Friday, October 31, 2003

The big day is here. In less than six and a half hours, I will undergo my first formal evaluation as a teacher at South Middle School.
I asked for Mr. Mitchell, the principal, to observe my first hour class for two reasons. One, by doing it first thing in the morning I won't have it hanging over my head all day. Two, this is my regular communication arts block. I have the advanced class during fifth and sixth hours. I want to be observed working with a regular class. On the pre-observation worksheet, I asked that Mr. Mitchell observe my classroom management techniques. I was sorely tempted to take the easy way out on my lesson plan and go with my strong point, discussion, but evaluations should be learning experiences and I'm not going to learn anything by sticking with something that I already am totally comfortable doing.
As usual, the class is scheduled to begin with a writing prompt. Today, the students will write a half-page detailing what they plan to do for their extra-credit project. After that, we will review for our test over Edgar Allan Poe's short story, "The Tell-Tale Heart." Then we will take the test. It's a simple lesson plan, but it's a plan that will enable Mr. Mitchell to observe me doing things he has not seen me doing before during my evaluations at Diamond (where he was my principal for the first two years I was there). In the past, I invariably planned a discussion for my formal evaluations.
I always made sure to have him observe a class I had been having a few problems with so I could get some tips on how to deal with that class. This year, I don't have that option. I really do not have any classes that have been problems. Hopefully, I will still be saying that after the evaluation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

