WE HAVE TO MAKE THIS WORK!

Malala Yousafzai is my idol! In 2012, I taught at a high school with over 150 students in my choral program. When radicals attempted to snuff out the life of a 15 year old girl trying to get an education in Pakistan, I was shocked and ready to activate my students into Malala’s plight. I had 300 buttons made with the words “Ask Me About Malala!” Those students were tasked to wear and share with at least five people about the attempted murder of a Pakistani teenager who only sought to attend school. In about three days, all 1200 of our student body were made aware of Malala’s devotion to education, which almost caused her death.

At the age of 17, Malala Yousafzai went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the youngest to ever receive this international recognition. Why speak of her now? She allowed nothing to get in her way to receive an education. As students, parents, and educators prepare for this ominous school year of Covid, economic downfall and riots, a determination to educate our children must take precedence in our conversations. It is paramount to stop the “we can’t send kids to school” or “virtual learning is impossible” discourse which is occupying most American households and educational agendas.

What dialogue should take place between parents and educators? Perhaps borrowing from Malala: COVID CANNOT STOP US. WE WILL EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN, IF IT IS IN THE HOME, SCHOOL OR ANYPLACE. Simplistic? Utopian? Impractical?

No! This is America. But our country is mired in politics, fear mongering and a virus which continues to baffle. We put men on the moon, cured polio, fought for our freedom and the freedom of others in major wars. What happened to the “can do” spirit of this great republic? Let’s try this for a change:

  1. Speak in front of our children about the new frontier of receiving an education. If children are “in person” learning, approach the new sanitized classroom with creativity instead of dread. If virtual learning is the model, talk of teacher support and finding new ways of learning. If the hybrid version is in place, discuss how valuable in school and virtual learning can effect the safety and well-being of all.
  2. Stop the impulse to bury someone’s diverse opinions about our educational challenges with insults and thereby squelching what could be productive dialogues.
  3. Replace opining about the “impossible” situation of our children, teachers and educational platforms with positive language. I would challenge all parent and teachers to join together on a social media platform and share creative ideas to get through the next weeks and months.

Perhaps we need to make thousands of buttons with the statement, “Ask Me About Malala!!” to remind our nation about the importance of receiving an education. If Malala fought against tremendous odds, then we can make this work! It’s time our country decides, collectively, to achieve the best education possible for our children: at home, at school or anyplace!

Paula Baack is a retired teacher of 46 years. Her book “Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child!” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ms. Baack is available for Zoom workshops for parents and educators. Contact: rescuetheteacher@yahoo.com.

DIVERSE OPINIONS FORMULATE GOOD TEACHING PRACTICES

A wise man once said nothing because the cancel culture would insure his non-existence! When I began teaching in 1971, diverse opinions formulated good teaching practices. Now diverse opinions only garner an eyeful of disrespectful, pointless banter on social media. Just. Stop. We might come up with viable solutions if ALL opinions are valued.

For weeks I’ve tried to put my 46 years of teaching experience to work and present a viable solution for opening schools back up to in person learning. What does a retired teacher know about today’s online education? Plenty. When I went into the mid-March lock down, I switched my entire voice teaching studio to Skype, then FaceTime and finally opted for Zoom. I am happy to report success!

May 1, I moved most of my students back into the studio. For the past two and a half months we practiced social distancing, hand washing/sanitizing and plenty of ventilation. Not once have I felt ill and not once did any of my students get ill. However here is the interesting fact: about one third of my studio decided to stay online and have done so since March. One of my online students prepared for a international vocal competition entirely at home, including the video entry to the competition. She placed second and will perform at Carnegie Hall March of 2021.

What can be learned from this? In person and online learning can be equally successful but virtual instruction requires two important components: the teacher must be willing to research and produce measurable, creative learning techniques and the students (with their parents) must approach learning with dedication and a positive mind set. There are variables of online instruction which I did not encounter: a classroom teacher has at least 90-100 students; many students do not have parents who are willing or able to support the independent learning process; students who cannot afford computers or parents who cannot provide WiFi will NOT be successful with online learning; special education students have lost and will continue to lose growth in both intellectual, emotional and social capacity; parents who are teachers cannot wear both hats without complete mental duress.

