Good Schools

A strange thing occurred on the social medias last week. I noticed several discussions on what constitutes a “good school.” I don’t know if there was something in the news about it, or if there was just a temporary zeitgeist that got people to thinking about schools more than they normally do. Maybe it’s this strange election season . . . .

Anyway.

For whatever reason, the discussions popped up and I read comments, articles, and replies on the topic. I didn’t add anything. I have found in my history with social media that when I comment on serious posts and/or articles my distinct world view and sardonic voice can be . . . lost and/or misinterpreted. Also, I’ve made my fair share of social media stumbles that I don’t care to repeat. So I try to keep a voyeuristic social media presence when it comes to all things of a serious nature.

Anyway.

I read and read and came to the conclusion that no one really knows with any specificity what a good school looks like. People have different values, after all. So I thought, as an education veteran, I would attempt to create a good school. I boiled it down to a list. We all like lists, right? Buzzfeed, I’m looking at you.

Before going any further though, I must caution you, dear reader. This list is by no means finished. It is by no means perfect. It is merely a collection of thoughts on the net. I am not 100% committed to any of these concepts and would gladly take suggestions and criticisms.

  1. Though I hate to start with a negative . . . a good school must NOT be politically neutral. A good school must support the politicians and public figures that both verbally and literally (that’s the key) support them. It is time to break the legal shackles that prevent this. School systems should be allowed to endorse political candidates.
  2. A good school must put education over athletics. It seems obvious, doesn’t it . . . ?
  3. A good school must employ teachers who are also scholars. If you are teaching science, you better damn well be a scientist. If you’re teaching writing, you better damn well be a writer. Knowledge without application and understanding, after all, is useless.
  4. A good school must employ administrators who never leave the classroom. In other words, the principal should teach at least one class a day . . . or maybe a week . . . I guess I’d be fine with a week. If this means there is no principal in the traditional sense, but a committee of teachers that runs the school, then so be it.
  5. A good school must be allowed to operate in a way that is best suited to support the students attending classes there. Does that mean some schools will have different classes than others? Does it mean, certain schools will be required to do less or more by way of state and national requirements? Yes.
  6. Speaking of state and national requirements . . . that one is tricky. I support a national plan for public schools. For instance, in English 9, across the nation, I’m not against the idea that all students should learn about thesis development or some such thing. It could be a required aspect of students’ education. That said, it should be up to the teachers how that knowledge is disseminated. I guess that’s the ultimate take away here–how the knowledge is disseminated should be up to the person doing the teaching.
  7. A good school should be rigorous. I have found that most people can and will do what is expected of them. High expectations are a must. for all parties involved: students, teachers, and administrators. Additionally, a good school must be supportive. For example, understand the tree climbing fish scenario and/or understand that expecting teachers to get multiple degrees without financial support is ludicrous.giphy-15
  8. A good school has zero tolerance for bullying.
  9. A good school does not bow to the whims of parents who have no concept of what education is like beyond what it was like when they were students in classrooms many moons and seasons prior to today. Nor does a good school let a teacher who has lost his or her way keep teaching.
  10. A good school is there, on paper anyway, to teach children how to take in and interpret information. That said, in the meantime, students also develop relationships with their teachers, friends, and administrators. They learn how to interact with people they disagree with. They learn how to behave in professional environments and non-professional ones. In other words, they learn how to survive. A good school must employ teachers, administrators, counselors, food workers, custodians, and IT professionals who all understand that school is about so much more than traditional book learning.
  11. Oh, and finally, good schools should have uniforms.
    1. BAM!

#summerbreak

In case you didn’t know, I’m not only a writer. I’m also a teacher. Every summer for the last three years, I have used Instagram to photographically record my summer days. I have counted down (up?) my substantial break time. I have also done it at spring break, and holiday break.

I don’t tend to get a lot of comments on the spring or holiday break photos since, collectively, they equal out to be about 25 days. In the average calendar year, 25 days don’t mean a lot (depending on what takes place in said 25 days I suppose). But I often get comments asking me why I do this during the summer. I mean, I photographically recording upwards of 80 days worth of events with the hashtag, #summerbreak attached to each photo, isn’t always an easy task. For instance, here is this year’s day 27 photo with its caption:

#summerbreak day 27
Bet you thought I forgot about #summerbreak day 27, didn’t you? Wrong! I drove through the vast rolling hills of eastern Iowa this afternoon and wondered why all these giant fans couldn’t keep the place cool…. Confusing….

I took that photo with a Canon T3i, loaded it onto my computer, did some minor edits, emailed it to myself, and posted it on Instagram. Usually, that’s how I do it. Sometimes I just use my phone, which is a bit easier. But it is something I have to do every day. Colleagues, friends, and family often inquire about these photos. “Why do you do that?” they ask. “It makes me feel bad,” family members and friends say (because they don’t get that many days off a year). “I don’t like concrete examples of how many days we have left of summer break,” many colleagues say (because they don’t like to be reminded of the fact that summer break, like all good things, eventually comes to an end).

 

And I’m all like, “Whatever.”

But seriously.

