Remembering Our Heroes!

Memorial Day weekend has become the unofficial start of summer. A time when our thoughts naturally turn to long, restful days at the lake, cookouts with friends and neighbors, pool parties, and family vacations.

It is also an opportunity for many major retailers to promote special “Memorial Day” sales. Today’s Tulsa World included circulars for Belks, Dillards, Sears, Kohls, JC Penneys, and even Big Lots. While I understand that these companies are simply trying to make a profit with the underlying theme of American patriotism, I wish they would leave this holiday alone. Having a special sale on outdoor grills, hand bags, and summer clothes is perfectly appropriate–just don’t tie it to what should be a solemn observance of Americans and their sacrifice (in my humble opinion anyway).

Originally called Decoration Day, from the early tradition of decorating graves with flowers, wreaths and flags, Memorial Day is a day for remembrance of those who have died in service to our country. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868 to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former Union sailors and soldiers.

During that first national celebration, former Union Gen. and sitting Ohio Congressman James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.

We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.

James A. Garfield
May 30, 1868 Arlington National Cemetery

Several years ago our nation lost Frank Buckles of West Virginia, the last veteran from World War I. The number of World War II veterans is also shrinking at a rapid rate. While we still have these great Americans with us, it remains a civic duty to recognize their service and sacrifice to our country.

As with Independence Day, Memorial Day is a day for all of us to set aside our many differences and focus instead on our common beliefs and heritage, while honoring those who died in service of our great nation.

Music has always been an important part of this observance. Over the years, quite a few musicians have shared their talents to perform poignant, often emotional tributes to our military men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Here is my short list of favorite Memorial Day songs. If you choose to watch the videos, grab some tissues in advance. Please leave links to your favorites in the comments. I would enjoy listening to them.

“I Drive Your Truck,” Lee Brice

Telling a story of a parent who’s mourning a child killed in battle, this song strikes deep. I cannot even imagine the pain. It’s a simple, heartbreaking image: A father continues to drive his son’s truck as a way of easing the pain of losing him to the war in Afghanistan. The song, based on the true story of Paul Monti and his son, Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, won Song of the Year at the 2014 Academy of Country Music Awards.

“I Won’t Let Go,” Rascal Flatts

The lyrics to this song are intentionally vague to relate to a wide audience, yet the video clearly connects to the loss of a loved one in service of our country.

“If You’re Reading This,” Tim McGraw

This one gets to me. For those who have served in a war zone, the idea of writing a “goodbye letter” to loved ones is incredibly difficult. What can you possibly say to adequately convey your love while attempting to soften the tremendous loss felt by the person or persons reading your words? I am blessed that my wife and children never had to read mine.

“Dress Blues,” Jason Isbell/Drive-By Truckers

Beautiful, bitter, and sad, this 2006 ballet has not been widely heard. The song is dedicated to Jason’s high school buddy who joined the Marines at 18, fought in the Middle East and never returned home. The refrain is compact and evocative: “You never planned on the bombs in the sand or sleeping in your dress blues.” Whew!

“Some Gave All,” Billy Ray Cyrus

Though not nearly as well-known as “Achy Breaky Heart,” I enjoyed this song by Billy Ray Cyrus much more. The chorus sums up the purpose of Memorial Day well:

“All Gave Some, Some Gave All
Some stood through for the red, white and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some Gave All”

“Hymn to the Fallen,” John Williams

A moving instrumental which highlights American cemeteries around the world along with the number of Americans who gave their lives on foreign soil in defense of our nation.

“Proud to be an American,” Lee Greenwood

Any list of Memorial Day songs has to include this classic. I first heard this song in April 1991 as a Marine Corps Captain during the flight home from the Persian Gulf War. The pilot came on the intercom and told us that “this song” was all over the radio while we were overseas. After eight months away from my family, let’s just say this song struck a chord with me and many other Marines on the plane that day.

