The Ants Go Marching

I start my morning most days with bus duty.  While some of us complain whenever our duty week rolls around, I see it as a nice way to practice for my retirement job of Wal-Mart greeter, and it’s a beautiful start to my day. I have posted about it previously here. Life as we know it unfolds every morning as the Himalaya Mountains, or at least the Bridger Range, gets conquered by a whole bunch of excited kids. You can watch them here.

Somehow, The Ants Go Marching certainly springs to mind as I watch them, but then the pragmatic realist in me comes out, and different songs find my personal playlist.

While many artists have recorded “Try to Remember” and “The Way We Were,” I don’t think anyone has done it better than Gladys Knight and the Pips on a live recording. If I may paraphrase from the lyrics:

” Everybody is talking about the good old days, right. Everybody the good old days. Let’s talk about the good old days. Come to think of it, as bad as we think they are, these will become the good old days for our children. Why don’t we try to remember, the kind of September, when life was slow, and oh, so mellow. Try to remember, and if you remember, then, follow. Why does it seem that the past was always better? We look back and we think, the water was warmer, the grass was greener, the skies were bluer, and the smiles were….bright.”

How will our students look back on their good old days? What will they remember?

I’m afraid that too many will not look back with fondness. A few of us more experienced educators rallied around a Whitney Houston song, “The Greatest Love of All,” recorded and released in 1987. We could recite the first verse: “I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride, to make it easier. Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”

Beautiful, isn’t it.

But the pragmatic realist in me hears more and more of our kids singing the second verse: “Everybody’s searching for a hero, people need someone to look up to. I never found anyone who fulfilled my need. A lonely place to be, and so I learned to depend on me. I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadow. If I fail, if I succeed, at least I lived as I believed. No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity. Because the greatest love of all, is happening to me. I’ve found the greatest love of all inside of me.”

Have we become so focused on raising test scores, getting the loudest bells and whistles into our classrooms, that we have forgotten that we are teaching children? Have we become so caught up in the problems of teaching in uncertain times that we have forgotten how difficult it still is to be 12 years old?

Many of our memories of our good old days include our teachers, indeed, they are why many of us are in the profession. I’m sure they faced many of the same challenges we are facing today. But I don’t remember that they ever brought them into our classrooms.

Through the years, I have shared “21 Memos From Your Child” with parent and teacher groups. I would like to share it with this audience.


21 Memos From Your Child1. Don’t spoil me. I know quite well that I ought not to have all that I ask for. I’m only testing you.2. Don’t be afraid to be firm with me. I prefer it, it makes me feel more secure.3. Don’t let me form bad habits. I have to rely on you to detect them in the early stages.4. Don’t make me feel smaller than I am. It only makes me behave stupidly “big”.5. Don’t correct me in front of other people, if you can help it. I’ll take much more notice if you talk with me in private.6. Don’t make me feel my mistakes are sins. It upsets my sense of values.7. Don’t protect me from consequences. I need to learn the painful way, sometimes.8. Don’t be too upset when I say “I hate you.” It isn’t you I hate, but your power to thwart me.9. Don’t take too much notice of my small ailments. Sometimes they get me the attention I need.10. Don’t nag. If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.11. Don’t forget that I cannot explain myself as well as I should like. This is why I’m not always very accurate.12. Don’t make rash promises. Remember that I feel badly let down when promises are broken.13. Don’t tax my honesty too much. I’m easily frightened into telling lies.14. Don’t be inconsistent. That completely confuses me and makes me lose faith in you.15. Don’t tell me my fears are silly. They are terribly real and you can do so much to reassure me if you understand.16. Don’t put me off when I ask questions. If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.17. Don’t ever suggest that you are perfect or infallible. It gives me too great a shock when I discover that you are neither.18. Don’t ever think it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me. An honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm toward you.19. Don’t forget how quickly I am growing up. It must be very difficult to keep pace with me, but please do try.20. Don’t forget I love experimenting. I couldn’t get on without it, so please put up with it.21. Don’t forget that I can’t thrive without lots of understanding love, but I don’t need to tell you, do I?

