All in words we use

Bird Droppings January 29, 2010
All in words we find

“The farmer channels water to his land. The fletcher whittles his arrows. And the carpenter turns his wood. So the wise direct their mind.” Dhammapada

Many years ago there was a folk song entitled, If I were a carpenter, as I read this passage this morning from a Hindu text that song popped in my mind. Many folk artists have covered the song. The song was written by folk singer Tim Hardin. It was a hit in 1966 recorded by Bobby Darrin who after letting two other songs slip by that became number one hits for The Lovin Spoonful grabbed onto this one. A few years later the song was covered by legendary artist Johnny Cash and again a hit. As I think back there was a similar passage that I used many years ago from another great thinker of our time.

If I were a carpenter
and you were a lady,
Would you marry me anyway?
Would you have my baby?

If a tinker were my trade
would you still find me,
carrin’ the pots I made,
followin’ behind me.

Save my love through loneliness,
Save my love for sorrow,
I’m given you my onliness,
Come give your tomorrow.

If I worked my hands in wood,
Would you still love me?
Answer me babe, “Yes I would,
I’ll put you above me.”

If I were a miller
at a mill wheel grinding,
would you miss your color box,
and your soft shoe shining?
Tim Hardin

I have read these words and listened to many singers sing them. Some will say it is just a song of a blue collar worker a common man who is in love with an upper class woman. Will he still love her even though he is merely a carpenter? Some argue it is about Jesus Christ who as stories go was a carpenter in love with a lady. But as I read and reread the words this morning so many more thoughts and understandings. I recall a passage from a speech given by the great civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

During the folk song era of the 1960’s although sitting here pondering it probably in some circles still exists, especially around my house anyhow many songs were written to add credence to various social efforts of the time. Pete Seeger would sing songs borrowed from Woody Guthrie’s hobo and dust bowl travels, the songs of the depression. As he traveled the country he sang at union, environmental, and civil rights meetings, including for Dr. King He would borrow from many and various other sources for his songs.
One song was made famous outside of folk song circles by a group “the Byrd’s” was “Turn, turn, turn” a song that received its words from a book in the Old Testament Ecclesiastes to be exact. “To ever thing there is a season, ……a time to be born a time to die” As I sit here writing this morning flags are still flying from telephone poles, draped over tables, still a few emblazoned on T-shirts and paper cups celebrating our nation. Just a few days ago our president gave the State of the Union Address and I am reminded of what and who we are as Americans. It is not our differences but our similarities that make us who we are. It is our desire and passion for freedom.
By the constitution of the United States all people are equal and all are entitled to certain liberties and the pursuit of happiness be they carpenters, millers, tinkers, lawyers or folk singers. As we go about today remembering and watching the few remnants of our real heritage we need to also think of in being free and being able to speak, and worship freely we should not impose our own ideals and beliefs on others. That is so easy to say but I was reminded of a moment so many years ago of the innocence of youth, as I sat at lunch with my youngest son at a Chinese Buffet in Loganville Georgia. The owner I have known for many years and she had her three boys there with her, it was late afternoon we had been working at the High School working in my room. Her boys were sitting playing at the next booth, some was in English some in Chinese as they chattered back and forth and giggled playing games as small children do, the boys were between 3 and 5 years old. One of the boys using his fingers to pull his eyes slanted said I am a Chinese boy now. As I sat and thought so many possible meanings to that, I know his family, mother and father both are from mainland China and very active in cultural awareness programs in schools and the community. Was this an example of an innocent child’s color blindness or was it a slight to his heritage imposed by others?
“There is a time to ever season” we can not choose the road of our genetics but we can choose the directions and pathways we take with it. We can choose the words and actions. In a cultural awareness class a few years back as I wrote the word black, indicating race I was reminded that it is correct to say Afro American. I wondered at the response, yet I am still called a white person not a Welsh, English, German, Irish, Native American, Hebrew, Scottish, Amish, person. Although WEGINAHSA would work now that I think of it. I wonder if I called someone a Weginahsa, would they be upset or if I could get that listed as an ethnic group. I could list it under other, I am a Weginahsa pronounced, Wee – jean – A – house – a. I am no longer just white I am a proud weginahsa, if I can spell it correctly and pronounce it the same twice in a row.
We choose the roads and pathways we choose the words and implications of those words and the attitude that formulates them. MLK as he made the comment about a street sweeper it is our choice as to how great or how little we are and it is our choice whether we truly are free or not. Today is the time and the season for us to be whom we are Americans and we are able to think act and be free keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

A Circle

Bird Droppings January 27, 2010
A circle

I missed the last rerun of a favorite miniseries “Into the west” and one of these days will find the DVD set. The movie started and ended with a circle of stones with a line going east to west and one going north to south through the circle. In the back area of our yard we have been building a memory garden. It is basically a rock garden with numerous succulents and sedums planted among the rocks that are special to us. The garden when finished will be a circle. Each quadrant has a space which eventually will be filled with young trees. A cedar was given to us when my wife’s father passed away by my friends at the high school. Another will eventually honor my father at the opposite side as we finish our project hopefully this summer.

