The title of my previous post holds true…

I get it, I really do. You love Joe Paterno. You idolize Joe Paterno. You grew up knowing nothing but Joe Paterno being a god in your eyes. And I liked him, too. I can’t say as I ever put him on that pedestal or prayed to him before going to bed (yes, hyperbole). I know that he’s done a TON of good for Penn State, for college football, and mankind in general.

Having said all of that, I still believe that he was rightfully fired. I understand your stance against this. I respect your stance against this, but I don’t agree with it.You see, if you want me to listen to your opinion — and respect it — you need to be open minded enough to listen to mine. That’s how the game is played.

Please don’t take this as me not being willing to have my opinion challenged. I have laid out my feelings on the issue in the post below this one. They haven’t changed. I’ve read just about everything I could get my hands on — covering both sides of the issue. And I haven’t changed my opinion. I’ve read several pieces that have made me see the “other side” in a clearer fashion, but the bottom line is this – I believe that Joe Paterno, the most powerful man at Penn State, should have done more — and I believe that he was rightfully fired for not doing so. (Incidentally, if you really want to nit-pick, I think Paterno, when he said “I wish I had done more” only solidifies my position, but hey, spin that however you’d like to perpetuate your idolatry).

There have been very few things in my life that I’ve wanted to be wrong about. I hope that I’m wrong on this issue — but I don’t think that I am. If I am, though, I can guarantee you that I will be the first person on here admitting that I was wrong. I can assure you that I have given a ton of thought to this possibility — I just wonder, have you?

The concept of civil discourse is dead…

I’m not even really sure where to start — I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions since the Penn State University scandal first broke and it’s unbelievably difficult to get a grip on where to begin. But let’s give this a try…

I’m single – check that – I’m divorced. I don’t have any kids, and that’s probably the biggest reason why I’m divorced. I have faced hardship in my life, but so have you, so have others and I work hard not to dwell on it. I have faced NOTHING that even approaches what Jerry Sandusky’s victims have faced – thankfully. I have made too many mistakes in my life to count but I work hard every day to become a better person. I struggle with my faith/spirituality on a daily basis — there are days that I don’t even know what those things are — and this past week has included a couple of those days.

Perhaps it’s because I work with students on a daily basis and I see as they struggle with so many issues that I’ve gained some perspective on this particular type of issue. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen my friends who have kids transform into different people who think only of what’s most important for the life they brought into this world that I feel this way. Perhaps it’s because I know that somebody, somewhere always has it worse.

But these are the things I feel in my gut:

