so many others. You will also be exhausted, stressed, pissed off, irritated, and annoyed. That goes with the territory. But you have the chance to make a difference, to see that light go on, to see a kid start to "get it". When you do it is better than any drug, any high. Its why you keep coming back. It sure as hell isn't the money, the love for bureacracy, or a passion for implementing new laws that our politicians seem to endlessly write. Its because this is what you do, it is who you are, it is what you believe, it is in your soul.
My own children will start school tomorrow. Patrick will return as a freshman. Hard to believe eh? Aubree will be a 6th grade middle schooler. Just as hard to believe! They are excited and I am too, right along with them. I get to share this adventure, this excitement, this experience with them. Isn't that grand?
I swear I'm just a big kid with a tie, a car payment and a cable bill.
Friday, August 18, 2006
I think I'll take the evening off and relax a bit. I have several posts brewing in my head, so I'm sure I'll be back this weekend to let some of those thoughts roam free.
If you came for the weekend roundup, please feel free to browse my incomparable blogroll.
Have a wonderful weekend my friends!
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
All 7000 instructional employees of my district gathered together a couple of days ago for a beginning of the year convocation. The new superintendent spoke for a bit and then introduced the guest speaker. Her name is Crystal Kuykendall is she is quite the motivational speaker. She made me laugh, made me feel inspired, and yes, brought tears to my eyes when she talked about her husband being murdered. She really brought it into focus. Its all about the relationships we have with kids, parents, and each other.
One of the things she discussed was giving students (and other people) "eye hugs". Most communication is non-verbal and she talked about using your eyes to convey warmth and acceptance. I like that.
All of you out there? Consider yourself eye hugged.
Was it good for you?
The kids are winding down their last few days of freedom. I called and checked on bus schedules today. We're buying school supplies this weekend.
Two students came into my office about 11:00 this morning after football practice. They asked if they could use the phone. I let them and then tossed them a package of Sweet Tarts. About 3:30 they appeared in my office again. Someone was supposed to pick them up but no one had ever showed up. They used the phone again. No answer. I asked them how far away they lived and it was about two miles. Feeling softhearted I broke my usual rule about not giving rides and gave them a ride home on this very hot afternoon. I just don't understand someone who would leave their kids at school for hours like that.
We have two new first year female teachers, fresh out of college. They asked me a question I hadn't thought about before. What do they call their teaching colleagues? By their first name or by Mr. or Mrs. ......? One of them said, "well, I guess I'm a teacher now. Do I still have to call everyone Mr. or Mrs.? I told them they could start with me and call me Brian. We work together and we are colleagues. Why stand on formality?
Terri asked me if I would still let people call me that when I got my PhD. Of course. They can just call me Dr. Brian! Just kidding.
Here are a couple of pictures of Terri and I, the way we were when we knew each other in school.
Aubree wants me to order a pay-per-view wrestling event for Sunday night. My daughter and wrestling!
So how is YOUR week going?
Monday, August 14, 2006
I'm a total Christmas freak, so I always get excited around the Christmas holidays. I love the summer, so I'm always excited as school is letting out and the summer begins.
Then there is this time. School will start in less than a week. The hallways are shiny and polished. I walk around and see the teacher's bulletin boards up and looking good. You can hear the smack of the pads as the football team practices behind the school. My desk is perfectly clean.
I'm ready to rumble.
Even after all these years, I can't wait for the rush of kids the first morning of school. We've planned and prepared, put all kinds of new programs in place, hired a slew of new teachers, revamped our curriculum, changed the master schedule to accomodate longer literacy and math blocks, and totally rethought our discipline system.
I'm humbled, yet excited, about the task before us this year. Our school has been on the "need to improve list" for six years. There is a realistic possibility that this school could be shut down if we don't show marked improvement this year. Not next year. THIS year. The task before us? Nothing less than changing the culture and turning this school around.
