Yes, I’m Making Resolutions for 2017

But, let’s call them goals.

Why? I have no idea. There just seems to be something more permanent — more meaningful — when I make a list of goals. 

When I write my thoughts down. 

And as 2016 ended and 2017 began, I realized I want to make some personal commitments. 

So, in 2017, I will…

1. Write more.

I’ve found recently that I have a lot more to say, especially as it pertains to education issues. 

In November voters took us down a dangerous path in regards to the future of our public schools in “electing” Donald Trump and a supermajority in Indiana. Never in my lifetime have we been closer to abandoning our public schools than we are right now, both in Indiana and nationwide.

Make no mistake about it — if we fail to stop the corporate education “reform” train supported by those we have just elected, our democracy will suffer. And make no mistake about it, that is the intent of these corporate education reformers and their lackeys — to damage our democracy. They control our state and federal government, and their interest is anything but what’s best for children, or the future of our country.

So, I’m going to write about that. And speak out about that. A lot. And while I’m sure I’ll write about other issues, too –politics, reflections of a teacher, literacy, books, comic books (of course!), and just the weird thoughts that float through my mind — the corporate education “reform” con and the necessity of strong public schools to our community, state, and nation will be what I write about the most. 

My goal — write and post at least two entries here each week.

I hope you’ll join me, follow my blog, and read and comment, even if you do not agree with all of my views. I seek discourse. I value all opinions.

But, I believe strongly in the coming months and years that we must speak out to protect the values and institutions that are so essential to our democracy. I plan to do that here. 

2. Read more.

Let’s be honest – this is on my list every year. 

My goals — read at least 50 books and 50 comic book trades this year. 

3. Travel more.

I need to venture outside of Southern Indiana and beyond the comfort of my own couch.

So, my goal: Take three trips to states I haven’t traveled to in 2017, including a long trip in June or July. 

And yes, I am open to suggestions.

4. Practice my faith more.

When faith becomes passive, we stop growing in our faith. God has blessed me beyond description, but I desire a steadier, more consistent relationship, too.

My goal: Develop and participate in a regular study of scripture in 2017. 

So, that’s my 2017 summed up in four (somewhat) concise goals. 

I’m excited to see what this year has in store. As always, I am blessed with the world’s best family and friends, so my true goal is to experience all that 2017 has to offer with them.

What I Learned in 2016

Everyone seems to be counting down the final minutes of 2016, desperate to escape the clutches of this year before it’s too late.

I agree, I guess. I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to embrace the fresh hope and possibilities of a new year.

But even in a year when so many seemingly lost so much, there are lessons. And despite the disappointments of 2016, for me, these lessons made this a special year.

This year on Election Day,  I learned that reason and facts sometimes aren’t always enough to overcome ignorance, and that in a democracy, fear can be used by artful politicians to manipulate voters to abandon American values like truth, empathy, charity, and hope that we cherish the most.

I learned too, though, that sometimes the most patriotic stance we can take if we truly love our nation is one of peaceful, persistent resistance.

I learned that despite the best efforts of educators and teachers, many Hoosier voters either do not understand education policy, or simply do not value teachers or believe in our community schools. If they did, they never would have voted so overwhelmingly for state and national leaders whose policies for our schools and our children are so misguided and so consistently wrong.

I learned, too, that in 2017, teachers, educators, and our advocates must find new ways to reach out to and talk with these voters about our schools, our jobs, and our children.

We must engage with these voters because we truly are at a turning point; if we fail to convince voters to stop the corporate education “reform” train destroying our schools, removing local control from our communities, overtesting our children, and driving our best teachers out of the classrooms, then one of the bedrocks of democracy, our public schools, will disappear.

I learned that technology in the classroom changes the learning dynamic but does not improve student learning or engagement. Technology is just a tool — nothing more, nothing less.

I learned, despite the disappointments and frustrations of 2016, that when our family, friends, and faith are at the center of our lives, life’s challenges don’t seem so overwhelming, and life’s special moments become that much more special.

I learned to work less and goof off and laugh more.

I learned to shoot more selfies and photos, to preserve the special moments and memories.

I learned I want to write more.

I learned that former students can be my greatest teachers. I learned to let them inspire me. I learned to be a better person because of their example.

I learned pets are family, too.

I learned I like people more than I thought I did.

I learned patience.

I learned that the people in our lives can make us better people, but that we have an obligation to be the best versions of ourselves for them, too.

These lessons made me better. They made 2016 worth it in more ways that I can ever count. They’re the lessons that taught me that 2017 will be special, too.

So, bring it on. And, Happy New Year!