  • Everyone involved in this, from Mike McQueary to Joe Paterno to Tim Curley to Graham Spanier (and anybody else I may have missed) needed to be fired immediately upon finding out that they stood by and did nothing to help curtail this situation. All were complicit by their lack of action and this is inexcusable.
  • That Mike McQueary has not been fired yet as well is just incomprehensible to me – not only did he walk by and do nothing to stop what was going on in that shower, but after reporting this to Joe Paterno, he did nothing after seeing that it was not being handled as well.
  • “…in hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Those are Joe Paterno’s words – I said this on facebook as well as on twitter: I am appalled at this statement. So what you’re saying is that it took over nine years and getting CAUGHT for you to realize that a report of a 10 year old boy being raped (by anybody, let alone your former Defensive Coordinator) is wrong? I refuse to accept this, because if this is the case, then it means that Joe Paterno is completely hysterical. Yes, he reported this to Curley, his superior, but then nothing happened. At what point do you say to yourself, Hey, they said they would take care of this, but I haven’t seen anything done yet. I better double check this situation. Do you do that after a week? A month? A year? Nine?
  • Jerry Sandusky is hands down the greatest villain in this situation, and he will get his (I’m truly relying on prison justice to handle this).  But that doesn’t excuse the inaction of others.
  • The press conference held last night was just utterly despicable — all the way around. Concerning the Board of Trustees – I believe you made the hard, but correct decision. Having said that, handling this by phone call is reprehensible. As for the press conference itself, it was not a shining moment in the history of journalism, to say the least. Two tweets from last night stood out to me in this concern: @PittScript “With reporters like these in State College, it’s becoming easier to see how no one ever questioned what the athletic department was doing” and @colin_dunlap “How are these reporters going to type their stories wearing their big, foam Penn State No. 1 fingers on their hands?” The way that the reporters in that room handled that presser was embarrassing at best. I have a friend from high school who is a professional writer who wrote for The Daily Collegian. I admire and respect his work greatly – I know that he would have handled himself much better at that presser than what we saw and heard.
  • There is no way in the world it should have taken this long to reach these decisions – having said that, having a 10:00 pm press conference for something of this magnitude is just ludicrous – especially knowing that what happened in the streets afterwards was going to happen in the streets afterwards. This is nothing new on that campus, unfortunately.
  • Perhaps, as @colin_dunlap suggested last night, those students should have marched to the house of Jerry Sandusky to express their frustration — better yet, perhaps they should have taken part in the Candlelight Vigil that was being held at the same exact time in honor of the true victims in this case.
  • Twitter and Facebook both exploded last night (and to be fair, before then as well). There was some incredible insight from both sides of this debate and it happened quickly. Perhaps it happened too quickly. And this is quite possibly where I found the most disappointment. It’s also the reason I posted this as I have. Please understand this about me – I have absolutely no issues with you having a differing opinion than mine. By no means would I ever expect you to agree with everything I think. But, and this is a big BUT – if you unfollow me or delete a comment of mine, I will not permit you to re-follow me or I will unfriend you (depending on the social media site). By doing either of those things (unfollowing or deleting), you are telling me that my opinion doesn’t matter – and if you feel that, fine, but don’t think that we’re going to be friends on these sites. And if you’ve read this far, I doubt that will be the case. Civil discourse – with the emphasis on civil, please. I want you to challenge my thoughts. I want to take part in that conversation.
  • I understand the love affair with Joe Paterno that people in Happy Valley have. I grew up a Pitt fan, but spent my first year of college at Penn State. I fell in love with everything while there – the campus, the people, the football team, Joe Paterno, CC Peppers – everything. But I have noticed two major “camps,” if you will, in this argument: those who are younger and those who are older (and don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely exceptions to this). For the most part, those who are younger and have chimed in don’t have kids, and don’t necessarily have enough perspective to look at this objectively. Maybe I should make that four “camps,” because it seems to be pretty easy to also tell who has read the entire grand jury indictment and who has not. (As an aside, when I was at PSU I lived in East Halls — Geary Hall — and for a time I was doing some running. At the end of one run, after crossing through the old Lot 80, I came to the intersection and went to cross. I was hit by a car – or maybe I hit the car? – going over the hood and landing on the street. I was fine, but got up loaded for bear. Joe Paterno got out of the car and I immediately apologized to him. I don’t know why. I don’t know what came over me – but this was a person I didn’t know but grew to revere in a matter of months. I understand your idolatry and reverence, but it’s clouding your judgement. All of that being said, I still think he needed to be fired.
  • I was told yesterday that a sin is a sin and probably had the best conversation regarding religion with my brother that we’ve ever had. That being said, I struggle with people telling me that raping a 10 year old boy and stealing a loaf of bread are equivalent in God’s eyes. I really, truly struggle with that. I respect, but disagree with those who believe this and I’ll leave this bullet at that.
  • It sickens me to see the word prescient used in conjunction with Mark Madden, but it’s apt in this situation. Perhaps if people took him seriously, more would have listened to him calling all of this last April. This is precisely why people are taking seriously his claims that Sandusky was “pimping out” boys in Second Mile to wealthy donors.
  • It also sickens me to see some people jumping over all of PSU. While the football team is well-known and Joe Paterno is a household name for many, this is by no means all that PSU is about. Penn State students and alums have so much to be proud of. Beyond the school being a great one, I have but one word for those who are hating (as a student said today) – THON. Enough said.

I’m sure that this has been all over the place — but so am I right now — just treading water as I attempt to wrap my head around this ocean of disgusting.

Incidentally, I’ve read a TON of great pieces about this whole situation so far — and I’ve also read a ton of not so great pieces. These are my two favorites:

Growing Up Penn State  — Michael Weinreb nailed this – and his writing style was good enough to convince me to order his book.

An Appeal to Joe Paterno — by Rachel Lenzi-Gallagher — know that we are not related — she knows her stuff, to say the least.

This was from ESPN’s First Take – please understand that I can’t stand Skip Bayless – but I do agree with many of the things he has to say. Not sure that I’m willing to absolve McQueary, though.

