Archive for March 2022

Unequal Equals

March 27, 2022

How do I say this without offending someone? I probably can’t.

Back in the 70’s, women’s sports were getting some footing underneath them. My southern Ohio high school didn’t have any women’s sports teams until a few years after I had graduated from high school. Girls were shuttled into either the cheerleading squad or as one of the band’s majorettes. For many of them popularity was a determining factor on their election to one of those two groups, not athletic ability or talent in twirling a baton.

But then women’s sports emerged. There was still the sugar-coating of it, most noticeably in the differing of the school mascot’s name. The boys were Tigers, but the girls were Tiger Kittens, Dragons became Lady Dragons, Bulldogs became Lady Bulldogs. It was as if there was a need to differentiate between the ferociousness of the boys’ competitive natures and the girls’ femininity wrapped up in athletic gear.

Strides were made. Title 9 brought equality in the offering and administering of men’s and women’s athletic opportunities, although at the college level there remained great disparity in coaching salaries and funding.

In a November 21, 2021 article written for the YWCA Website by Sara Baker, the author revisits the purpose of Title 9:

The importance of Title IX is not simply how many girls are playing sports, however; it’s what they get out of those opportunities. Studies highlighted by the The New York Times reveal that girls’ participation in sports leads to increases in women’s education and employment rates and decreases in women’s obesity rates. Girls who play sports are less likely to experience teen pregnancy and depression and more likely to experience academic success, high self-esteem, and positive body image.

This summer Title 9 is now 50 years in the rearview mirror and there is the new twist to the plot that has left many people shaking their heads and others applauding its arrival. Transgender athletes are being welcomed into competitions that had previously been open only to an athlete’s gender by birth. Suddenly, the spotlight has redshifted from the women competing to the transgender athlete who is re-identifying as a female. There may have been more media coverage of the recent NCAA Winning and Diving Championships because of one transgender swimmer (although two competed) than there had ever been news reports coming out of the competition. The podium picture of the top finishers in the 500 yard freestyle gave visual support to the disparity.

And yet, supporters of transgender athletes see inclusion as a victory for equality. There have been several cases where the top women finishers in track and swimming events have gone to a lower step on the podium because of a transgender athlete who has displaced them.

The statement that gets spoken more and more is that everyone has the right to participate and compete. That is 100% true, but is an equal playing field being thrown out in the meantime. For instance, The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team often practices against a team of former high school boys’ basketball players who now attend U-Conn. It offers a high degree of competition for one of the premier women’s teams in the nation. There is an evident intentional attempt to help the U-Conn women practice against the best their college can offer, male players who are not quite at the level of the U-Conn men’s team members.

It is a confusing time that is still not clearly defined. People who don’t understand it are frequently labeled as not in touch in the times, biased, and old school conservatives. Bottom line, it’s simply hard to understand, especially when framed in the same picture as the benefits of Title 9 from 1972.

It’s Not About Winning

March 23, 2022

Recently, Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church in the Atlanta area, imparted a few words of wisdom to the Georgia State Legislature. In his address he urged the two political parties to react against attempts to make their governing a contest that consisted of winners and losers. In other words, to find the middle that seemed sensible and doable.

There is something about our makeup that seeks to conquer, to win, to get the upper hand. Last week I was one of the teachers in that unique setting that we call “parent-teacher conferences.” Both sides of the table, parents and teachers, would have benefited from hearing Andy Stanley’s words. That is, it’s not about being right, being victorious, putting it to those darned educators or those dramatic moms and dads. Rather, it’s bout working together to help the student be successful.

Teachers are guides, called to lay out a course that the student can navigate.

And yet, our culture, where winners are exalted and losers become the butts of the jokes, takes over the agenda for the meeting and nothing gets accomplished except deeper foxholes being dug. Weary educators get pelted with accusations of being uncaring tyrants. Parents get whispered about as being bullies and out-of-touch.

Coming from a family that has, or has had, a busload of educators, I can see the increasing demands that have been put on teachers and administrators. They are overwhelmed much of the time. On the path of instruction that is so often covered up with state regulations, testing requirements, and extra meetings, they are trying to find the way for their students to be proficient in the knowledge and skills they are to learn.

And there are parents who are trying to hold their families together, want the best for their kids, and are worried about what will happen in the next few years in their offspring’s education. Sometimes they see things coming out of schools that are just plain weird and need to be challenged.

Both sides can be demanding. Both sides can be blind to common sense. Both sides can become proficient at talking with their mouths open and their ears closed. There were a few conferences where I was empathetic for the parents. My teaching team was looking for solutions, trying to come up with some special kind of balm that might take some of the sting out. We felt for the struggling!

And then there was a couple of conferences where the boxing gloves were coming at us at the first bell. We ducked the hooks that sought to cripple our hope, an covered up when body jabs kept coming that were one question after another about our character, our teaching style, and why would we ever think that their child should be made to do what we were asking them to do?

Winner and losers, and yet no winners at all.