“You have noticed that everything as Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round….. The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.” Black Elk Ogallala Sioux Holy Man

It has been nearly forty years since I wrote a short poem of shorts. At that time a self description, “One little circle – alone – unopened”, fbird, 1970. It has been nearly six years since I headed towards Piedmont college my last time as a student and I thought is the circle alone, unopened. I had grown very close to the people in my cohort. As I attended graduate school at Piedmont I found I became a much better teacher as I became a better student. Henry David Thoreau was a teacher till he realized he must be a learner first, a student and in doing so he became a better teacher.
As I look at the circle I have completed in my own education it is only the beginning not the ending and the circle of friends and fellow learners in my cohort at Piedmont and now as I further my education at Georgia Southern and the teachers at my own school all touch unto that circle and in effect keep it spinning and evolving. Black Elk an Ogallala Sioux holy man using nature to define this circle nearly a hundred years ago and Follow the Buffalo, holy man of the movie series “Into the West”, who was sitting in the sacred circle in the North Dakota hills through out the movie addressed the white man with various other characters. My son once told me of a circle’s definition in geometric terms borrowing from Wikipedia.

“In Euclidean geometry, a circle is the set of all points in a plane at a fixed distance, called the radius, from a fixed point, called the centre.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As I sit here thinking pondering my circle has grown now in another cohort and furthering my education. My circle includes all I have met, emailed, talked with in grocery stores, schools, colleges and numerous other places around the world. The circle continues and grows with each step, each word, each sensation and each breath I take while I am privileged to live. Please as you think about your own circle keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

go up another rung

Bird Droppings January 26, 2010
Go up another rung!

I walked outside just a few minutes ago into a chilly breeze. The sky was clear and the only sound is the flapping of the neighborhood flag against the flag pole. I looked around as my dog did whatever dogs to when they go out and listened carefully trying to hear some signs of spring on the way but sadly only the clicking and flapping of the flag. We are into a new week and the mountain is nearly climbed as we approach the midpoint of a six week grading cycle. I am even with my aversion to shopping looking forward to the weekend and possibly going shopping with my wife and will even brave the masses of the mall although I have an ulterior motive I have run out of my favorite loose tea and the shop is by chance at the mall. Perhaps that is why I am even considering going to the mall although I do enjoy observing and trying to figure out people. So as I sit finishing up here my meditation and writing this morning pondering a weekend jaunt maybe it is time to go up another rung in life.

“One only gets to the top rung of the ladder by steadily climbing up one at a time, and suddenly all sorts of powers, all sorts of abilities which you thought never belonged to you–suddenly become within your own possibility and you think, ‘Well, I’ll have a go, too.’” Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain and was in her time the most powerful woman in the world. This is her philosophy of success that she discusses here in her quote and it is simple, a one step, one rung at a time to the top. So many folks want to jump from the ground to the top and forget there is so much in between.

“The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it’s the same problem you had last year.” John Foster Dulles

One of the major ways that we as humans learn is through trial and error. However true success is not repeating the error again and again and that is when we are succeeding. With students it often takes multiple tries but it is up to the teacher to assure that the rungs can be accomplished with the right effort and not to deliberately create such difficulty that a student flounders and as some do eventually quits. Teachers measure the rungs on the ladder not too easy but attainable.

“What is the recipe for successful achievement? To my mind there are just four essential ingredients: Choose a career you love, give it the best there is in you, seize your opportunities, and be a member of the team.” Benjamin F. Fairless

As I read this note and the four simple rules or ingredients to success I was amazed at the simplicity. First love what you do, and then give it your best, thirdly seize opportunities, and finally teamwork and success can be yours. As I walk through the doors of our school and look at teachers so often you can tell good teachers by who is smiling a sure sign that they want to be there. For these teachers it is not just a job and they love what they do and do give the job their best. In no other field have I ever seen people seize opportunity such as in teaching. When paper is allocated or budget cuts restrict supplies you learn quickly to be resourceful and work with others it is so much easier to accomplish as a team then working independently.

“Success is that old A B C; ability, breaks, and courage.” Charles Luckman

We acquire ability through learning and effort and it is learning when to take advantage of breaks that come along, always keeping your eyes open and always being ready. Courage is that character aspect of us that is that inner drive that can lead a person upward.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, learning from failure.” Colin Powell

As he lead US forces back a few years and now then as the retired Secretary of State Colin Powell has simply put it all in order as far as life goes, in order to find success you must prepare do your homework. Then you do the work and get it done and finally learn from your errors, from your mistakes and use them to succeed. As I read this morning between walking dogs and writing I found a thought I would like to end with.

“It is more important to be of service than successful.” Robert Kennedy Jr.

For many people success is a selfish thing, but finding true success is when what you do is affecting others positively. Today in this with so many opportunities to be of service to others try and be of service and always please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

Reconciliation of Trust

Bird Droppings January 25, 2010
Reconciliation of trust

“It’s the examination of conscience. Unless you examine your conscience, you don’t know what you have to be sorry for and what to confess” Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M., S.T.D., Ten Tips for Better Confessions, The Gift of Reconciliation

Sort of difficult starting the week with a vocabulary word and one we seldom actually use. I do think we perform the process but some how never understand what it is we are doing when we do. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary has for its definition of the word reconciliations the following:

“The state of being reconciled which is based on reconcile or to restore to friendship or harmony” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

It has been a long time since I was called up to the principal’s office for supposedly writing a note for a student to go home, something I would not do and did not do. This student was someone I had trusted and now had seriously betrayed that trust. The following day I asked my own students to write about what would they do if someone betrayed their trust, not referring to the incident that had occurred? Many of my students often feel betrayed as a part of their own disability. They have a difficult time dealing with trusting anyone and betraying that bit of trust that they may have is so hard to even accept that it hits them very hard.
Some of the examples are; “I would never speak to them again”, “I would consider them no longer existing”, one student went so far as “I would kill them”. I was hoping that was a figurative term only. When I look back a few lines to Webster’s thought reconcile is a “restoring of harmony”. Not being able to trust, affects my own existence in how I perceived each person that I now came into contact with. Often being on guard, wary, not a sensation that I liked or even the effort of being cautious.

