Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hold on Tight!

Man, I'm really just not finished yet. In less than two months my students will begin a barrage of exams that will last two weeks, taking them through to the end of the school year. Between now and then I need to figure out a way to fit in a couple gigantic projects as well as all of the 1950's, Civil Rights and Reagan's America through Obama's. In addition to all that, I still need to prepare for the behavior that will creep out of the woodwork beginning in the middle of May.

Last year at this time I'd resigned myself to the hapless fate that was my classroom. Things weren't going terribly well, but I'd squeezed out a small amount of respect from my students just for sticking around through all the chaos. That seemed to smooth out some of the rougher edges, but I was still struggling to get through every day, hardly trying to fix things anymore and really just riding things out until the end of the year. After months and months of trying new things to get the students on my side every single day, I suppose I'd given up spending so much of my energy trying to fix behaviors of kids that had been the same longer than I'd ever known them.

I'm not proud of that, but it's what I did. At the beginning of the spring semester I'd struggled so much that I grabbed another teacher's curriculum and taught it with little variation. The lessons I did plan myself never seemed to go as well because I tried to stray from the concrete, text-heavy plans to the more abstract. While the students may have been capable of such things in the right context, the wrestling match we'd had for more than half a year had established that my classroom was a place where learning rarely happened outside of worksheet-style or educational video-type work. Unfortunately the vast majority of those students didn't walk away from my class with much more knowledge of the social studies than what they'd brought in September. The only benefit that seems to have come of it was the education I brought away from it.

This spring has the potential to be far more productive than last. My students will wrap up some cross-continental collaboration instead of wrapping their hands around each others' throats. They'll write a major research paper instead of writing me off entirely. Instead of leaving my class without the vaguest idea of what has happened throughout United States history, I believe that they will walk away with a firmer grasp of history than they've ever had before.

Regardless of what happens, we're now on the downhill slope toward the end of the year and there's no stopping us. We'll pick up speed and rumble through the finish line hopefully each in control of our young charges. Hold on tight and grab the last bit of content and skill practice you can. It'll be wild.

To the First Years:
You've most likely heard it a thousand times by now- it'll get better. It probably won't get a lot of better this year, which is undoubtedly bad news, but it will be better next year, as unbelievable as that is. Hopefully you've dug yourself far enough in at this point that you can ride out the storm while delivering the best instruction you possibly can (which you've been doing the entire year) until the end of June. Best of luck.

Today's Wine: Four Graces Pinot Gris 2008. This was part of a shipment from the New York Times Wine Club, which was a birthday present of mine. I've not received wine in the mail before, but it's delightful. As for this bottle, it's fruity and I thought I tasted vanilla, but the reviews all say peach. Whatever was in there, I thought it was pretty good.

Monday, April 26, 2010

No More Fingers, Action

Great job everyone.....not.

To wrap up this series of posts on stakeholders, I thought I'd do something terribly difficult to pull off- point the finger at EVERYone for allowing American education to take a nose-dive. This is something I've thought about lately when listening to various people state how fixing one or two things in the system will solve ALL of the problems. I don't hold any super-advanced degrees in ed theory or policy, nor do I have a great deal of experience, but I'm starting to suspect, based on that little experience as well as my knowledge of American history and American education, that a system as massive as our education system (which is technically more than fifty separate systems) cannot be "fixed" through a couple simple changes in policy, but will require a movement from the masses.

What I can say is that it is not just one group of stakeholders that is to blame for the woes of our education system. Sure their are terrible teachers out there. There are also abhorrent administrators, really bad parents, and young people in schools that can certainly cannot be called students. The long and the short of it is that a large number of us are falling down on the job and then pointing fingers elsewhere instead of demanding that our own ranks improve and that we ourselves do our jobs.

