Friday, April 15, 2011

Out to Run & In to Write--A Little Inspiration from My Neighbors!

I decided to take a break from writing my NBPTS recertification portfolio and went for a short run in my neighborhood. Here are some of my neighbors:
At first my dog ran from them and they from us. I've had students who initially react the same way at the beginning of the year. But when I turned to snap the picture, I had to wait for the neighbors to move away from the fence to get an unobstructed view.
We looked each other in the eye; they posed for the photo, and Puck and I trotted on home. Soon I'll say goodbye to this year's seniors, too. Many of us have gotten closer to one another as the year has progressed, but we'll go our separate ways and, perhaps, pass each other around town occasionally.

My neighbors inspire me as do my students, so having gone out to run, I'm back in to write.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Angry Birds:" A Metaphor for Standardized Testing

As sure as the tulips begin to sprout; the trees begin to bud; and teens plan senior sneak, prom, and graduation, state-mandated testing assumes its federally-mandated intrusion into American classrooms.

 "Gr-r-r-there go, my heart's abhorrence!" With apologies to Robert Browning and his "Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister." 

We have three computer labs in my school. All are booked for six weeks to accommodate the state-mandated test. We have a media center with room for one class--almost. It only has twenty-eight computers. It, too, doubles as a testing center but for the AP tests. 

Still, the tests reign. So while I played "Angry Birds" last night, a metaphor formed in my mind. Here I offer two options:

1. The birds = teachers and/or students. The pigs=the tests and/or their proponents.

2. The birds=the tests and/or their proponents. The pigs= the teachers and/or students. 

Both metaphors speak to the feeling I have of being hurled into a fortress of federal mandates and of having said mandates thrown at me. 

Those who have discovered the addictive pull of "Angry Birds" know what I'm talking about. For others, I offer a brief tutorial. 

I'm required to teach research skills in both my speech and English classes. The all-important tests prohibit me from offering students sufficient media center or lab time. 

Today I shared the media center with a colleague; another colleague has graciously sacrificed two of her media center days for one of my speech classes; a third colleague has agreed to share computers with yet another class.  

I'm certain many teachers around the country have tales to tell of a much more horrific nature. I hope you'll share. 

"Angry Birds" is free. There's nothing remotely free about standardized tests of any flavor. Like the federal deficit, we don't yet know the real cost to education; we just keep piling it on. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Albert Pujols: Lessons for Educators, Students, and Others


"Albert has shown us many things since coming to America. How to be a great baseball player is just one of them." Bob Simon of CBS "60 Minutes" concluded his profile of St. Louis Cardinal slugger Albert Pujols with these words. 

Full disclosure:  Pujols is my favorite player. When I discuss baseball with students and the conversation turns toward our favorite team, I say, "My father raised me right. My favorite team is the St. Louis Cardinals." 

Pujols's accomplishments on the diamond put him among the best baseball players of all time:  "he has never hit less than .300, never had less than 30 home runs, and never had fewer than 100 RBIs. No player in baseball's long history has ever achieved that in his first ten seasons." 

So what does Albert Pujols's career show students and teachers? The "60 Minutes" story offers some answers, which "60 Minutes: Overtime" extends:  

Work Counts as Much as Talent: Sure Pujols has phenomenal talent, but his work ethic deserves credit for putting him in the upper echelon of baseball greats. Pujols "takes 15 to 20 thousand practice swings a year," says "60 Minutes." 

Being Driven Produces Results: When asked what makes him work so hard, Pujols describes his anger at being drafted in the 13th round. 

Everybody Deserves a Chance: Pujols's foundation sponsors a prom for teens with down syndrome. His   daughter Isabella has down syndrome. He dances with the prom-goers through the night.

Loyalty counts: The St. Louis Cardinals took a chance on Pujols, drafting him in the 13th round, behind 401 players, in 1999. Pujols says he wants to be a Cardinal forever. 

Pay your debts: His wife Dierdre describes the family's financial woes in Pujols's early career, yet he refused to file bankruptcy. 

Reputation and Name Count: Pujols respects baseball and leads an exemplary life free of steroids and substance abuse, including using tobacco and alcohol. 

Actions Speak for You: Rather than seeking photo ops and celebrity, Pujols practices humility. He even visited Brandon, a sick boy, and gave him the bat he used to hit his 400th career home run. 

"There's a search for examples of excellence," says Cardinal Manager Tony LaRussa, and Pujols is that example. 

One final thought: Go Cards!