It was the only time I ever saw a General cry. It will always be my favorite.

“And I’m proud to be and American,
where at least I know I’m free.
And I wont forget the men who died,
who gave that right to me.

And I gladly stand up,
next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land,
God bless the USA.”

Finally, I want to remind everyone about the “National Moment of Remembrance.” This resolution was passed in Dec 2000 and asks that at 3 p.m. local time each Memorial Day, for all Americans “to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”

God Bless our fallen heroes and their families this Memorial Day!

The Little Legislature That Couldn’t

There was a little legislature with nice words and false praises
to Oklahoma’s teachers, I’ll bring you some raises.
While the OKC Chamber and Big Oil worked to kill 779,
the little legislature assured teachers, “you can trust me this time.”

“Choo choo, choo choo, choo choo, choo choo, I feel so good today
Oh, clear the track, oh clickety clack, I’ll go our merry way.”

The little legislature stumbled and bumbled its way to sine die,
it was clear from the start Senator Holt’s 10K plan was not going to fly.
The same fate was in store for Mike Roger’s 1-2-3
As least I’ll build a framework – believe me teachers – you’ll see.

Yet, by early April, indeed we did see
the promise of compromise was never to be.
There would be no new revenues to support teacher pay,
so the little legislature just gave up and now seemed to say.

“I can’t go on, I can’t go on, I’m weary as can be
I can’t go on, I can’t go on, this job is not for me.”

The little legislature started catching some flak,
when a great big engine called OIL came a whistling down the track.
They asked if they would pitch in few cents on the dollar,
but with a high and mighty sneer, OIL scornfully hollered,

“Don’t bother me, don’t bother me to pull the likes of you
Don’t bother me, don’t bother me, we have already paid our dues.”

The Dems all started crying cause that engine was so mean
so the Repubs came back with tax tricks and several new fees.
On cigarettes and new cars, $300 million will bring,
add Rainy day and one-time funds and we got this thing.

The little legislature hitched on to the plan and sang this song

“I think I can, I think I can, I think I have a plan
And I can do ‘most anything if I only think I can.”

But the teachers shouted out, what about our raises?
The little legislature replied, “how ungrateful,” you owe us your praises.
We held your schools harmless in our fragile house of cards,
quit being greedy and kindly give us your regards.

As the little legislature closed up and left town in a hurry,
Thousands of teachers yelled out with much fury
Little legislature, you told us you could, yet denied us again,
you protected your donors and left us to fend.

You are the little legislature who couldn’t,
We’re not surprised; many knew that you wouldn’t
For many Oklahoma’s schools, you’ve now sealed their fate
As hundreds of our best teachers soon leave the state.

The lack of respect and years of false hope,
Is more than many can continue to cope
They’re off to new jobs or switching careers
Spreading their wings and shedding their fears.

And very soon they’ll start to say, I always knew I could
I knew I should, I knew I could, I knew I would
I hate to move on after all the years I have fought
Sadly I must because of a little legislature that could yet would not.

And they’ll say,

“Choo choo, choo choo, choo choo, choo choo, I feel so good today
Oh, clear the track, oh clickety clack, I’ll go our merry way.”

The little legislature speeds from the station,
leaving our teachers’ pay dead last in the nation,
As our state moves forward, there is now no mistaking
The cliff we’re approaching is of our own making.

Extraordinary Moments

“You’re gonna miss this
You’re gonna want this back
You’re gonna wish these days hadn’t gone by so fast
These are some good times
So take a good look around
You may not know it now
But you’re gonna miss this.” ~ Trace Adkins, 2007

*************************************************

As the number of my tomorrows becomes increasingly fewer than the count of my yesterdays, I have become acutely aware at the speed with which time moves.

In schools, this is the time of year when we hit warp speed. There are spring sports, Special Olympic events, music concerts, drama performances, academic fairs, final exams, graduations, baccalaureate, grade promotions, awards assemblies, field days, senior slide shows, class parties, yearbook signings, and report cards.

