Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Looking Forward Feels Good

I spent a couple hours at my son's junior high mini-school night. Parents are invited to spend ten minutes in each of their child's classes. A couple (ok, a few) times before, I've complained that these opportunities often miss the mark because they often focus on things like the classroom rules, how many kids are out for what sport, what day Pizza Hut comes, and what's "covered" rather than the bigger picture things like what the teacher wants my kid to learn this year.

Last night was refreshing, and not just because the building is nearing the completion of a major and much-needed face lift. It was refreshing because a number of the teachers talked about things like:

  • How some professional development opportunities have helped the math teacher reflect on the emphasis she was putting on points and that perhaps more of her attention needed to go to what the students are actually learning;
  • How the famous (or infamous, depending upon whom you ask) bug collection unit, a staple for years, has been altered to become a more collaborative venture across seventh and eighth grades (When our daughter attended the school, she paid her brother to collect the bugs. Once that was done, that was it. Not much discussion of the bugs themselves, their habitat, life cycles...just grab 'em,. gas 'em, and pin 'em in a nice looking cake box and get it safely to school);
  • How other teachers' professional development experiences are leading them to more focus on differentiation of a number of projects, assignments and experiences;
  • How the industrial technology teacher allows the students to have a bit of choice with the gumball machines they build. "If it will fit within the general pattern and we can come up with a way to make it work, we're gonna try it," he said.
All this came in the building led by the principal who intervened during the magic markers for extra credit debacle I described last year.

The school has always been a good one. I suppose part of my job as a parent is to want it to be better. Maybe that's magnified by my job as a professor. Maybe, just maybe, that makes me almost impossible to please. 

But I'm convinced my good feelings weren't just the result of a tired old building with some new floor tiles and air conditioning. They were the result of a good school with a much needed makeover in bricks and mortar, as well as outlook and craft. I was in a building last night that is looking forward. And it felt good.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


A recurring thought here, revisiting an earlier post.

 In the Winter of 2007 I listen to then-presidential candidate Joe Biden on our campus. Actually, I showed up a little late and ran in to the Senator, who was looking for the men's room in Lang Hall. I like to say that we're down.

Even with his enthusiastically-reported gaffes and misstatements, I've always liked the VP's unvarnished style. I dig that, bluster and all. I could probably benefit from being more direct. Reading Jules Whitcover's excellent biography of the VP gave quite a bit of insight into his scrappy, Scranton, working class demeanor, not to mention rebuilding his life after the death of his wife and daughter in a traffic accident.

Thought it is not original to him and lots of others have said it too, he said, "Don't tell me what your priorities are. Show me your budget and I'll figure it out for myself." Love that. We could adapt that statement in many ways...Show me your calendar, principals. Show me your weekends, parents. Show me your practice plan, coaches.

So this morning's NPR story about California's brought the often bitter taste of that wisdom back to life. $70,000 per year to house California's most hardened criminals. The Orange County Register reported that the state spent just under $10K per student in 2007-2008.

What a sad commentary. As I've said before, throwing money at a problem is not automatically going to fix it and I'm all for safe streets. That said, I'm willing to bet some educators in Oakland (or wherever) could make a dent in a few things--like, say, student learning--with that kind of bank behind them.