Others have made some excellent remarks on my previous post. I want to address what Apple said, that it is important not to overlook support personnel. She is absolutely right. The secretaries, custodians, security guards, teacher's aides, cafeteria workers, clerks, and para-professionals are critical to a school's success. Many of them live right there in the community, know the families, and know the children. Kids will also interact with them and sometimes tell them things that they won't tell their teachers.
We have a tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners bus driver that picks kids up at my school. She assigns seats, knows every kid on her bus, and has zero tolerance for misbehavior. The kids love her, often stopping to hug her when they get on the bus. She is an early warning system for us, often letting us know when trouble is brewing. People like her shouldn't be overlooked.
I'm excited to start this year with my colleagues and students. We can do this thing.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
We had quite an interesting discussion at my table. Why were the girls doing so much better than the boys? Here are some things we came up with:
1) Boys are not in class as much. They receive more discipline referrals and are suspended more. When they are sitting at home they aren't learning. When they are sitting in "in house suspension" they aren't learning. When they are sitting in the dean's office they aren't learning.
2) Boys are much more likely to be placed in special education programs. Some of them are placed there for behavioral reasons, for hyperactivity, and for other reasons that are not directly related to their intelligence. They don't receive as much of the curriculum as students in "regular classes" do, but they are given the same test.
3) A great many boys are kinesthetic learners. For those of you not familiar with this term, it means they "learn by doing", by being active. A great many classrooms are not friendly to this type of learning. The teacher talks, students are expected to sit passively and soak in the information. We are then surprised when they don't learn it.
4) In a mixed gender classroom many boys are much more interested in impressing the girls than in getting their work done. They believe they are much more likely to get that attention by acting the class clown rather than being the first one to solve an algebra problem.
5) Teachers at the middle school level are still predominantly female. The male teachers we do have tend to teach P.E., technology classes, and social studies. Our female teachers do a great job, but boys need male role models. A huge number of our boys come from homes without a strong male presence. When you talk to many of these boys they view education as something of a female thing, something girls are good at but not them. They need strong male role models in the reading classroom as well as on the football field.
6) Boys are more likely to be involved in unsavory activities during non-school hours. Some of our boys are on the fringe of gang activity if not outright members of gangs. This dominates their lives and it is difficult to get an emphasis on education through that haze.
7) The boys who are good students tend to transfer to magnet schools or schools with better test scores. There are few peer role models that they can look at and think, "you can be cool and still be good at math."
Let me hop up on my soapbox.
Many of these boys have spent their entire lives getting the message: "You aren't much good for anything". The only place many of them hear positive messages is on the football field or basketball court. We wonder why so many boys focus on athletics and not math and reading. Its because it is there that they feel successful, that they receive praise, that they feel like they are valued. We need to make classrooms like that. They need to hear constantly...."you are intelligent"...."you can do this"......"I believe in you". These boys are not dumb. They are capable but they need to be shown the way, motivated, encouraged, and provided discipline and structure.
In urban America generations of boys are being lost. Its a crying shame and such a huge waste. We sit in our homes and shake our heads at news reports of gang activity and other crimes. We see their mug shots in the newspaper. We then toss them in jail until they are middle aged and congratulate ourselves for being "tough on crime". I'm all for punishment for those who break the law, but wouldn't it be more prudent to try and catch them before they get there?
The lives that some of these boys lead would shock you. The lives that some of them are headed for would shock anyone. I can guarantee you that most of the boys in my school know someone who has been murdered. Just ask them....they'll tell you. They've certainly told me. They know the code of the street and have spent much of their young lives in survival mode. It is a huge challenge to get them to set all that aside for seven hours a day and focus on the literacy and math skills that will provide them a path out of that kind of life.
We are on the frontlines of this battle. It is a battle just as important as those being fought in foreign lands. We are fighting to save lives. Its not just us. The community is involved in this fight too. Churches, parents, community organizations, and local government...they all play a part or at least they should. These boys will learn another path or many of them will die or spend much of their lives in prison. It is that stark and that simple. We ignore this battle at our peril.
This is not to say that there aren't issues with the girls too, but that's another post.
Hopping off soapbox.
