Friday, July 25, 2014

Community Spirit TBBoB Part III (Dear Katie V2 #23)

The community spirit -the very heart of the National game- was cut out when minor league players became the properties of major league clubs.

A newsclip from the Oregonian shown in the Battered Bastards of Baseball

Dear Katie,

A few years ago, a friend of mine worked as an adult volunteer at a Vacation Bible School at a church in the town that I teach.  Needing to stop by school that summer day, I took a ride over to the church to say "Hi".  I met up with my friend preparing some outdoor activity for the kids, when the horde of kids came out of the church building.  Quickly about 10 kids came running my way shrieking, "Mr. Cullen!".  They gave me "high fives".  They asked how I was doing.  Some of the kids were campers, others were high school counselors who I hadn't seen in several years.  My friend just laughed and said, "It's like you're a rock star."

This is the last in my series about the Netflix documentary I watched called The Battered Bastards of Baseball.  One point the series drove home was that professional baseball, a kids game played by adults, was no longer about the enjoyment of the fans, but had a corporate structure in order to max out profits.  No longer did minor league teams exist for to provide entertainment for their local area.  They existed to develop talent for the major league team with no care about the overall talent they were presenting on the field.  

Baseball has changed.  I am a huge Mets fans, but growing up I appreciated going to Yankee Stadium more than Shea.  Not because the Yankees were the better team at the time, but because at Shea, if you didn't have a field level ticket, you couldn't get past the gate to get signatures of the players before the game.  At Yankee Stadium, no barrier existed.  In fact, from the upper level seats our parents could afford, we would make our way down to empty field level seats to watch the game.  No one stopped us.  If the patrons of the seats showed up, we were kindly asked to move by ushers (often directing us to other seats).  It is no longer the case in Yankee Stadium.  Major League Baseball has made a statement, only money allows you to have access.  

The entertainment for the masses 
has come under the ownership of the elite 
where the Dollar is King.

At one time, a town's public school was the jewel of the town.  Look at some school in your area built before 1950.  You will notice decorative stone work, large majestic staircases, and sometimes quotes from famous people carved into walls.  The level of importance of the endeavor that took place within its walls and the pride a town took in its schools were clearly evident.  Today schools look like office buildings and bids for construction and repairs are won by the lowest bidder (by law).  The school becomes just another building and almost all decisions are made to keep things on the cheap.  

Does a culture who has money as its ultimate bottom line in decision making 
really have a culture? 

As your Aunt always says, "You have to be willing to spend the money to get quality."

And that leads me to a divisive subject, tenure.

Here is one benefit of tenure for the town, 
it helps enhance an atmosphere of stability for a town
 in a nation that has become more and more transient.

In history, I discuss the issue of succession and that governments throughout history have tried to maintain smooth transitions because stability leads to successful nations.  Tenure provides that stability as it keeps teachers put instead of moving from town to town for "career advancement".  I have taught many sets of siblings over the years and I have built a reputation.  Some teachers who have been there longer have taught two generations.  There is a degree of comfort for both students and parents when the school year begins.  They know what to expect.  I remember looking forward to having some of the teachers your Mom would come and tell me about.  I remember my principal and math teacher (they were married) living a few blocks away from me.  Your grandparents were reassured that we were in a safe place because there wasn't much turn over of staff from year to year.  And on a Saturday in May of every year, we would make our way to Washington School to the annual P.T.A. Fair and see several of our teachers roaming around and volunteering their time.  It was always a thrill when I played sports to see one or more of my teachers cheering me on.

The teachers weren't just public servants to my hometown, 
drawing a salary from local property taxes,
but they were vital parts of the community.

And as you become a teacher, do not become one who "sticks to the letter of the contract".  Even if you do not live in the town for which you work, you ARE a member of its community and your goal should be to improve that community.  And the community should recognize you as vital member in making it thrive.

Sadly, many today want to integrate corporate ideas and believe budget scalping are the solutions to improving public education.  I always find it amazing how the small, blue collar town I grew up in could build 3 majestic structures for their children's education about 100 years ago, and today, with a population that earns more in real dollars would not be willing to do duplicate that beauty.  How can we ask students to use their imagination and creativity when they all what they see around them is cold, clinical cubicles of buildings, hallways, and classrooms.

