Friday, November 20, 2015

My baby boy is going to be a teacher!

My baby boy is going to be a teacher. He is in his last year at Wichita State and will make someone a fine science teacher. He knows 10 times as much about good instructional strategies as I did at his age; what we know about good teaching now compared to 35 years ago is amazing. There will be struggles and challenges, but he is setting forth on a career that is inherently good, and more intrinsically rewarding than any other.

Last week we were talking and he mentioned that he heard two of his best Emporia High School teachers were retiring this year.  He said, “I should write them a note and let them know how much I appreciated them” I told him that is the greatest reward any teacher ever gets, knowing they made a difference, and inspired another generation to pick up the torch.

So when I think about American Education Week, I am reminded not just of all of the great educators I have known, but of all of the students. It is so much fun to run into kids who remember you and some small kindness you afforded them.

I have shared with my son that some kids never leave you. It might be the young man who loved to discuss politics and couldn’t wait to tell you about his greatest high school moment --- attending a Rush Limbaugh show.

It is also the kid who took a swing at you, and had to be taken from school in handcuffs. Ten years later, I went in to pay for my gas and that kid was working behind the counter. There was no avoiding him, but maybe he wouldn’t remember? Nope, he remembered, “Mr. Heim? Hey, you should know that I’m not an a-----e anymore.” Words I will never forget because of the pride with which he spoke them.

Then there are kids who haunt you. Ty, who I took home after he got in a fight, haunts me. His house was a hovel. His dad was passed out on the couch, guarded by a wolf-like creature. I took his advice and did not try to wake dad, because Ty let me know the beast was very protective. I put the suspension paperwork on the kitchen counter, and when I looked over to write a note, noticed the counter top was moving, covered with bugs.

I don’t know what happened to Ty. I wanted to load him back in the car and take him home. I think about that kid a lot. The burdens that life put on him, that no 13-year-old should have to bear. Is it any wonder he wasn’t motivated at school? That he got in fights? What more could we have done?

When I think about American Education Week, I think about the joys of being an educator, which are great. I also think about the kids who we teach, the good and the bad. I am proud that my son wants to be a teacher because it is not for everybody, and it is not easy. Educators help all kids, and most of all the helpless kids. Educators deserve more than a week honoring them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Be Royal: How to Be the Best in the World!

I don’t know much about baseball. When you spend summers on the farm, swimming and baseball are two things you miss out on.  With hand-eye coordination so poor that I am lucky to hit my mouth with a spoon, it’s not like the world missed out on another George Brett.  In recent years though, I have become a bandwagon Royals fan.  As a long-suffering Chiefs fan, true Royals fans have all of my respect and support as they celebrate a World Series Victory.  (But really folks, it’s not like we won a Super Bowl.)

As a recent bandwagon fan, I know very little about the sport.  What I know I learned from the Movies: Major League, Bull Durham, and MoneyballMoneyball taught me that baseball has become all about the numbers.  Teams hire statisticians who track every aspect of a player’s career and predict potential value.  Friends who follow the sport tell me that every team plays this way now.

So when I heard the baseball talking heads pontificating about the Royals, I found one statement fascinating. “Ned Yost says championships are won in the clubhouse.” These experts talk about how Ned Yost’s focus is on building a team of players who have the right personality, who fit in with each other, who get along, put team above self, work hard, sacrifice, and support each other.  Some people in education call these “soft skills.”

I couldn’t help but think about Commissioner Watson’s Magical Mystery Tour, during which 70-80 percent of Kansans reported that soft skills are what is important to a successful adult.  Kansans are ready to move beyond Moneyball schools that focus on statistics, and on to World Champions, where statistics are just indicators of potential, and success is measured by what they do on the field of real life.

This will be a tough transition.  Statistics are easy, numbers are hard and fast, validity and reliability computed, and performance reduced to a score; but that isn’t good enough to win anymore.  Kansas schools must go beyond the numbers and give kids the skills they need to contribute in the clubhouse.