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Archive for March, 2015

NHS

As co-advisor of National Honor Society, it was my job to secure the guest speaker for the induction ceremony.  In the past, this job had led me to driving across the state (having a friend do one leg too) to pick up an Abraham Lincoln impersonator to inspire our kids.  With school renovations underway and induction shifting to the stageless cafeteria, I couldn’t bring myself to plead with a local celebrity to be our guest of honor.  I decided this year I would fill the role in the hopes students would connect with me, and thus my message as I am someone they know well.

Gathering before the ceremony started, everyone looked pretty displeased that I had several pages of medium typed font in front of me.  I had actually written a speech in two parts so I could feel the audience out and continue on if I still needed to make my point, or stop at the first ending spot if I had made my point adequately or it was running too long.  I asked a couple students if they wanted the long version or the short version, and no surprise the small informal poll yielded no students voting for the long version.  I guess this means I can be guest speaker again next year since I already wrote what works out to a second speech.  The transcript of the speech I actually gave follows.

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It was just ten years ago that I was sitting in the position of the new inductees behind me.  And while I like to tell people that I am 59 years old and just aging well as a way to establish reputability as an authority figure, I am only 28 and graduated from Sheehan high school in 2005.  I remember sitting at our very formal induction ceremony in the library, entering and exiting with candles ablaze in a ritual that I likened to a cult induction at the time.  I really had no clue what NHS was all about, I just knew I got good grades, did a lot of community service and somehow ended up in this organization surrounded by all the top brainiacs in the school, knowing this would look good on my resume.

When the guest speaker took to the podium, I struggled to understand his initial words through his heavy spanish accent.  This man was a Costa Rican banana farmer, which I thought sounded so cool and adventurous at the time.  My mind wandered to thoughts of jungle canopies and tropical weather with great surfing and ziplining.  I wondered if I could move to Costa Rica and how much my mother would be upset if the idea of plentiful yellow-peeled fruit would lure me to a foreign country.  The daydreaming was shaken off when this man started to actually describe his day to day life and as I focused in, every syllable of his life’s story hit me right square in the heart.

Working for 16 hours in jungle heat, with a shirt tied around his head to protect him from the sun and absorb endless waterfalls of sweat, he had to tie surgical tubing around his arm as a tourniquet because hours of overhead slashing with a machete caused SEVERE pain.  That was the one thing I can vividly recall; I distinctly remember thinking, “holy______” (expletive deleted).   I mean try to simply hold your arms above your head for two minutes and you’ll understand half-a-percent of his struggle.  Diving deeper into this thought shook my very existence as a white middle-class youth.  This was one of those made for TV moments where the camera would pan away from the speaker, and zoom in on me as my the wow factor coursing through my naive little mind pushed my head back to make my eyes bulge and my chin appear in triplicate. The world was so much bigger and much more full of pain than I had ever cared to realize.

This man….he took on this chopping challenge every day because it’s what he needed to do to support his family of 6 kids..even though daily pay was a pittance, it was the only work available.  And let it be known that this was 16 HOURS!!! 7 DAYS A WEEK!!!! Go to Price Chopper right now and you will see that bananas are only $0.49/lb with most of the profit being siphoned off by middle-men and suppliers.  This man however was not at our induction to beg for money, or to highlight the plight of a farmer.  He exuded pride as he talked about how hard he worked for his end goal of supporting his family.

This man was brought to us to talk about the NHS pillar of character.  He was proud to have this opportunity to provide for those whom he loved. He did not think the job was below him, or reject it because he was clearly intelligent and much more educated than you might think of your typical second-world farm-laborer to be.  But he was willing to do the job that many people simply wrote off as beneath them, or too difficult. As Thomas Edison used to say, “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  You see this is the generation that constantly gets a barrage of bad press of being lazy and not caring, but I see the group behind me as the epitome of answering the call to service.  As they can now, may they forever be able to recognize and create opportunities with whatever lies before them. Most importantly, I hope they will not just wait for opportunity to come to them, but to be ambitious enough to seek it out.

Try new things, get a world of experience.  You will learn SOOO much, you will be able to determine what you love and what you need out of life.  Even if you think an opportunity is not up to par with your standards have confidence that the smallest opportunities seized by driven individuals can be built beyond your wildest dreams. Just a generational comparison to think about: My grandparents’ generation had a word for flipping burgers…something that is characterized as low end and meaningless.  They called it “opportunity.” That is what I was taught to do as an NHS member myself, and that’s what I know all these fine young men and women behind me will continue to do.