So what is the answer? THERE IS NOT ONE SOLUTION WHICH FITS ALL SITUATIONS. But here are some ideas I would contemplate if I were a parent-teacher (which I was for over four decades):

1. If I were to chose online education, I would only use the school district’s online school IF it demonstrated success for at least 10 years. In my studio I often encountered home schooled children. They loved it! But many used professional home school platforms which are tuition free instead of make-shift school district platforms which were implemented during the March shut down.

2. If in person classes were offered and I investigated to see if CDC protocols were practiced, I would commit to it until the first breakout. At that point, I would finish the remainder of the school year with online instruction using a viable home school platform.

3. A hybrid approach could be the answer for this fall since Covid has not succumbed to the summer temperatures. That way if a breakout incurred at my school, my children already had virtual classroom experience. Schools could see less students during the day where social distancing could actually be practiced. This gradual approach would provide the best of both the real and virtual world of educating our children.

4. I believe, where possible, superintendents and school boards should only make in person/virtual classroom decisions monthly and NOT by the semester. Yes, in the perfect world, knowing where the entire semester is headed is ideal. But this virus has created, to say the least, a very imperfect world. Moving month by month (or perhaps week by week in the early fall) is far better then telling parents and students that a decision has been made for the next 18 weeks with no possibility of review.

5. If I were a teacher with a suppressed immune system, I would opt to tutor a small group of children in my home, practicing CDC guidelines. I would independently contract with 9-10 students with the goal of earning $500 per day (10 students @ $50 PER DAY). I would use the school district’s calendar (plus a home school platform) and teach approximate 180 days for a salary of +/- $90,000. Yes, I would need my own health insurance and I must put aside retirement savings. But the reduction of stress, contradictions of so called experts and the colleague/admin lack of support would make it worth a try.

Two intrinsic human conditions must be guarded for the future of our children: hope and purpose. Whatever you chose as a parent, teacher or administrator, keep your focus on those two required elements of successful human behavior. Our children are the future and losing one semester or one year of hope or purpose could set the course of our country on a downward spiral for years to come.

RESCUE THE TEACHER, SAVE THE CHILD! available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

JUST US!

Teachers: sometimes it’s “just us” as child advocates. I was a career teacher for 46 years. A local reporter contacted me regarding my decades of reporting child abuse, which this pandemic is creating. I just completed the interview and learned this staggering fact: Child abuse reports to my county’s DHS during the first part of April 2019, compared to the same period of time in 2020, have dropped from more than 950 to under 400. So that’s good news, yes? Certainly not!

A headline from the April 7, 2020 New York Times: THE CORONAVIRUS COULD CAUSE A CHILD ABUSE EPIDEMIC. The article, written by Dr. Agrawal, a child abuse pediatrician, states: The Covid-19 pandemic has created the conditions for a rise in child abuse that could go unchecked.

But not in the county I live, right? Wrong.

The frontline reporters of child abuse are America’s teachers and counselors. Their advocacy role is completely diminished through eLearning and lock downs. Our children are sheltered in place with parents who lost jobs, lost savings or both. Our educators were literally given hours to swing 180º and mount online presentations. Their multiple classes, full of children who never experienced this non-contact educational system, have encountered the lack of WiFi, working computers, frustrated parents and politicians who hypothesize school starting in January of 2021. Child abuse is on the rise but there is no one to report it. Stop this madness now!

SOLUTIONS:

  1. Form national, state and local coalitions TODAY and address opening schools sooner than later. These coalitions, comprised of high school students, parents, teachers and administrators, hold the future in educational reform. Legislators and government officials must listen to these coalitions and implement their findings.
  2. Brainstorm with the philosophy of “no idea is wrong.” Conceptualize social distancing, sanitizing, contact tracing, class size, local medical preparedness and the use of tandem online/ in school resources .
  3. Curb the constant drone of gloom and doom from politicians, scientists and the medical community. When you take away hope and purpose from America and her children, the end results will highlight a more gruesome post pandemic tragedy than ever imagined.
  4. Embrace the “we won’t know until we try” mindset, which defined this country since her inception.