It was research day for students in my two Communication Arts classes. The first and second hour block spent first hour and half of second researching vouchers in the MAC Lab. The fifth and sixth hour block spent all of fifth hour in the MAC Lab.
The argument for vouchers is a seductive one. Why shouldn't parents be allowed to use tax money to find better schools for their children rather than be forced to attend failing public schools?
Why should students be condemned to spin their wheels in substandard schools when vouchers would give them an opportunity to succeed in life?
If it were that simple, it would be hard to argue with vouchers. Unfortunately, it is not that simple.
The American concept of universal public schooling indicates that this country believes that an educated citizenry is necessary for the United States to survive. This concept is not limited to the sons and daughters of the wealthy. Everyone is entitled to a free public education. It is not limited to those who have high IQs. Education is required for those with serious mental handicaps. This experiment has helped America become the number one country in the world. We educate people who other countries shove into back rooms. We not only educate them, but we make them into contributing members of society.
How many private schools are going to be able to fulfill that need? Very few, if any. And if taxpayer money is diverted to the private schools, how many public schools are going to be able to fulfill that need?
It is easy to extoll the virtues of private schools when those schools are able to cherrypick their students. Take Thomas Jefferson Independent Day School as an example. That school has no interest in vouchers and for good reason. It is able to attract the children of doctors, lawyers, and businessmen who are looking to put their children in the most exclusive schools. Of course, those kinds of parents, parents who challenge their children to reach their full potential, are also going to be providing them with help at home. They probably work with their children on their homework or are able to hire tutors for them. They have subscriptions to newspapers and magazines and have bookcases jammed full of reading material. They provide a positive example for their children that a proper education pays off.
Those children are going to succeed in any school in which you place them. Yes, Thomas Jefferson does an excellent job with educating the children of the rich and the children of people who are willing to go into debt to ensure that their children can do better than they did.
But could Thomas Jefferson succeed using the same teaching methods and techniques with children randomly drawn from the poorer schools in this area. Could the excellent teachers in that institution of learning deal with children who felt the back of their parents' hands the night before. Could they deal with children from broken homes and ones who don't have a day go by in which they do not see some sort of illegal drug-related activity taking place in their homes...usually by their parents.
Could Thomas Jefferson methods work with students who have no positive role models at home, who have never been taught proper respect for adults and who have no reason to believe that their lives will be any better than the lives led by their parents?
There is a place for private and parochial schools in this country. Parents should have access to them, but in order for the children of this country to have unfettered access to a free education, tax money must not be diverted from the public schools.
The public schools have flaws. That is undeniable. Many of the worst and most inexperienced teachers are placed in schools in poorer neighborhoods. These are the students who could most benefit from the sure hand of a successful veteran teacher. Instead, they get the dregs, the dreamers, and the drones.
And the teaching shortage is increased because of this insanity of throwing young teachers, with no previous experience, into the jungles of inner-city classrooms, instead of letting them grow slowly into solid teachers. These teachers are the ones who see their idealism being slowly crushed and take a detour into the private sector.
The overemphasis on standardized tests is also causing many excellent schools to be described as failing. A school can have 80 percent of its students make top grades on math on a standardized test and still fail if its scores were in the upper 80s or lower 90s during the past few years.
Schools also can fail if one small segment of the student body does not make the grade. Many Missouri schools failed because the students who are eligible for free or reduced lunches did not do well on the MAP tests. We should not be expecting failure among this group, but these are the ones who are not being provided with any support from home.
And in Missouri, we are not even determining how much improvement students make from year to year. We judge this year's eighth graders against next year's eighth graders. This is the same kind of logic as having a basketball team with a seven-foot center, two 6-10 forwards, a deadeye shooting guard and an excellent point guard win the state championship, lose all of those players to graduation, then compare the next team, which has a 6-3 center and four other players with little or no experience. What exactly are we learning about our schools from the MAP tests? They do not provide a framework, they do not provide valuable assistance on what we need to be teaching our children, and they do not provide a reliable method of determining the quality of teaching or enabling parents to make comparisons with the education offered at other schools.
Vouchers are a lazy way of fixing the education problems in the United States. On the other hand, pouring endless amounts of money into the public education system is also a lazy way of doing it. Accountability is critical if education is going to improve in the United States. Public school officials cannot foolishly fritter away money, emphasize non-educational goals, and expect people to keep passing bond issues and tax levy increases.
Unfortunately, that has been happening in many area school districts. When people vote down bond issues, they are considered anti-education. Many of those people are not against spending money for the schools, even those people who no longer have children in school, they simply want some common sense used in the way their tax dollars are being spent.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Today was the first day of a busy week at South Middle School. After an assembly during TA, my communcation arts block classes watched a CNN video from 2000 about the issue of vouchers. The first and second hour block discussed the video during second hour. It was library day for fifth and sixth hour block so the discussion will be held in there tomorrow.
The plan is to have both blocks go into the MAC Lab tomorrow for at least one hour and research vouchers in preparation for a debate later in the week (probably on Thursday for first/second hour and Friday for fifth/sixth hour).
During the first part of my planning period (seventh hour), I drove to the Administration Building on 15th Street and picked up four digital cameras from the technology director. Beginning tomorrow, my third and fourth hour multi-media classes will take photos to go on the soon-to-be revamped South website.
My four-woman editorial board, Autumn Mauller, Lindsay Hamm, Sarah McDonough, and Rachel Ryan, handed out news and sports writing assignments to the fifth and sixth hour CA block, which will write articles for the website.
Since it is Halloween week, both CA blocks will read Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" later this week. I'm still debating over whether to show a video along with it.
The assembly was rather interesting. After complaining for the past two years about two Diamond assemblies, one of which featured a ballerina who didn't dance, and the other which involved getting students to sell cookie dough, I find out today that they sell cookie dough at Joplin, too. The proceeds will go to resurface the back lot and to put in tennis courts.
Today is the birthday of a friend of mine, Nicole Lehman, who is one of the players on the SMSU Lady Bears' basketball team. I'll have to send her an e-mail in a little bit. I can remember writing stories about Nicole when she was playing junior high basketball at Lamar. I miss the writing and interaction with people from my journalism days sometimes, but never the hours, and never the non-journalism people who held the purse strings at the newspapers.
The Accelerated Reader program takes the joy out of reading. I heard that a number of times during parent-teacher conferences last Thursday and Friday. Though I see some value in the program, I still have a tendency to agree.
The students with the higher reading levels are required to read more books, which they, of course, consider to be unfair. They are also limited in the type of books they read. Many books are not AR books, including books by such authors as Stephen King. I don't want someone to be discouraged from reading just because their books don't happen to be AR, so I am working out a system to combine AR and non-AR reading. It will be a little extra work, but hopefully, the result will be worth it.
I still remember those Wednesday summer mornings when I was growing up. Once a month, Billy Johnson would drive the bookmobile from the Neosho Public Library and park it in front of Ted Arnall's barber shop. The bookmobile was always scheduled to be in Newtonia at 11 a.m., but Billy and his wife, LeeAnn, would always finish early at the stop before Newtonia and I would sit on the concrete steps in front of Gum's Store at 10:30 a.m. Usually, I only had to wait a few minutes for the bookmobile to arrive.
It was always like finding lost treasurer. I remember checking out mysteries and sports fiction books and biographies of people like Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, Jackie Jensen, and Bob Gibson. I started going to the Bookmobile when I was four years old. Every month I checked out 10 books. I usually had them read by the end of the second or third day, leaving me the rest of the month without anything to read. Fortunately, when I reached my teen years, I discovered used book shops.
The Bookmobile interested a lot of young people in reading and encouraged many of them to visit the public library. Of course, those were the days before cable television, the Internet, and all of the distractions that face young people these days. Something had to be done to try to bring them back to the printed word, no matter how outdated some people seem to think it is. I'm just not sure if Accelerated Reader is the answer. If you force someone to do something, you may improve their reading skills, but you take the risk of having them never develop the kind of love for reading that has helped our civilization to prosper.
I sure miss the bookmobile.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

