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Bill Kristol Makes My Mind Want to Explode and Other Thoughts

  • Posted on July 3, 2014 at 3:03 pm

It seems strange that I haven’t been on here blogging in so many months.  My last post was the end of January.  Really?  So, what have I been doing, you may ask?  It would be that teacher thing, my Kindle obsession, and a serious malaise about politics in general.  I will try to get up to speed on what is recently on my mind.

I still watch a bit of Morning Joe, even though Joe sucks!  I don’t know which has been worse the build up for more war or the whole media frenzy about Bowe Bergdahl.  I am tired of watching people who never have any real skin in the game, (You know, their children will not be dressing up in fatigues any time soon.) telling the American people how we must go to war now and by the way, Bowe Bergdahl is a trader.  I cannot get on either bandwagon.

Everyone knows Bill Kristol.

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It has puzzled me why he is invited to be on so many news programs where he spouts his venom.  Why is he so important?  Every time I see him on Meet the Press, Morning Joe, or some other media program, I get a little crazy.  Years ago, I went to a website he was a part of called the Project or Plan for a New America.  The website seems to be gone now but the plan is still out there.  It takes us back to American dominance in the world and that plan developed by Paul Wolfowitz that has to do with pre-emptive strikes.  It later became the Bush Doctrine, which involves going to war before we have been actually attacked.  This strategy was used for the buildup to the Iraq War.  Bill Kristol seems to enjoy going to war.  Fortunately, Katrina vanden Heuvel seems to feel the same way I do.  I came across this clip today and somehow it made me feel better that others aren’t so impressed with this crazy person’s ideas either.  Yes, I know he is the editor of the Weekly Standard but it just doesn’t make him special to me.  It almost seems there is still hope in fighting these neo-cons and their ideas.

 

Another thing keeping me busy is that teacher thing.  This year has been very stressful for most of the teachers I know.  No matter how hard we work or what we do, it seems more is expected of us.  The pressure is out there from politicians that have no idea how to teach, to create classrooms that turn out kids that pass the latest test.  It just doesn’t seem to be about the individual but the test taker.  If a student is good at figuring out and taking tests, he/she will be prized by teachers that are expected to get him/her to pass a test.  Those kids that freak out on tests, struggle in general with testing, or perhaps have social and economic problems are in for a world of hurt as teachers jump through every hoop to try and get them “test worthy”.  Okay, I know I am sarcastic but this is for real.  I work long days trying to do whatever it takes to get my students attention.  I just still think it is strange that my evaluations are attached to reading and math scores of my students.  This is true for all of us.  Teacher evaluations are attached to test scores of students, all students.  Now, most people can see the problems with this.  How will students be selected or tied to individual teachers?  Why is a math teacher tied to reading and vice versa?  How can I, as an art teacher, affect those reading and math scores?  There is constant reworking of lessons and trying to tie in reading, math, and even technology skills as much of the testing is now on computers.  As crazy as this seems to me, it must be harder for the students, especially those students that are not the top reading and math students.

Considering all of this, it is rather amazing how much I have been reading in 2014.  After Christmas was over, I decided I wanted to buy a new Kindle.  I dropped my old Kindle so the lettering wouldn’t work in the corner.  I just had the little cheap model, but I liked it for reading.  I would read on my iPad but I was never crazy about it because it is heavier.  It seemed like I was not reading as much as I used to, so that is why I decided to get a new Kindle.  I bought the cheap HD model that comes with the ads when you turn it on.  I cannot say enough about my crazy obsession with my Kindle and Amazon Prime!  Since getting this Kindle the second week of January, I have read around 30 books.  I even have it read to me when I am doing things like cooking or cleaning.  I love my Kindle and even the offers.  I got a Mr. Coffee Café Latte machine for my birthday for just $20.  Since I have Amazon Prime, I didn’t have to pay any shipping.  I love Amazon Prime as I buy many things through Amazon and I do watch some videos as well.  However, recently the new music cloud has just blown me away.  There is so much music content that I have access to that it is amazing.  I just hope Amazon doesn’t up the rates on me.  I also really enjoy getting my BookBub emails.  Bookbub allows me to buy books for next to nothing or even free.  I have discovered authors I am not familiar with and I am enjoying reading most of these books.  What I really like about the Kindle is how many choices I have at any one time.  I have many books on my Kindle.  I also can get them through library loan although sometimes I have to wait awhile.  I can purchase a new book in mere seconds.  Amazon has made all of this super easy to use and so I keep buying…and they keep making money off me!

Today there is something new on my mind.  The Supreme Court just handed down their decision on the Hobby Lobby case.  Earlier this morning I made a comment on a video on Facebook that gave some statistics on abortion.  I usually avoid any comments on abortion issues, as that issue seems to bring out all of the crazy people ready to comment.  I received many replies to my comment, which I should have known I would.  I believe abortion is something a woman decides for herself with the help of her doctor.  I don’t think it is a decision taken lightly and I certainly don’t think politicians, judges, and the like who are mostly old, white men should be making these decisions for women.  It is rather patronizing to think the little woman isn’t smart enough to decide for herself what is in her best interest.  I personally have a secret wish that decisions like this one can move our country to single payer.  Why should insurance companies and businesses hold all of the special keys to any one person’s medical coverage?  Let’s just get rid of these middle “men” and go to a system where everyone pays a bit in their taxes and health care is guaranteed, Medicare for all or something like it.  If everyone is paying in, than no one group can say they are paying for someone else’s health care.  Everyone pays and all benefit.  It just seems to make sense to me.

Sometimes I feel like I am in some kind of time warp machine.  For every step forward women make on issues there are plenty of people, including other women, dragging and pulling on them to hold them back, keep them down, control them, and generally keep them as less than men.  Why is it that we aren’t hearing cases about business companies refusing to provide Viagra?  Why is it that men can make all of the decisions about their own bodies but women have to be second-guessed at every turn?  It just doesn’t make sense to me currently.  We live in a time when many women are the main or only breadwinner in their families.  They should be able to make all of the decisions applicable to their own bodies.  From my point of view, enough said.

As the summer moves on, I hope to get on here more often and spew my only little mind chatter.  It is different to be me.  I am constantly thinking about many things and sometimes it’s hard to get on the bandwagon of just one thing.  It is how my mind works, so sometimes you may have to adjust to my wandering brain as I interpret the world around me.

