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I drew back my fist and tried to defend my mother after my dad had struck her numerous times.  I don’t remember my exact age, but I was around 4 years of age.  It is etched forever in my mind and fuels my abhorrence of injustice and deep respect of women. Sometimes I close my eyes and it is as if I am there again.

In high school, it was endless cycle of verbal battles—and I could give much better than I would take. My dad, Francis Bowman, was a tough man. He was the 11th of 12 children of a moderately successful, yet well-respected father, who himself died way too early.  It was hard for me to love him, yet other people told me stories of his constant charity and gregarious nature.  He had a determined work ethic, often working two jobs, and he taught me to never expect to be handed anything in life.  Certainly nothing would be handed to me under his roof.  When I was 17 it escalated and he finally slapped me.  I wanted to hit back at him, but somehow, I knew better.  I yelled the words that I thought would hurt him the most: “I hate you.”  And at that moment in my life, I did.

Hate is a motivating emotion.  Fear, anger, and hatred are all painstakingly linked together.  Much like love, all of them can serve to influence our behavior. My father had served his country during the Korean War in the United States Navy.  So, after high school, I needed to show him that I was much tougher than him and I joined the United States Marines.  I didn’t even bother to tell him until just a few days before I left for boot camp.  It was the only time I ever recall seeing him cry.

It is an ancient ritual of fathers and their children.  The child yearning to grow into adulthood, and a father’s tough love.  Mothers can be demanding, but they have that nurturing and caring side that escapes most men. Fathers try to instill discipline in order to help their children succeed in a heartless, often uncaring, world.

When you become a father, you are reminded by memory and experience or from others and those lessons you pass along to your own children.  The ritual of fatherhood continues.  You will hear the words of hate spewed back at you, and it hurts.  The emotional pain hurts more than any physical pain.  At that moment you realize the hurt you caused your own father.  It is then you start the healing process.

The Christmas before he passed away, my dad asked me to come see him.  He handed me a wad of cash, and a newspaper with the price of hams circled.  He then handed me a list of names and some addresses.  He wanted me to deliver, in secret, hams to all those addresses, including many people I had never met.  I had discovered he had been doing this much of his life for the underprivileged.  I also learned from my Uncle that he had played Santa Claus at orphanages in South Korea while he was in the Navy.  He said he would never play that role again, and he didn’t, because one little girl had asked him for a father.  I started to understand him better.

My mother called me on that October day in 1991.  You need to come home, your father is dying.  I had heard that before.  More to please her than to satisfy him, I went home.  He was dying.  But it would be a magnificent death.  For once all was clear, pain seemingly gone.  For just a few days he was able to apologize for all the wrongs he had committed or felt he had committed.  Words were said that needed to be spoken, and a message was given that needed to be heard.  He held nothing back, sharing a lifetime full of words in a few hours.  His remorse was heartfelt and restorative.

Sitting there watching my father pass into his eternal reward, based on his Christian faith, I reflected on the broken man who raised me.  It was years later when I was truly able to forgive.  I don’t condone many of his actions, but I was able to move past them.  I learned that I am much like my father in many ways.  A strength, a toughness that is entrenched into my being that I inherited.  I remember among his last words: “Life really is simple, we just complicate it. If I had to do it over again I would focus more on those things that are important, like faith and family.”  I am my father’s son.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman or his Blog at www.jcbowman.com     

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The Tennessee Department of Education announced at a noon press conference on Thursday some necessary changes to the state TNReady test that teachers, administrators and superintendents have been asking the state to make. Among the changes include rebidding the testing contract, refining the current Questar contract, revising timeline for online testing, and engaging more teachers. These steps complement additional actions already in the works, including eliminating two TNReady end-of-course exams, eliminating the March stand-alone field test for the next two years, simplifying and streamlining test administration, bringing in a third party to perform an independent review of Questar’s technological capabilities, improving customer service, and engaging dozens of additional Tennessee teachers, content experts, and testing coordinators to look at every part of our state testing program.

