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.

 

 

 

 

Thank you to the IU School of Journalism

by Jim Lang

Disclaimer: I am wearing my faded gray IU School of Journalism shirt as I write this.

We are so often shaped by the people and places in our lives. Are the special places in our lives made so by the people we meet there? Or, do special places make the people we meet and the experiences we have more meaningful?

Today the Indiana University School of Journalism officially becomes a part of IU’s new Media School, a move that supporters say will help IU continue to be among the nation’s leaders in media, communication, and journalism.

The new Media School, housed in IU’s College of Arts and Sciences, effectively “pulls together” the journalism, telecommunications, and communications and culture departments into a single mega-school. Benefits include a more streamlined approach for journalism and communication majors as they more effectively produce their work across media platforms in renovated, state-of-the-art facilities in IU’s Franklin Hall in 2016.

It’s a bold move that, if implemented correctly, will ensure that IU remains among the nation’s best journalism and media schools.

The IU Media School has the potential to be a special place.

Even as we look toward the future, though, I’d like to take a moment to honor the legacy of another special place – the IU School of Journalism in Ernie Pyle Hall.

For all practical purposes, that place ceased to exist at midnight today. The building still exists – for now. The exceptional faculty, staff, and programs are intact and will be a part of creating the new legacy of the Media School. But the School of Journalism in Ernie Pyle Hall as so many of us know and love it no longer exists in the form that we knew it. And while the future looks shiny, new, and exciting, the past holds the true secret for continuing the legacy of excellence in journalism and media at IU.

The truth is that as I reflect on my many years of association with the IU School of Journalism and Ernie Pyle Hall, I treasure the people, experiences, and small memories more than any technology I used or skills I mastered.

Small moments with great people made Ernie Pyle Hall special to me.

Working late nights with good friends at the copy desk at the Indiana Daily Student. Proudly turning in my journalism law paper after an all-nighter (got an A, too). Scribbling notes on those tiny, carved up brown desks in the old lecture hall – those desk tops recorded history in the names and messages scratched into their surfaces. Sneaking a few minutes of reading – okay, napping – in the J-School library between classes. Laughing and learning with friends. Spending 25 summers teaching, counseling, conducting lights-out, and playing practical jokes as a counselor and instructor at the High School Journalism Institute (to the “victims” of those jokes – I’m still laughing). Learning from and working with the very best journalism educators who always demanded my best, too, and who taught us that journalism (not media – journalism) and education were the noblest of professions. Deciding to become a journalism teacher – yes, I made that decision inside that building. Watching my own students earn scholarships to and attend a school that has always been special to me. Developing lifelong friendships.

These are some of my memories, but each person who spent time in Ernie Pyle Hall carries his or her own unique stories. We need to share these stories. We need to honor those who helped create these stories. After all, that’s what we were taught to do, and that’s how we ensure that the legacy of the IU School of Journalism continues into the hallways and classrooms of the new Media School.

Those of us who learned and laughed in Ernie Pyle Hall feel fiercely protective of the school and its legacy because we know that it was never the physical structure, the curriculum, or the technology that made the IU School of Journalism so exceptional – it was the people.

That special place – and those people – did more than train us for a job or prepare us for a career. In so many ways, they made us who we are. They helped us learn from each other to create learning experiences and bonds that remain with us today. They made us think beyond ourselves. They made us better. They became part of our stories. That’s what great educators – and journalists – do. That’s what great people do.

So, as a proud graduate of the IU School of Journalism, thank you to every faculty and staff member and every friend who made Ernie Pyle Hall a special place of learning for me. Thank you for making me a better writer, storyteller, and teacher. Thank you for making me a better person.

And may the new IU Media School embrace the legacy of the IU School of Journalism — powerful storytelling, ethical journalism, and outstanding teaching — to become a place as special as Ernie Pyle Hall.

 

Teen Voices: How should we improve our schools?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“Test students less.”

“Less testing. More focus on promoting the creative habit. Less memorization. More support to the arts.”

“Less emphasis on grades and competition with grades. Not only valuing academic achievement. I don’t understand why being good at math is so much more valued in society than music and creativity and expression.”

“Less testing and have a wide range of classes for everyone to explore new things.”

“Cut out all the testing, man. Teach the power of knowledge, not the power of the GPA (grade-point average).”

“Make teacher reviews more serious. Teacher evaluations seem to be done just as a formality.”

“We need to have a strong public education that students look forward to going to. The schools need to work on being supportive, which is what we students really need.”

