About birddroppings

I am a College instructor part time, formerly retired Special Education high school teacher in Georgia now back in class room. I have been teaching most recently for twenty years. I have an extensive graphic arts background and industrial management training experience. My education includes undergraduate work in psychology, graduate degrees in behavior disorders, curriculum, education and theology.

Have we sold our souls for a few trinkets?

Bird Droppings October 24, 2021

Have we sold our souls for a few trinkets?

Morning is a special time for me, always a new beginning. Today I went out a bit early from the house to take out the garbage and just stand in the silence for a moment. As I drove from the house close to sunrise an owl was sitting on the road and flew away as I drove up giving me an exciting start today. That might be far too easy of a way to say what I am trying to say. But for me, several aspects of that start to the day are almost routine like taking the trash, running by the corner store, photographing the sunrise, and then sitting down for writing and reading each has become a significant part of my day. I walked out this morning and felt the coolness of another almost summertime fall day. Across the sky, clouds muffled the stars, but the silence was alive. The stars were crystal clear in spaces between clouds in the morning darkness, and the moon considered a showing was peeking through a veil of darkness.

“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

Yesterday I got into a discussion about a Bird Dropping from a few days back dealing with sacredness. In the course of the debate, I realized how much we have in our hedonism given away. I wrote a paper on the stripping of the soul from students as we demand and seek higher test scores as a means of showing learning. I listened last night to an update on the years ago shootings at Virginia Tech and the history of a young man and his anguish and angst that led to it. They pointed to his observations and experiences with the hedonism of our society. In his questioning and counseling, He mentioned over and over in his rants the materialism of our society. I began seriously thinking have we sold our souls for a few mere trinkets?

“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, perhaps meaningful written pictures that may have significance. I emailed several people last night just touching base opening discussion about this idea of sacredness. But as I thought about the interactions and intertwining of daily life, those we seemingly miss and ignore. I talked with several high school students about how life is much like a puzzle interlocked one piece to the next, and we often miss seeing the tiny yet needed interconnections.

I watched the news and each new report bits and pieces of how and why the events of the past few days have spilled out around the world. I recall many years back when I suggested psychiatric treatment for a student and was told not my call. Six years later, he is sentenced to three life sentences for killing a young mother and nearly killing her two children he had babysat. Sometimes those at the top may need to listen to those doing the labor at the bottom.

“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 the day yesterday, sensing something was amiss and even after knowing it is difficult to offer from a distance any comfort to those in need other than keeping them on our minds and in our hearts. Most people, as the day finished, never missed a stride. I am sure that there were tears from family, friends, and those experiencing hardship and harm around the world. But as I tried to explain, even in tragedy, there is purpose and meaning. That concept is difficult to explain to people who live in a materialistic worldview.

“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 several times, and each time it seems appropriate. I remember as a child chasing fireflies across a meadow, gathering those life forces in a jar to light my room, and then releasing them into the night, watching them float away in the darkness. Life is seeing beyond the tangibles and foibles of our existence. Life is not the shirt, shoes, or coat we wear. Life is about what is in your heart. Life is about your soul.

“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

In 1996 my brother passed away, and my family was faced with a new beginning. We all had built our lives around my brother. He was severely disabled, and our being in Georgia was directly related to him. As we celebrated his life, reviewing the intricate webs laid each moment, the many people touched and lives affected what seemingly had been was now an enormous outpouring of energy. Every day a new piece of that puzzle falls into place. It may be another teacher of special needs children, another person recalling the time spent helping with John’s rehab and how it impacted their life. Within our difficulties and disasters always there is hope.

“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

We each approach the morning differently. I embrace the day and begin with my writing seeing each moment then unfold, trying to understand each tiny piece. 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 now. I told a dear friend while I always wonder where I am to be, next, it is not because I do not enjoy what I am doing but because I may be needed elsewhere. It is about making and experiencing the journey.

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

Several years ago, I received a call from my nephew that a close friend had been in a car accident. As the night proceeded, I spent that night in the Athens Regional Hospital holding a young man’s hand as monitors beeped and droned as he lay unmoving. We were all hoping that the numbers on the dials would change; they did not. When I arrived home on my computer, a sticky yellow note from my oldest son, this Steven Tyler quote from an Aerosmith song. As I think even farther back and as I was discussing sacred yesterday with a student, in 1968, as I left for Texas for college, I received a book from my parents, which reads on page 596.

“To everything, there is a 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, the late Pete Seeger, a folk singer, and environmentalist wrote the music and borrowed the words, and a song was born “Turn, Turn, Turn,” soon to be released by how appropriate “The Byrd’s.” “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.

“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, a poet’s words offer comfort or give direction back to a journey set off course one moment. There is no filling of a void, yet when looking at life and all that has been, there truly is no void when looking at the journey to now. There is a turn in the road, a new direction. All that has led to this has not changed and is behind us, lifting us, guiding us, and strengthening us as we continue our experiences. I remember back to a photo of my son crossing a stream in north Georgia already sopping wet from falling in but still intent on making it across. He clambered stone by stone, crossing the stream and a favorite Zen saying I often attach to the photo.

“You can never cross a stream the same way twice.” Zen Saying

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.” We all can cross in our own time, and there are times when a hand is welcome. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts, and today keep those friends who may need extra support close at hand and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


Can we find answers outside our windows?

Bird Droppings October 22, 2021

Can we find answers outside our windows?

It has been a few years since the largest ever lottery drawing and the frenzy of buying a ticket which was crazy. While in SC, my wife and I got a Powerball ticket seems we got thinking, hey, we win, we could buy a house at Pawleys Island. We all get caught up, which led me to think about this world engrossed with money and how we can spend money. Granted, I get caught up in what if I won dreaming. I wonder if perhaps some of this thinking is bringing so many people back to their more traditional world views as well; what if I had nothing.

I was trying to look at a book written by the creators of Waiting for Superman, a movie about public education. At first, when reading a book, I tend to look at the index to see who the author borrows from and quotes. This, for me, is often a precursor for my continued reading of that book. I first caught notice of John Dewey and went to the page that mentioned John Dewey. All that was written was that John Dewey taught that experienced-based education was the way to go. Jean Piaget had six words while Arne Duncan had ten or so pages, and even Bill Gates had more than that. I did not see one innovative educator in reference anywhere. Most were advocates of the privatization of education or people who were foundation heads and provided money. Sadly nowhere was innovative education being considered.

“Black Elk saw the earth becoming sick. The animals, the winged ones, and the four-legged ones, grew frightened. All living things became gaunt and poor. The air and the waters dirtied and smelled foul.”  Ed MaGaa, Eagle Man, Mother Earth Spirituality

Black Elk was a teenager during the battle later known as the battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer’s Last Stand in some history books). General Custer led his four hundred or so troops to battle against the combined forces of Sioux and Cheyenne, numbering over two thousand. Black Elk had a vision as a young man that would be later translated by his son and recorded by John Neihardt in Black Elk Speaks. This quote is based on Eagles Man’s thoughts on a vision and yet how prophetic the words are. Looking back in recent history, we have polluted rivers till they smell before we do anything. In Ohio, a river caught fire from the pollution. Most recently, we had the significant oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and today an article on the massive dead areas on the bottom of the Gulf. Dead coral and other usually alive regions are devoid of life. We issue smog warnings in most significant cities regularly. Acid rain strips paint from cars and kill frogs.

“Everything was possessed of personality, only differing from us in form. Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library, and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth. We learned to do what only the student of Nature learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensify human futility, so whatever came, we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint.” Chief Luther Standing Bear

It has been nearly ten years since I walked on the beach in Panama City Beach, Florida. As the sun rose, I was alone with the water, wind, and pelicans flying along the edge of the water. There was a silence even as the waves rolled in and the wind blew. There was calmness amongst the surroundings that put me at ease. As I gazed out into the Gulf with my back to the civilized world, I could imagine this place before tourism took over and high rises and condos sprang up. Sadly I know that image has changed with the last hurricane.