Teachers are occupied with completing all the mundane tasks to finish the school year and prepare their rooms for the summer break. They are busy collecting textbooks, computing final grades, stowing away technology, organizing cabinets, conducting equipment inventories, planning class parties, covering bulletin boards, and cleaning out lockers – while of course keeping their students actively engaged in rigorous and relevant learning.

The mood in schools during this period is typically upbeat and positive. This is the time of year when elementary students might take a trip to the park or zoo; middle school students build and launch rockets, and high school students begin planning for athletic camps, summer jobs, and long, lazy days hanging out at the lake with friends.

It is a time for bright smiles, meaningful hugs, heartfelt tears, and genuine joy.

I recall vividly the end of my first year as a middle school teacher in 1994. Despite my youth and ten years of experience as a combat-trained Marine officer, I finished that year mentally exhausted and beaten down.  The challenges associated with teaching 140 young adolescents each day while parenting five of my own children at home seemed at times overwhelming. If not for the loving grace of my wife and the patience and mentoring of my school colleagues, I’m not sure I would have come back for year two.

I am so glad I did.

24 years later, I am blessed to have had the opportunity to serve as an educator in three different school districts. I have worked with hundreds of terrific teachers, scores of supportive parents, and tens of thousands of young children. My mind literally overflows with positive and poignant memories of thousands of faces and personalities, random events and incidents, successes and mistakes, laughter and tears, and opportunities taken and lost.

Viewed collectively, these events would strike most people as rather ordinary and routine aspects of an educator’s life. Yet, the older I get, the more I realize how extraordinary and meaningful many of these people and events truly were.

The past few decades have marked my face, silvered my hair, and chiseled my spirit, but my inner core has not changed. It is to this sense of child-like wonder that I bring a heart that has felt much, hurt much and hopefully given much. I would hope that time’s coarse touch has calmed the impatience of my youth and stretched my spirit towards greater wisdom, empathy, and appreciation for the smaller things in life.

I recognize that time’s march will not stop. I have no control over it. But I can slow my pace as I walk through the days and years I have left, which I hope are MANY!

I encourage you to do the same, especially during this important time of the year.

If you are an educator, take the time to really see and feel these special moments in the last days of school, for truly they will not pass again.

At some point in your life, trust me – you ARE going to miss this.

So, as you enter your classroom these last few days, allow yourself to bask in the joyful exuberance of children, the unrestrained laughter and unforced smiles, the genuine affection, the odd and quirky attributes, the silly jokes, and the general hilarity that children bring to our world.

Take a moment to think about how far your students have come this year.  Reflect on how the child who you had to pull from her mother’s arms nine months ago now runs to yours as she enters the classroom each morning. Notice how your students have become more independent and comfortable in their own skin. Recognize the child who can now read independently, do their math facts, write computer code, speak a second language, play an instrument, create an original sonnet, play a sport, or graph an algebraic equation. That’s all because of you – your knowledge, your skills, your commitment, your warmth, your love.  All of that made a difference … and it’s forever.

Slow the pace of your brain when conversing with those you meet and greet throughout my day. Make it a practice to listen more and talk less and to judge people (including yourself) in the most favorable light at all times and under all circumstances.

Delight in the simple joy that you am not alone and others are doing this life with you. And that this life as an educator matters every day.

The truth is that every ordinary moment working with children as a teacher or coach has the potential to be extraordinary. That is the power and privilege and challenge we have all been granted.

Too often, in the rush of our lives, we underestimate the power of a gentle touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a sincere compliment, or the smallest act of caring.  All of these have the potential to turn a life around.

Don’t miss out on this chance. Relish in the honor and joy of being a teacher. Don’t forget to take the opportunity to say goodbye to every child. Look into their eyes and smile.  Share with them one thing you appreciate most about them and what you will miss after they leave your class.