Let’s not waste another day on data, hypothesis or painting pictures of pessimism. None of those elements serve our children well. Preach forward thinking solutions. Practice proactive approaches. Persevere to open our schools no later than the fall of 2020.

This Sequestered Semester: The Loss of Hope and Purpose

Malala Yousafzai is my idol. As a teacher, I promoted her throughout our school by purchasing 300 “Ask Me About Malala” buttons. Each of the 300 students were tasked with sharing information with the school body about this heroic young woman. Malala almost gave her life in order for the young women of her country to receive an education. Her quote reflects the power of education during this Covid 19 sequestered semester.

As a retired teacher and a current vocal coach, I am privy to the viewpoints of parents, educators and students in this difficult time. What have I learned?

  1. Students, parents, and teachers are stressed beyond measure in the abyss of online education, class requirements, homework expectations and the unknown of future schooling.
  2. Hope and purpose are lost for both our educators and students every time a “professional” bloviates on television regarding the extension of stay-at-home orders.
  3. Federal and state legislators, who previously inserted their upturned noses into American education, are incredibly silent, shedding no light on this jagged path of educating our children via eLearning.
  4. Parents are in tears, teenagers depressed and teachers’ hearts are broken. Our college and high school seniors are devastated. Will colleges be closed? Are there jobs post graduation in this economy? Will mental health facilities be equipped to handle the next wave of illness?

Let’s contemplate some viable solutions:

  1. Do NOT cancel schools for the remainder of the year. Keep all options open: restarting schools with formal graduations taking place at a later date; schools opening with staggered schedules, allowing for social distancing; admin and faculty stepping up and creating ways to give their students encouragement.
  2. All classes, for this semester, should be pass/fail.
  3. Assignments must be creative and yes, fun. Stop all testing! Check for understanding in a less confrontational way.
  4. This semester is about surviving, not exponential learning. Obtaining any new knowledge under these conditions is short termed at best. Accept that as a given.
  5. Find ways to encourage and lessen the fear. The community, legislators and the federal government need to understand that job loss and illness are not the only caveats facing homes across the nation. The future of this nation, her children, are paralyzed in limbo, not knowing what destiny holds.

At present, the only light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train! Everyone involved with education needs to press pause, step back and reassess how to better support our children and their teachers. Hope and purpose are dying faster than the virus kills.

“RESCUE THE TEACHER, SAVE THE CHILD!” raises issues and identifies solutions for students, parents, teachers and administrators. Available at Amazon/Barnes & Noble.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICAN EDUCATION?

Sixth and Final in a Series

(Please read the previous five blogs!)

Over the past weeks, I addressed issues where America falls short in preparing her young people for the real world. My previous blogs handed out a failing grade to:
America’s universities (teacher education)
Chronically complaining parents
Inept administrators
Teachers who chose the profession for the wrong reasons
School boards who act as a rubber stamp

How does our culture return to the era where teaching holds a revered place in society and teachers receive the utmost respect? School boards, superintendents and administrators must foster an environment where teachers do not feel afraid to come to work. Here is another reason our educational system is failing:

STUDENTS:

With my teacher sense of humor, I’ve often stated “they don’t make kids like they use to!”. But with all humor, there is some truth. Do you students (or parents) recognize any of these as your own character flaw:
1. Always comparing yourself to siblings and friends with a victim mentality (I never got the breaks my brother received).
2. Questioning authority with the same victim mindset (it’s not fair I have to have this project done by the end of the week).
3. Believing teachers really do operate in a sphere of giving better grades to the popular kids.
4. Asking a coach to excuse you because something came up which is much more fun.
5. Crying or whining when things don’t go your way. Demanding no need to follow the rules because you are (fill in the blank).

As seen with the response to the corona virus, our young people feel entitled to operate above the rules. Before the demand for all bars to close, college students populated them with overcrowding and defiant behavior. Why should they have to stay isolated when contracting the virus would not be as devastating? Did they consider how this mindset could lead to mass numbers of illness in older adults? Did they adhere to a proactive stance of stopping the spread? No, they celebrated openly, throwing caution to the wind. Students’ attitude of entitlement did not just manifest itself in their collegiate years. This “everyone for themselves” viewpoint began in their formative years when parents and even teachers allowed them to look at the world from a “me” point of view.

