Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Kindness and Strength

"I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again." - Etienne (Stephen) De Grellet

I'm not quite sure why certain status updates stop and command my attention to the point of posting a response; there are likely a number of reasons. I'd imagine it depends on my state of mind, if there's an individual I've been thinking about of late, or if something someone writes strikes me as particularly funny, touching or thought-provoking.

As I recently did my usual obsessive check of the Facebook News Feed, I read the following post: "Why do people mistake kindness for weakness." The person who posted it is someone who I knew on a professional level, for a relatively brief period of time a few years back. She was one of those people, however, with whom I "clicked," to borrow a cliche. From time to time I've met those who, despite how long or how deeply I know them, just feel like they're cut from the same cloth as I am, in terms of how they look at the world around them.

In other words, I sort of see myself in this person.
Her post made me think not only about the way I see the world, but about the way I choose to live my day to day life. In the profession I've chosen -- or the calling that's chosen me, maybe -- kindness is a necessary tool. And, interestingly, so is strength. I'm not talking about "power," or "authority," although they do certainly enter into the equation of what it means to be a good teacher. (Mostly in the teacher's ability to share them, I think.)
My students looked to me for a number of things: knowledge, guidance, humor, and, yes, kindness and strength. It became clear to me as I grew into and accepted my role as a teacher that young people in the classroom need more than just whatever content they happen to be presented with.

Students need an adult's take on how to use the limited time we have on this planet. My students were receiving multiple messages from multiple sources on what it means to be a human being breathing in and out in this world. Like most teens (myself included, way back when), they got a healthy dose of "live-fast-die-young" stuff, because that message has, and continues, to sell to that market.

I chose to model kindness for my students, in the hopes it might give them a piece of what they needed from me, a way to look at the world, and to live in it. A way that would make the world better after our respective walks on her are done, as well as a way to give them that most precious commodity for a young person hoping to make it to adulthood:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is It Good Enough for Your Child?

I have two children, one in second grade and one in Kindergarten in our local public elementary school.

Last summer I attended a meeting to which parents had been invited in order to create a profile for the next principal of the school. I turned to a group of teachers who had come to represent the faculty and said, "I want my children to be taught to be more than just good test takers. I want them to have those skills identified in Tony Wagner's The Global Achievement Gap -- the "21st-Century Skills. I'd like the next principal to be able to speak intelligently about this."

The teachers' heads all turned in my direction at once; they weren't expecting anyone in the parent section of the audience to come out with such a gem of "eduspeak" as I just had. I noticed that one older teacher rolled his eyes at my comment. Not being a fan of non-verbal communication, I asked him if he could put his response to my comment in words. "The tests are not going to go away," he said.

And he was right. There is no viable alternative to standardized testing here in Texas, and I've come to the understanding that getting into shouting matches about the value of testing is a waste of time -- at least for now. "I agree," I responded. "I'm not asking you to stop preparing them for it. I'm asking you to do more."

Parent heads nodded around me, and I heard one woman mutter, "Yes sir, that's right," in a way that made me feel like quoting scripture and hugging a Bible to my chest.

For effect, I repeated the charge, "As a parent, and as an educator, I'm asking all of us to do more."

I doubt I "converted" that seasoned 5th grade math teacher, but I know that I reached the parents in that room. And if what I said had an effect on just one of the other teachers sitting in the audience that day (and I suspect it did, based on some nodding I saw from that section of the audience, as well), then I know I may have planted a seed of change in that school.

Now the trick is to imagine my children attending every school I work with, from Estacado High in Lubbock to Fred Florence Middle School in Dallas, and to fight the fight for better educational practice just as passionately wherever I go. To plant that seed continuously, over and over.

As Felicia Donaldson, the young principal of Baxter Junior High School in Everman, Texas put it when addressing her entire staff for the first time, "If this school isn't good enough for your own children, then it's not good enough for ANY children. And we need to change that together."