“Although we can expect great progress from the greening of technology and the inventiveness of the human spirit, we should not allow ourselves to be beguiled that information and technological advance will be sufficient.” Ed McGaa, Eagle Man

Perhaps I overthink and ponder too much as I sit here writing. I do believe we can accomplish a new world and a new way of seeing our reality. It will take each of us perceiving life differently than we choose to now. I wonder if that is even possible.

“The more knowledge we acquire, the more mystery we find…. A human being is part of the whole, called the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a person nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of Nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to see this completely, but the striving for such an achievement is in itself a part of our liberation and a foundation for inner serenity.” Albert Einstein

In this world of ever-changing technology and innovations, what is new today will be antiquated tomorrow. Albert Einstein knew this as he offered the statement above. Einstein was a man of vision and thinking beyond what most of us will ever comprehend.

“Because the world at large does not get enough exposure to feminine principles such as acceptance, emotional expression, and peacefulness, we have moved to far from center and are therefore contrary to Nature’s plan. Humanity’s patriarchal track record is dismal at best. We need to remind ourselves as individuals as a culture, that aggression and intimidation are not our only options when something does not go our way.” Ed MaGaa, Eagle Man, Nature’s Way

In my lifetime, I have not known an actual time of peace in the world. When I was a tiny child, the Korean War was being fought as a teenager and young man Viet Nam, and in more recent years, we have been fighting in the Middle East for nearly twenty years. In my history studies, I have found that all wars have an inherent base cause of money. Stories go that Lyndon Johnson continued Viet Nam to provide business for US companies. Historians will write about our effort in Iraq as a war for oil. Greed has been a driving force in literally everything we do.

“It is not only important to walk down the path that creator has set before us; but we must walk in the way. The way is all the little things one does along the path. What kind of product is being produced? Is there a large pile of money? Is there a pile of accumulated physical things, such as cars, houses, property? Are there many degrees and awards on the wall? All of these things can be used in a positive way. Possibly, when one accumulates them as a means to a positive end, they can be certainly good. However, if one accumulates them as an end; this may be not so good!” Susan Thomas Underwood, Walk With Spirit

I am often reminded of a line from a song by Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame. “Life is about the journey, not the destination.” So often, forget and start seeking that destination and forget that so much is along the pathway. Opening my eyes and listening a bit more carefully, there is much to see and hear. We are in the grip of a winter freeze here in Georgia, and temperatures have dropped below freezing. This morning I will bundle up as I head to school and try and educate a few children. Last night I watched Braveheart, the story of William Wallace of Scotland in the late thirteenth century. An exciting tale while part fiction, it has some truth. A man believed in freedom and fought for it, dying betrayed by his countryman. A bit away from my journeying and writing, but as I think and ponder. Another day and as I have for so long, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


Wondering why on a Thursday morning

Bird Droppings October 21, 2021
Wondering why on a Thursday morning

I watched the debate roughly a year ago from our condo on Pawleys Island. My wife and I escaped for a long weekend. It was to give her a break from a hectic clinic schedule and me from the solitude of being retired. We went out on a boat to see parts of the island only reachable by boat in a few hours. I was hoping for some great bird pictures and some shelling. I was able to get several photos of bald eagles and found numerous larger shorebirds and a few nice shells that made for a great day.

But as I got up this morning early, the first thing on the news was how many people tested positive for Covid 19. The rate is improving, fortunately. I heard some vocalizations from the former president saying he would have handled the pandemic differently and would have everyone vaccinated by now. Even though he waited to tell his followers he was vaccinated until after the election; people would listen to him. I still recall how we had two very different campaigns, one saying the virus is going away and one wanted to follow the science and news that numbers are highest ever and now hospitals are filling up again.

Over the years, I have read many volumes of education, philosophy, and many other subjects. I have found many authors; the late Wilma Mankiller, a former Cherokee chief, intrigued me. First her name and then what she has done and what she said.

“I think the most important issue we have as a people is what we started, and that is to begin to trust our thinking again and believe in ourselves enough to think that we can articulate our vision of the future and then work to make sure that that vision becomes a reality.” Chief Wilma Mankiller

I found a small book several years back written by Wilma Mankiller, Gloria Steinem, and Vine Deloria. The late Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected chief of the Oklahoma Cherokee Tribe and she became a national speaker on the rights of Indians. The book’s title, Every day is Good Day, is an effort to portray in perspective the thoughts of the indigenous women who provided the thoughts and articles for the book. The book encompasses women from across the America’s.

The quote I started with today was directed at Indians as a whole and the Cherokee tribe who were uprooted from their ancestral homes in the southeastern US by Andrew Jackson in the infamous Trail of Tears and moved to the Indian Territories of Oklahoma. As I reread this quote, it hit me. The quote could apply to almost anyone. So many have fallen into the trap of societal following the leader. That charismatic voice is screaming loud, garners listening even when often fictitious. Surprisingly, many follow usually, even knowing the words are wrong or misleading. As a country, we are often told what to do not in a dictatorship but more subtlety as legislators convene and pass laws providing guidance and parameters. Along this line, I was thinking back to Indian reservations where humans were forced to submit to cultural extermination and the Indian schools like Carlisle in Pennsylvania, where Indian children were taken and stripped of their heritage

“I’d like to talk about free markets. Information in the computer age is the last genuine free market left on earth except for those free markets where indigenous people are still surviving. And that’s basically becoming limited.” Russell Means

“In the government schools, which are referred to as public schools, Indian policy has been instituted there, and it’s a policy where they do not encourage, in fact, discourage, critical thinking and the creation of ideas and public education.” Russell Means

One of the American Indian Movement founders and its first leader, Russell Means, might be more familiar to Daniel Day-Lewis and The Last of the Mohicans. Means stars as Chief Kingachcook, the last of the Mohicans. Means was born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. Russell Means has been actively working for Indian efforts for nearly fifty years and often is a very outspoken figure as various legislation and agendas are thrown at reservations and tribes.

“I don’t want to talk about the environment and the American Indian viewpoint; I hate the word Native American. It’s a government term, which was created in the year 1970 in the Department of the Interior, a generic term that describes all the prisoners of the United States of America.” Russell Means

“The one thing I’ve always maintained is that I’m an American Indian. I’m not politically correct. Everyone who is born in the Western Hemisphere is a Native American. We are all Native Americans” Russell Means

I find interesting his viewpoint that anyone born in the Western Hemisphere is a Native American.

“So, I’d much rather get across the concept of freedom. It’s what’s important to Indian children. The only way you can be free is to know is that you are worthwhile as a distinct human being. Otherwise, you become what the colonizers have designed, and that is a lemming. Get in line, punch all the right keys, and die.” Russell Means

Watching Fox News and listening to some of the conservative commentators, I can envision the masses of lemmings running off the cliff following right along. It seems so few think for themselves anymore. Even in education, we have set standards for what is to be taught and then test kids based on standards. Effectively we have been eliminating the development of critical thinking and imagination. That is to be squeezed in along; it is not about the actual issues but party lines, personalities, and sadly race. One writer commented in a blog that while they thought a particular politician was not knowledgeable about being president, they liked her and so would vote for her for that reason. She stands for what I stand for. Many of these same politicians stand for what makes the most money for them at that time. Politicians change their minds significantly on immigration, and others have gone from pro-health care reform to repeal health care reform.

