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Paper Planes for Everyone: Economic Disparity in South Africa

StudentsSouthAfricaBy Anna Concannon – Yesterday the group and I visited Camps Bay after a fun day of sightseeing and hiking.

Camps Bay is a wealthy Cape Town suburbconsisting of mansions, condos, and nice hotels atop hills that overlook the ocean and attracts many tourists. After eating a satisfying pizza while watching the sun slowly set over the South Atlantic Ocean, I walked on the soft sand beach to complete a perfect evening.

This morning, I went to my service site again. At the township preschool, the kids each ate a small warm bread roll for lunch. My friend and I introduced them to paper airplanes, and they were occupied for hours making sound effects and soaring them in the air. Children who were not in school wandered outside our fenced-in playground, hoping our kids would share the paper planes because they were toy-less.

People living in the overcrowded townships typically inhabit “informal settlements,” or shacks that are made out of metal and do not have plumbing. Toilets and central water stations are located sporadically throughout the neighborhoods, but going to them alone at night is very dangerous because it is a common place for physical and sexual violence and murder. Tourists don’t normally visit the townships, which is probably why we receive confused stares from locals when we drive through them sometimes.

Yet, just a few miles away, safe neighborhoods booming with businesses stand proud and homes contain lights, toilets, food, and television.

The drastic difference between the affluent and the poor in Cape Town confounds me.

What is worse is that tourists don’t see the townships. They are located outside the city and don’t have much to offer; why would one choose to go there over the beach? The locals are aware of the inequalities people in the townships face, but a minority of people tries to help. What is out of sight should not be out of mind for neither city dwellers nor tourists.

I am glad I have been educated about the issues in the townships and am very thankful for the experience I am having with the preschool children. However, I wonder what I can really do in the little time I am here. Can I accomplish anything? What will I take away from this experience?

I wish I could make paper planes for every child in the townships. I wish children could receive more attention and better living situations than they currently have. I especially wish the areas of living were not so severely segregated by race and socioeconomic class and that people came together more as the Rainbow Nation should do.

I accept that I will only be able to understand the social problems in South Africa to an extent and I will get to know only twenty-five kids here. What little I learn and do here is impacting my life and eventually I will find a way to give back to this or other communities in need.

Thank You So Very Much, Bernadette

GiftBy Bill Henk – Recently the College of Education received its largest one-time gift in our 93-year history at Marquette.  With my 10-year anniversary as dean only a few short days away, I have to admit that this very welcome news felt especially gratifying to me.

In effect, the gift made for a red-letter day on one hand, because it would benefit our remarkable, highly deserving students.  But it was  also mixed with sadness over the passing of a dedicated professional.

The extraordinary act of generosity amounted to $1,000,000, and it came from a very unlikely source:  a retired MPS school teacher, Bernadette Steep.

The story garnered quite a bit of media attention, spurred partly because of the size of the contribution and how the endowment’s interest will provide ongoing scholarship support for students.  But perhaps of even greater intrigue to news sources and readers was the unique story of the benefactor.  Although I’ll recount parts of it here, a much fuller account of Bernadette’s life can be found in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.  Suffice it to say that much of the curiosity surrounding the story centered on someone of modest means being so amazingly philanthropic.

What I really want to focus on in this post, though, is what the gift means — to the College, our students, and the world.

Although I only knew Bernadette a little from visiting with her in a nursing home, her love for Marquette and for teaching came through loud and clear.  She was proud of her nearly three decades of teaching at Maple Tree Elementary School, and she spoke ever so lovingly of her alma mater.  I’m told that she stayed wrapped for warmth in a Marquette blanket until the very end of her life, a notion that continues to choke me up.

In the aftermath of the gift, I’ve thought about all the young lives Bernadette touched over the course of her teaching career.   In that sense, I smile knowing that she fully lived up to our longstanding challenge to those entering the education profession to “Be THE Difference you wish to see in the world.”

And I’ve also thought about the fact that Bernadette struggled to afford her beloved Marquette education.  She put herself through college by working countless hours in a drug store and a dime store.  In hindsight, I suspect the motivation for her gift took root in the idea that she didn’t want today’s generation of aspiring Marquette teachers to face that same daunting financial burden.  Unfortunately,  in today’s world, many of our students and their families do face that challenge, so her help couldn’t be more timely.

