That Old Expired Jar of Mayonnaise (Part 1)

Spring, 2022

“Well kids, we did it,” said Mr. McConnell leaning back in his teacher’s chair looking exhausted and relieved at the same time. State testing was finally over.

“You all handled that well. It throws a little bit of a wrench into our days, I know. Believe me, if I had my way you’d show your learnin’ on the McConnell Hilltop Compound Academy- wearin’ some work gloves and pickin’ rocks, plantin’ flowers and pullin’ weeds…”

He leaned back a little more and worked up a sort of entranced smile, eyes going kind of dramatic-dreamy. He pantomimed fanning himself in the sun and holding out a glass to act out a brief make-believe story about getting a kid to refill his iced tea, motioning for a little more “C’mon Owen, top that bad boy off, don’t be stingy,” sipping and ahhhh- ing… “Eva, not there, drag those branches over there…yeah, that’s it!

A few students protesting the thought of being turned into unpaid labor brought him to act woke out of his daydream.

“Oh sorry, where was I?” he asked the class.

This was all for show, of course. Unless there were volunteers for the Hilltop Academy (and oddly enough, they always volunteered).

The ridiculousness of the reverence and preeminence bestowed upon these tests had been growing for over a decade, and the chore of proctoring with tightly scripted directions (under threat of law, loss of teaching license, invalidation of student exams…) had led to even the inclusion of a very long list of electronic devices test-takers could not have on them because it risked the security and integrity of the data.

Data, incidentally, that can, has and will be used against public education. But to be scripted to go back in the proctoring script to repeat the list of devices, as if you are giving the second and final warning to any nefarious third-grade test spies that might just need to feel the heat and severity of the hypothetical consequences for the discovery of them having any of their spy stuff on their person when the government documents and cheap pencils are distributed…

“What have we become?” wondered Mr. McConnell in the moments he went back and challenged himself to read that list with one breath. He’d gotten very good at it.

“So, boys and girls,” he paused dramatically, looking around nodding slightly/eyeballing the kids with just a pinch of drama and that be ready for this look he liked to give when he wanted students to pay attention and be ready, “…I think with all that testing stuff done, today is the day.” His expression shifted to a satisfied, anticipatory, almost pleasure and at peace with the situation look.

“I think the time has come. You know what I mean.”

Mr. McConnell leaned back in his chair and reached with his left hand behind him for the spoon that rested in a coffee cup on the top shelf of the bookshelf that was in his corner of the room. It was a cheap soup spoon with some of that fake-fancy cheap spoon scrolly stuff on the handle. He transferred it to his right hand and reached back and up with his left again, saying:

“It’s time for the Because you never know mayonnaise.”

His hand found and retrieved the small jar of Helmann’s mayonnaise that had been there since day 1 of the school year. Indeed, had been with Mr. McConnell for some number of years, because it was three years expired at least. Students had asked about it, looked it over, and wondered why he even had it. Wondered about it on the very first day of the school year, in fact.

“Why do you have that jar of mayonnaise, Mr. McConnell?” a student had asked.

“Because you never know,” Mr. McConnell responded with a shrug. Truth be told he didn’t know why he had even said it at the time other than his tendency to drop nonsense on students just to make them think, ask more questions, ask better questions maybe.

After that, all year long, when describing preparation, readiness, and response to a problem or a situation that required a “You do this because you never know when it could help” mindset, Mr. McConnel pointed to the mayonnaise as an example. “You do this because you never know…You know, like that mayonnaise (insert casual gesture to the old jar of expired mayonnaise)

They probably didn’t expect him to bring that jar down close, affectionately even. The sigh, the look of anticipation, the almost whispered “I ‘ve really needed this”… They definitely didn’t expect him to twist the cap off that jar, dip that big old soup spoon in, and take in a big old sloppy mouthful with a satisfied and near euphoric expression on his face.

Just wait for Part 2!

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Real Educators and Real Education Reform

This might just be the first segment of the first episode of a new podcast.