 

The TSA and Other Things on My Mind Today

  • Posted on January 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I think this is going to be a long day.  I have a stressed out dog, a curious cat, and a backache.  It is the middle of winter and I am getting a new roof.  My animals, especially my poor dog, seem confused by the noise and feel somewhat invaded.  It is early.  I know that this day is only going to get much worse.  Speaking of feeling invaded, I just read the article, “Dear America, I Saw You Naked and Yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.” by Jason Edward Harrington over at Politico.com.  I have to say nothing in it surprised me but it sure reinforces many of the things I had been thinking about giving up our freedoms and all for the sake of safety.  Some of it is just to keep us in line, so to speak.  Nothing more but to make it look like someone is doing something to keep us safe.  The next time you are traveling and have to be personally checked in some way, you might think more about why it is you.  He even suggested there is a special code for attractive women, no real surprise there.  It sounds more like a Frat house party than what we should consider serious government business.

Poor Ann Romney is still whining about the fact that she won’t be FLOTUS.  I am not sure why but I did watch the Mitt movie on Netflix this week during our hiatus from school because of the chilling weather.  The movie was a great, big, warm, and fuzzy fluff piece for Mitt.  Aw shucks people, he is just one of us!  We just don’t really understand what a decent, caring individual he really is.  While I am sitting here trying to comfort my poor dog, I cannot help but think back to another dog that spent a treacherous time on the roof of Mitt’s automobile.  Maybe Mitt is one of us, one of those people that don’t understand those of us that treat our animals as if they are human.  Enough said, but don’t be surprised if Mitt doesn’t run again.  The movie made me think it was a setup for 2016!

While I was home, I also viewed those annoying videos all teachers have to view yearly about everything from blood borne pathogens and sexual harassment, to chemicals in the work place and what OSHA means to me.  I am not sure why I have to view these every year because my memory isn’t that bad.  However, it is just one of those things that some government official thinks we need to freshen up on yearly.  I always find the sexual harassment video interesting.  When I see the young female teacher sitting at her desk with the lecherous older teacher trying to persuade her to get on his team, I can only wonder what female teacher wears a top like that.  It has spaghetti straps and I think she is ready for a party.  I know many young, female teachers and I haven’t witnessed any of them dressed quite like that at school.  If they did, the boys would surely be having much better attendance rates than some of them do.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending an online art conference put on by the Art of Education.  It was an interesting day.  There were many technical problems for people as the video streaming had some issues.  Even though there were problems, I still had a great day.  It was nice to feel like I was part of something bigger as I viewed and participated in conversations with other art teachers from all over the world.  Of course, art is universal and it is truly, a language that all people can understand.  AOE gave us a password so we can view the videos for the next six months or so.  This is great as I remember many times coming back from a conference trying to remember all of the different presentations I attended.  At AOE, I can review the videos and maybe get even more from them.  While they didn’t present enough material at the high school level, I was able to get plenty of ideas that I will be using in my own classroom in the days and years to come.  I really can’t wait until the next one.  Therefore, if you are an art teacher, you might want to look into the Art of Education website for future reference.

Speaking of art and websites, I want to give a shout out to my favorite online art teacher, “The Helpful Art Teacher.”  Rachel Wintemberg teaches in New Jersey and has only had her blog for a bit over three years, but it is jam packed with great lesson plans.  She shares everything and researches whatever she is posting online.  While the site visually may look a little simplistic, it is far from it.  I can spend days perusing Rachel’s blog.  It is just a treasure.  If you are an art teacher, you really need to check it out.  It is really geared for the middle and high school crowd but it is awesome.  I have nominated her blog for the Art of Educations Art Ed Blog of the Year Award.  You are welcome to nominate her as well if you are so inclined.

While I am hearing a lot of pounding, my baby dog, Brodie, has seemed to settle in under my feet, so to speak.  He pipes up once in awhile but he seems to be appreciating my presence near him and is glad that I am calm and not freaking out by the noise.  The geek in me finds this product very interesting and it reminds me of a piece of sculpture.  It could be revolutionary and it is based on an old concept.  How cool is that?

I talked with one of my ten brothers the other night about farm subsidies.  I won’t get into the sum total of our conversation but it had something to do with the concept of socialism and how some people that despise the concept of socialism are the biggest socialists, so to speak, as they get subsidized. So of course, I had to go find the website for myself and it is interesting.  If you would like to know who is getting farm subsidies in your area, just plug in the zip code.  This is for the period of years from 1995 through 2012.  I always find these things interesting because so many people worry about the $133.85 some poor person might be receiving from SNAP.  Maybe we should be looking beyond to the people that really get the lion’s share of government money through special programs, lobbying efforts, and no bid contracts.  Don’t even get me started on those charitable organizations like churches that get government money for “helping” other people.  I always think it would be better if the government just gave the money right to the people.  Think about how the bankers were all bailed out, if the government had just sent that money out to us, we would have gotten the economy going, by spending it.  Instead, the bankers kept it and then made it more difficult for businesses to get the loans they needed.  I am not an economist but something stinks in our government.  We have two parties that get their seed money for their elections from businesses that lobby for special treatment.  The rest of us out in the real world just keep doing what we are supposed to be doing and keep on hoping that something different will be done.  President Obama was going to bring us change but that’s not happening.  Washington is more gridlocked than ever and controlled by special interests that have nothing to do with most of the American people.  The one percent is getting richer and the rest of us continue to hang on….hoping to see something constructive done by our government.  I won’t hold my breath.  I don’t see any real change in anything but education and that’s just because there is money to be made there.

I have had fun writing my little thoughts.  I hope someone finds me somewhat entertaining and perhaps I can get someone thinking, a simple thing this teacher would like to do.  You don’t have to agree with me on anything, but just think.  I’ll leave you with a picture of poor Brodie.  As you can see, he is frightened but sitting under my computer chair knowing I will save him from all that is evil!100_2107

Teaching, Testing, and Creativity

  • Posted on December 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm
Blue Angel Wings by Katherine Svoboda

I encourage creativity in my students. I cannot imagine a life without making something new.

Where I am teaching I see a high emphasis on test scores.  Since I teach in an area that we are not able to “score”, I find that the administrators and teachers don’t really understand the value or creative aspects of art.  Consequently, the course is treated by some as a “filler” so that they can have their planning periods.  If we are to educate children for the future, we will have to begin by first educating the educators. Since there hasn’t been a clear-cut way of gauging creativity, it has been grossly over looked in the schools.  Even the physical arrangement of our classrooms does not support creativity.  I sense that “learning for tomorrow” is learning how to be a creative individual that can handle a variety of situations, whether they be emotional, physical, mental, or whatever.

Strangely enough, I wrote these words way back in the early eighties when I was teaching at my first teaching job and attending graduate classes.  I recently came across an old notebook that I use to write in.  When I came across these words, I couldn’t believe it.  Test scores?  My how things don’t really change after all.  We are living in a high stakes time of testing but the push for testing has been going on as long as I have been teaching.  The thing I find frustrating is how unimportant creativity seems in all of this.