SOLUTION:

PARENTS: The time is NOW to effect change. Encourage your children to do volunteer work. Help them understand their role in society by enforcing the Golden Rule. Allow them to make mistakes, followed by immediate accountability. Bring back reasonable consequences for poor behavior. Stop placating your children with best friend status. Instead, parent your children as if our world depends on it, for it does.

TEACHERS: Until parents identify their children’s poor behavior as unacceptable, your jobs will increasingly become more difficult. The only way to survive is to put forth fair, consistent rules and consequences. Do not allow a parent or administrator to talk you out of the unearned grade or consequences for a verbal assault. That is not an easy task and often the reason teachers are leaving the profession in such great numbers.

ADMINISTRATORS: In 46 years as an educator, it was only my last year where a handful of parents and two administrators ended my career. Would earlier retirement bring about a better solution? Not for me. Their behavior only solidified my belief that this nation lost her respect for our teachers. Unfortunately what happened to me continues as the “actions du jour” of our school systems’ admin. For the love of our dedicated teacher work force, stand up and scream, “I’m mad as hell that teachers are leaving their jobs and I won’t let that happen under my watch!”

“RESCUE THE TEACHER, SAVE THE CHILD!” raises issues and identifies solutions for students, parents, teachers and administrators. Available at Amazon/Barnes & Noble.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICAN EDUCATION?

FIFTH IN A SERIES

(Please read the previous four blogs.)

Thanks to @DanaPerino (Fox News) and the NYT, America received yet another warning regarding the decline of reading scores in half the states. Ms. Perino shared her emotional upset: America is failing her students. I agree. But let’s stop wringing our hands and throwing more money at the problem. Over the past weeks, I addressed issues where America fell short in preparing her young people for the real world. My previous blogs handed out a failing grade to:
America’s universities (teacher education)
Chronically complaining parents
Inept administrators
Teachers who chose the profession for the wrong reasons

How does our culture return to the era where teaching holds a revered place in society? School boards, superintendents and administrators must foster an environment where teachers do not feel afraid to come to work. Here is another reason our educational system is failing:

SCHOOL BOARDS

Do you know the philosophy of your local school board? Is it a politically correct statement in theory or does the school board implement what they advertise? Are teachers valued assets? Are teachers protected from frivolous complaints? If teachers are threatened with termination, is there due process? Do children with ALL learning abilities find quality instruction ?

Teachers cannot be effective in a hostile workplace environment. Parents, while an important input of valued appraisal, must never hold the power to dictate which teacher remains, subject delivery, or appropriate discipline. All children’s lives matter. However it appears America provides great educational resources to the very bright and the very challenged. The majority of students who fall in-between often slip through the cracks of misdirected philosophies of education.

Taxpayers must better vet candidates for school boards. Instead, most of these boards serve as a rubber stamp in supporting any action taken by the superintendent or school administrations. These same taxpayers also need to make their boards and superintendents accountable for the appropriate use of local tax monies.

SOLUTION

Community conversations must be initiated on the effectiveness of the local school board. Does the school board reflect the expectations of their constituents? Do taxes reflect a positive, meticulous use of funding or are they used to pay off high rates of insurance to protect boards against litigations brought forth by unfairly fired or demoted teachers? Does the board demonstrate an awareness of problems in the district? What does the relationship look like between the school board and superintendent? Does the board seem approachable? Does the school board actually hold power to affect change? Does the superintendent come across as approachable or does he play the role of politician? As one of my banker friends thoughtfully stated years ago: children are our highest ranked asset, whose rate of return grows over the lifetime of the parent. Shouldn’t school boards take an active role in children’s schooling in order to receive the highest rate of return?

School boards need to implement the following: principals’ performances reviewed every quarter; disallow state legislatures’ mandate for student testing; distribute a climate survey every semester to research teacher well-being; seek answers to issues from teachers in the district after said survey is published; reduce the budget by cutting the top heavy admin staff in buildings. Teachers do not enter the field believing in great wealth. Salaries are important but even more so the retention of successful educators. If board members demonstrate the same pre-election exuberance after elected, perhaps these members could affect positive change in their districts by solving the day to day issues facing American educators.