Sounds cynical, right? Perhaps it is. And bit wishy-washy? Sure. Regardless, I would like for people to stop blaming the parents, the unions, the students,the teachers and/or the administrators individually as the downfalls of the students' education and get more people to start looking for solutions to fix all of these vital roles. The idea rolling around in my head recently has been to find ways to hold each group of stakeholders accountable in a way that will promote the achievement of our students. As of right now the most popular attack seems directed at teachers and teachers' unions, but their accountability is being sought in such ways that, to me, seem detrimental to students.

The entire country has a vested interest in creating the best education system (or systems, depending on your views on state control of education) on the planet for all of our children. If we're going to get serious about educating ALL Americans in a top-notch way we need to stop bitching, stop the finger-pointing, hold up our end of the bargain, and then (and only then) demand that each major group of stakeholders be held accountable as well.

More on accountability later. I feel like I've strayed away from directing these posts toward advice for the first years and those in school of education. There's not a lot to be said about this topic save for the fact that perhaps in the first year you shouldn't worry as much about this as how you hold things together in the classroom. Last year I certainly wasn't thinking as much about how to keep students, parents, other teachers, and administrators accountable because I couldn't even keep things in line in the tiny part of the system for which I was directly responsible. Telling others how they should be held accountable didn't cross my mind as much as dreams of reaming out other stakeholders for not doing a damn thing to help (aggression that was somewhat, but not wholly, misplaced).

Today's Wine: Bodega Sur de los Andes Malbec. This guy was really very good. We had it at Pasita in the West Village. The place was great and the wine well-balanced, not very fruity and not too dry. Great by itself.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Students on Board

Speaking honestly and critically about students doesn’t seem PC in a lot of ways, but I think it’s important. As they are of course stakeholders in the process of their own education, I’d like to address them as I have in the past few posts about teachers, parents and administrators.
I generally group students into two categories: those that do their jobs and those that do not. While these seem to emphasize behavior more than other factors, that is what the majority of my effort has been directed toward in the past two years and from what I can tell, it’s what drains the most energy out of most of the teachers I’ve met around here.

Those Doing their Jobs
These students show up to school nearly every day and complete tasks assigned to them. They might slip up once in a while, but they listen to directions and try to complete everything you hand them. They can be goofballs, they can be rascals, they can still make you want to pull your hair out, but they show up, they're respectful and they give you the sense that when they're given clear directions on what to do they will do what they can to get the job done.

They Struggle, but They work
Now, "doing their jobs" not imply that these are the best students academically. In fact, many of these students may struggle in school. Many of these students might not know how to read very well when they show up at your door, they may be void of critical thinking skills and they might not know a noun from a verb, but they're willing to try. Oftentimes these are my favorite students to teach. We are both in for a challenge and it's apparent, but the relationship we forge will help produce real results by the end of the year.

The Gifted High-Fliers
These are the professional students. They listen to all directions, are eager to learn and are great thinkers. Academics come easy to them and they could easily get by without pushing themselves, but they do anyway. While a small minority, these are the kids that can help pull along a class and really help a teacher support those that struggle, but work. In the de-tracked, full-inclusion model these are the ones that model great academics in ways a teacher doesn't think to as they relate to the other students.

The Bright, Albeit Lazy
These are probably the ones that are most in-between those that do their jobs and those that do not. While very bright, they simply do what needs to be done to hit C-range or perhaps a bit higher. Their potential is enormous and their delivery lukewarm. They always make teachers pull their hair out, especially if management is less of a problem.

Those Not Doing Their jobs
Students fall into this category for a lot reasons. Whatever the reasons might be, they show partial, if not total, disregard for the education system, their peers, their parents, teachers and themselves. The subdivisions I think of are the aggressive, the passive and the absent.