Ten reasons I’m so thankful 

God has blessed me more than I deserve. Sometimes in life it’s important to just stop to say, “Thanks.”

In a time when it’s far too easy to dwell on the negative and all that divides us, it’s important, too, that we count our blessings. 

Here are mine in no particular order. My challenge to you? Take a few minutes today to count yours, too. Share them and post them. Make someone’s day better.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

I am thankful because I have…

1. …an enduring faith in God that sustains me through dark times and reminds me to be a light to others instead of dwelling on myself.

2. …a father who guides me, a mother who inspires me, and a sister and brother-in-law who support and listen to me.

3. …former students who make me proud because they make the world better. Some are like family, and they know who they are.

4. …current students who make me laugh and who teach me every day. It’s the greatest honor of my life.

5. …teaching colleagues at Floyd Central and in other local schools who amaze me daily with their talent, compassion, empathy, and integrity.

6. …my journalism “family,” a band of hilariously funny and incredible teaching colleagues from all corners of the state who remind me I’m a part of something special in Indiana scholastic journalism.

7. …my health and sanity (although sometimes that second part is debatable)

8. …books. Lots and lots of books.

9. …comic books and superhero TV shows and movies…because we all need an escape, and because Batman can solve any problem.

10. …the freedom and the passion to speak out and write about what I believe in, because with all of its flaws, the United States is still an exceptional country.

What I learned in 2015

by Jim Lang

For a variety of reasons, I walked away from this blog and from my writing in October, 2014. The reasons do not matter now. 

But the reasons I am writing again do, at least to me.

As 2015 fades, I realize that perhaps no year has taught me more about myself. I learned many lessons this year.

I learned to better appreciate the many special people in my life. Some have taught me more about myself. Others have strengthened my own faith in God. A few have impacted my life more than I can ever say.

I learned that God is real, that His guidance and presence in the most challenging circumstances and in the darkest hours can sustain me if I ask. And this year, I asked a lot.

I learned that I see God the most in the people He places in my life. I learn about Him through them.

I learned that when I reach out to help, often I am the person who needs and receives the most help.

I learned the most from my truly good friends, some of whom I love like family.

I learned that a job is just that — a job. It neither defines who I am nor shapes who I should be. 

I learned that those who judge others are more flawed and less perfect than those who make mistakes.

I learned that sometimes the best gift I can give myself is a road trip.

I learned that I can be independent, yet still rely on and learn from others.

I learned that real strength is asking for help.

I learned that technology does not enhance real teaching or learning.

I learned to say “no” more often because it’s often the healthiest choice.

I learned to be more patient.

I learned that superheroes are as cool now as they were when I was 10.

I learned that nothing beats a good book.

I learned that eventually, I have just have to write about it.

I learned a lot in 2015. I hope to learn just as much in 2016.

And, I hope to write more about it, too.

To those who blessed my life this year — family, friends, colleagues, and students — thank you for your love, support, and presence in my life.

Best wishes for a wonderful new year!

It’s time to discuss ‘equity’ instead of ‘accountability’

There’s no word that a political candidate could utter in regards to education that causes me to turn into a raving lunatic faster than “accountability.”

Our teachers and schools have been clubbed over our heads with the “accountability bat” by legislators and school board candidates for 10 years in Indiana.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing it.

“Accountability” has been the guiding factor in every single policy decision made in Indiana education in that time, and these policies have only weakened our schools.

The lie that our schools and teachers must be “more accountable” has led to a climate of number crunching, standardization, and educational jargon and endless acronyms that now control our schools and stifle far too much critical thinking and creativity.

“Accountability” has led to an era of fewer educational options for our children. How many Indiana schools have lost their arts programs, electives, and even libraries in this era of tight budgets that are often so strained because our state spends so much money on standardized tests?

Yes, we have replaced the joy of books and music in our schools with the art of filling in a bubble with a Number 2 pencil.

All because we now worship data, most of which is used to prove what we usually already know anyway.

Our public schools have become “accountability factories” in America’s desperate race to prove that every fact, standard, and nugget of knowledge can be fully measured at any given moment.

Educational historian Diane Ravitch says it best in the documentary “Rise Above the Mark,” which reveals the truth about what’s happening in Indiana schools right now.

Ravitch says, “What the standardized test does, over time, is that it rewards conformity, it rewards the people who can pick the right bubble…it punishes divergent thinking, it punishes creativity, it punishes originality. If you think about what that’s going to do to this country over the long haul…we are raising a generation of children who have been taught that there’s only one right answer.”

