What a Way to End one Year and Start a New One

01/03/2014

I ended 2013 by undergoing the neck surgery I discussed in my last post. It would be cruel to not tell you how everything turned out.

The collaboration worked. Surgery lasted longer than estimated, but apparently much of that time was spent positioning me so they could get my head immobilized in the proper position to do what they had planned. In that process my top cervical vertebrae snapped back into place, making the eventual surgery easier.

I come out of the recovery room at about 4:00PM, eight hours after I was put under with nerve monitoring wires attached to all my fingers, toes and various other points on my body.

Surgery Image 5

Surgery Image 5 (Photo credit: UCDMedicine)

Thanks to the excellent surgeons and the high level or care I received at Valley Hospital, I went hope less than 48 hours after that. The plan was to keep me in the hospital for up to four nights but after just two I progressed so well I was sent home. I have already ditched the narcotic pain medicine for Tylenol.

My head is back on straight, I can turn it and move it up and down and side to side. While the range of motion is still limited, it will improve over time. I’m still not allowed to do anything, and I still have to wear my Miami brace 24/7 for a few more weeks, but a return to normal activity is in sight.

I am extremely grateful for all the support I’ve received from friends near and, in some cases, very far.

I have never been one for new year’s resolutions. I reflect enough the rest of the year and don’t normally feel a need for year-end reflections. But 2013 has been a particularly rough year personally and professionally in ways I cannot talk about now. I’m just glad that it is over.

I start 2014 with a new outlook. I have a sliver of a cadaver’s hip in my neck to remind me that life is fleeting but our usefulness does not end with death if we don’t want it to. I already signed a donor consent form noted on my driver’s license, but I’m redoing my living will to also specify organ donation in any form useful.

I am growing a beard, just to see what it looks like. Its a safe risk, but I need to start small. The bug risks are too scary for now.

I have a new opportunity to grow and develop into the best school librarian I can be, and I’ve certainly learned the value of collaboration. Don’t be surprised to get a call, text, email or tweet from me proposing some joint project.

But most of all I have learned I need to take better care of myself, physically, emotionally and in every other way you can imagine.

I hope your 2014 will be all you want it to be. I will be working hard to make sure mine is.

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A Few Thoughts on Gun Appreciation Day

01/20/2013
Winding Road Ahead

Winding Road Ahead (Photo credit: nathangibbs)

I’m writing about guns more than education these days. I wish I could feel I don’t have to.

The Second Amendment grants American citizens the right to bear arms. There might be some discussion about whether it’s a requirement that they be in a “well-regulated militia,” but I’ll concede for now that it isn’t.

The position many gun advocates and the National Rifle Association have taken is that there is no limit on the right of American citizens to bear arms.

But there are limits, and ones the NRA, probably supports.

Taken at its word the 2nd Amendment grants the right to own any kind of arms, even nuclear arms. Despite that, we have agreed as a society, with no dissent that I’m aware of, that private citizens should not own nuclear arms and have made it illegal to do so.

Unless I am mistaken (it has been known to happen frequently, according to my wife), it is also illegal for American citizens to own fully automatic weapons.

We have also decided that mentally ill people and convicted felons should not own arms. Our efforts to prevent those people from getting arms might not be particularly effective for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t change the intent.

Since there is some limit on the 2nd Amendment it is reasonable to ask if there might a need for other limits. The discussion we should be having as a nation is whether there are other limits we want to impose. There may not be, but not because the Second Amendment precludes it.

There may be very good reasons why additional gun restrictions are not a good idea, or there might be reasons for enacting some limits. I don’t know for sure. What I know is that a lot of children are getting killed by bullets fired from guns. I’m not talking about the mass murder in Connecticut or any other mass shooting. I am talking about the large number of children killed by bullets fired from guns every month all across the nation.

Universal mental health and criminal record checks before anyone can buy a gun should be a given. Any legitimate, sane, non-criminal gun purchaser should have nothing to fear from this, they will get their guns, eventually.

Guns should be secured when left at home, and that security should be robust. In a neighboring town two guns were stolen when the safe containing them was taken during a break-in. That safe either was not heavy enough or should have been bolted to the floor or some other strong anchor. Failure to secure weapons left at home should be a crime. That idea has nothing at all to do with the Second Amendment but might keep guns out of the hands of some criminals.

Some gun-owning friends say that laws allowing people to carry guns, concealed or openly, reduce crime. It is something that is very hard to prove, not because it may not be true but because it is very difficult to prove a negative effect.