Hello all, welcome. Come in, find your seat, or I guess find a seat- I won’t be assigning any yet so it’s okay, just grab the spot you want for now and if there are any problems I’ll move people around. Just know that if you choose to sit next to your bestie I’ll be watching to make sure you can do that and still make good choices.

Let’s get some definitions out of the way first. Since this effort I’m making here is called Real Educators, and Real Education Reform I should share the hows and whys of my using the terms “Real Educators” and “Real Education Reform”.

First, “real educators”. In my mind, if you are involved in any way with guiding learners as they come to grips with how to navigate this world we’re sharing, then you are a real educator. Most of the time my frame of reference will be how that is happening within the public school paradigm with a focus on classrooms and hallways.

But from parents to police, from presidents and their favorite porn stars to the guy at the newsstand on the corner selling the rags that reveal the darkest secrets of presidents and their favorite porn stars…

Everyone plays a role, so the key is paying attention to the role you play and the potential that lies within. 

You can make a difference, and chances are you do make a difference, but do you know that you can and do make a difference? 

Do you know that what you do and how you do it is a part of the education of others around you sharing this world with you? 

Do you think about what that difference you make might be or could look like? 

Maybe you see it as incidental or insignificant but it isn’t at all. All those tiny interactions add up. No matter how brief or in passing they are, they, and you, make a difference. Even tiny ripples travel and spread to the edges of a pond. Like the muppets sang on Sesame Street, they’re the people you meet when you’re walking down the street each day- except now you know that in the lives of learners you are those people. You are those ripples.

So sure, as a teacher my primary focus is on that role and other roles within the day-to-day school setting but having played that role for over twenty years the number one thing I have learned is that I am only part of the “real educator” team. A chance meeting, an every morning or afternoon hello from a fellow familiar…from cashier to construction worker, from preacher to police, all of these other humans tell us something about the world we are living in and tell school children as well. From puppets to porn stars it all informs us as we move forward through life. And if you are lucky enough to come across porn that incorporates puppets-definitely let me know. 

Purely for research purposes you know, I am a licensed, professional educator. Your children are safe with me

A Story (Part 1)

Little Danny stepped up to get his sled. His cousin Brian stepped up with him onto the other track as the two prepared to rocket into the record books on the “Alpine Slide”. And to think that only an hour ago they were getting ready to just run around Gram and Gramps whacking the bee tree and waiting for someone to get stung.

This was way cooler than that.

Not that the bee tree thing wasn’t interesting. Every year that giant pine tree was humming with hornets, and they were all around the house, and everywhere in the yard. There were no popsicles in peace or ice cream cones in the occasional calm. The sugar would bring-em. You’d be stung for sure.That’s why it was starting to get interesting. Someone was probably getting stung, and each boy was pretty sure it was going to be the other, but neither really cared. It happened every year, a few times anyway.

It had started with “Go run around the tree twice and then back to the porch,” progressed to three-times around, and even to the next difficulty level: taking the thin, yellow, wiffle-ball bat and whacking the tree before dashing back to the porch. That’s when the hornets became more interested. Up until then, whichever waited on the enclosed front porch would see a wisp of hornets pull away the way smoke above a candle does when your hand passes through. A few hornets would trail after briefly and then return to the tree. The bat was another story. A handful came all the way to the door and almost made it in before the runner closed the door. It was a whack-run-watch as hornets tapped and bounced off the glass of the porch door.

Still, it just seemed not quite dangerous enough for a couple men like them. They climbed onto roofs. They dumped entire pixie sticks into their mouths and washed it down with the sting of ice-cold Coca Cola. They snuck beers and cigars. They let Grandma drop them off at weekend bible camp, but only because it was a chance to sneak away from campfires and songs and into the woods with church girls.

So they decided the real danger from bees and such might only be elevated to the level of their courage if they smelled more flower-like during their assaults on the bee tree. Before they could thoroughly douse themselves with their grandfather’s green, Skin-Bracer aftershave (that being the most smell-good thing a couple stinky boys could think of) the call to load up into the family wagon came. They were heading to Song Mountain and the Alpine Slide!

Which brings us forward in time to Little Danny, atop his sled, at the top of the mountain, ready to ride that Alpine Slide.

