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Friday, September 27, 2019

Redemption requires forgiveness and above all love

It matters not when redemption comes, what matters is that it comes.
When I was 11-years-old I took the blow meant for my mother. I stood up to my father. He left the next day. I couldn't change him. But, I would defend my mother no matter what the cost.
I wish children did not have to make these kinds of choices. I grew up to be the exact opposite of my father. Alcohol addiction and self-hate robbed his humanity. I was with him when the day he died. Some moments make us, others break us.
My mother asked him to see the priest. I was upset with her, cause I had come to hate this man I called my father. I was angry with her for caring about him after 15 years of going missing in action. Not a card, a phone call, not anything. I had 15 years of hate eating away at me, and I did not want to let that hate go.
I remember her saying Rev. Fitzgerald, did you see my husband yet? He said Mrs. Turner I have been with him three times today. It's an uneasy peace, and redemption for some comes late. Trust me, he has met his devils, confess his sins, made his peace, and his redemption is real.
My mother looked at me and said son promise me you won't wait until the end to make peace with yourself. She saw the hate in me. She knew it was too heavy a burden for me to carry. Then she ran after the priest. She said Father, can you talk with my son for a while. He said sure what is a good time Jess? She said right now is a good time.  I was angrier than ever. I felt like screaming. But, I could never say no to my mother. The last thing I wanted was to talk about my father.

Father Fritz said Jesse, come into the chapel with me. In that chapel, I met my devils, confess my sins, laid out that hate held far too long, and made my peace, and am stilling working on this redemption thing. Faith and love took that heavy burden off me. I left that chapel different that day.
After I left, I took the elevator up to his hospital room, and held his hand, kiss his forehead, and said the words I had wanted to say for 15 years. I love you, dad. We both began crying. I never said I forgive you because it did not need saying. Forgiveness rode that wave of father and son tears. Later that night he passed, and I held his hand. Love wins people.I have spent my life stepping up. It's not what I want, it's what I have to do. It is who I am, but I am also a loving son, a loving brother, a loving husband, a loving father, and a loving teacher. Redemption never comes easy, but it can't come without love.

Love wins,
Jesse The Walking Man Turner 

If you like to listen to the song that inspired my walk this morning...its  
Martin Hurkens - "You Raise me Up"

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Elephant In The SEL Room

The Elephant In The SEL Room.
The terms Social Emotional Learning is a hot topic in schools today. I am glad we are paying attention to this. We are told that children and their teachers need to focus on the Whole Child, find time to take care of each other and themselves emotionally. The work being shared is rich in best practices. This is a real need. This is all good. 
BUT, But, and but again people, we should be honest that there is no bigger impediment to the Social Emotional Well Being of our nation's children and their teachers then the constant use of High-Stakes Testing in our public schools.
Our nation's policymakers, legislators, and education reformers think assessing children requires standardized testing. It is easy for people who have little or no experience working with children to view high stakes testing as a way to measure learning. They lack the experiences of sitting with children, learning and growing with them on a daily basis.  Teachers see the child not the score. 
The Latin root of "assess" is “to sit beside.” Not do something to someone. It means both teacher and children learn from each other, they learn together. Teachers get this. They understand everything they need to do comes from sitting besides the children they teach. The data that matters to teachers isn't found on some data wall, it isn't found by logging into some expensive online data gathering system. The data that matters is found in real classrooms sitting next to children we teach. Everything needed to move a child forward is found sitting together. Teachers don't need to go online, or wait for the data to come in. Everything they need is sitting right next to them. In that "sitting beside place". Where it's not about some strategic learning objective, but about caring to follow the child not the score. That place where teachers learn to differentiate their instruction not based on test scores, but directly from the child.  The data that matters isn't found on some magic Bell Curves. it breathes, feels, and sits next to us in our classrooms.  If we really care about the well-being of our children in public schools, we would end this love affair with High-Stakes Testing. start paying attention to child sitting in our classrooms. They are the living breathing data that no testing company ever talks to. It's time to kick the Elephant out of the room.