“Trust is a firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing. It is a reliance on something in the future; hope. The condition and resulting obligation of having confidence placed in one: One in which confidence is placed.”

Trust is a simple word as I looked for definitions and a bit more understanding can be had in words such as reliance, confidence, hope, integrity, and character. These are all words used in defining trust. By going a bit deeper, trust is synonymous with belief and with the word faith. When we trust someone we have faith in them, belief in them. To tear this down is a serious issue and difficult to repair. This is perhaps why my students had such a difficult time with pondering what you do when someone betrays your trust. It was from that point I wondered if we can reconcile.
Within most of the worlds religions forgiveness is paramount to any attempt at moving forward. It is about being able to forgive and to reconcile. Within some religions as in my first quote that is based on reconciliation. Within the Catholic Church where reconciliation is a sacrament there is a restoration on the most part for many people. In religion that restoration is often with God or the church, but deeper when that reconciliation is between two people there is a “restoration to friendship and to harmony” as Webster’s so eloquently states.

“The man who trusts men will make fewer mistakes that he who distrusts them” Conte di Cavour, Camillo Benso

That state of distrust is uncomfortable for me. When I trust in life it flows and moves so easily from point A to B. In a state of distrust and looking back over my shoulder continually not only does my neck get tired but my soul as well? Perhaps this is why I find working with students who do not trust so easy. Many teachers prior to my room do not trust and I do till proven wrong.

“All our progress is an unfolding, like the vegetable bud, you have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge, as the plant has root, bud and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is so much easier to function in life in a state of trust than in distrust, perhaps this is why reconciliation is such a powerful tool bringing back that harmony that smoothness in life, restoring faith in others in yourself. I came to school after that incident in a state of distrust and as the day went on really not sure which direction to go. Walking to my room the student who betrayed my trust came up to me and asked if we could talk, after school I said. There was desperation in the voice a need for reconciliation a need to restore harmony and friendship. School went by and the day ended, I was literally oblivious to my conversation earlier of talking after school. This student comes in and tries to explain, tears so close to welling up, “I am sorry”.
It is amazing how several days of pondering what to do is melted away so easily with three words. The days of should I do this or that or should I do that are wiped clean, reconciled and harmony is restored. My good friend Emerson compares to a bud. Nearly eight years ago I found a pin, one of those simple metal stick pins with a slogan on it. It was given to me on my twenty third birthday by a dear friend in a youth group I worked with, a 1970’s pin as it goes, “Bloom where you are planted” with a flower or two around it. I affixed it to my ID badge lanyard. What a simple message, from days gone by, that still carries impetuous. It is still so true and still for me is what teaching is about. It is helping students bloom where ever it is that they are and more so about life in general. We all should be trying to bloom where we are planted. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Looking within to who we really are

Bird Droppings October 24, 2008
Looking within to who we really are

Where do I start several key elements of my day yesterday brought about thinking and pondering that lead me to now? Several students and former students and I have been talking about James Kavanaugh, author, poet, thinker and theologian. As I left school yesterday I stopped by the Early Childhood Education room to pick up an application for my nephew. I ended up in a discussion on one of my favorite topics learning and from there Piedmont College. So here I am this morning sitting writing about two topics that sort of crept up on me. I was reintroduced to James Kavanaugh in a roundabout way. I recall in the 1970’s having read some of his poetry as he was popular for several reasons in the hippie culture of that period. A renegade priest he wrote out against the church and was rather quickly no longer a priest in the Catholic Church. His conferences, seminars and books were a cult favorite in the time.

“Dr. James Kavanaugh was a man unlike any other. He could be a bit stubborn, always stood up for the underdog, and was forever ready to speak his mind. Jim enjoyed a variety of music including Latin hymns and Georgian chants, Irish songs, and both jazz and classical music as well. Some will remember Jim for his love of nature or his weakness for cookies, but all will remember him for his generosity with both his time and his heart, and the inspiration he shared with all those near him. He will be dearly missed. Dr. James Kavanaugh died on December 29, 2009 in Kalamazoo.”
I started my Masters Degree at Piedmont College in the spring of 2002 side tracking some of the basic entry requirements with a very high Millers Analogy Test score. As I progressed it seems I needed to be interviewed for acceptance into the Education Department which was odd since I was nearing the end of course work for my Masters. I set an appointment and went to my interview. In the line were about twenty people who were all there for that initial interview. Here I was already completed and doing an initial interview sort of the cart before the horse perhaps. I went in and was asked several questions relating to the Mission Statement of the Piedmont College Department of Education.

“The School of Education’s mission is focused on mastering the Art of Teaching: Preparing Proactive Educators to Improve the Lives of All Children. Supporting this mission, we strive to prepare reflective, scholarly, proactive educators. These practitioners effectively educate their students to become knowledgeable, inquisitive, and collaborative learners in diverse, democratic learning communities.” Piedmont College Education Department

As I thought about my questions and answered and proceeded to head home I felt good and was ready to finish my Masters Degree program. A few days later I received a letter stating I had failed my interview. I called my advisor who called the Dean and set up another interview with the Dean of the Education Department. So here I am failing my initial interview and I can rub some people the wrong way relatively quickly but I had felt good about my interview back a few weeks and was confused. As I went into the Dean’s office the Assistant Dean was present also. My first question was from the Dean, How do I get on the Bird Droppings email list? I liked this conversation already and proceeded to pass my interview.
I continued from my Masters at Piedmont directly into the Specialist Program and met with the Director of that program to set up my plans for a course of study. It was interesting as the professor who failed me in my interview was by chance one of the professors in the cohort recommended to me by the Director of the program and I was sweating bullets heading into class with him. A few months later we met and have now long since been good friends it seems that one interview day was a bad one for him, a wrecked car on the way among other things. As my Specialist classes unfolded this professor would start and or finish each session with James Kavanaugh as inspiration or as I look back maybe a starting point for the thoughts to come. Within a few weeks I was acquiring copies of Kavanaugh’s work. Again I had become a fan. I wanted to share this piece today from his book, Quiet Water, published in 1991.

