Monthly Archives: December 2012

Article: Educator Conduct

The Governor’s new education plan has an element in it for testing if those who want to be teachers are worthy, capable, or qualified. One of the goals is to attract the best and brightest. It specifically says, “Have teacher candidates demonstrate evidence of perseverance and leadership as part of their entry into teacher-education programs.” The best and brightest can and will be attracted to the education business. The biggest attraction comes from those who demonstrate what an honorable and rewarding career education can be. Some things you won’t be found by giving a test, but we can strive to identify, promote, teach, and obtain what I call the “attitude of the heart”. Most assuredly the demonstration of character is a necessity for positive role-models. Just as personal appearance is sets an example, personal conduct is equally or more important. I have not only made professional mistakes, but have observed some very gross infractions of proper educator behavior. To earn student trust, which is an essential element in individual and class management, we must demonstrate that we are worthy, acting with dignity, respect, and honor. When I told my students that I would not ask them to do anything that I was unwilling to do myself, they knew that I was pledging to not be a hypocrite. They loved hearing it because I set rules I would follow with them. Not long ago, I visited with a man who was at the state football playoffs. He had a great seat behind one of the teams going for the trophy. He said he could not believe how the coach was using the “F” bomb while berating of some players about the mistakes they were making. If I were that coach’s administrator, he would be fired before he could try and figure out how to spell what he said. There is no place for any cursing, slur, or insinuation in the school – none. I am weary of the coaches who think it sounds tough to sprinkle profanities for emphasis. We don’t need teachers who curse and say “Excuse my French.” FYI, that is not French. Those teachers turn around and send their students to the office for equal offenses and they are hypocrites. A similar problem are the principals who tolerate foul-talking students and ask us to “just understand” them. No more than a teacher can cuss-out a student; a student should not be able to cuss-out a teacher. It is inappropriate for both! Standards of conduct and standards of appearance go hand in hand. They are partners in over-all school atmosphere and conduct. Many years ago, when I was in the truck business, I still thought that real men had to cuss, smoke, drink, and drive fast. I must have been impressed by the wrong role-model. Regardless, I made a sales call to a contractor’s office and while waiting I read the walls. A sign on his wall said this: “The Use of Profanity is a Small Mind Trying to Express Itself”. That framed saying had a profound effect on my thinking from that day forward. It took me awhile to clean up the vocabulary, but I started questioning the size of my mind every time I used any vulgarities. My hope is for all of you reading this column to start a mission to clean up our society and there are numerous ways to do so. We are all role-models to each other. Those of you who have children at home are actually home-schoolers and the paramount role-model. Acting nasty and using vulgarities needs to be left to Hollywood and their way of thinking. Let’s get Iowa’s children on board with a mentally sanitized society. Let’s all take the challenge to see if we can express ourselves with a bridle on our tongue and eloquence that transcends crudeness of language including put-downs and sexual insinuations. All of these things may be fun, funny, and easy to do, but doing what is right is much more important. Let’s do what we ought, not what we want.

-PEI Director Jim Hawkins


Article: Let Me Ask You A Question.

Let Me Ask You A Question!  Okay, Several Questions?

How long did Iowa consider itself to be a “local
control state?”

What year or what decade did Iowa slip from being number one
in the nation in education?

Under what conditions were districts operating when Iowa was number one?  Were we in new buildings?  Did we have all day kindergarten?  Did we have government preschool programs?  Did we have active Industrial Arts, Home
Economics, and Vocational Agriculture programs?
Did we feel compelled to give our students computers or did anyone have
computers?  Were we still awarding
permanent certification to teachers with Masters Degrees?  Had we consolidated our small districts
because they “just couldn’t offer enough course variety”?   Did we have a state devised teacher
evaluation system?  Did we have a
mandated mentoring system?

Many of the questions seem to have within them the answers and
that is the point.  We have state and federal
systems that continue to provide more rules and controls.  I remember the famous question so expertly
asked by Ronald Reagan in a 1980 debate with President Jimmy Carter.   “Are you better off than you were four
years ago?”
Let me ask you a question.  Is education in Iowa better off than it was
four years ago?  Is it better off than it
was 10, 20, 30, or 40 years ago?  By our
achievement on a national ranking, we must answer an echoing NO!

