relationships

Contrary to Sean Combs’ claim that “it’s all about the Benjamins,” I would argue that life is all about relationships. As teachers, we have relationships with lots of people in our daily school lives, none more important than with our students. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the bulk of my success as a teacher is due to the meaningful and lasting relationships I have fostered with my students, certainly much more so than any curriculum I may have imparted to them during our shared time together.

While I only worked as a new teacher mentor for a single year, the two most important pieces of advice I offered those who were just beginning in the classroom–whether fresh out of college or starting a second career–was: 1) be your most authentic self, as kids–especially high school students–recognize phoniness better than most adults; 2) get to really know your students as individual human beings. By taking a genuine interest in them, their journeys up to that point in life, and where they’re headed based on their goals and aspirations, teachers can forge a strong, important bond with that child. As I told my mentees, the rest will always come with time and work itself out provided that they put those two pieces of advice into practice.

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days because of two messages I received almost back to back. Over the years, I have received many nice notes, letters, cards, and emails expressing gratitude for our relationship. And what I’ve learned in the first 15 years in the classroom is that we never know how our words and actions will resonate with our students, which is why I always do my utmost to be an exemplar of a life well lived. I was deeply honored and grateful, then, to receive this short essay on leadership from a graduate of last year’s class who is currently at the United States Naval Academy. While she could have written about virtually anyone and how that person exemplifies leadership, she chose me. Her words were truly humbling:

In my junior year of high school, I was required to take a course known as the Theory of Knowledge. This class was a introspective curriculum which mainly focused on self-reflection and relies heavily on the teacher’s interpretation and dedication to the class. It is in this class that I saw one of the purest forms of leadership within the teacher. Mr H. was new to the program and thus took on a large amount of responsibility in order to enable our success.

I would argue that the majority of my enjoyment within the class stemmed from Mr. H’s ability to spark an intense curiosity and passion within all of his students. It was not through overbearing demands, but rather a nurturing of individual abilities. One of the most important traits that I learned through H was to listen, even when you didn’t always know how to respond. Compassion never fails. The ability to sympathize and lend an ear can often be more powerful than one’s own words. As an especially exasperated high school student, H’s ability to listen to the complaints of fifty teenagers and still make everyone feel like an individual proved unique.

Besides listening, a good leader understands when intervening is necessary. Obviously, the public school system does not stand as the pinnacle of premier education. Unlike most people who just accepted the flaws of a large structure, Mr. H continued to seek new ways to reform and better the environment he was in. From interviewing other teachers on a podcast, to speaking his grievances at school board meetings, H understood the need to take a stand. This determination to better his community at a large scale and still treat people as individuals was contagious. Most often leadership is done first through example.

At the purest form H never stopped showing how much he cared. How much he cared about people, knowledge, work, and life. These traits have greatly impacted how I approach situations, as well as my interactions with others. Through him I saw someone devote themselves to others, which in the end, defines leadership.

Then, only a day later, another former student from my time at Durant tagged me on Twitter to tell me the following:

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Another random, timely gift from the universe

I responded to him to thank him for his kind words as well as to share that I do indeed remember him. By my rough estimation, I have taught over 3,000 students at this point in my career. I may not be able to remember all of their names (especially those that were from more than a decade ago), but I often recognize their faces despite the years that have passed. Regardless, these small blessings are one of the many, many reasons I love being a teacher.

My wife and I do not have children, and that is a big reason why we truly love our students as if they were our own kids. I believe that love infuses our classroom and the interactions we have with all students, which is why I consider the relationships we build with them so critical for their future success. Being a teacher is an important job, but being good toward other human beings who are sharing this sojourn with us through this space in time, who have been given the same gift of life that has been bestowed upon each of us, is the pinnacle of what it means to teach. Regardless of a student’s grade average or mastery of content, it’s how we treat them with an inherent dignity that will forever resonate with them. As Maya Angelou famously said, “…people will forget what you’ve said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget the way you made them feel.”