However, my perspective on creativity has never really changed.  I have always felt that the most important thing for learning is creativity.  Students need to have time to explore when they are learning.  This exploration needs to involve the student in ways that force him/her to create something new, to come up with new ideas, to think outside of the box.  Most people are not aware of the many known cases of creative people that were not recognized in regular school education, but somehow through their own creativity became successful.  Of course, Thomas Edison comes to mind right away.  However, are you aware that people like Ben Franklin, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, John D. Rockefeller, George Burns, Colonel Sanders, Charles Dickens, Elton John, Harry Houdini, and Ringo Starr all quit their formal schooling at young ages?  Some went back to school, like Einstien, but others flourished by finding something they really were interested in doing.  I think the way we school students today we do not allow children to discover what truly interests them.   If you can find something that you are interested in doing and you spend countless hours perfecting your abilities at getting better at it, you may become an expert in that field.  I often think about the first time I threw a pot on a wheel.  Of course, I could hardly center the clay, let alone create a worthy piece of pottery.  It actually took years before I felt like I was somewhat of an expert, and even that meant that I could not necessarily throw huge pieces of clay.

Why have we, as parents, allowed schools and government to take our children and push two subjects at them as though that is all that is important?  It is reading or it is math.  These two areas count for everything these days.  Of course, I think these subjects are important and obviously, if you cannot read, your opportunities will be limited.  However, the next Einstien may be sitting in a classroom where a teacher thinks he is “slow” or dim witted because he doesn’t score well on government-mandated tests.  Seriously, we are messed up as a society, when all we care about are test scores.  As human beings, we are more than our last test score.  The measure of a man or a woman is not what they scored on their ACT or SAT but on how they live their life.  I worry about our society as we elevate the students that score well on tests and ignore the students that may be daydreamers or late bloomers.  We cannot discredit the different ways people learn and we should not treat students as a one size fits all mentality.  We should embrace their differences and encourage creativity and original thinking.  People that are willing to make mistakes and try something new will be willing to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.  Those new ideas may be the next invention or innovation of an old idea.  No one knows what the future is going to hold.  I didn’t have a clue almost thirty-five years ago when I wrote that paragraph about testing that it would hold true today as well.   As a society, we say we appreciate creative people but we try to put square pegs in round holes every opportunity we get when we ignore the natural creativity of children.  Ken Robinson explains in this video how our formal education system does everything it can to undermine children’s creativity.

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

In the end, we must teach our children to discover their interests and really follow their dreams.  What is it that is going to take to make them better people?  What is going to make them reach their full potential?  Should it be just about making money or is there something more?  What is going to make them truly happy?  We all want to produce something.  We want to feel joy and nurture our interests.  I have to agree with Alan Watts when he asked a simple question:  What do I desire?  What if money were no object?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_sbcSRMsOc
As a society, what are we teaching our children to value?  Is it all about making money or is it about something more creative than just that?  How do we stand out in a world where we are asked to all conform to that square peg?  The artist in each of our children wants to stay an artist.  Why are we happy when our children put away what we deem to be “childish” things such as art?  Art is our humanity.  It is what differentiates us really from all other life forms. We should embrace our creativity, nurture it, and develop it.

 

 

A Day in the Life of an Art Teacher

  • Posted on November 5, 2013 at 9:00 pm

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I was thinking this morning that most people would not have a clue of all of the different things I have to do on any given day as an art teacher.  Today I decided to give people a glimpse into my life as an art teacher.  I arrived at the school around 7:20.  On any typical day, I usually arrive anywhere between 7:15 and 7:25.  On Thursday mornings, we have a delayed start for the students, so I have to be in the library by 7:00 for our PLC (Professional Learning Community) meeting.

Today, I greeted my assistant principal, checked my mailbox, and headed down to my room.  I booted up my computer and got the other six started as well.  Next, I checked my email and loaded all of the programs I would be using during my classes.  These are Power School, Class Dojo, my web page, and a Word document with images of scratch art projects on it.  Next, I wrote on my whiteboard the agenda for the day for all of my classes.

By this time, my mentor students started arriving.  I immediately tell them to make sure they have any homework they need to complete and their reading book.  I assign students that are not finished with their blogs from art class to work on the computers.  The end of the marking period is Friday, so this is the last chance students have to complete any missing work in any of their classes.  I have told my students that most of this work needs to be completed by Wednesday, as all teachers must have their grades submitted by Monday morning.  During Mentor class, I check the grades of the students I am most concerned about failing.  I confer with them about what they need to be doing to get their work turned in.  I remind students to work and not talk.  I give class Dojo points to students for working.

Immediately after class a sixth grade student comes in to tell me an 8th grader had shown her some head phones that he just took from my class.  I thank her and tell her I will take care of it.  I look up the accused student’s schedule, and call his next teacher to explain the situation so she will send him back down.  As I am calling, a woman from the Service Production company peeks in at me to talk about their products and service.  She had called the day before to find out when my planning period was so she could talk with me.  I visit with her and the student shows up.  I tell him I want my headphones back and he tells me he found them.  I tell him I saw him wearing them but I didn’t take them away from him in class because I knew he was working.  He tries to lie some more about the headphones he has taken.  I tell him to stop lying and that I am disappointed that he would steal from my classroom and that I now find it difficult to trust him and he will have to earn my trust back.  I add that my mother always told me, “You lie, you cheat, and you steal.”  I told him I expect more from him and he should head back to class.   The Service Production rep says she used to teach years ago and she remembers times like that when you have to let the student know the jig is up.  I visit with the rep and she assures me that she can match Nasco’s prices.  I tell her I will look at the catalog she has left with me.  After she leaves, I get my scratch art materials ready for my classes and cut some paper that I know some of the students may need that are behind on other projects.  I organize my desk so I have all of my materials ready to go.  I notice it is almost the end of the hour so I quickly go use the restroom and fill my water bottle.

Third hour begins and I explain to the students that we have three things going on today.  First, students that are behind with their projects have to work on those.  Second, I will pick six students to use the computers to complete their blogs.  Third, students who have everything done will begin a scratch art project.  I show students scratch art projects on the computer and real samples that I have teaching them about composition, the use of pattern and texture with scratch art, and making good choices with my drawing books and pictures.  I also teach them each step to the process of creating a scratch art.  I make sure students understand the instructions, assign students to the computers, and get the rest working.  Some students want me to print a picture of something they can’t seem to find in my books.  As class goes on, I am helping students with their blogs, scratch art drawings, and trying to motivate the ones that are behind.  I talk with one girl about staying after school to be caught up.  I let her call home to see if she can stay.  One little boy has moved away from his assigned seat so I have to deal with his off task behavior.  He happens to be the most behind and I am not surprised, as he likes to talk more than work.  I move him by himself so he can get something done.  At the end of class, students have to clean up and organize the supplies.  They show me their pencils so I know they’re all put back in the boxes I provide for them.  Students are released and it all starts all over again.