Aggressively Not Performing
These students tear things down for themselves and others. They refuse to follow directions, act out, demand attention and must be given it because if they do not either someone will be hurt or no learning will happen for anyone. They seem to follow as few rules to prove simply that they can, and in process screw themselves over as well as many of the other students. The most frustrating thing about this group is that they really do hold back those that struggle but work. While the bright and gifted can still get by and learn a considerable amount, those that struggle with academics and need extra differentiation in the classroom fall by the wayside because the teacher must spend time containing these fools. Of all the injustices one can find in the field of education, this might be the one that irritates me most.

Passively Not Performing
These kids sit in class (when they are there) and do absolutely nothing. Before I got to the Bronx these were the biggest "problem children" I had to deal with. No matter what you do, how you differentiate, modify assignments, give them something that any other student would find at least mildly interesting, they continue to sit and stare. When major assessments come around they oftentimes simply fail to show up and rarely complete them. To be honest, I think that social promotion has produced many of these students over the past number of years (how many I cannot say, as I'm still pretty new to this)- students know they'll be passed and therefore know that if they just sit tight and ride it out they'll be given a pretty easy option to "pass" at some point and them join their classmates in the fall in the next grade.

The Absent
These are students that simply are not there. For one reason or another their attendance is abysmal- sometimes far less than half of the school days in a year. Need I say more about why they don't do their jobs? I have a student on my roster this year who has been present less than five times. See my post on Grades in NYC for how he's still been awarded forty-seven percent of the possible percentage points in my class.

Perhaps it’s not that simple, but I hardly cringe at the students’ individual inability to perform academically- I wince at their inability to stop talking, listen to directions and then carry those directions out. A benefit to this simplification is that it does put it in terms that 99% of students can understand. By the time students come to me in the eighth grade, the vast majority of them know how to act appropriately in school, around adults, etc. We see this happen all the time when their parents come in or when we go on a trip. When they want to, nearly every student can behave and be considerate and be respectful of their peers and teachers for an extended period of time.

During my first year in the classroom I had fewer students who did their jobs than those that did not. There were some days in fact that things were so out of hand that I could count on one hand the students who were doing what they were supposed to. That's changed with nearly two years under my belt and a different set of students, but I still walk into class every day looking to support each kind of students as they need to be. For example, the High-Fliers need to always be pushed higher, the Absent need to be encouraged to attend and have their parents called about it, the Aggressives need to be controlled and contained, and the Strugglers need scaffolding, the most clear and concise everything and each and every student needs as much positive adult attention as I can muster.

Today's Wine: The Cabernet by the glass at Gina La Fornarina.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

O Captain! My Captain!

Without a strong administration, a school will capsize and teachers and students alike will be left to swim for it. In that case the students are encouraged to swim to shore where they would have disembarked, but the teachers are left to tread water and save as many as possible for as long as they can. The frustrating thing is that the captain(s) don’t necessarily go down with the ship in these cases.

What I’ve heard…

I spoke with several superintendents while in the School of Ed, and each said that the most difficult job they’ve ever run up against is that of a high school principal. Between all of the public appearances expected, the equivalent to running a business as well as being the leader of teachers and ensuring the emotional and developmental well-being of hundreds of students, the job demands every ounce of one’s energy as well as the vast majority of one’s time. Personal time is a term referring to the small amount of sleep they get. The principals I’ve spoken with in NYC have said that the most difficult job they’ve bashed into has been that of first-year teacher in the city. Perhaps they’re just being modest.

That said about the difficulty of the position, the leaders of the school- Principal, Assistant Principals and Dean of Discipline- are vital to the success at the school. Without competent and talented people in these positions it’s nearly impossible for a school to be very successful even with master teachers. These people need to be able to maintain morale, recruit like mad and rake in sponsors to support the ranks holding the line. They must keep the confidence of the community and they must understand the trials, tribulations and successes of the community so they know what the students will face during their tenure at the school and thereafter. They must also boost the morale of their troops while maintaining the support of parents- two groups notorious for infighting. Good administrators are also expected to know the names of most of their students, and increasingly the needs of each student- especially as NYC moves to a small school model.