The Seasoning of Passion

March 13, 2022

“If you don’t love what you do, you won’t do it with much conviction or passion.” -Mia Hamm

Back in September when I tested positive for COVID-19, I lost much of my sense of smell. The fact that I could not smell the bacon that was being fried was a sign that not all things were as they should be. In the six months sense then some of my senses of taste and smell have come back, but don’t ask me to sniff the wine or smell two week old milk.

And then there’s the spice rack in our house!

I can smell the garlic and the cinnamon, faint hints of a few others, and not a hint of purpose in most of them. Spices and seasonings that don’t offer flavor are anomalies. It’s like tofu that just lays there and stares at you, or pasta without the sauce.

Passion is the seasoning of a purpose-filled life. This past week in the silence of a post-track practice school hallway I talked to one of our runners about the importance of passion. Passion is the flavor-filled spice that keeps us coming back for more. It’s that ingredient that is hard to define. When its there it’s obvious and when its not there it’s even more obvious.

As my friend, Ron McKinney, one who knows about the passion of guiding and equipping young learners and athletes, stood there with me, we talked to the young athlete about the things in life that energize us, keep us coming back for more.

In the educational arena, rising costs creating financial pinches are causing an alarming number of educators to consider leaving their profession. Last year’s educational schizophrenia overwhelmed many teachers. This year’s classrooms are often daily examples of a missing year of maturing for their students. Sixth-graders are more like fifth-graders and seventh-graders are more like sixth-graders.

Worries about students, concerns about making ends meet, increasing demands and responsibilities set upon them, all of those things in life that seek to zap the flavor and make teaching like a trip down the generic lane are tasteless clumps in the stew.

The passion for guiding young learners has been grieved by the circumstances of the times. Just as I wish my sense of smell would come back, many teachers are hoping the predicaments of the times will soon be drained through a colander and the adventure of equipping young minds with the tools of life will be what is left.

In the mean time, just as I tell the cook, “That sure was a great dinner!”, maybe we can find ways to say to our educators, “That was a great lesson today! Thanks for teaching us!” And maybe, just maybe, the nutmeg and paprika can be smelled again!

The Privilege of Exhausted Frustration

March 5, 2022

Fifty years ago this month in my high school senior year, I ran the Athens Marathon. Not Athens, Greece! Athens, Ohio, the hometown of Joe Burrows and the Ohio University Bobcats. It was wavering above and below the 32 degree mark the whole day, light flakes of snow erasing any thoughts of heat exhaustion. Halfway into the 26.2 mile run, I started wondering what in the world I was doing. The racecourse took the chilled runners out into the boonies, where the idea of quitting was abandoned because there was the necessity of running back to civilization. By the end of the race the exhaustion had poured over my body, but also a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, completing what seemed impossible.

This year school teachers are in the midst of a marathon education race. Many bystanders don’t understand the challenges of this journey. Just as the marathon runners disappeared into the outer limits of the Ohio countryside, teachers head into the boonies of their classrooms, often weary, emotionally, and mentally fatigued. By March they are about two-thirds of the way into the academic year distance run. It’s a run with endless hills to climb and potholes to beware of.

And the thing is, the thing that many people don’t realize, that folks outside the educational environment have failed to consider, is that this school year includes residue from the previous school year where students were in class, out of class, in school part of the time, at home and distracted, at home and playing video games as remote classes were going on, with students and not with students. The warts that were forming underneath the surface last year have come out black, blue, and a few other shades this school year.

Teachers are instructing in the midst of the classroom acne, unsightly and challenging. Discipline problems are more common than missing commas in a grammar lesson. Teaching young Johnny algebra is often greeted with attitude, and a request to get started on the day’s assignment is met with indifference.

Not all students are like that. Not even close to all them, but enough to where many teachers are hitting the same kind of wall that marathon runners talk about, a cloudy and confusing time where the thought of quitting is lurking in every class of every school day.

Teacher Appreciation Week that comes in May each year needs to be moved up to March…maybe February. A flood of appreciation notes is needed by our educators about right now to help them refocus on how valued they are. They need that to help them rediscover the privilege in the midst of exhausted frustration. When I say privilege I mean the impression and impact they have been, and are having, on their students.

Like yesterday, when two former students of the teacher on maternity leave, who I’m subbing for right now, stopped by after school to say hi to her. She is two to three years in their school past now, but still missed and thought of highly by them. Those actions of honoring former teachers mean so much.

And it’s also the privilege of being a part of a student’s request for advice. Staying the course when the final days of May seem an eternity away gives teacher the privilege of speaking truth into the lives of the young. For some of them, teachers may be the only adults who have stayed the course. Parents have split apart or given their attention to other people and pastimes. Classroom supervision may be the only semblance of order in the lives of some students.

So, teachers, when you’re wondering if it’s all worth it…when Johnny flips you off in the hallway…when Dorothy comes to school sorta half-dressed…when tears suddenly begin streaming from a student’s eyes when you ask him to solve the next problem…when Tim won’t be quiet in class…when Suzy just wants to stay in your classroom during lunch because it’s a quiet place…when missing assignments seem to be more prevalent than submissions…stay the course, stay the course, stay the course! There is a multitude who are cheering for you. You just might not know it until a few years later.