I walked from Connecticut to Washington DC in 2010 and 2105 to protest High-Stakes Testing and inequity in our public schools. What did I discover about standardized testing in our public schools on those walks? I discovered it was demoralizing teachers and destroying the desire to learn in their students. Those 400 plus mile walks took 40 days to complete each time. I met over a thousand teachers and parents on those walks. All the teachers I met shared that constant testing was destroying the motivation to teach. Destroying the desire to learn in the students they taught. They said they spent 8-12 weeks of the school year preparing for, practicing for, and giving mandated testing. Parents told me the testing is making their children hate going to school. Not one teacher, not one parent, not one student expressed anything positive about the testing in their schools during walks.

What else did I learn about our nation's love affair with High-Stakes Testing? It is stealing 2-3 months of valuable learning time.  It is costing our nation BILLIONS of dollars.  There is no evidence that more
standardized testing ever improved learning in our public schools. The Literature does contain numerous studies documenting an over emphasis on standardized testing increases the number of students labeled special education, students with behavior problems, and anxiety concerns.

18 years after NCLB turned our children into test scores, it should not come a surprise that Social Emotional Learning is emerging as a hot topic. America spent over 1.2 billion dollars on NCLB and RTTT. The real surprise is that after 19 years of testing reform failures our leaders can't see the Elephant in the room. Trust me on this one thing, teachers, children, and parents see that Elephant. 

I say if educators and parents are really concerned about Social Emotional Learning then we should demand that testing money go to supporting and bringing SEL into our schools. Once the testing is gone we will get back the time and funding needed to truly support SEL in our public schools.  Time to kick the Elephant out of the room.
Dr. Jesse P. Turner 
CCSU Literacy Center Director

Parents and teachers together can't be defeated

If you want to listen to the song that inspired my morning walk today its Crosby, Stills, and Nash singing Teach the children.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

See The Gifts

See the gifts.
I was talking to one of the teachers I work with this week. She told me about a young child who has a para all day long, and suffers from dangerous brain seizures, and the staff was told he is not expected to live for more than a few more years. He has had many surgeries, and has the scars to show it on his head.

She said he wants so much to interact with the other children, and they like interacting with him. But, we were told do not stress him. He sometimes appears so fragile, and others times he doesn't. He is not able to move about without the assistance of his Para. At first we were afraid, and then we came to know him, his laughter, his smile, and he melted our hearts. The other day, he was playing catch with the other kids, everyone was having fun, and he was laughing away. The Para and I were worried, but everyone was smiling, laughing, and enjoying themselves. The Para and I thought let it be.

She asked Dr. Turner, what would you have done? Physical activity might trigger a seizure. I said "Celebrate the wonder a child who gifted his teacher, Para, and classmates with a perfect moment of humanity" and I just might have join in the game. I certainly would have awarded him one of my Plastic Gold medals, bow down to him, and said there has never ever been a better catcher than you.

Play is not stressing, laughter is not stressing, joy is not stressing, and you and your Para did exactly what I would have done. She said he often has seizures during the week when this happens, the children and I leave the classroom, the Para stays, and the nurse comes. My students worry about this child, sincerely care about the child, and always treat him with dignity and respect. On the catch day he suffered no seizures, but we every one of us felt his joy and love. She said those are the days I live for. Trust that those are the days this child lives for.

A dear old friend an Elder Danny Lopez from the Tohono O'odham Nation who past away some years ago.... once told me: "Jesse the creator sends us children we sometimes think are broken, but we are mistaken. They are not broken, they are beautiful strategic gifts the Creator places to in our lives to prove our humanity. It's not the gifts that are broken, it's us, and they have come to help heal us."

See the gifts,
Dr. Jesse P. Turner

In case you are wondering what song inspired my morning walk's Natalie Merchants Wonder

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The things Standardized Testing Can't Tell Teachers

It that season of "Much To Do About Nothing" time!
It is that time of year again,
Leaders talk about SBAC results,
They shout that SBAC data out, as if they actually tell teachers something important.
Things these SBAC Scores won't tell Connecticut teachers.

Who did not eat dinner last night, or breakfast this morning,
Who is being physically abused at home.,
Who lost their sibling to violence last night.