And that’s just some of it. In spite of the fact that the job is gargantuan, the sort of people being commissioned as administrators varies widely. Some are great, some are driving education into the ground, and some seem simply to be holding on and waiting for something- at times either a paycheck or someone else to fix the problems they face in the system.

All of that said, I’ve tried to categorize as best I can the administrators I’ve seen during my short tenure in the field.

Killers of the Classroom

The Corrupt
These range from those who are administrators for the paycheck to those who embezzle from the school system. After a year and a half in the field it’s frightening how often I’ve heard instances of the latter happening. Colleagues have described storage closets full of school supplies that were off-limits to the staff. They’d be filled with expensive supplies and then emptied into non-descript white vans at the front of the school.

The Incompetent
To be a strong leader you must be able to demonstrate what it is you want those following you to do. For a lot of reasons, the default attitude of teachers is skeptical when talking to anyone who is trying to tell them what should be done in the classroom. A principal who does not radiate the idea that she herself is a master teacher will simply not inspire confidence in her staff. Unfortunately many incompetent teachers who do not want to quit the field, but who are not making it in the classroom, decide to move up the ladder to an admin position. Also unfortunately, many of these are promoted by their superiors simply to get them out of the classroom. While I respect the urgency of removing the incompetent from the classroom, promoting people because it’s impossible to get rid of them is not promoting the health of the system. To be sure, this is not the only way the incompetent get into these leadership roles.

The Tyrannical
Sometimes the responsibility of being an administrator goes to the head of those at the helm. While they may fall in the category of incompetent as well, these folks try to make up for the lack of leadership skills by flexing all of their muscle both with students and with staff practically all of the time. If you are unaware, schools can really do very little in terms of punishing students. Flexing and flexing is good and fine if you’re looking in the mirror, but not necessarily when trying to impress your staff and students simply by demonstrating your legal ability to tell them what to do.

The Insane
My girlfriend was oftentimes at odds with one of these at a school she used to work in. That AP was arrested for stabbing her boyfriend with scissors. The incident actually made the newspaper, but because the boyfriend dropped the charges the AP was re-instated without recourse almost immediately.

Follow them to the Front Line

When it comes to administrators and teachers, it’s oftentimes easier to spot the bad ones, rather than the good ones. Perhaps that’s why we concentrate so much on them. If you take any time to look, however, it’s easy to spot the great leaders. They inspire real confidence, show you what they expect and demand excellence. If they're good at their jobs their staffs will follow them in their entirety (or nearly in their entirety) and will be able to hold the line far more successfully.

Great administrators certainly have different styles and generally land somewhere on a spectrum between a very top-down, directive management style and the more bottom-up, allow the staff freedom to succeed sort of style. It seems that the most successful of them strike a balance somewhere in the middle, perhaps on an issue-specific basis. By that I mean that there are specific issues on which administrators must hand down their decisions with an iron fist, and others that must be resolved organically by lower-level staff members. Regardless, its tough to categorize them other than saying they’ve struck an effective balance somewhere on this spectrum.

This might warrant another post altogether as well, but in a nutshell, I believe that as with teachers, there is not a large enough pool of highly-trained, experienced and brilliant people vying for these jobs. These are our captains. They should be the ones directing us and determining how to best utilize our resources as a cohesive unit in order to give the best education possible to our students. Without strong leadership teachers are left to shut and lock their classroom doors and slug it out themselves. When they march off to war in isolation teachers might put up a great fight, but the students suffer tremendously in the long term. It’s also far more likely that a teacher will one day drown when this is the case.

The leadership of a school cannot be taken lightly. Unfortunately, great leaders are difficult to find. Principals vary from those young, bright individuals starting up their own schools to those who have PhD’s, a century of experience and are simply taking over for established schools. These people must be leaders, politicians and great educators. Their jobs demand that they work essentially without pause the entire time they hold their position.

