Saturday, May 30, 2020

American Revolution: Then & Now

Even though I am currently a special education teacher, I am a social studies teacher by trade.  I taught government and United States history for many years before I earned my Master of Special Education degree.  Even then, for the last two years, I have co-taught United States history, world history, and economics, so I still get my social studies fix.  

As a student of social studies, especially of history, I am always seeking ways that history connects to the present, validating that age-old question, "Why do we have to study history?"  The answer to that question is that we must know our history in order to understand where we come from, to apply lessons of the past to the present, and in some cases, to prevent it from repeating itself.  And sometimes, without realizing it, we witness history in the present.  Allow me to elaborate...

Recently, a black man by the name of George Floyd was killed at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Shortly after news broke, news outlets were reporting that Mr. Floyd died after one of the officers held their knee to his neck for several minutes.  The four officers involved were terminated and one of them, thus far, has been charged with murder.  Protests have erupted not only in Minneapolis but in cities around the country.  Many of these protests have been peaceful marches, but some have turned violent with physical altercations, exchanges of gunfire, and looting of businesses caught on camera and posted on social media and beyond.  

People are angry.  I am angry.  There are far too many instances of unarmed individuals, especially black men, that die while in custody.  The system is broken and is long overdue for a fix.  Racism and profiling are ingrained in our society and it is ridiculous that in the year 2020, we continue to see these types of incidents.  It is no wonder that peoples' anger has reared its head.  

As a white male, I cannot relate to the experiences with law enforcement that many black men and other people of color have on a regular basis.  My worst experience with the police came as a 16-year-old when I was pulled over for driving against a one way on a street in my hometown.  In this instance, rather than driving around a concrete barrier to pull into a parking lot, I drove against the one way for about 20 feet and turned into the lot.  I had seen people do it 100 times and I happened to have a police officer witness me do it.  I did not get a ticket, but I got a lecture from the officer about traffic laws.  To this day, I chalk it up to me being young, not because I had broken a traffic law.  

My roommate from college is a different story.  He and I refer to each other as brothers, we are family through and through.  We have confused people on many occasions when we speak of each other as family, he being black and I being white.  I wish I could say that his worst experience with the police was as trivial as mine.  

One night in college, he was driving through town with my brother when he was pulled over.  Neither of us can recall why he was initially pulled over, but when the officer came back to the car with his license, he was informed that there was a warrant for his arrest from his hometown for unpaid child support (which was a couple of days late at the time).  The officer told him that he either needed to pay the child support at that moment or he would be taken to jail.  Because he and my brother did not have enough cash on hand, he ended up spending the night in jail and was released after my brother went to get the money needed to pay for the child support and his bail.  He was also assigned a court date back in his hometown, which was a six-hour drive away.  He ended up going to the court date, only to find out that it had been canceled because he had already paid his support and was current.  

I can guarantee that if this was me or another white male in my roommate's place, this would have played out differently. Most likely, I would have been given a warning and told to go make the payment needed.  I doubt I would have been taken to jail.  I doubt that I would have had to go before a judge.  And who knows if I would have ever been pulled over in the first place as the reason was so minor that neither of us can remember why he was pulled over.  The bottom-line: people of color are treated differently and whites, especially white males, have a privilege in society that most do not enjoy.  

Now, back to the current situation.  Another side of the debate is how people are protesting.  Many are calling for peace, condemning protesters that resort to violence and referring to them as thugs, anarchists, and worse.  I do not condone people getting hurt or killed, the destruction of property, or further violence from any side.  However, I can understand it.  I have had moments in my life where my anger has made me want to express it in a violent manner.  And there have been many instances of violent protests that have made this nation what it is.  For example:

