Some call me "Flem"

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B.S.Ed | M.Ed | Passionate | Compassionate | Purpose-driven | Public school teacher!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

It IS in The Cards!!

Every school year I take the time and have my students write down what it is they desire to be “when they grow up”. Noted on index cards, I’ve also asked them to autograph and date the card. “Yes, ladies and gents, I want your autographs now! You will not grow up and do great things and deny you ever knew me!” lol I also ask them address it to me, a thought that hit me a couple of years into the tradition.

This year was no different and was something I was really looking forward to doing!

Signing of the index cards is preceded by a very real talk about hard work, goals in school and life, the ways of society, others’ thoughts about them, and my speaking words of life and empowerment into their lives, letting them know they are pearls of great price or another ‘symbolistic’/metaphoric ‘thingy’ I may use at the time!! These “chats” (as one former student called them) happen all throughout the year and at random times.

Those cards have become a “Mr. Flemming staple”. When old students come to visit, when I go to their games, graduations, or other events, “the cards” undoubtedly come up! “I still got ya cards!” That, followed by, “I’m tryna be at graduation to help you celebrate!”

Sometimes going back to the cards becomes emotional. Last school year, two former students lost their lives tragically. Going back to their cards, looking at what it was they wanted to be and do was all too surreal.

Cut off.
Too soon.
I put their cards on my classroom door last year, in some small hoping to honor their memory and dreams. One would have graduated this coming June. {sigh}

On the complete opposite end of the pendulum of emotions, pure joy!

Two such emotional moments came when I attended the class of 2016’s graduation ceremony to help these young men and women celebrate!! Big ups to that great kid who was in room 103 in 6th grade for making sure I was able to come! For the first time, the cards accompanied me to the ceremony. Catching up with as many of my former students as I could, we reminisced, albeit briefly, over what they wrote six years prior. Many snapped pics of what they once wrote, some laughed at what they wanted to be, many still wanted to be it and others paused…
One graduate and former student softly said to me, “Thanks Mr. Flemming. That really means a lot.” Another started getting choked up as I showed him his card and as we hugged. His words, “I did it Mr. Flemming, I did it.” (Messed me all the way up when I got back to the car and starting to ‘allergy’ up my eyes even now)

We never know who is sitting in our classrooms. The next {insert à positive occupation/profession/position here} is that kid sitting right by your desk…or up in the front…or by the door…maybe even the window…or the one whose home life becomes dinner time banter over broccoli and meatloaf. *Hmph*

I jokingly tell each group of students that when they reach their goals and make it big and make tons and tons of money to come back and break me off some! (Sorta, kinda almost kinda not joking about that one lol).

As we are in this season of fresh starts and new beginnings, let’s recommit ourselves to the noblest profession on the face of the planet, the profession that makes all other professions possible, the journey of teaching and learning with our students!! Speak life! And more than just speaking it, act on it!!

Happy New Year!!
Let's go! Success is my only option!!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Why I'm Not Going to Work on August 31st!

In mid-July the school district, by way of administrators, sent an email to school employees informing us that September 1st and 2nd (the first two official days back for staff) would be days for professional development (PD) for new curriculum materials. Oh, and by the way, those two days of PD are off site. We’re not reporting to our home base, to our regular school buildings.

That left one day, Tuesday, September 6th, for teachers to prepare our classrooms for the new school year, and no time to meet with our building principals and assistant principals about rosters, school year protocols, opening day events, etc.

The email reads in part:

We know that school staffs need time to conduct school-based professional development, goal setting and team building.  Therefore, we are providing an optional professional development day on 
August 31st for principals to work with their school-based staff at their local school sites. School-based staff will be paid at their daily rate.  Although we hope that those who need this time will take advantage of the opportunity, your participation in this day is optional. 

Although the money is tempting and I could use it (since we haven’t seen a raise since, 2012 or 2013, somewhere around there), I’m not attending for the following reasons:

1.  Every chance he gets a particular member of the School Reform Commission (SRC) takes the opportunity to excoriate teachers for not sharing in some burden and making sacrifices on behalf of the students in our care. I discussed that a few summers ago. But that same person and others on the SRC have been rude, crass, and have wasted countless resources in court in an attempt, albeit failed, to further chastise the teachers, which negatively impacts the very children for whom he and others claim to be champions! No, I’m not going in on the 31st for PD!!