As with teachers, we need to be able to get rid of the bad ones, attract more applicants to the field and applaud those that are successful in their positions. Unfortunately I’m not sure we’re doing any of these things effectively, nor will we in the near future given the way people are determining the success of these leaders.

Today's Wine: Maipe Malbec, 2009. The description at that link was pretty spot-on. It's fruity, not too dry and well-balanced. Very acceptable for a bottle around ten bucks and it went well with some cheap but amazing Mexican carry out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Teachers Are Sinking the Boat!

...and plugging the holes, and rowing, and building new boats, and...

Teachers really tick me off sometimes. We've dug ourselves in, isolated ourselves from other stakeholders, allowed substandard educators to join our ranks and have not done a very good job of keeping up the professional edge we once had. That said, we're also sending more students to college than ever before while doing everything in our power to hold on while the arc of education is tossed to and fro by the political and social tide. We are, for better and worse, the men and women that are escorting young Americans to their futures and we range from excellent to terrible. Aside from the students themselves, teachers are the lifeblood of the education system. If there is a major problem with that system, as more of America is beginning to assume, it is natural to examine our ranks to see what is going on. It would be ludicrous not to take these steps. Upon exploring the ranks of pedagogues, one might find there is a pretty interesting mix out there.

I've now worked in three very different settings: rural Kansas as a sub and student teacher; on a U.S. military base in Germany as a long-term student teacher; and in the South Bronx as a first and second year, full-time teacher. As with the parents, it's tough to label teachers, but there is definitely a spectrum of good and bad teachers. This again is entirely subjective and also the opinion of a second-year teacher, but this is my report:

New Teachers- They're very tough to label and are very generally a hot mess. Their quality is difficult to judge accurately, as their success has more to do with the support network they land themselves in than some natural ability to teach the children.

The Good
Green and Eager- I would say I'm probably one of these. The learning curve is steep and they're dedicated. If on the good side they are, of course, headed in the right direction and perhaps one day will be a master teacher.

Solid, Not Entirely Seasoned- These are the good eggs that have stuck around a year or two or three and are developing great skills as teachers. Their management is solidifying, as is their curriculum and they make solid contributions to their staffs. They are not as masterful as those with more experience, but the veterans started somewhere, too.

Entirely Insane, In a Good Way
- I've run into a few of these. From throwing lab stools across a room to accidentally blowing petri dishes up and across the lab, these guys can inspire, terrify and potentially teach like no other type of teacher. While not the best role models, it doesn't matter because the vast majority of students want to be nothing like them- they simply learn a lot of great stuff from them.

Well-Seasoned- These folks can be the heart and soul of a school. Masterful, experienced, flexible and at times very quality leaders, they are fantastic examples for other teachers to follow. The ones I've seen are not necessarily in leadership positions, but are looked to as leaders anyway.

Master Teachers- These ones make your jaw drop and drool a bit. With management that wraps entire classes around their little finger, they strike a strong path from day one, hit the ground steaming full throttle and do such a fantastic job that only one of the so, so ugly (see below) teachers would dare criticize them- generally one of those people that criticize others for doing too good a job. If every teaching position was filled by one of these, the Americans would not only be leaders of the free world, but leaders of the universe.

Ancient, Masterful & Growing- In one of the places I taught, the most technologically adventurous teacher was past old enough to retire. He was an expert teacher and still trucking. The year I was there was actually his last, as he took up a teaching position at a major university educating future teachers. Had I been in that state, I would have been lucky to have been one of his charges. He was a master teacher whose days left in the classroom were probably not many fewer than days left in his life.

The Bad
Lost At Sea- Often green, sometimes not, these folks lack directions, whether from their administration or they simply don't have it. Many of them join the ranks of former teachers.

The Bored- These folks, for one reason or another have stopped trying. The students can tell; other teachers can tell; the administration can tell, but for some reason they stick around.