“RESCUE THE TEACHER, SAVE THE CHILD!” raises issues and identifies solutions for students, parents, teachers and administrators. Available at Amazon/Barnes & Noble.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICAN EDUCATION?

FOURTH IN A SERIES

Thanks to @DanaPerino (Fox News) and the NYT, America received yet another warning regarding the decline of reading scores in half the states. Ms. Perino continued to share her emotional upset: America is failing her students. I agree. But let’s stop wringing our hands and throwing more money at the problem. Over the past weeks, I addressed issues where America fell short in preparing her young people for the real world. My previous blogs handed America’s universities (teacher education), chronically complaining parents and inept administrators a failing grade. Here is another reason our educational system is not able to keep up with other global systems:

TEACHERS:

I witnessed it with my own child 30 years ago and with my grandchildren present day: what happens in the transition from the love of school expressed by elementary children and the sometimes complete disconnect with high school students?

As harsh as it sounds: teachers. There are three kinds of teachers standing in front our children today:

1.Those who couldn’t figure out what to do with their lives so teaching appeared to be the easiest track.
2.Those who chose teaching as a stepping stone to “something better.” Mr. Holland’s Opus, a great movie in 1995, depicted such a journey.
3.Those who are impassioned and dedicated with the love of learning in their students.

Before you cast the stones of contempt in my direction, I was all three of those! In college, I wore out my welcome in the music department. With threats of expulsion since I chose not to show up to my classes, I barely graduated. It was the ’70’s, Viet Nam war was the daily news and I, like so many, didn’t want to commit to anything. There was a bright light: my cooperating elementary school teacher saw something in me and fostered that spark to teach.

However when I started out teaching, I yearned for the stage. Teaching was my stepping stone to put food on the table until I could support myself with a singing career. It never transpired, much to my chagrin. I was a good teacher in the beginning but certainly not impassioned or dedicated.

It took time, mentoring and a Mr. Holland’s Opus moment to finally see myself as a teacher journeying through a lifetime pursuit of educating children and adults with passion and fervor.

SOLUTION:

1.If teaching was the easy track and you are just going through the motions, please change your vocation for the sake of our children. You can make more money and avoid the sometimes vicious classroom environment by doing so.

2.If teaching is your stepping stone to something better, again, please vacate your position. Kids, as young as kindergarten, can spot a teacher who is not committed to teaching. It’s reflected in your lack of energy, creativity and overall relationship with your students.


3. If you are or always was a dedicated teacher with a genuine love for every one of your students, pace yourself. America needs you to stay the course. You cannot continue to operate on overload with the day to day rigors teaching demands. My mantra: work hard and play even harder. To use the phrase bestowed on our men and women in uniform: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!

“RESCUE THE TEACHER, SAVE THE CHILD!” raises issues and identifies solutions for students, parents, teachers and administrators. Available at Barnes & Noble/Amazon.

Happy New Year or Is it?

When I am not advocating better pay and treatment for teachers, I coach singing. This week began my second term where these conversations ensued:

Are you ready to return to school? No, I really don’t like it. Did you have a great break from school? No, it wasn’t long enough. Do you love returning to school? Not really. It’s just boring and not much fun. From a six year old: the only part of school which is fun is recess.

Yet every January the public schools begin the new calendar year with the same ol’, same ol’. Each year the expectations kids will become engaged in January are the same as the ones in August. And yet, the majority of our school-aged children dread the classroom. Why?

It’s really quite simple: testing, testing, testing. Add to that the lack of creativity in bringing the F word back into the classroom. Yes, FUN. How do you avoid this conundrum?

Walk in the shoes of your students. Do you want to sit in a row or a circle for weeks at a time? How would you like a test every day? Change it up! Sit on the floor, bring bean bags, wear pajamas or at least on one day per week, let the students guide the learning. You may be amazed in the outcome. Gather up your student leadership and colleagues to design units of study which reside outside the usual vanilla envelope. Don’t be afraid to rock that crazy, at times unstable educational boat. You will enjoy your job more and perhaps when kids come to my voice studio, they will be clamoring to return to the classroom.

