The Most Difficult Thing in Education

When I was in the classroom and people would ask me what I did for a living, I would tell them, “I am a teacher,” and without fail I would get one of a couple scripted responses in return: “Wow, good for you,” or “I could never do that.” As a principal I have received almost identical responses from friends, family, and strangers alike. Whether it was during my teaching tenure or my time as a principal, inevitably people from other career fields always want to know what is the most difficult thing about being an educator.

Any time I am prompted with this line of questioning my mind automatically drifts to the hours setting up labs after school, the parent complaints, the state mandates passed down with little to no school input, etc. But the hardest thing about being a teacher or a principal is not any of these things. In fact, it is such a difficult thing to deal with that we push it out of our minds as far as possible to the point that we don’t list it when asked. The hardest thing about being an educator is the death of a student. Over the course of a school year teachers learn an incredible amount of information about their students. Good educators know that you first must know the student before you can teach the student and they dedicate time and effort in building a relationship that will allow for learning to take place. Often times these relationships last much more than a year in the classroom and life-long bonds are created. For example, a year ago I was contacted by a couple of former students in Georgia that were heading to Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday and they wanted to meet up. Another example is that I have kept in contact with my AP Biology teacher from high school and try to meet up with him at least once a year.

I was reminded of this hardest aspect of being an educator on Friday when a 16 year old boy at the school that I just left was killed. This was the fourth time in my 13-year career that I have experienced this most difficult-to-deal with hardship; all of them were motor-vehicle related. Each of these deaths rocked me to my core and made me question the fragility of life and the precious nature of enjoying the people around you as much as you can. These young people had so much more to offer this world and now they are gone.

Rest in peace Sean, Madison, Tyler, and Jacob

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2017 – A #PureMichigan Summer

Tomorrow, I go back to work in preparation for the 2017-2018 school year and I can not be more excited about my new position and the challenges to be faced as a Middle School Principal. I am refreshed and ready to go thanks to a truly magnificent summer of travel full of beautiful sites and experiences. Here’s the kicker, I never even left the State! Last year, I took my family on an amazing 5-day cruise to the Caribbean and we had a great time, but I can honestly say that I am more relaxed and mentally prepared for the rigor of a new school year after experiencing a #PureMichigan summer.

This is the first summer in the last 17 years that I have not traveled out-of-state or abroad (I’m not counting my temporary foray into Canadian waters). Cue Tim Allen, Jeff Daniels and those wonderfully corny Pure Michigan commercials because I am about to wax poetic on how great this place is. Knowing that I needed to refresh my energy reservoir on a limited budget, I set a goal of getting in as many mini-cations, covering as much of the Michigan greatness as possible. The Google Map below details my travels across the State (and especially on the I-69 and I-75 corridors). I swam in two Great Lakes (Huron and Michigan), golfed Garland, Treetops, and Lakewood Shores, cruised an inland lake, and sailed a Great Lake. I slept in a resort, a camper, a tent, and a sailboat. I spent time with family, friends, and (just a little bit) by myself. I engaged my body, mind, and soul with the wonders of this State.

Just yesterday I read a blog post on “Professional Creep,” written by Megan M. Allen, a teacher acknowledging how being an educator tends to take over your life, hobbies, and habits and it inspired me to write this post in reflection of the work-life balance. Educators care about what they do and being a principal or a teacher is not simply a job, but rather it is a defining characteristic of our lives. I am 100% guilty of work creeping into every aspect of my life, but for the first time in 12 years, I feel like I may have attained that mythical balance between work and life.

I attended an education conference this summer, but I brought my family and we got out and enjoyed the beach and downtown environs of Traverse City.

I took a class for my job this summer, but I also read several novels.

I went backpacking in the Huron-Manistee National Forest, but I read The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros as I sat around the campfire.

Work-Life Balance…check (for now). Thank you #PureMichigan for getting this educator geared up for a great school year!


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Next Post

Last week I sent out a tweet in a reply to my post on Obstacles in Education and it got me thinking about my role in our democracy.

My tweet,“Legislation without contemplation, consideration, or communication is not representation,”  sent a thought running through my mind that I need to do more to stand up for the beliefs that I hold dear for education. Here are some realities that I have come to know about politics and education:

  • People are not happy with public education and are placing heavy pressure on government towards improving it.
  • The people who scrutinize public education do not know much about it.
  • There is very little conversation going on between schools, parents, communities, and the Legislature.