This next group is a difficult class.  There are 25 boys and 6 girls in the class.  Most of the boys don’t want to be in art class and frankly would rather be home playing video games, if they had their choice.  They struggle in school and many are poor readers.    I begin the class by taking away a phone as one of the girls has her phone and has several students following her trying to see what is on it.  She lies to me and says she doesn’t have one.  Of course, I saw it and made her give it to me. … More wasted time.  She brings up her notebook and some boys have drawn some poor images of penises on it.  She says that is why she had her phone out.  More disruption!  Just know, if you are a middle school teacher, you will have witnessed crudely drawn penises in a book, on a wall, on a table, somewhere in the school.  Strangely enough, I have talked with the janitor and the boys are even smearing feces on the wall of some of the bathrooms.  Note to self, keep washing my hands because you just don’t know what the students have been doing.

I have had enough and I want to start class.  I assign six students to the computers and spend most of the next hour dealing with off task behavior in between helping students with their blogs, drawings, and cutting paper for those that are behind.  I send two students down to the interventionist so he can work with them on their behavior.  After the two boys are gone, things are better but I still have to deal with some students out of their seat and wasting time.  The last twenty minutes are uneventful until one table has a problem.  It’s right at the end of class.  One of them has spilled glue all over the table and on one of the student’s folders.  These students are friends and some are even cousins.  They continually like to pick on each other, just for fun.  I dismiss all of the students but the one table and make them do a thorough job of cleaning up the mess, that none of them of course, created.  This takes time away from my short lunch as they think I am going to give them a pass so they seem to be tasking their sweet time, until they realize the pass isn’t coming.  By the time I get my soup can and apple around, I have 17 minutes left for lunch.  Those 17 minutes are precious time.  I spend it with three other teachers that are hilarious and lighten the day for me.  I feel renewed in spirit because I know they understand what it is like to deal with off task middle school behavior.

I head to my next class of sixth graders with my apple in hand.  I get the students working and I have that one little boy that doesn’t want to do his project.  He isn’t going to do it and I can’t make him.  He is right.  I can lead a horse to water but I cannot make him drink.  He proceeds to take some pen on a string and starts flicking it at other students.  I tell him to sit down and get to work.  He tells me he doesn’t want to do that project.  The aide for another student makes some suggestions to him.  He doesn’t like her suggestions, as I knew he wouldn’t.  What he really wants to do is get on a computer, not necessarily to blog, but to do anything but what he is supposed to be doing.  This little boy has been a joy in class until the last couple of weeks.  I don’t know what is in his head but now he doesn’t want to do anything and it is frustrating.  I have tried reverse psychology, making suggestions, trying to get him to make it something special for his mom.  Nothing works.  He wants his way and that is all he will do.  In my mind, I am banging my head against a wall because I don’t know what else will work with this child.  I know he likes me but there is something making him not want to produce anything right now.  I try to ignore his protests because I am hoping he eventually will give up and work.  Class ends uneventfully.

My seventh graders come in and I repeat much of the same process.  I have one boy that is the class clown.  He interrupts my instruction many times and announces that he needs to go to the bathroom now.  I have a procedure for this and it is not when I am giving instructions.  After his many interruptions, I send him out to the interventionist.  The rest of the class is wonderfully uneventful.  I help students with their blogs and scratch art designs.  I print images for some of them and we have a good day.  I look at student blogs and give them feedback so they can improve them.  Clean up goes well and I move on to the last hour of the day.

In between classes, the girl that had her phone taken away earlier in another class tried to get me to give it back to her before the last hour.  Lessons need to be learned.  I wasn’t going to have her interrupting someone else’s class with her antics. She said she would miss the bus.  I told her she could take the short cut out of my exit doors.  She left feeling frustrated but came back at the end of the day.  She didn’t miss her bus.

My last hour is a class with all girls because it is my advanced art class.  These are students, which really love art.  I have both seventh and eighth graders in this class.  I assign some to the computers and a couple have to finish projects.  The rest are busy working on drawings for scratch art and scratching techniques with their scratch art projects.  One little girl has finished her scratch art and it is beautiful.  I suggest that she could make another if she likes as I have many different scratch art papers.  She seems thrilled by this and busily gets to work.  I make suggestions to students to improve their drawings.  Midway through class, the students prompt me to put on some music.  I put on Pandora.  This class is truly amazing.  I love the end of my day, as these students are very trustworthy, sweet as can be, and highly motivated.  It is a joy working with them.

After I dismiss my class, two sixth grade students come in to work on their projects after school.  I get a hug from the one that I had let call home earlier in the day.  She seems happy to be able to stay to work on her project.  I see a different side to her after school.  Shortly after her arrival, I hear my name over the loud speaker to come to the principal’s office.   I am wondering what is up with that and I think how funny it is because when a student is called to the office, all of the other students make  a “Ohhhhh” sound.  My principal has called a sudden meeting with some of the exploratory teachers.  The administration has started a program by pulling students out of our classes so they can go work on missing assignments for their core classes.  He tells us we have to make sure the students show up.  Evidently, two of the students on my list showed up only one day.  Many other students didn’t show up from other exploratory classes.  After some discussion and clarification of exactly what my principal wanted, I went back to my classroom to tie up the events of the day.

I answered all of my emails.  I made two referrals for the homework intervention program.  By now, it was nearly 4:00, so I told my two girls that they would have to clean up soon.  One girl got a phone call and left but the other one that had hugged me, cleaned up and stayed to chat a few minutes.  She told me her mom wants her to try out for the talent show.  I asked her what she wanted to do and I encouraged her to consider it, but if she was scared to try to get a friend to sing a duet with her.  I think she liked that idea.  She left and I finished shutting down all of the computers and finally left school around 4:15.