Dale Lynch from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and JC Bowman from Professional Educators of Tennessee were in attendance at the announcement. Both praised the Tennessee Department of Education for taking proactive steps to address the issue. Bowman added: “Leadership collects input from those on the ground, makes the process better for all, and then tweaks the product as needed. We firmly believe that changes needed to be made, and we are pleased that Commissioner McQueen and her team heard our message and made the necessary changes to improve student assessment in Tennessee.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said at the press conference: “improvements are being made after ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, education leaders, and policymakers over the past several weeks and are aimed at addressing a number of areas of concern.” She added: “Teachers, students and families deserve a testing process they can have confidence in, and we are doing everything possible to meet that responsibility,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are always committed to listening and improving, and we’ll continue to do just that.”

The multi-faceted changes announced today will immediately improve the state assessment—TNReady—and establish a longer-term framework for success. The steps being taken to improve TNReady include:

  • Releasing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond.  The RFP process will better ensure that students can take TNReady seamlessly and without disruption.
  • Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19
  • Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing

In May, a national study recognized Tennessee as the No. 1 state in the country for improvement in the quality of its academic standards, going from an “F” rating in 2007 to an “A” in 2017. TNReady is designed to measure those standards, and it has a variety of different types of questions to look for the depth of students’ knowledge.

Tennessee is one of less than 10 states that still has a paper test in middle school—and both state and district leaders recognize that the workforce of the 21st century is increasingly online. We also want every student to have a positive testing experience, and we want to maximize the ability to have a seamless online administration. Accordingly, the state is adjusting the timeline to continue the transition to online but at a modified pace. For 2018-19:

  • Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper for math, English, and social studies.
  • Students in grades 3-4 will take their TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online. Science is a field test in 2018-19 because the state is transitioning to new academic standards; therefore, the results will not count for students, teachers, or schools, nor will any public scores be released. This provides an option for all students to experience the online platform and do so in an environment that is low-risk for them.
  • Students in high school and those taking end-of-course exams will continue to test online.

Further, the department will improve paper administration, as well. In addition to having Tennessee teachers review all test questions, scripts, and test forms, the department is streamlining test logistics to have fewer versions of the test distributed across the state. This makes it much easier on testing coordinators and proctors to administer. The state has also combined the answer document and test questions into one test booklet in lower grades so it is easier for students to take the test.

For more information on the additional TNReady improvements  you can visit the Tennessee Department of Education website.

 

I write:  “Without outside assistance, communities across America simply cannot keep up with technology challenges, either from an economic standpoint or an access standpoint. That is why open-source and donated cloud technology has begun to find greater accepted use in classrooms across America.”

I was honored to write a chapter for the book Cartoons in the Classroom, with Ilya Spitalnik an internationally recognized thought leader, keynote speaker, entrepreneur  and technology adviser.  Ilya created PowToon to assist educators.   PowToon’s commitment to provide technology to educators, as well as their customized tutorials can help educators more effectively integrate cartoons into their teaching methods. You can download the book for free at https://s3.amazonaws.com/powtoon/books/Cartoons-in-the-Classroom-Book.pdf  

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Why do people teach?  The major reason someone says they teach is the ability to make a real difference in the lives of children.  There are other reasons, including the fact that someone believes they are “called” to teach.  Almost all teachers are linked together by a passion for educating children.  The passion is innate and has to come from within.

Commissioner Candice McQueen reminded a group of educators in a presentation that we were set apart in our mission.  She pointed out the gifts that educators have are special talents and abilities.  Educators are born for the mission that is being given for us.  Dr. McQueen emphasized the profession is a special calling.

We are all on a search for significance. We desire to make a difference.   Educators are making a huge difference. That is why it is important that we honor them.  It is the English social critic, Os Guinness, who stated: “Calling is not only a matter of being and doing what we are, but also of becoming what we are not yet but are called by God to be.”  He then adds:  “Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.”  Education of the next generation is one of the most important occupations we could ever do.  Belief that one is “called to teach” keeps women and men in education, even with all the unwanted public scrutiny.