Then watch their face.

This can be an extraordinary thing for both of you.

You don’t want to miss it.

 

Oh Crap! What Have We Done?

satire

May 12, 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY—According to bewildered and contrite legislators, a major budgetary mix-up this week inadvertently provided the state’s public schools with enough funding and resources to properly educate Oklahoma’s children in the upcoming fiscal year.

A spokesperson for Senate Pro Temp Mike Schulz’s office reported that as a result of a clerical error, $400 million earmarked for state testing vendors, turnpike repaving, tax breaks for the oil and gas industry, and future income tax cuts for Oklahoma’s millionaires was accidentally appropriated to the Department of Education for the upcoming fiscal year’s education funding formula. To compound matters, $160 million was mistakenly appropriated to provide Oklahoma teachers with an across-the-board $3,000 raise.

According to a source from Governor Fallin’s office, speaking under the condition of anonymity, “This money will likely be wasted by schools to increase teacher salaries, reduce class sizes, buy new textbooks, increase technology integration, offer more academic courses, and promote educational excellence”—an oversight that apologetic officials called a “major SNAFU.”

“Obviously, we did not intend for this to happen, and we are doing everything in our power to correct the situation and discipline whoever is responsible,” said one senior member of the House Budget and Appropriations committee while expressing remorse for the error. “I want to apologize to the people of Oklahoma. The last thing we wanted was for schools to upgrade their technology and lower student-to-teacher ratios in hopes of raising a generation of well-educated, ambitious, and skilled young Oklahomans.”

“That’s the type of irresponsible misspending that I’ve been focused on eliminating for my entire political career,” the representative added.

Former House Speaker Jeff Hickman told reporters from the Daily Oklahoman that “this kind of reckless decision-making would never have happened under my watch,” adding “I just don’t understand this new breed of Republican that prioritizes essential state services and schools over the fiscal well-being of corporations and millionaires.”

Hickman continued his rant: “This is an embarrassment to our state. Fortunately, we still have some leaders like Representative Mike Ritze doing things to shed a more positive light on Oklahoma conservatives. His idea of rounding up children of illegal immigrants and shipping them home is nothing short of brilliant and represents the type of creative budgeting we need more of in Oklahoma.”

Another embarrassed member of the Republican Platform Caucus angrily acknowledged the $400 million budget slip-up will “unfortunately” help schools statewide retain more qualified teachers as well as supply students with modernized classrooms and instructional materials. Struggling to control his frustration, the representative said he prayed the costly mistake would not result in allowing thousands of Oklahoma’s students to graduate with strong technology and higher order thinking skills.

Ironically, former State Senator Kyle Loveless (R-OKC) called for a full investigation into how the state’s schools were able to secure the necessary funds to adequately compensate teachers at the regional average. “Hell, if we weren’t wasting time and money on personal witch hunts against highly respected legislators, this kind of crap wouldn’t be going on right under our noses.”

Loveless updated his statement a few hours later: “Never mind, I don’t really give a s*!@ anymore.”

Jason Nelson, former state representative (and potential candidate for something in 2018), called into a local talk radio station so angry he could barely get his words out: “This careless mistake may result in fewer teachers retiring or leaving the state. It will have a highly deleterious effect on the growth of our state’s promising charter and virtual school movement just when we’re making real progress. It may also end up financing new teacher training programs and collaboration time, allowing educators to become more than just glorified babysitters. It is just outrageous!”

Nelson continued, “Now we are left with a situation where schools can attract talented professionals who really want to teach our children, which will, in turn, create smarter and more motivated students who wish to one day make a contribution to society. What kind of future is that for our state?”

Current House Minority Leader and 2018 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, Scott Inman (Dist-94), smiled coyly and winked when asked about the budget snafu. “I just have no idea what might have happened. No idea whatsoever. It is just one of those things that happens when people are in a hurry to start their four-day weekend. I can say that when you play shell games long enough, it can be easy to lose track of the ball.”