In the Center of Your Soul
By James Kavanaugh

There is quiet water
In the center of your soul,
Where a son or daughter
Can be taught what no man knows.

There’s a fragrant garden
In the center of your soul,
Where the weak can harden
And a narrow mind can grow.

There’s a rolling river
In the center of your soul,
An eternal giver
With a rich and endless flow….

There’s a land of muses
In the center of your soul,
Where the rich are losers
And the poor are free to go.

So remain with me then,
To pursue another goal
And to find your freedom
In the center of your soul.

I read through this poem now twenty times this morning each time getting a bit more and each time literally another tear. These are very powerful words for today. I do believe in this day and time we all need to have some inspiration and additional meaning to our lives. We could ask, what is the soul, and go off on numerous tangents and wanderings but for today have the soul be that piece within that is who you are. The soul is your essence borrowing from James Hillman and Karl Jung. So many days ago I started asking as I write to please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts and today is no different with headlines blaring of so many in pain and suffering through the world. A quick reminder as I finish search your soul and please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.


Bird Droppings January 21, 2010

Morning is a special time a beginning. Several aspects make it special first one of taking the dogs out and talking with them as they sniff and do their thing in the yard. Then I go to my writing and reading which has become my meditation for the day and has become in many ways a significant part of each of my days. I walked out this morning and felt the chill but the over cast and air is so humid made it seem colder. I miss today seeing far off across the field the big dipper rising above the trees and stars crystal clear in the morning darkness through the pines and oaks.

“Life is raw material. We are artisans. We can sculpt our existence into something beautiful, or debase it into ugliness. It’s in our hands.” Cathy Better

It has been sometime since as I left my room after classes and go through the guidance office saying hello to several people, checking up on files and paperwork that I saw a person was missing I noticed and never questioned as the day went on. I sensed an absence yet still had not questioned. As the day ended I heard from over the announcements one of the staff had suffered a heart attack during a stress test and was having surgery.

“It is not how many years we live, but rather what we do with them.” Evangeline Cory Booth

“Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality–not as we expect it to be but as it is–is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love.” Frederick Buechner

Last night I sat down thinking and trying to put down words and pictures that may have significance to a project I am working on for my research. It was hard getting to work after eating dinner and lounging for a few minutes. I emailed several people last night just touching base although my blackberry has changed my checking of emails.

“If, after all, men cannot always make history have meaning, they can always act so that their own lives have one.” Albert Camus

“The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.” Thomas Carlyle

As I moved through that day a few weeks back sensing something was amiss and even after knowing it is difficult to offer from a distance any sort of comfort. Most people as the day finished never missed a stride there were a few tears from friends and those that knew but all in all the day went on as normal. It seems we all are creatures of habit and our routines kick in and sort of lead us through the day.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot

I have used this quote so many times and each time it seems appropriate. I remember as a child chasing fireflies across a meadow gathering those life forces in a mason jar to light my room and then releasing into the night watching them float away in the darkness. That time seem an eternity ago on a hill in Pennsylvania.

“It’s not how long life is but the quality of our life that is important.” Roger Dawson

“Life is made of ever so many partings welded together.” Charles Dickens

So often as my week progresses and days roll by I wander back thinking of reasons why and always end up thinking of my younger brother. In 1996 my brother passed away and my family was faced with a new beginning. We all had literally built our lives around my little brother. He was severely disabled and our being in Georgia was directly related to him. As we celebrated his life reviewing the intricate webs that were laid each moment and people touched and lives affected what seemingly had been was now an enormous out pouring of life.

“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really merely commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the planning, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chain of events, working through generations and leading to the most outer results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sitting here among my books and artifacts I know we each approach the morning in a different way. I embrace the day and begin with my writing seeing each moment then unfold. Since 1996 I have taken many different roads and journeys and as I look back each has had meaning and direction and led me to the moment of now.

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler

It has been several years since I received an urgent call from my nephew. We had gone to an away football game up in North Georgia and actually were out of cellular range for some time. The cal was about a friend that had been in a car accident and as that day unfolded I spent the night in the Athens Hospital holding a young mans hand as monitors beeped and droned and he lay unmoving. I sat watching banks of meters, gauges and dials. I was hoping that the numbers on the dials would change. Throughout the night nothing indicated brain wave activity and by morning our dear friend was pronounced dead. When I arrived home on my computer was this quote from an Aerosmith song. Seems I come back to that note ever so often in my writings.
In 1968 as I left for Texas for college I received a book from my parents that I still have on my shelf, it was a Bible and on page 596 a verse that has stuck with me.

“To everything there is season, and a time, To every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Many years ago Pete Seeger a folk singer and environmentalist wrote music for the words and a song was born “Turn Turn Turn”. To every season turn, turn, turn there is a reason turn, turn, turn and a time for every purpose under heaven. The song became a hit, and was sung by a group called the Byrd’s coincidently.