  • American colonists, first as a protest to taxation and eventually to other perceived violations of individual rights by the British, rioted in the streets with British soldiers, destroyed British property and goods (i.e. Boston Tea Party), tarred and feathered tax collectors and burned the homes of British agents and sympathizers, before clashing with the British Army and declaring independence, fighting a bloody war for independence
  • Working in horrific conditions for long hours and little pay, workers created labor unions to demand better conditions only to be met by violent strikebreakers. Hundreds died in the late 1800s and early 1900s in events like the Haymarket Square incident, the Homestead Massacre, the Pullman Strike. 
  • Veterans of World War I, hoping to get their service bonuses early, in 1932, protested in shadows of the Capitol, only to have the US Army, led by a young Douglas MacArthur, burn the Bonus Army out of Washington, DC
  • The Civil Rights Movement, focusing on peaceful protest, was met by violence such as the murders of civil rights workers throughout the South, mass arrests and brutality by police such as the use of high-powered fire hoses and dogs on marchers in Birmingham, Alabama
  • After a black man was beaten during a traffic stop in Los Angeles and the subsequent acquittal of the officers involved, riots broke out in the streets in LA for days in 1992, eventually killing dozens, injuring hundreds, and doing millions of dollars of damage to homes and businesses
This is just a sliver of the history of ONLY the United States in which violence has erupted but eventually led to significant changes.  The US wouldn't exist without those that were brave enough to stand up to oppression from the British. Laws addressing civil rights, labor, veterans affairs and more have been passed as a result, but we are still experiencing issues with racial profiling and police brutality.  

Again, I don't want issues to be solved with violence, but I understand it.  People are fed up and enough is enough! As an educator, it starts with US to end this!  We are the ones that need to use our powers of building relationships and community to inspire tough conversations, call out instances of racism, and unite people.  Then, and only then, will our society truly be one created for all.  

Until next time... 

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Struggles with Motivation During Quaranteaching, Part II

It's not a secret that many this is an unprecedented time with unprecedented effects and that the word "unprecedented" may possibly be the most overused term in the dictionary over the last few weeks.  Throughout the shutdown due to Coronavirus, I have tried to be as open as possible about the struggles that I am encountering.  I have struggled with creativity, with motivation, and have generally been physically lethargic.  I wrote about these struggles in my previous post, Struggles with Motivation During Quaranteaching.  Since writing that post, I have had time to reflect and interact with others and felt that it was necessary to write a follow-up to the post.  

Before I dive any deeper, I want to make a clarification.  By no means do I want to make my problems bigger than they are or more important than other problems that many people are facing at the current time.  There are thousands of people that have been more negatively affected by this pandemic.  Those that have been lost their job or have had income reduced, those that have been in isolation, without the ability to leave their homes at all, those that have contracted this terrible disease, and those that have lost loved ones during this time are the ones that deserve the attention and sympathy over me.  The issues that I have been having during this pandemic are what many will often refer to as first world problems.  That being said, while I have been struggling, I recognize there are many others that are in a worse situation than I.  

Since I wrote my original post, things have improved on various fronts.  I found a new home in Las Vegas and have settled in, minus a handful of boxes that still need to be unpacked.  (It's nice returning to a city that I lived in for several years, it will be nice to see friends again when it is safe to do so, but I also really like not having to learn streets, where the grocery store is, and I have a decent idea about what traffic will be like, although that is off with fewer people on the road).  I still have a few days of remote teaching to do for my current school district, but it doesn't matter where I'm teaching from, so long as I am teaching! 

Mary& I outside of one of our favorite
places, the Greek Bistro, on our first
night back in Las Vegas!
I have recorded a handful of podcasts with new episodes of The BeerEDU Podcast and The Podcast by Sons of Technology now available.  Ben and I had some great guests on BeerEDU, including a returning guest in John VanDusen talking about the importance of teaching the Constitution, Ben Cogswell and remote teaching with kindergartners and his Kinder Rockets, and Nicole Biscotti & Melissa Sidebotham that came on to emphasize the importance of building family relationships.  On Sons of Technology, we had great discussions about motivation during this shutdown (most definitely influenced by my previous blog post) and what we expect to be different when we return to "normal" in the fall.  

My last few days with my current district are wrapping up and it is most certainly bittersweet.  I love my school, even said on several occasions that I would have loved to retire from there.  It hasn't quite hit me that there is a better than good chance that I will never see 99% of my students ever again.  I have been trying to connect with as many of them as possible through video chat or a Flipgrid topic that I drop into Google Classroom each week, simply just to see them, knowing that I most likely won't.  It also has been nice speaking to parents of my students and the gratitude that they have expressed for the last two years that I have worked with their kids.  

