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Pennsylvania Teacher Forum Harrisburg, Pennsylvania September 22, 2003 Making a Lasting Impression Presented by: Mike Ford Superintendent Phelps - Clifton Springs Central School District Clifton Springs, New York firstname.lastname@example.org I am a Superintendent of Schools. So let me open with a story I heard about three men arguing about which was the oldest profession. The doctor said that medicine was the oldest profession because it says right in the Bible that God took a rib from Adam and created Eve. He said, “Clearly that was a medical procedure.” The Engineer then said, “Listen. If you read that carefully, before you get to Adam and Eve, you’ll read that out of all that chaos, God created the world. Clearly, that was an engineering feat.” And the superintendent then said, “It’s obvious that mine is the oldest profession. Who do you think caused the chaos?” It is great to be here to celebrate all that is good about our profession because if you read the newspapers, it would be pretty hard to believe that much good was happening in our schools. Have you noticed all the negative publicity? The media believes we are failing. However, let me share some facts with you. Our graduation rate continues to improve, according to the US Department of Education o 1948 25.1% o 1964 66.8% o 2001 89.3% The graduating class of 2003 had the highest SAT scores in thirty-six years, and the largest percentage of graduates taking the test ever! 49 out of the 50 states have adopted new higher standards. In my own district in New York, just five years ago only 45 percent of our graduating seniors graduated with the more prestigious Regents diploma. In June, 78 percent of our students received a Regents diploma at our graduation ceremony. Does this sound like a system caught in a cycle of failure? Not to me either. It reminds me of a story about the great poet Alexander Pope who was ill and believed to be on his deathbed. His physician came to examine him and found a strong pulse, clear breathing, a proper blood pressure, and all positive signs. His doctor summed him up this way: “You are dying of 100 good symptoms.” Our schools are getting substantially better…while our mission and our society have changed. Today, a high school diploma is required. Gone are the days of jobs for dropouts. The jobs former high school dropouts had no longer exist. Gas station attendant, bank teller, etc…to get into the military now requires a high school diploma. Did you know, that in 1952, 54 percent of all jobs required little knowledge or skill? Today, only 10 percent of the jobs even exist. Our society is changing too. Mrs. Cleaver is no longer home to great the Beav at the end of the school day. According to the Economist magazine, in 1993, 60 percent of married American woman held jobs outside the home. In 1960, only 19 did. Our mission and our society have changed. But given those changes, some things stay the same. Like the age old question: “Why did the chicken cross the road”? If we were to ask that question to a number of famous folks, here is what they might say: o President Bush: “I don’t believe we need to get the chickens across the road. I say give the road to the chickens and let them decide.” o Joe Lieberman: “I believe that every chicken has the right to worship their God in their own way. Crossing the road is a spiritual journey and no chicken should be denied the right to cross the road in their own way.” o Ralph Nader: “Chickens are misled into believing there is a road by the evil tire makers. Chickens aren’t ignorant, but our society pays tire makers to create the need for these roads and then lures chickens into believing there is an advantage to crossing them.” o Dr. Suess: “Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes! The chicken crossed the road, buy why it crossed I’ve not been told.” o Aristotle: “It is the nature of the chicken to cross the road.” o Bill Gates: “I have just released eChicken 2003, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook.” o Einstein: “Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?” o Bill Clinton: “I did not cross the road with THAT chicken. What do you mean by “chicken?” Could you define “chicken” please?” o Colonel Sanders: “Have I missed one?” Which leads me to ask the bigger question: Why does a teacher teach? I became a teacher because I had Mrs. Mendelssohn in second grade. How many of you had a Mrs. Mendelssohn in your life? It was my best year of school…how sad to peak so early! I was the teacher’s pet that year…or at least I thought I was until I got to my senior year in high school. In a study hall one day, I sat with some friends reflecting on our years in school. I mentioned Mrs. Mendelssohn, and how I was her pet. Immediately, Rick Lazio and Russ Buchiere disagreed with me. They thought they were her pets. I came to learn that every student in her classroom thought they were her special student. What a gift! Dr. Nicholas Uliano, the 2001 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, said this,” We must never forget who and what we are about-children. We are their hope; we must be their inspiration.” Joyce Dunn, last year’s Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year, stated “I keep a picture of my four sons on my desk when they were young and say a prayer every morning that I might treat the children in my care (in her classroom), as I would have wanted them treated. “ And Faith Kline, the 2000 PA Teacher of the Year, said, “I like doing everything I can to ensure the success of the children.” In short, we teach to make a lasting impression…to leave this world a better a place than we found it. Given the theme of this year’s forum, I would like to spend the remainder of my time sharing five thoughts on making a lasting impression. FIVE THOUGHTS ON MAKING A LASTING IMPRESSION 1. Appreciate yourself, even if no one else does. There are three types of people in this world: o Those who