Representative Inman was later seen giggling with colleagues and doing a cart-wheel on the fourth floor rotunda of the Capitol building.

During an impromptu press conference on Thursday afternoon, Governor Fallin stated, “I know I’ve talked about increasing revenues and helping out our schools for years but I assumed the legislature knew it was all just political pandering. It never occurred to me they might take me seriously. In all my years in government I have never seen such a shameful error.”

“Our appropriations process has gone horribly awry and I for one demand to know how it happened. I thought I was signing an additional tax cut for Oklahoma’s beleaguered upper class,” explained Fallin. “When I realized I had just signed a bill to appropriate more money to public schools, I was crushed.”

Senate Finance Vice-Chair, Josh Brecheen, echoed his fellow legislative leaders and vowed to do “everything in his power” to resolve the costly error that could lead to schools updating their curriculum to emphasize STEM initiatives and 21st century skills by providing students with instruction on how to use newly purchased computers and connect with the world outside of Oklahoma.

“Once these kids learn to read and think critically, you can never undo that,” Brecheen said. “In 20 years, we could be looking at a nightmare scenario in which vast segments of our populace are fully prepared to compete in the new global marketplace.” “It could take a whole generation to cancel out the effects of this error,” Brecheen added.

Congressional leaders also stressed that providing the state’s students with an adequate education that prepared them for college and 21st-century jobs could also have a devastating impact on the economy by creating a new class of citizens uninterested in working at Wal-Mart or settling for fast food meals.

“Politicians will be adversely affected as well,” Brecheen later remarked. “What will our state do if the next generation knows that all we care about is our own selfish interests and pandering to corporations, the religious right, and the wealthy elite? We will be creating a generation of young people able to think for themselves. Is that the future you want for Oklahoma? I certainly don’t.

In My America …

In my America …

Not all children are worthy of an education.

Therefore, we must resist the zealots who distort the truth and ignorantly proclaim

America is better for being a nation of immigrants.

After 240 years, it should be evident to us all.

If you are not white, European, and from a Judeo-Christian tradition,

you don’t belong here.

And thus,

we need to build more walls to keep you out.

I refuse to submit to the fallacy

diversity makes us stronger.

I believe this to my core:

Our country is dying from within.

I will not agree with the premise

your children deserve a free education

just because they are in our country.

It is the law of the land

and

we are a nation of laws.

I submit to you

the promise of Lady Liberty:

“Bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

is outdated and from a bygone era in American history

I refuse to accept these words.

It is time to act …

******************************************************************************

It is time to act …

I refuse to accept these words

are outdated and from a bygone era in American history:

“Bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

The promise of Lady Liberty.

I submit to you

we are a nation of laws

and

it is the law of the land.

Just because they are in our country,

your children deserve a free education.

I will not agree with the premise

our country is dying from within.

I believe this to my core:

Diversity makes us stronger

I refuse to submit to the fallacy

we need to build more walls to keep you out,

and that

you don’t belong here

if you are not white, European, and from a Judeo-Christian tradition.

After 240 years, it should be evident to us all,

America is better for being a nation of immigrants

Therefore, we must resist the zealots who distort the truth and ignorantly proclaim

Not all children are worthy of an education

In my America …

 

This palindrome poem is dedicated to Oklahoma State Representative Mike Ritze and fellow members of the Republican Platform Caucus.

Proposing to reduce our education budget by rounding up innocent children from our schools and deporting them is not an acceptable solution to our state’s budget problem, Mr. Ritze.  Not in my America, sir. Not now, not ever. Start over.

The 2017 Oklahoma Teacher Draft

April 30, 2017

Welcome to Tulsa’s News Channel 6 coverage of the 2017 teacher draft. We now take you to our chief education reporter, Roger Stone, to join the program in progress …

Good evening, Oklahoma. I’m Roger Stone.  I am pleased to be joined tonight by education analyst and professor, Dr. Paula Davis, from the University of Oklahoma School of Education.