If I had permission from the artist, I would insert a powerful image here. It is of a student carrying three suitcases down a hallway. One suitcase is homelessness, one is hunger, the third is sickness. He asks, “Can someone help me with these, I’m late to math class.”

Does it matter what math level he is working on? If his scores are red, yellow or green?

But then it is 8:00 in the morning, the buses are pulling in, the Ants Are Marching. And I have one more song playing on my playlist. Thank God for the Oak Ridge Boys.

Again, all is well in my world, and I’m ready for whatever will cross my life today.

And so it goes…


It’s About Pedagogy, Stupid

From one of my favorite sources on all things ed tech:

It’s always been about evolving pedagogy. Not about the “stuff”, but about how we use incredibly powerful tools to create new opportunities for ourselves and our students. Too many technology plans are nothing more than shopping lists. Most of what I see in classrooms with carts filled with tablets is nothing more than expensive worksheets, activities still devoid of connections, collaboration, and creativity. We need more education plans infused with appropriate “technologies” and the required professional development and measures that include words other than “engagement” and fewer technology plans. I have said for nearly 25 years, any teacher who can be replaced by a computer should be. Let’s move beyond the machines and keep the “high touch” in the conversation with our “high tech.”

There, now I feel better.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

With all due respect.

Row gently down the stream, unless you want to change things. Significant change is seldom gentle, and usually accomplished by swimming upstream, against the prevailing currents.

Yes, row your boat. Don’t row somebody else’s boat, and don’t let anyone else row your boat for you. None of us want to be a cog in someone else’s machine.

Gently? When you argue with, or question reality, you tend to find new solutions and fresh ways of thinking.

Is it stressful?  Absolutely! But leaders do not find that anxious, they find it incredibly exciting.  To empower others to exceed beyond their expectations, to be able to share their growth and accomplishment, to help instill confidence, this is what learning and leadership is all about!

We need more of these….

After all, even a dead fish floats gently downstream.

And so it goes…

One Word

My word is Trust.

I have seen it defined as:  “Firm belief in the character, strength, ability and truth of someone; belief that someone is good and honest and will not harm.”  Synonyms could include integrity, confidence, belief, conviction, reliance, dependable, honest and empathetic.

Every day, parents trust us with their most precious possessions, their children. In many cases, we have never met them before the first day of school. Still, the parents put their kids on the bus, or get drop them off, and they enter our schools as energy in search of adventure.  All of our parents have participated in public education, so all of them certainly have opinions about us, how we should do our jobs, and how we should conduct ourselves as professionals.

Mostly, they trust us to do the right things for their child, not necessarily for all children at the expense of their child. Not the most popular thing, not what is happening at the next district down the road, not the latest fad, or something from the most recent “10 Things Every Educator…” email or blog post that hit our inbox. Just what they believe is in the best interest of their child.

We have the responsibility to earn their trust, every day, and never take it for granted.

When they enter our classrooms or offices, do they see us as professionals whom they can trust? Maybe I’m still a bit old school, but when I am sitting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, I get to see his/her license and credential. In my office, you will see diplomas and certificate. Hopefully, it conveys a message.

As we all know, trust is difficult to earn, and easy to lose.

What have we done, today, to earn the trust and respect of all those we are here to serve?

Reflection While on Morning Duty

I work at a Middle School near Bozeman, Montana. There is an elementary school across the football field from us, we share a common bus lane to load and unload students every day.

Needless to say, this time of year, most readers of this tripe would consider our weather to be quite cold, and we have some rather large piles of snow along the field fence as we have cleared the snow from the bus lane.

The week started off with a bang this morning as I watched a kindergarten student get off the bus and walk toward the elementary school. He was fully bundled in his snow clothes, and thank goodness he also had a full backpack. Had a bit of trouble getting his feet under him as he got off the bus, slipped and fell a couple of times before he found his land legs, and the bus aide had to help him get back up.

Why a kindergarten student has a backpack that weighs about half as much as he does is another story for another day.

Enjoyed watching him walk toward his building. He was truly on a mountain expedition as he successfully, and without falling, climbed every large pile of snow he encountered. I am sure that in his mind, he conquered Mt. Everest and every other mountain he has seen in his brief life. His imagination had to be working in overdrive!