make things happen o Those who watch things happen o And those who say, “What happened?” On the opening day of school, the kindergarten teacher had her students sit in a circle and stand to introduce themselves. The first volunteer said, “My name is Martha Bowers Taft. My great- grandfather was President of the United States. My grandfather is a U.S. Senator. My daddy is the ambassador to Ireland. And, I am a Brownie.” Appreciate yourself. One night at sea, the ship’s captain saw what looked like the lights of another ship heading right toward him. He had his signalman blink to the other ship: “Change your course 10 degrees south.” The reply came back: “Change your course 10 degrees north.” The ship’s captain answered: “I am a captain. Change your course south.” To which the reply was: “Well, I am a seaman first class. Change your course north.” This infuriated the captain, so he signaled back: “Darn it, I say change your course south. I’m on a battleship.” To which the reply came back: “And I say change your course north. I am a lighthouse!” Appreciate yourself. The former governor of Massachusetts, Christian Herter, was running hard for a second term in office. One day after a busy morning and no lunch, he arrived at a church barbeque. Herter was famished. As the governor moved down the serving line, he held out his plate to the woman serving chicken. She put on piece on his plate, and turned to serve the next person. “Excuse me,” Governor Herter said, “do you mind if have another piece of chicken?” “Sorry,” said the woman, “I’m only allowed to give one piece of chicken to each person.” “But I’m starved,” the governor said. “Sorry, only one to a customer,” said the woman. The governor looked at the woman and asked, “Maam, do you know who I am? I am the governor of this state.” “Do you know who I am,” the woman asked. “I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Move on down the line.” This woman appreciated her role. We’ve got just one chance at life…Make your life a mission, not an intermission. Don’t go through life living like you look on your driver’s license. Love yourself….humps, bumps and all. Teachers know they are the most important adult in the lives of many students they teach. Never underestimate your meaning to these kids. Appreciate yourself. 2. Never stop learning. Some of us are getting into the metallic age…you know, you’ve got silver in your hair, gold in your teeth, and lead in your pants. But we know the role of teacher is one that requires constant retooling, learning, and growth. We have found that the road to success is uphill all the way. The great jockey, Eddie Arcaro lost the first 45 races of his career. Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team. Einstein was four before he could speak and seven before he could read. Isaac Newton did poorly in school. A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because “he had no good ideas.” Leo Tolstoy flunked out of college. Haydn gave up ever making a musician out of Beethoven, who he said “had no apparent talent.” None of these folks quit…they kept learning and kept improving. Much like you and I did in our early years of teaching. Everyone has the will to win; but few have the will to prepare. Our finest teachers never stop preparing. They never stop finding ways to reach the seemingly unreachable, or to love the difficult to love. An applicant to a graduate school was meeting with the Dean of Admissions who asked whether he had graduated in the upper half of his college class. The young man proudly replied: “Sir, I belong to that section of the class which makes the upper half of the class possible.” But he was there to continue his path of learning. The state police in Florida are continuous learners. They recently erected a sign on I-95 near Deland, Florida that warns travelers: “Narcotics Inspection Ahead.” There really is no inspection. But those drivers who see the sign and panic, make an immediate U-turn, and then the police pull them over and search them. Do you know the difference between a dream and a goal? It’s a target date! We now really know what causes weight loss…high school reunions, weddings, and cruises…it’s the target date! The stars in our profession continue to set goals and targets. They know what they need to learn, and they learn it. As teachers we must continually learn and change. Yet our schools take so long to change. Heck, it took twenty years to move the overhead projector from the bowling alley to the classroom. Some of our colleagues are teaching today’s Nintendo and MTV kids with film strips, and they wonder why it’s not working. We’ve got to never stop learning. 3. Laugh everyday. This profession is just simply too taxing unless we look for the humor in it. Did you know the average two year old laughs 200-500 times/day? Adults average only 15 times/day. The endorphins released from laughter are 100 times more powerful than valium. I was on a plane recently and noticed the man next to me had his wedding ring on the wrong finger. When I asked why, he told me, “I married the wrong lady.” The pastor of our church needed to visit an elderly member of the congregation who had been ill. He couldn’t find a parking space, so knowing that he would only be five minutes or so, he double parked. He left a note under his windshield wiper that said, “Officer, forgive us our trespasses. Signed, Pastor Jack.” When he came out, he found a ticket on his windshield with the following note: “Pastor, lead us not into temptation, Officer Doug.” I love my wife, I really do, but I sometimes worry about her, especially her love of shopping. When she walks in the mall it’s like Norm walking into Cheers…”Tina!” MasterCard has named her their MVP….most valuable purchaser. One day we were standing outside the mall. We watched as some guy stole our car. I asked Tina if she saw what the guy looked like…and she said, “No. But I got his license number.” You know what a hypocrite is, don’t you? It’s someone who complains about all the sex, nudity and violence on his VCR! We opened school just two weeks ago in my district. On the first day, one of our kindergarten teachers told her class, “If anyone has to go to the bathroom, please hold up your hand.” After a quiet moment, one little boy in the class loudly asked: “How will that help?” We must remember to laugh everyday! 