Here is a picture I took of your cousin several years ago in front of my old middle school.  You can see the original design of the original building but notice the large front entrance was covered with concrete and a mural painted over it (when your mother and I attended, there was no mural).  In order to gain some bathrooms on each floor, they rid the building of the grand staircase that beckoned students to come learn.  Instead of a separate gym and auditorium they combined the two with a rubberized floor that was awful for basketball and a rectangular room without stationary seats that was awful for acoustics and site lines for the stage.  It wasn't like there wasn't enough land to build, these renovations were just the cheapest option.  That was almost 40 years ago.  In the past 10 years, they built another school where an older one once stood.  You can see, it is brick like the old building without the decorative stonework (new building to the right)

I hear there are a lot of convenience stores chains and restaurant chains crowding downtown now.

As a student of history, I can say what a culture values, or not, speaks volumes about who they are.

To Community Spirit!

Uncle Kevin

PS I LOVED the town I grew up in, and only use it based on the richness of my experiences, not to single them out in some sort of vendetta, but provide a non-theoretical example of a problem I believe is endemic in our nation today

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Maverick's Secret TBBofB Part II (Dear Katie V2 #21)

' “What is…What is Bing doing?”

“Well, he’s having fun”, 

and that was the secret of the Mavs.'

-Lou Russell, wife of Bing Russell, owner of the Portland Mavericks
speaking with the son of a L.A. Dodgers executive 
as Bing and the team took a victory lap around the stadium

Dear Katie,

Continuing on with my thoughts about the documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, today I will share possibly the most important attribute in gaining a student's attention.  If you fail to exhibit this, I can assure you that your ability to get your students to improve will be hindered without a doubt.

The Portland Mavericks had FUN.  Yes, they were dedicated to baseball and winning, but they realized if they loved the game, it should be fun. Bing Russell, the owner, realized baseball shouldn't be operated like a business, or as if the player has joined the army.  The Mavericks had a player named Joe Garza, who simply became known under one name, Jogarza.  Whenever the Mavericks would be closing in on winning all the games in a series against a team (known as a sweep) he would run around the stadium inciting the fans by carrying a broom.  He would sweep home plate with the broom.  He would warm up with the broom.  Eventually, the fans would bring brooms with them on games that a Maverick victory would mean a sweep. 

Having fun doesn't mean accepting less than people's best.  Everyone on that team played hard.  Every one on that team wanted to win.  I believe that their delight in playing the game as displayed in their antics attributed to their success.

What does this mean for your classroom?  

It means you have to demonstrate to your students
that you enjoy what you are teaching them. 

You have to demonstrate for your students your subject is FUN!

Years ago I taught an Adult Sunday School class on Church History.  A PhD scientist who attended my class approached me one day and said, "You look like you really enjoy each topic you teach, I think that's what makes each class interesting."

(I figure due to his intelligence and the degree he obtained, he must have sat in on MANY lectures and had a good understanding what made one interesting and not)

At Back to School night I discuss some of the games and activities in class.  Usually I hear parents say, "sounds like fun", and often I reply, "I don't do this because your kids find it fun, I do it because I find it fun."

And I do.  I have fun watching kids get excited in playing a review game.  I have fun watching a group's unique solution to a problem in a simulation I am running.  I have fun seeing the creativity of my students through a project.

Fun is contagious, and there is nothing wrong with having it in the classroom.  If you love teaching, if your love the subject you teach, and love the kids in your classroom, how can you not display you are having fun.

And having fun does not mean sacrificing quality.  Your job is to reach kids, to get them to think.  Why do so many teachers believe that can only happen in a clinical, industrial style setting of seats and rows where the student only has a chance to participate in the class when asked?

At the end of each year, I ask students to share a thought to prepare the next year's students for my class.  Every year, this is a typical quote I get:

"Be prepared to have FUN, but don't think there isn't any work to do
or that you won't learn anything.  You will just have fun doing it."

And when your classroom gains a reputation for being fun, it will not just pull the students who are more academically inclined, but also the ones who may struggle in other classes.

When the Maverick baseball team did victory laps with their brooms held high, they weren't attracting the die hard baseball fans, they would have come out to watch no matter what.  They pulled in the casual fan who wanted in on the fun.