That’s the true irony of the “accountability movement” in education. The very policies designed to ensure teachers and schools are “accountable” — standardized tests, overly complicated teacher evaluation models, letter-grade labels for high achieving and low performing schools — actually prevent the most essential kind of learning.

Because the truth is that the most valuable kind of learning so often simply cannot be measured.

Certainly, no one would argue against the notion that our schools or teachers should be accountable to ensuring that students are learning.

But far too often legislative and school board candidates use the idea of “accountability” as a convenient catch phrase — it sounds impressive.

However, “accountability” has far too often been used as a weapon against schools by those who are often the least accountable themselves.

So, until we are ready to talk seriously about parental accountability to their children, our legislators’ accountability to their communities, corporate and business accountability to ethics and the truth, and even students’ accountability to themselves, then we need to stop overusing and misusing this concept as a basis to manage our schools and monitor our teachers.

We have seen over 10 years of “accountability” in Indiana education policy.

Those policies have failed. Those who have voted for and supported those policies in the legislature have failed.

It’s time replace “accountability” with “equity.”

Hoosier legislators are anything but conservative when it comes to education

Imagine if you woke up tomorrow morning to the news that President Obama created a new federal education agency with tax dollars to accompany our current Department of Education.

Let’s give this shiny new hypothetical agency an official name so that it actually sounds different from the Department of Education.

Hmmm. How about the Center for Education and Career Innovation, or CECI?

Let’s, too, grant this new agency a budget almost equal to the Department of Education. In fact, let’s pay several of the top people at CECI as much — in fact, more than — current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Oh, and here’s one more tidbit. Let’s assume that the president created the CECI at taxpayer expense by executive order.

That’s right. No legislative debate in Congress. No public debate. Instead, a brand spanking new federal agency created simply by the stroke of a pen.

Imagine the reaction of small government conservatives everywhere, including here in Indiana.

Why, images of bulging eyes, frothing mouths, and anguished screams of “Socialist!” and “Big government!” would fill our television screens on the nightly news. Surely these outraged proponents of limited government would call upon our Indiana legislators in D.C. to condemn such a move.

And, imagine the righteous fury that would erupt if our U.S. senators and congressmen then remained silent in the face of this big government creation of the CECI.

That’s right. No sound bites on CNN. No press conferences or even press releases. Instead, complete silence.

Now stop imagining and consider this — the scenario I just described actually happened. Only, it was Indiana governor Mike Pence, not Barack Obama, who created the CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate.

And it was our Indiana state legislators, many of them Republicans now seeking re-election, who remained curiously silent in the face of the creation of an agency at taxpayer expense that serves no real purpose.

Further, for some odd reason, it’s Indiana conservatives who also have remained oddly quiet in the face of their governor’s big government move and their legislators’ utter hypocrisy.

Where is the justifiable concern over the creation of a government agency by executive order? Where are the questions about the disturbing lack of legislative or public debate over the creation of the CECI?

For that matter, where was the concern over Common Core standards when Republicans like Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett and the GOP-controlled State Board of Education — not Barack Obama — brought those standards to Indiana?

And, where is the concern over the fact that, despite incumbents’ claims to the contrary, Indiana school corporations now operate under less local control than ever before?

My point here is simple. When it comes to Indiana education policy, our “conservative” state government is anything but conservative.

From the hefty price tag of more standardized testing, to overly complicated teacher and school evaluation systems, to unnecessary restrictions on how teachers can bargain contracts, to a state-sponsored voucher program that costs Indiana $16 million, to Common Core and legislators’ silence over the governor’s new CECI, one fact emerges — the myth of a conservative state legislature in Indiana is just that — a myth.

We voters have been inundated with quite a few slick campaign cards in our mailboxes over the last few weeks. Some of them play a bit loose with the facts. Some even include scary images of President Obama in an attempt to link a certain local state legislative race to our president.

As we voters head to the polls this week, we would be well served to remember which legislators stood silently by as Mike Pence created his CECI by executive order with no legislative or public debate, and ask ourselves who the real conservatives are, and who really supports big government.

The answer may surprise you.

Imagine that.

Teachers: It’s time to speak to local voters

Two weeks.

We have two weeks until Election Day 2014.

We usually view mid-term or “off year” elections with some apathy, but Indiana teachers know that this year’s election is crucial to our livelihoods, our profession, our school children, and our schools.

We must send a bold, clear message to our governor, legislature, and State Board of Education: Stop!

We are in the midst of one destructive idea after another in regards to Indiana education policy. Our public schools and the profession we love have radically changed in the last five years. We know it. We feel it. And we know that we cannot continue down the same path.

