Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year -- Kathy Nimmer

State Superintendent Glenda Ritz introduces Kathy
Kathy's first remarks as 2015 INTOY

I love surprises, and there was a big one today in Tippecanoe County, Indiana.  For months a committee of former Indiana Teachers of the Year had reviewed portfolios submitted by outstanding teachers across our state to represent their districts in the competition for 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year.  We read.  We thought.  We evaluated.  We interviewed ten finalists at the Department of Education, and then we read, we thought, and we evaluated some more.  We visited the top three finalists at their schools to see extraordinary teaching in action, and guess what?  We read, we thought, and we evaluated yet again, and at the end of the day, the choice was clear.

Kathy Nimmer is the 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year!

Kathy's colleagues celebrate her honor
A hug from mom & cheers from students

In the days leading up to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz's announcement at William Henry Harrison High School, where Kathy teaches English in grades 10-12, I could hardly contain my excitement.  This master teacher, with a resume that includes multiple grants, publications, and even a TED talk, would now represent Indiana and show the rest of the country what a truly accomplished educational leader looks like.

Supt. Ritz, Kathy, 2014 & 2005 INTOYs Steve Perkins/Molly Seward 
Kathy & her parents

Kathy's life will never be the same.  She will travel across the country to work with the finest teachers in our nation.  She will talk with the President of the United States.  This teacher who already thinks broadly and deeply about the most important issues in education will find her capacious boundaries extended to realms of politics and policy, research and training.  She will take her rightful place on the larger stage of American education at one of the most exciting times in the history this great institution.  I look forward to working with her and hearing her voice as she speaks into and helps lead vital areas in this profession that affects every single citizen.

Kathy's first reaction was to embrace her friend, Elias

What I look forward to most, however, is the reaction of the rest of our state and nation as a wider audience of educators gets to know Kathy.  The surprise announcement at Harrison High School was fun, but it will be nothing like the surprise of American educators when they realize that a consummate professional, a powerful yet humble leader of the first order, has taken her place alongside them in one of the greatest works to which a human being can dedicate a life.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Southern Indiana Schools, Part 4

On Friday, September 19, 2014, I visited eight schools in three southern Indiana counties.  Traveling with me was Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections for the Indiana University School of Education.  This is the fourth and final in a series of posts about those visits.

The American public high school.  It is the star of both stage and screen, but few dramatic depictions capture what is really going on in our 21st century secondary schools.  On a day of touring schools in southern Indiana, we managed to see three that show some of the best of what high school can be.

Gary Moenter was the longtime librarian at Scottsburg High School in Scott County, and I knew him as my grandma's across-the-street neighbor.  They named the media center for him after his passing, but I have no doubt he would barely recognize what is going on if he were here today.  Shawna Slayton (above, left), showed me the platform the students use in this 1-to-1 school where laptops rule the day and textbooks do not exist.  Principal Richard Manns told me that with 85% of the community having Internet access in the home, this seemed like the right way to prepare these students for the future.  Even for those who do not have Internet access outside the school, all needed work can be downloaded during the school day.  I know I would have loved this kind of learning, especially as seen in Mr. Routt's American Studies class (above right), where I couldn't help stirring up a bit of debate regarding Marvel and DC comic characters, inspired by posters in the room.

If Thomas Kinkade was known as the painter of light, then surely Floyd Central High School in the rolling hills of Floyd County is the school of light.  The motto of those who designed its renovation must have been fiat lux, let there be light, for the natural beauty of the surrounding area flows through every hall.  It is appropriate to use a Latin phrase here, for one of my stops was to see my friend Tim Harbison, the Highlander Latin teacher.  His class (above, right) was carrying on the tradition of Classical excellence that Tim had learned from the teacher he and I both had when were in high school, Alice Ranck Hettle, a finalist for Indiana Teacher of the Year and a Fulbright Scholar in Rome. 

At New Albany High School, home of the Bulldogs and oldest public high school in Indiana, I was returning to my alma mater.  There I visited another Latin colleague, Steve Prince, whose students were re-enacting the Battle of Cannae (above, left).  We had as our guide a senior named Ethan, whose plans for the future may include the United States Army.  He pointed out Edwin Hubble in the Hall of Fame, for Hubble had taught Spanish and coached boys' basketball before going on to a career in astronomy.  This young man was an outstanding representative of the Bulldogs and just what we would hope to see defending our nation.

