Courage, Faith & Public Education


My days can be a blur with all that do. Someone recently asked me why I am always in a hurry and frankly they were right-I am. Well something happened yesterday that made me stop and think. I was something I had never seen before and was absolutely amazing.

While walking through the cafeteria of a traditional public school I saw what I usually see. Lots of children busy moving around getting their lunches and finding a spot to sit. Usually all looking around at what everyone is doing and chatting up a storm as they quickly eat. The tables were really filling up and the noise level was steadily increasing.

praying hands

As I turned to exit the cafeteria I notice a boy (maybe 4th or 5th grade) bow his head and fold his hands in his lap. I stopped and watched. He was surrounded by other boys busily eating and talking, opening their milks, and going about

their usual lunch business. None of their actions affected him. His lips were moving and his eyes were closed. As I watched I did my best to read his lips and then I was certain he was praying. WOW, just wow!

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the public school cafeteria filled with students and staff this boy stopped to pray before breaking bread. I was so unbelievably amazed, impressed and moved. As I walked away the tears welled up in my eyes and my heart sang. There are seeds of faith growing inside the doors of public education. What a courageous boy.

I pondered this event the rest of day. We could all stand to learn from this boy. I imagine his parents have taught him well for him to carry out his faith despite his surroundings. Would we as adults have the courage to do what he did?

Many times we are working hard to share our faith by talking with others, inviting them to attend church with us or come to special events. We may be over thinking it…This boy made me think that is may be more of what people see us do than what we say. Sometimes we say a lot without saying anything at all.

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Tales from the Trenches: As the Charter World Turns…

As the charter world turnsI have heard that some folks refer to those of us in the charter world as a daytime soap; more specifically,  “As the charter world turns” because we have so much drama. I find that very interesting as we don’t seek out the drama but rather we are treated as second-rate school by many, (cough, Dept of Cough, cough). 😉

Case in point, charter schools are expected to keep our finances in the black. If we run in the red we would be shut down. I think we could really come up with a nice list of traditional schools are able to stay open while well in the hole. They just go to the tax payers and ask for more money when they want to balance their budgets…running in statutory operation debt isn’t all that uncommon…

Charters are constantly under attack whether it be finances, test scores or governance.

If one bad thing happens in a charter school all of the sudden we are all thrown out with the bath water and labeled as bad. If one bad thing happens at a traditional school people say, oh, that is just one person who made poor choices at that school. The others are just fine…you know…, “My kids school is better than that…” we’ve all hear it..

We report to our school board just as a traditional school does, we report to the state dept just like the traditional school does AND we report to our authorizer. We have 3 entities keeping CLOSE tabs on us. We are mandated to test our kids just like all of the other schools, we exchange some funding for flexibility on our focus, calendar, etc., but overall, we have plenty of oversight. Despite all of these oversight we are still put in the corner time and time again.

How is it that concept of charters (which by the way were born here in MN) has gone from a school for piloting new and innovative teaching, learning and professional development practices has come to this??

Why is it that so much in education is NOT about kids but rather about politics, money and power? Charter schools are schools too. Charter schools are filled with kids just like other schools. When talking about students with disabilities I always refer to it as students with disability NOT disabled student because the student comes first. Maybe rather than calling us charter schools we should be called schools with charters. Would that put the focus back on the school and less on the piece that makes a different? Who knows. But for now, it makes me feel better.

To those in traditional schools- I don’t mean to attack you, I just would like others to know how it feels when some groups treat us as ‘less than.’ I am sure you endure many of the same hardships as we do. To those in charters- You are not alone. Keep pressing on. The students and families you serve desperately need you. Remember it’s about the kids.

And now I’ll temporarily step down from my soap box 😀

Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 

The Walmart Complex Applied to Education

The other evening I was doing what I always do (three or more things all at once…) as I was doing this I had a bit of an ironic epiphany.

