About Me

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I've been an educator since 1995 where I've served as both a teacher and administrator. I believe that serving others is the key to success and make it my goal to be a servant leader for students, teachers, parents, and the community. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why I am a Public School Educator

For several weeks now,  I've been trying to write a post in defense of public schools.  While my ideas were succinct, they never seemed to come out right on the page.  Then it hit me. Just explain why I choose to work in public schools.   

1) It's a calling - It would be very difficult to have a fulfilling career as a public school educator without a calling.  The challenges are just too great.  I'm always amused by those who write books about their experiences in public education, but are no longer in the field.  That says a lot to me. I started in education in 1993 as a substitute teacher.  I had just finished a degree in Industrial Hygiene and, after working in the field, knew it wasn't for me.  For several years, there had been a nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me I needed to be a teacher, but I had ignored it.  It was during a funeral for a young man I had met at a church youth camp that my calling was cemented.  This boy had been stabbed in the head during a gang initiation. For some reason, I thought I could make a difference in the lives of young people.  That and the fact that the kids in the youth group told me I acted like their teachers.  So, one day while praying, I told God I would surrender to this calling and made the decision to enter the education arena. Less than five minutes later, I got a call offering me a very lucrative position as an Industrial Hygienist.  I turned it down. I had passed the test.  Within two weeks, I was substitute teaching and I had never felt more alive.  There was a kinship with teachers and administrators and soon I was being requested almost daily.  Before long, I had entered the district's Alternative Certification Program and was on my way.  My first four years were spent in a very high poverty inner city school.  Every day was challenging and, had the calling not been there, I would have given up early on. After four years and the death of a student due to gang violence, I did leave the profession. I tried to run.  But, you can't run from a calling.  I ended up overseas directing cultural projects that were mostly affiliated with public schools.  This was not by design, but helped bring me back to the educational arena. It worked.  I've been back in the school system for the last thirteen years.  During that time, I've seen lots of people come and go for a variety of reasons.  I've also seen people who stay despite disparaging setbacks.  In each case, I believe there is a calling, or lack thereof, to be a public school educator and that calling cannot be denied.

2.  It is challenging - Being a public school educator is the hardest job I've ever loved.  Public school educators, whether classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, or administrators,  regularly deal with issues most people might never face in a lifetime.  It is challenging to teach a child math who has spent the night listening to adults argue.  It is difficult to help a student learn to write when they are concerned about whether they will have food tonight.  Educators must also be prepared to make multiple adjustments throughout the day in order to ensure students success.  A typical teacher makes at least a hundred quick decisions every day, probably many more than that.  Teaching is not the only thing we do.  Often, we act as parents, mediators, counselors, or simply a listening ear.  We must have the patience and insight to know if a child is acting out because they are being challenging or they are tired, hunger, scared or confused.  It is the challenge of working in public education that brings me back day after day.  That and the multitude of successes I see every day in the lives of students.

3.  I love to learn - An educator who doesn't have a thirst for learning doesn't need to be in the profession.  It is hard to help foster life-long learning in students if you are not doing it yourself. 'Nuff said.

4.  I love working with kids - Kids are fun.  They keep you on your toes and ensure that there is never a dull moment.  One minute they act tough and the next show you the tooth they just lost.  Without a love, a real passionate love, for children and helping them succeed, a person would burn out quickly.  Many times in my career, the only thing that kept me coming through the door each day was knowing that the kids in my class were counting on me to be there.  When you love them, you will do anything not to let them down.

5.  I really like teachers - Teachers are just cool people.  Now that I'm an administrator, I spend a lot of time in classrooms and it amazes me the work that teachers do every day.  They help kids learn despite the baggage that so many bring to school every day.  They have a special insight to see beyond the facade that kids put on to try to fit in.  They are willing to work long and hard to see that every child gets the chance to be successful and reach their full potential.  What better place to be than in a building filled with teachers who are passionate about their craft and about the kids they are blessed to work with?