“It does not require many words to speak the truth.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce

Sadly, most will never use a few words but embellish and go far beyond the truth. A week is a near end, and again I ask you, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


Trying to find where community exists

Bird Droppings October 20, 2021
Trying to find where community exists

In my doctoral course work, I was in a class on educational communities that featured all total in the two courses’ fifteen texts. The texts have an underlying theme of caring and relationships as a key to education or successful teaching. One of the books from a Georgia Southern course, entitled Dreamkeepers by Gloria Ladson-Billings, focuses on the notion that a teacher should be giving back to the community. Over the past few years, I have heard numerous teachers discuss not wanting to be seen by students outside of school and not being a part of the school community. Last spring, just before the virus break, we got into a debate of sorts at school on this concept. Can a teacher be a successful teacher and not be a part of the school community? It seems I lived away from the community and, to be honest, did not get involved in the school other than my classes.

On one of my trips to the Barnes and Noble bookstore, I was looking for a book by J. Garrison, Dewey, and Eros: Wisdom and desire in the art of teaching. This book focuses on ideas from John Dewey, considered to be one of the great minds in educational philosophy. As I went to the bookstore, I ran into a student from my high school who transferred to Georgia Southern University. It seems that there are students, former students, or parents of students showing up wherever I go.

“In every integral experience there is form because there is dynamic organization. I call the organization dynamic ….. Because it has growth….William James aptly compared the course of a conscious experience to the alternate flights and perching of a bird…. Each resting place in experience is an undergoing in which it is absorbed and taken home the consequences of prior doing… If we move too rapidly, we get away from the base of supplies – of accrued meanings – the experience is flustered, thin, and confused. If we dawdle too long after having extracted a net value, experience perishes of inanition.” John Dewey, Art as Experience, 1934

I thought back a few years and many conversations on synchronicity and a trip home from a class actually after a midterm in Advanced Behavioral Techniques; I was hungry since I had not really stopped since early in the morning. I knew one of my former swimmers from the high school team who worked at Taco Bell, and sure enough, she was working, and I said hi, coincidently the same student I ran into at the bookstore this past weekend. As I pulled out of Taco Bell, my sweet tooth struck, and I ended up at Brewster’s, as close to homemade ice cream as you can get at fast food, sounded good, and there were two of my former advisee’s also getting ice cream. We talked for a while about uptight teachers and who was not, an exciting subject. Why do teachers get so uptight or anybody for that matter?

As I talked, several more students and former students pulled in. I met girlfriends and boyfriends of each and such, coincidence perhaps but an average day for me, it seems. So often, I mention the word coincidence and try to explain it. Recently, in a letter to a friend, I used the term ” we are where we need to be right now and when we realize that all of a sudden, so much more becomes clear. James Redfield, an author, refers to coincidence frequently and the idea that it happens more often as you become attuned to it when you begin noticing coincidence. Essentially as you become aware of your place in the puzzle, the pieces seem to fit better and more clearly.

“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Carl Gustav Jung

Carl Jung was of the nature there was purpose in all that happened, and he and his former partner Sigmund Freud disagreed to an extent on the whys of this. Jung coined the word synchronicity to explain his thoughts in the early 1900s. Events and things happening at a specific time, specific people seemingly appear by chance but not.

“His (Jung) notion of synchronicity is that there is a causal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception.” HTTP:// skepdic.com/jung.html

“Some scientists see a theoretical grounding for synchronicity in quantum physics, fractal geometry, and chaos theory. They are finding that the isolation and separation of objects from each other is more apparent than real; at deeper levels, everything — atoms, cells, molecules, plants, animals, people — participates in a             sensitive, flowing web of information. Physicists have shown, for example, that if two photons are separated, no matter by how far, a change in one creates a             simultaneous change in the other. “A Wink from the Cosmos, by Meg Lundstrom (Intuition Magazine, May 1996)

How does synchronicity tie into the community? Somewhere in and among ideas and thoughts are answers. Some people seek answers through religion. Some seek answers through pure science others assume there are no answers and sit on a rock. Going back to my first thought, I see teaching as a community. In that community, we are integral pieces and interconnect many times, as for me today and yesterday in many differing places. I find throwing myself into that community as significant as walking into my classroom on a school day. Each time I bump into a student, it adds to their appreciation of my time and effort and gives me a piece of their puzzle to help deal with any issues that may come up when I have them in class. Just in a staff meeting yesterday, we discussed connections.

Each of us can choose our direction and flow as humans, friends, and teachers if that is our chosen lot in life. The actual point I was making was when we are aware of our interactions with others that each moment we spend with a person affects that person and the next person they see or talk to as we too are involved. It is in this way community is built. I came away that night and yesterday, happy having spoken with some folks that I had not seen in several weeks, even several years, and hopefully, they too went away a bit happier. This is how life works and if we are aware of this, imagine the effect and impact. If I know, I will be affecting people beyond my contact with someone, and I will be more aware of how I affect them and so forth. I recall many years ago from I believe Dr. Glenn Doman, the old credence of leaving the person you are talking with smiling will affect ten others is accurate. If you involve the idea of coincidence, fact, or fancy, who knows, it sure happens a lot. So as I wander today through differing ideas, please keep all in harm’s way on your minds and in your hearts and to always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


An eclectic morning

Bird Droppings October 19, 2021
An eclectic morning

I walked out into a clear sky, and stars gleamed above me. The full moon had settled behind the pine trees to the west. My feet got cold, walking about in flip flops. I walked my wife to her car and decided to lay back down for a bot.  I eventually made my way to my computer, talking with my middle son as I do many mornings as he drives to work. It has been a few years since a group of students and I began discussing the Davinci Code and other philosophical diversions. The idea of fearing death as a basis for religion came up over lunch as well. As I get older, sitting around wondering about life and death, each little joint pain or chest pain, I wonder will I see my grandkids again one more time. I was sitting here thinking I had not even considered this idea before a trip to the pulmonologist and being confronted with my mortality. What took me to the doctor turned out to be something that can be controlled by a healthier lifestyle and eating and not the potentially dangerous alternative.  But it made me think, and my procrastination addiction only got worse. So I need to address within my thinking to rise above and lift out of the funk I fell into.

“Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.” Mahatma Gandhi

It has been a few years since I watched an episode of Star Trek; actually, it may have been one of the movies. Spock has interfered with Star Fleets’ objectives about a small group of colonists on an obscure planet. It seems they live forever, or at least aging is so minute that lifetimes are measured in tens of thousands of years. Interestingly, by choice, they became nearly primitive, living off the land and pursuing wisdom, reading, writing, and all forms of artwork. Life became a process of continually improving since time was not a factor.  As I read this quote from Gandhi earlier, this movie popped into my mind.

“The world is apprehended by way of the mind, the world is acted upon by way of the mind, and all good things and bad exist in the world by way of the mind.” Samyutta Nikaya

As I thought further about Star Trek and this group of people living on a planet where radiation from their sun seemed to be the key to longevity, I reflected on several incidents at school almost ten years ago. My assistant Principal came in with thirty minutes left on the day before a holiday to do observation, or so she said, sticking her head in the door. On top of the timing, I had two extra students who had been placed with me since they were not functioning in regular classes. They were in a holding pattern for a day or two. I was in the middle of trying to alleviate a yearbook emergency, rewiring a CD burner, and trying to print out a picture for a teacher who wanted her daughter’s angel scene from a Christmas play I just took for the drama dept. And several extra students were assisting in helping download hard drives from refurbished computers. So, ten things were happening in the last thirty minutes of last day before the holiday, not counting an observation.

I never mind observations and probably have had more in my last ten years than most have in a lifetime, or was my AP was getting back at me for several previous practical jokes. But we think what we portray in our minds within seconds I was shifted from disaster to plotting a new reprisal. I got quite a good report for diversity and individualizing the learning situations.

