Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I Am Still a Work-in-Progress

It's been 5-1/2 years since I retired.  During this time I have focused primarily on substitute teaching at both the middle and high school levels, and volunteer math tutoring at the elementary school level.  I have absolutely enjoyed these activities as they have allowed me to continue working with young people...a passion that convinced me to pursue a teaching license back in 1997.

I had lunch several weeks ago with a former teaching colleague of mine who was facing retirement and now wanted to consider taking the substitute teaching route.  Our discussion led me to discover that I now wanted to take a different path in my life for the next several years.  Substitute teaching was becoming less rewarding to me.  Rarely was I allowed to actually teach in the classroom; I was nothing more than a room monitor making sure students did worksheets and did not kill each other in the process.  I don't necessarily blame the teachers who hired me.  It's just a reality of substitute teaching.

I have always enjoyed volunteer work.  Was there a volunteer opportunity in the Twin Cities on Fridays, accessible by public transportation, that would allow me to fall back on the business skills I practiced for 25 years and taught in the high school for 13 years?  I believe they exist.  It's now incumbent on me to seek them out (just like looking for a job once again).  On the recommendation of my wife, my first stop has been the MN Council for Non-Profits web site where I can peruse volunteer, part-time, jobs and internships.

This is where I am at the moment.  More news to come as I take this new path in my life.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Reflection and Prayer for 2017

     After a 3-year hiatus from blogging, I am prompted to blog this New Year's Day message in response to what I believe to be cruel, unfeeling, mean-spirited attitudes toward those less fortunate as expressed in several letters recently published in the StarTribune editorial page.

     It might be said that we live in confusing and sometimes frightening times--not only in the United States but throughout the world, as well.  The angst reflected in this past year's election cycle clearly suggests that many in our country are unhappy with their lot in life and, perhaps, that others less fortunate are somehow responsible for this.  I am saddened by those all-too-frequent and numerous expressions of vitriol in letters that chastise the poor and destitute for "abusing" privileges provided to them by our social welfare system.  How unfortunate if this is all those critics saw.  And, yet, I would guess that no one would want to trade places with those who face horrendous financial and social circumstances that force them to become reliant on public assistance.

     I am reminded of those comments made to me when I went into teaching high school as my third career.  There were those who believed that teaching was a slam-dunk profession where we only showed up for seven hours/day and got the summers off.  This was all they saw.  And, yet, when I suggested that if teaching was such a sweetheart deal why don't they do it...well...you can only imagine all the excuses I received about why that wouldn't be possible for them.

     The same comparison might be made regarding criticism of those people receiving public assistance.  I would guess that most people on welfare would prefer not to be.  As a society we provide a safety net because we accept the reality that life is not equitable for everyone.  We do what we can to somehow level the playing field.  Criticism of others who may have "too many" children or who make unwise food purchases or who "can't afford" the daily costs associated with living a decent life--all because they are on public assistance--is, in my opinion, cruel, unfeeling, and mean-spirited.

     I am hopeful that 2017 will allow us to leave the angst of 2016 behind, and re-inspire us to be a kinder, more compassionate people toward others less fortunate.  I am hopeful that 2017 will rekindle in each of us the desire to reach out into our communities and be the gift to the world that God intends for us to be.  Amen.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Alternative Proposals re: School Lunch and Student Performance

One of the advantages of being a retired teacher is my ability to offer alternative perspectives on public education that seem to elude our legislators.  So...bear with me as I share with you two such proposals recently mailed to my state senator and state representative.

Authorities all recognize the importance of a well-fed student as it relates to academic performance in school.  It is inexcusable in this day and age for us to continuing separating the school lunch program from other aspects of education.  Depriving a student of a school lunch because of economic circumstances (or other reasons) benefits no one.

In order to provide all Minnesota students with a lunch at no cost to them, the Minnesota legislature would need to add $4.00/day to the Minnesota per-student funding formula paid to our schools.  Assuming 1,850,000 Minnesota taxpayers, this could amount to an average cost of $395/year/taxpayer.

One way of addressing the public education achievement gap issue would be to increase parental involvement and impact on student performance in school.  We need an approach that would provide parents with a financial incentive in addition to an awareness of Minnesota's expectations regarding the parent's role in improving student performance.

