Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Social Action and Guilt

So I was back in church on a Sunday morning for the first time in a month, as I've finally cleared my schedule of trainings, conferences, and assorted things which wanted to take over the first morning of the week. It was good to be back, though the fact that the old people that irritate me so who sit behind me finally know my name is upsetting for a whole variety of reasons.

The sermon was the second part of one two weeks ago, and since I hadn't listened to the podcast (Sorry pastor!) I felt a little lost. I was posting a couple of my pastor's quips on my Twitter feed when the folks whom I follow started to comment on points from Pete Wilson's sermon at CrossPoint Church in Nashville. Jonathan Acuff then tweeted the following:

"26k kids starved to death yesterday & I got mad emails cause I'm in a Taylor Swift video? Christians are bored" 

Now, I have to say that I really like Pete Wilson and his book Plan B. However, the tweet didn't sit well with me, so I immediately shot back a response that I thought the comment was begging to receive.

Just to play Devil's Advocate, but 26k kids starved while he was in a Taylor Swift video. Statements like that can backfire. 

Before I go on, I think I should toss some caveats out there. First of all, I had to google whom Taylor Swift was (No, you're not surprised). Second of all, it's not that I disagree with the entire statement per se, as I think that Evangelical Christians are world-famous for majoring on minor issues and blowing them all out of proportion. However, the tone of the statement smells suspiciously like it's meant to elicit a response via guilt, which just rubs me the wrong way. Because I didn't hear it firsthand, I'm going to err on the side of caution and assume it sounds a lot better in context. However, that won't stop me from using it as an excuse to talk about social action and guilt, which is something I had to deal with the past couple of weeks.

In the past decade or so, Evangelical Christianity in America has moved with society in general to be more interested in social causes than it used to be, which is in no way, shape, or form, a bad thing. It's really encouraging to see young people get fired up about working in the community and abroad to make a difference instead of solely blindly consuming the latest in Pop Culture. Unfortunately, this raised awareness has created an army of people who are so driven for their causes that they are literally incapable of understanding that someone cannot be as obsessed about said cause as they are.

In Evangelical circles, I blame this solely on Francis Chan and his book Crazy Love, which essentially said that if you weren't spending your entire life trying to help the poor or in some sort of social action (preferably abroad), you don't love Jesus, and if you don't love Jesus, that, my friends, is a Very Bad Thing. Of course, after polemicizing for 200 pages or so, he backtracks at the conclusion that maybe we're not all called to treat foot fungus in Ethiopia like one of his examples, but apparently I'm the only person to have noticed this comment when reading and discussing this book. 

Having sat through two (Two!) studies of this book, I admit I groaned silently and rolled my eyes as either the book itself or a wide-eyed ideologue lectured me on how because I don't spend every penny and every waking moment helping the poor, hungry, disadvantaged, oppressed, etc., I'm either some baby-eating non-Christian or some soulless corporati. Of course, in the latter's case I didn't help things one bit by slipping into a rich vein of passive-aggressiveness and began singing the praises of unfettered corporatism and consumerism. But what can I say? No one's perfect.

I think it goes without saying that this view on life is flawed to say the least, and people who want to guilt you into following their pet social cause with the same alleged intensity runs into trouble. First of all, if I'm going to take your cause as seriously as you want me to, I need to quit my job and sign up at the nearest monastery, as that is the logical conclusion of your rhetoric. And with all due respect to my Catholic friends and readers, the last thing a monastery needs is for me to show up to join their order.

This leads to the point that when someone is this fervent about the totality of their cause, and is busy guilt tripping you into aiding their cause, it makes it easy to poke holes in their arguments. For the angry ideologue, I asked why he was sitting at home playing video games instead of solving problems abroad. For the quote from Wilson, I merely asked what taking a part in a country music video would do to help the 26k kids who starved while he took part in said video. Is pointing things like that out a bit out of taste? Yes. But then again, guilt tripping people into helping your pet causes isn't exactly great either.