Carry laws, whether concealed or open, might protect the individual carrying but will not prevent those scores of murdered children. I don’t know what will prevent those murders, but my instinct tells me that making it more difficult for everyone to get a gun might have some effect.

In all honesty, I am skeptical about the general safety of carry laws. Today, on Gun Appreciation Day, five people were shot accidentally at Gun Appreciation events, two of them at a safety checkpoint at a Gun Appreciation event.

That sort of thing does not inspire confidence that gun owners can be trusted to carry their guns safely.


There Are Many Ways to say You Matter

09/30/2012

In my last post I told the story of how Angela Maiers told me that I matter. Angela’s “You Matter” campaign is catching on and people are encouraging each other to tell people that they matter.

My mother and father taught me that while words can have tremendous power and volume, actions speak louder than words. It is one thing to tell people they matter and a wholly different thing to show people they matter.

Today I had the privilege to help serve food to some people who needed it and realized they are many, many ways to show others that they matter.

Photo by Jersey JJ via Flikr

Every Sunday one of the local churches serves dinner to anyone who needs it. Tonight we served about three dozen people spiral ham, collard greens, sweet potato and mixed vegetables. We served juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate and soda. The excellent local French bakery donates desert every week and this time it was delicious chocolate cupcakes with butter-cream swirl icing and Halloween themed sugar cookies. We had plenty of food and everyone got as much as they wanted.

Lots of churches, synagogues, mosques and community groups also serve meals to those in need, and all of it tells people that they matter. Excellent, but this group goes a little further.

This church enlists volunteers from other churches and other religions to participate in providing table service, cut flowers on every clothed table, all signs that our customers, and that’s what we call them, matter.

All that is very nice, but what really makes this a good experience, a mattering experience for volunteer and customer, is conversation. We talk to each other, we listen to each other. We try to get to know the people we work with and the people we serve.

They are not mouths, they are people. Complex people. People who are, and want to be acknowledged, as being more than needy. They are, and want to be acknowledged, as being part of our community. And that is what we try very hard to do.

And it feels good.

All that is great.

But tonight I had an insight. I had a realization. Not earth shattering, not transformative, but an insight nonetheless.

What I realized is that by telling and showing people that they matter, I come to matter to them.

That is why doing good feels so good; because showing someone else that they matter reaffirms that I matter. The more I can show people they matter the more I matter and the more I matter the more I can show people they matter.

Apparently that ham wasn’t the only thing spiraling tonight.


Please, son, be anything else. Anything.

02/20/2012
English: teacher

Image via Wikipedia

I love my son.

He is a high school senior about to decide what college to attend. One of his criteria is which school to which he’s been accepted has the best program to prepare him for his chosen professional goal.

I very much want my son to be happy in his work because if he is it will not seem like work.

He wants to be a high school English teacher.

I am trying very hard to talk him out of it.

My son loves to read and read at a high school level in fifth grade.

His current English teacher has him co-teaching a couple of lessons in the class. No other student is doing that.

Another of his HS English teachers told my wife and me “the greatest gift I could give my profession would be for your son to become an English teacher.”

Heady stuff, indeed.

My son could possibly be a very good English teacher. That is why I am trying to talk him out of it.

These days, very good is not good enough.

That’s the illogic of the new teacher assessment deal that NY Governor Cuomo pushed for and that the spineless NYSUT (NY State United Teachers) agreed to. Under this plan a teacher rated excellent by his principal and by other local teacher assessments would be rated as ineffective if his students did not show growth on the one day state tests are administered, even though those tests are only supposed to be 40% of the teacher’s rating.

How are we supposed to teach math when our governor and the state teacher union agree that 40% of X is larger than 60% of X?

No matter what else the teacher does, no matter how good he is on the other 179 days of the school year, he cannot be rated as anything other than ineffective if the test scores don’t go up enough. If that happens two years in a row he can be fired, even if he has tenure.

Indicted murderers are presumed innocent until judged guilty by a jury of their peers.
Tenured teachers are presumed ineffective, despite acquittal by their administrators.

How can I let my son become a teacher under a system that is as illogical and as unfair as the one his father will be working under starting next year?

Oh, wait. I’m a librarian. I don’t have students whose test scores can be compared year-to-year. No matter. The school’s total overall test scores will affect my job rating, whether or not most or any of the students come into the library and whether or not I have any influence on their performance on those one day exams.

More logic. Impressive.

Kid, I love you.

Become a mortician, a lawyer, a barber, or an accountant.

Pick rags for a living.

English: Jewish rag picker, Bloor Street West,...

Just don’t become a teacher.

It just isn’t a good job anymore.