“To improve our schools, we must break out of the box we have surrounded education with. We must allow creativity of teachers and students alike to flow naturally. We must find teachers devoted to improving their students’ lives.”

“Well, I would say we should imitate other school systems that are the academic leaders of the world, like Finland, but I know that would never work. We have too many students from too many walks of life. So, how do we fix it? That’s definitely about to be a problem that plagues my generation, so I hope we deal with it by creating an entirely new system that pulls aspects from other systems together to create something unique that works for Americans.

“All I know is the bell system makes me feel like an animal. We can read clocks. We don’t need bells ringing to tell us when to switch classes.”

“Do everything Finland does.”

“Finland. But really: all public education; don’t tie funding to test performance; pay teachers like they deserve to be paid; live in a country where education actually matters.”

“Get rid of standardized testing. Make sure the students learn, not just memorize.”

“Do not give kids who are failing the opportunity to quickly recover the credit with minimal effort. This encourages failure. The kid should have to deal with the consequences or try harder.”

“Some of us are actually curious and intrinsically motivated to learn. Do not destroy that by trying to extrinsically motivate us.”

“Start teaching a foreign language in elementary school. It’s much easier for us to learn it then.”

“Don’t get me started.”

My View

My students researched education as part of a second-semester research project that required them to synthesize information from a variety of sources and propose a solution to a problem in modern education.

It’s interesting that so many of them were compelled to compare American schools to Finnish schools in their responses. Finland offers a very different model to educating students than America. Truthfully, in many areas they are far more successful in educating their children than we are.

Improving American schools, in my view, requires us to commit to all of the following:

  • A recognition that we can only improve schools by first addressing poverty and income inequality, the defining problems of our nation
  • A commitment to hold more fully engage parents in our schools and to more fully hold them accountable for the academic success and behavior of their children
  • A complete rejection of market-place education reforms that have increased standardized testing and have contributed to the inequality hindering our schools and communities while reducing funding, effectiveness, and local control
  • A return to the American principle that our nation’s success depends on the vitality of our public schools (This, by the way, is a conservative principle, contrary to what many narrow-minded, intellectually challenged political “leaders” will tell you).

We have been reforming education for over thirty years. The reform movement has become the status quo, and it hasn’t improved anything.

Only by finally meeting the four challenges listed above can we truly begin to once again ensure that America is the world leader in education.

Teen Voices: What makes a great teacher?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity.

I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too. The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“First and foremost, they know their students and want to help them succeed.”

“A balance between compassion and mastery of knowledge.”

“I appreciate when you can never tell if the teacher is having a bad day. He/she should be enthusiastic, but also be able to realize that we’re just high schoolers and we don’t know everything you do. Some people are too smart to teach and think we automatically know what they know, even in an AP class. Some teachers, however, teach as if they are learning along with us…”

“Someone who is so enthusiastic and so knowledgeable about what they do that even students who don’t like the subject matter or find it difficult will be able to succeed.”

“A great teacher is simply a teacher that loves the subject and is enthusiastic. A great teacher teaches his or her students for the sake of learning and not just to achieve a standard or get them good grades. A good teacher wants students to question things and truly learn.”

“A person who understands more than what they are required to teach and finds pleasure and enjoyment in educating young minds.”

“A teacher that gets to know students, creates a fun learning environment, and impacts students’ lives in and out of the classroom with their teaching.”

“What makes a great teacher is a unique person. Almost anyone given the right training could be a teacher, but a great teacher is more than that. To be a great teacher, the individual must be compassionate towards children and be able to understand the problems of students. A great teacher understands the importance of their role in the formation of a student’s life and how they can change someone’s life completely in just a year or two.”

“All a teacher really needs is passion to be great. Trust me, the students see and feed off this desire to educate.”

“The willingness to help students with their own individual problems and the ability to accept the fact that sometimes you’re wrong.”

“Enthusiasm. Encouragement. Understanding.”

“A great teacher loves to teach and is passionate about his/her subject.”

“A person who cares about their job, students, and the future of education.”

“A passion for teaching and a desire to help students truly learn the subject material. A great teacher does not teach to tests, but rather focuses on interesting and relevant subject material. A great teacher has a willingness to stay after class and meet with students to help them, or just to talk. A great teacher encourages his or her students to endlessly pursue a gain of knowledge.”

My View

“Enthusiasm” and “passion” were the two words mentioned the most by my students. Interestingly, most of them distinguished between enthusiasm for students and for the subject matter. I love the fact that they see the importance of both.

It is interesting that in a day when teacher training and effectiveness are more focused on curricular knowledge, today’s teens still understand that truly great educators must first have the ability and personality to relate that knowledge to their students.