2.  In December of 2015, the SRC voted to adopt the calendar for school year 2016-2017. They had plenty of time to propose whatever adjustments they thought were necessary before mid-July came around! I don’t feel as though I should have to report back a single day earlier because of the poor planning on the part of the SRC and this district! No, I’m not going in on the 31st for PD!!

3. Some, not all, administrators across this district have created such hostile work environments that teachers and staff are stressed out beyond measure and it takes every bit of the summer to bring that very real stress down! No, I’m not going in on the 31st for PD!!

4.  Instead of encouraging teachers to go in for PD, why not meet with the negotiating team of the PFT and negotiate a fair contract??!! No, I’m not going in on the 31st!!

5.  The money used for operations on the 31st, could perhaps be used to ensure buildings don’t reek of urine first thing in the morning or on hallways and stairwells that don’t get swept on a daily basis, or on bright, attractive, warm, and welcoming school environments!! No, I’m not going in on the 31st!!

Big ups to any principals out there who pushed back against the insane idea this district came up with to have the first two days back be off site PD days! I don’t know who you are, but we really could use more who will push back against the insanity! Rolling over without a fight is not a strategy for success!

Now it’s up to the district and principals to figure out a way to disseminate any pertinent information to staff who have every right to enjoy their final day of summer!

I’m sure I’ll go back before the 6th to set up my classroom (or not) but it won’t be the 31st, I can tell you that much!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Always be behind? I disagree.

The following is an email I sent in response to a statement made about a {former} student of mine. Only small portions  of the email were redacted, although the information redacted is public information. The redactions do not change the essential message. No person is publicly identified in the email since the purpose was to generate reflective thinking about the students we teach and with whom we work on a daily basis and not to humiliate. This email is several months old, but it's perfect timing as we head back to school. Please forgive any typos/grammatical errors. My thoughts were racing a mile a minute months ago when I sent it. Read. Reflect.

Hello All,
You've seen the emails/texts. Lots going on this week.
Colleague to colleague, I love it when teachers/staff move to make changes within the school! I really do!! Adding a parent piece would be great and I'm sure it'll come in time. I'm hopeful!!

As we are coming together to address the myriad issues around the health/safety/cleanliness of the building, I'd also like for us to look introspectively at how we perceive our students and the great potential that is in each and every one of them, even the ones that tap dance on our nerves!

It matters not that this may not be received well, but from where I stand, not as one who is perfect, but as one who keeps trying and trying to be better than I was yesterday, I feel as though the elephant in the room needs to be identified.

I was recently told that one of my students will "always be behind". I'm trying to leave room for the possibility that such a statement was a slip of the tongue and doesn't represent actual beliefs of any colleague with whom I work. For if the collectively "we", believe that students will "always be behind", then what are we doing? Do we not belief that with extra effort and hard work that they'll eventually catch up? Do we not believe that they are capable of doing "it", whatever "it" may be?

No need for an undergrad reminder on Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, but I'd urge all of us to rethink how we teach and what we believe about the students in our charge. They cannot rise to low standards. Whether we get support from the office or not, it doesn't matter! Let's do our part to hold our students to high standards of excellence, academics, and behavior.

Providing them with the right level of support, showing genuine interest in them as individuals, complimenting them even when it's hard, you'll be surprised how they'll rise to the occasion! Yes, they'll work a nerve. What relationship are you in where everything is peaches and cream?! Do a PD and I'm there!! These are the dynamics of working with people and not robots! They still deserve a chance, however!

Let's watch what we say and reexamine our beliefs. My Pastor used to say, "the mouth is the meter of the heart." What you believe will come out of your mouth or by your actions.

While it may not be "fair" to bring up issues of race, I'll do it anyway. The make-up of our student body is as follows:
88.2% Black
.9% While
.1% Asian
1.3% Latino
9% Other

100% of our student body is considered "Economically Disadvantaged"

If any of us believes that certain students will "always be behind", one could perceive that to be an unfair declaratory statement with racial, classist, and elitist undertones. That perception may be incorrect, true. However, perception, incorrect though it may be, is reality to someone.

Our kids CAN do it! They CAN rise to the occasion! They CAN succeed! They CAN behave! They CAN learn! They CAN do anything they set their minds to do and need a few adults who will not coddle them but will challenge them, providing them with adult guidance, love, and direction all along the way! I don't attribute some of the kids' success to medication, but to the structure, love and support that majority of us provide for them every single day!!