Paula: Thank you, Roger. It’s shaping up to be a great night. This year’s crop of Oklahoma teaching prospects certainly looks strong on paper. Our state’s teaching schools have done a wonderful job preparing these candidates to be able to make an immediate contribution in the classroom. The draft room is really buzzing with anticipation.

Roger: You’re right, Paula. While the pool of candidates is down 30% from previous years, the quality of the remaining prospects is excellent. There is some depth at key positions like mathematics and special education. Yet, if previous trends hold true, these teachers will likely come off the board in the early rounds. It is going to be very competitive and I would not be surprised to see a lot of movement between schools.

Paula: Absolutely! Draft position has never been more important. I’m confident district human resource directors have been doing their homework and scouted these candidates carefully. I spoke with a group of them earlier and I can tell you they are anxious for a successful draft. It has been a difficult year for teachers in Oklahoma and schools are seeking to fill an unusually high number of teacher resignations and retirements this year.

Roger: Well, Paula, it looks like they’re ready to start down on the floor. Let’s go to Mike Sanders at the podium to announce our first pick.

Mike: Thanks, Roger and Paula. I have just received a text message from Dr. Deborah Gist, Superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools. They earned the top pick after winning a coin flip with Oklahoma City Public Schools. Norman Public Schools earned the third pick due to the potential loss of 2016 State Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan to a neighboring state next year.

With the top pick in the 2017 Oklahoma Teacher Draft, Tulsa Public Schools selects (pause) … mathematics teacher JAMES ABRAMS from Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow! (crowd applause)

Paula: No surprise there, Roger. James has been a coveted recruit for TPS since his earlier days as a student at Booker T. Washington High School. A lifelong Tulsan, Abrams had a 4.4 GPA and was a National Merit Semifinalist at BTW. At NSU, he graduated at the top of his class and is already certified in both intermediate and advanced mathematics. They will likely place James back at his Alma mater to replace retiring calculus teacher, Pam Nichols. He’s a very exciting pick!

Roger: James is impressive, Paula. I watched some film of him teaching a Calculus lesson on sine and cosine derivatives as a student teacher. It was mind-blowing stuff!

Hold on, wait a minute, Paula. I am getting an update in my earpiece. It appears that James may have already signed a contract earlier today with Bentonville Public Schools in Arkansas. Yes, it has now been confirmed that James sent the following tweet 15 minutes ago:

Paula: Wow, that’s a tough break for Tulsa Public Schools. Our sources report that Dr. Gist has already picked up the red emergency phone to Teach For America (TFA) headquarters. It looks like TPS will be looking for another short-term fix to fill its holes for next year. Too bad for them, but you can’t blame James. Ten thousand bucks a year is nothing to sneeze at for a young 22-year-old right out of college.

Roger: Ouch! That’s tough to swallow. Let’s go back to Mike on the floor. He appears ready to announce the next pick.

MikeWith the second pick in the 2017 Oklahoma Teacher Draft, Dr. Aurora Lora with Oklahoma Public Schools selects (pause) … special education teacher MADISON TURNER, from Oklahoma State University!

Paula: Oh, she is a special talent, Roger. I have watched a lot of film on this girl and she can flat-out teach. Not only does she have strong content knowledge, Madison possesses a skill set not typically seen in a young educator. She’s already a master at maintaining student engagement through effective questioning techniques, as well as scaffolding her instruction to make complex topics easier to understand for her students.

Roger: You are so right about that, Paula. I observed her at the recent teacher combine. On one set of questions, she registered an incredible wait time of 8.2 seconds, a record for a first-year teacher. The mock students threw every disruptive behavior they had at her and she never once got flustered or upset. She is one cool cucumber!

Oh no, not again. Our producers just received this text message from Madison’s agent, Andrea Turner in Chickasha, who also happens to be Madison’s mom.