Friday, August 11, 2006
TGIF most definitely! It reached 107 degrees here yesterday. 107 degrees! I thought I lived in Oklahoma, not Death Valley.
Nonetheless, it was a busy and productive week. I even had time to take my stroll around the world of blogs. Here is some of what I found:
Stay cool my friends and have a wonderful weekend!
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
After reading my post about CSRs, Sudie Girl wrote a post of her own from a CSR's perspective. Check it out!
A lot of the professional development offered by my district this week boils down a simple concept that I've known for a long time. The only way you can teach kids is to establish a personal relationship with them. This doesn't mean that you coddle them or let them get away with misbehavior. It means that you take the time to get to know them as individuals and convey the message that you care about them. Kids won't work for a teacher that they think doesn't like them. Would you put out that extra effort for a boss that you think didn't like you? For all of our talk about improving test scores, a lot of it comes down to this. Get to know your kids and keep the lines of communication open. If they think you're a jerk they will tune you out.
I've remarked before about my relationships with students I have disciplined/suspended. A girl ran up and hugged me a couple of days ago. Last year I suspended her twice. She doesn't hold a grudge. She knows that I like her and was just doing my job. It makes all the difference in the world.
There is another thing that a handful of my colleagues don't get. Yelling at students, arguing with them in front of their peers, and getting into a power struggle is a fool's errand. Even when you win, you lose. Nothing gets a misbehaving child more excited than an out-of-control adult losing his/her cool.
I had a kid last year who blew up in the office and said he was leaving the school. I didn't chase him and wouldn't allow the security guards to chase him either. I said, "give it fifteen minutes and then call his parents". Ten minutes later he walks back in and sits down in my office. I went on as if he'd never left.
Aubree enjoyed going to "School Zone" today. She got her locker and combination and got to practice opening the locker. Lockers are a big thing for 6th graders coming into middle school, a source of a lot of anxiety. I like it that she's able to get this out of the way before school starts.
I really have to keep my cordless drill away from Patrick. He loves that drill. He will find screws somewhere to screw and unscrew. The latest victim has been the door to his room. Nothing is safe when Patrick has that drill in his hands.
I was looking at our student's test scores from last year. There were dozens of kids who were only 5-10 points away (out of 1500) from achieving a "satisfactory" score. That probably boils down to one or two questions. Bump those kids up and we "pass". You gain nothing in the point system by bumping up the "satisfactory" kids to "exceptional". Nothing. The reward comes in bumping up kids from "Limited knowledge" to "satisfactory". Don't you just love the way we've made education such a numbers game?
I got a chance to debut the Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" tie that Terri got me for my birthday in June. It certainly was a conversation starter!
School starts for my students and my own kids in a little over a week. Time to get geared up!
So how is YOUR week going?
Monday, August 07, 2006
I got a phone call yesterday from a national company whose credit card I carry. I received another call from them today. On both occasions they were trying to sell me products I didn't want. I didn't want their credit watch service. I tried patiently to explain this to the very articulate customer service representative who spoke English very well but didn't seem to comprehend the idea of "no". It probably took ten minutes of him extolling the virtues of his product and me patiently restating, "No thank you. I'm not interested." Today it was "disability insurance" for my credit card account. The young lady didn't want to take no for an answer either in spite of my very firm, "I'm not interested."
I know the guy at AOl was supposed to try and dissuade people from cancelling their account. I know the credit card CSRs are supposed to sell those add-on products. I respect that people are trying to earn a living and I really try not to get irritated. But don't you hate it when a clearly enunciated "NO" won't do it. I was polite to the credit card reps. I listened to their pitch uninterrupted. I let them make their case. But when I decline I don't want to be treated like an idiot who just doesn't know whats best for him. Does corporate research really bear out the idea that you just treat customers like they have no intelligence and they'll fall for products they don't want or need?
It happens in the stores too. I once bought a computer monitor for a little over $100. I declined the offer of an extended warranty which would have added about $20 to the price. I think I have socks older than the kid who tried to convince me that I just had to have that warranty. I said no twice and finally had to resort to giving him "the look" to shut him up in mid sentence. The look is fearsome, but it doesn't work well on the telephone.