I know this day may sound boring to some people, but what I think is amazing, is how little time I actually spend on teaching.   I spend much more time on parenting, being a mentor, being a friend, encouraging, cajoling, and trying desperately to get students to care about themselves enough to do the right thing and try to do their best.  Teaching can be exasperating, frustrating, but also joyful.  Teaching art has moments that are just brilliant like watching a student grow and develop and yet heart breaking when I see a student give up on himself or herself.  When I go home, I am still thinking about the next day and what I have to do.  I am on the internet working on more plans for my classes.  I sometimes have to call parents.  The day never is really done and the students are often on my mind as I try to devise ways to motivate them and encourage them in art class.  Today I am thinking about an order I have to place and my budget.  I am looking at what I still need to buy for my classes.  As an art teacher, I have to work on everything from a budget, to organization, to discipline, to instructional strategies and delivery, and even time management.  There is a lot that has to be done by me that most people don’t probably realize.  I have to be able to speak to adults kindly about their children even when they are naughty.  I have to be a diplomat for the school and an advocate for my program.  I have to be a team member that works well with the other teachers and a leader in ways that I am able.  I have to be tech saavy and always aware of my surrounding and those of my students.  Teaching today seems to me to be ever changing.  The amount of technology I use in my classes is tremendous.  I consider myself to be far ahead of most teachers in the area of technology.  I am always learning and trying to share what I know with other teachers.  There is no time to be stagnant in my program.  I feel that art and technology go naturally together so it can be a great marriage of two diverse worlds.  Since my students are busy working on their blogs, I am going to share a link to them so you can see for yourselves how the two are married together.  I think most are doing a fabulous job on their blogs.  Some are still working on them but check them out, you may be surprised at the blogs they have created.  Of course, you will also witness the students that just don’t care.  Luckily, they are in the minority.  http://sturgisps.org/Page/4558

There are over a hundred blogs so just scroll down and look through them.

Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”

  • Posted on September 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Sometime this last year, one of my previous art students, who is now in college, posted on Facebook:  Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”.  It made me laugh and think.  Ultimately, it became the inspiration for this painting, which I created for my art classroom this summer.

The "Earth" Without Art is Just "Eh"

With all of the emphasis on testing at my school and across the country, the arts tend to be ignored by educators and administrators trying to get students to pass a test.  However, art is an integral part of our world.  Art is all around us.  We cannot escape it.  We are constantly choosing the beauty we allow into our lives from the clothing we wear, to the home we live in, and to the car, we drive.  Color and beauty surrounds us and inspires us.  Life without some form of art, in my opinion, would be dull for most of us.  Most people are inspired by the performing arts, especially music.  We cannot wait to listen to music.  It can both soothe our soul on a tough day and motivate us to action on another.  We can view a painting and be mesmerized by both the detailed brushstroke or loose, fast, moving strokes.  I can remember seeing a Van Gogh painting back in my twenties that I swore the wheat was moving in.  Of course, it appeared as though the wind was blowing and it was just paint, but it was fascinating to me.

When I was young, I grew up in a very large family.  We really didn’t have time for art.  We worked hard and we just were not exposed to the arts in a way that many are today.  The fact that I became an art teacher is somewhat puzzling.  I didn’t have an art class all through my K-12 years.  I had a pencil and paper and I liked to draw.  I didn’t have room in my schedule in high school for an art class until my senior year because I was all college prep.  I didn’t take art.  I took choir.  I really like to sing but the truth is I figured I would be a failure in an art class.  I had never had art, so how could I possibly take art as a senior?  I knew I could sing a bit so I figured that was a safer bet.  However, during my senior year I remember staying up late and drawing.  One time I got out the encyclopedia and drew a picture of JFK.  Of course, I just happened to leave it on the kitchen table so my parents would see it in the morning.  I don’t remember their response but I did keep on drawing.  I went on to college as an undeclared major.  I loved college.  I took many different classes from psychology to philosophy and of course all of the other required courses and I kept on drawing.  Other students encouraged me to take an art course after seeing a drawing I did of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”.  I don’t even remember how I discovered that painting but I wanted to draw that beautiful girl.  I thought my friends were nuts, but somehow I found myself signing up for a drawing class.  I was scared to death.  When I went to my first class, the other students were talking about how stupid it was that they had to take this “dip shit” drawing course before they could take anything better.  I thought, “What the hell am I doing here?”  I talked to the professor after class and he asked me if I would faithfully come to class and do the assignments.  I told him I would.  He told me that I would be fine, not to drop out, and to watch as some of those students do drop out.  He was right.  When I took that first class, I knew I had found my home, my center, the place where I felt complete, like I never had before.  Art gave me courage.   Art gave me purpose.  Art made me feel I was part of something bigger in this world.

Even though I missed some early art training, I have never looked back.  I know I made the right choice for me.  I love making art and I love teaching art to my students.  I feel earth without art is just “eh” for sure.  After changing my major to art, I discovered clay.  Throwing on the wheel became a passion so I spent many years supporting myself with that passion.  I truthfully only went into teaching because of my parents.  My mom wanted me to have my teaching certificate to fall back on.  Both of my parents were teachers.  When I first graduated, I taught art at Fowler, Michigan and I loved it but I still wanted to make pottery.  When my husband took a job in Oklahoma, I gave up my job and focused on my pottery.  In a few years, he left and I had to make a living for my son and myself.  I did it with my pottery.  It was tough because I had to make a lot of pottery, not just the things that most inspired me.    However, I did well enough to move back to Michigan and buy a home.  When my son was in Kindergarten, I went up to the school with my pottery wheel and some clay for his class.  I had so much fun working with those little kids that I started thinking about going back to teaching.  It appeared that in order to do this I needed to update my teaching credentials, which meant more schooling.  I had taken courses in Oklahoma but they were all pottery courses with Montee Hoke.  They wouldn’t count towards that update.  It was going to cost about $6000, so I thought I can’t do that!  Of course, with parents like mine, that was not going to happen.  They said they would loan me the money.  When I told them, it had been awhile and I might not do well, my mom laughed and told me I was a good student and I would do fine.  Of course, she was right.  I went to Central Michigan University.  My son started second grade at Glen Lake and then went to CMU with me.  We lived in married housing, which he loved!  He loved it because it was a small apartment and other kids were there.  He ended the year back up at Glen Lake.  I’m lucky he was a smart kid and easily adjusted to the situation.  I remember telling him we were going on an adventure!

That was well over twenty years ago.  After CMU, I taught art at Manistee part time for a year.  Then I was hired at Sturgis.  I have taught twenty years at Sturgis.  What I find amazing is how excited the start of a new year remains for me.  I spent much of this summer working on classroom management, creating art for my classroom, and creating new lesson plans for my students.  I totally revamped my classroom and discipline plan.  I made art to inspire my students.  I have a passion for teaching art.  I want to inspire everyone I can with how important art is in our lives.  Art gives children an opportunity to express themselves.  It can make a child feel like a super star.  It can even do that for adults.  Art can transform people and even nations.  Art is a language that we all can understand.  It can speak to us in quiet ways or loud.  It can teach us to care.  It can help us understand each other.  The earth without art really is just “eh”.

 

Wisconsin Protests

  • Posted on August 12, 2013 at 11:52 am

It has been a fairly quiet summer, or so I thought.  I just realized that protests at the Wisconsin state capital have continued for a long time.  I thought they had been shut down long ago by Governor Walker and his austerity plan for unions.  They just haven’t been getting the national coverage they got when the “Ed” show managed to showcase them on MSNBC.  I watched daily on Big Eddie’s show to see what was going to happen.  Of course what happened was the same thing that happened here in Michigan.  Unions took a giant hit with Republican legislatures and governors.  Here, in Michigan, we became a “right to work” state which loosely translates into a “right to work for less” state.