The national news story about the battle over whether a Florida woman should have her feeding tubes removed and be allowed to die reminded me one of the stories that meant the most to me during my career in journalism.
It was in October 1990 and I was only a few months into my job at The Carthage Press. Because city/courthouse reporter Pat Halvorsen had the day off, Managing Editor Neil Campbell assigned me to cover the hearing on whether Nancy Cruzan should have her feeding tube removed. It was a story that meant a lot to me since I had known Nancy when we were both teenagers. It was several years later that she was involved in the car accident that put her into what doctors called a "persistent vegetative state." Her parents, Joe and Joyce Cruzan, had to go to court to try have their daughter's feeding tube removed. The case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where it became the first right-to-die case ever decided by our nation's highest court. In a 5-4 ruling, the justices said there was a right to die. Unfortunately for Nancy's family, they still had to prove that their daughter would not want to have heroic measures taken to keep her alive.
The upstairs courtroom was packed at the Jasper County Courthouse that Thursday morning. I felt like one of the big shots sitting in the jury box with reporters from The New York Times, the Kansas City Star, Associated Press, two network sketch artists, and my favorite...the good looking female reporter from Channel 3 in Springfield. I sat in that jury box, and as I later told my classes, I saw exactly the same things the other reporters were seeing in exactly the same way. Fortunately, I was saved by lunch.
When I returned from lunch, even though there were still 20 minutes before testimony was scheduled to resume, the jury box was already filled, including the seat by that cute reporter from Channel 3.
So I sat behind the Cruzan family and their lawyer, William Colby.
I noticed that one of Nancy's nieces, high school freshman Miranda Yocum, was drawing on a sketchpad with just as much skill as the highly paid professionals in the jury box. I began to concentrate on her. I ended up writing both a generic story on the courtroom testimony and a feature on the little sketch artist. The feature won several major state and national awards and taught me a valuable lesson about following the pack, one I hope I will never forget.
Three years ago, on the 10th anniversary of Nancy's Dec. 26, 1990, death, 417 magazine in Springfield commissioned me to write a story about the effect Nancy had on our society. I sent the editors the story on time, sent several follow-up messages, but never received any money and the article was never published.
This is the article I wrote for 417:


By Randy Turner

“Thank you.”
The words are simple ones, but to those who followed the ordeal the Cruzan family went through after a 1983 automobile accident left Nancy in a persistent vegetative state, those two words have a significant meaning.
The words are etched in her tombstone in a cemetery just outside of Carterville. They can be interpreted in more than one way. It could be a thank you to the U. S. Supreme Court, which made it possible for Judge Charles Teel to render the Dec. 12, 1990, decision that ended what remained of Nancy’s life. It could be a thank you for all the people who fought to make those decisions possible…people like Nancy’s parents, Joe and Joyce Cruzan and her sister, Chris White, the nieces she loved, Angie and Miranda Yocum, or the attorney, Bill Colby of Kansas City, who fought all the way to Washington, D. C. and back for Nancy’s right to die.
Tuesday, Dec. 26, will mark the 10-year anniversary of the end of a saga that began on a county road just outside of Carthage and ended up gripping the nation.
Nancy Cruzan made the most of the quarter of a century that she “lived.” She was vivacious, outgoing, looking forward to every day. My encounters with her were brief and both came when we were teenagers. When my baseball team played in Carterville, one of the highlights was the Cruzan sisters, whose laughter and joy of life came across to everyone they met. I only met her a couple of times, but she made enough of an impression that I, like the others who knew her, was shocked when she was robbed of her life at such an early age.
On Jan. 11, 1983, Nancy had worked the late shift at Schreiber’s Cheese Plant in Carthage. She was driving east on Elm Road and was only one mile from her home when the accident occurred. There were no weather conditions that would have explained why she lost control of her car. It ran off the left side of the road, hit some trees and a mailbox, then swerved back across the road and went off the right side, going through a fence, overturning several times and coming to rest on its top. She may have fallen asleep, authorities speculated.
By the time CPR was administered to her, her brain had already been deprived of oxygen for about 14 minutes. About six minutes is all it takes to cause permanent brain damage. She was left in what doctors called a “persistent vegetative state.” The cerebral hemisphere of her brain, which controlled her thinking and her emotions no longer functioned. All she had left were physical reflexes.
Nearly five years into that existence between life and death, Joe and Joyce Cruzan asked Judge Teel if they could remove the feeding tube that was attached to their daughter…the only thing that was keeping Nancy alive. Teel warned that someone could bring legal charges against them unless they petitioned to have it done legally. The Cruzans filed the motion in Jasper County Circuit Court and that began the long legal battle. Testimony at the circuit court level was provided by people who said that Nancy had indicated she would never want to be kept alive by artificial means. She had worked for a time as the Stapleton Center in Joplin caring for a retarded three-year-old boy who had to be forcefed. During a conversation with other workers at the center, Nancy indicated if she were in that situation, she would want to have the plug pulled.
Teel granted permission to have the feeding tubes removed, but the decision was appealed by the Missouri Attorney General’s office, which had taken an interest in the case, and it was sent to the Missouri Supreme Court, which overturned Teel’s ruling. The Cruzans and their attorney, Colby, took the case to the United States Supreme Court. It was the first time the Supreme Court had ever considered a right-to-die case.
The Court ruled that a person does have the right to die, but also indicated state courts should hear the evidence and determine if Nancy really had indicated what she would want to happen.
That brought the case full circle and the eyes of the nation were on Carthage, Mo., that day in October 1990. The courthouse square was filled with vans from all the Joplin and Springfield stations, plus stations as far away as Kansas City and St. Louis.
Since the case was going to be heard by Judge Teel once more and not by a jury, reporters filled the jury box so they could get a little closer to the judge, the attorneys and the witnesses. The national media was present, including representatives of The New York Times, The Associated Press and other metropolitan newspapers.
Three more witnesses were presented who testified that Nancy had indicated to them she would never want to be kept alive through artificial means if she were left incapacitated in an accident. One of the witnesses was a man for whom she had worked when she lived in Oklahoma City.
The Cruzan family listened attentively as the man began his testimony, clearly answering the questions that were posed to him by Colby and by Carthage attorney Thad McCanse, who had been appointed by the court to represent “Nancy’s interests.”