The pillars of Character, Service, Leadership and Scholarship are not just whirlwind virtues that look good on paper, it is what your peers, a council of your teachers, your school administrators, and your family all know to be the capital “T” truth of what they see in you.  Don’t sell your potential short in all the days from this one to the last.  Right now you are surrounded by people who not only recognize and applaud your accomplishments to this point, but who believe in your potential to the very depths of our core  to make your mark on this world.  Use this moment of being part of an organization that supports excellence to reach out and make a difference to everyone in every way possible.  As you continue on this path, may you always feel the love from all corners of this room and beyond.  Know that wherever you are and wherever you are going, we are proud of you, and we believe in you.

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What is the best way to shape educational policies: through education itself or politics?  This is a question I had pondered for years, but that was rattling around in my brain specifically in the week following the CEA/NEA orientation.  I perused all of my representatives websites to see how they were voting on specific legislation and what their backgrounds were that got them to their current point of political involvement.  It appears that state reps and congressmen rise from local levels, often getting elected after championing local causes and proving their merits (usually) through a long sequence of recognized service.  There was no degree or background in common which starkly contrasts the national level where most involved in the governmental gauntlet have a law degree. This is not a prerequisite as dentists, professors, and other professions also find seats in Washington, DC, but one has to think that a law degree would actually be very helpful in the process of making laws.

In my research, I happened to notice that both Rep. Danny Rovero and Senator Mae Flexer who represent my district were hosting a town hall meeting at the Putnam Town Hall.  Thomas Jefferson once said that the New England town meeting was the “best school of political liberty the world ever saw.” TJ has never steered me wrong before, so I decided to make a nice little Saturday morning out of being an informed citizen.

Freedom of Speech (from Four Freedoms, inspired by an FDR speech), by Norman Rockwell.  The image always comes to mind when thinking about town hall meetings.

Freedom of Speech (from Four Freedoms, inspired by an FDR speech), by Norman Rockwell. The image always comes to mind when thinking about town hall meetings.

The major issues discussed at the meeting were proposed budget cuts.  Mae Flexer is on the appropriations committee and currently making a new budget to submit to Governor Dannel Malloy that shifts many of his proposed cuts.  A hearty crowd showed up to speak out against devastating elimination of funding to the Department of Developmental Services.  Parents spoke out against specific bills that would require their children to get vaccinated.  A few others in the crowd were there to complain about awful cable service and fees they are getting through Frontier, a new provider to the area.

There were, however, two speakers that were much more memorable than the rest.  The first was a man whose opinion the politicians in the front of the room seemed genuinely interested in.  They didn’t just listen to him, they asked questions and solicited ideas.   He was a business owner in MA responding to a radio show response of Flexer’s talking about people leaving CT behind.  He gave us all an economics lesson courtesy of a college lecture that stuck.  There are three ways to create real wealth: make it (manufacturing), mine it (digging or drilling), or grow it (agriculture).  Everything else is just trading.  Due to a 30 year course of irresponsible fiscal policies in CT, this man decided to set up shop across the border.  When Flexer asked why he made that decision specifically, he referenced the high taxes and burdensome regulations saying reminiscing the thought, “I don’t think we’ll grow here.”  Rovero connected by saying that regulations are worse than taxes and referenced that his grand kids who are trying to run an ice cream shop have to answer to TWELVE different agencies.  Holy cow.

State Senator Mae Flexer and State Rep. Danny Rovero at Putnam Town Hall, March 20, 2015.

State Senator Mae Flexer and State Rep. Danny Rovero at Putnam Town Hall, March 20, 2015.

The superstar of the day was Pheasant man, a calm yet nervous fellow who spoke to us all using solid logic and numerically sound evidence.  Every year the pheasant stocking program is funded solely by the previous year’s pheasant hunting tag purchases.  $152,000 was raised for this year’s stocking through last year’s purchase of 5,000-6,000 pheasant licenses across the state.  Malloy is now looking to reallocate these funds to some other program. Pheasant man was arguing the sheer ridiculousness of this as it is a self sustaining program where hunters buy in to be guaranteed a stock in the following year as well.  This is not money that should be in the general fund that is open to reallocation as contractual payment is made with a dictate on what exactly the fees are being used on.  Now I can’t say I had previously thought or cared about pheasants at all in my life, but this man had an excellent point. It pretty much sounded like stealing to me.  Furthermore, Pheasant man cited a UCONN study saying that hunters bring $109 million of revenue into the state each year through lodging, licenses, equipment purchases, etc.  Why would we kill a self-sustaining program that also helps generate additional needed funds for the state? I don’t know.  Good point, Pheasant man.