SO I was reading someones thoughts on education and how the U.S. educational system demands everyone hit every standards to a specified degree and concluded with the notion that everyone doesn’t need to be good at everything and rather it’s important that everyone have their own unique expertise/talent. While reading that I had the T.V. on and there seemed to be many commercials for for big box companies and a few tech commercials both of which triggered an ‘ah-ha’ for me.

I typically get irritated when stores get what I refer to as ‘the walmart compex’ which is when they try to be all things for all people, (i.e., selling everything from mayonnaise to men’s underwear to crown molding.) Seeing these advertisements giving that same message not only about their company but about people too really hit home.

As I sat there reflecting I began to question it all. Why is it that we shifted from mom-and-pop stores where companies did one thing and did it well to giant corporations that do everything (and we’ll, I’ll let you decide how well they do all that they do). Why is it that we have shifted from having an expertise or niche to trying to do it all and fooling ourselves into thinking we are good -no- great at all of it? Why is it that in education we have moved from starting with a general base of knowledge in primary school with a gradual shift to areas of interest in secondary school to that of everyone must know every single standard to the exact same level? (Yes, I do know the history of why the factory model of education actually came to fruition but just follow my rant…)

Can we really do it all and do all things that we do well? Studies have proven those who multi-task more are actually must worse at it than those who rarely do it. Is it the media telling us we can do it all? Is it the market telling us that is the way we can make the most money? Is it because we are willing to sacrifice expertise for convenience? (And is that a good direction to head?)

Regardless it’s something to ponder. And if you are anything like me you try hard to do it all and in some cases shove ‘ten pounds of potatoes in a five pound sack’ which if you do the math doens’t end well. Ultimately, something’s gotta give.

Do we want the future to be filled with people who are mediocre and lots of things or people who have been exposed to many different facets but have honed their skills on just a few things? Does the Walmart approach to education really work?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see….

Keeping my LARGE family organized

As a working Mom of a large family there are a few things I do to keep my sanity. Often people ask how I do it all and honestly, I don’t know. I just do it. I usually reply with, “I don’t know,” or “I do what I can when I can.” I don’t claim to be supermom or anything like that. I just do the best I can with the time, tools, & talents and Lord has blessed me with. Could I be better? Of course! I try to improve all of the time and seem to find tricks here and there to help me out along the way.

A year ago a relative asked me for advice on how to balance work and home and although I was really excited to share and honored that she would think ask me I was a bit shy about admitting to some of the things I do to keep my big family organized. Running a house with 7 people is a tough job sometimes and I don’t as much sleep as I would like….but I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

So, on with the confessions of a working Mom.

photo(9)  1. Locker System: This keeps everyone’s stuff’ in one spot. Assuming they each put their items away that is. Each child has their own locker with 1 shelf, 4 hooks, a drawer and a spot for their shoes. We keep their Bibles, lunch boxes, helmets, & diaper bags on the shelf. They hang backpacks, coats, etc. on the hooks. Their shoes, boots, and flip-flops on the ledge and their drawers are filled with hats, mittens, scarves, etc. We cut an outdoor rug to go on the ledge to keep the wet shoes and boots from ruining the wood. We also put a long roll of that same outdoor carpet in front of the drawers so they can walk into the house without making a big mess on the floors. photo(11)I’ll admit it took some training to get the kids to each put their stuff away but now they’ve got it.

2. Morning Message & Chore Chart: At school the kids get a morning message every day and they seemed to get accustomed to knowing the date, day of the week, and what’s for dinner type of things so upon their request I added this to the dry erase board which already included a chore chart. Every night I look at what the next day has in store and include that in the morning message so when the kids are going off to the bus they can see what to expect. (It also helps me to remember what is coming up as well). The chore chart came about after deciding making copies of a chore chart was wasting paper. The kids liked how visible the chore chart was as well as the ability to keep tabs on how well they were doing for the week. All it takes is a large dry erase board and some electrical tape and you can make one really easily.

