Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Time slips three times

I.
I'm out for dinner Sunday with an out-of-town friend I haven't seen in years. "Hey, Mr. Rozinsky," a voice says from next to our table. It belongs to a fellow diner who also happens to be a student I taught in sixth grade, now well into his college education.

II.
Monday morning, I'm wiping down classroom desks to remove lingering dry-erase residue. I flash back to when I was in sixth grade, and my math teacher would so obsessively disinfect her space that it forever reeked of Lysol.

III.
After desk duty, I'm moonlighting as a doorstop outside my classroom when an eight grader I taught two years ago walks past on his way to first period. In tones of mock incredulity, he's saying to another student, "This is what happens when I care about something: I actually put something into it." Sounds about right, based on how I remember him.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A tale of two parsnips

My inner word-imp wants to start today's botanical blog with: It was the best of thymes, it was the worst of thymes. Instead, let's start with a picture:
Both parsnips in this paltry still-life arrived in my possession a week apart, the fruits (??) of the last harvests from a six-month Community Supported Agriculture share -- a.k.a. CSA. The one on the top is more than eight days out of the ground; the one on the bottom, just two. Of greater importance, the bottom one had be to hustled to safety ahead of a forecast freeze, plus what totaled at least six inches of snow. I presume that meant all farmhands on deck, getting veggies from the earth before it started turning solid under the season's first white blanket. The harvesting push left less labor for getting the crop clean; hence, one parsnip dirtier than the other.

My take-away: When we inevitably face circumstances beyond our control, doing the best we can will need to be good enough.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sausage party

American poet John Godfrey Saxe -- not Otto von Bismark -- deserves credit for this observation comparing legislating with charcuterie: “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”

I thought of these well-traveled words this past weekend. On the day that the U.S Senate confirmed Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court, I stood in a friend's backyard ready to make bratwurst. (For the record, the concurrent scheduling of these events was coincidental, rather than intentional political commentary.)

After milling about and ice breaking among friends of friends who didn't all know each other, we were summoned to action by our host. My first job landed me on the mixing station where I plunged my well-washed hands -- soaped and rinsed all the way up to the elbows -- into a huge plastic tub of ground pork, eggs, dry milk, and secret spices. I squished those ingredients into a homogeneous mixture, and then I cleaned my hands again, thoroughly. (Having stashed my filigreed wedding ring in my jeans pocket before getting to work proved to be an inspired move.)

On to the manufacturing station next. I teamed with four other volunteers to form an assembly line. One of us took responsibility for gathering softballs of raw meat to thwack into a metal cylinder. (I learned that the 'thwack' was essential in knocking air pockets out of the meat since those could compromise effective loading.) Once the cylinder had been fitted into the stuffing apparatus and the casing gently twisted onto the extruder (my job), the slow methodical cranking could begin. This soon forced ground meat uniformly into the casing, which I coaxed and fed forward to the next two teammates -- one partner using a pin to prick holes in lingering bubbles, saving us from unsightly explosions once on the grill; the other partner working quickly to twirl the sausage snake into equivalent links. This process ran for about two hours, yielding a couple hundred tube-steaks.

I'm glad I got to see (and join in) this sausage being made as I actually gained more respect for the process. My feelings about our legislators, in comparison, may be for the (um) wurst.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Two reactions and a postscript

I was on an airplane last week when I noticed, just above my appropriately upright and locked tray table, a small sticker. The sticker sat below a vertical plastic slot in the seat-back in front of me where rested an in-flight magazine (one of its crossword puzzles half done), along with two pamphlets -- one pushing snacks for purchase and a credit card invitation; the other offering safety information for the aircraft in which I sat. For the record, there was also one air-sickness bag, unused. I now noticed one sticker on every seat-back within view. Each said, "Literature only."

My first reaction was to scoff: "Literature?" I thought haughtily. "Hardly."

I'm prouder of my next reflection. "Literature? Why shouldn't it be? The more avid and aspiring readers alike get comfortable with literature as the name for texts that might pull their attention for serious or frivolous reasons, emergencies or diversions, or just by being at hand, the better. Literature need not exist just in its distant, daunting capital L iteration that stultifies too many students in schools. Before the plane even reached its cruising altitude, I had chosen to welcome these connotation complications.