All my scathing wit aside, I do it because I enjoy seeing the exact number of days I am on break during the school year. It isn’t because that is the most important aspect of my job. Rather, it is one of the many aspects I use to help me come to terms with what can, at times, be a thankless career. Sometimes, despite the fact that I get many weeks off every year, I feel overworked. Sometimes, despite the fact that I have earned more degrees than most people, I feel disrespected simply because of the field I was called to . . . .

Sometimes, when these negative feelings pop up when I’m working at a job I, otherwise, love, I think of my breaks. I think of all the time I get to spend with my family, I think of all the late nights spent binge watching Parks and Rec or Stranger Things with my kids. I think of all the writing and reading I get done every summer break. I think of warm afternoons spent hanging out on my porch with my friends. I think of being home when my wife comes home from work. I think of motorcycle rides on odd Monday mornings. You guys . . . I even think of all the time I get to plan lessons . . . . In short, I think of all of the fun I have during the summer (and to a lesser degree the holiday and spring breaks).

And I smile.

Teachers don’t have many perks, the breaks are a few of them. If you’d like to see more of mine than day 27, check out my Instagram.

Mistakes

We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all failed. We’ve all had regrets. We’ve all said things we wish we could take back . . . or typed them on social media . . . . and wished [continue to wish–sorry by the way (yes, I’m talking to you)] we could go back in time and stop ourselves from hitting the ‘POST’ button. Case in point, some of my mistakes have been public. I’ve written dumb things on social media without thinking, things that probably made me come off as an ignorant idiot to people I wish wouldn’t think of me that way. Some of my mistakes have been on this blog. I know that because I’ve gone so far as to go through old posts and delete the ones where I think I’m coming off as an ass. I know it’s the Internet and nothing is ever truly gone, but a guy can hope.

At least I can rest easy knowing that my mistakes, my failures, and my regrets have helped me grow and learn.

I bring this up because my 10th year at Bellevue West High–my 14th as an educator–has been over for a couple weeks now and that has me thinking about learning. Shocking, right? And now, no matter how hard I try to suppress it, I am pondering what I can improve for next year because (spoiler alert) I made a few mistakes this year . . . and the year before that . . . and the year before that . . . .

I’m just as stunned as this guy in a beard mask, this bald guy, and this dog-man-thing over the fact that I’ve made mistakes.

Anyway.

It’s okay because the act of learning is all about making mistakes and gaining knowledge from those mistakes. Failing is embedded in the process. In other words, failure is intrinsic to learning. Let me repeat that for parents in bold, red, all capitalized text:

FAILURE IS INTRINSIC TO LEARING.

I should know. I’m a straight up baller at failing. Which means I’m basically the smartest man in the room.

But seriously, as an educator I’ve watched as our society has taken the ability to fail–to make mistakes–away from our students and now, a little over 10 years into this strange and disheartening concept, we’re reaping what we’ve sowed.

And it’s frightening. Students who don’t know how to fail do not know how to deal with trial and error–the first building block of learning. The word “fundamental” I think can be used to describe it.

Anyway.

Students who don’t know how to make mistakes don’t think they can. Students who don’t know how to fail have trouble dealing with the reality that they do, in fact, fail . . . often because they know so little. They also are quick to point out when others fail but have trouble seeing their own reflection in the mistake mirror. I guess the same could be said of many adults too . . . and most of us graduated way before No Child Left Behind passed . . . and was repealed . . . and had its name changed to Race to the Top . . . . But at least those of us who know how to fail, know how to learn from said failures, right? In theory anyway . . . .

Anyway.

I veered off this week. I’m sure I had something else in mind when I began typing. What it was, at this point, is anybody’s guess.

Hope you learned something though.

Or maybe I failed . . . .

Good thing I can try again next week.

I was going to, but then I didn’t

You know what? I was going to wax philosophical on the problems with education in America today. I was also going to touch on everything great about it. I was going to spend my second-to-last post before the end of the school year in a huff of educational theory. It was going to be bold.

Then I realized it has all been said before. Every opinion on education that could ever be has already been. What is one more voice in the mess of screaming voices? What makes mine unique?

“Well, you’re a teacher, Stueve! That’s a unique position to have when writing about education!” you might say.

If you were to say that, my response might be a simple shrug. “True,” I would reply. “But what does it matter?”

I have a set of beliefs about teaching based on being in the classroom for most of my life, as a student and as a teacher. But what legitimate theorist doesn’t? In fact, most of my political, social, and religious beliefs are formed through the lens of education. But what professional educator’s isn’t?

I am the consummate scholar. I make mistakes. I beg forgiveness. I brush my wounded pride off and try again. My beliefs change when new information surfaces that forces me to rethink old thought patterns. I use this to help make me a better teacher and to help mold my beliefs about what teaching should be.

One variation or another of this philosophy built upon the backs of these same ideas has already been written though, has already been read, and has already been put into practice. What more can I do?

Nothing really. Nothing grand anyway. Nothing profound. Nothing bold. All I can do is teach. All I can do is learn. All I can do is grow. All I can do is wear my educator’s badge with pride, hubris even.

Wait.

I guess that is pretty bold these days.