Joe and Joyce Cruzan were seated with Colby. In the row behind them was Nancy’s older sister, Christy White, and Christy’s two young daughters, Angie and Miranda Yocum, who at the time were students at Webb City High School. Nancy had loved those two girls more than she loved anyone else in her life.
Miranda, a ninth grader and a budding artist, had brought along a sketchpad and was drawing a courtroom scene that matched the efforts being put forth by the two professionals who were seated in the jury box. Her eye for detail was evident as she sketched Colby perfectly, right down to his suspenders and caught all other aspects of the courtroom.
As the testimony continued, Nancy’s former boss recollected the conversation he had with her, recalling that she had said she wouldn’t want to live as a vegetable because “vegetables can’t hug their nieces.”
After hearing that, Angie, the older niece, began to cry. Miranda’s face was also reddening as she put her arm around her sister’s shoulder and began patting her on the back. When the testimony ended and the hearing concluded, Miranda took her sketch to William Colby and presented it to him. Maybe the first time during the case, the attorney was able to smile. “That’s really good,” he said. “That’s really good.”
Judge Teel took the testimony under consideration and on Dec. 12, 1990, he ordered the feeding tubes to be removed. In a written statement, Joe Cruzan said, “I suspect hundreds of thousands of people can rest free, knowing that when death beckons they can meet it face to face with dignity, free from the fear of unwanted and useless medical treatment.” Twelve days later, Nancy Cruzan, whose life ended on that county road nearly eight years earlier, died.
The end did not come peacefully for the Cruzan family as protesters gathered around the Southwest Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon where Nancy had been a patient for several years. Even though many of the protesters were calling him a murderer, Joe Cruzan still had sympathy for them. He knew they believed in what they were doing, just as he did. On one particularly cold night, he took them hot coffee because, as he said, “No one should have to be cold.”
Nancy Cruzan died 10 years ago, but her influence is still being felt.
For a time, her sister, Christy, ran the Nancy Cruzan Foundation, helping people who faced similar situations. “I think we’ve come a long way,” she told the Associated Press in 1996. “There are a lot of caring medical professionals ready to listen to what patients want. I truly believe…because of Nan’s case…there are a lot of families that won’t have to go to court now.”
Missouri went from being behind other states in providing patients the right to control their own destinies to establishing a living will law that makes sure that what the patient wants is taken into consideration. The public awareness created by the Nancy Cruzan case made it easier for people to put into writing what they would want to have done for them medically if they should ever be incapacitated.
Missouri also now has a durable power-of-attorney law, put into effect shortly after Nancy’s death, that allows a person to name another person who will make the life-and-death decision if it needs to be made. The Cruzan case also made a difference on the federal level. The Federal Patient Self-Determination Act, primarily sponsored by former U. S. Senator John Danforth of Missouri, requires hospital officials to tell patients about their right to determine in advance what should be done and then requires the hospitals to honor those wishes.
Joe Cruzan committed suicide in 1995. His life had never been the same since Nancy’s accident. An intensely private person, he suddenly against his will became a celebrity with many sworn enemies who felt he had no right to make a life-and-death decision for his daughter.
Joyce Cruzan died in 1998. The Christmas holidays will always bring bittersweet memories for the remaining members of the family. But they do know that their sister’s life…and her death… made a difference.
Their attorney, Bill Colby, was also greatly affected by the case. He took a leave of absence from his law firm to write a book on the Cruzan case. Earlier, on the fifth anniversary of Nancy’s death, he wrote an op-ed article for The Kansas City Star, in which he said what he hoped would be the lasting impact of Nancy Cruzan and the court battle that earned her the right to die.
“The more information we provide while healthy, the more each of us communicates with our loved ones, the greater the chance that we will empower those loved ones to ask the right questions and make the decisions we would choose at the end of life.”
In that article, Colby described the call he received from Joe Cruzan the night that Nancy died. “When Joe saw that Nancy was no longer breathing, he reached up and gently closed her eyelids. As we wound up (our) conversation early that morning, I asked Joe, ‘What are you going to do now?’ He replied, ‘Well, I guess we are going to go home.’ “
(Note: Bill Colby is scheduled to be at Hastings in Joplin 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 4, where he will talk about Nancy Cruzan, read from his book, and will most likely talk about the Florida case, which has once again turned the focus on Nancy Cruzan.)

