Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Empty Classrooms

Public education faces many challenges. But one challenge that I don't hear mentioned much in the media or by parents is actually one of the most concerning. I'm speaking of the number of absences accrued by students due to extra-curricular activities and special "school related" activities.

I have students who miss up to six weeks of the school year due to "school related" events. I thought this problem might be unique to my school, but I have discovered, after conversing with teacher friends of mine who teach all over the United States, that it is a problem in high schools everywhere. I'm not talking about absences due to illness or personal issues. I'm talking about absences due to activities run by the schools themselves. 

And the problem has only gotten worse in recent years. Who's at fault? Who's to blame? I'd have to say teachers and administrators. Many teachers and administrators have created a climate where it is perfectly acceptable to pull students from another teacher's class any time they want. Today, for example, I have seven sophomores who are missing the final day of review before tomorrow's AP World History Exam so they can attend a Rangers game. That's right, they're not missing for an educational reason, they are missing for a baseball game.

I wish I could say this is atypical, but it happens all year long and at schools all over the nation. Class time is simply not respected. Many of these teachers pulling kids out are the same ones who say that teaching is a profession that is not respected enough by society. I find this completely hypocritical. They show utter contempt for what happens in my classroom by assuming the student can just "make-up" the missed work. They completely negate the importance of the teacher led instruction. Why, as a teacher, do I even bother crafting lesson plans if the student can just "make it up" later? I might as well just photo-copy a bunch of worksheets for the entire year and just let the students work on their own pace. Why do I even bother showing up?

Some of this, I believe, is due to the rise of online education. Online education can be beneficial in certain situations and in small doses. But now, we have entire degrees, undergraduate and post-graduate, that can be attained completely online. I've seen much of the coursework of online courses and they are often a joke. They completely discount the importance of face to face interaction with an expert. They rule out the importance of dialogue and conversation with other learners in a shared setting. As a result, we've created a situation where teachers are just an appendage, a highly paid baby-sitter. Just post the work and let the students get to it.

So we have Band, Tennis, Golf, Ag, "Academic" Competitions, and a host of other activities taking our kids out of the classroom at will. We have NHS, Special Olympics, Blood Drives, and Field Trips taking our kids out on a weekly basis. Many of these are noble pursuits and worthwhile. But they've been allowed to get out of control. Many events that can be done after school or on weekends have been allowed to fall during school days. These outside events should be integrated into the school calendar in a measured and reasonable way.

It is extremely demoralizing to teachers who actually try to do their job. The problem is endemic and has become a cultural norm. When 50 percent of my advanced placement students have missed over three weeks of instruction due to school related activities, then we have serious problems in our educational system. When you walk into your classroom and find it half empty on a regular basis it becomes really hard to remain motivated to put your all into the instruction. I continue to do so for the students who do show up. But it is a beating when so many are gone and then you have to put in extra time to help those kids make up their work since they were absent.

This is not the kids fault. This falls on the offending teachers. This falls on principals and administrators. This also falls on parents who allow it to happen and never question why their student has missed 24 days of class due to school events. It's not a trivial complaint. It is a problem that goes to the root of our understanding of the value of classroom education. Sure, education is evolving and much is learned outside of the classroom. However, there has to be balance. Right now, the balance is extremely out of whack, not just in Texas...but all over the United States.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

So Long to the Hilltop

Last week I finished up my regular coursework at Southern Methodist University. I still have a ways to go. Next semester I will be undertaking an Independent Study Course where I will complete my Capstone Project for my Masters Degree in the Humanities. If all goes well I will graduate in December 2016, although I would like to walk in the May 2017 ceremonies. There's a little more pomp and circumstance in May and after all these years I would like to enjoy it a bit. 

I ended up with a 3.9 GPA. I got one B+ during my first year in the 88...that kept me from a perfect 4.0. Yeah, one of those kind of professors, you know the type. I will miss making the weekly trip to The Hilltop. I had a great experience and made quite a few friends. The professors were excellent. Although I am relieved to be rounding third and heading home, I am a bit sad that I won't be on campus as much. 

I know, I know...a doctorate. Could be in the cards. Right now I need a break. But who knows? Give me a year or two and a doctorate could be awfully tempting.

Monday, May 09, 2016


This past Saturday I drove up to Oklahoma City to pay my final respects and say goodbye to my old friend Darren Currin. The weight of his tragic loss was heavy upon me as I made the drive up. It was good to see some old friends. I wish we had been re-united by different circumstances. Some of these guys I had not seen in fifteen years. We get so busy in our lives and I regret not doing a better job keeping up with them. I hope to amend that in the years to come. I wish it didn't take a funeral for us not to take each other for granted. But we shared memories of Dar and had a nice time reminiscing. I wish Darren could have been there. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016


This morning I was proctoring an Advanced Placement exam when I received news that one of my oldest friends had died suddenly and unexpectedly. Darren Currin (pictured left), was one of the first friends I made in college. We served on the university Newspaper and Yearbook staffs together. We became fast friends and were roommates our sophomore year of college. We were in each others weddings. He died of a heart attack last night at age 42. He is survived by his wife and twelve-year-old daughter.

Today has been a shock. I sat in stunned silence as those students continued to work on their A.P. exams. I just couldn't believe the news. We hadn't seen each other in a long time. We always promised that we would get together the next time were in town. But stuff, stupid stuff, always came up. We stayed in contact via social media and texts. But I should have made an effort to see him and his wonderful family more often.

He was one of the nicest guys I ever met. Seriously. He would do anything for you. He let me stay two weeks on a couch at his apartment after I returned from the United States after a year abroad. He helped me move a couple of times including my last big move, my move to Texas nineteen years ago. He would do anything for you. I can't believe he's gone.

He was a huge Sci-Fi fan. He probably would think it was a bit of sad irony to leave earth on May the Fourth, Star Wars day. He was a great writer. He worked as a columnist at various news outlets including the Metro Journal and the Journal Record in Oklahoma City. He became a leading real estate journalist in the state of Oklahoma. He also was a spiritual man. He wrote content for a large church in the OKC area. He often copy-edited my stuff back in college. Man, there's so much I could write, so many stories. Our senior  year we were suite mates in an upperclassmen dorm and pulled off a lot off practical jokes together. He was a great accountability partner. He never judged. He was always there for you.

I am a bit numb this afternoon. Darren is gone far too soon. I just can't fathom him being gone. He was a great man and a great husband and father. I feel so awful for his wife and daughter. I don't mean this to be trite, I mean this with all honesty...this world would be a hell of a lot better place if we had more people with the compassionate heart of Darren Currin. Rest in peace my friend.