Consequently I wonder if there are some strategies that would work better than taking fifteen minutes to say no three times. Hmmmm.
1. If the CSR was female, I could turn the tables, flirt outrageously, and make her say no three times before I stopped asking her to have my children. One problem I can see. What if she said yes?
2. I could start whistling the theme to "The Andy Griffith Show". I could motion to the kids to yell out, "Hey Paw. When we goin fishin?"
3. I could try and sell them this extra iron I seem to have. "Oh Patel? How is your collar looking right now? Don't you think it would be better if your coworkers see you in a freshly ironed shirt? Its really quite a value, only cents a day and you'll feel so much better!"
4. I could turn on the karaoke machine and give them my version of "Oops I Did It Again". I wouldn't even charge them for it. I could call back the next day and offer it to them again.
5. I could record them, post it on my blog and make them famous. I wouldn't even charge them for that either.
6. I could try and sell them an AOL account.
I'm sure I might come up with some other options given a little more time.
Sunday, August 06, 2006
We were in the car yesterday, headed to Blockbuster, and Aubree piped up about someone being "poor". I asked her what being poor meant. "It means they can't afford stuff". "What stuff? I can't afford a Hummer right now. Are we poor"? "No dad. You know what I mean.""Its all relative you know. Shaquille O'Neal probably made more money last week than I'll make in my entire life. But I made more money Friday than many people in the developing world will make in a year." Then we arrived at Blockbuster and our conversation was cut short. She probably forgot about the conversation before she arrived at the video game aisle, but I of course thought about it a little more as the day went on.
I remember reading an article about the number of people who classified themselves as "middle class". The number was far in excess of what researchers and sociologists found to be true. Most Americans consider themselves middle class. The guy making ten bucks an hour at the auto center in Wal Mart and the guy with a net worth in the millions both considered themselves as part of the great American middle. No one wants to be considered "poor" and even those with considerable means are often reluctant to classify themselves as "rich".
Concepts of wealth are sometimes difficult to pin down. If you bought a house in
I'm always fascinated by these statistical income breakdowns. Ever looked at them and tried to figure out where you fit in?
Statistically, we are knocking at the door of being in that top quintile, the top 20%. in terms of household income. Woohoo! I will soon be in the same quintile as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett! But we all know there is a huge divide between that upper quintile and the upper 1%. Money is highly concentrated in the upper ranges. I have more in common with the people in the lower quintiles than I do with that top 1%. Unless I win the mega-lotto I will never be anywhere close to being considered "rich". But by my own internal feelings I have at times considered myself to be "poor."
Most of us in this country live on the edge. I make a decent income, but I am only a few missed paychecks away from catastrophe. I am very fortunate in that I have never missed a paycheck since I was nineteen years old. I've always had a job, always had income. The world of work has been very friendly to me and I've never had difficulty securing and keeping a job. My brother just got laid off from his company. He'd done nothing wrong and had been a stellar employee. He just got caught in downsizing, a numbers game.
But I've also spent my life in a profession where financial rewards are low. I'm not complaining about that. I knew it when I started and I know it now. After twenty years in the profession I make about four times the salary I did when I started out, but I started out pretty damned low!
I grew up in the quintessential middle class home. A large home in the suburbs. A stay-at-home mom. Family vacations in the Oldsmobile. Church on Sunday. The expectation that I would graduate from high school and go on to college. We were by no means wealthy, but I never wondered as a child if we would have money for clothing or tuition for summer camp.
Many of us who grew up in that environment wonder why it seems so difficult to replicate that lifestyle today. Even with two incomes it can seem like an elusive dream. We chase it and try to "keep up with the Joneses". For a lot of people out there it is a house of cards, built on mountains of debt. I should know....I've been there for a good chunk of my life. We find ourselves just a life-changing disaster away from plunging into the depths. A serious accident or illness. The loss of a job. A divorce. For those of you blessed enough not to having gone through a divorce, it can be devastating financially. It doesn't take much to send that house of cards tumbling down. I've gone through my own meltdown and have no intention of ever putting myself in that position again.