Let’s ensure that our students feel loved.

P.S. – And, as always, if you are one of my current or former students reading this, thank you for being a part of my life. All of you mean the world to me.

Love,

– H.

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SCHS IB Class of 2019 surprised me on my birthday last August by having me come down to the cafeteria before bursting into screams and singing Happy Birthday, none of which would have happened had I not loved these students.

 

Suit-Up

It would only be a matter of time before one of the school districts in Florida decided to file a lawsuit against HB7069, and Broward County was officially the first to do so last week.

Who’s next?

All districts across the state should join this suit for multiple reasons; here are just a few:

  • It violates the Florida Constitution, first and foremost. As noted during WEDU’s “Florida This Week” that aired last Friday (and certainly in numerous print publications over the last several weeks), bills that are passed by the Legislature should be a single subject bill. “Education” is far too broad, and each bill should deal with one aspect of policy only.
  • It undermines local control/usurps the autonomy of the school districts in a multitude of ways, the most brazen of which is the demand for traditional public schools to share their capital outlay revenues from the millage rates collected locally.
  • It interferes with Federal law regarding Title I spending by dictating those monies go directly to the Title I schools rather than the school district itself. In the past, the leaders of each district could decide how to distribute the Title I money for wraparound service programs, teacher salary-based incentives, etc; under the new law, the districts have been stripped of their administrative rights.
  • It is inequitable in its demands placed on traditional public schools. For instance, parents across the entire Sunshine State have been advocating for recess for the last several years and this bill mandates that all schools implement recess beginning next year…unless it’s a charter school.

The list could go on, but let’s not belabor the point: HB7069 is just one more way the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature dictates what happens in our communities at the local level.

And this has me perplexed for several reasons. Isn’t “local control is the best form of governance” the mantra of all card-carrying conservatives? Isn’t it considered anathema by conservatives to also “pick winners and losers”? By flushing charter schools with cash while offering nothing but unfunded mandates to traditional public schools, the Legislature has done just that. What about “corporate welfare” that the Republicans claim to despise? How does that square with the conservatism? It doesn’t. Frankly, none of the things this bill has wrought conforms to conservative ideals.

But you know who the real loser is in this legislation? Our students all across this state. The way we pit traditional public schools against charter schools gets us no where. It’s time for the Legislature do something useful such as closing the loophole that for-profit charter companies exploit year after year. It’s time for the Legislature to ensure that both traditional and charter schools are held to the same accountability standards. It’s time for there to be a substantial investment in education combined with an equitable distribution of funds to all schools.

But before the Legislature can get back to work, let’s have every school district band together to join this suit and send a message.

 

Knowledge Illusion Cover
Think you “know” things? Think again.

Socrates once famously quipped, “I know nothing.” It is for this self-effacing statement that the Oracle at Delphi pronounced him the wisest person in all of Athens.

And the older I get, the more I comprehend why he said such things.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I am a huge nerd and a voracious reader. While I don’t foresee myself writing book reviews of everything I read, I will occasionally pass along something that I think could benefit everyone. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach is one of those books.

My current teaching assignment, Theory of Knowledge, is the capstone course for the International Baccalaureate program, and I LOVE teaching the class. It is primarily driven by reflection and dialogue, and I get to work with bright and inquisitive young minds who share a love of learning. Though the curriculum delves into various Areas of Knowledge (e.g. Natural Sciences, Mathematics, History, Ethics, etc) and how they interact with Ways of Knowing (e.g. Sense Perception, Reason, Language, Emotion, etc), it is essentially a high-level critical thinking course that examines the nature of knowledge, what knowledge is as a human construct, and how knowledge has changed over time. Perhaps most importantly, it tasks the learner with a central question around which the entire course revolves: how do you know?