I'm pretty sure by now you're sitting smugly in your seat wondering if I actually do care about anyone but myself. Well, if you want to be honest, I have a real soft spot for helping out gifted kids in pretty much any way I can. Yes, it isn't helping people with foot fungus in Ethiopia, but to blow off gifted kids' needs is as callous as I'm often accused when I don't swoon over the latest cause in need of my assistance Right. This. Minute. As events in the UK showed this past week with the mysterious murder of a GCHQ cryptanalyst, gifted people often grow up into solitary individuals that people look at quizzically, only to remark that they are "extremely polite and amiable" without doing much else. As someone who tends to have people look at me and say that I am "extremely polite and amiable" without doing much else, I see needs that I have a unique understanding and toolkit to take care of. Does that make my cause less important than starving kids 3/4 of a world away? For some people, yes, but for the rest of us, we know better.

To sum this all up, we can't save the world all by ourselves no matter how hard we try, but instead of trying to get as many comrades-in-arms for our cause-du-jour via guilt and peer pressure, let's just realize that some people are busy saving their corner of the world so you don't have to also.

Until next time.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Burden of Command

I was going to make this post about my first two weeks of school, but rather than focusing on my classroom, events today are making me think about my responsibilities outside the classroom and how I need to deal with them.

I must say up front that I am not shy about taking charge of something for better or worse. If there is a power vacuum, I tend to fill it. If there is an ineffective leader in charge, I pressure them to improve or outright take over. It's not because I have delusions of becoming a tinpot dictator or anything, but I'm a pretty meticulous person, and I like things done correctly. So if I'm not in charge and it's not getting done correctly, that drives me batty to no end. For most of last year, our team leader was trying to dump the job on my lap because it was obvious that she couldn't do it and I could. As you've read on this blog, I was kind of too busy taking classes and figuring out how to teach to take the job, but when she declared to everyone that she was not coming back, I volunteered for the job.

It's not a hard job per se, but it's a bit of a petty bureaucratic feel to it because I'm essentially the liaison between the administration and my fellow seventh grade teachers. The most tedious part of it is heading up our daily team meetings. With a good team, it's a breeze. If you don't have a good team, it's like pulling teeth. Thankfully, this year's team is like the former instead of the latter, and my fellow teachers have done a great job of taking on roles that I wanted to delegate. What I'm left with is essentially being the face of the team and the person who can spin anything that needs to be said to administrators either at the school level or above.

So today we came into teaming and I was looking to finish up a lesson for my Honors class the next period. In walks a Central Office employee to complete an inservice on drug abuse. I had another activity planned, and was caught flat-footed. My principal looked at me quizzically and told me that this was on the weekly announcement e-mail. I responded by smirking and sheepishly admitting that even though I've been there for over a year, I still don't get school e-mails due to not being assigned to the school by the e-mail server. The COC employee looked at me strangely, but my principal started laughing and told her that this is really a shame since I have pretentions of being a good team leader and best of all, I am the school's technology lead teacher, after all. I could only fake a shameful look and talk about the irony of it all. I then apologized to the COC employee about being clueless about her coming, and she sweetly brushed it off, calling it all a part of being in charge of something.

And you know what? She is completely correct. Leading is really a series of unexpected situations that not even the best planning and bureaucratic paperwork can prepare us for. Though this was a pretty amusing example of dealing with unexpected events on a moment's notice, it pales in comparison to the daily fun of being our school's technology lead teacher. That position is essentially the technology resource person at school who is in charge of professional development for technology, writing the school's technology plan, and most mundanely, doing basic troubleshooting of our school's PCs and assorted hardware, and putting wha can't get fixed on our HelpDesk. Our last TLT was our curriculum facilitator, who has since moved on to being an assistant principal at a school on the East End of the parish (Jerk. [Not really. I'm quite happy for her, but I miss her so.]), and I filled in the position (See a trend?) with the expectation that I'd get to do some neat professional development using technology and use my deep knowledge of technology to help my colleagues.