4. Amplify your positive deviance. Great things are happening in classrooms across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as I speak. Unfortunately, in adjacent classrooms not so good things are also happening. Schools have yet to find a way to build cultures of sharing, collaboration, and shared success. In many cases, schools are nothing more than a string of classrooms connected by a common parking lot. We’ve got to find ways to amplify the gifts held by the nominees in this room. We need to find ways to share what works within grade levels, departments, and buildings. Unfortunately, in education an expert is simply someone from 50 miles away with a briefcase. We keep looking externally for excellence, when it is often right down the hall. I often think we’re afraid to train people to be the best for fear someone else will steal them. The only thing worse than training staff and losing them, is not training them and keeping them! We all work with colleagues who give our districts an honest day’s work…it just takes them a week to do it. Only some of us learn from other people’s mistakes. The rest of us have to be the other people. I listen to folks who complain that teachers aren’t always motivated to do their best. There’s no such thing as an unmotivated teacher…just look at the parking lot on Friday afternoon! Perhaps the greatest challenge for the leaders in this room today is to create schools where teaching matters. The strongest influence on learning is the quality, expertise, and skill of the teacher. Yet teachers are systematically denied access to the professional knowledge base that exists on teaching and learning. The greatest impact we can make on improving student achievement is to spend more on professional learning…more so than on class size reduction, new textbooks, or even teacher salaries. A discouraged educator when to a séance, and they contacted the ghost of John Dewey. “I want to make the greatest difference for our kids. How do I do it?, “he asked. Dewey said there are two ways: the ordinary and miraculous. The ordinary way is to wait for a team of angels to descend on each school. The miraculous way would be to have school folks do it themselves. We’ve got to amplify your positive deviance. 5. Finally, make your own tracks in the snow. Nearly twenty years ago my wife and I were married. At the time, I was teaching in the Tuscarora School District in Mercersburg, and Tina was teaching for the Lincoln Intermediate Unit in Hanover. Right between the two was the Caledonia Forest, and she wouldn’t live in a tree house, so we searched for new teaching positions and ended up in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of New York. We moved there in August, and within days of moving there we went shopping for cross country skis. While I am certainly not a pro at skiing, I know that there is a certain joy in making new tracks in the snow. Fortunately, Tina and I and our three kids all love the snow. Last winter we received over 150 inches of snow. Too many people get too disappointed by the weather. Not me. Each day brings new opportunity to see God’s work. I love to quote the great researchers, and Dolly Parton once said, “If you want to see the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.” How right she was! An 80 year old man goes to a doctor for a check-up. The doctor tells him, “You are in terrific shape. There’s nothing wrong with you. By the way, how old was your father when he died?” “Daddy? Daddy’s not dead.” The doctor couldn’t believe it. “Your daddy’s still alive?” “Yep,” said the man. The doctor asked, “Well, how old was your grandfather when he died?” “Grandpappy? Grandpappy’s still alive?” The doctor was astonished. “You mean to tell me that your father and your grandfather are both still alive?” “Not only that,” said the patient, “my grandfather is 126 and next week he’s getting married.” The doctor asked, “Why on earth would your 126 year old grandfather want to get married?” His patient looked up at the doctor and said, “Did I say he wanted to?” Live each day as if it is your last; someday you will be right. Each day, make your own new tracks in the snow. Let me close my time with you with this poignant story. The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued: “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?” He reminded the other dinner guests that it’s true what they say about teachers. “Those who can: do. Those who can’t: teach.” To corroborate, he said to another guest: “You’re a teacher, Susan,” he said. “Be honest. What do you make?” Susan, who had a reputation of honesty and frankness, replied, “You want to know what I make?” “I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.” “I can make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor and A- feel like a slap in the face if the student did not do his or her very best.” “I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence.” “I can make parents tremble in fear when I call home.” “You want to know what I make?” “I make kids wonder.” “I make kids question.” “I make kids apologize and mean it.” “I make them write.” “I make them read, and read, and read.” “I make them show all their work in math and hide it all on the final drafts in English.” “I make them understand that if you have the brains, follow your heart…and if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make, you pay them no attention.” “You know what I make?” “I make a difference.” And so does every teacher in this room…Enjoy this wonderful celebration of our profession. Thank you.
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