“Honesty can be cultivated by transforming your inner language. For example, you might think: “I am no good” or “They are not good.” Is this true? For some strange reason, people want to wallow in the idea of being either the best or the worst. What is true in this moment? How close can we get to the reality of our experiences?” Martine Batchelor, “Meditation for Life

Thinking back to the movie, Spock was trying to save the Utopian society of a small group of people as he turned against Star Fleet in the film. The reason that Star Fleet wanted this planet was literally to sell and package longevity. They were willing to destroy a people for profit. Human nature, many would say. I observed those two extra students I had on that observation day. One of them I have for a period every day the other I did not know. As I thought to why both ended with me, it was because of inappropriate behavior in class. Such terms as acting out and attention-seeking were used. I used to be a big fan of “Law and Order,” a popular TV show. Last night a young boy who had been abused was talking with the prosecutor and recalled a particular day in his life. The very man who had abused him for four years was the hero by chance. He was concerned he was “sick” because the most incredible day of his life was also with the person who destroyed his life. Shortly after on the show, this young man tried to kill himself.

“Real love is not based on the attachment but on altruism. In this case, your compassion will remain as a humane response to suffering as long as beings continue to suffer.” the Dalai Lama

We all need to be looking at our lives. Are we trying to oversimplify? Are we honest with ourselves? Do we use the word love as merely an attachment? Can we be more than we are in our given time? Many issues as we head into the holiday season. I need to take my wife’s car to the service station, and here in the Atlanta area, soon we will be deluged with all the folks heading south. All significant interstates seem to converge here, and for a late Thursday, just a reminder from Will Rodgers.

“Too many people spend money they haven’t earned to buy things they don’t want to impress people they don’t like.” Will Rogers

So as I am thinking further.

“The appreciation of the profundity and subtlety of his thought comes only after serious study, and only a few of the most committed students are willing to expend the necessary effort. Many, upon first reading him, will conclude: that he was a churlish, negative, antisocial malcontent; or that he advocated that all of us should reject society and go live in the woods; or that each person has full license to do as he/she pleases, without consideration for the rights of others; or that he is unconscionably doctrinaire. His difficult, allusive prose, moreover, requires too much effort. All such judgments are at best simplistic and at worst, wrong.” Wendell P. Glick

Interesting, I thought Glick was referring to me in this passage, but it is Henry David Thoreau.  In a lesson plan on teaching, Thoreau Glick points out the difficulties even today; However, Henry David Thoreau is recognized as a great writer; his idiosyncrasies kept him from public acknowledgment in his time.

“He had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world; wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there is beauty, he will find a home.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, In his eulogy for Thoreau

Early today, I was answering an email about how I had gone into teaching. A friend from high school never imagined me teaching. I found that interesting because since I was twelve, I have been teaching swimming lessons, boy scouts, etc. As a parent, we are always teaching. I started with Henry David Thoreau in that he was a teacher, but he walked away from teaching to be a better teacher. Thoreau left to become a learner. He sought knowledge; he craved new ideas and thoughts. Everything about him was a classroom.

“Yet, hermit and stoic as he was, he was fond of sympathy and threw himself heartily and childlike into the company of young people whom he loved, and whom he delighted to entertain, as he only could, with the varied and endless anecdotes of his experiences by field and river: and he was always ready to lead a huckleberry-party or a search for chestnuts or grapes. Talking, one day, of public discourse, Henry remarked that whatever succeeded with the audience was bad.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

In my email this morning, my friend wrote about how teaching should be fun and how her fellow teachers thought her methods were different for many years. Often I have other teachers wonder at what I do with students and how and why. But they learn, and they ask questions. I was looking back earlier to why I chose to teach. Initially, it was because of a Biology teacher I had in tenth grade. I wandered away from direct teaching into publishing training materials for twenty-three years and came back. Often I find myself using the statement I am where I need to be at this moment. My pathway has led me to this spot. Soon we will have a day of thanksgiving for holiday family and friends. So often, within the constraints of life, we find times of sorrow. Please be aware that around you and nearby, someone may be suffering as we celebrate, offer a hand, a shoulder, a thought, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and to borrow from a veteran and friend from an email many months back and with veterans day a few days away and still very applicable today.

“Please remember the sons and daughters in faraway lands, for once we were them,” Reah Wallace, retired Navy

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)


What is that piece you cannot teach teachers?

Bird Droppings October 18, 2021

What is that piece you cannot teach teachers?

“Studies suggest that instructional and management processes are key to effectiveness, but many interview and survey responses about effective teaching emphasize the teacher’s affective characteristics, or social and emotional behaviors, more than pedagogical practice.” James H. Stronge, Qualities of Effective Teachers

I have been a student in classes with and have heard over the years many great teachers. If I were to characterize those individuals, it would be that they could communicate and relate to their students. There was an affective, emotional, and social interaction that brought relevance to their teachings. I first gained a serious enjoyment of literature from a professor at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, who stood up on a desk and began reciting Shakespeare in his overalls. He had studied Shakespeare in Great Britain and acted in Shakespearean theatre while there. I was enthralled and received an A in a Literature class for the first time in four or five years of college. After his tenure at Mercer, this professor went on to work with indigent farmers in rural Georgia, which was his true passion.

“Why does everyone seem to have a story about how one special teacher got through to them and reshaped their life forever? Could it be that teaching is just about the most important job in the world? And could it be that in the end, the challenge of fixing America’s schools comes down to putting great teachers into classrooms and giving them the tools they need to do what they do best?” Karl Weber, editor, Waiting for Superman

I am sitting here a bit later than I have been usually, as my schedule is mixed up with being retired and procrastinating and getting up a bit later than usual. I knew my wife would be going to work, so no one was around to wake me up. I went outside into the fifty-degree chilly morning to check on the sky.  There were stars, and silence was nearly deafening in the chill. I could imagine early people on this spot hundreds, even thousands of years ago looking up and seeing what I was seeing and imagining a hunter, a stag, a warrior, and dragons all emblazoned across the sky. But my experience does have some implications for my topic today as to the inherent ingredient in a great teacher.

“If we can’t identify the best teachers by comparing their credentials, we face an obvious and crucial question: How do we define a good teacher.” Karl Weber, editor, Waiting for Superman

It has been nearly ten years since I finished my Specialist degree at Piedmont College. When we would sit in our cohort and on that first day, we were introduced to a thirty or so page document that at that time was labeled the STAR. This was to be the basis for our degree program. It was a rubric to determine whether you as a teacher were proficient, excellent or distinguished, and so forth. The rubric was loosely based on work done by educational consultant Charlotte Danielson who now heads up the Danielson Group based in Princeton, New Jersey. I have read articles arguing the merits of Danielson and Stronge, but I see good points in their work. I do have an issue with some of the bastardization school reformers have done with their words.

“An effective system of teacher evaluation accomplishes two things: it ensures quality teaching, and it promotes professional learning. The quality of teaching is the single most important determinant of student learning; a school district’s system of teacher evaluation is the method by which it ensures that teaching is of high quality. Therefore, the system developed for teacher evaluation must have certain characteristics: it must be rigorous, valid, reliable, and defensible, and must be grounded in a research-based and accepted definition of good teaching.” Charlotte Danielson, Danielson Group

“When teachers engage in self-assessment, reflection on practice, and professional conversation, they become more thoughtful and analytic about their work and are in a position to improve their teaching. Evaluators can contribute to teachers’ professional learning through the use of in-depth reflective questions. By shifting the focus of evaluation from “inspection” to “collaborative reflection,” educators can ensure the maximum benefit from the evaluation activities.” Charlotte Danielson, Danielson Group

The primary goal of the Specialist program was for each of us to leave Piedmont as Distinguished Teachers. Somewhere I have a medal on a blue ribbon showing that I am a distinguished teacher. There is a catch to this being a great or distinguished teacher does not stop the day it is anointed on you. This is literally who you are, not a degree or piece of paper. But what makes a great teacher different, and what is it that gives us these great teachers? According to the Danielson framework, there are some specifics.