In addition, if you are on twitter, you need to be following @DarrenRovell — phenomenal, objective look at all things sports and business from CNBC’s primary Sports and  Business Reporter.

Cathie Black out as NYC schools chief

In what should come as a shocker to absolutely nobody other than perhaps the Mayor of NYC who appointed her as the Chief of NYC’s schools, Cathie Black is out. Admittedly, I was against this move from the outset (did anybody really, truly believe that this little experiment was going to work???), but I am truly surprised that she lasted all of a whopping three months. Coming from somebody who was against this move from the start, I’m just not sure that three months was truly fair.

Then again, it’s not like Black didn’t bring some bad press upon herself. It’s just not possible for a person in this role to speak as freely as she thought she could. Case in point (number 1): when responding to people attending a town hall meeting who were concerned with overcrowding in schools, Black said that her solution would include more birth control. And for good measure, she threw in a Holocaust reference – um, yeah, not a very good idea to pull out a Sophie’s Choice type of comment. Beyond this, she also complained openly about the way she was handled by the press – not so much with it’s written coverage of her, but rather the unflattering photos they took of her. Yep, Cathie, you really had a handle on what’s important. When she resigned, her approval rating was at a staggering 17%.

Cathie Black isn’t really the problem here, though. The bigger problem is that a person like Michael Bloomberg, who has no experience with the field of education, has the power to appoint who he wants to be the Chancellor. At issue is the fact that he gambled with the education of approximately 1.1 million students when choosing somebody with a business background — yet no education background — to lead the department. Let’s put it this way: if you were buying stock in Microsoft, wouldn’t you want the most knowledgeable person running Microsoft? Don’t get me wrong, I  want a person who knows the business end of things as well, but ideally I want the person who knows the most about the product to be in charge. In actuality, this isn’t a great example because the situation I gave you implies that we want a tremendous profit, whereas this is not the case with Education. Don’t get me wrong, we want economic solvency, but profit isn’t the driving force.

What’s interesting is that we’ve now seen another example of the rising reformers failing to do what they say is easy to be done. Let’s ring a business savvy approach to change the culture of education. It makes sense, they say. You don’t need to be an educator to know how to change things for the better, they say. Let me get rid of whomever I want whenever I want and shame on you for expecting due process. Yet Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and Cathie Black have all shown themselves to not have what it takes. (On a side note, Rhee played dumb and acted as though there was no way a school would cheat on its testing when under an incredible amount of scrutiny. C’mon now, Ms. Rhee, let’s get real – but that’s another blog post in the making…)

Quite simply, no mayor should have the ability to appoint a person to head a position of this magnitude. Michael Bloomberg knows bupkus about education and hopefully has learned his lesson because those 1.1 million students need a leader and it shouldn’t be somebody who’s appointed to fulfill the mayor’s agenda.

Where does an educator go from here?

I am fully aware that there is a bullseye on my back. As a teacher, this has certainly been the case for quite some time, but never has this been more obvious than in the past year or so. I’m not really sure when the anti-teacher sentiment truly got rolling — I honestly don’t remember this type of vitriol when I was growing up. But I’m not looking to turn this into one of those I walked two miles to school, uphill, every day stories.  (In actuality, it was about a mile and a quarter, and only uphill on the way there…)

Make no mistake about it — this is a critical time in the lives of ALL teachers. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, or South Dakota — it’s a critical time. Respect for what we do is at an all time low and people are quick to jump all over the system at the same time. I’ve heard all of the criticisms and I’ve shared my thoughts about many. But when you really take a step back and take a look at what is being proposed, I hope that you’re as appalled as I am.

This morning I learned more about the current reforms that are being proposed to alter the way education is “done” in Pennsylvania. Included are the following: no more carrying over of sick days, one pay scale that is based upon a bachelor’s degree only (so you will not earn more for having a Master’s or Doctoral degree), no bereavement leave, no sabbatical time, no tenure, and school nurses will no longer be required to be a Certified School Nurse. These are just a few of the things that are hidden in the current bill that’s working its way through the Pennsylvania Legislature — changes I might add that have not been out in the open for the public to see. So much for a need for transparency, I guess.