This excellent little book, then, is effectively a primer on the subject matter dealt with in a course such as Theory of Knowledge. In the opening pages, the authors ask a simple question: how does a toilet work? They use this as an example of how the vast majority of what we think we know actually exists outside of our own heads and that, ultimately, knowledge is communal in nature (hence the subtitle). Much of the rest of the book details how our brains were never really designed to “know” much, and how that false sense of “knowing”–mostly predicated on an outmoded view of the brain that essentially sees it as a hard drive that stores information and carries out instructions–gets us into all sorts of trouble in our daily lives.

But why read it? Because it gives both pause and perspective. We unfortunately live in a highly polarized political climate, and if we all take a deep breath and realize that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do, perhaps we can have honest conversations with one another. Perhaps we can ask better questions rather than simply make assertions based on scant evidence. Perhaps we’ll be actually willing to listen to the other person’s positions. Perhaps we’ll actually have opinions that can be augmented (GASP!) when new information is presented. Perhaps we’ll have less hubris and more humility, something that all our pundits and politicians could certainly use.

I’ll be 42 soon. I don’t plan on imbibing hemlock at any point in the foreseeable future. But with each passing day I understand Socrates’ pithy statement more and more…

Hawking Quote

P.S. – You can read a more in-depth review here or you can purchase the book here.

 

 

 

VAM Formula
The VAM Formula

If you’re a teacher in Florida, you know all about VAM. Back in 2009, teacher accountability became all the rage, and by the legislative session in the spring of 2010 members of both the House and Senate were putting forth various bills to measure teacher effectiveness. SB6 sponsored by Senator John Thrasher was the first to emerge fully formed, and it was the first that I am aware of to propose the use of VAM, or the “Value Added Model.”

I am a teacher, not a widget. I don’t come off an assembly line, and neither do my students or their learning gains. We are human beings, so I immediately took umbrage with a term we often associate with products we buy, sell, and consume. I was so upset, in fact, that I wrote a letter to the editor of the now defunct Tampa Tribune, and it was featured on the front page of the Opinion section that Sunday. If you’d like to read it, click here, as the words I wrote are still relevant today.

Even though HB7069 is a train wreck…er, train bill, one of the *VERY FEW* good pieces of the legislation is that school districts can now opt out of using VAM as part of the teacher evaluation process. Though it unfortunately takes the Florida Legislature years to realize they’ve implemented bad policy, I’ll give them credit for finally acknowledging it, even if they only did so tacitly by burying something like this in a giant bill.

If you read the post on Facebook that took you to Jeff Solochek’s piece about VAM being eliminated in Citrus County, you know that one of the School Board members, Thomas Kennedy, advocated for its removal (thank you, sir!). Perhaps most importantly, Solochek notes that “other districts are also preparing similar moves.” I sure hope that means here in Hillsborough County Public Schools.

I’ve always thought VAM was suspect for lots of reasons, the least of which was the dismissive way teachers in our district were told by top brass that “you’d need a PhD in Mathematics to understand it.” Nothing like opaque and vague formulas to determine your worth as a teacher, I guess.

The truth is, I never liked VAM for one simple reason that every teacher will agree upon: teaching is more art than science. It’s more how you connect with kids and the relationships you build with them, not how well they do on a standardized test. When you add in the fact that VAM is inequitable in its application (is it fair to judge a P.E. Coach by the school’s overall reading scores?) and that many kids pencil-whip tests because they know the curves are so ridiculously generous, what does that number really even mean?

Nothing.

VAM has never been anything but a charade that has caused consternation for teachers everywhere throughout the state of Florida. Let’s lobby our individual districts to get rid of this mathematical chicanery for good.

VAM Formula Fixed
Here’s how the VAM formula should really read

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Teacher Voice Needs Your Help!

If you are reading this, there’s a good chance you are an advocate for high-quality public education. I’m looking for anyone who wants to address the challenges facing education here in Florida. There are many of them, and they all seem to start in Tallahassee.