As it turns out, the incredible beauty and power of her gesture resides in the fact that even though Bernadette has left this world, she will continue to touch lives.  On that count, the impact of her generosity figures to be nothing short of transformative. Not only will the endowment change the lives of the aspiring teachers it supports directly, but it will affect the lives of all of the children and adolescents those educators nurture over the entire course of their careers.

When we do the math, the impact that Bernadette Steep has and will exert on the world computes as staggering.  Remember this fact the next time you or anyone else makes the mistake of believing that one person cannot make a profound difference.

Thank you, Bernadette — on behalf of our students and their students yet to be.  While some people will say it’s too bad you didn’t live to see the full extent of your influence, my guess is that you’ll be able to take it all in from your new, eternal vantage point.

 

Now It’s Summer … What’s a School Counselor to Do?

what-to-do-this-summer-3By Sabrina Bong – On the last day of school, the dean of students came up to me as I was finishing up some emails in my office.

He gave me a high five and said, “Well, you made it through your rookie year! What are you going to do now?”

At first, I interpreted his question as, “What are you going to do next year now that you are no longer a newbie?” I launched into a description of the ideas I had for my lunch groups the next year.

I talked about my plans to continue to eliminate drama among my now-seventh graders. Just as I began my speech about how I wanted to improve my teaching ability, the dean stopped me and said, “I meant, what are you doing this summer?”

Now, during the school year (especially during those frigid days in January,) I had so many expectations of what I would do over summer. But now that summer was actually upon us, my mind was blanking.

What was I going to do? My life, for the past nine months, was dictated by my school schedule. I would wake up every morning at 5:30 am to get to school by 7. I would talk to students, research ideas, and collaborate with my fellow counselors. I would usually leave around 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon, get home, have dinner, and then spend some time with my family. I would be in bed by 10 pm, and then wake up the next morning and repeat the whole process. At some point, I didn’t even need to think about what I was doing. I had fallen into such a routine that I didn’t need to worry too much about deviations.

What was I going to do when I no longer had to stick to that schedule?

Well, here are a few things that I’ve done (or plan to do) this summer:

  1. I visited the library and checked out a few books. I love the television show Castle, and there is actually a ghost writer who poses as the main character of the show, Richard Castle, and publishes novels. So far, the series is pretty good. If you are a fan of mystery stories, check it out! (Also, if you have any other book suggestions, please let me know …)
  2. I participated in the UPAF Ride for the Arts. I did the 25 mile bike ride over the Hoan Bridge in support of the arts. Going up the bridge is exhausting, but when you get to the top and have the chance to look out over Lake Michigan, the view is breathtaking. You meet great people, hear great music (at one of the rest stops, a string quartet was playing some show tunes), and support a cause that encourages creativity!
  3. I’ll write curriculum. This summer, I have the chance to work with many of the counselors in the district as we work to revise and restructure our curriculum. I’ll be working with some of the intermediate counselors on creating new lessons on different topics that we think are critical to our students’ developments. I’m really looking forward to it! The best part is that I will have the chance to create and structure curriculum that I will actually be delivering to my students. It doesn’t get better than that!

I was worried that I would begin my summer bored out of my mind, now that my routine is gone. But instead, it’s quite the opposite. I think the summer will be even more chaotic than the school year!

The Classic Bait and Switch: Performance and Pay for Teachers

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By Nick McDaniels – A little over a month ago, I was honored by Baltimore City Public Schools for being a finalist for the district’s teacher of the year award.

Two weeks ago, I was a told that the same performance that got me a chance to be on the field for the first pitch of a Baltimore Orioles game was not enough to earn me a highly effective rating, which in turn, denies me a pay raise.

How could this be? Simple. The teacher evaluation rating system was changed at the last minute.

Based on the evaluation system that we were operating under all year, teachers receiving an overall evaluation score of 80 or above were highly effective, teachers receiving scores between 60 and 79 were effective, teachers receiving scores between 46 and 59 were developing, and teachers receiving scores below 46 were ineffective. These scores were to be tabulated from a variety of measures, including classroom observations, student surveys, test score data, and others.

A week before evaluations had to be completed, the district made two distinct changes:

  1. Evaluations would now be made up of 85% scores from two classroom observations and 15% scores from professional expectations.
  2. The cut scores dividing the levels were shifted to 86%, 72% and 60% respectively.