People have had to be airlifted away from this ride! Little Danny thought. Which is probably why the teenage kid at the top did the safety thing he did every single time to every single person, probably every year Little Danny had been coming. How to stay on the track, don’t stop in the middle, how to push the lever forward to go faster, how to pull back to…

Little Danny pushed off fast before Safety Boy could finish. Sure he was probably five or six years older, 18 tops, but he clearly didn’t know how big boys played!

Make or Break Time for Education

As an educator, I saw an opportunity in the return to school after that COVID-induced stretch of remote learning.

Not that COVID is really over, as much as people want to pretend it is. Right now it feels like we are fudging our way through the positive tests and the obvious illnesses. Back to knowing that if a parent has no daycare options, a sick kid might be sent to school. Onward, implementing the merest measures as a society in order to keep people at work, and students in school, protecting economic interests first.

The pandemic revealed our society for what it really is.

Regardless of what political party holds the reins, it would appear that a market-driven strategy that defers to efficiency and easily quantifiable outcomes wins out over the human endeavor of educating. If a truly educated and capable citizenry were the goal, how we design and implement the systems that allow us to educate would reflect that. There would be more honesty in policy language coming down into our schools and classrooms from above, and it would be more about learners and a comprehensive, whole-child look at their needs, less about the limiting boxes on spreadsheets filled with standardized test scores.

The opportunity I saw in the return to in-person learning was a chance to rethink our priorities regarding the goals we are setting for students.

A reach for our better selves and a higher purpose in our service to students and communities is needed, and I feel we are in a make-or-break moment for choosing to do that. The data we are mandated to collect officially is far different than the data we are compelled to collect by the multiplying realities in the moments instruction should be happening. Those “confounding variables” keep popping up to get in the way of better outcomes.

What data educators collect matters. How we use it to build understanding about the learners as developing human beings with needs and inform our educational decisions matters more. Empowering the people actually doing the work matters most.

What Education Should Mean

I have long advocated for a better direction for education reform

Educators should be building a culture for learning, not standardization and perpetual testing, especially post-COVID. It’s not that I don’t think education needs to be done better-it absolutely does, and that’s why I am 100% pro-reform. But I am interested in real education reform. I’m talking about the type of education reform that turns our eyes away from screens, machines, and spreadsheets, education reform that empowers educators to attend to the learners as if they were actual living, breathing human beings right in front of us, because that’s what they are.

Don’t just take it from me, there are people who tell it better.

“But our obsessive need to measure academic progress and loss to the decimal point—an enterprise that feels at once comfortably scientific and hopelessly subjective—is also woefully out of tune with the moment…” (Stephen Merrill, April 2021)

      Merrill describes in that article the epic mistake of obsessing over “learning loss”, warning about focusing too much on the soulless bits and pieces of standardized assessment data during pandemic recovery. It’s a suggestion that we focus instead on the social/emotional return and support-allowing the bits and pieces to rise up from that foundation, the way it once did for the majority of students who once, long ago, arrived at school secure in themselves and ready to learn.

That article also states:

     “If there’s a pressing need for measurement, it’s in the reckoning of the social, emotional, and psychological toll of the last 12 months.”

     The best way to do that in the school setting is through culture-an approach to each other and our shared priorities and goals realized through instructional practice that includes a prioritization of social connections. Socratic Seminars are one example of how this can be worked into instructional practice. Another example, maybe even more powerful, is through storytelling.

On that foundation/culture:

     For years “Great Books” (or Junior Great Books) has been my response to the “What are your ideas/what should we do…” questions. What I really meant was the concept/approach, not that program specifically. There might be some meat on that carcass but I’d be building culture not buying more programs. The thing I loved about G.B. is the Socratic seminar format it relies on. It is engaging, challenging, and inspiring, given the right selection of texts to dive into.   

     I think using it in the youngest grades would include a lot of that morning meeting, What is the best way to take turns, …ask a friend to play, …say “I’m sorry” focus as the cognitive weaving is being done to establish social skills and consistent, reliable classroom and discussion norms. Once learners become acquainted with the thinking/sharing/ discussing around real life in and out of school, those skills can be turned towards exploring those issues and themes in what they read and in what they write about.