Whose family is being evicted,
Whose parent is incarcerated,
Whose parent lost their job,
Whose parent has cancer,
Whose parents can't afford to pay the repair bills for their car,
Whose parent died last night.

Which child is being bullied in school,
Which child is being sexually targeted,
Which child's parent was taken by ICE last nigh,
Which child is feeling suicidal,
Which child is thinking about harming others.
Which child's house burn down last night,
Which child's parent is suffering from addiction,
Which child has no clean clothes to wear today.

Whose school has no art teacher,
Whose school has no music teacher,
Whose school has no librarian,
Whose school has no recess,
Whose school has no time for play.

What do SBAC Scores tell teachers?
Nothing actually useful.
Things SBAC doesn't tell teachers,
The color of a child eyes,
If a child is living in Trauma,
What a child could learn in a public school system where teachers and children are given the resources and supports needed to succeed.

How do I know this?
Is it because I have A PhD. in Language, Literacy and Culture?
NO, it is because,
I was a homeless child,
I was a hungry child,
I was a cold child,
I had was a child with no,
Gloves, or
I was a child living in trauma once.

No test ever fed me,
No test ever gave me a bed,
No test ever gave me a,
No test ever told me things will get better.

But, a teacher once,
Fed me lunch for a year,
Told me things will get better,
Gave me a,
New coat,
New gloves,
Warm socks.

A teacher who stepped outside his classroom.
A teacher once visited my mother at the train station lobby we were sleeping in.
Mrs. Turner, I am sorry to hear you living through some bad times,
Mrs. Turner, I am sure things are going to get better,
Mrs. Turner, may we talk about Little Jess?
A teacher came to talk with my mother, not down to my mother, but with her.

He said "Mrs. Turner, forgive me, I called your daughter Jessica today,"
We talked about when she was in my class,
We talked about married life,
We talked about Little Jess,
Mrs. Turner, she talked with her husband James,
They both would like to help Jess out. Jessica and James want to take young Jess into their home until you can get back on your feet.
Your Jessica, said my mother is proud,
This isn't charity, this is family.

What can a teacher do for child living with trauma?
Sometimes when the stars are aligned, A teacher can change a child's world.

I was this young child,
I would live for the next 8 years in his sister's loving home.
Homelessness and Poverty are cruel and difficult to climb out of.
It took eight years, but Momma climbed out, and her son would live with her in her loving home, and earn two college degrees in her house of love.

Things a teacher know,
Teachers know how to make a difference.
Teachers are my heroes, and
Family is my rock. 
How do I know what teachers know?
A teacher once saved my life.

What this teacher knows?
No Standardized Test ever saved any child's life.
Dr. Jesse P. Turner
Moral Monday Connecticut Education Ambassador

If you are wonder which song inspired my morning walk today...its Amy Ludwig VanDerwater's song sang by Barry Lane

Sunday, September 15, 2019

For a Chicago Teacher: Look What They Done To My Song Ma

This past July in Chicago, a group of Connecticut teachers had lunch with Michelle Strater Gunderson from the Chicago Teachers Union. She has been teaching in Chicago for over 30 years, she has been fighting the good fight for children, Chicago public schools, communities, and her fellow teachers for at least that long.  She talked about school budget cuts so severe that essential services for school children are often lacking in local schools. Children who go to schools without a school nurse. She told us the city constantly asks schools and teachers to do more with less. She spoke about decades-old disrespect for children, parents, teachers, and local communities. What Michelle described in my opinion children being abandoned by administrations that put the welfare of the rich, the powerful and the connected before Chicago's public schools. 

She recently wrote on Facebook: "I have been so discouraged by the incredible disrespect shown to educators by our district in negotiations. We are going to have to fight for every inch of the ground of teacher autonomy and the ability to make professional decisions. This means STRIKE in my book. Be clear about this, Chicago." 

I have known these Chicago teachers for well over a decade. Special Education Teachers like Katie Osgood who has consistently stood up for the students she teaches. Even in the face of retaliation by the Chicago Board of Education. I have followed their struggle, been inspired by their struggle, and reminded that we teachers need to fight for our students in and out of the classroom.