It all goes back to perception and relativity. Where we perceive ourselves in the big scheme of things is all relative to how we perceive others. We look at our neighbors and it is not difficult to think that we need the accoutrements of affluence that they possess. It is a constant process of measuring ourselves against others. It can lead us to make bad decisions, going heavily into debt for that expensive house or car, using easily available credit to live a lifestyle that our income doesn't justify. Sometimes we can pull it off and sometimes it all crashes down and we start over again. Ever felt like you were nothing more than a slave to your debt? That you get up and go to work all day just to pay off debts? Ever wondered how you got yourself in this mess? Ever wondered how something that seemed like a good idea a few years ago feels like a millstone around your neck now?
We all chase the dream and we measure it in different ways. I guess at this point in my life I'm chasing it in a different way than I have before. My own meltdown led me to make decisions I thought I'd never make, things that I find it difficult to write about even now. But it also led to some epiphanies about what it all means. I don't have to have the fancy house or the fancy cars. I don't have to go on expensive vacations if it means racking up a lot of credit card debt. I find a lot of enjoyment in much simpler things......spending time with my children, hanging out and talking with my girlfriend, enjoying the results of my hard work at my school, educating my mind and enriching my soul.
I've had more "stuff" at previous times in my life than I have now. I have had nicer houses, nicer cars, the latest in electronic gizmos, and designer clothes. I'm living on a much smaller scale, no matter where I fall in the quintile above. I've never felt less compelled to keep up with the Joneses or to surround myself with the trappings of affluence. Sure, there are things I would like to own and trips I would like to make. But all they are are cherries on what feels like a very rich sundae.
I'm a lucky man. I hope I never let myself forget that again.
Friday, August 04, 2006
TGIF on a very hot Friday! I enjoyed relaxing a bit this evening and tooling around some of my favorite blogs. Wanna see what I found?
Jules is a new Wally World employee.
Have a wonderful weekend my friends!
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
With a little reluctance, mostly about having to get up early, Aubree agreed to go to "School Zone" next week. Its a transition program for 6th graders going into middle school. They get their schedules, meet teachers, get to fiddle with locker combinations, and get the "lay of the land". It runs for three mornings. Hopefully this will make the first day of school for her a little less nerve-wracking. I may
Both of the kids have become regular night owls, often staying up late and getting up late. Its going to be such a shock to their system in a couple of weeks when they have to start getting up early every day and go to school.
The teachers at my school report to work Friday. We have two weeks of professional development before the
I went to the doctor yesterday for a couple of irritating conditions. I have a red, swollen elbow which started hurting last Friday. The doctor diagnosed it as bursitis and prescribed some anti-inflammatory pills. He also said, "I think a shot of cortisone would do you good if you don't mind getting a shot in the rear." Ummmm. I haven't had a shot back there in 25 years and hadn't intended on reliving the moment. But I gamely said, "no problem." I thought for a moment about the cute blonde nurse, but that wasn't who came in the door with a needle in her hand. "Put your foot right up here sir and pull it down please", she said. Then she swabbed and started fanning. She said, "tell me when and I'm going to stick you." I gulped out...."when". It wasn't that bad. Like a lot of things the anticipation is worse.
If my elbow isn't better by Friday I'm supposed to go back and have fluid drawn directly out of it and receive another injection of cortisone right into the elbow. I really, really, hope it doesn't come to that!
My other issue was a lesion that has been on my stomach for months. Its about the size of a half dollar and just won't go away no matter how many ointments and gels I rub on it. This lovely thing the doctor diagnosed as psoriasis. He did say, "most men who get this are younger than you are. Not that you're old or anything." Thanks doc. Off to the dermatologist I go.
One of the summer school students told me, "you don't look as old as you did last year." Don't you just love kids?