3. Cork cork boardsBoards: Every child seems to have their own calendar of events, newsletters from school, & appointment cards. In order to keep it straight who has what and when I picked up these cork boards from Hobby Lobby so each child could have their own board. The younger kids boards are filled with well baby check ups, notes about when their teeth come in or where they should be developmentally based on their age. The older kids boards have their school lunch calendar, homework reminders, invitations for parties, etc. At times these have been a life-saver for my sanity.

4. Desk Space: With so many kids and some of them sharing room there isn’t a ton of deskspace in their bedrooms for a desk and frankly, we don’t like the idea of the kids working on homework in their rooms. We would much prefer they use computers and the internet in a common area where there are others around to help them when they need and keep them focused on the issue at hand. With so many people using the same desk we needed storage space for their paperwork, folders, pens, etc. Again-Ikea to the rescue. My hubby installed the shelf and other storage items allowing each child to have their own space. I love the chalk circles for notes & reminders as well. I am pretty sure we got those from Target. The giant desk calendar seems a bit much but works great to have a master calendar of our families events & appointments. (I would LOVE for it to be a giant computer monitor or digital frame to show our Google calendar or sync with it but I have yet to find such a product). We also added some plastic storage bins below for art supplies, craft supplies and play-doh. 🙂

5. Laundry: Doing laundry for 7 people can be overwhelming but thanks to the layout of our house the laundry room is on the second level slaundryo it’s much easier to keep up with it. The kids helped me label baskets (Found on clearance at Lowe’s)  so even if they can’t read, they know that the one with the picture of the light-bulb on it is ‘lights’ and so on so they help out by sorting their own laundry. Being the room is so close they frequently help me switch loads when I ask them. The biggest challenge is putting it all away. I have a nice long counter in the laundry room which is lined with bins (again-one for each child) and an equally long rod for hanging their clothes on. Once a week (or when the bins are full) the kids are each given their bins and clothes and we put them away together. I am working hard on getting the older ones trained to put theirs away without just stuffing it in their drawers all willy-nilly.

Yes, I am a control freak and crazy about organization but hey-it works for me. This is by no means the right answer for any other household. After getting over my embarrassment regarding these organizational quirks I decide it’s worth sharing if it might help someone else. I hope this post helps you in some way. 🙂

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater….

It’s been some time since my blood as been boiling due to educational darts being thrown between the charter and traditional school supporters but I guess it’s time to step up on my soapbox to get a few things off my chest.

I am fairly sure I’ve said (or written) this before…for whatever reason it seems you have to pick a side; Charter or Traditional, there isn’t any middle of the road. I may work at a charter but that hasn’t always been the case and my kids currently attend a charter but again, that hasn’t always been the case. Having said that I am not ‘pro charter’ or ‘pro traditional’ I AM PRO STUDENT & pro choice in education.

Cap Family Photo

So, when I read a recent blog citing that choice is a terrible idea and how it is ruining public education I got more than irritated.

Another sentence I use very frequently is “If you have seen 1 charter school then you have seen 1 charter school.” The same goes for traditional schools. There may be some things that are similar or even the same about those schools but ultimately every school is different, has different students, families, and learning environment.  Putting out a blanket statement that all charters are bad/good or all traditional schools are bad/good is ludicrous.

Is there some form of competition with choice in public education? Yes.  It allows parents/guardians/families to select a school that best fits their family and works best for their child. A blog I read recently mentioned that just the idea of parents having to ‘shop’ for their child’s school is bad idea. I disagree, REALLY disagree. Just as we choose where to buy our groceries, gas, or coffee we should be free to shop (select, choose) where to send our kids to school. If I want to have someone else to bag my groceries I go to a grocery store that offers that service. If I prefer to purchase organically grown produce I would seek out a store that provides such produce. Similarly, not every school offers the same services, the same mission/vision/values, etc., & why should they? Students are people and are all so different. They are people-not products and need to be treated as such. Finding a school that ‘fits’ your child/family is freedom I feel very lucky to have. (Especially considering we live in a small rural area)

I don’t hold any ill will to those who prefer, attend, work at or support traditional public schools. (Although I do feel the factory system is flawed as you may have guessed by that last paragraph) I support everyone who is in the business of educating our youth. It is NOT an easy job and working with kids, prepping for school outside of school hours, etc., leaves little time to defend what we do for and with kids everyday.