These three points bring me to the conclusion that public educators need to do more to improve our own working conditions by making more of an effort to reach out to parents, communities, and our elected officials about what is going on in schools. This includes having conversations with stakeholders about the demands that are being placed on us in the face of financial restrictions and threats to our well-being. It is no longer acceptable to take the hits and keep trying to persevere without telling our story and sharing our challenges.

We elect officials through our votes and we trust them to represent our best interests when they are put into office. All too often we fail to follow-up with these officials to let them know what our best interests are and the result is that they vote on legislation that fits their view of the situation. When you look solely at production numbers you deal in hard black and white data that fails to capture what schools are all about. Schools are not factory lines and we cannot be measured by test data alone. Students must learn skills like grit, determination, and social interaction as much as they must learn the Pythagorean theorem or their periodic tables.

Unfortunately, unless more educators voice their opinions, the only evidence that our elected officials will have to make up their knowledge of schools is that test data. I have been hesitant in the past to contact my representative and senator, but I will not be any longer. The future of education and our children is too important to leave at the hands of people who have not worked in a classroom and do not know what goes into educating a child. People will not know what it takes until we teach them. I refuse to lay blame at the feet of people who do not know better, but I do vow to do my part in making sure that they can no longer claim ignorance in their vote and I encourage you to do so as well.

Link: Contact your Federal Elected Official

Link: Contact your Michigan Representative

Link: Contact your Michigan Senator

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Obstacles in Education

I need to start by saying that it has been awhile since I have posted anything. I could cite a lot of different reasons for this like being too busy or not having anything to say, but those would just be excuses. The reality is I have been trying to listen more and speak less, and by listen I mean read more about what is going on. In my reading, one theme keeps resurfacing, reflection is important for learning and growth. This blog and my postings should be a reflection of my learning, so with that I dive back in.

This summer I finally got caught in the next that the Michigan legislature cast out in 2002, the requirement of a literacy instruction course for the issuance of my professional teaching certificate. When that requirement was enacted, I was still completing my undergraduate in biology and chemistry with an emphasis on secondary education. When I completed my bachelor’s and student teaching, I received a provisional certificate to teach and moved to Georgia in 2005 to start my career, as jobs were few and far between in Michigan. During my time in Georgia, I earned two graduate degrees; a master’s in curriculum and instruction and a educational specialist in leadership, as well as a gifted education endorsement. None of that mattered when my final renewal of my provisional teaching license expired at the end of June. With all options exhausted I was forced to enroll in a class this summer that would meet the state’s requirement for me to earn my professional teaching certificate, a class that I will be finishing up next Wednesday.

Here is the crux of my frustration with this situation: I completely understand and in favor of continuing one’s academic growth and development as an educator, I proved that with my graduate degrees and Georgia endorsements, but I am not in favor in jumping through hoops. There are currently two pieces of legislation that are sitting in committee in the Michigan House of Representatives that would have rendered my need to take this class irrelevant: HB4084 (Tedder) would eliminate the need for the course to attain the professional license, and HB4614 (Miller) would allow for unlimited renewals of the provisional teaching certificate. If either of these bills were to have gained any traction, I could have spent my summer doing what I do all year, reading, reflecting, and generating ideas on how to improve my school and the education field.

I went into my literacy course this summer very frustrated, but I decided to try to make the most of my situation. I have put effort and focus into my learning, but I must say that the material that I have learned about this summer does not have much applicability to what I do on a daily basis (I am a secondary principal) other than providing me some background to support my teachers. It is not that the class was bad or not worthwhile, but rather that it is not in line with my professional duties and responsibilities. It leaves me wondering about one big thing:

In this time of teacher shortage and verbal attacks on schools, why are we making it harder to be in education? Shouldn’t we be working together to find solutions rather than providing obstacles that divert us away from the problems we need to address?

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A Hypocrit’s Resolution

I’m guilty, or rather I have been in the past and that is something that I am going to change. What am I guilty of exactly? I am guilty of having my face buried in my phone to a detrimental level. For this new year I resolve to put down my phone when I am bored, waiting, procrastinating, etc. and I am determined to spread that message to the students of my school. I write this now, because I know that if I don’t get it out of my head and out into the world that I will be less apt to make a change.

The thought for this resolution came from a great podcast on How Stuff Works called, “Is computer addiction a thing?” and it evolved in my head into the realization that yes, people are way too focused on their phones; I’m too focused on my phone. In the race to unite people through email, text messaging, and social media people have actually accepted the practice of ignoring those in their immediate vicinity. I think of the cafeteria at my school as a prime example. When most people think about a high school cafeteria at lunch they think about loud, raucous teenagers gouging themselves before heading off to their next class. At the beginning of my career, this was the case. Now, however, when I walk the rows of tables the volume has decreased considerably. They still jam as much food down their throats as possible, but they are doing so one-handed with the other firmly grasping their phones. Most students don’t even notice me as I walk by because their faces are buried in a game or a social account. And there is the kicker; they are in the most loosely structured social environment of their entire school day, where they can sit with whomever they like and talk about whatever they like (within reason) and instead they are focused solely on virtual relationships, while the human relationships suffer.