Instead, I spend my free time (and some of my teaching time if it's an emergency) making printers work, "fixing" e-mail, and crawling under desks to reconnect cables that were somehow disconnected. I could already write an article about how silly some of the problems were, but that would be unfair to my colleagues since a lot of them just aren't anywhere as immersed in technology (Much less knowing a handful of programming languages like I do) as I am, not to mention it wouldn't be very nice.

Suffice it to say that sitting under a desk spraying canned air to clean out a filter and reconnect some cables can really show you what leadership and the burden of command really is: your subordinates look to you to solve their problems because you've shown the aptitude to be placed in charge--and their faith in you and your abilities can really be quite high. I could easily get perturbed that a student asks me to hurry to their class to save their teacher's technology crisis while I'm teaching a lesson, but I've decided to take it as evidence that they wouldn't be asking for my help if they didn't think I could fix it right then and there. It's the burden of leadership that I'm more than willing to carry--even if it means embarassing myself by being the only teacher to not be on the e-mail server list despite being in charge of technology.

Until next time.

Monday, August 23, 2010

And So It Begins (Again)

I oftentimes quip to others that I'm a sad, sad geek with no life. Those others tend to nod their head sagely in agreement with me that I am indeed a sad, sad geek with no life. However, it stands to imagine that I am perhaps the busiest geek with no life in existence. After all, how else can I explain the fact that I've been doing so many things that only now, after the ninth day of the school year, do I actually have time to make a blog post.

To sum up my summer activities, I essentially killed myself going to class every day in order to finish my teaching certificate a year early. It wasn't all grueling work, as I spent my June class ignoring what the professor said as I watched the World Cup during class. Having said that, taking classes meant I had to miss the summer camp I usually work at (The last time I missed was in 1997... back when I attended as a camper) as well as the MLS All-Star Game which was held next door in Houston. I was a bit bummed to miss it, but I made up for it by seeing Theirry Henry's debut in MLS that next weekend... after the end of classes.

When I wasn't in class churning out gristle in the form of writing assignments, I was feverishly trying to land a very nice science position at an elementary school here in New Iberia at a school that's generally regarded as the best elementary school in the parish. I chased the job down, and finally got an interview. I blew the interview away as only I could, but was passed over for the other person who interviewed--a lady who came in with a single-page resume and not really dressed for the occasion.

That obviously meant that I'm back at my school teaching Reading. I can't say I'm 100% thrilled about it, but this year is off to a bit of a flyer. The kids are well-behaved, the Promethean gadgets are all up and running, and even my struggling students are happy to be in class. Harry Wong would be happy with me as I leave at the end of the day full of energy, whereas my kids are a bit worn out from a long day's work. And that's a good thing, as I'm our Seventh Grade Team Leader, on our school's School Improvement Plan Committee, our school's Technology Lead Teacher, and most important to me, I start the road to my Master's Degree in Education of the Gifted. Needless to say this year will be packed to the gills, so that means there will be plenty for me to opine. As it stands, this semester looks to allow for a Monday-Thursday-Friday/Weekend posting format, so that's how posting will be for the time being. Feel free to drop a line and give your opinion on matters. Otherwise it'll look like I'm sitting here on my lonely online perch whining about the world--which isn't why I blog.

Until next time.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Teaching on Mars is on Summer Vacation... Kind of

So I haven't posted for a month and I received a couple of e-mails from people wondering why. Simply put, I've been on a summer vacation that's consisted of me taking two college classes and being smack in the middle of our church's big children's drama that starts on 18 July. I should be back into the blogging swing starting in the beginning of August, so until the you folks have fun while I, erm, kill myself trying, ironically, to better myself.

Oh, and to the folks who've come from Throw Mountains as a result of my article on being a single guy (Yes, I managed to get one article done in about 90 minutes of downtime.), welcome! Check out the place and see if you like it. If you do, come back with the rest of the handfuls of people in a couple of weeks when I'm back up and running. You won't regret it. (I think.)