“Nothing is beneath you if it is in the direction of your life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” Robert Frost

So often poet’s words offer comfort or give direction back to the journey set off course in but one moment time. There is no filling of a void. Yet when looking at life and all that has been and when looking at the journey to now there truly was never a void. There is a turn in the road, a new direction, all that has lead to this point has not changed and it is there behind us, lifting us, guiding us, and strengthening us as we continue. I remember back to a photo of my son crossing a stream in north Georgia all ready sopping wet from falling in but still intent on making it across stone by stone, crossing the stream on the rocks as he jumped.
We all can cross in our time and there times when a hand is welcome. Years ago I set up a website for a youth group and today I will close with the starting line from that website “Friends are never alone”. Keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts and today and keep those friends who may need extra support close at hand.

It would be great if we could script great teachers

Bird Droppings January 20, 2010
It be great if we could script great teachers

As I watched the several various movies about teachers recently it hit me, wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow provide a package for great teaching. If someone could write that perfect script that anyone could follow and allow anyone to be a great teacher. Then it hit me hard, indirectly that’s what curriculum in theory is for and various educational packages that publishing companies stake their names on. But as I sit back thinking why does it not work?
I was inputting my last bit of data for a research project and was finding and gleaning pieces of my various students’ puzzles as I went. Most of my students that I have served in the last seven years have improved grade wise when they were in my classes and or I was case manager for them. Granted I do not teach like most teachers. I rely heavily on empathy and innovative creative ideas to stimulate and make the time they have in my class a learning experience as well as fun. I thought back to the teacher movies, it is so hard to imagine Morgan Freeman not being a great teacher. But I know he studied his character Joe Clark thoroughly as good actors do and his interpretation was from what I have read an accurate one.
In each individual there is a personality that you can not package and bottle. The greatest possible program in the hands of a sorry teacher will not change the fact they are a sorry teacher. So far to my knowledge we do not do personality transplants. In “The School of Rock” while Mr. S was for a moment content to idle away and collect his substitute paycheck a note of music hit literally. He found a mutually exciting interest, to the students and himself. This is something many teachers do not look into, are we as teachers enjoying what we do?
Bit by bit as I watched Julie Roberts character, have to reexamine where, what and why and then get hit with traditions and the boxes of societal demands. I know this happens everyday. I have talked with my professors many times about one of my concerns, how so many teachers go to a graduate school program and do not make meaningful use after they leave. I am very concerned! I have watched numerous graduates collect their additional money and not once utilize what they have learned, researched, read about and even seen in practice.
How do we bottle and or script a great teacher? I wish I could come up with a solution and a simple method. It is about the person inside. It is about empathy. It is about experiences and utilizing those pieces. There is an old adage that many teachers are simply folks who can do nothing else. The drab boring monotone teacher, even knowing all the content in the world will teach few. It is about entertainment. Maybe scripts have been written but then the audience changes and what do you do? We live in a society of change of flux of disequilibrium. It is about balance but keeping enough of a leaning over to keep growing. It is perhaps about the pathway.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Elwyn Brooks White

Often I reflect on the journey of life. The many directions I myself have traveled. I have always been a passionate observer watching others step by step along the way. I listen as some stumbled and are lifted up when pebbles and or boulders are in the way. There are choices at times which pathway to take as a fork approaches and we have to choose.

“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“Life is a foreign language: all men mispronounce it.” Christopher Morley, Thunder on the Left

“Life is a cement trampoline.” Howard Nordberg

I am wondering why so many of us each day think, perhaps too much, obsessing over reasons and rationale, and tripping over our own inadequacies and imperfections. Are we truly desperate or is this a façade to cover up are lack of enthusiasm and desire I wonder when I see a young person acting as a mime standing still facing an empty wall and unable to move forward or back simply immobile dressed in funeral attire waiting for an end. What has slowed their journey to this point what is it they have missed along their own pathway as we cross.

“He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies.” Erich Fromm

“To live remains an art which everyone must learn, and which no one can teach.” Havelock Ellis

There really is no road map and no specific travel itinerary as we journey along each day; it is unique for me as it is for others. Nietzsche offers a why as a reason to live, Fromm simplifies further only a happy moment or a bright morning is all that is needed and Ellis states an art form, life is an art form perhaps it is the wielding of the brushes and what colors we wield as we paint.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Albert Camus

“Following straight lines shortens distances, and also life.” Antonio Porchia, Voices, 1943, translated from Spanish by W.S. Merwin

We set the boulders in our own pathway; we throw out the pebbles that force us to stumble. We end up creating the forks in the road that force us to choose I would not have it any other way as I step along the path. However, we need to be aware than we must also clear the pathway. We also must make the choices as to which road to follow. I see my life’s map as a series of zigs and zags, an easy journey constantly side tracked. It may have been once a straight line between A and B now the page is covered in this way or that in back tracking and circumventing in over stepping and under stepping. In my own climbing of boulders and in pushing some out of the way I have come a long way.
I have used in my daily teacher journal, Bird Droppings a saying by a Native American Orator from back in the day many times.

“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.” Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

For many this may not mean anything. It has been years now since I could hear a buffalo snort and walk across the pasture and see the buffalo’s warm breath blown in the cool of winter. It has been years since I have seen fireflies dance across my front field now covered in houses and roads. But I still see the little shadow as the sun sets and I still hear the breeze in the morning, tree frogs calling, and the red tailed hawks for ever crossing my pathway. Our scenery changes but life goes on. I watched the news last night and all the carnage of an earthquake so as I have for nearly ten years end my daily meanderings with please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.

