Till the Heels Fall Off

The following is a guest article by Anthony Meals, an 8-12 grade agricultural educator from Kansas. He’s in his fifth year of teaching and blogs at ProfilesinLearning.org.  You can also find him on Twitter here: @Mr_Meals. This article was originally published on Anthony’s site. It’s republished here with permission. 

Personal fashion isn’t a strong suit of mine. Typically, I don’t buy my next pair of black dress shoes till I’ve gotten as much mileage out of them as possible. I vividly remember walking with students at a National FFA Convention a few years back beneath the bridge between Lucas Oil Stadium and the Convention Center in Indianapolis. Suddenly, on my next step and without warning, my foot dropped hard. I looked back and saw that my right shoe heel had ripped off completely. The timing couldn’t have been better, though! We were walking to the charter bus and it was our last evening in Indy…so I didn’t have to try thinking of how I’d need to patch my heel for a few more days of walking! 😉

Then there was my students’ favorite shoe incident my first year teaching. We got to work on landscaping projects around our community and I was shoveling up old landscapes in my dress shoes, competing with a group of boys to clear a section out the fastest, when my right heel got stuck on the shovel. We got some great laughs and figured out an epic story for the Payless ShoeSource salesman.

Though these shoe incidents bring back great memories and joys, the metaphor speaks to a lie…a lie that was destroying my passion for working with young people, a lie that almost destroyed my marriage, a lie being widely peddled by society.

This lie: It is a badge of honor to work yourself till the heels of life fall off. 

It earns no badges to be burned out. It earns no badges to neglect the most precious relationships of your life. Yet, what do societal pressures say? MORE. MORE. We don’t remove spinning plates. Instead, we try to find ways to balance them all and then maybe add a few more.

I won’t mislead you. I’ve been a very slow learner of this and there are times even now that I am struggling. This year has been a hard reality check; I cannot be it all for all people. Though I thrive off my current schedule, it is by no means healthy for me or my young family, notwithstanding that it is in no way sustainable. I’m wearing out the heels of my life much too fast and I’m only 27.

All of us need to be strong, healthy models for those newly entering our teaching profession. We need to be teaching them how to be strategic in saying ‘Yes.’ We need to provide opportunities for personal reflection and growth.

I’m blessed that my school administration has allowed me to come down to San Antonio this whole week for the National Association of Agricultural Educators Conference. It has recharged my battery and equipped me with tools to enhance my teaching, but above all, it’s expanded my support network in the profession. This week is shaping up to be a game-changer, but the goals I’m developing for myself look different than ever before.

I’m looking at strategically scaling back in different facets of my work life, starting this spring semester. Putting First Things First at home, so Annelle stops getting the leftover pieces of me…

The following observation will come off as harsh…please be aware it is for me not my readers…

What did I do with the shoes I wore out? Did I idolize them? Hang them on a plaque?

NO, THEY GOT THROWN IN THE DUMP…IN TATTERED PIECES! They served only a fleeting purpose…

ouch…this cannot be my life!

We must start talking about teaching differently because it is unlike any vocation. Our goal should not be to seek balancing competing silos. This compartmentalizing is wrong. We need a holistic view of an educator. Many of us find our life’s mission in this field, so how do we harmonize that with our desires and need for family and personal development?

I don’t have the answers. I’m a young pup, but I know that I need to be better. I know that I can be better! It starts with the first step in harmonizing my schedule to reflect the values of my life.

I’ll finish with a final anecdote:

My wife loves her pairs of boots. One pair in particular she has taken great care of and has taken to be resoled over the past ten years close to three times. They are still functioning like new and show little wear. Yet, she uses them constantly!

I’m not disposable. It’s not a badge to view my life as disposable, even if my time seems to be filled with worthy work…I need to be resoled. Lord give me the resolve, strength, and courage to do so!

 

Original Article: Till the Heels Fall Off

Don’t Let Them Smash Your Pumpkin

 

I stumbled across Joe Rogan’s podcast interview with Smashing Pumpkins’ frontman Billy Corgan a while back and Corgan says something about the music industry that may sound familiar to many teachers.