Those words about respect and fighting for teaching autonomy from Michelle are the same words of every Chicago teacher. The same words that every teacher in the nation is saying. 12 teacher strikes and counting. Now imagine teachers having to fight for nurses, Smaller Class Sizes, Para-Professionals, Music, Art, Play, Gym, Project-Based learning, Student-Centered Teaching, Real Reading, and Real Writing. Then imagine our nation's leaders fighting against all those things. This is the state of education reform in America. A brutal assault on our poorest children, their schools, and their teachers by reformers who have little or no actual working experience in public schools.

I call teachers like Michelle Old School Teachers, I use the term with the highest respect. I consider myself one of these Old School Teachers. Old School Teachers who came into this profession on a mission to do good for children. Teachers whose children are not data points, who bring humanity into our classrooms. Teachers leading with love, hope, and joy.

These Old School Teachers have high expectations. Expectations that have always been higher than some test score. We understand that the children we teach are growing up in a world unlike ours. This is not a new concept for Old School Teachers. We teach children who will need to change careers multiple times. This changing career path means multiple retraining and reeducation events in the future lives of the children we teach. Standards and standardized assessments are written for static knowledge bases. They can't look forward, because they can't stop looking back. They seldom prepare children for what really happens after they leave our public schools. Our expectations seek to move children to a place where learning is interesting, meaningful and joyful. We seek learners who love to learn. We Old School Teachers work on turning learning into life long journeys.

The fight 30 years ago was for professional respect, for greater humanity in our classrooms, and for the right to teach. We called out inequity then, and we are still calling it out today. Now, these reformers have come along chanting equity is every child taking the same test, every child measured by the same standards, and school choice without equity. We Old School Teachers were not silent 30 years ago, and we will not be silent today.

There was a song popular decades ago by Melanie Safka “Look What They've Done To My Song Ma”. It pops into my head every time I hear one every time these so-called Education Reformers, Policymakers, and legislators start selling School Choice without equity, new standards, and high stakes testing. I am an old school teacher. We Old School Teachers spend our days and nights trying to turn boring curriculum into meaningful invitations to learning. We find ourselves being told where is your data, show us your data walls. What do the test scores indicate? What does their data tell us?
We find ourselves saying the test scores do not tell us a thing, except that our children are bored, confused, and suffering. Old School Teachers see children, not test scores. We Old School Teachers are finding ourselves wondering when did they turn our public schools in Black, Brown, and Poor communities into testing factories?

“Look what they've done to my song, Ma
Look what they've done to my song
Well, it's the only thing I could do half right
And it's turning out all wrong, Ma
Look what they've done to my song.”

It began in the 1990's private sector entities, policymakers, and legislators formed a Neoliberal alliance intent on dominating public education from birth to university. Every child, every teacher, every parent, every local public school became human capital. The Public good, became the right to turn people into commodities to be manipulated by power brokers far removed from our classrooms, public schools, and communities.

They turned our children into data points, education reform lobbyists targeting our legislators with large and steady political campaign contributions. Legislators who appointed Neo-Liberal allies who in turn would come to dominate public education policies.
An alliance that views children and teachers as human capital. Policies claiming competition would bring equity and justice to Black, Brown, Poor and Special Education children. Then they sold these policies to mainstream media and the public. The Main Stream Media who enriched themselves with the advertising dollars of these new human capital monetizers.  They drank that money train Kool-Aide. And the public believing their leadership knew better drank the Kool-Aide well. Like Judas, these legislators, policy makers, and media personalities took that silver, and their hands are still asking for more. An alliance not vested in the public good, but vested in turning the public into their profits. Wall Street Bankers dance, and our children suffer.

Leadership in our Nation’s Capital, our State Houses, Town Halls, and State Departments of Education were twisted and sold to the point that citizens no longer can distinguish the difference between lobbyists, the media and leadership. 