Matthew Lynch writes about teaching as a calling: “A calling implies a deep-seated belief that teaching is the only profession that makes sense for you to pursue…”  Dylan Fenton, an English teacher and writer does not like the term “calling,” as it creates to him an “idea that good teachers are born, not made and, as a result, allow themselves to stagnate.”   I would argue that Lynch is more accurate than Fenton, as a passionate teacher never stops honing their craft.  John Hunter, an award-winning teacher and educational consultant wrote: “I used to think teaching was a job.  And then I thought it was a profession.  And now I’m of the opinion that it’s a calling.  It’s a very noble calling.”

Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  John Keating, in the movie Dead Poets Society challenged his students to not be resigned to that type of life.  Yes, John Keating was subsequently fired, and probably never taught another class the rest of his life.  However, he taught his students to find their own voice.   It was his calling.  If you have profession that brings you passion, gives you someone other than yourself to care for, and is something that makes you want to get up in the morning to accomplish, you will not live a life of quiet desperation.

Teaching is indeed an imposing, self-sacrificing, but also a magnanimous calling.  Going through the process to get certified, whether through traditional means or an alternative route is sometimes difficult.  The creativity aspect of the profession has slowly been eroded.  There is persistent negativity by some lawmakers and the media of public education.  Compared to other professions, educators can expect modest salary and sometimes extremely difficult working conditions.  However, if you are called to teach, you will never find a happier place than in a classroom or serving students.  Educators are set apart to make a difference.  There is no other profession, except perhaps the clergy, that can change lives like a public-school teacher.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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In our last post, we talked about the phenomenon of summer melt, where up to 1/3 of the students who graduate high school with plans to go to college never make it to a college campus.  We discussed what the student’s support team could do to help keep the student on track—but there’s also plenty the student can do to make sure their college plans don’t get derailed.

Open every piece of snail mail you get from the college, and read all of it.  You’re probably used to getting all kinds of mail from all kinds of colleges, but once you’ve decided on a college, anything and everything they send you needs to be read.  Just ask the student who opened the letter congratulating him for being admitted.  He didn’t read the next page, which told him he had a $42,000 scholarship.  Read it all.

Continue to check your email account.  Email may be almost as old school as snail mail, but it’s still how many colleges communicate with students—especially if they need something in a hurry.  The only way you find out what they need is to check email about three times a week in the summer.  And make sure to check your junk email folder; some colleges send emails to thousands of students, and your email account may think it’s spam.  It isn’t.

Look for the checklist.  Most colleges send you a checklist with everything you’ll need to do over the summer, and when you need to do it.  This checklist may come by snail mail, or as a link in an email, or maybe as a text.  Print it out, and put it on your refrigerator at home; that way, your parents can help you keep track of what to do as well.  If your college doesn’t give a checklist, there are others out there, such as this one from College Board.

Confused? Ask.  If there’s any point over the summer when you don’t know what you should be doing, call the college.  I know—students aren’t really crazy about talking to people on the phone, especially if they think the college will get the feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Do it anyway.  Once a college admits you, they will move heaven and earth to have you register, attend and graduate.  There is nothing—NOTHING—they haven’t been asked before, so don’t feel like you’re the only one.  In fact, colleges have Student Services offices because so many students have so many questions.  If you don’t know how to contact them, call the admissions office, and they’ll tell you how.

It’s easy to feel alone in this transition to college, but you have a home team of family, friends and counselors who are there to help, even in the summer.  There’s a ton of people at your college—your new home—who want to help you too, even though they haven’t met you.  All you have to do is ask.

Make this happen.

Patrick O’Connor is a 2017-18 School Counselor Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

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“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” is a quote usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which surfaced in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. James Madison and George Wythe also championed the statute. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Madison later played a critical role in drafting the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. No doubt that concept was prevalent among our founders.

That position has been one of my guiding principles, as both a classroom teacher in public schools and now as the executive director of our association. Our members continually reiterate to us they do not want their dues money going to political candidates or parties, nor do they want us in the endorsement business. We respect that position. We work with legislators regardless of their political affiliation, and that has helped us build bridges in addressing key education issues.