Corgan:

“Even if you were successful, it was set up to make you feel like you weren’t successful…that was the manipulation. I once said to somebody who is a very famous name in the business, ‘It’s like you guys find the needle in the haystack and then you spend the next 20 years telling them they’re not a needle in a haystack.’ You would think you’d be surrounded by people who are telling you you’re talented, you’re special, we want to help you because the more you succeed, we’ll succeed and we’ll all succeed together.  It was the exact opposite.”

I’m not going to pretend that every teacher is a rock star. Very few of us are needles in haystacks in the way Corgan describes. Most of us aren’t headed to the Teachers’ Hall of Fame (that exists, right?).

But teachers, even those who aren’t exceptional, are doing a job that is increasingly unattractive.

Today’s young people do not want to be teachers. A 2016 national survey of college freshmen found that the number of students who said they would major in education had reached its lowest point in the past 45 years, with just 4.2 percent intending to major in education compared to 11 percent in 2000; 10 percent in 1990; and 11 percent in 1971.

In my state of Michigan, the total number of college students studying to become a teacher is down more than 50 percent since 2008. My alma mater, Michigan State University, whose College of Education’s elementary and secondary graduate programs have been ranked #1  in the nation for 23 consecutive years by  U.S. News & World Report, saw its teacher-prep enrollment fall 45 percent between 2010 and 2014.

Parents don’t want their kids to become teachers, either. For the first time since they started polling the public in 1969, PDK found that a majority of parents do not want their children to teach. Two-thirds of those polled said that teachers were underpaid.

Even teachers don’t think other people should become teachers. In a survey of 53,000 educators from the state of Georgia, nearly 70% said they were “unlikely” or “very unlikely” to encourage graduates to enter the profession.

Source

So when school districts are fortunate enough to get someone who not only wants to do the job but also shows some talent for it, you would think the leaders of such districts would, at the very least, make those teachers feel appreciated, just as you would think an executive at a record label who was lucky enough to sign a Hall of Fame band* would do everything he could to make sure the band was successful.

Instead, too many teachers get 20 years of being told they’re not good enough. They’re forced to attend professional development sessions that imply the way they’re doing things is wrong. They’re subjected to checklists documenting their every shortcoming. They’re forced to teach unproven programs with “fidelity” because administrators trust corporate publishers more than their teachers. When test scores are analyzed, it’s rarely the successes that district leaders want to talk about. The unrelenting message many teachers receive is that they lack.

Related: The Most Offensive F-Word in Education

So it appears there’s at least one thing that education has in common with the music industry: Even when a teacher is successful, the system is set up to make them feel like they’re not.

It’s baffling.

Record companies make more money when their musicians do well. And musicians are more likely to do well when they’re told they’re special, they’re talented, and that they’ll be supported because when they succeed, everybody succeeds.

School districts enhance their reputations when their students do well. And students do well when teachers feel appreciated and supported. Everybody wins.

Since there’s no good reason for record company executives and school administrators to treat people they hired this way, there must be a bad one. I suspect it’s power. Implying that you’re not good enough is, as Corgan states, a form of manipulation. Those at the top of a hierarchy like it there and they don’t like thinking too much about the substructure propping them up. If they can get you to doubt yourself, they can control you. And if they can’t, they’ll find other ways to put you in your place. 

Just ask Rafe Esquith.

So what do you do about it? For starters, don’t believe the criticism. Ignore the insinuations that you don’t know what you’re doing. As for feedback, decide whether it’s given in the genuine interest of helping you improve or if it’s just a form a manipulation.  If the latter, then nod your head, agree to agree, then go back to your room and do what you know works. Exercise your teacher’s veto.

The Smashing Pumpkins didn’t succeed because they listened to the advice of people who could never do what they did. They succeeded in spite of those people. Teachers should do the same. Ignore the naysayers. Don’t let the bastards get you down. Don’t let them smash your pumpkin.

 

* The Smashing Pumpkins are not actually in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but neither is Motley Crue, so the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame clearly has no clue what it’s doing.

