Fore!

On my first day of summer vacation, what did I do?  I played golf.  That’s right. I went from meeting 184 days’ worth of challenges  directly to the links where I would be totally humbled by a little dimpled ball.

No doubt golf is frustrating.  You tee up, take a few practice swings and feel pretty good about your chances of making your new driver do what the salesman in Golfsmith promised it would do.  Address the ball. Run through all those little known secrets you saw on the Golf for Dummies DVD. Yeah, I got this. Then somewhere between the takeaway and the follow-through something happens;  you miss the sweet spot and all you can do is watch helplessly as your ball soars/hooks/slices toward A) the water trap   B) the bunker   C) the next fairway   D) the tick-ridden, snake laden overgrowth.

It doesn’t help that my game is wildly erratic and that on any given try, I could get a good roll even on a pop-up or end up in the rough on a really great shot.  It doesn’t help that when I took golf at the local community college, the instructor said of my swing, “It’s the swing of a softball player. It ain’t pretty, but it seems to be working for you.”  It doesn’t help that too much of the time, I am all about the heave and brawn of the driver at the expense of the finesse and precision of the irons.

So, yeah, why would I actually choose to do this on my first day of summer vacation?

Well, I guess this sounds wimpy, but on the course, I can accept my weaknesses. I know I will never be a threat to Anika and I don’t really care. I am a pretty consistent novice and I see those infinitesimal increments of improvement in my game. As long as I have a couple of decent  tee shots, I am really OK with my golf inadequacies .

In the classroom, though, it’s a different story. I want to be the best I can be. Some people would call me a classic Type A. Every single day in school,  I am  all about doing one better than the day before.   Simply making par–effective– isn’t good enough.  I am looking, everyday, to at least birdie every shot. I actually want that ace every time I put the key into the lock and turn on the lights in my classroom. I don’t care if it’s a blind shot or a bad lie, I am going to do everything in my power to come in under par. Though statewide, from Montauk to Utica, the powers that be have told NY teachers, “Highly effective is only a place we visit,” I am not buying it.  I’m not content to be an instructional tourist. I want full club membership and all the privileges that comes with that. I don’t want any gimmies, either.

Here’s the thing. If you believe that you can only be effective, you can end up teaching the way I play golf.  You go into the game thinking that a few good shots will keep you coming back.  When the people in charge in Albany and Washington tell you that effective is good enough, they are not encouraging excellence.  They are saying good enough is good enough.

Not one of my colleagues is just good enough; not one of my colleagues would say they are content with good enough.  I work among  seasoned pros who, every day, choose the right club for the task and who every  day make it their missions to meet the challenges of the classroom with energy and skill in order to do what’s best for the kids they teach. I would play best ball with anyone in my corridor any day of the week. They make the cut every quarter and I am proud to be on The Tour with them.  I would be proud to caddy for any/all of them!

Some call golf a good walk spoiled.  But hey, I love the accessories: cute skirts, new shoes, white gloves. And every once in a while, maybe something close to a highly effective shot.001

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Another Year: What Numbers Will Not Tell

As we prepare our rooms for the summer camp that takes over the school in our absence, even we right brain humanities types run a mental recap, remembering what worked and what flopped.  For teachers, it is always about “how can we be better?”  As we record exam grades and strip the bulletin boards,  we are all hoping that the year has been productive and positive for the kids who had seats in our classrooms, and we are already looking toward next year when we can make the learning experience even better.

We have been informed that education is all about data now, that the numbers will tell the true story of how well we have done our jobs, of what students have learned with us over the past 184 instructional days.  Standardized test scores and the point values assigned to Danielson’s four domains will be computed and we will soon know who has met the established goals for the year and who has fallen short.

Really?

Even my esteemed math colleagues across the country will concede that teaching is as much an art as it is a science.

A few things numbers will never show us:

Numbers won’t tell about the tireless principal whose kindness, honesty and civility daily demonstrate to staff and students how life should–and can– be lived.

Numbers won’t tell about the teachers who labor with quiet dignity on behalf of their students, always doing what is best for kids, not just what will boost their composite scores or FB ratings.

Numbers won’t show the students who have grown into themselves, whose new found confidence makes them willing and able to take the academic and personal risks necessary  for them to find success.

Numbers won’t show the strong collegial relationships that simultaneously  inspire and humble.

Numbers won’t show a staff whose collective generosity never falters.

I have forgotten the calculus I was forced to take in college and I never did get the hang of the slide rule, so please excuse my inexact computations. When my instructional box score for this year is finally calculated, I don’t know where I will stand; I don’t even know what the data will actually mean.

North White Plains Elementary SchoolBut I do know this: when we all rewrite the history of our own school days, it is the warmth, the enthusiasm, the excitement we remember, not the numbers.  I fervently hope that I have sent my students off for the summer with lasting memories and a passion for learning.