Whether you like to hunt, oppose hunting, or know nothing about it, the numbers make sense.

Whether you like to hunt, oppose hunting, or know nothing about it, the numbers make sense.

After a few other speakers and our outspoken mayor dropping gems like, “I can’t remember his name, but I talk to him [police sergeant] every week” and “Wish they never did away with the death penalty” I figured there were enough people saying stupid things so I should chime in with something intelligent. Feeling empowered from the union escapades of the previous week, I stood up to speak out against over testing.  The current system of high stakes testing destroys the inquiry of the kids we care about, fails to provide timely feedback, costs a tremendous amount of money, and is used unjustly as a measure of student potential and teacher success.  That’s the sparknotes version, but I hit a two minute stream of consciousness and when done, I was surprised to hear the crowd clapping for me…they didn’t even do that for Pheasant man and he crushed it!  That just goes to show that everyone cares a tremendous amount about their children and the future of this community.  With this being the case across the state, it’s a wonder that we keep enacting measures that hurt our education system and our young learners.

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“Do you play volleyball?”  I’m pretty sure that was the first question I was asked when I entered Putnam High School to begin my teaching career.  At the time, I found this quite odd…no “Nice to meet you, welcome to the school.”  Looking back on it, this was the perfect lead-in for long time secretary, Deb Pratt.  Among other volunteer posts, Deb served as a Putnam Lion and was always the top fundraiser for the annual corporate volleyball tournament.  She would shake people down around town to sponsor the day of athletic charity that led to major scholarship funds for local students.  Deb had pieced together a team from the high school and was always looking for players to help bring home the trophy.  In a few years playing, I remember the daunting nature of a twelve person roster mixed with the determined attitude of our fearless leader.  You miss a dig: you’re out.  You spike the ball out of bounds: you’re out. You’re too busy dancing and to even realize the other team already served: you are definitely out.  We knew the woman who NEVER took any lip or excuses from students would not take any from us either.

Coach Pratt enjoyed the 2013 tournament with her team of goofballs.

Coach Pratt enjoyed the 2013 tournament with her team of goofballs.

There was, however, a quiet contentment in being led by someone with high standards and brutal honesty; we never had to question where we stood with her.  Nor did we question the game day fashion sense. Donning a green tutu for the St. Patrick’s season tournament that also fell close to or on her birthday, I’ve never seen Deb happier than standing on the sideline talking with fellow Lions and drinking a mystery beverage with ice out of a colorful plastic cup.  Even when I brought her a ridiculous flying pig pull-string hat to wear for her birthday that she definitely didn’t want to wear, her smile was ear to ear; this was her day.  Not wanting to forget the pure joy I saw on her face and felt in her company, I didn’t address Deb as anything other than “Coach” for three full years.  In that time, she dropped a lot of solid gold advice on me when I would talk about finding an apartment, love interests, or having no clue what I am doing in life.  Her general advice always followed a few main principles. 1) Life is short. 2) Who cares what other people think? 3) While life is short, there is always time to help others.

When Deb passed away in August, we knew it was our duty to win that tournament for her.  Sporting matching team shirts in Putnam-blue with a green outlined volleyball above her name, symbolic of her green St. Patty’s Day tutu, we took to the courts.  Team Pratt played together with the determination and discipline that is to be expected from educators and at the end of the day, we honored our patron saint of volleyball with a dedicated victory.  Deb, although you are gone, a solid group of individuals continue to preserve the legacy you so enthusiastically embodied in life.

Team Pratt, 2015.  Putnam Lion's Club Volleyball Champions.

Team Pratt, 2015. Putnam Lion’s Club Volleyball Champions.

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“This flight has been oversold, we are looking for volunteers to give up their seats and in exchange we will offer a $275 flight voucher with no blackout dates.”