As an art teacher, I saw the pinch of what all of this means immediately last fall when I had to have my union dues taken out of my bank account and not out of my paycheck.  They can take money for other things including charities, but union dues, not so much.  It really annoys me and I do my own form of protest for this.  It was set up this way to really try to break the union by hitting them in the pocketbook.  Who knows?  Perhaps some teachers have opted to not pay their union dues, thinking that they aren’t getting anything for their money.  However, I am not willing to go back to the dark ages of no representation other than who you know and how popular you personally are with them.  It is sad really as this past school year was the most stressful that I have witnessed in all of my years of teaching.

The stress was caused by all of the legislation going on at the state level.  Most interestingly is the way teacher evaluations are configured.  All teachers at my school have a portion of their evaluation tied to a group of student test scores in reading and math.  This means I have a mentor class that I see for 35 minutes each day that I must nurture so they can perform on a standardized test.  If they improve, I get more points on my evaluation and get to breathe for another year.  If they don’t, well, in time it means I’m a lousy art teacher I guess.  This group is not handpicked by me or any of the other teachers.  Although, if an administrator was so inclined I suppose they could give a teacher a tough load just for fun, to drive them crazy, or to try and get them to retire.  So, we have our own little hell here in Michigan.  What I didn’t know was that Wisconsin union workers have continued to protest.

I want to share a couple video links here so people can become more aware of what is still going on in Wisconsin.  We, as teachers, and other union members, have really taken a hit in the past few years.  We have had changes made to our pensions, pay, union rights, and insurance all because of the Republican power at the state level.  I’m calling it like it is as there is no way this would have happened to this extent under Democrats.  Often I say there is no difference between the two parties anymore but this is really not true. The right wing agenda is about privatization of everything and spreading the word of God as they take away programs for the poor, women, and disenfranchised.

We must be diligent in understanding what is going on across our nation.  We cannot sit back and idly play through the summer months without being more aware of what is happening to unions, the middle class, and the poor.  I am not saying to skip any vacations.  I just want people to be aware of what is happening.

Wisconsin Capital Protestors from the Real News

From Blue Cheddar (They will be doing a live stream today at 12:00 Central time here as well.)

Blue Cheddar Video

Stress and School

  • Posted on June 23, 2013 at 8:29 pm

A Survey by the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy (By the way, if you will click on the link you will see that they are out to protect my "rights" as a teacher. What a joke!)

It has been a stressful year at my school. Between the many illnesses, PLC time, the Common Core, evaluations tied to student performance (Even from areas that I do not teach.), the NOTEBOOK, and other tragedies; it has been a relief to get to the end of this year. I have not been able to post because I have had my time consumed by school related issues and the stress that comes from them. I feel such a sense of relief to be at the end of this particular school year. This is what it is like teaching in Michigan with the constant changing rules and expectations coming from our government. There is a lot expected from teachers today that most people just don’t even realize. Teachers have been beat up by a system that doesn’t respect them and chooses to blame them for all that is wrong with education today. Here in Michigan the push to privatize education is alive and strong. Why anyone could think a “for profit” system is going to be better for children is beyond me. If you think about it, children just become a commodity with a “net loss” value, not worth the effort, because the focus is on raising the profile of the better product. Why would a private organization want to work with a product that is going to cost them more money to put through the system? If they want to make money, they will not be concerned about special education, small class instruction, and doing anything “extra” that might cost them some profit. Our children become merely an incentive for profit. That is the bottom line. America needs to wake up and understand what is really happening in public education. It is about getting more for less and helping some big businesses turn a profit.

Recently, our school chose to privatize the cleaning in all of our schools. I don’t know what the result will be but I do know that good people that cared about our school and community lost their jobs. These people live in the district and even have children in the district. The company that will be coming in will be paying less, so they can make a profit. Everything is down to the bottom dollar. I know our school was required by the state to take bids on certain job areas. My thoughts are that it won’t be long when the teachers are summarily replaced, much like the janitors. We have no special power. We have been beaten down by a system that constantly makes us jump through another hoop to prove that we are good at our jobs, that we still love teaching, and that we care about the kids. There is nothing wrong with having to “perform” so to speak but the goal line seems to be constantly moving and changing. Just when one can think they are doing what is wanted of them, another thing is expected. It is like a constantly moving target that no one can quite hit because just as you are about to score, it moves.

The Michigan House rammed through a bill to dissolve school districts without transferring employees. It is rather appalling to see this kind of legislation coming out of the state of Michigan. Michigan used to be a leader in the area of education. Now we are a leader in government takeover of local districts with no thought given to the voting public. It started with places like Detroit and Benton Harbor. These cities have been taken over by emergency managers. Schools are getting the same treatment. The response from the House Education Committee Chairwoman on the House floor was as follows: “Pigs get fat — hogs get slaughtered.” Her statement is so inflammatory and does nothing to help schools at all. The state of Michigan has cut money to schools drastically since Governor Snyder has been in office. This is the “expect more and pay less” attitude that is the new mantra in Michigan. http://www.mea.org/house-rams-through-bills-dissolve-school-districts-without-transferring-employees

I frankly don’t see how local businesses are helped when employees lose their jobs. Unemployed people cannot do much for the local economy. They can’t spend as much money, so less money is circulated. Wal-Mart is part of this equation as well. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the Walton Family Foundation gives money to the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank that really has a stranglehold on current education policy in the state of Michigan. All teachers should be made aware that money they spend at Wal-Mart could find its way up to the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy. Yes, I know we all go to Wal-Mart as it is located to make us all shop there. I stay away as much as I can. Truthfully, none of us should be supporting a business that really believes that privatization is the cure for public ills. Maybe Wal-Mart will open a school if the money is right. With the right profit motive, anything is possible. People need to be aware of these connections.

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/mackinac-center-public-policy

This great debate in education frustrates me as an artist and an art teacher. I am in the business of trying to make people think. The arts push us to a better place. Whether we are painting, drawing, listening or playing music, art feeds our senses. For me it just doesn’t make any “sense” to leave art off the table of the great debate about education. I keep telling anyone that will listen that if you want a job in the future, you are going to have to be creative. If twenty people show up for an interview, I bet the one that stands out for being more creative is more apt to get the job. Of course, this debate really isn’t about the future; it’s about crony capitalism and pushing incentives over to the private sector. It isn’t about the kids, no, once again, it’s just about business.

Teaching with Guns? What?

  • Posted on December 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Teaching with Guns? What?