 

Autocomplete, Buffets, and How Schools Are Set Up to Fail

There are all sorts of fun things you can do with Google’s autocomplete function. You can start typing strings of words and see what pops up. (I just tried “what do people” and Google suggested “see in Birdbox?”) You can play Google Feud, which is more fun than you might expect.  You can also read this or watch this:

But if you hate fun and would rather be frustrated, then start a query with the words, “Schools should teach” and be prepared to be blown away by the sheer number of problems people think schools should attempt to fix (which is weird, considering how many of those same people seem to have little faith in schools’ ability to teach anything).

If you follow “Schools should teach” with every letter of the alphabet, you will soon understand exactly how schools are set up to fail and why teachers feel like pulling their hair out trying to keep up with the expectations.

To save you the trouble, here is what Google “suggests” schools teach:

cursive writing skills

etiquette

life skills

taxes

entrepreneurship

sex education

character education

home economics

religious education

reading with only digital materials (I didn’t make that up)

students how to fail

students to protect the environment

classes on friendship

you how to be happy

intelligent design

emotional intelligence

practical skills

world religions

abstinence-only education

a second language

art

sign language

self-defense

foreign languages

financial skills

good behavior

gun safety

handwriting

keyboarding

Latin

how to cook

values

conflict resolution

morals

manners

mental health

meditation

media literacy

 

At least there’s nothing that starts with ‘q’ or ‘z’.

Yet.

More is not better

You may have noticed that reading, writing, math, social studies, spelling, and science do not appear. I didn’t omit them. Google did. Which says something, though I’m not sure what.

You may have also noticed that a lot of what people want schools to teach are important things. In fact, you may have agreed with many of the items on the list above. If so, you can understand why legislators, school board members, and superintendents eagerly accept responsibility for so many subjects and skills. It’s hard to be against teaching kids manners, or conflict resolution, or handwriting.

The problem isn’t any one thing on the list. The problem is the list in its entirety. It’s like my diet. No one food is making me fat, but when you put them altogether … well, let’s just say I need to reread my own book.

While most schools don’t try to teach everything, they also don’t do a very good job of drawing some firm lines about what they will and will not teach. My guess is that most schools take a stab at about 80% of the items above and many others that aren’t included (it doesn’t take much effort to come up with things not suggested by Google).

Schools suffer from the same fallacy that buffets and genre-mashing movies do: They believe that more is better. Click To Tweet

A larger variety of food will appeal to more diners. Offering crab legs, lasagna, and sirloin steak pretty much covers everyone, doesn’t it? Who wouldn’t love a buffet?

Mixing genres will attract more moviegoers. Because if you like buddy movies,  comedies, and mysteries, then why wouldn’t you want to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie starring Will Ferrell and that other guy?

Offering more to students will make more of them (and their parents) happy. We’ve got something for everyone! Latin, cooking classes, mental health screening, boater’s safety, and AP Chemistry!

The problem with that kind of thinking is that when you do more things you invariably sacrifice quality.

If you want a good steak (or good crab legs or lasagna), you don’t go to a buffet. Buffets offer a lot of food, but none of it’s the kind of thing that’s going to impress a date.

If you want a good movie, you don’t watch Netflix’s genre-mashing Brightwhich Rotten Tomatoes said, “tries to blend fantasy, hard-hitting cop drama, and social commentary — and ends up failing painfully on all three fronts.”

One can easily imagine a similar review for the many public schools that make the same mistake of trying to please too many people:

“The school tries to blend rigorous academics with conflict resolution and proper etiquette, along with a focus on life skills such as tax preparation and gun safety — and ends up failing painfully short of the mark on all six hundred fronts. Three thumbs down.”

Critic Brian Lowry called the movie a “bloated, expensive mess.” The New York Times called it “a loud, ungainly hybrid that does not serve police procedurals or fantasy spectaculars very well.”

Our public school system might aptly be described as a “bloated, expensive mess” that doesn’t serve its students, their parents, or the people working inside of it very well.

When you try to do too much, you end up doing very little well.

We should stop asking schools to solve every societal problem. Until we do, we shouldn’t expect any more from them than we do from a buffet dinner or the latest Hollywood mash-up. Schools won’t get much better until Google completes the phrase “Schools should teach” with the word “less.”


Related:

Schools Should Do Less

 

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