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Life as a Soccer Missionary

I've been trying really hard over the past couple of weeks to get into a rhythm of working on classwork and blogging. Considering I'm in a class that shrinks a semester's worth of work into four weeks, my work is cut out for me. What makes things worse is the fact that the World Cup is this summer, and that means that for hours at a time a significant portion of my focus is on the match at hand... even if it's between teams like Paraguay and Switzerland. The quadrennial festival of football is truly a sight to behold, and the prospect of watching three matches a day for almost two weeks straight is true delight for a football supporter like me.

However, living in a semi-rural part of the United States means it is often quite a lonely exercise. Soccer and I have been joined at the hip since an early age through both playing the game and being a spectator. My younger years were pretty much dire, but our local public broadcasting station played ancient reruns from the brilliant series Soccer Made in Germany got me well in touch with my German ancestry, so when my teammates were busy trying to pick daisies out of the midfield, I was busy trying to be south Louisiana's own Karl-Heinz Rummenigge... and usually failing miserably because I was even shorter than he was. The growth of the spectator side of the sport in the 1990s allowed me to finally follow my teams in Holland (PSV Eindhoven), Germany (Hamburger SV), and England (Arsenal) from my home over satellite television. However, like a lot of things in my life, it was merely tolerated by my parents mainly because they wanted to be nice to me and didn't (really) want me to be seen talking to myself, even if it was about the majesty of Dennis Bergkamp.

Fast forward well over a decade, and with a good-paying job and spare time, following the game now is really easy--just like spending lots of money on it. I'm currently investing in some World Cup scarves and a couple of posters to go in my classroom to accompany my Arsenal scarf so when people walk in they will know for sure which sport I follow--as if the PSV Eindhoven polos, soccer books from Europe, and German men's national team lanyard my ID hangs off of isn't any indication, that is. When my students ask what I watched this weekend, I'd pull out the English Premier League highlights online and show them the best goals of the week, much to their consternation.

On Saturday I headed over to Lafayette to watch the England-USA match at a local eatery. I was astounded to see the place packed to the gills with folks wearing kits from over 20 countries and a good 10 club sides. With nowhere else to sit, I plopped down at the bar between an Englishman and a loud-mouth American that knew nothing about the game despite claiming to have played high school soccer for four years. When the US scored off of Robert Green's horiffic error, the place exploded with cheers, including myself in a rare case of openly cheering when watching a sporting event. When it was over, I left satisfied in a good time, but wondering where all of these supporters came from, because whereas I wear my club allegiances pretty openly, I can count the number of non-rec soccer kits I've seen in the area, apart from the Mexicans and their innumerable Chivas and Club America kits. There was that one guy I saw wearing an Aston Villa shirt with Gabriel Agbonlahor on the back, but apart from that, I'm all alone.

It's weird, but in some ways I'm just one of an ever-growing number of soccer missionaries preaching the good news of the beautiful game to this nation of uncultured savages. Of course, I say that with my tongue firmly in cheek, but there is something that, despite the ever-growing status of the game in the American sports scene, makes Americans scoff and act a smidge hostile. Despite the scenes across the country like I experienced on Saturday, people frowned at the fact the England-USA match ended in a draw, much less the fact that there was celebration for a draw, and typical complaints about a lack of scoring, and a general "lack of action", and whined that they were going to have to put up with this nonsense for a month. Of course, some people have found the secret lair where I get my marching orders, and blamed this all on the liberal media, which I find most amusing considering where I stand when it comes to politics.

I don't think I'm too offencive of a missionary. I mean, compared to some of the American football shrines some of my colleagues have, my scarves and books are small time. When the New Orleans Saints were on their Super Bowl run, the mad dash to get on the bandwagon was startling, as was the garish amount of black and gold everyone wore, not to mention the kitsch people plastered on their walls, windows, and sides of their automobiles. I think best of all, I don't sit there and constantly carp about why football games on TV last over 3 hours, referees never call basic penalties in basketball on star players, not to mention the fact that cheating and our national pastime have quite the symbiotic relationship. Oops.