So what did this mean for me, a finalist for Baltimore City’s teacher of the year? 84% Effective.

In April I would have been Highly Effective; but,  in May, I was only Effective.

But here’s the rub. A Highly Effective gets a teacher 12 Achievement Units, an Effective only gets a teacher 9 Achievement Units, while a Developing only gets a teacher 3 Achievement Units.

Guess how many it takes for a teacher to get a pay raise? 12 Achievement Units.

Out the window goes my raise.

We rallied as a union — The Baltimore Teachers Union, hundreds of us —  in front of school headquarters to let the management know that such an unnegotiated bait and switch change to the evaluation was (at best) a failure to bargain in good faith and (quite possibly) a breach of contract. In response, the Interim CEO of the District claims that changing the cut scores back to their original levels would cause 97% of the teachers in the district to be rated Highly Effective or Effective.

She claims that isn’t fair to kids.

Shouldn’t an urban superintendent want more Highly Effective and Effective teachers in front of students? I certainly would. Should urban superintendents set thresholds on how many teachers can achieve certain ratings. I don’t think so. If so, what then is the incentive for success if 100% of teachers cannot actually work to attain the highest level of proficiency. These comments tell me this effort is solely about money, saving money for the district, and the teachers, our morale, our pride are simply collateral damage.

Maybe the scores are not the right cut scores. Maybe 86% and 72% are more accurate. But a school district cannot change the scores at the end of the game. This is akin to moving the fences back in the top the ninth inning, or narrowing the visiting team’s goals posts in the fourth quarter. We wouldn’t tolerate such changes in sports, how can we tolerate such changes for american workers.

The teachers will win this fight ultimately, and in the process we will learn that pay-for-performance is a trick, a tool for the managers to manipulate the system, and a power that teachers should resist handing over at all costs.

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: Kids in Cape Town

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Xhosa prayer*

By Anna Concannon – I’ve been in Cape Town for about a week now.

My biological clock has finally adjusted, and so far everything is going  great.

It’s an amazing city with so many things to do, places to see, and people to talk to, all of whom are so friendly and enthusiastic about sharing their life experiences.

I had my first of six days at my service site, which is a pre-primary school located in a very poor township near Cape Town. There is little space inside, but the classroom contains posters, puzzles, toys, and letter and number flashcards for the kids to play with and practice. When children go to primary school, they learn in English, but at this age they speak Xhosa and only know numbers and a few words in English.

Outside, a once-glorious playground stands aligned with barbed wire fences, with ripped tire swings, torn climbing ropes, and loose bricks and garbage on the ground that the children play with. We played outside most of the day, and when they were bored, the teacher sometimes looked to me to teach them kids games and songs.

I felt a little overwhelmed at these moments because I had to think on my feet. I taught them the “head, shoulders, knees and toes” song and they already knew the Xhosa version of it, so that went well. They love moving around and singing.

As a future teacher, I never really considered early childhood education. There are so many children with a lot of needs to take care of and I was uncertain how I would do teaching them; however, I noticed that the children in this preschool are fairly independent for 4-6-year-olds. Being at this school is definitely a learning experience, especially because we communicate without understanding each other’s words.

Overall, my visit to the school was less hectic and more fun than I had expected. Next time I will come prepared with more songs and games to teach them. The kids are so loving and kind to each other and to their teachers. When we understand each other verbally or non-verbally and they smile at me, hug me, play with my hair, and even fight over holding my hands, I feel even more confident that working with children is my passion.

*Lord, bless Africa | May her spirit rise high up; | Hear Thou our prayers | And bless us. | Descend, 0 Spirit Descend, 0 Holy Spirit | Bless our chiefs; | N’lay they remember their Creator, | Fear Him and revere Him, | That He may bless them.

Lessons from my Metaphoric Superman Dad

By Aubrey Murtha – “He never stopped wanting to save the world,” said Ron Reagan of his father, President Ronald Reagan.

Although most of us cannot claim to have fathers of the presidential variety, I think it is safe to say that many of us look at our dads in a similar way.  If we take a second to reflect on everything our dads do for us and the invaluable lessons they impart on their children, it seems appropriate to refer to them as metaphoric Supermen.

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Okay.  Let me take a second to describe my dad to you.  He is a recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former U.S. Marine (although he’d argue, “Once a Marine, always a Marine”).  The dude spent thirty years in the military, he is six foot four, and he can beat up men half his age.  Now you see why this Superman idea comes to mind.