In order to reinforce this approach, I would propose that families would receive a $25 tax credit per child for school performance that meets the following criteria: GRADES - C or better; ATTENDANCE - No unexcused absences; BEHAVIOR - No formal disciplinary action taken.  For those parents whose incomes do not result in paying taxes, a check (similar to the Minnesota rent or property tax credit) could be sent.

Assuming 900,000 students in Minnesota public schools all qualifying for this tax credit, this proposal could cost upwards to $22,500,000/year in lost tax revenue.  In addition, there would need to be a per-pupil reporting cost associated with school district record-keeping and production of a per-pupil certification tax letter each year.  This could amount to $1/student, or an additional $900,000/year.  For this latter expense I would propose adding $1.00/day to the Minnesota per-student funding formula paid to the schools.  Assuming 1,850,000 Minnesota taxpayers, this could amount to an average cost of $13/year/taxpayer.  If one would like to consider $100/year/student tax credit, then one would need to multiply the per-taxpayer cost by 4.

To meet these additional costs, I would propose increasing the individual income tax.  It really does take a village to raise a child these days.  I would be more than happy to pay additional taxes in order to eliminate the need for families to come up with lunch money (especially those families that cannot afford it or those families with many children when the cost becomes prohibitive), and to get more parents on board in taking an active part in promoting their child's best performance in school.

If you like these proposals, or would choose to modify them...please let your legislators know what you think.  They desperately need guidance on these issues.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Another Modest Proposal (with apologies to Jonathan Swift)

What more can the Minnesota Legislature pile on to our already struggling public education system?  The latest missive requires schools to now be responsible for student bullying behavior on par with other harassment obligations.  Teachers must now add bullying to their increased responsibilities for managing poor grade performance, classroom misbehaviors, differentiated instruction, and "ineffective" lessons.

Will any elected official ever have the intestinal fortitude to acknowledge that the teacher is NOT the parent?  And yet, nowhere in the proposed legislation are parents held accountable for ANY poor or unacceptable student behavior, let alone the latest plague--bullying!  So, here is my proposal.

It's time we hold parents fully responsible and accountable for ALL student performance and behavior.  I propose the following legislation that would fine the parent $1,000 PLUS 30 days in the workhouse for each student infraction, to wit:  (1) homework not done or not turned in on time; (2) student not getting to class on time (or skipping class altogether); (3) any distruptive student behavior in the class room as determined solely by the teacher; (4) student using foul language in the classroom, hallways, and anywhere else on school premises deemed off limits for swearing; (5) littering; (6) student acting out and being inattentive in class; (7) student wearing any article of clothing that fails to demonstrate modesty (e.g., cleavage, butts, boxers, midriffs); and (8) all other behaviors--real or imagined--that could possibly be found offensive by any adult on school premises.

Furthermore, any attempt by parents to be confrontational when notified of these behaviors will result in a double infraction (i.e., $2,000 PLUS 60 days in the workhouse).  By the way, children of legislators guilty of these infractions would result in the legislator-parents being charged with a triple infraction (i.e., $3,000 PLUS 90 in the workhouse...especially if it occurs during a legislative session).

It is clear that the above misbehaviors are the result of poor parenting...not poor or inadequate teaching.  So why does the Legislature continue to hold schools accountable for the child-rearing inadequacies of the parents?  Rather, would it not be better for the Legislature to force the issue of good parenting?  My mother made it ABUNDANTLY clear that if I was EVER involved in bullying of any kind, I would receive a punishment that would NEVER be forgotten.  If I ever brought home a grade lower than a "C," I was grounded until the next report card.  If I ever misbehaved in school, I received DOUBLE the consequence ever imagined or doled out by school administrators.

An alternative proposal might be a $500 tax credit to the parents if each child earns a "C" or better in all classes PLUS is never cited for any of the above infractions.  And, for those parents who pay no taxes, they would get a check in the amount of $500.

It's time to put parents back into the role of parenting...and let our teachers teach in a positive and productive environment.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Republican Vascilation re: Social Security and Medicare

So where exactly does the Romney/Ryan ticket stand on Social Security and Medicare?

To read (and re-read) Congressman Ryan's previous budget proposals (not his "revised" campaign statements), there can be no question that promises made to all of us "over-60 people" will be modified in order to balance the budget (and pay off the Bush wars in the Middle East).  HOWEVER, now that Congressman Ryan (joined by his over-the-top running mate) is a candidate for high office, he doesn't want to alienate the over-55 crowd, given our voting power in this election.  This is especially true in two of the so-called swing states of Ohio and Florida.