One trusted colleague of mine with almost 40 years of experience as a teacher recently made this observation — she has never seen teachers as upset, as burdened, or as fed up as we are right now.

Another Indiana educator, a fifth-grade teacher who has chosen early retirement and whose story is shared in the documentary Rise Above the Mark, says this:

“I still love what I do, and I loved it up until the end, but I feel like the legislators have beaten us down, and I hope that some way we find a way to fight our way back up to the top.”

Later in the documentary, she adds, “They’ve taken education, the profession that I love, and turned me into a number.”

This is the truth of what is happening in Indiana schools all over the state thanks in part to our current legislature. I won’t rehash the litany of bad ideas here — feel free to explore past posts on this site for more details — but I will say this:

Our mailboxes been inundated with a glossy litany of half-truths and lies from legislators all around the state claiming to have preserved local control of our schools in the last few years.

Teachers know the truth. Teachers know that is simply not true.

Indiana public schools suffer from less local control and more excessive intrusion from our state legislature than ever before.

When it comes to education policy, this current legislature is full of fake conservatives who shackle innovation, stifle creativity, and intrude endlessly into our local schools.

Our daily lives as teachers are burdened with the evidence of less local control — from excessive standardized testing, to the ludicrous flip-flop of standards (Yes, we’ll adopt Common Core. No, wait, no we won’t!), to the fact that the state has changed our evaluation system, to restrictions on how we bargain our contracts, to the reduction in the worth of our advanced and master’s degrees — the list of excessive intrusion into our schools and classrooms from our current state legislature is long and tedious.

So, please know this, voters — any current legislator who claims to have worked tirelessly for the cause of local control of Hoosier schools while supporting and voting for corporate education “reform” scams is either deceitful or delusional.

Or both.

And that is why I am calling on all teachers to talk with voters here. Now. Because we teachers must speak up now.

We must tell voters the truth about how our profession and our schools have changed.

We must tell voters that while we love our profession, our schools, and our students, we will no longer silently tolerate the constant assault of bad legislation that has radically altered our public schools.

We must ask voters to stand with us to restore local control, common sense, and research-based decision making to our schools.

And locally, we must make the case with voters to vote for three outstanding educators and experts — Kevin Sue Bailey, Heidi Sellers, and Chuck Freiberger.

I challenge every teacher to find a way to work with or on behalf of at least one of these pro-education candidates.

Teachers, do not be silent. Do not be passive. There simply is not time.

This is not about political parties or ideology. This is about telling voters the truth about how our current legislature has hurt our schools.

Tell the truth about our schools.

We have two weeks.

Friday trip to Bloomington provides teaching inspiration

On Friday I spent my day in one of my favorite places (Bloomington, Indiana) with some of my favorite people (teachers and former students).

What better place to spend a beautiful fall day?

This school year I have the honor of serving as a member of the IU School of Education Armstrong Teaching Cohort with eight other Hoosier educators from across Indiana. The honor, funded through the Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Fund and the Cook Group, helps teachers collaborate with each other and, perhaps more significantly, mentor teachers-to-be currently in the IU School of Education.

One of the values of working with teaching candidates is that their enthusiasm for education inspires me and reminds me of why I believe in our profession so much.

My day began as a member of a panel discussion with my fellow Armstrong teachers as we discussed the all-important first days of school with an auditorium full of outstanding future teachers. It continued as I met two former students for lunch, one of whom is considering a teaching career himself.

The day was meaningful for me on so many levels, especially since it provided me with the chance to dig myself out from underneath the mounds of papers to grade, RCD units to create, meetings to attend, and emails to respond to long enough to remember what makes teaching so fun — the people.

Our Armstrong Cohort consists of nine teachers from incredibly diverse backgrounds and experiences across Indiana. Each of them amazes me. On more than one occasion I found myself thinking, “How did I get selected to spend time with these people?!” Their enthusiasm, talent, compassion, and dedication to their students and our profession inspires me. I hope to share more of their stories here in the coming months. Their stories deserve to be told.

Just as meaningful to me, though, was the chance to interact with future teachers. These young people are the future of our profession. My conversations and interactions with them left me both hopeful for the future and determined to do my part to ensure that teaching remains a viable, worthy profession in Indiana.

I write here often about my dissatisfaction with our current political leadership in Indiana and their lack of understanding of or belief in our teachers and schools. I hope my determination to support my profession in the face of our state’s weak political leadership is never mistaken for negativity. In fact, days like Friday leave me more hopeful about the future of the teaching profession than ever. When I meet so many gifted teachers-to-be — and when one of the best kids I have ever taught joins them in considering a career as a teacher — how can I be anything but hopeful?