What really concerns me is that we just keep trying unproven
theories with our children.  We keep
using our children as laboratory experiments even after numerous failed
experiments with curriculum ideas, methods of delivery, building configurations,
state evaluations, state teacher standards, state certification, and recertification
programs.  We now have the Core Curriculum,
added in-servicing, earlier starts to the school year, more vacation breaks, elimination
of numerous career programs, closing of industrial technology departments,
consolidation of districts, boarded-up agriculture programs, all day
kindergarten, state preschool programs, and more expenses for newer, fancier
buildings.

We are spending more per pupil than any time in the history
of the state.  The topic of education is consistently
toward the top on the political agenda.
Supposed research and new innovation without fail emerges each year, yet
we still are lagging behind.
Unfortunately, with all of the expense and all of the changes we still discover
rather preposterous situations like walking into one of our largest district’s
middle schools and seeing a science room that is nothing more than a general
classroom with no sinks, science equipment, or even safety equipment
around.  That is shameful, when the
district is not growing out of buildings, but instead is closing
buildings.   With all of the funding, experimental
programs, and increasing state control, how do situations like that slip
through the cracks? The most pertinent question is, will more state control and
bigger districts correct such a condition, because it sure hasn’t yet.

Let me ask you some more questions.  Do you really think that we should trust more
state control over our schools when most of the things I have mentioned were
state proposed and promoted?  What
happens when you have community control?
What happens when you have parents who believe they are being heard on
their community school issues?  What
happens when a school is such a size that the parents ARE heard?

In a recent conversation with a business person, we
discussed the most fundamental economic principle of our national economy.  It is called competition.  The basic principle is simple.  When
there is competition for business then products get better and prices are
lower.
Let me give you a quick
example.  Before the invasion of foreign
cars, we had mostly “Detroit” companies competing with each other.  Americans discovered that cars could be built
to last longer and be more maintenance free with the Japanese auto market.  Soon Detroit auto builders were scrambling to
“reinvent” the automobile and guess what.
They have done it!  Innovation and
efficiency became important as never before.
That’s it!  That is the economic principle of
competition.  We all hear the word
monopoly and think it is a negative word.
Well it is.  Having state-run
monopolies does not make it any better and we have a growing number of
those.  Now this begs the query as
whether it is possible for competition to improve our school systems.  I believe that competition may in reality, be
the only effective solution for our educational system.  Competition on all levels is needed.  Along with K-12 competition, accountability
by universities and colleges is essential for the student’s qualifications to
teach upon graduation.  Let them compete
to produce the most employable and successful graduates in not only education,
but every other area of study.

Evaluation of student gain must be done on all levels and timid
administrators need to quit hedging on the possibility.  We do not need any more theoretical experiments
on our children.  The value of history is
that we can know what works and we just need to do what we did when we were the
best, including discipline, curriculum, credentialing, and licensing.  We are spending more money on education than
in the history of our state and we deserve results.  The good intentions are there.  I have no doubt that the state officials are
sincere in their desire to find solutions.
The problem is not in sincerity, but in the principles of operation and
the understanding of the value of a market economy.  Just as sports and music programs practice to
compete and as a result display excellence, so can our school districts in
every other area of education.  Now we
need leadership with the nerve to do the things that work and quit dreaming up
state ideas, theories, and guidelines that only pile on more of the same lackluster
results we have been getting.  As the old
saying goes, “Keep on doing what you have always done and you will keep on
getting what you have always gotten.”
Well that is a two edged sword of truth.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “To educate a man in mind and not in morals is
to educate a menace to society”.  Where can
you find that maxim in today’s curriculum?
It sounds like the elements of another column.

 


Article: Attacks on Education

Are you noticing the increased attacks on the teaching profession?  The media and many politicians seem to think that most teachers are lazy and incompetent.  The articles and reports are everywhere.   I agree that there are many teachers “rocking their way to retirement”, but the reality is that a great number, maybe the majority of our teachers do an impressive job and work very diligently to do their best. Unfortunately for many it has become such a thankless job that on days one wonders why any of us ever taught in the first place.

The blame game augments the “Politics of Education”.  There is a rush to fix education with numerous theories, plans, tougher licensing, more evaluations, tougher entrance standards, mandatory curriculum guides, and more.   For the politicians to place the blame on descending cultural values, lack of support for individual and district standards of conduct, slack courtrooms, decay of morality, and diminishing family units, would be political suicide.