From Danielson Group website:

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation. The components in Domain 1 outline how a

teacher organizes the content of what students are expected to learn—in other

words, how the teacher designs instruction. These include demonstrate knowledge

of content and pedagogy, demonstrating knowledge of the students, selecting

instructional goals, demonstrating knowledge of resources, designing coherent

instruction, and assessing student learning

Domain 2: The classroom Environment. The components in Domain 2 consist of

the interactions that occur in a classroom that are non-instructional. These consist

of creating an environment of respect and rapport among the students and with

the teacher, establishing a culture for learning, managing classroom procedures,

managing student behavior and organizing the physical space.

Domain 3: Instruction. The components in Domain 3 are what constitute the core

of teaching – the engagement of students in learning contest. These include

communicating clearly and accurately, using questioning and discussion techniques,

engaging students in learning, providing feedback to students, and demonstrating

flexibility and responsiveness.

Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities. The components in Domain 4 represent

the wide range of a teacher’s responsibilities outside the classroom. These include

reflecting on teaching, maintaining accurate records, communicating with families,

contributing to the school and district, growing, and developing professionally, and

showing professionalism. Teachers who demonstrate these competencies are

highly valued by their colleagues and administrators, as well as being true


From Charlotte Danielson, “Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching,” Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1996, pp.3-4.

So often, we need to confine our ideas to lists too easy to understand bits and pieces to check off what we have done or will do. Danielson’s four domains are significantly more than most twenty-minute walk through that are the standard in Georgia. But still, some pieces cannot be pinned down so easily. James Stronge, in his book, Qualities of Effective Teachers, has a few that stand out.

“Effective teachers care about their students and demonstrate they care in such a way that their students are aware of it.”

“Effective teachers practice focused and sympathetic listening to show students they care not only about what happens in the classroom but about students’ lives in general. These teachers initiate two-way communications that exude trust, tact, honesty, humility, and care.”

“Effective, caring teachers know students both informally and formally. They use every opportunity at school and in the community to keep the lines of communication open.”

It might sound a bit silly, but I am bothered when a teacher says they could not live in the community they teach in. How do you ever know your students if you only see them and experience what they experience eight hours a day? So often, it is hard for teachers to break through the shell of teacher-student barriers that are presented and held in place by tradition and frequently school policy. Teaching is not just standing in front of a group of students and lecturing for two hours. Generally, most are asleep within the first ten minutes. Relationships need to be developed and cultivated that can bridge gaps. Emails to parents, communications with students and parents to let them know you are concerned. In all my undergraduate and graduate years, I only seriously remember one very bad professor. He would come in, put the textbook on his podium and then read it to us. When the bell would ring, he would fold his book closed and leave—his office when open was rather cold. One girl I recall went to him for some help and came in, sat down, and he stared at her for twenty minutes and never said a word.

“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed.  Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block, Ethics and Curriculum

Perhaps it is remembering that worst-case scenario of bygone years and multiplying it over and over in our heads to help us conceive of and develop the way things should be. I think I came to my idea of what makes a great teacher by comparing the worst and best and seeing the vast difference in learning. I did not need research and data to see kids were reading who used to be illiterate. I did not need a checklist to watch people come away from a great teacher with the conversation still going and carrying it to lunch in the commons at Mercer or over dinner at Piedmont or Georgia Southern.

“Passionate teachers organize and focus their passionate interests by getting to the heart of their subject and sharing with their students some of what lays there – the beauty and power that drew them to this field in the first place and that has deepened over time as they learned and experienced more.  They are not after a narrow or elitist perspective, but rather a depth of engagement that serves as a base for branching out to other interests and disciplines.” Robert Fried, The Passionate Teacher

It is so easy to throw out the word passion and try and point to ourselves and say we are passionate teachers. But you can quickly see the difference between the also run and the passionate in life. As I wander today, I have been a fan of Savannah College of Arts Literature Professor Mary Aswell Doll’s thoughts. I have used them numerous times as references in papers on curriculum and education. This illustration of an electric current running through us combined with Fried’s passion are components of a great teacher.

“Curriculum is also … a coursing, as in electric current. The work of the curriculum theorist should tap this intense current within, that which courses through our inner person, that which electrifies or gives life to the persons energy source.” Mary Aswell Doll  

You have got soul. Many the time, I have heard that remark about or about someone. One of the experts on the soul is Thomas Moore, who has written numerous bestsellers about this often-ambiguous subject.

“Soul is not a thing, but a quality or dimension of experiencing life and ourselves.  It has to do with the depth value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance.  I do not use the word here as an object of religious belief or something to do with immortality.  When we say someone has soul, we know what we mean.” Thomas Moore

Soul cannot be taught; it cannot be bought, and it cannot be traded for. Moore uses some words here going a bit beyond Stronge’s qualities of a great teacher. Depth value, relatedness, heart, and personal substance are also pieces of who a great teacher is. A great teacher who has a soul might be my next point. Over the numerous years of teaching, I have heard teachers say they have been called to teach. I wandered back into education. Finding it was where I was meant to be. Parker Palmer offers to teachers that there is sacredness in our undertaking.

“The Community of truth, the grace of things, the transcendent subject, and the “secret” that “sits in the middle and knows – these images emerge, for me, from my experience of reality as sacred and of the sacred as real.  Others may arrive at similar understandings from different starting points.  But I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.” Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Maybe I should have stopped a few hours back, but being in my sanctuary here upstairs and quiet save for Brewer and Shipley for a couple of hours, I get a bit carried away. I want to stop with the thought that no door can remain closed. We as teachers need to be about self-improvement, becoming students, and teachers learning and reflecting so that we can always become better at our undertaking. We are critical links in our societal endeavors, and we must hold up our end.

“I used to think that any door could be opened. Some stood freely open; some could be opened easily; some were harder to penetrate. Sometimes you had to knock, sometimes bang, sometimes charge; but always the door could be opened.” Susan Thomas Anthony, Walk with Spirit

I started this many hours ago, and here I am, ending an unfinished work. Hopefully, over the next few days, I can address this idea of what makes for a great teacher but until that time, please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


Within the circle of life, a new life coming

Bird Droppings October 15, 2021

Within the circle of life, a new life coming

I will be wanding many miles over the next few days since my wife, and I will be taking a trip to the North Georgia Mountains. We will be stopping at several farmer’s markets. We will be looking for a few more pumpkins to add to our decorations and, who knows, maybe indulge in a pumpkin pie or two. Countless errands for myself the past few days. I Have been thinking quite a bit about my mother and father as I read through my old baby book. I am using it for my dissertation research. However, as I went out this morning, it was a new and glorious day today. I found this author several years ago, and it seems just to hit the spot today.


By Susan Thomas Underwood

The universe is energy in constant motion.

There are ebbs and flows;

Outcomes and income,

And change…… Always change.

The physical world reflects this motion

In the cycles of life,

There is spring and fall, winter and summer,

Birth and death; and rebirth…


Einstein proved that even time is relative

In his theory of relativity,

All is relative …. All is change

You can count on it.

Be then as the willow;

Learn to bend with the wind!

Always dream, though your dreams may change.

Always produce, though your product may change.

Always love, though your love may change.

Always live, though your life will change.

You can count on it!

Susan Thomas Underwood is a native Oklahoman, Shawnee, and author. I saw her book of thoughts, Walk with Spirit, on Amazon.com and thought I might take a look. As I read this first entry in Underwood’s book, I thought about my existence these past seventy-plus years and the changes I have been through as a son, parent, husband, father, and now a grandfather.