Because tomorrow’s teachers will bring more than enough empathy, compassion, tolerance, and competence to their classrooms and communities to heal the damage done by Indiana’s current crop of failing political “leaders.” They may be our greatest teachers, because they knowingly choose to enter a profession devalued by the lies and incompetence of elected officials constitutionally sworn to protect it. That takes incredible courage. That takes real leadership.

That’s the real value of a day like Friday. It reminds me of the value of my profession.

 

 

When it comes to education, we need to vote for change in the Indiana legislature

Change is good.

You’ll notice some changes in my blog, beginning with the overall look. In the coming weeks I’ll be tweaking the design more, hopefully adding a more visual appeal through photographs.

You’ll notice, too, a content shift.

When I began writing a few years ago, I had three primary goals in mind based on my life as a high school English and journalism teacher and media adviser. Call them my core values:

  • Explore educational issues
  • Promote literacy and civic engagement
  • Support scholastic journalism

I’ll continue to use these three values to guide my writing here, as each one is close to my heart. However, I have also added a fourth:

  • Advocate for public schools

I am a proud public school teacher. I support strong private schools and educational choices for families as well, but I believe our nation’s greatest resource and hope for the future lies in our public school system. I also believe our public schools are more misunderstood and disrespected than ever before.

That is especially true in Indiana.

We live in a state in which far too many of our current political leaders and legislators do not understand or value our public schools. This includes some of our local legislators. My colleagues and I in all corners of the state — and our students — are impacted negatively by poor policy making in Indianapolis. We feel it every day in our schools and classrooms.

So, as we approach an election that is essential for the survival of Indiana public schools, I’ll use this place to advocate more strongly than ever for our public schools in Indiana, which means also advocating for specific candidates that will support and stand with my colleagues, students, and me.

I hope my words expose the truth about our public schools and enlighten and educate readers about the complexities of the issues and policies that impact our schools.

I hope, too, to explain just how severely recent legislation and policy making have damaged our schools, communities, and pocketbooks.

I hope to persuade you to vote for and support those candidates who support our schools, and to send a clear message to those who do not.

I hope to share some of my own thoughts and insights along the way, too, as I found my views of education have shifted in the last few months. I question my own place and future in a profession that I love but that has changed so drastically so fast. If I am being honest, I am not sure I have a role in what our profession is becoming, as I have realized that change for change’s sake — which is both the intent and effect of Indiana’s recent education “reform” movement — is not good for our students, teachers, schools, or communities.

Indiana public education is the noblest of professions, but it is currently being governed by those who neither understand nor value our profession. And for that reason alone, we must either elect change in our legislature across the state this November or be prepared to accept the consequences in our schools and communities.

And for that reason, I hope to convince local readers in the coming weeks to ignore political parties and instead vote for several educators and local legislative candidates — Dr. Kevin Sue Bailey, Heidi Sellers, and Chuck Freiberger — who most support and understand education.

I am asking this as a teacher who needs their support. I am asking this as a teacher who needs your support.

So, I am going to ask you to vote for change. It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but that is usually when it is the most needed.

Because change based on our civic responsibility to do what’s best for our schools is both necessary and good. As a proud teacher I hope to do my small part in the coming weeks to convince you of that.

 

 

 

 

This year my students will help me write well

By Jim Lang

Writing is a funny thing. Sometimes the words pour out of us. Sometimes we hit dry spells.

Perhaps it’s been the hectic schedule of summer, or maybe it’s been the frenzy of the new school year, but I have produced a vast amount of nothing during the last few weeks.

Like most educators and writers (let’s face it – most teachers are writers, too), my inspiration so often comes from my own students. That is the case with me now.

As I write these words, I am surrounded by the sounds of my own student writers — tapping keyboards, scratching pencils, sighs of frustration, the turning of notebook pages. My classroom at this very moment is filled with the oddly active silence of writing.

That’s the commitment we’ve made as writers in my Journalism I class this year – to spend time writing each week, usually on Fridays. This is our time away from the stress of standardized tests, the rapid pace of our hallways and classrooms, the to-do lists that seem to own our lives, and the noise.

We will write here most Fridays. Perhaps we’ll work on our story assignments. This week it’s our personality profiles. Perhaps we’ll work on something unrelated to school. Something unique. Something special. Something not dictated by endless streams of data, standards, or tests. Sometimes “just something” is enough.

We’ll share our writing here, too. We’ll help each other grow as writers through editing and revision. We’ll trust that our love for writing will help us make this classroom a true community of writers.

So, here I am writing. Today I am not their teacher.

I am a fellow writer.

My dry spell is over.