So Angry- Potentially good at their jobs, but so angry at the world and the hand they've been dealt that they cannot deal with other staff, they seem to hate practically everything. I found last year that it's pretty easy to get angry in this field for a billion reasons, but to let it consume you can be to let it tear apart you practice.

Very Bitter and Old- They tell new teachers to beware or simply not to join the field. I met one once that had a PhD in ed, but when she found out that I speak German she told me to switch to business because I could make more money- not very encouraging, nor helpful.

Ancient, Crumbling- These folks are waiting either for retirement or an excuse to leave or maybe even death . They may have stopped growing as a teachers several decades prior and had difficulty switching from the abacus to the computer (their arch-nemeses are the Smart Board and the LCD projector).

So, So Ugly
Absolutely Crazy (In a Bad Way)- These are various. From teachers who can't prevent books being microwaved in a classroom to a middle-aged man prancing around a room of would-be thugs like a fairy-godmother cawing, "No one can steal YOUR education!", these folks need the boot and fast.

Really, Really Bad- This includes the above-listed absolutely crazy and is really just an umbrella term for those teachers that are so bad that any sane stakeholder needs only thirty seconds in their classroom to realize their role in the field should be that of copy clerk (maybe), not classroom teacher.

We all know there are bad teachers out there. It is not a secret. What seems to be a secret sometimes is that there are unbelievably good teachers our there as well. Most teachers in our classrooms are on the Good side of the spectrum, rather than on the Bad or So, So Ugly, but this majority needs reinforcements. The ranks of well-seasoned and master teachers are thinning as more and more of the not entirely seasoned and newbies throw in the towel. The field simply does not recruit a large ratio of applicants to teaching positions. The bottom line, however, is that there are students to be taught and teaching positions to be filled. Principals are often faced with choices reminiscent of too many elections in recent history: the choice between the bad and the worse. Hopefully in the near future we figure out a way to fix this problem, but in the meantime we need to make sure the efforts of those on the "good" end of the spectrum are not swept under the rug.

Until that day happens I'll keep paddling around in my dinghy trying to figure out how to become a master of the trade.

Today's Wine: Tilia Malbec 2008. Yet another from Cavatappo, our friendly neighborhood amazing Italian restaurant. A bit spicy and plenty of fruit.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Parents Can Make or Break You

After a spring break blogging sabbatical, I’d like to come back and post a few ideas that may piss people off, but things I’ve wanted to get off my chest for a while. Basically I’m developing the opinion that while every stakeholder in child’s education is incredibly important, the onus of educating children in this country is shifting further and further onto teacher’s shoulders. While I’m terribly biased, I’d still like to vent my frustration and address the various stakeholders in separate posts: Parents, Teachers, Administrators and Students. First up are parents.

There were two pieces of inspiration for this post that I witnessed over break:
1.) an American child in Italy (approximately 10 years old) ignoring every waiter asking him questions because he’s playing video games at the table in a nice restaurant
2.) an American child (approximately 10 years old) playing video games in the SISTINE CHAPEL, being completely ignored by his parents and ignoring everything around him the entire time.

Those two things got me thinking again about what (in my opinion) a large part of good parenting is: providing children with healthy, educational life experiences AND helping children to better those experiences. While it’s impossible to categorize parents in a way that makes everyone happy, one of the ways I generally make sense of many things is by setting up spectrum and placing things along it or beside it. In this way, I generally think of parents very simply as good, bad, or something in between. Parents who get involved and help teach their children are at the good end. Those that do not are on the bad end.

Great Parents
Let’s start with the good news. Great parents are the saving grace of education. They are unmatchable supports, the driving force behind the healthy growth and development of our students. They want to know what’s going on at school so they can help their child grow even more. They’re actively involved in every aspect of their child’s life and even if they work two or three jobs they do their damndest to make sure their child is healthy and prepared for life. As I talk to more young adults my age, we tend to agree that our parents’ successes are reflected in our own; that their incredible ability to teach us right from wrong, instill work ethic in us and promote healthy learning from trial and error, making mistakes and scraping a knee now and again were the reasons we had successes in school, college, and in life in general. When I run into a great parent at school, I try to tell them how wonderful they are without sounding like a complete idiot. I thank them as much as possible and usually say something lame like “keep up the good work,” which feels inappropriate in some ways because I’m not a parent myself.