In addition, our school board conducted its discussion meeting last night and, as can be expected, had to discuss some very grim topics. An article detailing last night’s meeting can be found here. Simply put, this is definitely not a time that I envy the role of a school board member or an administrator who is in charge of trying to figure out what to do when the state suddenly feels that you are less worthy than you were last year — to the tune of $1.6 million less worthy. Making the decisions to cut programs that benefit students and whether or not to furlough teachers in these economic times cannot possibly be an easy one for anybody involved. We will all be asked to do more with less — and I realize that, but we have to be fair in how we make these cuts and changes as well.

What can’t be lost in all of these tough decisions is that we have to keep the most important factor in the forefront of our minds when we make these decisions: our students. We must all work together to ensure that everything is done to protect the educational experience that our students have come to (rightly) expect. We must understand that elective courses like Digital Communications and Basic Design and Chorus and Calculus and Yearbook are vital to our students’ educational experience. Life isn’t only about English and Algebra and French and Biology.

Lost in all of these decisions is the fact that the United States continues to fall behind in worldwide rankings of student performance. Do we truly believe that cutting funding is going to change this? I’m all for being fiscally responsible, but this slash and burn technique that so many feel is the way to go is not going to dig us out of any holes. Again, we must keep our students in mind when making decisions, and quite frankly, I don’t feel as though they’ve been in the forefront of the political agendas that have been playing out in the past year.

Reform in the field of education needs to happen — badly. This kind of politically based reform, however, is appalling and it should be appalling to every citizen in our country. Decisions are being made for all of the wrong reasons, and this needs to change — it’s irresponsible at best and it needs to change. I truly wonder if the people of Wisconsin would take back their vote for Governor Walker if they truly knew his intentions. The same goes for Governor Corbett in Pennsylvania. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if there are recalls in the works or how the next election goes.

In many cases, I find that song lyrics can sum up what’s going on in the world — this case is no different. In the words of Depeche Mode’s (more specifically Martin Gore’s) New Dress:

You can’t change the world

But you can change the facts

And when you change the facts

You change points of view

If you change points of view

You may change a vote

And when you change a vote

You may change the world…

How I would spend an extra $100 million for my school district…

In case you missed my last post, in which I briefly touched upon Mark Zuckerberg’s generous gift of $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey school district, you might want to go back and check it out. In addition, here’s an article from Fast Company that gives some more info on it. This got me to thinking, though – well, that’s not really true – a friend of mine asked me what I would do if this type of money was donated to my district and I had the power to make the decisions.

Amie asked me a great question, and it’s really been on my mind for most of the day. Let’s get real, the chances of a $100 million donation are pretty much slim to none – and the only thing less likely to happen would be me being the one to choose what would be done with it!

One thing that I want to make perfectly clear is that this is not an attempt to criticize my district in the least, we are certainly feeling the effects of the money crunch, just like everybody else – but we’re talking about a dream scenario and $100 million!. That being said, these are the things I would look to improve with this type of money, keeping in mind that this is used to improve the physical much more so than the philosophical changes/improvements that are necessary:

  • I would make the necessary improvements to our buildings first – there are roof problems that have enabled leaking to happen, there are rooms that need to be painted, there are carpets that need to be pulled up and replaced.
  • I would renovate our gym at the high school – this is the part of our school that is seen by the general public more than any other and it needs some updating. It needs to be brighter and more inviting.
  • I would build an auxiliary gym at the high school that included a swimming pool and learning how to swim would be mandatory (way too much of our world is water…) In addition, this auxiliary gym would have an indoor track as well as a fully stocked and supervised cardio room – we need to place a greater emphasis on the need to stay physically active and this needs to be a lifelong goal.
  • My friend Amie actually touched on this in her response, but it’s actually something that almost happened last year: I would dedicate space to create a big time garden. Beyond the obvious lessons being taught in how to build and maintain this garden, the “products” will be incorporated into school lunches, which brings me to…
  • I’m bringing Jamie Oliver in on a consulting basis and we’re going to make sure that our students — all of our students, K-12 — are eating better. Our current company does what it can, but they’re still looking to make a profit – I’m not trying to crush them here – but there’s so much more that can be done. Because of this money in pocket, the district will take over all aspects of food service with the idea of creating healthy, balanced breakfast and lunch options for all students each and every day. Making a profit will be a secondary goal.
  • I would bring in the following to provide additional motivation on in-service days: Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, Taylor Mali, Steve Snider and Paul Murphy.
  • I would build a skate/roller blade/biking park on the school’s property much like the Peach Plaza Skatepark at Twin Lakes. Ryan Parker and a staff would man this area.
  • I would install a rock climbing wall.
  • I would bring in RSAnimate to work with teachers in order to get even more creative with their lessons. Seriously, how incredibly awesome is this company and what they do?
  • I would bring back the concept of In School Suspension and staff it full time. I spent time in In School Suspension and also served an Outside Suspension. Trust me, there’s no doubt as to which serves as more of a deterrent, in my opinion.
  • I would get even more technology into the hands of ALL of our students. I think our district has worked very hard to do this and they should be commended for this. But I would take this even further — whether it be an iPad or a NetBook — our students need and deserve to be 1:1 with technology.
  • I would hire Dave Vuick to be our full time Technology Integration Coach at the High School and I would make sure that there is a Technology Integration Coach assigned to each of our other buildings. I would make sure that each Coach is provided the time to work with teachers in small groups or 1:1 so that they become more comfortable with incorporating technology into their lessons.
  • I would increase the amount of afterschool programs and make them mandatory for those students who are having any type of difficulty in school – whatever that difficulty may be. Again, this is something I think my district works hard to do, but I know it can always be better if you could do the things you want when money isn’t an issue. These programs wouldn’t simply be remediation; our students can never have too much exposure to the Arts – this will be another opportunity to bring in guest artists and speakers.
  • I would make afterschool programs available to parents/grandparents/retirees/anyone interested in our district. The taxpayers, if they want, should be able to take advantage of the things we have to offer also.
  • I’m bringing in Ray LaMontagne for a special concert and songwriting “conference.” (Okay, I’ll freely admit, that one’s specifically just for me!)
  • I would hire two people whose sole job is to search and obtain grants for the district. We do have somebody who’s writing grants, but it’s one of many, many responsibilities. These two people will have no other responsibilities and will be awarded bonuses for reaching certain levels of success (and before anybody tries to call me out on this, I have no issues with doing this same thing with teachers, as long as this isn’t based upon the idiotic standardized tests that are currently in place).
  • I would strengthen the security in each and every one of our buildings. I do believe that it’s pretty good already, however, I would go to a swipe card system for all employees and I would also hire greeters whose job it is to handle the checking in of visitors. In our current system, it’s very difficult for the secretaries to handle this duty, especially when they’re away from the entrance to begin with, and they’re expected to do this on top of everything else that they’re already inundated with. The swipe cards would grant access to each teacher individually – in other words, if I’m a technology teacher, then I would have access to my room and the computer labs. If I’m a coach, I would have access to the fitness center, the gym, etc. (And, for the record, this technology certainly exists – we were using it at my past school district over 10 years ago.)
  • I would make sure that there are ample counselors in each building who are available both before school and after school – some of our buildings don’t even have one.
  • I would expand our current system of professional development to include national conferences. A teacher who wants to continue the learning process is a tremendous model to our students. Having this money would allow these trips to valuable conferences to happen.

I’m sure that more will come to me and that I’ll be adding to this list. Please feel free to chime in with your ideas – it’s perfectly fine to dream, isn’t it??

The times, they are a-changin’

Part of the issue when it comes to bashing teachers is that those who are doing the bashing aren’t actually in the industry. Yes, I know, this isn’t a real “a-ha” type of statement, but it’s really what it boils down to. Those who are making the claims, and in some cases who are also driving decisions that affect education, haven’t stepped inside a school or a classroom for quite some time. I’m here to tell you that today’s school environment is very, very different than the often romanticized view that many still maintain.

Think back to your elementary school years. Typically, we have fond memories of these years. Learning was fun, we loved to go. We didn’t wake up dreading the experience, we looked forward to it. We didn’t question why we were doing what we were doing, we did it and learned in the process.

Now think back to your junior high/middle school years. This is where things started to change. Typically, we had more freedoms (elective classes) and moved around to a new subject every 45 minutes or so. Our bodies were changing and so were our attitudes about school. It became much more social. Seeing members of the opposite sex (and for some, the same sex) became our top priority, not learning about x’s and y’s and gerunds and participles. We discovered love, but really didn’t know what it was. We began questioning things, but typically these questions were unspoken.

Moving on, let’s get to our high school years. Changes continued. We suddenly knew everything and nobody could tell us anything contrary to this. We pushed the limits. We got our driver’s license, got a job and thought even more about love and that girlfriend or boyfriend. We experimented with all of these things, did things we shouldn’t have done and all along thought we were right. All the while our teachers worked to wrangle us in and actually teach. We sat and we got. (My dad had this theory: the job of the junior high was to pump our heads full of hot air; the job of the high school was to get it back out of there). And then we moved on.