At the same time, I am really looking forward to my new school in Las Vegas.  The principal is somebody that I shadowed for several days a few years ago when I was completing requirements for my administrative academy and somebody that I recall stating that I would be lucky if I ever got the chance to work with them.  I did not seek out this position per se, but when I was contacted for the interview, I told myself that if I was offered a position, I would take it once I realized that this person was the principal.  We have already talked about some plans for the summer and the fall, and she even went as far as to send me a text one day telling me how excited she was that I was coming to work with her.  So regardless of what school is going to look like in the late summer/early fall, I am excited for the opportunity but will miss Reno/Carson City dearly.  

I have been more successful in getting out and active.  Before the move, I was walking 2-4 miles nearly every day.  I got away from walking during the move, but I was working very hard unpacking, so I call that a wash.  I have since gotten back into my walking routine and have been eating better as well. Since I didn't really have any food in the house when I moved and didn't have much to bring with me from my old place, it allowed me to make sure to buy good food, not a ton of junk.  Fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, and lean meats now dominate my fridge and pantry and because summer is approaching and the weather is getting warmer, I am drinking more water.  To tech it up a little bit, I have been using the Google Fit, MapMyRide, and Water Drink Reminder apps.  They are available in the Google Play & App Store.  And on social media, follow the hashtag, #flattenthecurveflattenthebelly, started by the awesome Ed Campos, Jr., as a way to motivate others to be active.  And thank you not only to Ed, but also Joe Marquez and Rolland Chidiac who have been influential in boosting me to be more active and eat better and simply as an outlet to vent occasionally.  

I also have found a little more motivation on another front.  When my book, To The Edge: Successes & Failures Through Risk-Taking, was released, it is a given that I was very excited.  However, the book's release came about a week before everything shut down.  Sales have not been good, in fact, they have been dismal.  While I did not write the book with the intention of earning enough income to retire, it is disappointing that it hasn't been doing well.  However, I know that once society returns more to a semblance of normal, sales may pick up.  And I need to thank Risa Bennett and the team at Pear Deck for holding a contest through Instagram Live where I was able to talk about the book and give away 10 copies of it to viewers of the event.  If interested in a copy, please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Edumatch to purchase a copy and learn more about how you can be more of a risk-taker!  

As a way to promote the lessons of my book and to encourage others to take risks, I also created a Facebook group.  The group is designed for members to share their risks and celebrate successes and failures.  It is also a place where members can share their creative ventures, such as blogs, podcasts, videos, and more.  If you would like to join, head over to the #ToTheEdgeEDU group on Facebook, answer a couple of quick questions, and join in on the conversation!  

And one more exciting development, I learned a few days ago that I was selected as a digital learning engineer by the Nevada Department of Education.  For the next year, I will be working with the State of Nevada to develop webinars and other professional development for teachers to help incorporate meaningful use of technology in schools.  It is something that I have been doing for a long time, but to be one of 100 teachers in the state to be selected is nothing short of an honor.  

I hope that you are continuing to stay strong, stay healthy, and more than ever, looking forward to relaxing a little bit after weeks of uncertainty and stress.  

Until next time...


Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Struggles with Motivation During Quaranteaching

Over the course of nearly a month and a half, I have been teaching from home.  While I would say that I have gotten into a groove at this point, I cannot say that I am used to it or enjoy it.  The days are long, staring at a computer screen is exhausting, and even though I get up and go for a walk or a bike ride, I feel lethargic at the end of the day and do not want to do much of anything.  On top of that, I have a young daughter that doesn't want to participate in the work that her teachers are providing, and my wife and I are struggling to motivate her.  Which brings me to the theme of this post: the struggle with motivation during this time.  I tend to be a highly motivated individual, but I am struggling immensely.  

A typical day in "normal" circumstances consists of waking up to shower, pack lunch, make coffee, and drive 35-40 minutes to school, eating breakfast and drinking the coffee on the way.  I will routinely wake up around 5:30 in order to get to school by 7:00.  Now, my commute is the six steps across the room to my makeshift office that I have set up on a folding table with a surge strip.  The view into the front yard of my parents' place where I have been isolating for the last several weeks is nice, but I don't move around nearly as much or see people like I normally would.  