Robertson (2008) gave us a clear description of the imbrication of the private within the public:

“The national state is also deeply implicated in advancing a reconstruction of the public-private divide, including an expansion of the private domain. This transformation has been fueled by three processes. First, since the early 1980s, we have witnessed an expansion of the private domain as a result of the absorption of state authorities and through the formation of new kinds of private authority. Second, we can observe the formation of new kinds of public-private arrangements that blur the public-private divide.... Third, we can see a change in the character of the private interests that insert themselves into public policymaking, and thereby shape critical components of the content of the public domain. (p. 291). “

Robinson sees a change, Old Teachers see a sell-out of the public good, of our children, and our local public schools. Old School Teachers were too busy trying to do right for the children they were teaching in the midst of an education reform movement that sort to monetize children, teachers, and local schools. I want to put these profiteers on notice, we Old School Teachers are WOKE!

Michelle Strater Gunderson likes to play her guitar, like Pete Seeger she sings the songs that matter. I love hearing her sing those old union songs, those old Pete Seeger tunes. I can almost hear her singing:

“Look what they've done to my brain, Ma
Look what they've done to my brain
Yeah, they picked it like a chicken bone
And they think I'm half insane, Ma
Look what they've done to my song”

Old school Teachers, will not sing this new song of our children are profits.
No, we are digging in, fighting back, and most of all we are defending our children, our local public schools, fellow teachers, and the communities we teach in. 
If you want to know where to find the best of our Old School Teachers, go to Chicago. 
This one is for Michelle, Katy, and all my Rank and File Sisters and Brothers. I stand with the Chicago Teachers Union in the fight to save our children, our schools, and profession.
Your Old School Teacher Brother,
Jesse The Walking Man Turner 

If you like to hear the song that inspired my morning walk its Miley Cirus singing the cover of "Look What They've done To My Song Ma" 

Couldn't resist adding Rebel Diaz's Chicago Teacher for all our New School Teachers 


Friday, September 6, 2019

CCSU Literacy There is a crack in everything, that's how the light get in.

Another CCSU Literacy Center Thursday...searching...

Searching for cracks

In between getting ready for class and making the final placements for our Fall Literacy Program, and teaching...I found some time to start getting our Literacy Center ready for our children on Monday and to work on our Hispanic Heritage Month invitations. The truth is Hispanic, history is American history, the Spanish arrived long before the English and the French. They were in the Americas, and yes Texas, California, New Mexico before there was the United States of America. 
We will also on Monday, October 14, 2019, celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day to honor our Native American sisters and brothers's history and culture. Their history is American history. It's the same for Black History, and Women's history...they are American History. All we non-native peoples live on stolen land and all our histories are entangled together. Lands built by African slaves, immigrants backs, and Native souls. We shall honor all people here. It's our stories that bring us together not presidents. We love all our stories here. 
How and what we celebrate matters to children. What is taught is not always learned, and what is learned is not always not taught. Our monthly Read-A-Thons, our Gold Medal Challenges, and our Wax Museum Project becomes one of those not explicitly taught things that help us all grow new friendships, a new respect for each other, and come to understand an America not melting, but growing into this beautiful tapestry of many voices, many people. Imagine one day a moth to just read anything you choose. 
These are particularly hard days on our Hispanic families between ICE threats and detention center stories of children in cages. Even if you are a citizen these policies hurt your families. It's not much, but it is our way to say you are welcomed here. All are welcomed here. 
I'll be here Friday night and Saturday making sure all is ready for Monday. Can't wait to open the doors and say welcome to the children, their parents, and of course our very very special Literacy Center teachers. Have to run to Costco's for some healthy snacks and cups. 
Dear policymakers, legislators, and data crunchers, we shall measure our data, not in test scores, but in how many Gold Medals are awarded, how many smiles we grow, and how many new friendships are grown. How many stories, chapters, and books are read. We shall celebrate our discoveries and learning journeys. 
It is not about the numbers, it's about building an inclusive community that respects our children, parents, and teachers. It is not nearly enough, but it is as Lenard Cohen wrote: "There is a crack in everything that's how the light gets in"
"You can add up the parts
You won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart to love will come
But like a refugee
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in." 
It is about helping young people here come to see literacy as an amazing gift, that never ever stops giving. Trust me this literacy is a gift thing, that is far far more important than any test scores. And if somehow along the way we come to value and respect others, well my friends that just might be the most important data out there. 
Time to let the light in,
Dr. Jesse P. Turner

If you like to listen to the tune that inspired my walk this morning? Its Lenard Cohen's Anthem