Roger: That’s a solid punch to the gut of Dr. Lora and her administrative team in Oklahoma City. It looks like they will be filling out a few more emergency teaching certificates to fill their classrooms next year. Bad break for those kiddos with special needs.

Paula: Well, let’s see what happens with the next pick, Roger. Norman is a wonderful school district with a lot of positives that might lure a young teacher to the community. Back to Mike on the floor …

Mike: With the third pick in the 2017 Oklahoma Teacher Draft, Norman Public Schools selects science teacher JACKSON BLEVINS from the University of Oklahoma (loud applause).

Paula: Terrific selection, Roger. Jackson is the top science teacher in this year’s draft. He is highly versatile and can teach multiple high school subjects, from Biology to Chemistry and AP Physics. He also interned at Norman North High School this spring so he is familiar with the system. With a good summer of professional development, Jackson will be able to contribute on day one.

Roger: With the current shortage of science teachers, Norman really needed this pick, Paula. Blevins has all the intangibles: positive rapport with students, high enthusiasm, the ability to scramble his lessons on the move, and an innate feel for the game. I have also heard he loves the Norman area and is unlikely to move.

Mike: Roger, you might want to check your feed. Apparently, a Facebook friend of Jackson just reported he has pulled his name from the draft pool. The friend forwarded this conversation between Jackson and his dad from last night.

Roger: Incredible! Things sure happen quick with today’s social media.

Paula: I am blown away, guys. It is starting to look a lot like last year when so many of Oklahoma’s most promising young teachers took their game to surrounding states or chose other careers altogether. School administrators across the state will be scrambling once again to place high quality educators in their classrooms before the start of the 2017-2018 season.

Roger: No doubt about that, Paula. Until state leaders do something substantial to address the budget problems in Oklahoma, we can expect to see a lot more of this in the next few years. And, you know who the real losers in this scenario are, right?

Paula: I do, Roger. It’s the kids, along with the future prosperity of our state.

Roger: Yup. It will be tough to build the team back up. But if there’s anything I know about the teachers of Oklahoma, they will do everything in their power to protect kids and make it work one more year. I just hope they can keep it up. Maybe we’ll pick up some good talent in the later rounds.

Let’s go to a commercial break …

Nobody Does it Better

“Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Baby, you’re the best”

~ Carly Simon, 1977

We have all become accustomed to politicians making bold claims and promises or using hyperbole and artful “fact selection” to bolster their image or reputation.

While there have been many politicians over the years who were gifted in the art of self-aggrandizing, our current President is arguably one of the best of all time. To channel another Carly Simon song, he’s so vain he probably thinks this blog is about him. Well, okay, I suppose he’d be partly right in this case.

Anyhow, I think if you were to ask President Trump, he would proudly trumpet (pun intended) that in nearly every important area: nobody knows more or does anything better than him.

According to the President, there is a long list of attributes and knowledge for which he is the preeminent figure on the planet. In a recent compilation of the president’s remarks from various speeches and television appearances, Trump claims that nobody

“… is stronger than he is, has better toys that he does, is better at the military than him, loves the Bible more, is better to people with disabilities, fights for veterans as much as he does, does as much for equality, is more pro-Israel, is more conservative than him, respects women more than he does, will be tougher on ISIS, has crowds as big, understands the horror of nuclear as well as he does, understands devaluation like him, understands the sale of uranium to Russia, and knows trade, taxes, the debt, infrastructure, the ‘rules of the game,’ H1B and H2B visas, politicians and the ‘system’ as well as he does.”

The president forgot to mention that nobody is quite as humble as he is, either.

While I choose not to waste valuable time dissecting the president’s list of self-proclaimed expertise, I do wonder if there might just be even one person still alive who survived the bombing of Hiroshima or the Fukushima or Chernobyl disasters and could understand the “horrors of nuclear” more than our president. I’m just writing out loud.