Have I mentioned that I really don't like going to the doctor?
In the "you can't make this stuff up" department is this item:
A bar waitress checking to see if a customer was legally old enough to drink looked down to see a familiar photo.
It was her own.
So how is YOUR week going?
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
I've been a fan of your movie work for over 25 years. I loved the crazy "Mad Max", the "Lethal Weapon" series and a lot of your earlier movies. I cringed at some of the scenes in "The Passion of the Christ", but thought it was a well done, dramatic movie. But in "Braveheart" and "The Patriot" I thought you had done some of your best acting. Both are two of my favorite movies. They sit among the DVDs on my shelf and have been played many times. You always seemed to do well playing the charismatic rebel. Since I am neither charismatic nor really a rebel, I secretly envied the courage and drive of your movie characters. You brought them to life and you played them well. You have a gift, a talent, an ability, that few others have ever possessed.
I read of your arrest for D.U.I. and your admissions of alcoholism. I read about your loutish behavior and the subsequent apologies that followed when the alcoholic haze wore off. I want to address some of those things with you. I hope you don't mind, but even if you do I'm going to do it anyway.
Lets start with drinking and driving. Being an alcoholic doesn't excuse you from putting other people's lives in jeopardy. Mel, you are a wealthy man, with resources beyond the wildest dreams of most of us out here. You knew you were going to drink. You couldn't arrange to have someone drive you home? I'm betting you've done it before. Lots of times. Are you only sorry now because you've been busted?
I am very sorry that you have struggled with alcoholism. You are a living example that this problem knows no class boundaries. I hope that your rehab goes well and that you are able to put the booze behind you.
But lets go back to your arrest. When arrested you said, "my life is f**ked." No Mel, it isn't. There are millions of people out there who are struggling with terminal illnesses, the death of a child, financial ruin, painful disabilities, the loss of their homes, and other life calamities. You being arrested for D.U.I. doesn't even come close to qualifying. There are many millions of people who have more of a right to say that than you do.
Now lets move on to your anti-Semitic slurs. "F**king Jews", you belted out. "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world", you drunkenly informed the deputy who arrested you. "Are you a Jew?", you asked him belligerently.
Hey Mel? I've been drunk a few times. Maybe more than a few. I've probably said some things I shouldn't have said during my own drunken episodes. But I can say with certainty that I've never said anything about "f**king Jews". For that matter I've never said anything about "F**king Moslems". I am nigh near certain that I've never bashed any racial or ethnic group while I've been under the influence of alcohol. You know why? Because I never THINK those things when I'm sober.
I've never believed that being drunk excuses us from anything we do. People often do use it as an excuse for everything from having sex to making comments that are surprising to our friends. What alcohol does is lower your inhibitions and lay waste to your political correctness. All those inner thoughts come slurring out of your mouth. But they are your thoughts, not someone else's. If you said that about Jews when you were drunk, I can guarantee that you thought it when you weren't drinking.
Its not like this hasn't come up before. There were hints of anti-Semitism in the writing and directing of "The Passion of the Christ." You reassured us all that it wasn't true. A lot of people bought it because....well......you are Mel Gibson. How could such an obviously talented, charismatic, and successful man hold such opinions? We thought he couldn't and the furor died down. Thats a shame, because you had an important story to tell in your film and now it will be forever tinged.
Your father publicly announced that the Holocaust didn't happen. You refused to disagree with him. We tried to understand that. After all, you aren't responsible for what your father says. But you didn't disagree with him either. I loved my father with every fiber in my body, but if he said something like that I would have to say that he was profoundly wrong. Why couldn't you?
It isn't hard to add all these things together. I'm glad to see that you have admitted to your alcoholism and are seeking treatment. But you have a darker side to you that you aren't admitting. Those things you said didn't come out of the blue. They lie within you and you aren't confronting them. I'm not one to pile on a guy when he's down Mel, but I hope you do a lot of soul searching.
Mel, I don't know what all this means for you in the long run. I hope that you can exorcise your demons, both those of the body and those of the mind.