My father was Don Kearney. He passed away a few months ago and I’m still trying to cope with his loss. When I was a young man just starting my teaching career people who knew my Dad used to tell us that I wasn’t much like him. He was a blunt banker who didn’t have much of a filter and I was a (fairly) thoughtfully spoken music educator. As time went on though I began to hear people say that I reminded them of my father. In recent weeks I have had a lot of people say that I remind them of my Dad. I’m not always sure it is meant as a compliment, but I take it as one.
I’m learning. I’m learning every day. This week I have learned a little about what happens when you find a spotlight shining on yourself. Those who know me know that I don’t entirely mind that. Those who know my classroom well usually say that they find that one of my strengths as a teacher is setting the tone of the classroom and that I am pretty good a creating a climate. What I have learned this week is that I have to continue to monitor my tone when I get outside of my classroom.
I have learned that there are those who find my tone to be snarky and passive aggressive. That’s probably fair. But, I think that my tone in recent days is more of desperation than snark. I hope that my tone is more of passion than of passive aggressiveness. As a music educator I can promise that I understand the importance of tone; what I need to continue to learn is how to warm up my tone so that it works to bring people together.
I have learned that there is a large divide in our state on the topic of education. What I am hoping to learn is why that divide is so large. There are a significant number of people who strongly believe that teachers in our state are overpaid, that public education is wasting tax payer dollars, and that teacher unions are the single largest impediment to improved education across the country. None of that is consistent with my experience, but that doesn’t mean that we, as educators, can ignore that perception.
A great conversation about schools in Iowa won’t occur before school board budgets need to be certified on April 15th. There will be Iowa school teachers who lose their jobs this week (some already have). I know a talented young teacher who will lose his job this week in a small school with a great music program. Students in that small school will get a worse music education experience because of what has happened in the legislature this winter and spring. Schools are going to cut resources for next year based on what has (well, actually what hasn’t) happened in the legislature this winter and spring. It has been suggested to me that the austerity thrust upon Iowa schools will serve to eliminate waist and make them more efficient and if that isn’t the case that our legislators will be called out for this. Perhaps.
I want to learn more. This last few weeks has made me want to learn more about state budgets. I want to learn more about how to measure teacher effectiveness. More than anything I want to learn to be better at building consensus. I want to be part of a true dialogue about education in Iowa. I have learned that some of that dialogue will be about priorities that have nothing to do with education. Those are the kind of things I need to learn.
My father would have enjoyed talking about my life this week. I didn’t always use a filter this week, which he would have loved. His son got some attention, which we both kind of enjoy. His grandson got to drive grandpa’s prized Corvette to prom yesterday, which my dad would have really loved. Mostly he would have enjoyed the fact that I have lots to think about and therefor lots to talk about. I said this in a post the other day, but I’ll say it again. I love my job and I want to get better at it. I also want to make sure that the next generation of educators can earn jobs that they will love just as much as I do, because that will mean that kids in Iowa are finding themselves in classrooms being taught by passionate and proud educators who are effective and accountable to them.
It’s time for a great conversation to be had. In honesty it’s too late for this year, but it’s not to early to start the conversation for the future. For the conversation to be effective it needs to be honest. If there are those who want to bust up our unions, they need to say that. If there are those who want charter schools and more privatization they need to say that. If there are those that believe we need more local control than we need to say that. But, after what I have learned this week, let’s not punish people for saying what they honestly believe.