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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Grandfather, knew the value of field tips


“When a caterpillar bursts from its cocoon and discovers it has wings, it does not sit idly, hoping to one day turn back. It flies.” ~ 
Kelseyleigh Reber

For over a hundred years, the men in my family dug New York’s tunnels, walked the steel beams of the skyscrapers, painted the bridges, and cleaned chemical tanks in Jersey. This was my father. These men did these jobs with little or no protection. They drank hard, and many died early. My father would not see 63. He died of Tuberculosis, like so many others he knew.

My grandfather wanted something more, and he offered his grandson a universe of books. He walked me over to Steven’s College in Hoboken when I was 10 years old, doing poorly in school.

He took me inside, we went into an empty classroom, and he said, smell that. No paint, oils, or chemicals. It smells like a sweet clean, like a summer breeze. Are you taking this in Little Jess? Then we took a cold drink from a hallway fountain. Taste that, Little Jess, think about it; this water is always cold.

Little Jess, if I had my life to live over, I would walk and learn it all in these Ivy Walls. Then we went outside, found a spot on the perfectly manicured lawn, and laid back looking up at the sky. It was one of his most powerful, memorable lessons meant only for me.

We walked around the whole place, the sports fields, and every tree-lined path. He stopped at every status, read the names on every building. He said I have never been to Rome but made it to France during the war. I saw the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. There are many kinds of cathedrals. Universities are Catherfrals in some ways. They are my favorites.

We could see the New York Skyline from that college. He would point out the buildings and bridges he worked on, and say your father and Uncle Bill worked on that one with me.

As we left his cathedral that day, he turned us around to look back one last time. I had never walked on a college campus before. I had never seen anything like it, did not really understand most of it, but that old man planted a seed that day in his grandson. I learned about the value of field trips and cathedrals from him.

I love and deeply respect those laborers who built the bridges I ride on today. I learned about these Learning cathedrals from one of them. Not one of them ever stepped in my way. Instead, they encouraged the kid who loved books, the library and would learn to love school one day.

They were as proud of me as I am of them.
Here’s to the ones who built America,
Little Jess  

If you like to listen to the tune that inspired my morning walk today? Its Bruce Springsteen's " The River".

Monday, December 28, 2020

Pandemic Teaching less than inspiring, but inequality always left Poor Children uninspired!


Jane Goodall said: “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” A fellow academic at the end of the semester said he is extremely disappointed in his teachers' online lessons' quality. He said a majority of the lessons are uninspiring. I reminded him this is a pandemic crisis and then asked him about his lessons. Would he rate them as inspiring? I said my lessons are far from inspiring. At best, I am getting it done. He explained that he is getting it done. So, your lessons, my lessons, and most lessons being taught during this pandemic crisis are less inspiring and more about getting it done. I suggested that wasn't it really the same before COVID? I added how inspiring were lessons driven by testing and Common Core State Standards before the pandemic? Knowing he never ever challenged the negative influence of high-stakes testing and standards without equity. He has always been a status quo academic. He always ran to every policy workshop and never ever in the past 20-years questioned anything suggested. Our conversation ended with preach somewhere else, Jesse. I live in the real world. If there is one thing the real world does, my friend is leaving us uninspired. My inspiration comes from deciding not to merely teach the truth but to fight for it outside the schoolhouse world. How inspiring is it for poor children, their parents, and their teachers in knowing America spends less on their public education than the education of wealthy schools? Want inspired lessons, then give all public children all our children quality and equitable public education. Quality and equity are my cornerstones for inspiration in my book. Until then, the poor children and their teachers are on their own for inspiration. Inspiration in our public schools should not be something that children and teachers are on their own for. I do my best with my lessons, sometimes they get the job done, and sometimes they go beyond and may even inspire a few. Want inspiration in my lessons is often found when I share my battles outside the classroom for all children, all schools, and yes, all teachers. Inspiration requires teachers to fight the systemic and structural racism that supports this School to Prison Public School System. Inspiration requires more than teaching to get it done. Inspiration requires teachers to question injustice in the classroom, in the schoolhouse, and in the nation. Anything less is uninspiring, Dr. Jesse P. Turner Uniting to Save Our Schools

If you want to listen to the tune that inspired this walking man's morning walk today? Its Marvin Gaye's "What going on"

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Dear President-Elect Biden pick the Secretary who looks past the masses to the one child