My highest-achieving student last year was the son of immigrant parents who spoke no English and gave up everything they had in their country to move their family to the U.S., hoping that their very bright son would be more successful here. His father worked pretty much around the clock, seven days a week, but made absolutely sure that he was at parent conferences and that his son was doing his job in school and out of school. When I told him his son was receiving the award for academic excellence in my class, he cried and thereby gained whatever respect I had that wasn’t already his. After crazy, oftentimes disheartening experiences with parents last year, he and his wife are two big reasons I tried to get parents more involved this year.

Not Great Parents
On the other side of this equation, parents can be the most frustrating, irritating, pugnacious, destructive stakeholders in this field. There are times that I have no desire to talk to parents. There are times I want to wring their necks because I seem to love their child more than they do. After a rough day in the classroom when I dole out a dozen detentions and perhaps a suspension because students can't control themselves (due to nice weather, bad weather, weather, an assembly, a field trip, a fight or the very fact that they're fourteen), I don't want to spend an hour and a half reliving it by explaining to parents that their students screwed up. For the chronic detainees, I've probably spoken to the parent a dozen times already, given them my feedback, suggested changes to be made and sometimes suggested things that can be done at home (why I'm qualified to do that, I have no idea, but as many parents ask I feel like I need to give some response). Especially at this point in the year, if a student has not begun to turn things around the last thing I really want to do is talk to his parent another time and see the same result: no change.

Hostile Parents
These are the ones that attack you (generally verbally). The buck generally passes completely out of their household and the teachers/school/everyone else are blamed whenever their child screws up. There are a thousand reasons why they are angry- a thousand results that show up in the student, but the fact is that they are working against the other stakeholders and not with them. They’ve let themselves and the student off the hook, which is very destructive.

Indifferent Parents
The extreme in this case is a parent who literally tells the school to stop calling because between 8 and 3 the student is the school’s problem. The funny thing about this is that even when these students leave, the parents do very little to make them “their problem”. Though it is a very small minority of parents, it’s still alarming how often this happens. The students of these parents generally plug into video games once home (or stay outside and do much worse) and the amount of student-parent interaction is dismal.

When I was a substitute teacher in rural Kansas I spent a lot of time in a specific elementary special education classroom. One of the students I worked with was nine years old, but was on a three year-old level developmentally and could not speak. This was a presumed case of neglect. One bitter-cold (near zero degrees), winter day this student was dropped off at school with just a sweatshirt on and was shivering uncontrollably, but couldn’t even tell us how cold she really was. While the family might not have been able to afford a coat, the history of neglect supported a different story. I’ve never had a stronger desire to punch a human in the teeth as I did when her parent did that.

This might seem like an over-simplification of the parent situation, because it is. As I spend more time in the field, however, the cliche "parents are the most important teachers" seems to become an incredible reality. Their importance in their children's early childhood development, reinforcement of academic skills outside of school and socialization of non-academic skills such as work ethic, respect for adults, etc. dwarfs many of the things other stakeholders can possibly do to ensure the success of children. I believe this country is starting to realize that education needs to be fixed, but parents are probably the last variable in the equation that will be targeted, as doing so would mean the government getting their hands into parenting. Even those furthest to the left would be leery of that.

Next up: Teachers.

Today's Wine: While a bit of a cop-out, I'd like to use one post to pay tribute to the carafes of wine we drank in Italy. When we arrived we drank a few bottles, but found the half-liter carafes of house wine were rather nice at virtually every place we ate.