I only hope that when he walked into his classroom, his teacher tapped into it, and as I am writing this, I hope his imagination is still in Warp Factor 3, and he isn’t filling in the blanks on the latest worksheet that is claiming to teach him to read.

And so it goes…


There was a disruption in the Force yesterday. A retired educator, Mr. David Beaman, passed away. Mr. Beaman was one of my junior high math teachers, and he moved with us to the high school, so I was able to take a couple of math classes under him while there.

He must have done well, I had a high enough math score on my ACT that I didn’t have to take any math as an undergraduate.

Granted, a lot of years have passed since I left high school. And I’m sure that somewhere among the intervening years, I applied at least some of the things that Mr. Beaman taught me in his math classes.

But like all fantastic teachers, I remember much more about his empathy, his willingness to do whatever it took to connect with us on a personal level than I do about algebra or geometry.

I was blessed to have a group of teachers through junior high, (we hadn’t invented middle school in the late 1960’s), who taught students, not subjects. He was one. I can’t remember wanting to go into education as a career when I was that age, just know that many of us enjoyed their classes, learned a lot, and certainly appreciated their guidance on our journey through adolescence.

As a college music education major, and later as a teacher, I had the opportunity to visit with that group of teachers and pick their brains for all they could share with a newly minted educator who understood that college preparation programs, then as now, leave a lot to be desired.

To my knowledge, only one of that group of my former teachers is still living, all have been retired for a long time. But the magic of social media allows us to continue to ask and learn.

Godspeed, and thanks, Mr. Beaman, Mr. Brown, Mr. Deyoe, Mr. Kincaid, Mr.Gardner, Mr. Ballard, Mr. Fowler…a few of us are doing our best to carry your legacies. Like to think that you would be proud of us.

Unity and Bubbles

Many of  us live in bubbles of our own making. We share the same opinions, breathe the same air. Groupthink rules the day in many organizations, dissent is neither sought nor welcomed. Too often, people do not want to hear our thoughts, they want to hear their thoughts expressed in our voices.

One of the early promises of the Internet, and lately social media, was that we could choose from a virtual buffet of thoughts and ideas from a broad spectrum of sources.

We live in a world filled with a diversity of ideas that can challenge our personal beliefs and biases. We are no longer dependent on the filters of the editors and managing producers of the programs which provide our news. We are no longer the captive masses, whose thoughts and opinions are shaped by the opinions of others who think they know what we want to see and hear. We are now in control, able to challenge ourselves by finding what we want to stay informed.

Instead, our bubbles have seemed to turn into echo chambers, increasing in volume but narrowing in scope what we choose to see and hear. We often use our empowerment only to ratify and reinforce the ideas we already hold. Not to admit the possibility that we could be “wrong,” not to seek the thoughts and opinions which challenge ours, and use that discourse to grow intellectually.

We merely reinforce what we already “know” to be true by finding and following only those who share our beliefs, and use the algorithms of social media to “like” only those who happen to be like us.

Discourse has been replaced with sound bites of 140 characters, or “we only have a few seconds left until we have to take a break.” If I disagree with you, it is easier to unfriend or unfollow you than to discuss our differences.

Interesting choice of words.  Unfriend. Unfollow.

But if I agree with you, or you with me, we will retweet and share so that everyone in our networks see how smart we are because others agree with us. The more likes, shares, and retweets, the smarter we are and the more correct our position. If the post trends, or goes viral, it should be immediately added to Scripture.

The topic is Unity. Possibly, and hopefully, not achievable. If we were all like me, the world would truly be a very boring place, and we wouldn’t learn much beyond what we already know.

But while the goal remains unity, the challenge is respect. Respect both the people and their ideas that may be somewhat different than ours. Not to judge the ideas by the opinions we have of the people expressing them. Rather, engage them in conversation and reflection to see what motivates them to see things differently from us.

If the entire choir is singing the same melody, it is certainly nice to listen to. But additional voices adding counterpoint make it memorable.

To which I shout, Hallelujah!