This election cycle we have already seen an influx of unaccountable cash, known as dark money, which pours into our state. The Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish did an excellent article on the subject of dark money in politics. Frank Daniels III of the Tennessean also did a terrific analysis. Daniel’s conclusion: outside money hurts more than it helps. Daniels wrote: “Tennessee voters were not swayed by big spending outsiders.” It is worth noting the message the outsiders bring is almost always negative. The point raised by Cavendish was: “If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.” Cavendish referenced Walmart and Microsoft billionaires, as well as unions, as the main culprits. We agree.

Our commitment to our members is simple. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. No other teachers’ association in this state is as well-respected in the legislature as Professional Educators of Tennessee for what we stand for, and how we go about our business on your behalf.

When we take your message to policymakers, understand this: we fight for public schools, because we understand the historical and philosophical basis of why public education exists. If public education is to continue to be successful, it will take all the policymakers and stakeholders working together. And we want to be your voice in Tennessee.

We encourage you to register to vote. We encourage you to vote. We encourage you to campaign for the candidates that reflect your values or beliefs. What we will not do is tell you who to vote for in this or any other election. A strong public education system is a key to our democracy, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

101026-M-8682Y-003“Courage, of all national qualities, is the most precarious; because it is exerted only at intervals, and by a few in every nation” wrote David Hume.  It takes courage to risk life and limb for our state and country. Norman Schwarzkopf said “It doesn’t take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.”

It is fitting then, that we set aside a day to remember those who have given their lives in service for our country. The least we can do as a nation is to honor these heroes. These brave few who became legends meeting their end on a battlefield, fighting our nation’s enemies.

According to the book Roster of Soldiers and Patriots of the American Revolution Buried in Tennessee, there are about 4,500 veterans of the American Revolution interred in Tennessee.  One is my 4th great-grandfather, Colonel James Taylor, who is buried at Centenary Baptist Church in Blount County, Tennessee. Fortunately, he was able to come home and raise a family.   A privilege that was denied to many.

The first casualty of the American Revolution was Crispus Attucks.  He was killed during the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770.  Attucks was believed to be the son of a slave and a Native American woman.  As hostilities intensified between the colonists and British soldiers, the British confronted a group of unruly colonists by opening fire and killing five men including Attucks, who was the first to die.  In his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. praised Attucks for his part in American history. It is worth noting that Attucks was displayed with the others at Faneuil Hall, where it lay in state.  The men were then entombed in a common sepulcher.  There was no segregation for Patriots.

Traditionally, Americans observed Memorial Day by visiting cemeteries and memorials of our fallen war heroes. In recent years, it has become more of a party celebrating the launch of summer, thus losing the original purpose and meaning.  I think we must remind ourselves to honor those courageous men and women who have served and then given their lives for the cause of freedom.  Freedom cannot guarantee a meaningful life, merely the possibility of having one. To keep that possibility, we need to embrace and strengthen freedom. It was Thomas Jefferson who reminded us: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

We need to take a minute to THANK those veterans who gave their lives so we Americans can enjoy our liberty.  Life is so precious.  No doubt those who made the ultimate sacrifice had their hopes and dreams as well for our country.  We should also ask our politicians to remember those veterans who made it back and ensure that they get the benefits they were promised, and the highest quality medical care available—including mental health.

Thomas Smith wrote one of the best tributes to those who died for our nation: ““This country has not seen and probably will never know the true level of sacrifice of our veterans. As a civilian I owe an unpayable debt to all our military. Going forward let’s not send our servicemen and women off to war or conflict zones unless it is overwhelmingly justifiable and on moral high ground. The men of WWII were the greatest generation, perhaps Korea the forgotten, Vietnam the trampled, Cold War unsung and Iraqi Freedom and Afghanistan vets underestimated. Every generation has proved itself to be worthy to stand up to the precedent of the greatest generation. Going back to the Revolution American soldiers have been the best in the world. Let’s all take a remembrance for all veterans who served or are serving, peace time or wartime and gone or still with us. God Bless America and All Veterans.”  I remember their sacrifice.  George Patton added: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” That is why I honor Memorial Day.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.