Imagine if policymakers and legislators, saw the child, and not the test score?
I never ever tire of reading Loren Eiseley's The Starfish thrower. "A young girl was walking along the long stretch of a seashore one morning, where after a terrible storm, thousands of starfish had been washed ashore.
The striking aspect of the young girl’s walk is that,
As she walked along the beach,
She would pick up one starfish at a time and gently throw it back into the ocean.
An older gentleman observing her,
Approaches her, and out of curiosity,
He asked her why she was throwing the starfish into the ocean. The girl replies with urgency in her voice that, with the sun up and the tide declining, she needed to get these starfish in the water, or they would die.
“But young lady, do you not realize that there are many miles of beach and thousands of starfish? You cannot possibly make a difference.”
The girl listened.
But then, she bends down and picks up another starfish and throws it into the sea, and
She said, “It made a difference for that one”

At 65, the teacher in me, like the teacher I was at 65, understands that teaching and learning are not about the masses. It is always about making a difference one starfish at a time.
This is what our policymakers, legislators, and CEOs chasing test scores can understand. To them, it is an all or none kind of view.
These very people have failed to fully fund all public schools. They cry budget deficits every year, demanding teachers save all on the cheap. This we can't afford more leadership endlessly blaming teachers, children, parents, and those public schools for all society's ills. They are like that old broken vinyle record stuck on the same beat, And so am I. I have written see the child not the test scores 10,000 times. I shall not tire, I shall write it 10,000 more, The story of teaching and learning is not written in numbers, The story is always about one child at a time. At 65, like the teacher, I was at 25, I have always known,
We can't do the masses on the cheap.
But, making the difference to one-child looking up at any given moment of our teaching day,
We'll save one child at a time,
For 10,000 years,
Dr. Jesse P. Turner
CCSU Literacy Center Director If you like to listen to the tune that inspired my walk this morning through the snow? Its "We Shall Be know" cover by Thrive Choir.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Dedicated to all of you, On fire Rank and File members of Connecticut Public School Advocates


I am a Man On Fire, living in a nation where billionaires do not have to pay their fair share,
I am a Man On Fire living in a nation where schools teaching Black, Brown, Poor, and Special Education children are given less, while wealthy mainly White schools are given more than they need. 
I am a man on fire, living in a nation where the children of working-class Americans leave our universities struggled with lifetime debts, 
I am a man on fire, where structural racism is deeply rooted in our nation's public school system. 

A Man on Fire rejects silence,
A Man on Fire rejects apathy,
A Man on Fire is never resting,
A Man on Fire has work to do every day.

What does a Man On Fire have to say to our new President-Elect? 
What does a Man On Fire have to say to our nation's 50 Governors?
What does a Man On Fire have to say to 50 state commissioners of education?
What does a Man On Fire have to say to our nation's Senators and members of Congress,
What does a Man On Fire have to say to the legislative bodies of 50 states?
What does a Man On Fire have to say to America's mayors?
What does a Man On fire have to say to the Robber Barons of Wall Street?

What does this Man On Fire want to know from our nation's leaders?
Why for over 170 years and counting,
Allowed our Nation's Public Schools to give more to wealthy schools than to poor schools?
Knowing that Black, Brown, Poor, and Special Education have never known a single year of a quality and equitable education. 
This Man On Fire is asking how can you not be on fire?

If you are wondering what tune this Man On Fire is listening to this morning? Its Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
 "A Man On Fire"

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Policymakers, good readers don't chase test scores. They chase the honey through the pages

 A Dr. Turner moment of teaching and learning wisdom.

In the children's book "Thank You, Mr. Falker" Patrica Polacco writes these simple lines:
“Honey is sweet, and so is knowledge, but knowledge is like the bee that made that sweet honey; you have to chase it through the pages of a book.”
This book is Polacco's autobiographical story of her struggle with learning to read and dyslexia. She is a prolific writer, with many many children's books. Her book themes often carry powerful messages of hope, struggle, and quests for justice.
So when a child reads every one of her books on our Literacy Center shelves and asks: "Dr. Turner, if I read every single one of her books, can I win a medal, and will you wear a crazy hat and pirate outfit, and bow down to my reading powers?"  