Regardless, I think a big frustration in my soccer-watching life is that, apart from being the only one around here that follows it like I do, is that a lot of US sports fans don't want to give me the same consideration that I give them. I'm not expecting them to quote Jonathan Wilson of the Guardian and Inverting the Pyramid fame, or comment on the game like folks on Zonal Marking, at least they could attempt to wrap their heads around facts like you might not need constant scoring to have an exciting game, sometimes it's OK to not have a winner if the result of the game isn't life or death, or even getting kicked in the shin still hurts a lot... even if you jump right back up after rolling around on the ground for a couple of minutes. Well, a man can dream, eh?

Until next time.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Teaching Post-Mortem- Planning

Well, after a crazy two weeks of getting ready for the summer session of college where, after pleading with a department head, I managed to get a screw-up on the university's part fixed, enabling me to get my Alternate Certification program completed this summer as I had planned, as opposed to the worst-case scenario where I would have to spend another year to complete just two classes. Now that I am in the class, I am doing the logical thing when presented with the case of being in a class where the content is literally what I did every day for a year: blog!

As I stated in my last post, I wanted to look back at the school year like any responsive professional and reflect on what I did with the purpose of taking those lessons learned and apply them to my conceptual fram... Er sorry, got a little too eduspeak-ey there for a second. In normal language, by talking about what I did this past year, I could figure out what went wrong (and right!) and fix those problems in preparation for next year.

Simply put, this year was horrible for me planning-wise because I was only five days before school started to teach in a subject area that I'm simply not qualified to teach, much less have a clue how to teach reading to students who are up to five grades behind where they should be as readers. The day I was hired I sat at home looking at all of the material that was given to me and felt totally lost. Thankfully for me my school board created a 180-day calendar for teachers to follow, so at least I could use that to get going. The next four days I spent, not planning, but simply getting my classroom ready for the impending school year. As a result, I was flying by the seat of my pants for the first two months of the school year just trying to figure out what I was doing teaching Reading. Of course, once I figured out what I needed to do, things began to go a lot smoother, but the issue remains that I'm teaching something I haven't the foggiest as to how to do what I'm supposed to do.

I think that this is going to plague me as long as I teach this subject. I am a Social Studies/Science, and even to an extent Math teacher. I look at the subject materials in those subject and know what and how to teach without too much effort. Reading? Not a chance. Even though I had the assistance of our consultant getting me up to speed, I was still spending eight to ten hours a weekend working on lesson plans, only to spend over an hour a night looking at my lessons trying to change them since everything went wrong. By the end of the year, I was in a rhythm of lesson planning.

Looking to next year, if i can continue to plan deliberately once I got going in the school year, I'll feel a lot better about the planning aspect of the job. However, I still feel like I'm still behind the 8-ball because I don't feel as though I'm adequately prepared to teach students who, frankly, need someone who specializes in teaching struggling readers. I wish I could say that I can turn it around this next year and really become an effective reading teacher, but I know better and am tempering my expectations... and hoping I can get an assignment at my school where I have a better chance of utilizing the teaching talents that I have.

Until next time.

Monday, May 31, 2010

The End is Here


After almost ten months, 180 school days, and almost 900 individual classes, this school year finally came to an end. Unlike my growing up, the end of the school year came with a whimper and not a bang. When the final bell rang, my students went out of the class just as they normally do, and I plopped down into a chair in my empty classroom and realized it was all over. For over two months there will be no super-early mornings, dull commutes, classes with students who are not terribly interested in the subject matter, bureaucratic headaches, and everything else that makes school school for a teacher. Instead, I'll be taking a couple of classes to finish off my teaching certificate, assessing where my career is going, and hopefully get that done in time to have more than a week's notice in preparing for the next school year.

Over the summer I'll be blogging in the usual format, looking at the school year in retrospective, look into how I'm planning for next year, the world around me, and some other subjects that interest me than hopefully you'll find the same. So until later this week, I have some personal business I need to finish off.

Until next time.