I found it odd that the gate agent used the term “oversold” instead of “overbooked” as if to skirt the connotation that it was any fault of the seller; that the demand in the free market is really what generated the selling of more seats than actually exist on the plane.  And there is the exact problem, a seller offering something they can’t follow through on.  Consumerism has suffered and debt has ballooned in historically painful pasts and present as average Joes have purchased goods on credit they didn’t have the assets to back up.  The dilemma seems no less problematic from the other end where a company is taking money for a product it can’t actually deliver on.  All too often on airlines, “this flight has been oversold” is the opening salutation that marks the beginning of the painful boarding process.

Fuel costs are at all time highs, overweight passengers cost more to transport, security costs are through the roof; we’ve all heard the headlining explanations as to why airlines are collapsing as if the age of air empires is being grounded.  So, like any modern business they begin to rely more on economics and statistics.  The carriers know that a certain number of passengers will not make it onto the plane.  They will reschedule flights, change plans altogether, or who knows, just not show.  Big data is the emerging technology that is shifting the way that all businesses conduct themselves and effective tracking/use has made gross national trillions. Although, the problem is that complex data sets can’t reliably track human behavioral outcomes without fail.

Computational matrices will say based on past traveler habits, seasonal trends, weather, and whole variety of other proprietary coded secrets to sell five more tickets than actual seats on the plane.  The data shows the likelihood that 5 people won’t show up and instead of an airline missing out on that potential $1,000+ in ticket sales, they overbook.  Intentionally.

Last night at Ronald Reagan Airport (DCA) as the clock rolled closer to midnight and delays for the last flight to BDL (Hartford) compounded, the gate agent announced with increasing fervor that,

“This flight has been oversold, we are looking for volunteers to give up their seats and in exchange we will offer a $275 flight voucher with no blackout dates.”

I have always heard these announcements and been so jealous of the lucky travelers who could lay claim so just an offer of gold.  With no churning agendas, they could confidently delay their plans and pocket a free flight for another day.  Well last night, I was in the lucky position to have the same circumstances cast upon me.  Feeling bad about the prospect of abandoning my CEA group on the last leg of our journey together, I didn’t have specific Saturday plans so I at least humored myself in talking to the US Airways employee manning the microphone.

No sooner had we entered the airport had we gotten notification that our already late flight had been delayed.  Are delays becoming more standard than on time flights?

No sooner had we entered the airport had we gotten notification that our already late flight had been delayed. Are delays becoming more standard than on time flights?

“This flight has been oversold, we are looking for volunteers to give up their seats and in exchange we will offer a $275 flight voucher with no blackout dates,” she said in response to my inquiry.

“Yea…I caught that part…what is the next flight we would get booked onto?” I queried

“805 tomorrow morning.”

As I processed how that would stick me with yet another night around 5 hours to sleep, I asked about hotel accommodations for the night.  I was met with the response of, “We are not offering hotel rooms at this time.”  I did that sideways head turn that dogs do when they are either confused by your actions or hoping you feed them table scraps.  Knowing the cheapest hotels in DC are around $400, this struck me as downright dumb.  This offer might only entice a person who lives in DC and already has lodging to take this deal.  Otherwise, by my count, it would be a net loss to the customer of $125.

I felt bad for the 5 angry people who were standing in a separate line up against the wall in desperation just hoping someone would give up their seat, but this was just a bad offer I walked away from.  I was with a union group and figured there was no need to negotiate at this time, simply wait for the airline to feel more pressure and wait for a better offer. This unfortunately did not happen for the next 30 minutes of pre-loading organization.  As Zones 1 and 2 boarded the plane, no deals had been made.  The same 5 people stood in the same line, only the general atmosphere had transformed from frustration to anger and was teetering on rage.   I was ¾ of the way back in Zone 3 boarding (out of 4 zones total).  Just before my boarding pass was scanned, I asked the agent if she was still looking for people to get bumped off the flight.  She responded with an emphatic “Yes, yes, yes…pleeeeeeease!!” I asked if they were offering a hotel yet, and if so, I would also need cab-fare to get there.  I was particularly impressed with myself for mentally mapping out that last part.  I unfortunately had failed to ask about food vouchers, which, note to self: do next time.  She called up her supervisor, brokered the deal in no more than 20 seconds of desperation and told me to step out of line so they could process everything after the plane was loaded.  I asked her if I could have a later flight than 805 so I could have time to explore the city a little more, and she snapped back, “Yes, there is an 1100 flight, just please step out of line.”