Anyways, when you grow up under the parental guidance of a military father, your relationship with your dad may seem a little unconventional to civilian families.  For example, when I was in elementary school, my dad taught me how to read military time.  Along with that, he decoded several commonly used military acronyms for me.  This way, when he told me his ETA was 15:30, I’d know what he meant.  Along with the regular alphabet, he taught me some phonetics (A as in Alpha, B as in Bravo, C as in Charlie…).

When he quizzed me on my spelling words, he would make me stand at attention so as to ensure that I was focused.  On road trips, we pointed out Marine Corps bumper stickers or billboard advertisements to each other and shouted “OOO RAH!”  He missed lots of basketball games and dance recitals, but that did not mean much to me since the time we had together was far more important than his absences.

Along with these silly things, my dad has taught me some important lessons throughout the past nineteen years.  Here are just a few:

  1. Some things aren’t worth fighting over.  For example, although his sense of style is bordering on not-so-great, do not comment on the pea green PT gear or the camo pants.  Because, no matter what you say, he will wear them anyway…all the time…many days in a row.
  2. Temper your sass when you talk to my parents because, “The Murtha house is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship,” and Mom and Dad are the dictators.
  3. Don’t be wasteful.  Frugality and resourcefulness are highly underrated in today’s society.
  4. Never say “can’t” because “quitters are losers, and Murtha’s are not losers.”
  5. Don’t fight dirty.
  6. SA (military code for Situational Awareness) is always important, especially while operating a motor vehicle or a military aircraft.  Yep, you can imagine how fun it was to learn to drive with this guy.
  7. Always, always have a very mature respect for military servicemen and women.
  8. Treasure the quality time you get with those you love.  Don’t take your loved ones for granted.
  9. Materialism is a trap.  Don’t fall into it.
  10. Safety first.
  11. Sometimes a good story is very different from the true story.
  12. Don’t ever let any boy mistreat you.
  13. Respect your mother at all times.
  14. Be adaptable.  Embrace change.
  15. Even if you really struggle with something, you should apply yourself wholeheartedly.  You can get it done.  Sometimes, you can even get it done quite well.

If you are like me, you do not tell your dad enough how much he means to you.  You might criticize his vast array of irritating idiosyncrasies or simply roll your eyes when he does something that embarrasses you (yeah, there is a lot of eye rolling that happens in the Murtha house).

However, although it hurts to admit it, I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without his guidance.  Maybe we kids need to take a tall shot of humility every now and then and recognize that maybe our parents really do have it all figured out.

Okay… maybe not all of it.

Semper Fi, Dad.  I love you.

Many Uses for a Blanket: AKA Applying for My Summer Job

LinusSecurityBlanketBy Lauren Carufel-Wert – Hey everyone! This is my first blog ever, so I am really excited that I get to do it for the College of Education.

This summer I will be working for Madison Public Schools recreational programs as a Program leader. Now, since my job hasn’t officially started yet, (training starts on the 16th) I can talk about the process for applying and accepting the job!

First I filled out an application with multiple short answer questions focusing on how the applicant interacts with diverse groups, leadership positions, and previous childcare or teaching experience.

Since I had just finished up my first year as an Elementary Education student I was able to use my experiences of service learning on my application. Since my first site was nearly 100% Hispanic and my second site was about 75% African American I could also show my experience working with children from diverse backgrounds. I really think that my service learning experiences helped me in standing out from other applicants.

A week later, I heard that the program wanted to do a final interview with me in person, but since I was in Milwaukee I did it over Skype. I still dressed up and sat myself behind a nice wall hanging in my dorm room kitchenette and waited for my interview to start. The interview went very smoothly, it involved a lot of “what would you do situations” like if a child was a danger to other students, was not paying attention, or needed extra help.

But the most interesting question was “name as many uses as possible for a blanket”. The goal of this question was to show how creative I was and if I could think on my feet. My answers ranged from a blanket fort to wearing it as a skirt, and afterwards the interviewer noted my variety of answers.

Three weeks later over Easter Break when I was at home, I checked my email and found a job offer awaiting me. I still remember the excitement on my boyfriend’s face when I told him and how I felt like I had truly done something for myself to help me grow as a future educator. I am eagerly waiting my first day of training and can’t wait to share all of my stories with you!


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