Design your class so you pull in the casual student to get in on the fun!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Battered B@$tard in the Classroom Part I (Dear Katie V2 #20)

We must be what we're going to be
And what we have to be is free

The Monkees For Pete's Sake

Dear Katie,

Last night I watched a Netflix documentary about the lone independent baseball team in Portland that was created by the actor Kurt Russell's father, Bing in the 1970's, called The Battered Bastards of Baseball.  At that time, Major League Baseball had created a farm system, where every minor league team had a contract with a major league club to help develop young talent.  The Portland Mavericks, who the show was about, was an independent team, that worked with no other major league team.  Since they had no access to the top prospects, the Mavericks were filled with guys who were passed over by the Major League scouts or others who just wanted to play baseball professionally, even if the pay wasn't that good.  And the Mavericks were successful both on the field, and in bringing the fans of Portland to the ballpark.

Due to this success, MLB wanted to re-establish a minor league team in Portland that was affiliated with a major league club, ending the life of the Portland Mavericks.  Of course, I watched it for the love of the game, but as with all things in baseball, it had something to teach you about life.  The Mavericks represented that people can be successful and have fun in the process.  They represented the idea that people with a common goal can achieve it by allowing each player to express their individuality.

Conformity, like cogs in the machine, will get the job done, but at what cost?  
Typically that cost is the loss of the love of the endeavor.  

The love of the game was something the Maverick players, owners, and fans did not lose.  The owner, Bing Russell, allowed his players to grow their hair long, keep facial hair, act goofy, basically have fun.  They all didn't have to have their stirrups showing, wear their hat in the same way, or be clean shaven.  He allowed them to be themselves because he knew they shared one common trait in common with him, they wanted to WIN.  The "corporate" look was universal among major league baseball clubs and they prepared their young players for the uniformity in the minor leagues.

An interesting fact is one of the most successful Major League teams of the era, 
the Oakland A's, operated under the same respect of the individuality of the player

When you get your first job, I hope that you will be led by administrators like I have had the pleasure to work with over the past 20+ years.  My biggest fear teaching at a Christian school (which was my first job) was a rigidity of what was expected in the classroom in terms of management, delivery of content, even decor.  Outside of a few things (like being asked to remove my Jolt Cola poster), I was given great freedom in the classroom, because it still produced the results that were expected.  At the last faculty meeting of the year, the principal typically would express thanks to the people who were leaving the school.  When I left, he began his goodbye with the line "The next faculty member we are saying goodbye to, well, let's just say he marches to the beat of his own drummer."

The reason I could march to my own tune is because he encouraged it.  

At my present position in a public school, my administration has the same attitude.  Even to the area of dress.  One day about 10 years ago, I needed to wear a windbreaker in the classroom because I hadn't noticed a moth had eaten through my sweater.  I went up to my assistant principal to explain what happened and apologize, after he was done laughing, he said (paraphrase), "What you wear is not a high priority for us (the principal and him).  What is more important is that your kids are learning.".

I don't have to wear a sports jacket or suit.  I typically wear jeans and sneakers to class.  The way I see it, I am not trying to gain the focus of a group of investors for a multi-million dollar deal, I am trying to gain the attention of 12 year olds, and to be honest, I never feel comfortable in a suit.  If dressing up is what you are comfortable doing, then by all means do it.  Dressing for success does not always mean dressing "Sunday Best".

When your administrators do not micromanage you on the little things, 
they display trust.  

And when you as a teacher know your administrators trust you, you will feel free to go beyond what is expected.  You begin to innovate and discover wonderful new techniques to draw your students into the world of higher level thinking.  And it doesn't just help your students grow intellectually, it heaps praise upon your administration for their leadership.  Sadly, administrators who micromanage every decision a teacher makes will get what they expect completed, but that is all, nothing more.

A poor leader believes that he/she has to instruct each person under their charge 
in every step of the process, because 
they falsely believe telling people what to do IS the mark of leadership.

A great leader articulates the big picture and then motivates & guides each individual, 
allowing them freedom and trusting they will use it wisely.

My hope for you is that you have the opportunity to work for the Bing Russell types, who unleashes your individuality because he knows you and he share a common goal,  like I have had the pleasure to work under and with.

Uncle Kevin