IMG_6166 IMG_6167 IMG_6175 IMG_6169

Another teacher with our group asked for straight up cash.  She was told they “couldn’t offer that anymore” to which she speedily sidestepped onto the plane.  One other man took the deal that I got and in the mean time the 5th person in the stand-by line gave up hope and walked away.  That meant there were two bodies left yearning for this nighttime flight and the comfort of their own Connecticut beds.  The girl in front, sporting a UCONN sweatshirt unabashedly broke into tears that dribbled down onto Jonathon the Husky.

My information was processed minutes later.  I was given a hotel voucher, flight voucher, and told a shuttle would pick me up in 10 minutes.  I walked toward ground transportation and stood statue like, frozen in the cool wind, wishing I had packed a jacket while I waited for a bus bearing the Hyatt Regency Crystal something-or-other markings.  Shortly thereafter, I was whisked away to my hotel. In 8 minutes, I entered the stunningly modern and breathtaking lobby, was processed by reception and entered a chic and impressive hotel room, which for the third night in a row had an extra bed I wouldn’t be using.  I smugly paused at the threshold and thought to myself about how proud I was of my decision.  I had beaten the system.  I wouldn’t have to drive until 2am to get home from Hartford; I would claim a good night’s rest in a different and exciting environment.  I turned on the TV which was a treat to watch for once and fell asleep to the MSNBC reportings of corporate greed.

For $810, I would not have thought this was a good deal, but a clean, modern hotel room just asking to be slept in for the cost of $0 is a warm and welcome sight.

For $810, I would not have thought this was a good deal, but a clean, modern hotel room just asking to be slept in for the cost of $0 is a warm and welcome sight.

This morning was leisurely as I woke up at 8:30, made a chamomile tea, and flipped through a DC sightseeing coffee table book after a long shower.  I had time to peruse the gift shop before I caught the 920 shuttle back to the airport.  I spent all of that time wondering where I would go with my new flight voucher.  I dreamed of exploring Denali National Park, touring my family around San Francisco, or relaxing on picturesque beaches in Cancun (wait, does US Airways fly to Mexico?).

TSA regulations are definitely made for worst case scenarios.  I have never taken longer than ten minutes to get through security and after that minor yet reassuring inconvenience of de-belting and barefoot body scanning, I settled in at my gate to trek onward past the first 95 pages of Gone Girl. The 1100 flight delayed to 1150.  1150 delayed to 1245.  1245 delayed to 215.  215 delayed to never.  The flight was cancelled all of a sudden.  The false hope all of the delays gave the mob around me only increased the irate shouts of passengers who were tired of being jerked around.  We were fed constant lies over the PA system of our plane being late to arrive from another location (even though it was already parked on the tarmac), of our captain and crew running late (but told they would be there in only 5 minutes on three separate occasions), and of weather issues.  As everyone around me got incensed, I just kept trying to crack what was going on with Nick and Amy in this growing murder-mystery of a book.  Every 15 minutes I heard “Attention military members, the USO lounge is open from 6am-10pm and can be accessed through…” blah blah blah. It would be the thing I heard most by the end of the day, because it is now 900pm and I have been in this terminal for almost 12 hours.

The customer service line hadn’t shrunk to under 20 people in the first 10 hours I was here, and I reckon when I hopped in it, I was a solid 60 people deep.  I tweeted and called US Airways with my dying phone as I inched toward the counter in an hour total.  I was told I was automatically rescheduled to the 835pm flight because the 4pm flight was booked and that I just had to stay in line to get my new ticket printed.  I wanted to make sure that I would actually get home tonight so I asked what the reason for the cancellation was.  I had heard it was weather, but the rep on the phone said that was not the case, nothing was posted in her system, but if it was weather, they would have known.  For that reason, she confirmed that I could request food vouchers in response to me directly asking.  Once at the counter, I was told no food vouchers because the original flight was cancelled due to weather (lies!) and that I would be put on standby for the last flight of the night at 835pm.  I was dismissed and given a ticket with no seat number or boarding zone.  Normal me would have been enraged, but I just didn’t really care.  I wanted to make sure I was going to get home, but the waiting didn’t bother me as much as it visibly did the passengers of the other flights around me that were cancelled.