Why can we not listen as teachers

Bird Droppings January 19, 2010
Why can we not listen as teachers?

I spent the better part of yesterday driving between Macon Georgia and home and back. My son needed some books and a few things from the house and to buy text books. Timing as it was banks were closed yesterday so I could not just transfer some dollars to his account and since his calculator was one of the items he needed the journey was nessasary. I have a way of going to Macon that involves literally all back roads and many images of rural life and humanity as I drive. It seems to me as I put on some music and observe driving along a two lane road that mush is there to learn and to see. I tried pondering how many images past by me and I past by. Millions of plants, animals, people, cars, houses and they are all just images as I drove along. But it does give me time to think ponder as I say.
When I first stepped outside this morning the stillness over whelmed me. All was quiet even if just for a moment, ever so still, nothing moving, the air was still and sounds were none existent as I stood listening. I could hear the clicking of my dog’s toes nails on our walk way and as I stood going deeper into the stillness in a spot perhaps further in the trees I could hear a coyote barking maybe it was just another dog. With the temperature warmer than the past few weeks a few crickets were chirping although slower than during the warmth of summer but still trying to get a song out.
I started thinking of a student I had now several years ago that was never listened too and listened too much all at the same time. He has tourettes syndrome, we as a society hear only his tics, the vulgar rantings that go on endlessly and never ask him what he thinks. I keep thinking of our national school policy of no child left behind and look at so many who are. Those kids who do not fit the mold maybe border line cognitive levels and more so severe behavior issues. So as a result it often pushes schools to quietly push these kids aside albeit leave them behind. It could be a developmental disorder such as autism, or even better a conduct disorder that actually is not even covered under state guidelines and there is no place left in our efforts to include everyone in our molded and boxed schools.
It was several years as I was sitting in a graduate class deep in South Georgia’s pines and farm land and the discussion was focusing around what is an ideal school setting. My immediate spontaneous thought was Swiss Family Robinson. Maybe it was not the book as much as the Disney movie. Culture and knowledge was taught by book in a home schooled setting, of course both parents were very well educated but the context was taught in survival in the jungles of their island home. Each of the children was excelling in areas of their own expertise but able to apply their knowledge in real life situations.
So do I see schools of the future designed around tree houses and jungles? Perhaps not but borrowing from great educational thinkers of the past and present we could build in context, we could elevate the knowledge we teach and try and embed relevance for our students. On that Saturday in graduate school as we talked about the history of education in the US various issues came up. One significant one was how teachers have become non professionals and how students have simply become product and somewhat less than human in terms of legislation and political motivation. They have become human capital to be manipulated and prodded and pushed in what ever direction policy dictates. Often in whatever direction capitalism demands consumers. A comment was made about the number of teachers and in being tied to consumerism. Sadly Wal-Mart employs more people in the US than education does. Think about it more Wal-Mart employees than teachers a very powerful idea, not really good or bad, just interesting in a society so regulated by political means.
Last block of the day Friday a student whom I have never really had walked in and I asked what was going on. He was complaining about a substitute teacher and how she did not get along with the class, she wanted them in assigned seats and took roll and wanted quiet. I am some days amazed at how some former students and often former student’s buddies end up coming by my room. That was the case here a former student from three years ago and this other fellow stopped in.

“The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” Gaylord Nelson

As the day ended and students cleared the hall I headed over to chat with some friends. I stopped at several points that I normally do and the substitute teacher finds me and asks about a particular student and guess who it was that was very disrespectful to her and by chance the room we meet up at is another teacher’s who has this same student as well and similar thoughts, a very negative student, belligerent and very disrespectful. Knowing the student and that he had with some teachers excelled I smiled.

“To me every hour of the day and night is an unspeakable perfect miracle.” Walt Whitman

Perhaps a seemingly random thought as I look at this morning so far. I was cleaning up my email inbox and as I went various quotes and stories sent from friends and associates I was copying and pasting to word documents to save. So this is a random quote simply pulled from the thin air or for whatever reason not deleted many days ago or is it coincidence that each quote and story today really is applicable. As I look at the teacher and substitute teacher and the student are they looking at life as Whitman suggests? Why is this student reacting the way that he is?
My good friend Dr. James Sutton a psychologist in Texas addresses many of these types of teacher student issues in his books. Sitting here in the stillness and quiet I just had a great idea we could have for teachers a 900 number to call for help with difficult students. I wonder if anyone would pay to use it. But in reality there is a mind set with teachers and students often from day one. Something is there with that student that is blocking or keeping him or her at a distance and the result is turmoil between teacher and student.
Everyday I have other teachers come by can you do this for me. I emailed a friend I need to put a sign out by my room you need testing done, essays or papers written, send your students here, whatever stop in. Then it dawned on me many of these students will not do anything for some teachers. One comes to mind and it is a certain type of teacher this students does not like he will literally fail because of his personality and conflicts. But what about in order to fairly evaluate get that essay written or test done in an unbiased place with someone who is not fighting with or in tension with that student, actually not a bad idea, I wish I thought of it. I need to email that teacher or two or three and commend them.