In all seriousness, this isn’t meant to be an exercise in Trump-bashing. Instead, I am using the president’s example to generalize about the proclivity of some people in positions of power to anoint themselves as experts or masters of special knowledge or skills when they really aren’t.

A commander-in-chief who never served a day in a combat zone or watched a fellow soldier die yet profess to be the top expert on the military is a dangerous man. But I digress.

This mindset of self-perpetuating arrogance displayed by Trump and others often leads to the misguided belief that “I alone can fix it.”

We have certainly seen this scenario play out in America over the past twenty years in the area of education reform.

Case in point:

  • We have billionaires influencing education policy who never taught in or even attended a public school.
  • We have policy makers who will accept the opinion of a conservative “think tank” without hesitation, while hastily dismissing the viewpoint of real educators in the field, calling us lazy and self-serving.
  • We have test vendors and profiteers driving the development of curriculum more than the actual teachers delivering it to children.
  • We have state leaders “taking over” local districts to run their schools instead of trusting (and resourcing) local school boards, citizens, and educators to make the needed improvements.
  • We have politicians who view standardized tests as a more accurate tool for measuring student achievement than the judgment of a teacher who spends 180 days with the child.

As a result, we now have teachers and schools jumping through hoops seemingly every year due to increased state and federal mandates, ever-changing academic standards, updated student assessments, changing evaluation models, new curricular programming, rapidly evolving technology expectations, and new yet unimproved professional development, all while facing more and more scrutiny on how they manage student behavior in their classroom.

And some wonder why we have a teacher shortage in America.

Here’s the truth.

Nobody understands education as well as the teachers and school administrators who work with kids every day.

Nobody.

The fact that anyone would try to dispute this point illustrates how far offline we have moved as a nation.

If you had a question about your health, would you ask your physician or call your state legislator? If you needed to develop a trust account for your aging parents, would you consult a tax attorney or email Bill Gates? If you were building a new home, would you get better advice from an architect or the creator of Legos? If you needed a car repair, would you solicit the opinion of a trained mechanic or the owner of the automobile dealership where the mechanic works?

It’s simple. The people closest to the action typically have a better understanding of the strengths and challenges of the organization. They’re also in the best position to actually fix things.

Don’t mistake my intent. I am not claiming that educators are perfect and without fault. There are many aspects of education in America that bear additional scrutiny and we, as professionals, must do a better job of policing our own and counseling teachers towards professional growth … or, failing that, towards the door to another occupation.

That said, the majority of our teachers are hard-working, motivated, conscientious, caring, and highly skilled practitioners. They should have a voice in the discussion about education reform because what they have to say is valuable.

They should have a voice because … 

Nobody knows better than teachers the importance of education in improving children’s lives.

Nobody knows better than teachers that children do not learn at the same pace and that effective teaching involves meeting the unique learning needs of each child.

Nobody understands better than teachers the real impact of hunger, poverty, neglect and abuse on the learning capacity of a child.

Nobody knows better than teachers how larger class sizes and fewer resources severely limit their ability to do their jobs.

Nobody knows better than teachers the sense of hopelessness one experiences while watching a student struggle when they are truly giving their best.

Nobody knows better than teachers which assessments are most effective in determining what a child knows and is able to do.

Nobody understands better than a teacher the passion and drive it takes to enable EVERY child in their classroom to succeed.

Nobody knows better than a teacher the negative effects that overemphasis on testing has had on our students and schools.

Nobody but the teacher cares more about the well-being of ALL kids in his or her class.

Nobody knows better than the teacher the importance of love, kindness, compassion, and resilience in the lives of kids.

Just imagine if education reform was pushed from the bottom up instead of the current, top-down model.  We certainly couldn’t do worse than the “experts” in charge now.

Nobody does it better, teachers. Baby, you’re the best!

Believe me. Lots of really terrific people say so.