"If you read all 24 books, that is 28 pages time 24 books that will be 672 pages. How could I not give a kid who reads 672 pages a gold medal? You do this I will wear whatever hat you want me to wear, and I will give you a gold medal, bow down to your super reading powers in the hallway where everyone can see us" 

This picture is a few years ago, but it could be any day in the last 20 years at our Literacy Center. Even in this pandemic crisis, 24 medals and certificates of accomplishment went out first class mail yesterday. This Monday, Dr. Turner will wear a silly hat, dress as a pirate, bow down to his children and Literacy Center Teachers, shouting out on Zoom their greatness. We don't celebrate test scores here. We celebrate hard work and our love of books.
Love of reading Wisdom 101:
Hint~policymakers, education reformers, and all you big time commissioners of education. Our children who love to read do not chase good test scores for grades. They chase honey through the pages of books.
Dr. Jesse P. Turner
CCSU Literacy Center Director
AKA sometimes silly hat pirate

If you like to listen to the song that inspired my morning walk today, its Barry Lane's Super teachers always know..."

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Teachers addicted to books

 My wife was in physical therapy, said go get a cup of coffee. I said that sounds like a plan, and set off to the coffee place. However, on the way, I found a bookstore. Coffee or book browsing?

Now, once I enter the bookstore my spirit began to fly, looking this way, that way, up, down, and all around. Teachers don't see books, they see treasures. Next thing I know I find "How To Be A Pirate" by Issac Fitzgerald. An author who has been a firefighter, boat worker, and a man who was once given a sword by a king. Pirate Captain Reads A Lot starts shouting "buy it" Dr. Turner! How can you pass this treasure up? Issac nows lives and writes in Brooklyn. No self-respecting pirate could pass Brooklyn by people! I turn the next bookstore corner, and BAM Jacqueline Woodson's "The Day You Begin" is sitting right there. Just begging for me to read it. Trust me, on this, no reading teacher can pass by Jacqueline Woodson. She is The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. Everyone has a vice. Some people smoke, Some people drink, Some people gamble, But Reading Teachers are addicted to books. Modern Day Education Reformer Bean Counters, Administrators, Policymakers, and Commissioners of education, Spend their days and nights, Chasing Strategic Learning Goals, (SLOs) and Test Scores. They just don't get: Books. Teachers addicted to books, They can't get that! Teachers spending their own money to make other people's children smile, They can't get that! Can't get these book addicted teachers, and they wonder, Why can't teachers get everything they need from their SLOs? These Bean Counters run around evaluating: SLOs, Test Scores, and Saying on their walkthroughs, Did you use your right teaching words? Teachers addicted to children's books, Evaluate that, Dr. Jesse P. Turner CCSU Literacy Center Director If you like to listen to the song that inspired my morning its "All About the books"

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

At the end of the day


Time to say goodbye to Dr. Turner's 50th Literacy Practicum Teachers. 12 teachers providing 55,000 dollars worth of free tutoring to local school children. Our Literacy Center has provided over a million dollars of free services during my 20 years as our director. But, it is not about me, it is about these amazing teachers who come to study and earn their advanced graduate degree in Literacy. The journey usually takes about 2 years and requires dedication, deep study, and intense commitments from teachers with full-time teaching positions during the day. What can I say to them in their final class? That explains they inspired, they lifted our children, parents, Literacy Center, and their professor. They are our heroes, our COVID Warriors!

At the start of this course, I tell them I am their Captain. I am a good captain who brings all his passages to port safely. I ask them to trust me, to take me at my word, and then I do everything I can to bring home safely. I fill up a glass of water halfway. I ask what kind of Literacy Specialist do children most need? Half-Empty, or Half-Full ones? Everyone calls out Half-Full ones. I say they deserve more than Half-Full Literacy Specialists. Then I place the glass in a large glass bowl, pour in water until the glass overflows. I say children deserve Literacy Specialists who fill their own glasses. With each pour of water, I call out one of the 10 courses they take to earn their advanced degree in Literacy. Then I welcome these glass filling teachers to our Literacy Center Practicum.   

For our last class, there is some course business, not much, and then there is my letter to these teachers we called our Literacy Clinicians and Reading Professionals.

At the end of the day

Dear Clinicians, 
Our teaching and learning voyage together has ended, but really your journey is only beginning. You’ll need to sail this ship of change together on your own for a little longer. Who would have believed that our practicum would become remote, because of COVID? This may be your last class at CCSU, or maybe you have one or two more courses left, but know that you are in my whispered prayers every day. 

             My hope is your case your professional fellowship circle continues to grow stronger. I am honored and privileged to have been your LLA 518 and 518 Captain. My purpose from day one has been to teach you to sail your own ship. This is not goodbye, but a celebration of your strength, courage, and independence.  You are our Literacy Center COVID warriors, never quit teachers, and there will not be another group like you for another hundred years. 