Iowa and our nation is on a push for a core curriculum.  Standardizing instruction in further areas of study with curriculums designed by committees will supposedly cure the achievement failures.  The creativity of instructors to design curriculums for the desired objectives is no longer valued.  To take the creativity away from teachers and dictate the processes instead of telling them the goals and letting them dream, design, and deliver their own creation removes a key elements of enthusiastic instruction.  An example of why the state-designed curriculum is wrong is the success story of the Harlem Village Academies.  In the heart of a city where one would have predicted that this 12 year old school would fail miserably, it has instead, raised the bar and demonstrated that letting teachers design their instruction based on goals is a key to success.  Another key to success in this school is contain the contract the students agree to in discipline, rules, dress codes (uniforms only), and commitment.  As one student observed and stated, it sounds tough at first, but the results of conduct, commitment and appearance standards are fulfilling because of accomplishment.

The movement toward state and national core curriculums is shaping legislation and the funding policies of public agencies. Basically, it drives
the state’s control of education which makes teachers dance like puppets rather than giving them professional freedom for individual curriculum decision making.

Other problems stem from inconsistencies within school districts. Millions of dollars are spent every year trying the latest reading or math
programs, which replace the ones implemented within the last year or two and which also costs millions of dollars.  There are school systems that seem to change literacy or math programs more often than they change their lunch menu.  How effective can a reading program be when a program like SRA is used one year and the next year a school changes to a program like Soar with Reading.  It’s no wonder teachers don’t typically speak up for themselves; they are too busy trying to incorporate all the different programs, initiatives, methods, philosophies, and curriculum into a school day without losing their minds!  Let’s consider the job of “Curriculum Director”.  I have often wondered if many of the new changes actually occur to justify the need for such a position in a district.  Fixing what isn’t proven or disproven may occur to create an illusion position busyness.

Headlines about global comparisons, and how we should be “as good as they are”, surface frequently. We hear rave reviews about the Finnish education
system.   Our major newspaper in Des Moines was apparently giddy over their system.  Yet the difference in mathematics ranking of Finland as number one and the United States as twenty-nine, may be in the two nation’s dramatic demographic differences.  Before we shut down our schools and send all of our children to Finland, let’s see how the two really measure up.  Finland has a grand total of 540,000 students.  The U.S. has more students identified as Intellectually Challenged (573,000) than the overall number of students in Finland.  The US has more students in special education programs (6.1 million) than the entire population of Finland (5.4 million).  The U.S. has over 81 million students!  The students in Finland are also a more
homogeneous group.  In Finland, 90% of the population actually speaks Finnish. In the U.S. only 70% of the population speaks what is supposed to be
our language, English, and it appears that is on fast the decline.  If these percentages are used to break down student population, then approximately
486,000 of the 540,000 students in Finland speak the native language.  In the U.S. 57 million of the 81.5 million speak the native language.  Even a
conservative estimate would indicate that over 20 million students don’t speak English.

Trying to compare our education system with any other is like trying to compare teaching a crowded multi-cultural classroom with a private coach.
There is no other industrialized country that can compare to the size, ethnic diversity, or social-economic diversity of our student population.  The US
is a melting pot with over 337 languages spoken or signed.  This includes over 20 different languages are spoken by at least 250,000 people for each
language.

Let’s examine what I believe to be the primary reason that teachers have become the fall guy of education.  Education is a centerpiece of politics
because it is a topic that is important to everyone, so it benefits them to keep it an issue for increased funding.  Why do you think that all
political parties use education as a staple in their campaigns?  You probably can’t even recall the last politician who didn’t campaign on fixing
education and more specifically holding teachers accountable.  When in office, they then spend money “for the children” and that alone
justifies irresponsible spending. What is the Federal involvement in education record?  The March 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report identified overlap and fragmentation among 82 distinct teacher quality programs and 47 separate job training initiatives, representing a taxpayer investment of roughly $22 billion. Education committee chairman Kline, U.S. House of Representatives, has explained that there are more than forty duplicative and unnecessary K-12 education programs.  In addition, the Department of Education has actually failed its annual audits on multiple occasions.  There are estimates that hundreds of millions of dollars have never been accounted for in the past decade. How can we take serious a Department of Education that thinks no child will be left behind, yet they can’t even keep track of money or programs?

The politics of education can be dangerous if you are not informed.  However, the evidence is clear that teachers have little or no
voice in the overall functioning of education. Billions of dollars are wasted each year on programs and initiatives that don’t have any real impact on
teaching and learning.  The attacks keep coming toward the faulty teachers, while we spend little time analyzing the quality of the colleges and universities that are purportedly training them.  Who is holding them responsible for the quality of their instruction?