School Choice? Sure, but don’t expect miracles.

07/12/2011
Shell Game

Some say that instead of automatically dumping money into public schools parents should be given the money and allowed to spend it on any school or other education facility that they think might work for their child or children.

Okay, but…

For many of my students there are no parents to make those choices.

For many of my students the parents are working two or three jobs to get by and don’t have the time to educate themselves about the options, much less attend meetings or other appointments.

For many students, some of them mine, the lack of transportation limits their choices more than the lack of options.

The parents of some of my students show up for every parent/teacher meeting…drunk…or stoned.

For many of my students their parental inability to read English, or in some cases any language, limits access to information necessary to know of options and make informed choices.

School choice does not help the student who comes to class hungry, abused or unloved.

School choice does not change the housing situation of students who can’t find a quiet room or flat space to do their homework on.

School choice does not help the student who goes home and has to care for infants or younger siblings because mom is working a night shift. Or out with her boyfriend.

School choice might be the answer for some people in some situations somewhere, but my students need a whole lot more than choice to make their lives succeed.

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Oops, there I go again…

08/25/2010
White Tiger Mouth wide open!
Image by kabils via Flickr

I need to learn to keep my mouth shut more often.

This is doubly so when my ‘mouth’ is my fingers typing here, on Facebook or, most important, on Twitter where  I am known as Spedteacher.

Here’s what happens when I don’t.

I hate when that happens. But it is completely my fault when it does.

So now I’ll be easy to find on most Tuesday evenings starting at 8:30PM NYC time.

#spedchat is for teachers (and not just special ed teachers, either), parents, administrators, students and everyone else with any connection or interest in special education issues.

Topics proposed for the first chat on August 31st are:

  • How can parent-teacher relations be improved?
  • What do grades mean in special education?
  • Is inclusion working for general and special education students?
  • How do we get general education teachers to understand? (the current leader in the voting)
  • How have school budget cuts affected special education?

You can participate in the decision about what the topic will be by voting here.

To participate in the chat just log onto Twitter ( if you don’t have an account you can get one free, here ), then search for the hashtag #spedchat.

For a better explanation of all of this please visit my co-conspirator and #spedchat moderator Damian Bariexca’s excellent blog.

I hope to see you Tuesday.

I’ll probably get myself into even more trouble.

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Fighting, Just Because

05/26/2010
Broken glass
Image via Wikipedia

There were two fights in my little wing of our school today.

Neither fight had to happen. Neither fight should have happened.

Inner-city middle school students fight as play sometimes, but these were not play fights.

Students fight because their parents tell them that if they don’t fight back when someone says or does something to them, they’re wimps.

Some students fight because their self-image is so fragile that even the slightest negative comment about them is a challenge to their existence.

These students, and those whose parents are not abetting their violent ways, fight because they don’t have other strategies for dealing with problems.

My fellow teachers and I do our best to teach problem-solving strategies.

We tell the students that when someone talks about their mother it is not actually their mother, that the other students doesn’t know their mother and is making comments about some pretend mother that they all share.

I also tell my students that I am completely non-violent and that non-violence is stronger than violence.

Mahatma Gandhi

Image by dbking via Flickr

I teach them about Gandhi, how we share a birth date, and how he defeated what was then the strongest nation on earth with words and peaceful actions.

We all teach them about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he fought racism with words and non-violent actions even when confronted with violence.

And I tell them the story of the only time I got punched and how I won the fight without doing anything more than taking the punch.

I was in middle school when it happened, probably about 11 or 12 years old.

I was a big, athletic kid, but I was just a kid.

One day I was the first student to come down the stairs and out into the schoolyard for recess.

As I came through the doors into the schoolyard I got hit hard, very hard, squarely on the right side of my chin.

My jaw seemed to go out a mile and snap back, but I did not crumple or go down.

I just stood there looking at the youngish man who had attacked me for absolutely no reason.

I just continued looking at the man as my mind raced to figure out what had just happened and why.

Then the man ran away.

I continued to stand there.

It finally occurred to me that the man had run away because I had just taken his best punch, absolutely cold and just stood there.

There was nothing more he could do to hurt me.

It was in that moment I decided that I would never practice violence.

And I never have.

My students always listen raptly to the story and seem impressed.

Some ask me what I would do if they hit me.

I tell them to try it, but I don’t think they believe me when I tell them I will not fight back.

I want them to realize that turning one’s back and walking away is a far stronger statement, far more honorable, than fighting to defend one’s honor.

I always hope that this story will come to mind the next time they think they need to fight.

It never does.

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