Friday, October 24, 2003

Good things happening at South Middle School

Today is Parent-Teacher Conference Day at Joplin South Middle School. The conferences began last night after school. I met with six parents. As usual, it's the parents of the students who are making A's and B's who were the ones who showed up to talk about their children, with one exception.

It's not as if there is not a concerted effort to get in touch with the parents of students who are failing or who are near-failing. At South, teachers are required to call the parents of students who are failing or who are making D's. Plus, an automated dialing system is used to contact all parents with phones.
I haven't seen many parents this morning, but that has given me the opportunity to catch up on work. I've caught up on grading papers, typed and printed the extra-credit plan for my communication arts classes, and for the last several minutes I have been looking into ways in which I can use blogs with my two eighth grade multi-media classes.

Blogs seem to have taken off at my former school, but I haven't run into anyone at South who has one. Hopefully, that can be changed, as long as it can be done in a constructive, educational fashion.

The CA students who have really taken to the extra credit plan for the second quarter. Stealing a page from Mrs. Renee Jones, the language arts teacher at Diamond Middle School, where I worked until this year, I am offering the writing of a novel as one way in which students can receive extra credit points.

I don't expect students to write a 400-page epic, but if they are able to show steady progress throughout the quarter, and maybe throughout the second semester, as well, then they will receive the extra credit. And, who knows, there may be one or two who make it all the way.

The students do not have to write a novel as their extra credit project. They have the option of writing a two or three-act play, writing a book of poetry, tripling the number of Accelerated Reader points they earn for reading books, then taking and passing tests on them, or a combination of reading AR books and non-AR books (which I must approve).

I give the CA students writing prompts at the beginning of the hour nearly every day. Yesterday's prompt was "What are you planning to do over the three-day weekend?" Two of my students indicating they planned to get started on writing their novels. That's the kind of response that makes a teacher feel good.

I'm already in the process of reading a novella by Kristin Carter, one of the top students in my first/second hour CA block. She has written a book featuring further adventures of characters from Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. She knows what makes the characters tick, and she has gone to the trouble of even putting photos from the movies into her book. Kristin is a transfer from Raytown, a suburb of Kansas City, and is already very active in both academic and athletic pursuits here.

Planning is also continuing on the revamping of the South Middle School website. The third and fourth-hour multi-media classes are designing the webpages. During the first quarter, they designed their own webpages which, within a few days, will be available for viewing at the South website.
The advanced CA class (fifth/sixth hour block) will do the news writing and sports writing for the website. Lindsay Hamm, Autumn Mauller, Sarah McDonough, and Rachel Ryan have been named to the editorial board and spent most of sixth hour yesterday making assignments.

We are hoping to have news on the South website by a week from Monday or Tuesday.

The multi-media classes will also be taking digital photos for the site. During the past week, the classes, one of which has 24 students, and the other 30, have been sharing one digital camera. It has been a little awkward. I will pick up four more cameras from the district administration office Monday, then we will probably drive everyone crazy with our photography.

Forms have been e-mailed to the faculty and staff for our Meet the Faculty page. We have already had about a dozen returned.

Our first priorities will be constructing the home page, news page, sports page, faculty page, and links pages for students and teachers. After that, we hope to have a homework hotline page ready by second semester to help students who were absent, parents who want to see what their children are supposed to be doing and students who simply forget what their assignments are.

I didn't get to see it last night, but I understand that South was featured prominently on Channel 12's news report. Mr. Ron Mitchell, our principal, came up with an idea for a Wall of Fame, which will feature photos and short biographies of people who attended South Middle School, then went on to become successful.

The Wall is not limited to people who are doctors, lawyers, astronauts, or professional athletes, but people who have gone on to be successful in their communities from all walks of life. Channel 12 reporter Kent Faddis interviewed several students yesterday afternoon. I hope some of them were featured in the report.