“RESCUE THE TEACHER, SAVE THE CHILD!” raises issues and identifies solutions for students, parents, teachers and administrators. Available at Barnes & Noble/Amazon.

BOOKLIFE PRIZE REVIEW IS IN!

Title: Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child!

Author: Paula Baack

Genre: Nonfiction/Memoir

Audience: Adult

Word Count: 72,537

Assessment:

Idea/Concept: Although Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child! sits somewhat uneasily between memoir and guidebook, the author ultimately presents a highly informed, insightful look into the state of education in America and the toxic work environments many educators face.

Prose: This book is well-written and organized, while the author’s prose conveys her passion for teaching and her frustration toward the many impediments facing teachers and students today.  

Originality: As a devoted educator, Baack backs up her findings with her own unique experiential evidence, while broadening the scope of the book to focus on the collective experiences of teachers and students in America. 

Execution: Baack’s own experiences offer credibility and immediacy to the sections that are more pointedly informational. While the focus of the book is more on how to rescue teachers than on how to save students, Baack’s ideas are inspired and potentially broadly beneficial. Her clearly-referenced religious overtones sometime interfere with the more actionable advice, but not significantly. She does not proselytize, but, rather, espouses values that many of us, religious or not, still hold.

Blurb: Baack makes an urgent plea to teachers, administrators, parents, and students to work collaboratively to improve the American education system to some of its former high standards. 

I am so pleased as a first time author. Thank you BookLife!

WHAT’S WRONG WITH AMERICAN EDUCATION?

Third In A Series

Thanks to @DanaPerino (Fox News) and the NYT, America received yet another warning regarding the decline of reading scores in half the states. Ms. Perino continued to share her emotional upset: America is failing her students. I agree. But let’s stop wringing our hands and throwing more money at the problem. Over the next few days, I will address all issues where America falls short in preparing her young people for the real world. My previous blogs handed America’s universities (teacher education) and chronically complaining parents a failing grade. Here is another reason our educational system is not able to keep up with other global systems:

ADMINISTRATORS: In 1971, I began my 46 year career. I’ve seen administrators of all types. Here is an excerpt from my book:

1.He hired the best, stood back and encouraged his staff at every turn.
2. She held onto rules (some unwritten) which must be obeyed. No gray area or compromise.
3. She encouraged her staff to meet her expectations. If some of the staff struggled, the administrator stood by their side and mentored them.
4. She sat by the front door and would not allow her staff to leave before 3:30 pm.
5. One principal’s philosophy was the Performing Arts existed as a fluff curriculum. Those teachers simply acted as a support staff for the school. Their out of classroom expectations would include lunchroom duty, cleaning up the lunchroom tables, crosswalk assignments and other non-teaching requirements. He believed those assignments justified a performing arts program.
6. She scolded staff for reaching out to troubled students. Her philosophy: only a licensed psychologist should offer support to students. Come to work, teach your subject, and then go home.
7. She could not deal with any parent who raised an issue. In a panic, she told the teacher to fix things with the complainant.
8. He organized face to face meetings when disagreements arose with his staff, parents or students.
9. She openly declared she did not like some teachers, and for no reason. If she couldn’t fire them legitimately, she encouraged her admin team to drive them out.
10.She stated if staff received a parent complaint and did not acquiesce to the complaint, she would not support the staff member.

If you are a part of a school administration, what kind of administrator are you? If you are a parent, which of these best supports your philosophy of administrating. Teacher? If you’ve been teaching for more than 10 years, you’ve encountered many of the negative examples.

SOLUTION:

1.School boards and superintendents must insist their school administrators support their teachers, no matter what the complaint. Administrators should never play the adversarial role with their staff.
2. Even the worst case scenario teacher deserves to be mentored.
3. When there is a problem with staff, due process must be the rule of the day. No more guilty until proven innocent allowed.
4. The teacher should never be threatened with innuendo of losing his job just because of a student accusation and a parent pushed “send” on a vitriol email.
5. Maintain this philosophy and the day to day operations of problem solving should be less complicated: Students are not perfect, parents are not always right and teachers are NOT monsters.

“RESCUE THE TEACHER, SAVE THE CHILD!” raises issues and identifies solutions for students, parents, teachers and administrators. Available at Barnes & Noble/Amazon.