Thursday, October 9, 2014

Initial Lessons From East 55th

  We had a teacher start at my Cleveland, Ohio inner city middle school this past Monday.  She also quit this past Monday.  She lasted one day, for those of you who are not mathematically inclined.

Her reasons centered around student behavior: It's a tough job, my principal says casually - as he makes a massive understatement punctuated with a smile.

You know when you drive through a tough neighborhood and think, "Man, I'm lost - I'm keeping my doors locked and windows up ... where's the freeway??!!"

That's where my students live.

I love my students (well, most of them ... kids are kids are kids), but they wasted no time in teaching me a few valuable lessons:

1. Respect here is earned, not simply given. At past schools, I could ask for respect the first day - and get it - while the students began to feel me out and decide if they really respected me or not.

Not the case at my middle school: The students view you with suspicion for several days and weeks, while you prove to them 1. you are tough enough to handle them and 2. you aren't going to leave them.

2. Everyone leaves them. These students have bounced from school to school, and relative to relative, and they've often burned through several teachers in one school year.  They crave stability, but expect on some level to be ultimately abandoned.

3. My feelings are irrelevant.  "I feel a class should behave like X, or be capable of Y!"  It's not about my feelings, it's about where the kids are at - because that's where I have to go and meet them.  This isn't an MTV movie; I won't change the institutions so fundamentally entrenched in their neighborhoods and their lives.

My job is to accept the situation to a large degree; and, then to set about touching individual lives.  A mother told me just the other day, "My daughter says you are her favorite teacher - she talks about you all evening long, right up until she goes to bed!"

Those are the special moments that keep me driving from a farm in Medina to East 55th and Broadway every day. I suspect the lessons coming from E 55th are just beginning for me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Eulogy for Deaf Ears

Freedom was a very big deal here, in this unique historical experiment known as America.

It's gone now, and no one seems to care.

I wish I were only being dramatic, but a few dozen times a week I am reminded of just how far down the rabbit hole we've gone, in terms of giving up our freedom. It's a hole greased with Crisco - you can't easily climb back out. Human nature and history offer clear guidance on this issue: Once power is gained and centralized, it is almost never (willingly) relinquished.

We Americans gave up power, piece by piece, in the name of security, technological advancement, the collective good, and most bizarrely to me ... the convenience of social media.

Facebook wants me to install a new instant messenger - in fact I have to, in order to access messages with my phone. And it only wants access to all of my text messages and phone records in exchange. I've asked several people who use this mandatory Facebook phone app about this privacy issue, and they all collectively shrug.

It's the same shrug we all offered when we found out that nothing we do online is private, and we have zero expectation of privacy in any of our online transactions or communications.

This is the same Facebook who conducts twisted psychological experiments on us. In order to receive my Masters in Education, the most laborious part of the program was getting approval from Walsh University's ethics board - to conduct my thesis-related experiment.

I had my students eat cupcakes, and write essays using a cupcake method as a guide. I judged their learning before, and after, exposure to the "cupcake method" of writing I use.  The university ethics board wanted to be absolutely certain that I'd considered every conceivable angle for potentially harming students, so I jumped through weeks of hoop after hoop while seeking approval.

Facebook takes care of all that pesky permission garbage when you click "yes" to sign up. Convenient, huh.

What prompted this post wasn't Facebook's massive data collection efforts, but a video I caught on CNN. Yes, it's edited for dramatics, but unlike the mess currently still not sorted out in Ferguson, the police dash cam offers some objective facts while documenting a heartbreaking incident.  Watch the small child walk out of the car with his hands up, scared to death and concerned for his handcuffed mother - then watch the arrogant police chief defend this dramatic, guns-drawn traffic stop.

Then tell me we are free.

Just make sure to tell me via email, Facebook or cell phone ... so the government can store our correspondence as part of the war on terror.

I'm trying to pinpoint just when the police went from helping us, to routinely scaring law abiding families half to death.

A spot of good news related to the issue of police brutalizing citizens: President Obama is reviewing the practice of the federal government handing out military weaponry to local police departments. Still yet to come: Obama's review of his own power to personally decide who lives and dies via drone strike.

I have a special classroom focus this year: Teaching my kids to become powerful communicators has taken on a new sense of urgency and importance for me.  My students need to develop their own strong, confident voices - so they can speak up when necessary, and help decide if this whole freedom thing is maybe worth resuscitating after all.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Quality Twitter Conversations for Schools

Recently I had a conversation with my assistant principal, and he recounted how kids were scoffing about the official school Twitter feed not having many followers. "But I can connect with anyone using hashtags like #edchat," he replied to a particular student with 900-some followers.

My AP recognized something valuable regarding Twitter for schools: It's about quality, not quantity. Twitter is a great PR platform and communication channel: Schools probably want influential parents and community thought leaders following them, and Twitter is a great chance to interact with the media.

On the topic of Twitter as a PR tool, it's become cool online to be snarky - so many online posts and comments (and now even media headlines) are like zingers from sitcoms.

The White House talks in this trendy fashion on social media. The caption to this Twitter picture reads, "That time Bo tried to make fetch happen."

I can tell you my high school students would find that tone and style overused and tiresome, and creepy when adults attempt to speak that way. Most of us probably agree social media is a chance to make humorous observations, poke fun, be witty, etc. But schools (and the White house) should constantly consider tone and audience.

Schools should also consider who has the time, personality and tech skill to do the tweeting, and maybe it's a small group. Tweeting is a commitment, and an ignored account sends a negative message. Enough mediocre advice from me - get out there and start tweeting, so you can look back fondly at "that time your school made tweeting happen!"

John Ritter, one of my all-time favorites