I’d actually be willing to say that those descriptions are pretty similar for most of us. In fact, on a small scale, they also apply to today’s students. But there is one big, HUGE, exception. The lack of respect that students have today for anything beyond themselves is absolutely, positively dumbfounding. These students have been told from the very beginning that they can do no wrong. (Enter Natalie Munroe-like comments here at your own risk). And this is where the problem ultimately lies, in my opinion.

If you haven’t been in an elementary, middle or high school in the past 10 years, then you truly have absolutely no clue of the current conditions. I can’t even begin to put into words just how much this lack of respect has increased over the life of my career. You would be shocked to see how some of our students speak and act on a daily basis. And while the vast majority are absolutely awesome to work with, it’s this vocal minority that ends up taking up the time and attention of those in control.

I’ve often said that there are few students who had more fun while in school than I did. And I was certainly no angel. At the same time, I would have acted much worse if it weren’t for one thing and one thing only: a healthy fear of what my dad would do to me at home. This fear, for the most part, no longer exists amongst our students. As just a short aside, in 9th grade I faced a choice from my Assistant Principal – a paddling or a detention. After finding out that taking the detention brought with it a call home while the paddling did not, the decision was easy. Avoiding that call home made those smacks worth it.

Keep in mind that I work in a pretty darn good school district, and, for the most part, some absolutely incredible students. This being said, we all must take responsibility and be held accountable – and this includes the parents who don’t want to parent, but rather be friends. We live in a feel good society and we need to toughen up. As teachers and as a district – heck as a system in general nationwide, we need to toughen up. We need to become realists, not everyone is great. Not everyone is going to end up on Jeopardy! competing against Watson (or creating Watson! for that matter). Some of us are going to fail; some of us are going to succeed. Such is life.

Effort creates ability is a tag phrase that’s been used in my district for the past 10 years at least. I couldn’t agree with this statement more, but there’s something inherent in this statement that gets lost on many of our parents and students today, the idea that effort is necessary. It takes a strong effort to learn. It takes a strong effort to get better every day. It takes a strong effort to say, you know what, I’m not that good at chemistry, but I’ve been working at it and I’m getting better at it, so maybe if I work even harder, I’ll do even better. It takes a strong parent to demand excellence and instill in our students a desire to get better in everything we do.

On our end, we need to raise the bar. We need to stand up and demand more of our parents, our students, and, most importantly, ourselves. WE need to get past this adversarial relationship that so many have these days, come together and then figure out a way to get our students back to the top, where they need to be. Make no mistake about it, though, there’s no shortcut to achieving this. No KIPP school or TfA teacher or charter school is going to achieve this without an extremely diligent group of concerned people working their butts off to make it happen. We need to move past the idea that we can teach the same way we did in the 50’s, 80’s, 90’s or whatever we’re referring to the first 10 years of this century as. We need to realize that the landscape of our environment is very different, we need to adapt and we need to do everything we can to accept it and excel in this environment. It’s an exciting time, make no mistake about it.

As teachers, we need to value the input of both our students and their parents in this process; reciprocally, this must also be true. Our society must learn to value those who are going out of their way to try to make our society’s children better on a daily basis. Teachers in foreign countries are treated with respect; we deserve this as well in our own country.  Our priorities are all out of whack.

On a different note, dropping $100 million into the Newark school system so that you can hand pick a system that you THINK will work is not only against the state’s laws, but just doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. But because Mark Zuckerberg owns a gazillion dollar company, we take that money and give him a voice – even when that voice doesn’t make much sense. Keep in mind that Newark is currently spending $22,000 per student per year. Think about that number – it’s just absurd. And, just in case you were wondering, they are graduating a whopping (roughly) 50% of its students. You read that correctly. Obviously, throwing a ton of money at them is not the answer.

Turning our schools around is more of a philosophical problem than it is a monetary problem. Don’t get me wrong, well-spent money can certainly help the problems, but we need to get on the same page philosophically before any improvement will ever truly occur.

Natalie Munroe, you’re killing me…

I’m sure it comes off as a broken record, but I’m a free speech kind of guy. That being said, Natalie Munroe, what in the world were you thinking?? There is such a thing as tact (and I’ll freely admit that I haven’t always exercised a tremendous display of this – cue laughter from some colleagues).