“The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, the summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me. The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dewdrop on the flower speaks to me. The strength of the fire, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away, they speak to me, and my heart soars.” Chief Dan George

I find myself quoting Dan George many times. Dan was a Salish chief from Canada and an accomplished actor later in his life. Some may remember him from the movie Little Big Man or Outlaw Josie Wales. But he was too an eloquent speaker and poet. He often spoke of nature but also of the intertwining of life. He would talk about the roads we each travel and cross many times. I spent most of the past weekend watching, observing, holding, and photographing my grandchildren and helping my wife get the house ready for the holidays while she ran around hunting for bargains. I was at the baker and texted her a picture of the grandbabies birthday cake for the weekend, and fortunately, this year, as she went to reach her phone, she did not break her foot as she did last year. It is hard to recall a tiny newborn three years ago when each gesture and smile was first for her. I am so happy with how we responded and have encouraged her as she is learning daily. It seems even for a teacher watching my grandbabies learn daily, I am amazed.

As a teacher, I find being a grandparent becomes our teaching job number one, not so much to have their belief or think as I do but to provide pathways for them to walk and learn independently. Our journeys in life are not always smooth going, and they can offer a hand when needed. I recall three years back watching my granddaughter and my son as we went for blood work. The bond that has been made in a few short hours is one of a lifetime. During a brief moment or two, I was peering through the lens of my camera as my granddaughter in a matter of seconds in her grandmother’s lap made a series of facial expressions almost as if she knew I have grandma wrapped around my ever so tiny finger now. Watching her mother hold and talk softly, whispering as she carefully touched her eyes, nose, and cheeks is a bond that is impossible to break. As the orator and actor Dan George stated so many years ago, “they speak to me, and my heart soars.”

It is a new week, and grandbabies’ birthdays are on the way; it is all happening so fast. May peace be with you all in the coming days, and may we all keep those in harm’s way on our hearts and our minds and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


Words not spoken are some of the most profound wisdom

Bird Droppings October 14, 2021
Words not spoken are some of the most profound wisdom

I have been sitting writing and working on my dissertation for six hours. Words are on my mind right now. I just commented on a Facebook post about learning languages and knowing enough in several languages to survive and order chicken and rice. Within the past several weeks, I have watched comments from politicians made and disputed by often the same person, which I find most interesting. Native Peoples survived this trend back in the day as treaties were made and broken in a few years only to be told that we were sorry we got the wording wrong or misunderstood what we were saying. When we said we would kill off the buffalo, we meant all the buffalo, not just those slowing the train down.

“He believes profoundly in silence – the sign of a perfect equilibrium. Silence is the absolute poise or balance of body, mind, and spirit.” Ohiyesa, Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, Santee Sioux

Trained as a physician, Dr. Eastman was also a profound and eloquent speaker for the Sioux nation. So often, when we speak, it is often words spilling out of a bucket filled to overflowing with politically correct jargon. A barrage of often meaningless dribble that is there waiting to explode. Such plain and nice platitudes as hello how are you, how’s the family the job and numerous other familiar little blips we tend to throw at people we meet.

“Silence is the mother of truth, for the silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously.” Chief Luther Standing Bear, Teton Sioux

“In my opinion, it was chiefly owing to their deep contemplation in their silent retreats in the days of youth that the old Indian orators acquired the habit of carefully arranging their thoughts.” Blackbird, Ottawa

So often, in our haste, we often blurt out words that become meaningless simply because we feel we should be talking. As I look at these great Native American orators’ words, it was often in their silence and reflection that wisdom has shown through. Sadly we will never see the silence. There was not a hasty response that was spontaneous, and not thought through each word was carefully chosen to impact and bring the point to the listener, for many words were sacred and a privilege to use and speak. I was thinking wouldn’t that be great if every ADHD child thought before they spoke. We would not need medications, in-school suspensions, and behavior modification anymore. There would be fewer bars of soap sold as parents would not have to wash any mouths out, thinking back to my wife’s favorite movie, “the Christmas Story,” as Ralphie gets his mouth washed out.

“You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts” Cochise, Chiricahua Apache

Known as a great warrior and spokesman for the Apache, Cochise was feared and revered by many. So often, listening to the fabrications of teenagers as a teacher, you do enjoy silence and or truth. So often, exaggerations flow like water, each telling of a story embellishes on the next and so forth till somewhere perhaps reality did occur.
“Good words do not last long unless they amount to something.” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce
Growing up, I recall stories of Chief Joseph and how his people avoided the army and won numerous skirmishes in their attempted flight to freedom in Canada. After being rejected by the Canadian Government, they had no alternative but to surrender, and Joseph’s speech has been quoted by many ever since.

“I am tired of talk that comes to nothing. It makes my heart sick when I remember all the good words and all the broken promises. There has been too much talking by men who had no right to talk.” Chief Joseph

In recent weeks I have watched our politicians talk out one side of the mouth and down the other. It is like going to a used car lot and watching used car sales folks at work. What do you believe? Today’s news is not watching the news; it is ok what do I think and what is fantasy. I find friends posting false stories and lies numerous times over and still showing up as accurate. On many shelves, popular newspapers on the racks at grocery stores, scandal sheets with altered photos grab the attention, and we are lead to believe what the story supposedly implies. Investigators are trying to blame someone with the misinformation on Iraq that led to the war, for example, a recent heading. We now know most of what we were told were lies, yet we are told the people lying were only misinformed.

It becomes confusing, as I am sure years ago, when soldiers would explain peace treaties with numerous lines of fine print. One famous line read, “As long as the buffalo roam” to a plains tribe who lived off the vast herds of migratory buffalo numbering over fifty million on one count that would be was forever. However, a new Sharps rifle accurate to over a thousand yards and a healthy trade in buffalo hides quickly reduced the herds to a handful, and we said as long as the buffalo roam, they are gone. We do this today in politics, schools, and life, getting commitment based on something we already know.

“I would have been better pleased if you had never made promises than that you should have made them and not performed them.” Shinguaconse

We often tell little stories to the point that it becomes a habit, and soon we are caught up in our stories with no return.

“Always tell the truth – it’s the easiest to remember.” David Mamet

As I ponder this simple statement by Mamet, you think if we only took our advice and just told the truth, there would be no need to have anything to remember. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

Walking along the way in my journey

Bird Droppings October 12, 2021
Walking along the way in my journey

I walked nearly twice as far today as I did yesterday. I am trying to build up my endurance. As I think back over who I am as a teacher and person, I often wonder how I came to be the way I am and why I take such a differing outlook from so many teachers to my endeavor. I recall my father teaching me how to teach as a swimming instructor and in various Red Cross programs. Tell, Show, Test, and Check was his favorite for teaching a subject or skill. I have used the FIDO principle many times over the years Frequency, Intensity, Duration, and Over again.
As I attended college and began thinking about teaching as a profession, I had courses in teaching and what to teach to various groups of children and adults. We talked theory and realities we practiced, taught, and were observed by professors. I look back and wonder, how does a professor who has never taught outside of college level teach anyone how to teach, say elementary school-age children? But within it all, I became who I am as a teacher, parent, and person. I see this enterprise as an ongoing continuum and one that truly is never complete. Going back to my favorite Aerosmith quote that I have used so many times, “Life is about the journey, not the destination.”

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who does not know how to read.” Mark Twain

I spend a good bit of my day reading and find it so hard to understand when I see comments that I do not read or have a favorite book. I may look at ten or twelve books in a day, looking for thoughts or ideas for my writings. But to profess to not reading, how can you consider yourself even semi-intelligent. For it is through reading that we increase our vocabulary and understanding of the world around us. It is through reading that we develop and progress beyond where we are today. It is thorough reading that we move along the journey.