The Socratic Method is a way of thinking that involves three steps:

1) An initial definition or opinion.

2) A question that raises an exception to that definition or opinion.

3) A better definition or opinion

  Guided by a facilitator, individuals experience the three levels of Socratic dialogue, which are conversation, strategic discourse, and meta-discourse…

     That’s a technical definition. Execution in practice could vary a little, as the original purpose was to dissect a concept not pursue content. But teachers already engage students in this way (or something close to it), so it’s not an out-of-reach skill. Through specific activities like morning meetings and “fishbowl” discussions, it’s already done. Some teachers just have that instructional style and continually engage learners with thought-provoking questions, discussion, guided reflections and then follow-up questions, and so on.   

     Developing these skills (weaving that cognitive net) in K-12 would move that test score needle, and it might even create an eager reader/writer or two along the way. It will most certainly create learners who engage each other more productively. A more purposeful and systemic approach to creating a community of effective thinkers/questioners/ collaborators by doing Socratic seminars catches us bait that lands the fish that will fill our bellies with better test scores. 

On a personal note, this was/is my approach to my parental role in raising my daughters, and often is my approach to teaching.

     I don’t just talk a lot because I like to. I like to mess around with ideas and words and present them quickly in novel ways and I like to keep learners’ minds “on the hook”, with ideas followed by questions, then letting the line loose on occasion to see how they swim, letting them free when they’re ready to swim on their own. Whether it’s a content issue or a behavior issue I want the learner engaged in a thought-response-thread that keeps them weaving that net. Remember that net?

     So while my daughters have certainly suffered some, they are leaders because they are thinkers and reflectors. Their ideas today are a result of nurturing and engagement, and they learned early how to put good thoughts into good words. Why I remember clearly the day Chloe spoke what was (according to Jenn) her first full sentence:

“Momma, is that a crappy sidewalk?”

     With that one sentence, our little one demonstrated: great vocab skills, great recall and connecting concepts to words, presenting her idea in the form of a question to seek feedback and more ideas- a more concrete understanding (pun intended). She was out for a stroller ride around the block when we lived in Cortland, and you know how tree-lined streets in town tend to have sidewalk issues as roots heave cement and seasonal erosion takes its bites. The first thing Jenn told me when they got back to the house was the big “first sentence” event, and I couldn’t tell if it was a “proud tears moment for the scrapbook” thing, or a “this is because of the way you talk around her” thing, but casual talk and pointed and purposeful questions turned into reflective and responsive conversations as they grew. The McConnell’s “Socratic seminars” still happen, often around the family dinner table, but they are a little more demented these days.

We can’t go back in time with our students to create “ready to learn”

     …but I think we can work at establishing a foundation for and culture of learners in order to fill some gaps in that readiness while inspiring more to start weaving on their own and with each other. It will make their personal mission to learn more personal, meaningful, and relevant to their sense of belonging, to who they are, and to who they want to be. This is where storytelling comes in.

As educators we should embrace an understanding that storytelling can help educators make connections with each other and with their learners, making all feel valued and giving incentives to participate more. It is a path to better understanding, for both the listeners and the tellers. From cave paintings depicting the realities seen by long ago “historians”, to the epic oral tales of traveling performers, to stage performers and comedians like the late, great George Carlin, reflecting on our existence and sharing stories has educated us in ways that phonics drills and spelling tests never could and never will.

In my classroom, storytelling is one way I make connections and draw students in to engage their academic skills. Personal stories of my multiple foolish Tom Sawyer attempts to impress my personal Becky Thatcher (Carla) hit just right with students at that age. To know their own teacher was once living it and to have that connection makes them more tuned in to literary elements like plot, sequence, detail, characters, motivation, problem/solution… It’s about their teacher! Of course I don’t reveal that right away, but they catch on quick that the main character, “Little Danny” was me.