P.S. Apology. Again, William Carlos Williams

I have finished
the crossword
that was in
the seat-back

and which
you were probably
anticipating
yourself

Forgive me
it was diverting
squares white
and now filled

Monday, September 24, 2018

Lunch-duty ditty

To the tune of Van Halen's "Jump"

We head out
A football zings past our crowns
We've got it tough
With tweens running all around
And we know, kids, just how you feel
We've got to roll with the punches until it's dismissal

Ah, can't you see us standin' here
We've got our mouths busy scarfin' protein
Amid this rambunctious scene
Marked by shaky hygiene

Ah
It's time to duck (duck)
Safest to duck
Go ahead an' duck (duck)
Go ahead and duck

Ow oh
Hey you
Who threw that?
Kid, what's your game?
You say you don't know
You won't know until you can aim

So can't ya see us standing here
We've got our mouths sipping cold, old caffeine
Amid this rambunctious scene
So far from being serene

Ah
It's time to duck (duck)
Safest to duck
Go ahead an' duck (duck)
Go ahead and duck...


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Five ways of looking at MTSS

MTSS stands for multi-tiered system of supports, and it's especially on my mind after Monday's in-service sessions aimed at professional learning. With apologies to poet Wallace Stevens who managed 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, I've manage less than half that. However, thanks to the quotable advice of writer Joan Didion -- who said, "I write to entirely find out what I'm thinking" -- I'm going to consider those ways in this blog.

1. Change is abundant where I teach: new schedule, new communication tools fronted by a new website, and what feel like new ways to navigate MTSS. This year, this makes me feel like a camel being heaped with straw. Rather than one reed at a time, the loading is happening by the bale.

2. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and the context for MTSS change is unsettling. Current colleagues I know and respect have already begun crunching practical numbers in their heads and on backs of handouts to estimate what they predict it will take to execute MTSS plans, as we've heard them so far. These numbers feel neither manageable, nor sustainable, given currently available resources. These colleagues reached similar conclusions when analyzing the proposal to change our school schedule from seven periods to eight, and immediate hindsight seems to be proving them right.

3. This matrix showing a calculus of complex change sums up the current dynamics pointedly:


Based on what I heard Monday, I believe we need more of the four elements that follow (and bolster) vision; the sooner, the better, to alleviate the confusion, anxiety, resistance, frustration, and false starts experienced with only vision to guide us at this point.

4. Colorado's State Department of Education defines MTSS this way: "a prevention-based framework of team-driven data-based problem solving for improving the outcomes of every student through family, school, and community partnering and a layered continuum of evidence-based practices applied at the classroom, school, district, region, and state level." Meanwhile, a former colleague who shall remain anonymous commented from afar, "’I'm pretty sure MTSS isn’t real. As far as I can tell, every principal in the country is 'going to be implementing it soon, but don’t worry, it’s not actually that different from what we’re already doing.' "

5. A line from a book I've been rereading, Siddhartha, also sticks with me from Monday: "[Y]ou know that gentleness is stronger than severity, that water is stronger than rock, that love is stronger than force." (119-20)

So what am I thinking? I think I'll try flowing with change via curiosity; I can wonder about it, hopefully as I move closer to accepting it. This questioning stance can help me understand where colleagues are coming from, to test their ideas politely and in the process help strengthen or refine them. I can share the Ambrose infographic with school leaders to see how their view of MTSS implementation jibes with these findings and what we might learn usefully from the comparison. I can probe the state's vague verbiage to determine what it might mean for students at the school where I teach; I can also smile at the lived truth resonating through my former colleague's words. Lastly for now, I can speculate how MTSS might differ if one of the S's stood for Siddhartha.

I can also ask educators who read this blog what MTSS-related wins you're willing to share that I can relay to my team. Thanks for any insights or inspiration you can offer...

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Spell Czech

Having finished responding this weekend to students' first formal batch of writing, I noticed one unexpectedly frequent feedback comment popping up: "Commonly confused word." For these accomplished eighth-grade writers, my goal was to tap into a phrase they'd likely heard earlier in their middle-school careers in reference to homonyms. I wanted students to look twice at words I'd spotlighted this way in their Google Documents, tilt their heads questioningly, and realize they had the right sounding term, but not yet spelled accurately for the context. (If I'm being honest, I probably did an actual or internal eye roll -- Why can't they see? -- each time I felt compelled to add this comment.)

Cut to class time when a student flagged me down: "Mr. Rozinsky, check this out." She proceeded to type this sentence, "I saw you exit your screen..." By this point, her eyes were on me as Google's auto correct swapped the possessive 'your' for the contraction 'you're.' "It's not my fault," she said. "I'm trying to do the right thing, but Google won't let me."

"Time for us to be smarter than this Chromebook," I said gamely -- or wished I'd said. We browsed the word processor's Tools menu, but initially came up empty. We ran a few quick help searches, eventually finding what we needed; turns out it was in the Google Documents' Tools menu, under Preferences... a long list of automatic substitutions, including several commonly confused words. I advised the student to disable the mindless your/you're correction in favor of her brain's savvier system. I left her to prune the rest of these not-so-smart settings as she saw fit.

Score one, for now, for actual over artificial intelligence.