“Never think that I believe I should set out a “system of teaching” to help people understand the way. Never cherish such a thought. What I proclaim is the truth as I have discovered it and “a system of teaching” has no meaning because the truth can’t be cut up into pieces and arranged in a system.” Diamond Sutra

Not a good rationale for curriculum perhaps that is why I am enjoying my major in graduate school of Curriculum theory. I do think in terms of life and relationships this very definitely applies however. Far too often we tend to look at life as all is this way. If I go over here it is the same if I go over here it is the same. I remember a teaching job in Macon, I was expecting little nice 12 year olds and when I got there the average age was 15 and in those days EBD wasn’t sorted out they were just all in that class. I survived day one to plan for day two and all went well, although I forgot to mention I took an eight foot boa with me on day two and those rough and rowdy 15 year olds had a great fear of snakes at least when I first pulled my buddy out of the gym bag. We then proceeded to talk about snakes and each student by the end of the day had handled and held the snake. I did not have another issue for two weeks and was offered the class full time and almost took it, however my studies at Mercer were to start in a week.
It is so difficult to try and treat every thing in education as neat and clean. Trying to understand a student that is different in terms of the “nice” perfect kids is not going to work. So what truths do we set down, what principles can guide us in dealing with a kid who is disrespectful?

“If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” William Penn

Sitting on my desk on a 4 inch by four inch board decoupage to the board and cute burnt edges is this quote. It was given to me over thirty years ago in Macon, Georgia by a student from that first class of hooligans.
We have all heard the saying about do not complain till you have walked a mile in my shoes. Howard Eubanks and also another former student of Dr. James Sutton’s seminars and an EBD teacher in North Georgia emailed me this story a few years back.

“Did you hear about the Texas teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his cowboy boots? He asked for help and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn’t want to go on. Finally, when the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, ‘Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.’ She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announced, ‘These aren’t my boots.’ She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to, and once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner than they got the boots off he said, ‘They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear ’em.’ Now she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry, but she mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, ‘Now, where are your mittens?’ He said, ‘I stuffed ’em in the toes of my boots’” Author Unknown

How many times each day with students do we forget to check the toes for mittens? We want everything just so, perfect little darlings, all in rows and little cute name tags and all in cute little outfits and quiet and neat handwriting and so forth. We really are trying to pull boots on everyday and every class with mittens in the toes. In a high school class it is hard to walk in and with a wave of the magic teacher wand, “poof” all is well. It is hard for many teachers to check all the cowboy boots for mittens. When you think there is a problem try and you try and build fail safes, have a core group of teachers you can check with. Maybe there is an issue with that kid maybe his mittens are really stuck in there deep.
So many teachers would much more rather write a referral and teach by referral. If all my students are in “In School Suspension”, I will have a really great day. I will have to admit there are students when I see they’re out I cheer but I do it under my breath and to myself. But I am finding many teachers just do not want that chance, they do not want to look for mittens they might soil their hands. School custodians will always provide paper towels and for the squeamish use the gloves in your first aid kit. I am being literal in a symbolic thought.
Many months possibly a few years ago a friend sent this email note:

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand – strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Ride! ”

I am not sure where or who said this but a slight alteration and paraphrase.

“Teaching should NOT be a journey to the end of the day with the intention of arriving safely with perfect attendance and all the “A” students all in order and lesson plans in an attractive and well preserved lesson plan book, but rather to skid in sideways, Ideas in one hand – Creativity in the other, energy thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Day! ”

I bumped into another teacher after school last Friday and they asked how was my day and I said “I had a blast,” I really should have said I think I found about a dozen pairs of mittens. Please my friends keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.


Bird Droppings January 17, 2010

“Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, and is it true, does it improve on the silence?” Hindu proverb

So often do I speak first and clean up afterwards many times simply walking away quiet generally leaving whoever I am conversing with confused and bewildered. Having a long weekend and hoping to get some serious writing in later today I was cleaning up my email when I found one from a dear friend from August 2004. It was the first one of that day and was about a subject we both were deeply involved with working with high school students. My friend was a youth leader here in Atlanta area and an organic gardener as it goes several years back we discussed teasing and its effects on children. How what is said can often can be more potent than any physical contact especially with teenagers. My friend Anna Evans offers this check on teasing and three things to look for.

“I have always said you recognize “teasing” if three things are present: There is a shred of truth to what is said, someone has their feelings hurt, you wind up saying …’I was only teasing’. We can’t take those moments back and they are often some of those life changing moments, often not for the “good” Yea, we humans need a 10 second delay like TV so we can adjust what we say…sure would make for a kinder world.” Anna Evans

I wonder if Janet Jackson would take her ten seconds back from that Superbowl slip up.

“Jests that give pains are no jests.” Miguel de Cervantes

As I was wandering about the internet I came upon a website for The Center for Effective Parenting, they offer information for parents and often that same information can be totally applicable to teachers as well. We as teachers often see children for more hours awake than parents do sadly. The Center for Effective Parenting, offers a possible guide:

“Parents should try to find out from their children some specifics. For example, parents should try to find out what the teasing is about, who is doing the teasing, where the teasing is occurring, how their children have reacted to different episodes and what occurred afterwards. Parents should try to keep track of such information for a few days to find out what precipitates teasing, if there are things their children may be doing to encourage teasing, and if there seems to be some pattern to it.” TCEP, website

“ Teach appropriate responses, Ignore it, develop a quick tongue, Practice, Provide lots of love and encouragement, Discuss it with teacher or day care provider” Kristen Zolten, M.A. and Nicholas Long, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

As I look at the expert’s rationale it is a simple ABC’s, the Antecedent, Behavior and Consequence scenario which I have brought up many times in looking at behavior. As I was reading this morning and thinking about zero tolerance for bullying that is in effect for most schools I came upon an interesting website, author and ideas.

