Bird Droppings June 9, 2019
Can you be dreaming, imagining, thinking, pondering
and reflecting all at the same time?
I drove to south east Georgia over ten years ago to take my oral exams for my doctorate. This was basically a follow-up face to face with my committee of professors and in turn responding to my three written questions which were to be answered in a minimum of fifteen pages each my total was closer to eighty or so pages. I always enjoyed the drive down generally always going part of the way on back roads. I have several stops I traditionally make one is a Georgia native plant nursery and the other the world’s best barbecue, bar none at Fresh Air BBQ.
I got to Statesboro Georgia about seven o’clock on a Friday evening and had forgotten about a graduate conference that was going on that Thursday and Friday so several of my friends from my doctorate cohort were in town. I had dinner with one that evening. I went back to my room to review further my answers and slept little anticipating my oral exam the next morning. Much of my discussion with my professors was positive and actually enjoyable as we all have a similar view of education. While waiting I talked with another doctorate student who was there for the conference and we discussed the right and left wings of education which has been heavy on my mind in recent days.
I am far too often on the extreme left of the balance beam and being loud and often obnoxious can sway the beam. Participating in the Foxfire teacher courses up in Mountain City on the Foxfire property I often found myself on the outside of discussions as so many are locked into a supposed teacher ideal that has been the norm for a hundred years. A norm of desks in rows content on board and students simply regurgitating material. In talking with others, the past few days, I found my success and lack of success was being equated on whether I am following specific curriculum versus how well the students were doing in school. I have been over the years in an odd sort of teaching role, most recently for ten years in a resource room all day and for seven years in co-teaching. I had never more than seven students in resource and often that seven were all emotionally behaviorally disturbed students who required significantly more attention. In shifting to co-teaching now the demographics are all phases of special education and a large population of at-risk students who seem to end up in co-teaching classes.
I have been evaluated over the last few years by an administrator who sees education for the first time in many years very similar to how see education. Special education is anything but black and white and has numerous shades of gray and often is multi-color as well. All of my evaluations this past couple years have been excellent and after an initial shock of changing rooms after ten years and then again I felt good about the year but also time to retire. As I compile data over the next few weeks on what students had done with teachers and classes this past year especially sitting here pondering the remarks and statements of teachers involved in the past training programs up in the mountains I want to find commonality among good teachers. What makes a specific classroom work? How is it one teacher without just teaching to test does well? What combination of attitude, ideas, and skills creates a workable scenario for learning? Perhaps most critical is this significant learning that will be carried away?
Over the past year’s in Atlanta’s main paper numerous administrators and teachers in multiple counties have been facing criminal charges for altering standardized test scores as the ongoing testing scandal unfolds. In the process of scoring they found numerous erasers and corrections. These were disproportionate to state and normal testing corrections. Also the schools questioned raised their scores nearly fifty points higher than average improvement. These administrators and teachers 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? Recently on a first administration the particular math test had literally no one passing. How can a specific grade test, over a given grade subject curriculum, be so hard that no one passes? How can a test at the end of a subject session be a measure of what students have learned without a reference point? I started thinking in math somewhere someone either made a test from a different book or never really looked at the book they were too be testing about.
As I talk with and gather information from the former students and teachers of Foxfire and now new teachers learning about this idea for my dissertation I have had the pleasure to communicate with students who were in the program nearly forty years and even fifty years ago as well as some in the program at Rabun High School now. 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 all teachers hate and are the norm nationwide in so many schools. In my reading most recently many of the great educators talk about lifelong learning that this is what we should be teaching. Sadly many teachers have gotten away from this.
It was refreshing in my exam now four years ago to be sitting with other educators who shared my ideas of learning and education. I did pass the exam and now in my procrastination move to another stage in my doctorate. I may have gotten carried away in my ranting today but how we each measure success is crucial to who we are as humans. Could be the mountain air I am looking forward too is getting to me and or maybe my brain works better at higher altitudes.
“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 than 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 cannot 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 guru of quality Phillip J. Crosby is exceeding the expectations of the customer. To draw a simple parallel success is exceeding what someone else expects from you. Please keep all in harm’s way in your thoughts and to always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)