Here it is the day after Christmas and I was watching Martin Bashir’s show on MSNBC.  He had a substitute.  I was half listening and decided to create a simple sketch of a teacher.  Yes, this is any teacher.  The NRA thinks the only thing we can do about guns is to have “good guys” with guns to shoot the bad guys with guns.  Here in Michigan our Governor was seriously thinking of allowing guns in schools.  He was going to sign the bill on that fateful Friday when of course it became politically incorrect to do so.  That doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future though.  Therefore, here I am picturing teachers with guns.  Teaching with guns, what a strange concept that is to me!

The thought of this just blows my mind.  I am not a gun person.  I have friends that hunt and are really into their guns.  I’m okay with that.  It’s just not my thing.  However, I don’t see the need for assault weapons in the hands of anyone but the military.  If they are allowed, then why do we allow clips that hold 30 or more bullets?  It just seems insane to me to have these weapons and bullets so easily available to anyone.  I don’t think the average person needs a rocket launcher and hopefully they are not legal so why a weapon that is made to just kill a large number of people in a very short time?  These are the thoughts that go through my mind on this subject this fine snowy day when most people should be thinking about the peacefulness of the season.

Government created laws regulates many things in our lives.  We cannot drink and drive.  In Michigan, I have to sign my life away to get Sudafed.  We have speed limits on our roads.  We have to insure our vehicles.  We have to purchase hunting and fishing licenses.  I had to be finger printed to become a teacher.  Volunteer parents have to go through a background check to go on a school outing with their own kids.  With all of this in my mind, it is hard for me to understand why we cannot create some kind of sense with the gun issue.  It seems like politicians are more concerned these days about women’s bodies than guns!  This year has really been the year of the woman.  Whether a woman can have complete control over her own body is an issue that most Republicans would like to control.  Guns?  Not so much!  Women’s bodies are regulated by the government but don’t touch our guns.

As a teacher, I cannot imagine guns in school.  Working with middle school students can be very trying at times.  Students can be very moody and they don’t always make good decisions.  We know that their brains are not fully developed and they lack executive decision-making skills because of this.  That is why kids sometimes do stupid things.  Imagine school with teachers with guns.  It’s a vision I don’t want to witness.  I know teachers that have lost their cool with students and students that have simply lost it.  Imagine, adding a gun to that mix?  As a parent, I would not want my child taught by someone carrying a gun.

The NRA needs to help be a part of the solution and not the problem.  I watched “Meet the Press” and heard the same old stale ideas that the NRA has have had for years.  Truthfully, not everyone should have access to guns.  If someone in a household has some psychological issues, I think it is a household that should not be allowed to have access to high-powered assault weapons.  You would not hand a loaded gun to a small child to play with so why give a person living in an altered universe an opportunity to fulfill some imagined fantasy.  We are better than this.  We should be able to work together to create a plan that makes sense to everyone.  Teachers should not have to worry about whether they are packing a pistol or not.  They should be spending their energy nurturing and igniting the minds and imaginations of the children they teach.  They should not be expected to show up for target practice in order to get their teaching certificate!

Happiness and Dreams

  • Posted on November 24, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I have a friend on Facebook that recently posted a video that I think everyone should watch so I am sharing it on my blog.  The second video is a video response to the first video.  With all of the trivial mass garbage that is posted on the Internet daily, it is not often that I come across videos that make me really think and want to think.

Are you doing what you want to do?  Are you afraid to do what you dream?  Are you like the hamster on a wheel that cannot get off?  If so, you will appreciate this first video.  What do you desire?  Lucky for me I have always been able to work with art my entire “adult” life.  I treasure getting my fingers dirty and stretching the boundaries of what I think I can do, but what really is exciting for me is teaching art.  I know deep down inside I love seeing what art does for young people.  How it encourages them and can help them feel good about themselves.  There is nothing more thrilling than watching the development of a young child’s mind and growth with art.  I see a spark and I feel the emotion that went into their artwork when they really care about what they are doing.

Here is the video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siu6JYqOZ0g

I have worked several different jobs over my lifetime.  I had a summer at a factory in my hometown.  It hurt my fingers with the little metal shavings that would get into them.  I have waited tables, greeted people, sold cameras, and done many jobs as I was working my way through college.  I sold my pottery at art shows for many years and I loved it except for the fact that even with art there is always the problem of making money to live……so, sometimes you make mugs, many, many mugs, to survive!  However, even when I was doing other things I think in my heart I was always a teacher.  When I went to Central Michigan University to update my teaching certificate so I could teach again, I asked one of my professors to write me a letter of recommendation.  He went beyond my expectations.  He came up to visit me at my studio near Maple City.  I was in the middle of getting ready for yet another art show, so I very busy.  I stopped what I was doing and showed him how everything worked.  I explained the firing process.  I was excited that he had taken the time to stop in and see me.  When I received a copy of his letter, he wrote about how I am always teaching.  He knew I was busy but he learned so much from visiting me because I took the time to show him what I was doing.

Teaching in itself is an art form.  Not everyone has that gift.  Anyone that thinks it is easy to teach someone about anything just doesn’t really understand what it takes to be a good or great teacher.  Think about the last time you tried to give someone directions that has a hard time understanding the whole north, south, east, and west thing.  Some people can understand those directions quite easily while others are immediately lost when you open your mouth.  Teaching is the same way as some students come more prepared than others and some just lack understanding or perhaps confidence.  No two students are identical but we keep teaching them all the same ways.  It’s a bit confusing.  Like the video, we should be teaching students how to reach for their dreams.  School shouldn’t be about taking a series of standardized tests, but about learning, thinking, and even dreaming.  We should give students the opportunity to create in the arts, perform music and drama, build with their hands, and of course learn how to read, write, and do those complex math problems.  However, in school we should also be developing self awareness for each student, not to be future drones, but to be self sufficient, confident, and most of all we should teach them how to think independently!

The second video was a video response to the first video.  It is Charlie Chaplin giving his last speech in “The Great Dictator.”

I think as a society, we owe it to each other to be the best that we can be.  We should encourage each other to become the best that we can be.  We should not be greedy or hateful.  In this season of giving my gift to any of you that bother to read my blog is the gift of thought.  I hope each of these videos causes you to think about how you make an impact on the people you meet each day.  If you work with children, remember that they need strong people in their lives that truly care about them.  It is up to us, the people, to create the kind of world that we want it to be.  It is up to us to create our own bliss in whatever way we are able.  I challenge all of you to reach outside yourself and help someone else that needs it, but most of all find what will make you happy.  If you are happy, you just might make someone else happy as well!

Testing, Matt Damon, and Imagination

  • Posted on August 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm

This was painted by Annalisa, one of my students....being allowed to express herself!