My average class has about 25-30 students, most of whom are present every other day when I see them on our block schedule.  Quaranteaching has been much different.  In the first week or so, about half of my students would show up for a Google Meet session.  A handful of others would complete a check-in video on Flipgrid so we could interact.  Then a few more would send a quick email or message on Google Classroom.  As time has gone on, those numbers have dipped significantly.  As of this writing, my co-teachers and I will have entire days where no student will log into a Google Meet session.  The number of students checking in on Flipgrid has dropped to about 5 per week, down from the 25-30 that were doing it in the beginning.  Phone calls and emails home go unanswered.  I even have some students that I have not been able to contact during the entire shutdown of 6+ weeks, which really makes me wonder if they are okay.  

Now, before one asks, how have you tried to contact them?  Believe me, I have tried EVERYTHING short of going to their house, which I am not comfortable in doing.  I have called several times, leaving voicemails.  I have emailed.  I have sent text messages.  I have used our student information system, Infinite Campus, to send messages.  I have involved counselors, administrators, student safety professionals, probation officers, and many more.  And even those students that I have had contact with are starting to avoid contact.  

The situation with contact has only gotten worse since my district has rolled out the policy on issuing grades and credit for the semester.  It was determined that students would be assessed on a pass/fail model.  Final exams will be still be administered, but the final can only help a student to pass the class, it cannot hurt their grade (by the way, I 100% agree with this approach on finals).  Basically, if a student is passing, they will earn credit for the class.  If they are failing but get 70% or better on the final, they will pass the class.  But what it boils down to, without specifically saying it, as long as a student was passing going into the shutdown, it will be very hard for them to fail the course.  

Don't get me wrong, I am not in favor of making students complete a standard workload during this crisis, nor am I advocating for failing students if they do not complete the work that is assigned during this time.  I only point this out to emphasize this: students are not motivated to complete work, check-in for attendance, etc. (and who can blame them with so much going on, especially those students that are unsure where their next meal may come from, taking care of siblings, or a host of other things).  The issue now becomes one for me as well, as my motivation is stunted as well.  

There are several things that are sapping my motivation.  The lack of attendance for class meetings is disappointing, especially when I sit for hours on end, available for students, and nobody shows up.  The lack of participation in activities and assignments is disheartening, but again, I understand why one wouldn't do them.  As a school, we have agreed to create common assignments so as not to overwhelm students and provide consistency across the board, so the ability to make creative lessons is hampered; even supplemental activities are discouraged so as not to elicit anxiety over what appears to be a larger workload, even if it is optional.  After sitting for hours in front of the computer each day, it makes me very lethargic and I struggle to want to go for a walk or bike ride; I have to force myself to do these things.  And behind locked inside each day with a full fridge and pantry makes it tough for me to control my diet.  I liken it to telling an alcoholic to go to a bar but not to order a drink, I know eating a lot, especially snack foods, is not good, but if it's there, I struggle to avoid it.  

What also makes the struggle even more intense is the process of moving.  I have known for months that I was going to be moving at the end of the school year.  The lease at my apartment is up in June and my family and I cannot continue to live in a 900 square foot apartment.  What was uncertain was where we would be moving.  As my wife completed the requirements for her graduate program, it became apparent that the opportunities for her were more abundant in our previous school district in Las Vegas, as well as the desire to move back to the city we called home for 13 years.  So as the pandemic began to set in, it became more difficult to find work and housing from a distance.  However, both my wife and me were able to interview via video for jobs in Las Vegas and we have both accepted jobs!  We are very excited about that!  But as of this writing, we still have not found a house and the pandemic is making it very hard to get in contact with realtors and landlords, and some landlords, because of the economic impact of the pandemic, have been requiring double security deposits, making it even harder to find a place and adding to the stress of our impending move.  I know we will find something, but it still doesn't ease my mind as the days go by.  

I know the pandemic will eventually end.  I know that we will be stronger as a profession and as communities as a result of this horrific turn of events.  I know that I am damn good educator and that my students appreciate the work that I do.  I know that I am surrounded by colleagues and people within my professional network that are working extremely hard and are going through some of the same struggles as me.  What I also know is that it helps to be able to vent sometimes and that is exactly what this post has become.  If you are still reading at this point, thank you for allowing me to let loose and relieve some stress that I am experiencing.  Thank you for your support and if you need to vent, I am available to be an ear for you to do so.  Stay strong, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep your head up; we will get through this together! 

Until next time...