That’s the art of teaching. In a day when we are so consumed with “standards” and “accountability,” today’s teens understand more than most that a teacher’s love for his or her students and subject – a quality that cannot really be measured – is still the most essential ingredient for greatness.

Friday: How Should We Improve Our Schools?

Teen Voices: What is your generation’s biggest challenge?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“Getting past the constant pressure and extreme criticism that we have to deal with everyday. Coming to peace with the fact that nobody’s perfect.”

“The previous generations’ mistakes.”

“Growing income inequality and a diminishing middle class.”

“Our generation’s biggest challenge is going to be the reform that most wish to apply to our world. I believe our generation is tiring of hearing about our world’s problems and will attempt to solve many of our world’s largest problems like poverty, hunger, and corruption of government.”

“Living up to the more demanding expectations that no baby boomer truly recognizes. Communicating and meeting people face to face – our social skills are slipping.”

“Dealing with budget cuts to education.”

“Gaining independence. Technology is great, but we are becoming too dependent. We rely on social media to make new friends or dating sites to find the ‘love of my life’.”

“Paying off debt, figuring out where the U.S. economy will fit sustainably, energy efficiency, climate change, actually doing something about the third world. Shall I continue?”

“The biggest challenge is dealing with today’s socioeconomic situation. We experienced an awful recession and now we’re dealing with rising costs such as tuition. This was left behind by the past generations, and it’s our job to fix it for the next ones.”

“Human stupidity. People act without any sense and expect there to be no repercussions.”

My View

Growing income inequality and the damaged political system that created it are the most significant challenges facing today’s teens and tomorrow’s leaders. In short, they must combat selfishness and greed.

The top 1 percent of Americans hold 35 percent of the nation’s net worth, while the bottom 80 percent hold only 11 percent. This kind of discrepancy is unsustainable and only occurs when the system is rigged to benefit those who seek to maintain power. This inequality is the core of virtually all of our nation’s other problems.

Today’s teens will be faced with the challenge of reforming our political and economic system so that it is once again based on hard work, ingenuity, and fairness for all citizens.

Fortunately, from what I see tomorrow’s leaders are far more selfless, moral, and intelligent than today’s leaders are.

Thursday: What Makes a Great Teacher?

 

 

Teen Voices: What one book should every person read, and why?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity.

I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

Anthem by Ayn Rand. It is short and sweet, so it should hold everyone’s attention (my little brother read it, so everyone else can, too). It has a really great underlying message about individuality and how you should question everything.”

The Book Thief has the most unique narrator of any book I’ve ever read.”

The Book Thief because it’s told from such a unique point of view and it’s beautifully written.”

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green because you could throw it at someone’s face and it still would hurt less than the story.”

Looking for Alaska. It’s a story about life as teenagers and maybe not everyone should read it, but it is my favorite book ever.”

The Fountainhead. The philosophy in this book, whether you agree with it or not, is very complex but accounted in such a way that it starts to sink into the reader’s mind. It really challenges the reader to think.”

The Fountainhead. It really is an enjoyable book. The many different perspectives allow readers to analyze and compare each character, which will lead readers to think.”

“Both The Fountainhead and 1984 teach crucial principles. Let’s create more Howard Roarks. This is the time, more than ever, to question the government.”

1984. It explores what would happen if the rights and abilities we take for granted are taken away.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower because if you read it the right way and deeply enough it will change you.”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It makes the reader think about what makes humanity the way it is.”

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher. This book gives a great perspective on human life.”

Thirteen Reasons Why because it can open a teenager’s eyes to how much teasing and bullying affects others. It also shows that when you commit suicide others will grieve even if you think no one cares.”

To Kill a Mockingbird! First of all, I’m a sucker for father-daughter relationships, and the bond between Scout and Atticus is beautiful. Also, it was written during a time of social turmoil, and it’s a story where a white lawyer defends a black man in a trial in the Jim Crow South. It’s a story of social justice and a story of the American Constitution…It’s a beautiful story with so much social commentary.”

To Kill a Mockingbird. The story provides a unique insight of adult situations through a child’s eyes and allows us to realize that maybe we all need to look at some things as a child. A wonderful story about knowing truth, right, and wrong.”

The Working Poor: Invisible in America by David K. Shipler. It offers valuable insight and top-notch journalistic reporting into a world most Americans try to pretend doesn’t exist. Also, a balanced analysis of the welfare system.”