So now we are asked to believe that Romney/Ryan will only push changes in Social Security and Medicare for those under the age of 55 as well as those making lots of retirement income.  I, for one, am skeptical that this promise will be kept after the election...especially if a newly-elected President Romney is "blessed" with a Republican-dominated Congress.

Republicans continue to lump beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare as "entitlers" despite the fact that we (and our former employers) have paid into these systems throughout our entire working lives.  At least with President Obama, there will be a veto waiting for any Republican effort to gut Social Security and Medicare.  It's time for Republicans to pony up from their own constituency resources for the war spending and tax cut extravaganza that was eight years of President Bush's presidency.

I know that this election is more than just a referendum on the future of Social Security and Medicare.  For all of President Obama's failings, at least we know where he stands on this issue based upon his efforts over the past four years.  As for Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan, I also know where they stand based upon their prior records and the comments and speeches they made seeking the Republican endorsement.

It's time to get focused on how we want this nation's economic problems to be solved.  With the fiscal cliff looming in the near distant future, we need someone in the White House who will veto solutions that push seniors into the forefront of financing those solutions.  It's time for all of us "boomers" to exercise our economic clout in full force.  I know I will be voting for my future on November 6.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Celebrating Retirement

"Overwhelming" pretty well sums up my experiences over the last two weeks of employment.  By the time I delivered my "honored teacher" address at commencement followed by 4 hours of socializing with my colleagues, I was about as exhausted as I've ever been.  I think I only recovered as a result of sleeping 24 hours on and off.

Perhaps the most common question posed to me has had to do with the curiosity of "has it hit me yet" that I am no longer gainfully employed.  In reality, the answer may not emerge until the end of August when I have customarily returned to work after having summers off.  In fact, I haven't worked in the summer for the past 13 years, and this summer will be no different...that is, until the last week of August.  So...maybe I'll have more to say on the subject at a later time.

As I unwind from all of the celebrating, I take pause to remember why I changed careers to begin with.  My students seemed to enjoy the opportunities to share their feelings about our classroom relationships.  I don't know why I have been so fortunate, or what I have done to deserve such praise.  The same is true about the cards, notes, comments, and hugs I've received from my colleagues.

This all leaves me with one final thought.  The only difference between retirement parties and funerals is that you get to hear the speeches.  At least now I know whom to call to deliver my eulogy ;-)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Exit Interviews and All That Jazz

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with our school district human resources director.  She had a prepared list of questions (apparently asked of all retirees) designed to provide our superintendent with important "post-employment" feedback about our work experiences years.  The only problem was...those weren't the questions about which I wanted to expound.

So...in typical Schwartz fashion...I decided to pose the questions I wished I had been asked.
1.  How would I redesign our District's approach to education in order to meet the community's objectives?
2.  How can the District restore its commitment to providing a comprehensive high school education?
3.  In what ways can the District incorporate new curriculum that resonates off of the MN Governor's Workforce Development Council rather than knee-jerk to test scores?
4.  How can our District remain competitive in light of alternative charter school options?

The final (big) question that no one seems to want to ask is "How can our District promote responsible, effective parent involvement in the education of our students instead of passively supporting political criticism of all teachers?"  What seems to be missing in our conversations with retiring teachers is the truth about why we are retiring.  So many good teachers are leaving the profession because our political leadership lacks the courage to confront irresponsible, ineffective parenting (perhaps fearing that they, too, would be lumped into that category).

When parents are contacted because their son/daughter does not complete homework, skips class, disrupts the learning of others, disrespects the teacher, and a myriad of other obnoxious behavior issues, the parents' response should be, "What can I do to help?".  Unfortunately, the response often consists of a blame-storming exercise followed by an admission of parental impotence (as expressed by the often-expressed cry of "I don't know what I can do!").

Minnesota voters (and legislators) can do whatever they want with teacher seniority, unions, trigger laws, and so forth.  Until they are willing to confront the most serious education issue of our day--parent irresponsibility and ineffective laissez-faire child-rearing--I am convinced that many more good teachers will simply throw up their hands and find a more rewarding, supportive vocation that doesn't constantly label them as societal pariahs and failures.

As for me, I look forward to sub-teaching and volunteering with our students after my retirement.  At least my days of dealing with poor parenting will be history (and somebody else's problem).