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.

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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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Ming’s Musings: What I’m reading 10/12-10/16

Monday: Obama administration: More support, fewer suspensions for kids who miss too much school

The article expresses a concern on the part of the administration that chronically absent students are being suspended and in some cases expelled. The shocking statistic provided is that 5-7.5 millions students per year have chronic absenteeism, missing 10% or more of the school year. I agree on a certain level with keeping students at school and not suspending them. The suggestions offered of finding the reason for the absence and providing guidance are both things that schools are already doing. This support, however, is also something that has been cut from budgets across the country as belts are tightened. I’ve mentioned before, and I will say it again, we need to address the root of the problems that we observe. It is a near impossible task to provide all that is asked of schools with less dollars and personnel to do so.

Tuesday:  12 Little Known Laws Of Mindfulness (That Will Change Your Life)

This one got caught up in my Pocket account for me to read later, which I finally got around to. I am pick on reading self help articles that give you a different outlook on your life. I liked the 12 suggestions in the article and found one resonate with my particularly well, “When you try to control too much, you enjoy too little”. This one struck a chord with me as I am in a position of control of a lot of elements. This year, with athletics I have tried to give some of that control back to my coaches and am feeling much happier. The other sticking point from the article is that, “Your only reality is THIS MOMENT, right here, right now.” These two takeaways combined have left me with the mentality that I need to try harder to control less and enjoy the now around me. Sometimes when you plan to much you forget to reap the happiness and benefits of that hard work. I will try not to let that happen to me anymore.

Wednesday: Guns in Michigan churches? Bars? Schools? Maybe

Scary legislation has hit the Senate floor that concealed weapons will be allowed in schools, bars, and churches where only open carry had been allowed previously. The article references the recent Community College shooting in Oregon and how firearm carriers DID NOT respond, and how a suspected shoplifter was fired upon in Ann Arbor by someone with a concealed license. These are two prime examples of what could negatively happen as a result of this law passing. Guns have no place in schools.

Thursday: Ex-Detroit principal to plead guilty in bribery probe

Sad article about an embezzlement case taking place in a Detroit high school that has been part of the state reform district of the EAA. It seems that one of the principals is pleading guilty of stealing close to $60k. Articles like this reveal the difficult nature of education in Detroit. The part that bothers me the most is that things like this are happening in the city while they amass more and more debt and do not effectively turn schools around. This combined with the plea from Detroit for the state to bail out their debt at the detriment of all the other districts across the state is troubling at best but sickening at worst.

Friday: World-famous teacher files $1 billion lawsuit against Los Angeles schools to end ‘teacher jail’

Continuing the theme of this week of the sad reality in schools, a nationally awarded and world recognized teacher from LA has filed a class action lawsuit against his former district. The root of the dispute that lead to his dismissal was a joke made in the classroom with his students that was reported and landed him in teacher purgatory, a place they have you go while being investigated. This article typifies the growing rift between society and educators and the rising tensions that are coming about as a result. This is a high profile case, but certainly not the only one out there and shows how closely scrutinized educators are and the unrealistic expectations placed on people that work with children. One could argue that the lack of respect and trust, constant criticism, and governmental tinkering have made every classroom a “teacher jail” of sorts.

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Ming’s Musings: 10/5-10/9

Monday: Duggan steps into the breach to save Detroit schools

Article touches upon the mayor of Detroit’s plan to do his part in helping Detroit schools. I like the approach that he expresses in that he will lobby for the schools but will not take them over; he will leave that in the hands of people better qualified to run the schools. I also like that he recognizes that Detroit is a powerful test subject and that if we can get things right with DPS then we can apply those same principles to other struggling school districts. The part that I am not on board with is written between the lines. I am not in favor of legislation that would require other areas around the state to pay for the debts created by the EAA and DPS.

Tuesday: How much do big education nonprofits pay their bosses? Quite a bit, it turns out.

This article questions the tax exempt status of major testing corporations such as those responsible for the SAT and the ACT and the overall salary of the top executives. The numbers are eye-opening though, especially in light of the big state contracts that these companies have and the pseudo-monopoly they have in the college admissions process.