I was speaking with a fellow teacher today about such things. Why do kids not read, for example? Some are a lack of encouragement at home during those hours away from school. Some is the example set by parents who are not readers. But I think a large portion is our current style of teaching to the test. We are teaching kids to pass tests that impact the teacher’s annual appraisals, and in some cases, even salaries are based on test scores. When we take away significance and choice and mandate specific memorization for test content, we lose an aspect of who the child is.
Paulo Freire is a radical in terms of education and his outlook on what teaching and education should be about. Freire was a teacher, activist, thinker, innovator, and college professor in various stages if not all of his life.

“As a teacher in an educational program, I cannot be satisfied simply with nice, theoretical elaborations regarding the ontological, political, and epistemological bases of educational practice. My theoretical explanation of such practice ought to be also a concrete and practical demonstration of what I am saying.” Paulo Freire

There is another side of Freire’s philosophy that interests me as well. How much more is gained when you can touch or apply what it is you are learning. That is very similar to Dewey’s that the democratic process is crucial to a classroom and that the teacher is a learner and learners are teachers.

“In the context of true learning, the learners will be engaged in a continuous transformation through which they become authentic subjects of the construction and reconstruction of what is being taught, side by side with the teacher, who is equally subject to the same process.” Paulo Freire

An ongoing back and forth process provides both teacher and learner with answers and questions. I once considered this process symbiotic, but as I learned and looked deeper, it became osmotic. There was a constant flow back and forth between teacher and learner; it was not a reliance on one or the other.

“The teacher who thinks ‘correctly’ transmits to the students the beauty of our way of existing in the world as historical beings, capable of intervening in and knowing this world.” Paulo Freire

I wonder how much of Dewey Freire read. Many of his thoughts run parallel to Dewey as Dewey saw the experience as a critical piece so often left out when teaching. All of the students’ experiences brought to the classroom are bits and pieces that can be built on and added to. I am amused that Freire uses quotes around the word correctly. How many teachers are teaching correctly in the world? Looking at how a teacher is evaluated in Georgia with a six or seven-question checklist and relatively simple responses, the process is complex and not conducive to yes and no checkboxes.

“It is easier to stick with what teachers have always done and believed, rather than go about the painful process of changing current thinking about teaching” Charlotte Danielson, from the book, Teacher Evaluation, Discussing why we continue to evaluate teachers in an archaic model

We continue to evaluate and judge teachers based on models that have been used since the early 1960s and tend to focus on ease and the most simplistic methods. Time seems to be always a factor. I am wandering a bit today as I think about where I am on my journey.

“There is no valid teaching from which there does not emerge something learned and through which the learner does not become capable of recreating and remaking what has been thought. In essence, teaching that does not emerge from the experience of learning cannot be learned by anyone.” Paulo Freire

I will have to admit Freire does get deep and philosophical at times. But this aspect of doing that aspect of experiencing that runs through his words to me is significant. Many teachers try and keep everything to a minimum in terms of how they teach. I was involved in a discussion on a new math program and was informed we only want students to learn function, not how it works. So students memorize a line on a graph which is this or that, which gets answers A-D, but in effect, they never understand or learn what that is or why.

On the other side, I watched a watershed model during a graduate class. I explained what was happening when rain or excess water was present and impacted the surrounding area. Our lecturer was versed in experiential teaching. He builds on teachable moments and hands-on experience. For myself, even thinking back to summers of teaching biology to kids who had failed biology during the regular session, my main objective was to have them pass a comprehensive exam approved by the school and department. We would spend the first hour each day learning vocabulary, doing what I hated but without vocabulary, you cannot even read a biology test, let alone answer questions.

After that, we organized and categorized all the trees on campus. We studied hands-on ecology and interactions. We watched various settings deserts (The Living Desert by Disney Studios), Jungles, and the Arctic (National Geographic films). Occasionally we would get out one of my ball pythons and talk about reptiles and amphibians. I have had live animals in my room since I started back teaching eleven years ago. Amazingly all of them passed the finals, and in the three years I taught intersession, only one student quit coming, and it was a family problem. The system changed and went to seat time as the criteria and worksheets were the lessons I stopped doing in summer school. It was no longer teaching simply babysitting.

I often wonder about the whys and hows of so many teachers and think back to great teachers and ones I consider excellent even in our high school. Those are the teachers who get kids excited about learning and look for ways and means to bring life to the lesson and who are always learning. I would consider only a handful of teachers great as I think back and always a story or two. My middle son had biology in ninth or tenth grade, and a presentation was made. In that presentation, he used an overhead slide that he knew incorrect, and waiting till class was over, he went to the teacher and told her. At first, the teacher was reluctant to listen until he said, ” My brother has that animal in his salt water tank, and I am familiar with it. She said she would fix it so it would be right. Several years later, in an advanced class, Zoology, the slide and again the wrong name and scientific data were attached. This time being more mature and angrier, he stopped the class and said the slide was wrong. So here is a student who tried to help a teacher who was not interested in learning.

“Why not, for example, take advantage of the student’s experience of life.” Paulo Freire

“A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping of the actual experience by environing conditions but that they recognize in the concrete what surrounding are conductive to experiences that lead to growth.” John Dewey, Experience and Education

Dewey taught we need to build from not exclude the past experiences in our endeavors to teach children. I have found this in the Foxfire Approach to Teaching to be a critical element.

“New activities spiral gracefully out of the old, incorporating lessons learned from past experiences, building on skills and understandings that can now be amplified.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 7

In one of the books I have read several times, A wolf at Twilight by Kent Nerburn, The discussion of the old method of forcibly taking Indian children and placing them in boarding schools to modernize them and make white Indians is a crucial element. I wonder if we learned anything in looking at how we treat children in schools even today. We make them live by our rules and standards, imposing guidelines that fluctuate from class to class, often teacher to teacher. Granted, the boarding school days may seem somewhat at odds with today’s schools, but in reality, there is little difference. In a diversified culture, we demand language that may or may not be known. Coming from a special education background, I am always amazed at how we expect poor readers in their language to read and learn in another. Research shows you cannot, in most cases, exceed the level of attainment in a second or third language that you have in your first.

So I wandered and pondered. This is my reflection for the morning: I wonder and think about what we can do to change education as we know it truly. Freire points to Critical reflection as a means for educators to learn as well as teach. John Dewey builds on reflection, as does Foxfire.

“In the process of ongoing education of teachers, the essential moment is that critical reflection on one’s practice. Thinking critically about practice, of today, or yesterday, makes possible the improvement of tomorrow’s practice.” Paulo Freire

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work.” Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

As I read this morning and thought through my various readings, I wondered if the commonalities I saw in Freire and Dewey were perhaps things as educators we should be trying to attain rather than so often fight against. In Foxfire Core practice nine, a thought that has been a key element of any teaching I do is making what I teach relevant and meaningful and have it been something the child can leave the room with, and it makes sense outside of class.

“Connections between the classroom work, the surrounding communities, and the world beyond the community are clear. “Foxfire Fund, Foxfire Teaching Approach Core Practice 8

I often wonder if teaching and teachers would ever catch on and be concerned more about the kids than the content, the community than the curriculum, and more about humanity than the National educational initiatives. So, I will stop, and please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts.

My friends, I do not say this lightly,
Mitakuye Oyasin
(We are all related)

What about adding to our current reality TV: The great teachers of America?

Bird Droppings October 13, 2021
What about adding to our current reality TV: The great teachers of America?