6.  Why public schools - The public school system in our country is given a task that many private companies and schools would balk at. Namely, we are tasked with teaching every child to the highest level possible.  Every child means "EVERY" child.  None are excluded. Recently, I was with a private school teacher who was complaining about a child.  "They didn't check her discipline records before enrolling her and now she's causing problems."  I wanted to tell her that, in public schools, we don't have the luxury of denying someone admittance because they don't meet our standards.  We teach them all.  In my career I've have had the privilege of working with children from every part of the educational spectrum. I've had students who would be considered geniuses and others who had the mental capacity of an infant. I've worked with children who were well mannered as well as those who were so emotionally disturbed that you never knew what the next moment would bring.  I've had students who were extremely articulate and those who could not speak a word of English. I've worked with students diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, autism, and a wide range of medical and emotional issues.  I've worked with children who were parents, drug addicts, rape/abuse victims, and active gang members.  My experience is reflective of many educators.  Yet, each day we show up and, despite the challenges, do everything we can to help these children succeed.  

Public schools are not always easy places to work.  They have many challenges that are not faced by private institutions.  Still, every day, thousands of public schools employees (teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses, custodians, aides, cafeteria staff, etc) show up and give everything they've got to ensure that each child who walks through the door, no matter their background, has a chance to reach their full potential.  I can't imagine doing anything else.  That is why I choose to be a public school educator.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Office Teacher

On  Halloween, a number of the students from my campus came trick-or-treating at my house.  They would get excited when they saw me and tell their friends I was their assistant principal.  One student, however, introduced me in a way I had never heard before. To him, I was the "Office Teacher." Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on this newly imposed title.

While classified as an administrator, I still spend a good portion of my time "teaching." As chief discipline officer, I use the time students are in my office to teach them alternative means for dealing with frustration, anger, and conflict.  When I visit classrooms, I often find myself sitting next to a struggling student and assisting them while the teacher works with others.  With adults, I try to model the behaviors I expect from them as they work with students. As an instructional leader, I work directly with teachers to discover more effective ways to engage students.

When I was still in the classroom, one of my goals was to continually learn from others.  I find that trait has followed me into the office.  While doing teacher observations, one of my goals is to learn what people are doing well and then share that with others who may be struggling in that area.  This has the double effect of allowing me to be both learner and teacher.

While I don't think the title "Office Teacher" will ever really catch on, I do believe it is appropriate for effective school administrators.  Teaching is ingrained in us and while you can take us out of the classroom, we are still teachers at heart. Office teachers. I like that!

Simple vs Easy-Not Necessarily the Same

Simple:  easy to understand, deal with, use, etc.:  

Easy: not hard or difficult; requiring no great labor or effort; free from pain, discomfort, worry, or care

Simple and easy are two words that are used interchangeably.  They are not the same.  It is often possible for something to be simple, but not easy.  For example, it's simple to dig a six foot hole with a shovel.  Just push the shovel in the ground, remove the dirt, and repeat.  It's not easy, though.  Give it a try if you don't believe me.  Getting into shape is simple.  Basically, it requires eating the right foods and getting sufficient exercise.  But, again, it is not easy.  It requires knowledge, drive, and often a lifestyle change to accomplish. 

In education, much of what we do is simple.  For example, teaching, at its core, is a fairly simple process.  Determine what students need to learn and why.  Develop lesson plans. Teach.  Let students practice the new learning. Assess.  Reteach if necessary.  Yet, while the basic process is simple, it is not easy. Besides having the content knowledge and planning the lesson out in detail, the effective teacher must also know their students well enough to make the lesson connect with them.  Activities must be differentiated for the various levels of students in the room. Classroom management strategies must be employed when necessary. They must be prepared for potential problems and concerns and be able to make multiple minute adjustments throughout the lesson cycle.  These examples just touch the surface of all that goes into a great lesson.  Simple. In many ways, yes.  But, definitely not easy.