When I turn the stories I tell into short one-page stories they read, they are far more willing to write several sentences about the character traits of Little Danny and the mistakes he made, including descriptive details of the consequences. Some of these students, now grown, remember those stories and even the name of my crush. They remember the results of my foolish attempts to impress because those connections were built through the telling of the story. With that model to work from, students are better able to identify and track narrative elements of texts and stories they encounter, as well as start building the skills needed to develop narratives independently.

Conclusion:

Teachers need to be teaching with more stories. Not just stories in print or those read together and read aloud in class. I mean telling stories, sharing experiences and bits of themselves in a way that models for students how they can do that too. When people tell stories they provide their audience windows of opportunity to better understand the world, the others in it, and the experiences others have and are having. Creating communities of learners who engage in this practice would help strengthen the social and emotional connections humans crave and are sorely lacking in today’s world because this type of connection is what really matters to social animals such as ourselves. Stories and story sharing are primary ways learners build background knowledge, from cradle to grave, that they carry into their learning experiences.

An invitation to story time

This is a description of, and an invitation to, an endeavor that is purely for the enjoyment in participating and value in whatever takeaways you find. The path and destination are TBD, but the jumping-off point is gathering initial interest, in this school and in others around us, from former professors and teachers I know, and writers in the area. I’m collaborating with SUNY prof David Franke and we’ve spoken about what might come next down the road, but at this birth-of-an-idea stage, there’s no submitting for approval. There’s no post-conference survey, which means it’s no inservice credit thing. Right now it’s more of a gathering together, feel-good, self-care, soul project, SEL thing: 

Who doesn’t have a “got pulled over” story?  Have a “my favorite teacher” story? And everyone has a “What was I thinking!?” story! We tell stories from morning to night because they’re informative. They’re how we make sense of our experience. They’re a generous way to share what we know. The best stories are crafted, and for that, storytellers need a good audience.

Dan McConnell (Marathon SD) and David Franke, (Seven Valleys Writing Project, SUNY Cortland, English) would love to have you join us, first online and then in real space, to practice our stories. Our stories do not have to be about school and teaching, but we figure that will figure in. To put it another way, we have heard a lot of badly told stories (the news is an example), but we get few opportunities to tell our own.

If you are interested in listening or maybe even telling, you are already on your way to supporting the skills your learners need. Feel free to reach out and learn more, maybe even participate.

dmaxmj@gmail.com

More on Enrichment

Introduction

Public education has moved too far away from whole child and developmentally appropriate practices. The shift over the past decade-plus has been towards an endless pursuit and analysis of data that serves less humane motivations. This data, generally gathered through standardized assessments and representing student acquisition of discrete skills, is far too valued in the “how should we educate children” wake left behind the education reform and accountability movement from over a decade ago. Enrichment is the best way to shift the endeavor and focus back on the actual learners and their needs.

So what can we do?

Some of this long drive to Data-Town is beyond the control of classroom teachers and public schools. Through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) there are funds tied to efforts to “closing gaps” and accountability through data collection. States, my supposed teacher-union stronghold of N.Y. included, have had to develop plans for collecting statistically normed data for purpose of comparison, ranking, tracking of progress, and accountability.  

Now I like data and I crave information. Accountability, though, is a double-edged sword, and for a long, long, long time the only edge discussed is the one that cuts schools, educators, and in the end, students. Statistics I don’t like so much. I call it dishonest math for gentle liars, but I can understand why some choose to reach for numbers instead of truths and hug spreadsheets instead of children. I have little respect for it all, but it’s a fun thing to do with numbers if you’re not hurting people and it’s a low fence and a light lift. You get to avoid the hard truths.

My main issue, which I think could be largely resolved through enrichment, is that government agencies charged with oversight in a human endeavor like education continuously preach a caring message while perpetually falling back on that sterile and inhumane numbers-driven accountability bottom line. 

Take, for example, the goals of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative meant to close and “eliminate opportunity gaps” for boys and young men of color, and all students.”:

From p.7 of the 2020 revised NYSED ESSA plan

It’s easy to see that these are sequential goals, from entering school to a productive post-education life. The “Grow up in safe communities…” at the end is a sweet and hopeful goal.

