Saturday, March 12, 2011

Teacher I Need You

"All students are rude disengaged lazy.” Natalie Munroe

This comment on her blog by a high school English language arts teacher created a virtual flurry. The water cooler wag went from executive boardrooms to teacher lounges. She was suspended from her job (with pay) while her school district investigated. A debate ensued centering on two themes: 1.) That her comments were unprofessional 2.) That her censure by the board violated her right to free speech

Natalie will have her provoked fifteen minutes of fame. The debate will quiet. To me though the essential issue will sit under a rock, still unexamined. The important question (a key concept in learning theory) has not been addressed.

Natalie Munroe asked no question. She stated an opinion, or rather assigned blame. She judged and chastised the individuals to whom she is obliged not only as an educator but as a citizen. Natalie by her action volunteered to be sacrificial lamb to a world that fears for its children and their futures.

(We are all so overwhelmed that we protect ourselves with ennui yet clearly from the hyperbole surrounding this event we all care, passionately about our children’s education.)

Natalie has right to voice but the student’s would have been better served had she not laid the blame on them. She may have served cause better had she posed the question, “Why am I not able to motivate, engage the student’s? What are the obstacles? How can I design my instructions to facilitate accountable?’’ Etc. So she set off smoke bombs when what are needed are fireworks and a whole parade.

In my years as a teacher I often felt shackled to a covert silence. If you say anything, look with too much scrutiny you may violate the sacrosanct system of school or union. We are a family. We do not take our business to the streets. Weird message when our purpose is to serve the intellectual, academic and citizenship needs of our student’s.

Natalie is bold in honesty but not in integrity. We teachers must be bolder, braver. We must begin to speak in volume, resolutely to the Dark Ages of education. Too often we have turned our vision askance and silenced our tongue to a system that does not always serve students. School organizations are often paternalistic and have a system of cronyism best reward those who do not dissent. We may not ask too much or illustrate too much.
The paradigm must change. We must scrutinize education and the systems charged with this great goal. We must stop assigning blame, on families, the unions, teacher, to the student’s. We must dig deep. We must seek outside the box. We must probe deeply the structure and organization. We must look to the system in the same probing way we do at the CEOs of failing companies. How does the organizational structure affect employees, influence students performance etc.

We must design for learning, equality. We must equate funding with civil liberties and assure that equal monies and time be spent with and for all student’s.

We must ask thousands of questions about structural inequities. Communication with families and communities must bridge the school experience to the greater world. We must tend to the disconnect. Learning is not something that begins when the bell rings, it begins at birth. Those we have rendered powerless must have voice to their vision and dream.

Teachers are called. We have a vocation. Our expertise and commitment must be solicited on behalf of the organization and those we serve. Our training in the essential skill set of technological literacy should be the cornerstone. We must stretch our thinking.

When Natalie bellowed her angst perhaps this was our call to action. This is not a time for polarized, politicized posturing. Now is the time to adapt and revision.

It is an emergency…we must react to this eminent disaster…

Let us all exercise our right to free speech. May we speak resolutely on behalf of children?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Truth Rings

On February fourteenth 2011 I was proposed to. A banner day on a banner day. The proposal of marriage, an antidote to having been scathed by divorce and the disarming event of looking for love in the cyber age.

He held my eyes with his, his speckled brown’s looking lucid.

He locked his look into mine. Steading his ambly gait, he pulled up the slipping strap of his denim coveralls and asked,“Will you marry me?’ He peered intently. My response his mirror.

Looking like ET, he just stared at me. I from a realm alien to him.

I looked to his button eyes, holding his fate with my response. This moment somehow altering my destiny. “Why I believe you are the best offer I’ve had in years.” He handed me the plastic heart shaped ring that had minutes before embellished the holiday cupcake. He had sucked the gooey pink frosting off to clean sparkly trinket. I held the too small ring to my heart. We were sealed.

He knew in that moment that in spite of his age (11), diagnoses, frequent hospitalizations, and the contemporty art wiring of his brain love prevailed. He was loved and loveable. Most important was his tin man heart. He could love. He did love.

Bursting from him that Valentine Day, (not Cupid’s arrow, or the muse Venus) was the sweet beat of his own heart, palpitating for others. He knew that in spite of being erratically compelled by demonic thoughts and behaviors, light and love dwelled in his heart. (Perhaps he could grow it bigger and bigger till it reigned and edged out the darkness.) .

And me, I the tin man as well. I feared I had a hollow heart. I can get stuck on the love channel, that staticy place that whines about others failures. I stockpile till my heart becomes heavy. The silent phone, the empty email in-box my mirrors, measurement of my worth.

But in my years of teaching on that day of love the kids always got it. Children too young, to harden up their heart and stockpile their hurts became love’s gurus. With every candy heart, every block print uppercased “ I LOVE YOU”, they practiced love like sacrament.

They loved unabashedly, expressively, and expansively. Little fingers stuffing cards in envelopes, doilies, and glitter melty hearts, mushy chocolate. The greatest commandment of all “Is love”…. So my plastic bauble will forever sit among my gilded treasures.

On Valentines Day my betrothed and all the students I ever had “got it”. They lived on the love channel and sprinkled love about like an ever-flowing font, not seeking anything in return but just the right to say, “I love you”.

As brown-eyed boy (Mr. Coveralls) handed me his most prized possession, asked me to marry him, and told me he loved me, my teacher brain briefly took over. But who am I to bolt the door to hope. I said simply “ I love you too”. (and always shall as you gave me the lesson in love, and you young man were the teacher of that curriculum.)