As the summer winds down and I am spending time preparing for the new school year, I find myself thinking about my own potential as a teacher.  I feel blessed to be able to teach art in this 21st Century where politicians seem to think the only thing of value is math and science.  It boggles my mind when I think about my own potential as a child.  I have always felt that I had a deprived childhood because I didn’t have any art classes in my K-12 education.  It is truly remarkable that I have spent much of my adult life as an art teacher.  I would never have pursued art in college, if it hadn’t been for the student friends that happened to see my drawings.  They kept asking me why I wasn’t taking any art classes.  I remember drawing pictures and putting them up on my bulletin board.  I had no training.  I just liked to draw with a simple pencil and paper.

I grew up in a large family with 14 kids.  I have always felt that when you grow up in large families with little money you learn to be creative.  Maybe you have to find new ways to play because you don’t have that fancy toy your friend has or maybe you have to fix something because you don’t have the money to buy a new one.  Regardless of the reasons, I feel my family circumstance contributed to my creativity.  In addition to that is the fact that I had good parents.  They both were teachers, but they also were devoted to their family.  The family came first.  My parents would go without many things to provide for the big brood they had.  I can remember my mom coming home from teaching at the end of a long day.  She would lie down on the couch with a cold compress on her head.  She did this almost daily, but then she would always get up and make the family meal.  Everything would be from scratch.  We never went out to eat!

From very early on, I knew I was going to college.  I’m not sure why I knew this as my two older sisters weren’t as fortunate.  Maybe because I’m the youngest, I had a better opportunity as a girl to go on to college.  My oldest brothers all went on to college.  The four oldest each went on for their doctorates.  The fact that both of my parents even had gone to college was quite remarkable.  They didn’t come from wealthy families and they were born in 1909 and 1911.  Education, obviously, has always been important in my family!  This is one the reasons I find the current turmoil in education about standardized testing so ridiculous.  As I grew up in a family of 14 children, we were as different as the day is long.  We weren’t clones of each other.  We all had remarkably different personalities and interests.  Some of us were probably better “test takers” than others, but taking a test could never really determine who we became as adults! Some of us might have even been considered “late bloomers”.   I don’t think any of us ever would want to remember our K-12 experience in school as being about testing!  However, today students are spending much valuable time preparing for “important” tests.  Much of the school day is designed and structured around that yearly test.  Each school has to make adequate yearly progress.  This test taking business is just going to get worse.  Recently, here in Michigan, the governor signed a new bill into law that will eventually require 49% of a teacher’s evaluation to be tied to student test scores.  As a parent there is no way I would want my child subjected to this kind of education.

My son is 27, so he isn’t part of this craziness.  I look at my students much like my child.  Since I had my son so many years ago, I have always felt that I should treat my students the way I would want my son to be treated by a teacher.  I always wanted my child to dream big and be creative.  I wanted him to see possibilities and use his imagination.  I worry for the students of today.  Are we doing everything we can to make them into compliant little test takers?  Is that really what a teacher is supposed to be doing?  As an art teacher, I know my job is a big one in this high stakes testing time.  I have to give my students wings so they can access their creativity and play with their imagination.  So much of time in school is spent with the constant pressure in the back of everyone’s mind to improve test scores.  Now, it will even be elevated as teachers discover that their jobs may be on the line, if they can’t get their students to pass the state test!  Now, most of you reading my blog probably have some reservations about all of this test taking and what it really means for the future.  However, some of you may think teachers are just not doing their jobs today, because you keep hearing about how we have fallen behind in the world!  Truthfully, politicians have chosen to go after teachers because many of us belong to the last strong union standing.   Do you really think it’s the fault of the teacher if a student can’t pass a state test?  There are a lot of reasons students don’t pass tests.  One thing we know for sure is poverty plays a part in test taking.  At our school and probably many others we make sure students have a snack before they take the “big” test!  There are many factors that can affect test scores.  These are everything from poor nutrition, to lack of sleep, to inadequate test taking strategies (Yes there is a strategy for this!), attention problems, distractions, to even daydreaming!  Some days are also better than other days.  Maybe you just had a bad day that day.  Who knows what’s going on in a student’s head on any given day?  I remember a young lady that came into my art room that seemed out of sorts to me.  I asked her what was wrong.  She first said nothing and then she told me that she had been in an accident that morning.  The point I’m trying to make here is that teaching shouldn’t be about just taking a test and yet it seems like that is all the politicians care about.

This was painted by another student of mine, Cleanna. Shouldn't we be opening the door to imagination and creativity in our schools?

If you think back to your favorite teacher, I bet you don’t think about the fact that he or she taught you how to take a great test!  You probably think about the day when you felt special, like your teacher really cared about you!  I hope I make students feel special when they come into my art room.  I really do care about them.  The other day I was at the Three Rivers’ Meijer store shopping and an older woman was so upset because of some “screaming brats” in the store.  She thought she had an ally in me.  She thought the parents were terrible that couldn’t control their children!  She also thought they didn’t care that other people were annoyed by them.  I told her I was a middle school teacher.  It was obvious she wouldn’t want that job!  She told me she likes dogs but not kids.  She could tolerate her own children but even her grand children had better behave or she’d give them the boot!   I let her know that I like all of my students even the ones that frustrate me.  So many people that criticize teachers would not ever want to be stuck with thirty middle school students themselves.  Most of the teachers I know really care about their students just like I do.  We realize that at the middle school level students can bounce around with their behavior.  They have good and bad days.  They need adults around them that really care about them and can help them transition into adulthood.  If teachers are left worrying about test taking it gives less time for teachers to really spend caring about their students’ individual needs.  We are not all clones of each other and the students we teach are as different as my brothers and sisters were from me when I was growing up.  At the middle school I always think it’s interesting because there is no one student that can show us what a middle school student is, as they come in all different shapes and sizes, and interests!  So, I’m left asking myself the question why we have a government that insists on a test where one size fits all.  Matt Damon gets it and I really hope you take the time to listen to his full speech from last weekend.  It’s not that long but at one point he says, “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.”  Truthfully, none of the qualities that I bring to my art classroom as a teacher can be determined and evaluated by a student test score either.

I am so excited about this new school year, not because my students will be great test takers, but because I can’t wait to work with my students and push their imaginations and creativity.  Just like any other year, I have a thousand things racing through my mind.  I’m filled with ideas for lesson plans for the new school year.  I can’t wait to share my ideas with my students, so they can take the seed of an idea that I begin and create something totally new and different from any other person.  As the government has us all “race to the top”, I’ll have my students all chart a new path for their own creativity and learning.  They will learn from each other.  They won’t run over each other racing for some golden imaginary ring devoted to test taking.  My students, for the brief time they are with me, will hopefully have an opportunity to access their imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.  These are skills that will serve them well in this 21st Century!

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