What links these three high schools in my mind is tradition.  All three have a long history, yet each has chosen different ways to build on its heritage to continue the work of education in the 21st century.  Good work is being done in all these institutions to respond to the needs of their communities and to prepare all students for the future.

Southern Indiana Schools, Part 3

On Friday, September 19, 2014, I visited eight schools in three southern Indiana counties.  Traveling with me was Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections for the Indiana University School of Education.  This is the third in a series of posts about those visits.

Three middle schools in Scott and Floyd counties all share one goal...high student achievement.  They approach their goal in different ways, but the effect is the same.  Students are learning, and I saw evidence of it when I visited their schools.

At Scottsburg Middle School, the students all use district-issued iPads.  There are no textbooks.  Having made the move to a 1-to-1 model, Scottsburg schools rely on technology not just to deliver instruction, but as the very environment in which students work.  I know this because Mark, an 8th grade student, led me through a demonstration on his iPad of what school looks like for him.  While I was certainly impressed with the content of what he showed me, I was more taken by the mature, capable manner of this young man, proof that what Scottsburg is doing is working.

Highland Hills Middle School in Floyd County, Indiana, has an unofficial slogan.  They call themselves the GMS on the P.  I asked Dawn Boling, top 10 finalist for 2015 Indiana Teacher of the Year, what that meant, and she said, "Greatest middle school on the planet."

This was not the usual educational hype and spin.  In Elizabeth Murphy's room (above left) and in Doug Elmore's class (above right), I saw students actively engaged in learning life.  Liz, a 2009 top 10 finalist for INTOY, has an English classroom bursting with interest.  At first I thought it was a music class, but then I learned she had brought in music as a way of setting up that day's reading.  As for Doug's orchestra, well, let's just take a listen.

My visit to Hazelwood Middle School held some nostalgia for me.  When I attended, it was Hazelwood Junior High, grades 7-9.  Now it is a middle school of grades 5-8.  Much had changed thanks to physical renovations, and we were fortunate to have Jessica Waters, the Bullpup principal, to guide us.

What I noticed in classes like Ms. Thurston's ELA/Social Studies room (above, left) was light and enthusiasm.  Our visit was late on a Friday, shortly before dismissal, yet whether they were in the classroom or in the gym, these students kept their focus on where their teachers were leading them.

Three different middle schools, one goal.  More than any data chart could show, these schools contain life, and that life is flourishing in Scott and Floyd counties.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Southern Indiana Schools, Part 2

On Friday, September 19, 2014, I visited eight schools in three southern Indiana counties.  Traveling with me was Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections for the Indiana University School of Education.  This is the second in a series of posts about those visits.

From 1975-1981 I was a student at Slate Run Elementary School in New Albany, Indiana.  It is now holds 333 students in grades K-4, but it still has the same orange and blue colors, and seeing the rooms and hallways took me back.

My 2nd grade classroom
My 1st-3rd grade hallway
We had arrived after an event in which Kindergarten parents had been invited to spend part of the day with their children, and it was clear the students were excited.  Yet for all the enthusiasm of little ones, the Slate Run Gators were focused on the business of school, whether that involved lining up to go somewhere or exploring books in the library.

 I wish we had been able to spend a bit more time and take a few more pictures, for what I saw at this school was life.  As you can see even in the few pictures here, this is a school full of color, light, and life, one that celebrates student achievement in an environment designed for success.

New Albany residents may find that last sentence a bit odd, for Slate Run is an older school, dating back to 1963.  Its architecture reflects the time of its construction, and indeed there are modern school plans that perhaps serve the needs of 21st century education better.  It is not, however, the architectural blueprint to which I refer when I say this school is designed for success.  The design I am talking about is the human design.  Mrs. Niemeier and her staff have created an atmosphere in which children love to learn.  I imagine I would see the same ear-to-ear smiles and would hear the same musical "Hi, Mrs. Niemeier!" exclamations if this school existed in a cave.

Assistant Principal Sarah Pierce and Principal Amy Niemeier

Southern Indiana Schools, Part 1

On Friday, September 19, 2014, I visited eight schools in three southern Indiana counties.  Traveling with me was Andy Bosk, Director of Career Connections for the Indiana University School of Education.  This is the first in a series of posts about those visits.

Pleasant Ridge Elementary School in the Greater Clark County Schools is located in Charlestown, Indiana.  I first came to know of Pleasant Ridge through my cousin, Donna Atwood, who is the Special Needs Coordinator.