“Every minute spent in school handling interpersonal problems is a minute taken away from education. Students are all-too-eager to get away from academics. When they discover their teacher is willing to stop what he’s doing to deal with social problems, it is child’s play to fill up the school day with problems.” Izzy Kalman, Bullies to Buddies

As I think back to my own teaching style I redirect, ignore often and comeback. Very seldom do I slow down to let teasing take the fore front. Izzy Kalman borrows heavily from old adage of “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”. Kalman takes an opposite view to many educators in that aggression is not learned but genetic. It is an active part of the human condition and so should be dealt with in that manner. Many books and articles and doctorial thesis’s have been written about bullying and teasing. The TABS, which is the Teasing and Bullying survey is produced by The Mental Research Institute and can be a good resource and tool for teachers and parents.
As I sit here pondering listening to the water running in my aquariums at school and R. Carlos Nakai on the seven note cedar flute hauntingly playing on my stero system which on nonschool days I can crank up a bit louder than normal this issue of bullying is real it is in us and maybe far too often we sidestep and look away as kids tease each other.
I look back to that first statement from so many thousands of years ago, “Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence?” We can choose what we say that is not genetic that is learned and an active ongoing behavior subject to ABC. We can set an example for children, and that too is learned and not genetic. So in effect if we sat an example can we change the world and maybe through natural selection down through time do away with teasing and bullying. Research is still out but I am still willing to put in an effort. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart and regardless of your political followings there are people hurting and dying in Haiti who need our prayers and help.

Apathy is more than a vocabulary word

Bird Droppings January 15, 2010
Apathy is more than a vocabulary Word

“I often see students who are narrow-minded, who gain a little bit in a limited context, with a limited perspective, and consider this enough, immediately insisting on stopping and resting. Eating their fill and sleeping, not taking care of anything at all, they consider themselves lively, but they are destitute ghosts.” Hui-k’ung

This quote comes from the ruler of the Lu state, in the Shandong Providence 768-722 BCE, which also happens to be the birth place two hundred years later of Kung Fu-Tzu (Confucius). When I first read this, I thought a former principal had become a philosopher. When the quote is nearly three thousand years old and daily I hear I have a seventy percent its passing that is enough. Matter of fact I was speaking with a student who could do well and literally tries to not pass.

“I don’t know, I don’t care, and it doesn’t make any difference!” Jack Kerouac

“There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference.” Juan Montalvo

There is a series of old advertisements on TV, what if you only got one half of everything and there is half of a seat or fire hydrant or plate. I asked several students the other day who would they like operating on them a doctor with a seventy percent degree or a hundred percent degree, guess who won out. Maybe it would be unnerving to have a doctor during an operation checking an anatomy book looking up parts and names of things or asking where does this go as they sew up.

“Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie, but rather mourn the apathetic throng, the coward and the meek who see the world’s great anguish and its wrong, and dare not speak.” Ralph Chaplin

Apathy is unfortunately more than a vocabulary word in our world today as we all seem to procrastinate and or look the other way as we go through life.

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” Wayne Dyer

It is interesting looking at Dr. Wayne Dyer’s quote that I have used many times. He was raised in an orphanage, and he went on to become the “father of motivational speaking”, lecturing around the world and authoring many books on self help and self empowerment. He is a counseling therapist by trade one of his latest books is entitled, Change your Thoughts, Change your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao.

“It’s never crowed along the extra mile” “Being ignorant is not so much a shame as being unwilling to learn.” Benjamin Franklin

These two quotes are around my room and I have used in presentations and try and get across to teachers and students. Because you do not know anything about something, do not necessarily reject it and never be unwilling to learn about it.

“Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.” Mortimer Caplan

“The lazier a man is, the more he plans to do tomorrow.” Norwegian Proverb

We all tend to put off for one reason or another but is there a difference between not caring and being lazy, not caring gives an excuse for laziness and vice versa, they would seem to run hand in foot.

“We have so many labor-saving devices today that we go broke keeping them repaired. Everything is easier, but requires greater maintenance.” Lorne Sanny

Penn State University with over thirteen thousand students had an increase of over thirty percent in electrical usage since 1996 with a limited increase in students. I was thinking as we were about to move our son back into college recently, in his dorm room two guys have each a computer and all peripheral equipment, a big TV, stereo, refrigerator, alarm clocks, study lamps and XBOX or two of course. What amounted to about fifty electrical plug ins. When I was in a dorm in Texas in 1968 I had a wind up alarm clock only. On the bright side however so much more can be done, be it on computers or other electronic devices. So really solutions need to be looking at your self.

“All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him, it will not change you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty about something by blaming him, but you won’t succeed in changing whatever it is about you that is making you unhappy.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

“Present-moment living, getting in touch with your “now,” is at the heart of effective living. When you think about it, there really is no other moment you can live. Now is all there is, and the future is just another present moment to live when it arrives. One thing is certain; you cannot live it until it does appear.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

It has taken me longer than usual to write this morning. I have been concerned about this attitude among students of not caring, or apathy for some time. It is interesting back many years ago when we had a school newspaper, I just found my old files and saw this, an editorial is on APATHY. This morning as I read Dr. Dyer’s articles and quotes one stood out and I will close with that.

“Everything in the universe has a purpose. Indeed, the invisible intelligence that flows through everything in a purposeful fashion is also flowing through you.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

Perhaps it is thinking back to those quantum physicists who are unbraiding our reality with theories of under lying energy and new age authors like James Redfield who use an underlying energy as that source of who we are as I read Dwyer’s quote. But in various places people are still dying, on a small island just a few days ago thousands died, around Atlanta shootings, and we have personalities on TV making comments that have apathy written all over them as they politicalize tens of thousands of deaths from an earth quake yesterday. As I wipe a tear from my eye thinking of the cynicism and heartlessness we have come too as a society and culture, please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.