But what about the first goal: “Enter school ready to learn”. Why is the Board of Regents, the body regulating public education, weighing in on what happens before students even arrive to participate in the public education they are regulating? What control do they have over what happens to students before they even arrive for day one of their public education?

“Ready to learn” happens at home and they know it. They know it, you know it, I know it…It happens in the community before they enter school. Otherwise, they enter not ready.

I need to gather my thoughts for part II. I’ll be getting more into enrichment when we get there.

An Enrichment Proposal 3 (Almost There!)

First,  I have thoughts on the failure to move test score needles. 

“Value added assessment”, norm- referenced data analysis, grit and rigor, HEDI scales, tethering students more and more onto screens and into platforms that exist for data production, collection and analysis, moving learners away from the symbiotic, social and synergistic processes that grow an adept human mind

The real important stuff that lays the foundation for success (e.g.,social, emotional and psychological development) was back-burnered in the pursuit of data. In the aftermath of the 2007-2010 financial crisis, schools became the distraction and target for accountability for what was ailing the nation. The housing market crashed and people’s lives were ruined, so clearly schools weren’t doing their job. We began racing to the top, and a decade later even Bill Gates had to admit his thoughts on how everybody else’s kids should be weighed and measured didn’t work out so well. 

Well, if a test score needle didn’t move, it’s no wonder. You aren’t going to save a crappy potato salad with even the most well-intended, highest quality, thick sliced hickory smoked bacon bits. It might get easier to choke down, but the salad will still be crappy, and people at the picnic will wonder why you wasted good bacon bits. 

Said more directly: academics will be a struggle if you don’t tend to the person and prepare the mind.   

An increased focus on more explicit counseling and social-emotional targets in the instructional day is really an admission of failure and/or unwillingness on the part of policymakers and society around schools. The role of public schools has more overtly become to fix the damage done by problems we refuse to take care of outside of school which transformed the natural process of SED into a necessary remediation/ intervention called SEL.

 I don’t resent it or anything, it just is what it is, and educators have already been doing it all along because we’re confronted with the growing needs daily. It’s just being officially made part of the job now. 

I say this gives the professionals a nod to not just do it as another one more thing you need to do, but do it right. Do it proudly, too, knowing that we are the ones with graduate degrees and experience, and we are capable of targeting academic skills while addressing the needs of the whole-child in order to create lifelong learners who can handle grit and rigor when it comes along. If we start enriching, in order to empower, it will be easier to educate. 

So as i work my way closer to how, know that I believe those working in schools already know this:

By treating children in the school setting like young human beings that go through stages of development that can be supported and encouraged, the same as we would with our own children out in the wild, just think of what we could accomplish. 

There’s that ringing again.

An Enrichment Proposal, Part 1.

Writing out of the humanity side of it all:

In the Introduction I lay the groundwork.

We are either blessed or burdened with one life on this tiny speck of dust, in a universe we can’t begin to truly comprehend or define, for purposes we may never know, and maybe weren’t meant to or don’t need to know. If you lean into believing there even is a purpose, and/or a demanding, all-knowing old guy in the sky doing all the work, you should honor blessings with real efforts, not just assume a merit badge or a train ride home for saying you believe. So when faculty meeting requests for ideas regarding how to best spend extra funds and invest efforts in the wake of COVID-19 began, it rolled me through that honor-my-blessings (and opportunity?) process.

Sure, I was a little leery. I’ve been in plenty of meetings where ideas are enthusiastically called for and collected. I’ve been disappointed. Pieces of chart paper hung all over with multicolored marker wish-lists/what do you needs/what should we dos in a wide variety of handwriting styles, fonts and sizes. That part was cool, I love it when collaboration and creation happen-we need more of that. It helps strengthen community and build spirit if it’s done right. 

It was almost always the same sort of stuff on those lists, though. Math facts. Phonics. Fluency. Explicit, direct instruction in handwriting. A packaged, produced and published curriculum that takes all the guesswork out of delivering content and interventions and gives lotsa books and copies to be made. Some rare glimmers of inspiration. Some definite worn down copier issues to come.