Donna Atwood in READ 180 classs
In this K-5 school, most of the 450 students use some sort of tablet or laptop in their learning.  The city of Charlestown has invested in wi-fi throughout the community, and in instances where a student's family lacks Internet access at home, there are multiple sites, including at the schools, where they can get what they need.

I was impressed with the quick and ready use the students made of their laptops, especially in Mr. Riddle's fourth grade class.  After some time of general instruction, Mr. Riddle directed his students to get out their laptops, which they readily did.  They knew what the procedure was, and it was clear that this was no show.  This was a regular part of their daily lives.

4th grade students with books and laptops
Mr. Riddle's 4th grade class

The students at Pleasant Ridge use both traditional books and technology-based resources, and this seems to be a good mix, especially since we are still learning about the pros and cons of tech-based approaches to learning.

We also saw Ms. Lawrence's second grade class and Ms. Aebersold's Kindergarten class.  Here the students engaged in both tech-based learning and in multiple learning stations.  It was in the 2nd grade class that we learned several of the students want to be teachers, which, from their enthusiasm, seemed to me a very good thing!

Ms. Lawrence's 2nd grade class, where students are inspired to be teachers!

Ms. Aebersold's Kindergartners explore the world through technology.
At the end of the our time, I was able to get a picture with the principal, Ms. Sara Porter, and my cousin, Donna.

The true tale of Pleasant Ridge is told in the smiles.  Ms. Porter is excited about her opportunity to lead this school, where the teachers have designed themed classrooms to provide a sense of unity and shared culture throughout the building.  With a blend of cutting-edge and traditional instruction preparing these enthusiastic and creative young people, I am eager to see what these students will do in the future!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Getting Off Track

We are behind in our A.P. Latin class, which is a typical condition for us.  There are certain lines we must cover, certain concepts we must explore, and as it was last Friday, certain grammatical concepts we must review.  Yet for all that, we are reading Vergil's Aeneid, an epic poem the depths of which I have not yet discovered, despite having taught it for longer than my students have been alive.  It is a magnum opus dealing with love and hate, life and death, dreams inspired and hopes crushed.  It is, as with most Roman art, a distinctly human work.  Do you think for one minute that with such a work in the hands of thoughtful young people about to launch into the epic of their own lives I would not indulge their thought-provoking questions just stay on the syllabus?  Not on your life.

We were at Book I, line 521, in which the hero Aeneas catches sight of a friend whom he believed dead about to speak to a foreign queen.  Of this man Vergil writes, "Maximus Ilioneus placido sic pectore coepit."  "Ilioneus, the greatest of them all, began to speak thus with a calm heart."  Nick, a football and rugby player with a Shakespearean vocabulary and the poetic soul of Shelley, observed that pectore also means "chest," and thus began our discussion of why the word can also mean "heart."  Will, a young man also studying for the International Baccalaureate exam in Latin, then asked why Vergil would have referenced the heart as the seat of emotions, since there is evidence the ancients saw the liver as our emotional source.  This gave me pause, as I did not at the moment recall that the origin of this notion lay with Galen, who lived more than a century after Vergil.  We reflected on the parallel expression Vergil likes to use, ex imo corde, "from the depths of the heart," which uses the word for the actual heart muscle.  The conversation flitted from student to student, and then I paused again and uttered a statement that made all heads turn.

"This is why I do not like tests."

I explained that in our current obsession with using methodology from the natural sciences to assess the value of what takes place in this most human of enterprises, education, our tools are incapable of capturing the truth.  What test could I give that would accurately take stock of the scintillating discussion that had taken place over the previous fifteen minutes?  We could count the number of students who actually spoke during that time, but if we did that, then the conclusion would be that the exercise was a disastrous failure, for fewer than fifty percent had spoken.  Jess, a thoughtful young lady, observed, "Yes, but everyone was thinking."  Of that, I have no doubt, but I do doubt that any of the Olympian powers-that-be in education would accept sparkles in teenage eyes or pensive expressions as data.

Yong Zhao, internationally renowned scholar, author, and speaker on education, posted recently about our suicidal obsession with attaining educational excellence through authoritarian means.  He is right, but since education is a human endeavor, conducted by people with people about the discoveries and creations of people, it must be about life, and I cannot go down the path of death, even if it were to lead to 5s for everyone on the A.P. exam.  My student Jess said it best at the end of the period.  As the bell rang to dismiss our class, the next to last of the day, which was a Friday and a day when many expect schools to get little of value accomplished, she stayed to say thank you.  She thanked me for allowing our class to get off track and to discuss matters that truly matter.