All the while teachers continue to endure the attacks while often spending money out of their own pockets to make sure the students have a
creative, relevant, and engaging learning environment. Imagine, the billions of dollars wasted and yet teachers personally spend hundreds of dollars to make
learning come alive for their students. The irony is that while teachers are considered the problem with education, it is the teachers who actually make the
most impact. We know that relationships are the biggest motivators of youth and adults and those positive relationships with teachers can be life-changers and many times the life-savers.  Iowa’s teachers aren’t the problem with education. Teachers are the very reason that education
succeeds at all.


Article: 5 Inexpensive Yet Priceless Gifts

5 Inexpensive Yet Priceless Gifts

by Jim Garnett

Are you wondering what to give your friends for Christmas this
year?  Might I suggest five gifts that have no price tags, yet their value
is priceless.

1. The Gift of Time.
Here is a gift that is at the very top of most people’s “want list.” It is a
gift that simply has no substitute. It is universally desired, and one size
fits all.

Little Billy would walk the block to his Grandpa’s house every afternoon to
visit. It was the highlight of his Grandpa’s day. Sometimes they would swing,
sometimes fish, sometimes play catch, and sometimes just talk.

But one day Billy’s visits stopped. Grandpa call Billy’s mother, but she would
only say that Billy was busy that afternoon. With great disappointment, the old
Grandpa finally concluded that his grandson was just “too busy” to continue his
afternoon visits.

Two weeks later Billy showed up at his Grandpa’s door.  He held out a
painted pottery bowl and said, “Here Grandpa, I have been making this for you.
That’s why I could not come to see you!”

“Billy, I love your gift so much. I will cherish it and put it in my kitchen
window. But if you ever decide to make me another gift, please remember that
the gift I value more than anything else is just the gift of the time we spend
together!”

So it is with most of our friends. It is the gift of “the giver himself” that
is much more desired than the gifts he gives.

2. The Gift of Patience.
Our friends may be wonderful people, but they are still just
“people.”  As such, they should be viewed, not as finished projects, but
projects “still under
construction
.”

Inevitably, there will times when our friends forget to call us, or fail to
thank us, or feel that other priorities take precedence over us. Extending the
gift of patience and “cutting them some slack” will keep us from being so
disappointed every time they do not measure up to our expectations.

3. The Gift of Empathy. Empathy
means “Your pain in my heart.” It is a priceless gift that extends beyond
feeling for
someone to feeling with someone.

One does not have to personally experience every situation of life to be able
to identify with someone who is hurting.

As a former Pastor I remember a lady who had lost her husband in a tragic
accident telling me what it was like to go home after his funeral and see his
work boots by the back door.

I began to visualize details of what it must be like to be going through the
trials that my church people were going through. Doing that, plus walking
through the heartaches with them, developed much more of an ability to be
empathetic with people.

Translating their hurt into the details of our world – that’s what I’m talking
about. The person who can do this will develop life-long friends.

4. The Gift of
Listening.
Wouldn’t you agree that the reason many of us are
not empathetic, is because we do not really listen when people share their
problems with us?

We want the person to quickly summarize their situation so we can prescribe the
solution and move on. I am still learning, as are most men, that people do not
usually want you to heal their problem; they just want you to hear about it!

Job, the great sufferer of Old Testament fame, had friends that first
surrounded him in the midst of his tragedies. For seven days they were of
tremendous solace as they sat with him and said nothing. It was when they began
to speak and offer their “explanations and solutions” that they ceased to be of
help to him any longer.

Might God help us use our ears and our mouths in proportion to the way they
were given – twice as much hearing as talking!

I know of few things that are more precious than a friend who is a good
listener. Empathetic people usually get that way by being good listeners.

5. The Gift of
Encouragement.
People who are encouragers seem to have more
friends, because encouragement attracts people like a magnet!

An unexpected card, a text, a call, a visit, an email, or an invitation to
coffee – it does not have to be much to be deeply appreciated. It can literally
transform a dismal day into an enjoyable day. It can be like a cool drink in
the midst of a dry desert!

Wouldn’t it be a great idea if each morning we determined to encourage at least
one person before the day is over?  That type of a habit would result in a
lot of changed people – not just the ones who are encouraged, but also the ones
who are doing the encouraging.

Gifts do not have to cost much to be costly. In fact, there is usually not a
direct correlation between the two. The costliest gifts are priceless gifts
because they include a part of us.

© Jim Garnett.