But when there was a call for Enrichment proposals, I was excited. There had been directives to think big, think “out of the box”, to think of something because we haven’t been able to move the needle on test scores for about ten years. I felt as if in the midst of a chaotic pandemic recovery, state-level decision-makers and NYSED had woken up and decided to leave behind the past ten years of their poisoned paradigm. They were sending word down from above to empower the people actually doing the job of educating children. Like they now really did want to hear from teachers and give them some say. 

And to suggest Enrichment! To me it felt like a dare. Like I might be taken off the leash. 

It felt like the universe was ringing.

I’ll explain the ringing in a sec.

An Enrichment proposal in this situation shouldn’t be an individual application or an audition for an isolated opportunity. It shouldn’t be a “Hey, here’s this suggestion that’s specifically for me and some cool thing I’ve always wanted to do with a few kids,” type thing. That’s not very inspiring or enriching. To me, a proposal is a great big, collaborative deal. 

For example, a proposal is me having the nerve to suggest to a beautiful young woman who is still way too good for me that she spend the one life she has on me, and a request that she allow me to spend my one life trying to prove what we make of it together was worth her while in the end. It might sound a little melodramatic, but looking back, the universe rang the moment I was introduced to her, when I purposely held her hand a little longer than I should have for a simple pleased-to-meet-you handshake.

I think about how lucky I am today for having had that moment, and I hear that ring from way-back-then. 

So in honor of the blessing and the ringing in my head

Once some tiny bit of that vast, magical unknowable (sourced from science or the divine) is captured, then mixed with some piss and rubber from melted down tires, with the magical ending of an ass getting inked onto this jailhouse called Earth…I gotta believe that creation comes with obligation. An obligation to listen for that ringing, and to try and make it happen for others.

That’s where Enrichment begins.

An Enrichment Proposal: Introduction

Introduction:

Teaching has changed. Apparently becoming  a teacher is changing as well. I just saw an article out of NYSED saying so, I think. I have to go back and see for sure but I believe I got one of those widely spread, “from the office of…”, release/emails from the office of NY Ed Commissioner Rosa mentioning the Ed Department making it easier for student teachers to get into the classroom. 

At the start of the most recent “reform” movement, when the intent was to present lack of teacher quality and education accountability as the critical issues in student outcomes, it felt as if the certification process was made more difficult. Maybe a pendulum is swinging in the other direction? I don’t want to lower standards for those educating the citizens of tomorrow, but overall I think making certification a more coherent process is a good thing. I think making it more honest is even better. For the sake of honesty: I don’t think the quality of educators and candidates for the field, or difficulty of getting into the profession is at the heart of the “why” in teacher-supply challenges.

I think it’s more a matter of purpose and lack of integrity in those who began pushing those reforms a little over a decade ago. The teacher shortage was a widely recognized concern long before COVID because the job is getting more difficult and thankless and has been getting that way for some time. Invaded by the consequences of a lack of political will outside of schools, educators are left to battle the fallout from inhumane policy blowing into schools.

If you’ve worked for more than a handful of years in the classroom, you’ve seen that fallout for some time. You know children are being neglected and left behind by “American Exceptionalism”, becoming harder and harder to engage and educate. They are more absorbed by the eye-candy found on screens and the sales of superficiality (i.e. being tick-tock famous, having lots of “hits” and “likes”, owning the latest model of this or that…). We are raising other people’s children first in order to teach them, and the ones who do come ready to learn get shortchanged in the struggle to meet the needs of all.

Education, as it is being mandated from above, is less about the value we are adding to humanity and more about competing on the playing field of standardardization, the “free market”, the statistics, and determinations of value within human beings as demonstrated by the data they produce. Educators are continuously tied to these numbers in this statistical paradigm which lumps the ready to be “proficient” with those who struggle to be so. In this manner, our attention is drawn away from the actual human beings involved. That we are just all victims and left with oh well, what can we really do about it, to me, is complacency and surrender.

That shouldn’t be acceptable for other people’s children any more than it is or was for my own. That all being said, with much more to say, I’ll get to the point. I am proposing that educators do Enrichment. With a capital “E”. Not as an intervention or an add on, but as a mindset and approach for all.