“I don’t have one book in mind, but everyone should read a book written by someone who is totally different from the reader. Different race, religion, class, nationality, etc. Everyone needs to experience a different perspective.

My View

I’ll cheat and select two books, one fiction and one nonfiction.

First, everyone should read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird because the most heroic character in American literature, Atticus Finch, offers advice to his children that we should all strive to follow today, including this line: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Our world would be a much better place if we all followed the advice of Atticus Finch.

Secondly, I’d urge everyone to read Diane Ravitch’s Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. It is an exceptionally well-researched, well-written account of the American education “reform” con. Citizens need to understand the consequences of continuing down the education “reform” path. Ravitch offers insight and commentary on where we went wrong and what we must do as a nation – now – to change course and ensure a quality education for all of our children.

Oh, and based on my students’ recommendations, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is the next book on my to-read list.

Wednesday: What Is Your Generation’s Biggest Challenge?

Teen Voices: What Is the biggest misconception about your generation?

by Jim Lang

In my final week with my AP Language and Composition students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Student Views

“That we’re really self-centered; that may be what gets exposed the most, but it’s not true!”

“Many believe (and make is believe) that we are morally depraved due to the over sexuality and loss of traditional values in society. I believe we are more compassionate than any before us because we do have access to so much information.”

“Everyone perceives us as idiots who are slowly deteriorating, but I feel like we are the smartest generation yet.”

“That we are a generation of technology-obsessed apathetic people. Sure, we fully utilize all the new technology that has been given to us, but that’s the point. We are learning more and more about how to better society via technology, and having a generation that grew up during technological breakthroughs will lead to highly innovative minds.”

“That we are lazy. Some kids are, but a lot of teenagers are very hard working.”

“The biggest misconception is that our generation is comprised of lazy, technology-numbed, apathetic brats who only live off the success of previous generations and are not willing to work hard for anything.”

“That we are all disrespectful, ungrateful, lazy, and unable to enjoy nature because of technology. I go camping, fishing, hiking, and canoeing with my family and I love being outdoors and away from technology a bit.”

“That we’re disconnected from the ‘real world’.” People complain about us being glued to our phones and computers and shutting out the world. But people forget that there is another person on the screen. There are millions of them. Because of technology, we are the most connected generation. We can laugh and cry together even if we’re oceans apart. And I think there’s something valuable in that.”

“We are too narcissistic and shallow to care about the world and its future. Our generation has started countless nonprofits and has already begun trying to make the world better. Just because most of us have lost faith in the political system does not mean we are apathetic. That is your fault. Not ours.”

“Probably the biggest misconception about our generation is that we’re disconnected from life because of technology. I feel the exact opposite is true. Because of things like e-mail, texting, and social media we are in a constant state of communication with each other, and we’re always in touch. The news is at our fingertips, and so are our friends.”

My View

The biggest misconception about today’s teenagers is that they are selfish, that they do not care. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many of today’s teens are selfless and compassionate. They are troubled by the problems impacting the world and desire to make our communities and nation better. They are more technologically connected than any previous generation and will likely use this technology to reach beyond traditional institutions and platforms to solve problems and enhance society. We shouldn’t judge them for this. We should encourage them.

And to the extent that some teens are too self-absorbed? Too lazy? Too unwilling to look beyond their phones or Twitter accounts to empathize with or help others? Well, that’s primarily the fault of parents who have coddled and acquiesced to their child’s every whim rather than actually parent.

Here’s hoping the compassion and ingenuity of today’s teens can overcome that obstacle, too.

Tuesday: What One Book Should Every Person Read, and Why?

What kind of advice can today’s teens offer?

by Jim Lang

Here’s a different twist to this blog this week.

In the final weeks of the 2013-14 school year, I became increasingly appreciative of the diverse array of (mostly) mature insights and opinions shared by the juniors and seniors in my Advanced Placement Language and Composition classes.

Much of our classroom discussion and work this year centered around the following observation by Aristotle: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

It was my hope as an educator that we would entertain a diversity of thoughts in my classroom this year. I wanted our learning to be guided by the principle that there are often multiple answers rather than merely a “right” one. My job as an educator is to teach my students how to entertain and appreciate all viewpoints even as they analyze and search for the best solution.

So, in my final week with these students, I asked them to participate in a voluntary activity. I wanted to share some of my students’ viewpoints – their voices – here in the hopes that we can entertain and value their opinions and ideas, too.

The task was simple. I asked them to answer five open-ended questions on a survey:

  • What is the biggest misconception about your generation?
  • What one book should every person read, and why?
  • What is your generation’s biggest challenge?
  • What makes a great teacher?
  • How should we improve our schools?