Natalie Munroe is the teacher who was suspended with pay for recently being discovered as the creator of a blog that was critical of students and parents in the Central Bucks East School District. She never referred to students by name and never identified herself beyond Natalie M. (although she did post a picture of herself on the site as well). The title of her site is/was “Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket? and while she shut it down, the cached version of her response can be found here.

I don’t doubt that anybody in the field of education has had their fair share of students and parents and co-workers who have caused all kinds of frustration. Heck, I think you’d be hard pressed to find any field that doesn’t have these frustrations. But to post in your blog the types of things that Munroe did concerning her students and parents? Well, that’s just stupid. Yeah, you might get a chuckle out of these things, but c’mon, putting these things out there was idiotic.

This might not seem to be as easy as some would make it out to be. Yes, there are elements of the First Amendment at play here, but teachers also have things known as morality clauses in our contracts. Defining morality is a slippery slope, but I can understand those who say she’s violated her contract by doing what she’s done.

Munroe has said that she did this to share her frustrations with her family and friends. If this were truly the case, then she should have locked this down as much as absolutely possible and made it accessible to only these people. I get it, I’ve certainly vented at times – a lot, at times. But again, this just isn’t something that should be made public – and if she didn’t understand just how public this would go before, well, I’d guess she completely understands it at this point. To think that anything you post on the internet at this point is completely private is unbelievably naive.

I do believe that as teachers, we also have to take responsibility in trying to alter the objectionable behaviors. I’m not saying this to excuse the behaviors – but there are times that we need to look at ourselves as well. Have I set up a classroom environment that enables this type of behavior? Am I properly structuring my lessons in a manner that engages the students who are causing the problems? Am I seeking the advice of others? Have I contacted the parents in the attempt to get some help from home with these issues? Without being in her shoes (actually, in her classroom), it’s difficult to truly get a feel for the entire issue.

There is one thing that I do believe Ms. Munroe has nailed: “There are serious problems with our education system today,” she wrote. “If this ‘scandal’ opens the door for that conversation, so be it.” She doesn’t want to be the martyr and she shouldn’t be – but if this gets people talking – and working to improve the situation – then so be it.  If nothing else, perhaps this will truly get the conversation going even more.

For the record, I can understand the “lazy” and “loafers” sentiment. But I see this all around me, every single day in more than just students – and I am absolutely certain that I was looked at in this same light by my dad and his dad. This tends to be the way of the world. These weren’t the truly objectionable comments, though. And if you stuck with just the mainstream media this week, then perhaps this was all you thought she had said.

As a person who works with students by teaching a Mass Media class, I think it’s been interesting to see just how the media has been handling this “case.” Overwhelmingly, I think the media has been too soft on Munroe – the vast majority of the stories I’ve read have stopped short of printing the truly objectionable pieces (note: this has changed as the story has progressed). I always thought the idea was to present the whole story and allowing the reader to determine an opinion. Call me old-fashioned, I guess.

It’s an interesting topic, to say the least. In this day and age of teacher bashing, while Munroe may have had the right to say what she did, she didn’t exercise proper caution, digital literacy and tact in doing so. The conversation that truly needs to happen, in my opinion, is one in which we are able to get everybody back on the same page concerning what we need to see happening in our educational system.

We need for everybody to get on board and realizae that we can’t truly be successful if we aren’t working toward the same goal – which must be increased student achievement. This means we need to establish high expectations and standards out of all of us – administrators, teachers, students and parents. We need community support; we need school board members who drive their decisions based upon what’s best for all students, not an agenda they had to get them elected; we need a long term goal.

I know that I’m getting off the topic of Natalie Munroe now, but we need the space race, so to speak. We need a sense of urgency. So what should that goal be? For my money, I think it should be a race to find the cure for cancer, but that’s another topic and another post.

Natalie Munroe, I’m pretty certain that you didn’t mean to call this attention to yourself, but it’s there. Your 15 minutes have started. Now do something with it. And if you don’t then all that you’re doing is enabling students and parents to come up with their own assessment of your abilities.

Some links if you’d like to read more:

Time Magazine: How one teacher’s angry blog sparked a viral debate about the modern classroom

AOL News: This article has the more objectionable comments that Munroe made in it