Over the last 19 years I’ve lived here and the last 14 I’ve taught in Hillsborough County Public Schools, I’ve been a mute witness to the constant assault that has been waged against public education by legislators in the capitol. While many of these elected officials have good intentions, the motives of the few who are driving the legislation that affects hundreds of thousands of teachers and millions of students is questionable to say the least.

If you are a teacher, administrator, parent, proud former student of the public education system here in this state, or any other stakeholder who has a vested interest in seeing all children in Florida receive a great education, please follow the blog or like the Facebook page to keep up with this project.

But I also need others to write and join me for a podcast. Though I try to be as non-partisan as possible when it comes to discussing these issues (as the previous post pointed out), my passion can get the better of me at times. By having others who are willing to write posts of up to 500 words, I hope that this project will become incredibly diverse and highly collaborative.

Does this sound like you? If so, please contact me. I can be reached via the Facebook page or you can find me on Twitter @1TeacherVoice, or you can send me an old-fashioned email at 1teachervoice@gmail.com

Looking forward to our future collaboration!

Ryan

P.S. – Feel free to pitch ideas for posts about any topic related to education–even something as simple as cool projects you’ve done or will do in your classroom with the kids!

 

Politicization

I’m starting to think I’m a dying breed: a centrist. As best I can, I try to understand multiple perspectives and realize that the truth is far more complex than I can imagine and must exist somewhere in the middle between extremes that we’re given in the 21st century. There are lots of reasons for why political discourse has become so entrenched in particular worldviews and many people have stopped thinking for themselves and are comfortable simply parroting whatever they are told, but I’m not here to talk about those reasons.

What I am here to talk about today is the side effects of politicization, specifically the politicization of education over the last three decades or so. Here in Florida, it seems as if it is endless war waged between two sides. But my guess is that it’s happening in other states as well. And in the midst of this war of words between competing ideologies the only real collateral damage is what matters most: our kids and our future.

I read a great op-ed the other day entitled “I’m O.K. – You’re Pure Evil” that gets to the heart of this problem. We’re so unwilling to sit down and simply talk to one another that we cannot solve the challenges we face together. What’s worse is that many (if not most) of these issues only seem intractable but in reality are not. This unnecessary politicization of a precious public good–education–has only brought acrimony to both sides, but in our own way both sides probably want what’s best for our kids and our future.

How can we reconcile this issue? I believe it begins with something as simple as this acknowledgement: education has become highly and unnecessarily politicized. Let’s all take a step back and realize that we all want what’s best for children so they can grow up to be thoughtful, caring, and engaged citizens who will help their families, friends, and neighbors prosper.

Brinksmanship is no way to go about crafting educational policy or budgets, yet this is where we are in 2017 in the state of Florida. It has created a number of challenges, but I believe any and all of them can be solved if we’re all willing to sit down at a table and discuss our perspectives in a respectful manner. We might not all agree, but talking to one another is a great place to start.

My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am a veteran public school teacher working in Tampa, Florida. In my 19 years of living here–and teaching for the last 14 of them–I’ve seen a great deal of change to the public education system here in our state, some of it good, a lot of it not so much. My goal for this blog and associated podcast is to write and talk about the issues with education stakeholders of all kinds: teachers, parents, local and state legislators…anyone who has something to contribute. I am firm believer in the power of dialogue to foster change, which is why I need your help.

If you are reading this, my guess is that you’re interested in education. Like me, you are  passionate about the issues and pay attention to what is happening locally and across the Sunshine State. Ideally, I want this blog and podcast to be a diverse and collaborative project that will feature guest writers as well as people who want to sit down and talk about important challenges currently facing education.

 

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Got an idea you’d like to discuss? Contact me!

Are you interested? If so, stay tuned. I have a lot of ideas and am still putting together other social media outlets to help spread the word and build an audience. If you have suggestions, please contact me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com or through one of the various social media connections.

Thanks!

-Ryan