Thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering

Bird Droppings June 9, 2011
Thinking, sitting, pondering and recovering

I drove to north Georgia on Sunday and Tuesday and have been babysitting Charlie my grand daughter in between. I enjoy the drive up into the mountains always going part of the way on back roads. As I was sitting around yesterday evening my oldest called from the Foxfire course with a question about his group’s project. They were trying to tie science into a restoration of a historical graveyard. I have several stops I traditionally make on my way to Macon and Warner Robins Georgia one is a nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none. However I am addressing the nursery. It is a nursery specializing in native plants, shrubs and tress and I mentioned to my son why not make this historic graveyard also a sanctuary for plants and animals. By selecting native plants and reviewing blooming dates you could almost have flowers year round.
I got to run quite a few errands before I head back in the morning and get a few things written and produced to get reviewed Friday and Saturday. I got thinking back nearly two years to my oral comprehensive exams. Much of the discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable and we all have a similar view of education. What made me think of that exam was a question that I was asked linking Elliot Eisner to John Dewey. Both men saw art as a function of education. We can argue any aspects of education in the US but interestingly enough test scores have been flat for some time. Only ones who tend to see different are ones making money off of education. Book publishers, Testing companies, and all of the consultants who are experts in the field, Georgia recently went with an out of state person in a contract to solve an in state issue. I found the biography of the contracted person very interesting. While a prolific author and professor of administration and an administrator in his own right he has only three years of teaching experience in public schools. THIs back and forth between the right and left wings of education has been heavy on my mind in recent days. I recall not too many months back that I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam.
In the past few days I found my success and or lack of success was being equated on following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I am in an odd sort of teaching role being in a resource room all day. Never more than seven students as often that seven includes some that are EBD and require more attention.
As we look at how to evaluate a teacher I go back a year or two to an administrator who had been evaluating me all year and only saw education in black and white. You find out very quickly that special education is anything but and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. All of my evaluations were good and I never thought there was an issue till class assignments for the next year and I was out of my traditional resource and in a co-teaching setting. I came to find it was based on curriculum not success of children. As I compiled data on what students had done with me and in other teacher’s rooms all of my classes were in the top in each category but for a point or two in some where I was second out of four teachers. Some where in this I was told it is not about student success but strictly about the curriculum.
In today’s Atlanta paper two more administrators in a neighboring county are facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the school questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators were faced with termination as their schools were testing lower than required for the fourth year. No child is left behind is what we are told is the name of the bill that mandates all of this testing and curriculum. I use the word curriculum very loosely.
In education we are in a vacuum as to what is success in school. Is it truly test scores on standardized tests that here in Georgia have been controversial from day one? I remember a year or two back on a first administration of the new math test there were literally no passing grades till it was curved. How can a test over a given subject or curriculum be so hard that no one passes. Somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing.
As I talk with and gather information on my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in a program some up to nearly forty five years ago. I found it interesting that they still had fond memories and remembrances of those classes. They were still using that knowledge today. Somewhat different than cramming for a standardized test “teaching to the test” that teachers hate and are the norm in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talked about life long learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly many teachers have gotten away from this to specific material to get good grades on the test.
It was refreshing in thinking back to my exam to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education and they would be on my dissertation committee as well. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans.

“You only have to be a little bit better than most in what you do. Just a little smarter, just a little steadier, just a little more energetic, or whatever other prime quality is demanded in your field. If successes admitted this, they would not have cause to feel so conceited; and if the aspirants recognized this, they would not have cause to feel so left behind at the starting line.” Sydney J. Harris

“Success is just a little more effort,” from his column Strictly Speaking, it is not that difficult to be a little better then most but we often see that as too much effort and too much work.

“The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration.” Pearl S. Buck

We need others to succeed to move ahead to provide support for us as we journey. Succeeding is often an effort of a group as well as a person in an endeavor. I tend to find myself alone often out of choice. Sort of my monasticism coming out I will say. But for me alone time provides reflection time on what has been happening during a given day.

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have heard this quote so many times at commencement speeches in lectures on success by motivational speakers and yet each time a little more of it sinks in. Perhaps Emerson was ahead of his time as I read his words the last line becomes so significant success is having made another’s life easier a very powerful statement in our selfish society it is not that we have done that following a prescribed method.

“It is only as we develop others that we permanently succeed.” Harvey S. Firestone

Success is how we leave others as we walk away, the difference we make the level at which we make change in the environment around and in some instances our ability to not make change and still accomplish something.

“My definition of success is total self acceptance. We can obtain all of the material possessions we desire quite easily, however, attempting to change our deepest thoughts and learning to love ourselves is a monumental challenge. We may achieve success in our business lives but it never quite means as much if we do not feel good inside. Once we feel good about ourselves inside we can genuinely lend ourselves to others.” Franklin Covey

Seeing ourselves clearly honestly and learning to like, to even love ourselves is crucial to truly succeeding. Success is about us and how we affect the world and others. Success can be a minute difference we make in what is happening around us. Success can be a simple elevation of a friend or attainment of a goal. Success is effort yet success can be attained with the heart as well as the body.

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Albert Schweitzer

As I was reading quotes and articles today to write this morning it was interesting how success was defined by various people. In many situations many wealthy people defined success in terms of their wealth. Others looked at the word as a gauge of human involvement. There are numerous different approaches and comparisons were available as I looked. Was it accomplishment, outcome, achievement or something else were all listed as definitive words for success as I read and think back to two of the quotes I used today.
Dr. Schweitzer spoke of happiness as the key. This man was a musician extraordinaire he played in concert halls all over Europe and used those funds to run a hospital in Africa in the 1930’s till his death many years later. His success in life was his practice of medicine where he was needed. Emerson as he indicates success is that difference you make in another’s life. As I look closer at myself I truly believe success is a word needing others to define it is about your impact and difference you make but I can not help but feel successful when contacted by a parent that their child has passed all of his classes for the first time in his or her life or even better for me that their child was not sent home from school for the first time in eleven years. That makes me feel successful. I have found success is not measured as much in volume as in quality. Quality defined by Phillip Crosby is exceeding the expectations of the customer. To draw a simple parallel success is exceeding an others expectations. Please keep all in harms way in your thoughts.

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