I am back in grad school and today working on writing. A time ago, I had been set up to teach several new college classes when I received notification of a reduction in force just before I started on a new syllabus and lesson plans, which got me thinking. Last night when I got home, I was mesmerized by night sounds; when the kitchen door opened and our dog poked his head out, I am sure wondering what I was doing. I was not in the mood for TV, and the sounds of darkness seemed to calm me; this has not been mentioned in nearly two years after a seriously crazy week, too much going on. In the distance, an owl was calling to one near the house, and crickets, tree frogs, and an occasional coyote chimed in. It was an exceptionally human-free intrusion on a quiet night since few people-influenced noises were present. I found myself thinking to the idea of; I wonder if this is what it sounded like hundreds of years ago, just the various birds, crickets, frogs, and owls. A heavy dew was dripping from pine needles nearby, adding to the ambiance. I gave thanks and headed to bed.

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our former federal education program, No Child Left behind, was about lifting standards to a higher level to make the United States number one in education. In the news daily, the idea of raising the bar in our educational process was suggested repeatedly. I find it interesting this has not been mentioned in nearly two years. We need more students to succeed, so we will change/raise the standards and graduation rates. So, to say raise the bar educationally. The theory is that more students will succeed with higher standards for teachers and students. However, changing teaching methods, changing delivery, and even changing standards do not raise the ability or desire of a given student.

I can’t help but think of high jumping when the idea of raising the bar came up. Let us use a height of currently thirty-six inches as acceptable, and tomorrow, we will raise the bar to sixty inches, and you will succeed. It is all because we have a new way of telling you how to jump. We will use a megaphone now, and just as you jump, we will yell “JUMP.” As silly as this sounds, this little exercise akin to many educational programs is more about how not to succeed than before. Before raising the standard, did we look at why the students could not clear thirty-six inches? Was it the teaching method? Was it the physical ability of the student? Was it the shoes they were wearing? Perhaps the surface of the runway to the jump pit is too soft or slippery? Was there a wind that knocks the bar off as they approach?

In education, time after time, the mention of zip codes and test scores comes up, and in today’s jargon, that’s why we need these charter schools run by businesses who know what to do. So, in my naiveté, I wonder how does a real estate mogul or software genius know how to teach or seemingly increases knowledge and cognition over, say, a teacher? Even more interesting is that many so-called experts have not succeeded in school and did not go through college. But they know what it takes to help poor kids or failing kids how to raise the bar. More recently a continued amount of corruption and failure rate in these for-profit charter schools. Some are being successful; my granddaughter’s county system officially is a charter.

If a person cannot jump thirty six inches moving to sixty inches in any medium will only assure failure. However, with practice and time, sixty inches is possible, but several factors have to be in place, and a key one is the desire and attitude of the person doing the jumping. The coach can be the greatest in the world, but if the student is content on failure, they will fail. A few years back, I watched the induction of John Madden into the NFL hall of fame. Madden has been one of my favorite commentators and coaches of all time.

“Coaches have to watch for what they don’t want to see and listen to what they don’t want to hear.” John Madden

“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” Ara Parseghian

Coaching and teaching are often synonymous in many ways. It was several years ago I raised and showed horses. I had an outstanding Appaloosa gelding we affectionately called “Spot,” With me riding, Spot would be third or fourth but always place. The funny thing was with my trainer onboard Spot would win. I once asked about this phenomenon and was told the following.

“You put a ten horse, and by ten I mean on a scale from 1-10 out with a one rider again on a scale of 1-10 and you have a five ride; however you put a ten horse and ten rider out and what are your odds” Earl Burchett, trainer, and judge of Appaloosa and Quarter horses

As I thought of my horse days quote, teaching and coaching are similar. A good teacher can get more out of a poor student group, and a poor teacher will get something out of great students. For forty-five years, I have asked how we distinguish who the good teachers and or coaches are from a mediocre ones. I always questioned why a good friend and I who co-taught together would always get classes made up often eighty percent at risk and special education out of thirty-two students or so. We continued to produce test scores that were often better than other regular classes. I would joke we were the only class that went out, for example, in biology. We provided context to kids who could not learn from the content.

“Success is not forever, and failure isn’t fatal.” Don Shula

“The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Vince Lombardi

Commitment is a keyword in selecting a great teacher and or coach and the ability to instill that commitment in their students and players. Over the years, few coaches have been compared to the great Vince Lombardi, perhaps the greatest of all coaches.

“The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” Vince Lombardi

“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success. I think you can accomplish anything if you’re willing to pay the price.” Vince Lombardi

Success is based on hard work, desire, and determination; these are skills that great teachers and great coaches can instill in students and players.

“The only yardstick for success our society has is a champion. No one remembers anything else” John Madden

Far too often, we only see the champion and how many folks can remember who finished second or third in the national championship game. This may be a fault in our society that we settle for only the greatest, only the best. We live on a bell shape curve, and only a few will ever be the best, but it is in the trying, and it is motivating students into trying that as a teacher is to excel. It is so easy to succumb to the downside of that curve. Fifty percent will not succeed, and that mentality is often so powerful that so why should I try harder.

“One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than fifty preaching it.” Knute Rockne

A slight paraphrase of this great quote from the great Notre Dame Coach, “One teacher teaching is better than fifty saying they do.” This is what it is about; it is about genuinely teaching, motivating, instilling determination, and desire. It is about coaching and succeeding rather than failure. I hear every day, but I have a seventy percent passing that makes me upset that a child concedes to a seventy percent. Who gave out seventy percent passes, but we do it all the time. Can a thirty-six-inch jumper clear sixty inches? It is about ideas, determination, and commitment, and any goal can be accomplished. Many years ago, a so-so high jumper changed his form. He was also a student of physics and as such and he noticed jumpers were leading with their foot and the body following. He changed his form and lead with his head and torso and high jumping changed forever. Shortly thereafter a world record and Olympic gold went to Dick Fossberry and the Fossberry flop as it was called is now the jumping style of all record holding high jumpers. Today, all high jumpers lead with their head a matter of physics getting the heaviest part over first, and those muscles pushing it over last, which takes less effort, and the world record keeps going up.

Can this apply to teaching and learning? Most assuredly, we can, but we have to try, and we have to look for the means of accomplishing our goal. Federal standards call for research-based programs in educational settings, yet there are only a few; the field is narrow, and the difficulty is doing new research requiring guinea pigs. Too many teachers and programs do not want to fail. Teachers’ jobs are at stake as well as administrators. So we, in trying to improve, may have boxed ourselves in by limiting improvement to a narrow window of research-proven programs, which in reality may or may not work. Have they researched n the same demographics as the students you teach, or will teach always be a question? Has this program truly been tested on a large enough group? Is there room for improvement and progress within the program?

From personal experience, I have watched administrators then limit programs due to their limitations in imagination and creativity. One of my favorites is the notorious word wall. A teacher must have six-inch letters of vocabulary words on the wall, and that is it. So an electronic version that is available at home anywhere on a computer is not a word wall or a well-designed graphic as a lead-in for students working notebook in class is not a word wall, a set of personal flashcards is not a word wall, t-shirts with vocabulary, skywriting vocabulary words these are not word walls it has to be six-inch red letters not yellow or blue. Teaching gets defeated by limits, impositions, and parameters imposed by lesser imaginative administrators and legislators.

“The man who can make hard things easy is the educator.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

It has been a few days since I last went out walking to my quiet spot before posting.  I used to sit in my quiet place giving thanks for all that has transpired in the past day or so, and for each element, good and bad, it makes all involved a better person. Last night, I shared with a friend how each person we interact with gives us a piece of our life’s puzzle and shared my business card, which is covered in puzzle pieces, and they smiled and said it makes sense now. The pieces are all falling in place. So, I end my writing for today and get back to the grind of educating the masses and getting phone calls made and computer forms filled in but still, the hard part is keeping all in harm’s way on our minds and in our hearts, always giving thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin

(We are all related)