I fear that the quick development of dependency on cell phones, coupled with the attraction of social media has created a behavioral block that is hindering the development of interpersonal relationships. I did not grow up with a cell phone, in fact, I did not get my first phone until after my first year of college. I grew up in a time when I had to memorize my friend’s phone numbers, and getting to spend time with friends was valuable catching up time. I knew a different way before I became addicted to my phone; our young people have never known a life without immediate access and therefore do not place the same value on a good face-to-face conversation.

When the first automobiles came out, there weren’t any traffic laws. Over time, the rise in popularity in the car lead to congestion and safety concerns. Laws were created and regulations put in place to ensure the safety of not just pedestrians, but the drivers of the vehicles themselves. Cell phones and social media have gone unchecked and unregulated for long enough and the immediate risk is that people are being crippled in the art of communication. It is quite ironic when you think about it; we are now more connected than at any other time in history, yet our ability to communicate is deteriorating over time.

I resolve this new year to put down my phone and have meaningful conversations and relationships. I resolve to spread that word to my students and to lead by example. I’m not abandoning technology, but rather recognizing that when to use it is just as important as when not to use it.


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A Thankful Educator

Hit the Pause button.

Forget for a moment the public scrutiny, governmental interventions, unfunded mandates, and the myriad of other stress-agents that surround educators. Forget changing standards, new curricula, and standardized tests.

Remember (even if just for today) the real reason that you entered the field of education. Remember the real driving force behind all meaningful student learning; the relationship between a caring educator and their students.

Last week, out of the blue, I received a text message from a former student, who I taught in Georgia (I now live in Michigan).

Zack: Is this Chris Ming?

Me: Yes, Zack it is.

Zack: Will you be in Michigan for Thanskgiving week?

Me: Yes I will

Zack: How far away are you from Detroit?

Me: About 40 minutes

Zack: No way! Well me and Spencer are coming up to Michigan for Thanksgiving break and we were wanting to see if you maybe wanted to grab lunch while we are up there to catch up and see you.

Me: Where are you going to be? It would be great to meet up!

We were able to set up some time together yesterday for lunch in Greektown and I got to hear all of the great things that are going on with Zack and Spencer. I was humbled that these great young men wanted to spend part of their holiday with a teacher and coach that they had not talked to in four years. They reminded me why what educators do matters and provided me with a new energy for my job.


From left, Spencer Tafelski, Chris Ming (me), Zack Shusterman in Greektown Detroit after lunch November 25, 2015. Spencer and Zack were students and soccer players that I had the privilege of working with four years ago in Loganville, Georgia


This Thanksgiving I am thankful for the meaningful relationships that make learning possible. The relationships that make an impact on young people’s lives. I am thankful for all of the educators out there that make connections with young people. You won’t find these connections in any legislation, standards, or evaluations. But it is these connections that create the environments conducive to learning. These connections create the opportunity for all students to be great.

Educators everywhere, never forget the impact you make everyday in the lives of your students.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Ming’s Musings: What I’m reading 10/19-10/23

Monday: Future of Mount Clemens High School football program unclear

Article about the cancellation of the Mt. Clemens football season due to a lack of players. This is a sad article as it reflects a greater issue around the state of declining enrollment sand the slow death of not only programs but schools and districts. This one hits close to home as Mt Clemens is a member of the same athletic conference that my school is in.

Tuesday: The right recipe for transforming Michigan public education

Intriguing opinion piece from the President of the State Board of Education, John Austin, about what is needed to improve Michigan schools. The article points to the declining enrollment of the state of school age children while at the same time the dramatic increase of schools opening (primarily charter and online).

I found myself nodding in agreement throughout this article as it reflects my own personal beliefs about education in the state. Education in Michigan should not be treated like a business where the only the strongest prevail, but rather a service that we cannot risk the results with.

Wednesday: Federal probe of EAA eyes former officials and vendors

The article focuses on the FBI investigation into the EAA, the state created district founded to improve low performing districts. The article is another sad look into the corruption that flows through this district and the lack of oversight. I have never been a fan of the EAA and the amount of power that they have wielded, but I am still sad to read of the greed and selfishness in play that ultimately negatively impacts kids.

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