So as we address certain building issues, let's reexamine what we may not know even existed in our minds about what the young scholars of John B. Kelly Elementary School are able to do!

Success is my only option!
Failure is not an option!
In order to be successful, I must work hard!
No excuses!

I see quite a few former students on a daily basis and they still quote this "Flem" mantra. One even said, "Yo Flem, I LIVE by that jawn!!" and proceeded to give me an example of when he wanted to give up on a particular goal. He didn't. He was accepted to collegeS with money to pay for it!!

Don't tell me what's not possible!!


P.S. If you are offended, please see me and let's chat.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Parking Epiphany!

(As seen on pinterest...)

A "Two weeks ago..." experience...

A few minutes ago I parked my car.
Big whoop!! lol

Except that, it was on a city block and between two other cars, with cars on both sides of the street. Because I'm a seasoned driver, I knew there were certain maneuvers I had to make considering the space on either side of my car so as not to side swipe the cars on the either side of the street.
Flem, what's your point? There are certain ways of thinking and ways of knowing that come with being seasoned. The idea that some education DE-formers endorse either in word or in 501(c)3 formation, that certified seasoned educators are dead weight, is a dangerous, reckless a fallacious narrative.

What if the world were full of 16-year-old drivers?? In 2016?? With all that we have?? Phones?? Social media?? #iShudder

What if all physicians were interns? No residents. No attendings. All interns.

What if all plumbers, electricians, and carpenters were apprentices? No master plumbers. No master electricians or carpenters. No master barbers. WHOAA!!!! I gots to have a barber that knows wassup!! (ahem...'what's up')

They're new, these teenage drivers, interns, and apprentices. There's nothing wrong with that. But new must be developed. As with teen drivers, interns, or apprentices, you get better (in theory) with practice. The longer you stay with and really work at it, one should improve. How is it that this is OK for nearly every other profession on the planet, but the narrative towards veteran teachers is different?

When schools have a healthy mix of novice and veteran teachers, I'd like to believe that some natural collaboration and growth will occur for both the novice and the veteran. The novice can teach the veteran what the "latest" is in technology, apps, and research while the veteran can help situate these "latests" within the context of sound pedagogical principles and practice.

To think I got all of that while parking my car!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Unseen Real: The Artist

I've blogged recently about real life teacher/class/student scenarios where there was more going on than what could be seen. I call it the "unseen real," situations where I appeared to be more than a teacher, but a surrogate father or brother or listening ear. These were situations where some change was taking place or some need was being met, all invisible to the natural eye.

Truth be told, many teachers are surrogates of some sort. I, however, can only speak from the place and space where I am, especially as a Black male educator.

The story behind this pic? A young brother was struggling in his classes, behaviorally and in a major way! There were times when his teachers needed a respite and asked if I could provide it. Once or twice turned into about 3 months. It became apparent where some of his problems originated. He struggled academically and the space and pace at which I taught were perfect for what he needed! In addition to having those very 'real' chats I've been known to have, his teachers and I along with another key individual came together and developed a plan for him. I discussed it with him and he was willing to make it work! He responded exceptionally well in the classroom of an older "brotha".

Can you hear the critics? "You're coddling Flem!" "What good does that do? You need to teach him some respect, no matter who it is!!" "You're just giving him what he wants! That's not helping him!"

To the critics I'll give you this much attention. Ready? Wait for it! Here we go! OK that's it. Hashtag #done

The difference was dramatic! He went from being a very foul-mouthed something or another, to be a very respectful, very helpful, very polite, gentleman and everyone noticed! His teachers noticed changes in him so much so that they didn't recognize him a good way! It wasn't simple at first, but it happened.

Academically, there were still struggles we were working through, but the rapport was established, the teacher/student relationship and trust were established. We can work from there.

he left the school.

So, the pic? One day I noticed him drawing and asked if he'd drawn the picture above the text of this blog. He had. Pleasantly surprised, I asked if I could have it. He said yes. At this point, I asked him to autograph the back of it, with a note "To Mr. Flemming". He did. Excited, I went back to his teachers and informed them of his talent. We began to incorporate that into the academics. But again, and rather abruptly,  he left the school.

We found out where he was attending. We prayed and hoped he'd continue the growth we saw in him!

Every child has a story. Each child tells it differently. Are you listening or do you just want to write them up?