I live and teach on the edge of Washington, D.C. We didn’t have school today and many of my students are attending inaugural events. I will be curious to hear what the kids have to say tomorrow. Our impressions may be vastly different, but when I remember today, this is what I will recall: A chamber quartet playing a Quaker hymn made famous by an American composer. In case you are not familiar with the words: "'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to ...


According to Jay Mathews Educators Resist Even Good Ideas from Outsiders. ….it’s time to disclose a great truth about even the best educators I know: As much as they deny it, they really don’t like outsiders messing with the way they do their jobs. Mathews is right. As teachers we have a heavy workload, a tight timeline, a limited budget, rigid procedural protocols, and stringent quality control. Decisions such as grading scales and school start times are policy changes that teachers and building administrators on the front line of education do not make. Here in Virginia, these decisions ...


After twenty-three years in our house, we couldn't put off refinishing the floors any longer. In the process, we have had to completely empty every closet and cabinet in the house. And I've discovered that in 22 years you can acquire an awful lot of stuff. I unearthed a few forgotten treasures and a quite a bit of junk, but mostly found that over the years I had stuffed every closet in my house with, you know, stuff. A lot of it was good stuff, but it was stuff I didn't really need or use any more. Mostly there was ...


I’ve finally found the time to read Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker essay on predicting success in quarterbacks and teachers. He follows football talent spotter Dan Shonka as he scouts college athletes for professional football teams. Shonka admits that it’s something of a crapshoot: This is the quarterback problem. There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this ...


Sometimes the right thing happens for all the wrong reasons. This may be the last Christmas that little girls get Bratz dolls from Santa. Judge Steven Larson has ruled that Bratz dolls must be removed from the market. If you have problems with Barbie, you haven’t seen anything yet. Statuesque Barbie, in the style of a 1950’s fashion illustration, has measurements that would make a Miss Universe contestant weep, is more than 50% leg, and has a tiny little pinhead. Back in the day, feminists worried that she would give our daughters an unrealistic body image. Unrealistic body ...


During this annual season of teacher mugs and homemade fudge, I got and gave my possibly best Christmas teacher present ever. A couple of Sunday evenings ago I was busy multi-tasking (cooking supper and grading papers) when the phone rang. Mine was probably a less than completely gracious “Hello?” “Is this my little Susie?” said the voice on the other end of the line. I may be 58 years old, but I recognized that voice immediately. It was Mrs. Burnett, my sixth grade teacher. It has been four decades since I graduated from John Tyler High School. We formed a ...


Analyzing the odds on who will go to bowl games is a hot topic in most of the country, but here in the D.C.-Virginia politicopolis, football pools are often trumped by cabinet appointment speculations. While Joel Klein and Colin Powell’s names have been bouncing around as likely candidates for Secretary of Education, there are rumors that Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, President Elect Obama’s education transition team leader, is a serious contender for the Cabinet seat herself. There’s no doubt that, as Chancellor of New York City Schools, Joel Klein has made progress in transforming New York’s...


In preparation for a meeting I attended this week, I was asked to read Gary Gordon’s Building Engaged Schools: Getting the Most Out of America’s Classrooms.It seems an easy book to agree with when Gordon says things like School leaders and communities must recognize that the abilities of teachers, principals, and other school personnel are paramount to the success of students. No longer can we give lip service to the importance of talented educators while behaving as if they are interchangeable parts in a machine. Teacher talent clearly affects students' outcomes more than any curricular change or ...


In my community, our schools are our polling places, so Tuesday was a teacher workday. I had just arrived when Gheorge came by my room. Gheorge is a new citizen, and the week he took his oath of allegiance, we all celebrated with him. Back in Romania, Gheorge taught violin at the school where he worked. In our school he empties the trash and sweeps. "Mrs. Graham, I am here to tell you, today I am a real American. Today I vote for President of my new country, because here in America we are free and we are not afraid. ...


Every year thousands of people come to Fredericksburg and the surrounding counties of Spotsylvania and Stafford to walk the grounds of Civil War battles. In 2008, our community finds itself in the unexpected position of a political battleground. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Virginia is one of the hotly contested “swing states” and our area, at the southern tip of the Washington, D.C. metroplex, may well be the hinge on which the Virginia electoral votes swing. On September 27th Barack Obama and Joe Biden visited the campus of the University of Mary Washington. Last week, ...


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