I stood at a charging station to get my phone some juice, and went through 5 customer service phone calls, 3 internet confirmations, and 45 minutes of being on hold.  While I wish these numbers were exaggerations, they are not.  In the end, all it took was one competent person, the last man I talked to who said he just had to click one button on his end to assign me a seat and I could see any ticketing agent 4 hours before the flight to print out a boarding pass.  While the process sucked up a lot of my day, I ‘m not mad because I’ve been super productive.  With no bed to nap on, no wifi to be distracted by, and consequently no Netflix to be consumed by, I was stuck with a book and my mind.  I let my phone battery die down so no one could text me, and I just fell in to my book.  This must be why Thomas Jefferson was able to read as many books as he did in his life.  I had just seen his collection at the Library of Congress for the second time in my life and am still in awe.  What does my generation do when given free time? We distract ourselves, we do something mentally passive while the time ticks by.  It felt good to immerse myself in something that required brainpower and long periods of focus even if I did have to spend a whole day in a noisy airport with food I can’t eat (Still going strong on Whole 30 even though it’s around day 65).  And at the end of the day, I still have a free flight to somewhere.

Replica of Thomas Jefferson's library on exhibit at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Photo taken from washington.org

Replica of Thomas Jefferson’s library on exhibit at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Photo taken from washington.org

 

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

 

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Becky Pringle, NEA Vice President addresses the Connecticut delegation.

Becky Pringle, NEA Vice President addresses the Connecticut delegation.

NEA Vice President, Becky Pringle set the stage for a successful Friday session by rallying CT educators to “clear the way of the stupid and crazy” and “to pass legislation with it’s original intent.”  With 11 bazillion riders and amendments attached to bills as compromise to pass something through Congress, this point is not lost on citizens of a stalemated government.  We all literally saw where senate copiers go to die in the underground tunnels between office buildings, no doubt a partial product of excessive and unrelated legislation being attached to main bill points.  For us to find our utmost strength, not only do we need to be involved, but “we’ve got to change the brand of our union” according to Pringle.

Friday’s session was the absolute bomb because our group got to see what the NEA actually does, where our dues money actually goes to work.  In fifteen minute round-table sessions, small groups were able to meet with department heads on a rotating basis to dive deeper into the scope and sequence of individual group missions.

NEA Round table representing Oxford, South Windsor, Waterbury, and Putnam

NEA Round table representing Oxford, South Windsor, Waterbury, and Putnam

On the government relations side of things, thirteen people are employed, six of whom are lobbyists trying to sway politicians to pass legislation friendly to public education.  They have a forty-six page government policy book that they say covers “everything.”  While it can’t be found online, citizens can see how friendly their Congressmen are towards education by viewing NEA’s Congressional Report Cards.

One of huge issues facing the 114th Congress is the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Originally enacted under LBJ’s Great Society, it morphed in 2002 into what the country knows as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  For anyone interested in voicing their opinion to help Congress get it right, click here for the link will serve as a conduit for positive contact.

From the NEA, the 4 major “asks” for ESEA are:

  • Move away from exclusively test-based accountability. Schools should be accountable for opportunity gaps, only getting kids over the hump
  • Reduce testing and offer more flexibility in the time frame
  • Divorce high stakes from standardized tests
  • Empower educators

In 2015, how are these things not a reality already?  Before groups could really get into the minutia of it all, time was up and rotation commenced.

At my next table, I couldn’t really restrain my leftover wonder.  If support of education seemed like such a clear cut and responsible mandate, how come we had to dump so much capital into making it a reality?  And by reality, I most clearly mean moving a mountain toward just and equitable opportunities for all.  Luckily I had moved on to speak with Melissa Mayville, Senior Policy/Program Analyst for NEA’s Education Policy and Practice who would help me ponder this question a little deeper.  She was the only other person in the room who was as energetic and enthusiastic as I am; I think I actually cut her off to compliment her on her passion.  I asked her if there are any people on the hill who are considered friends of education, legislators who can be counted on to back laws that promote learning and empower all involved in the process.

Melissa Mayville, will you personally mentor me and pay me a respectable salary to help shape the future of education?

Melissa Mayville, will you personally mentor me and pay me a respectable salary to help shape the future of education?