Wednesday: We must despise our kids: Our ugly war on teachers must end now

13% of teachers leave the job field every year. Why, you might ask? The rise of charters, the elimination of collective bargaining, and the constant denigration of being failures has turned a once noble profession to one of attrition and defensiveness. The author of the article points to the above examples as reasons why the profession is losing its workforce and warns that reformers are doing more harm than good which we may not see the result of until these children are older.

It is a sad state of affairs, but the author has hit some points that resonate with me. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t had some tough, demoralizing days in my career that have made me question staying in the profession. The most difficult part is not necessarily financial, however, it is that the acts of the “reformers” have create this stigma around education that has eroded the once strong trust relationship between teachers and parents; a relationship that used to bridge the education of a student from school to home.

Thursday: Feeding and Fertilizing School Athletics

This article was written by the head of the MHSAA, Jack Roberts, and focuses on the importance of expanding opportunities for middle school athletics in order to interscholastic athletics to be successful. The article focuses on two major premises; that 6th graders should be permitted to participate in school sports and that we need to lift the cap on the number of contests permitted at the middle school level. These two factors will help to keep interscholastic sports competitive with outside clubs and groups.

I agree with the authors thoughts on the matter and am concerned about one particular set of comments that had the message that some school administrators believe sports take away from already limited resources. As an assistant principal and athletic director I see everyday, firsthand, the influence of sports on education. Many of the students that roam the halls of my school do so during the day because they know that they won’t be permitted to play their sports if they don’t. Sports teach important lessons about life that cannot be learned elsewhere and having a school-based system ensures that athletics remain educational.

Friday: Bill would get retired teachers back in the classroom

Proposed legislation in both the House and the Senate would allow for the return of retirees to the classroom without hurting their benefits and the hiring of non-certified teachers in areas of need.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, there is a very real shortage of teachers in many areas of need and ultimately students lose in this scenario. On the other hand, bringing back retirees brings up a different problem, a generation difference that is exacerbated by the increased demands of today’s teachers. In most other professions, if you have a specialized job that has a limited applicant pool, employers will incentivize the position to make it more attractive. This is where education may be missing the mark. Pardon my crassness, but recycling retired teachers does not solve the long-term need.

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Ming’s Musing: What I’m Reading 9/28-10/2

It was a busy week and commitments got the best of me. Here is what I was able to read last week though.

Monday: More than 1 in 5 U.S. children are (still) living in poverty

Very short report/release on the state of US children in poverty. The scary statistic is that 22% or American children, 15.7 million school-age children live under the poverty line (2014 $24,008 for a family four). This is an absolutely frightening statistic. When the basic human needs of a person are not met, they cannot be expected to perform higher order thinking and intellectual development. Regardless of the quality of school/teacher, a student that is living in poverty will struggle to reach their potential. This is the single biggest issue related to education that is ignored with all attempts at education reform.

Tuesday: When Educators Act in Ways That Foster Student Misbehavior

MASSP Abstract that highlights the educator actions that lead to student misbehavior. The author does not condone the actions of students but rather focuses on how educators can tweak their behaviors to benefit students. The ways that educators act include: Highlighting ability differences, Promoting a performance-goal orientation, Establishing vague norms, Letting students choose their seats, and Using tired, old scripts.

Thursday: As Worries Rise and Players Flee, a Missouri School Board Cuts Football

This title caught the Athletic Director side of my brain and is very concerning. School districts around the country and considering, and in some cases are, cancelling football as a sport. The concern is very high from parents, and has been reflected in participation, that the dangers of playing the sport are just too great. Despite the efforts of the NFL and programs that have been created to instruct properly and make a safer environment, numbers are still dwindling to the point that schools are getting rid of the sport.

This is extremely troubling to me as the schools that I have worked at have been the center of communities that ground themselves in the pride from their football teams. Football is a contact sport and risk is inherent in that, but doing away with the sport altogether is a troubling trend. Then again, students being killed on the field is far worse.

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