The rules were simple. Participation was completely voluntary. They could choose to respond to all, some, or none of the questions. They did not indicate their identity or grade. They knew that some of their responses would be shared here.

Each day this week I will ask you to entertain my students’ thoughts on these five questions. I will add my own thoughts each day as well. In the spirit of Aristotle, whether you choose to accept them or not is your choice.

But I am proud that their voices offer such exceptional advice. These are some of the educated minds I was blessed to spend each day with this school year.

Monday: What Is the Biggest Misconception About Your Generation?

End of school year brings exhaustion, pride, disappointment, and hope

by Jim Lang

As teachers stagger towards the finish line to another school year, we’re always filled with a odd mix of emotions.

The most obvious, frankly, is exhaustion.

There is a special brand of exhaustion that defines the end to any school year for teachers. It affects each of us in unique ways. For me it usually results in a manic desire to hide my phone and migrate to my couch to read, nap, and/or watch a marathon of the latest TV show to grab my attention.

Several summers ago it was “LOST.” Last summer it was “The Walking Dead.” This summer? Looks like it’s “House of Cards,” because let’s face it, only crooked politicians are more disturbing to today’s teachers than being stranded on a remote island or fighting hordes of mindless zombies.

More powerful than the year-end exhaustion, though, is my sense of accomplishment in the successes of my students.

One of the joys to teaching is that, much like life, it provides moments of satisfying finishes and renewed hope. Next week provides the twenty-first time I have completed my teaching year with pride in my students and their work as writers and journalists. It also marks the twenty-first time I have had to say “good-bye” to a special group of seniors.

Advising media and publications allows me to teach and learn from some students for multiple years. Many of the seniors I will say “good-bye” to next week spend a majority of their days in my classroom; I have taught some of them for four years. It’s no exaggeration to say that I have watched many of them grow up. They leave a legacy of excellence at Floyd Central High School. The pride I have in these seniors’ exceptional journalistic work and integrity is exceeded only by my certainty that some of them will make a difference in a world that desperately needs their bold leadership and a more selfless moral code.

This school year ends, too, with a sense of hope in what is possible. Just as my seniors leave to make their marks on the world, younger students who remain now have the chance to step up, to lead, to make our media program theirs, to build upon the legacy left by our seniors and those who came before them.

My sentimentality at watching great kids leave is always balanced by my hopeful curiosity of “What’s next?” What will the next group of journalists accomplish? Who will emerge to lead? What will they report and write next year? What books will we share and discuss next year?

My pride in my own students is matched, too, by my pride in my teaching colleagues. I teach with the most gifted, caring people I know. I am also blessed to be a part of a state-wide group of journalism educators who believe in the power of student media. I marvel at the sheer talent of these teachers. I learn so much from them. I value their wisdom, humor, and friendship.

If I am being honest, though, this year, more than any other in the last twenty-one years, also ends with a profound sense of disappointment.

I am disappointed that far too many educators, parents, and politicians bow at the altar of standardized test scores, test preparation, percentages, and pass-rates that so falsely “prove” our teaching effectiveness or our students’ genuine learning.

I am disappointed that we test students entirely too much.

I am disappointed that we continue to tolerate educational scams like corporate charter schools, private school vouchers, merit pay, or credit recovery or virtual learning programs that too often replace rigor with convenience and a false sense of accomplishment.

I am disappointed that far too many people feign concern over closing elementary schools while continuing to elect the very people to statewide office whose policies are most responsible for closing schools and shrinking budgets.

I am disappointed in Indiana’s weak leadership and persistent lack of support for and belief in our educators and public schools.

I am disappointed that teachers’ voices and expertise are too often ignored even as salaries remain embarrassingly stagnant.

I am disappointed that so many teachers nationwide now express disappointment in our profession while so few citizens ask “Why?” or even care.

As my twenty-first year of teaching ends, my hope still outshines my disappointment, though. My hope is grounded in my students. Some are so tolerant and giving. Others are perceptive and self-aware. Others, still, are unwaveringly moral. And a few are beyond smart — they are wise.

My hope lies in their intellect, compassion, and capacity for change.

My hope lies in my belief that their generation will be more selfless than mine.

That’s what will bring me back to my classroom in July (yes, July!) for at least one more year of teaching– the chance to do my small part to educate and prepare tomorrow’s leaders.

Until then, though, excuse me as I turn off my phone, grab a good book, and lose myself in a few hours of mindless storytelling.

Remote island adventures, dangerous zombies, and unscrupulous politicians await.