It was sad to hear that there are people who are thought to be friends, but one can never really be sure.  With all the capital we invest into trying to sway lawmakers onto our side, I asked point blank if it would just make sense  if we had educators who were also lawmakers.  En route to shape educational policy, I wondered if it would be more beneficial for the cause to get my Doctorate in Education or pursue a Law Degree.  While Melissa obviously couldn’t guide me to an answer, I had already found one…I’m going to get both.  These two entities shouldn’t be separate, which I believe the country is starting to understand as UPenn is rolling out a pilot Ed.D/JD dual degree program.  I’ll be seeing you again real soon, DC….ready an office at NEA and Congress…just in case.

Other departments, while they didn’t excite my inner core to the point that government policy did, were still super exciting! It’s good to be amongst the vibrant energy of others who share the same views and are investing action into their cause.

Social Justice Management is a vibrant crew dedicated to the causes of anti-bullying (with special emphasis on LBGT rights) and school to prison pipeline issues.  We spent most of our time talking about awful stories of bullying we have encountered and how social media has played a part.  Curse you, Yik-Yak.

The number of times I have personally said, “I wish I learned that in grad school” vastly outnumber the instances of me saying “I learned that in grad school.” The Department of Organizing offers student programming that gives focus to issues not normally learned in school, such as how to prepare for a sub.  These are all the things needed on a day-to-day basis in education, but not touched upon in college because there is too much course work, field work, and getting students prepared to pass a certification exam.

If the massive time investment isn’t enough to break the back of teaching candidates, the financial investment might be.  Luckily, as our nation moves forward with debt forgiveness programs, once again showing they realize the value of a good education, college is becoming less of a strain on those that pursue degrees.  The NEA is spearheading the “Degrees not debt” program that forgives federal loans after ten years of continual payment.  Not too shabby for a debt that previously followed people into the grave and beyond.

Organizing also includes UniServ which was created in 1971 to get 12,000 staff members into the field.  Most of the action this year will revolve around agency fees, which I now understand because of yesterday’s session.  Boom! . Side note, UniServ reps are paid really well (by teacher’s standards).

Jesse Graytock, Grants Manager from the NEA Foundation was by far the most popular man in the room on Friday because he was telling people how to get free money.  The NEA Foundation offers four main types of grants that have rolling deadlines throughout the year of February 1, June 1, and October 15.

  • Student Achievement Grants: for classroom projects that align with teaching standards up to $2,000
  • Learning and Leadership Grants: funding professional development up to $2,000
  • Group Grants: year long PLC/Research up to $5,000
  • Donors Choose matching: 88% of projects are funded by the NEA

The Student Achievement Grants funding dries up by Halloween, so educators should apply when the money first becomes available in August.  The other grants seem to be under utilized with Jesse just looking to throw money out at people.  Along with this they have instructional videos, tips, and dedicated staff to help prepare grants and secure funding opportunities.  If there is one thing this post causes you to do, it should be to click this link to go the NEA Foundation website.

A group meets with Jesse and learns that getting one grant is the equivalent of three years of dues money.  Your money is hard at work to constantly improve public education.

A group meets with Jesse and learns that getting one grant is the equivalent of three years of dues money. Your money is hard at work to constantly improve public education.

The rest of our time at NEA was devoted to a group activity called “Toxic Testing.” This was a brainstorming session to gather alternative ideas to SBAC.

Some ideas include:

  • e-portfolios to track progress, growth, and proficiency.
  • dipstick testing that gives progress at a glance, but not high stakes
  • revert back to CAPT/CMT
  • Use PSATs

Action steps:

  • Organize/reach out to get parents involved (group consensus was that this was the most important factor)

    Mark and Kerry on the brink of reform.

    Mark and Kerry on the brink of reform.

  • Create talking points to help educators contact their Congressmen.
  • No testing before Grade 3
  • Make calls to Washington
  • Have legislators take SBAC test on Chromebooks
  • Educate families and communities about the financial cost of testing
  • Make another CEA commercial on the topic
  • Hold small community rallies
  • Have 10 minute meetings in every school across the state to engage communities
  • Offer beverages to parents to come have a conversation about the issue
  • Do something at the Capitol to get media attention

As a group of strangers, we descended upon the capitol to learn about about our union and we return home as a tight knit group of empowered educators, ready to rouse some rabble. Watch out, Connecticut, we’re about to make some noise and we’re not using our indoor voices.

 

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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