So I plea with you not to see students as dollar signs to fight over between the charter and traditional ‘sides’ but rather children seeking a world-class education regardless of what type of school they attend. Lastly, if you see one school you don’t like (charter, traditional, or private) don’t write off that entire type of school because of that one experience. Teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, etc., don’t go into education for the high salaries…we do it for the kids…we do it to try to make the world a better place……we do it because we want to help.…we do it to make a difference. If you think you can do better and solve all of the problems and or flaws in the US educational system-join us. We could use more good people. 🙂

Thank a Teacher

Seeing so many tweets about teacher appreciation week I felt compelled to “Thank a teacher” myself. As I began to think about this I realized how many teachers had a great impact on my life. Of course there are many teachers whom have had an impact but a GREAT impact is what I was seeking, (and positive of course).

I can remember the names and faces of many of my teachers all the way back to kindergarten; however, as I think about those I have had more recently their names and faces escape me. Those teachers I had in my undergrad and my masters program had to really stand out for me to remember a name and a face but there are a few from higher ed that I put in that ‘great impact’ category.

As I  ponder those people and recall the wonderful memories I laugh because it seems that their impact on my had very little to do with academic content. I learned MORE than subject matter and had a connection with those teachers which wasn’t correlated to my grade in the class.

So I must thank those great teachers.

Miss Olson not only Thank Youtaught me how to play the violin, she taught me patience, persistence and the important of practice. Mrs. Reed who cared so much and were so loving and caring for a frightened 1st grader. Mrs. Moreng who brought a whole new language and culture into my life. Somehow I remember the Spanish I learned in 3rd grade and I still have the book she gave me. Mrs. Benson taught me it is OK to show emotions and be true to myself. Mr. Helgeson taught me a bit about myself as a ‘social butterfly’ as well as sparking an interest in history. Mr. Gora helped shine a light on my creativity giving me confidence in myself. Mr. Hoff taught me that I can do things even when I don’t want to. I will forever credit him for my public speaking skills, (thanks to impromptu speeches in Jr. High). Ah, and my foreign language teachers, Frau Sweden and Frau Olson-you are awesome. I had sooo much fun in all of those classes. You taught me that learning can be fun even when faced with challenge, (and yes, I can still speak and understand some German). Doc Skewes taught me I can do anything I set my mind to. Mr. Hohenthaner taught me how a teacher can make even the toughest subject interesting, (Oh and to trust no one and assume nothing). Mr. Kinney showed me patience like I have never seen in a teacher. No matter how much I struggled in his class he was always wiling to help without judgement. Mr. Anderson taught me autonomy and self-direction. Mrs. Schmidt taught me so much I can’t fit it into a paragraph. The connections I made in that class, the skills and tools I gained are immeasurable.

The Prof’s I had throughout my BA and MA were good but there were a few that were great! The ones that I could go to their office and they knew my name. The ones that were approachable, kind, and helpful. Al Ramirez and Dick Carpenter were two amazing professors that were just that. They had a wealth of information to share and had great rapport with students (myself included) that made learning from them wonderful.

It was these great teachers that inspired me to become a teacher to impact the lives of others the way they impacted my life.

Thank you amazing teachers! You’ll never know what a tremendous impact you have on the lives of your students. And I’ll close with a quote from an amazing teacher who happens to be a colleague of mine (Mr. Keven Kroehler), “Thank you for doing great things for kids!”