Dare I say it – it’s been some 36 years ago that I began my own journey to become a reading Literacy Specialist. My Captain was Dorothy Menosky on my own journey, one of the original Miscue Researchers. She prepared me well and set me on a greater mission, a mission to bring light into the darkness of illiteracy. From day one she told us literacy is bigger than any test score. She said literacy liberates us. Teach to liberate learners.

Just like you, I took a “diagnosis course”, and wondered why any teacher would want to leave the classroom to become a Literacy Specialist. Never in my widest dream back then, did I believe that one day I would end up teaching the thing…  Yet, here I am. I promise you this pandemic shall end; better days are coming. You will have many new teaching and learning adventures. Your lessons shall bring hope and humanity to all you teach. It’s all good people. 

My hope is that, because of this Literacy Practicum, you take with you the understanding of what a Literacy Specialist really is.  An effective literacy leader who understands the necessity of having a Balanced Assessment framework. Rather than building data charts, Balanced Assessment seeks to build respectful and caring relationships. Remember to follow the child not the test score. Literacy Specialists are key players in improving schools. Excellent Literacy Specialists help to transform schools into better learning communities. They understand the bigger picture of how diagnosis offers the potential to reach all learners ~ given time. They are "change" walking into the lives of our most needy learners; they are lights in the darkness, and purveyors of hope. 

This job is so much more than improving reading skills.  This is about believing. Believing so much in something that you are willing to lead the struggle, not follow, but lead others. Dare to sail your own ships. You are captains of hope. I say, unfold your sails, look out, and chase new horizons. More than anything else Balanced Assessment is about planting seeds of honor, dignity, and hope in the children you teach. Be good Captains; bring all your passengers to port safely. 

           Be like the StarFish Saver, if you cannot save all today, then save 1, and if you can 1, why not save three. If you can save 3, then save 6, then surely you can save 10?.  Imagine this saving 10 dream of teachers saving 10 children? There are 6 million teachers. Now imagine, 6 million teachers saving 60 million. Then this dream becomes every child in our public schools is saved. No one teacher has to save them all, if we all save 10 then we save them all. Trust your Captain when he tells you, someday all with be saved. My faith in this “saving all” is like a rock. That rock is built upon saving one child at a time. 

I have taught 50 practicum courses in the last 20 years here at Central Connecticut State University. On the last day in every one of them, I become a little frightened.  I think to myself, yes, they have a few new tricks in their bag, and they have survived. Can they sail this Literacy liberation ship on their own? I am concerned that too often our leaders focus on low-test scores and failing teachers. This endless assault on teachers can at times wear us all down. The insanity of forever changing COVID policies that no teacher ever had a say in. Better days are coming.

You cannot allow the negativity to wear you down.  Struggling readers don’t need just any teacher; they need incredibly talented and committed Literacy Specialists. Be unshakable in becoming the Reading Professional you always dreamed of becoming. Stand up, be counted, and never waver, for you are becoming Connecticut’s most highly certified Literacy Professionals. You shall become the experts you have always waited for.  

I hope that you leave this Practicum with a better understanding of the responsibilities and challenges that Literacy Specialists face today. Remember Dr. Turner, said he would not hire either half empty or half full glass teachers. He expects his Literacy specialists to say, “I’ll make a difference - I’ll change the world” I will fill my own glass, fill it until it runs over. Save one child, and work your way forward to 10 more and more every year. May, we land at that saved them all port one day. I believe in us.

             Find your heaven in the faces of the children you teach. Teach in order to change the world, and then please drop me an e-mail just to let me know how it’s all going from time to time. Don’t hesitate to ask for some advice.   Let me remind you, just one more time – a captain’s job is the best darn job in the world - and even after 35 years - I can’t wait for the next 30. 
In the end, I am of course; honored to have been your teacher. Connecticut’s best and brightest ~ CCSU’s most tested ~ and our present and future literacy leaders ~ this is who you are now.  I have been blessed by your presence here in LLA 518. 

            Today I am giving you a new name for this ship you are sailing. I christen your ship “Ye Mighty teachers. Sail her well, and thank you for giving me the honor of teaching you all.  
Your Captain ~ Dr. Jesse P. Turner

At the end of the day, I thank God for blessing me with this work, and I imagine what the 51st practicum group will be like come January. I can't wait1.  

If you like to listen to the song that inspired my morning walk it was Bette Midler's "Wind beneath my wings"