By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is facing a $650 million dollar fiscal cliff and two previous special legislative sessions have failed to solve the dilemma, and so special session number three begins today, at a cost of about $60,000 per day.

Throughout this crisis the normal groups have been targeted and threatened for extinction: higher education and health care.  In May, 30,000 Medicaid recipients were threatened with eviction from nursing homes as their benefits were threatened.  The popular TOPS scholarship program has been targeted for deep cuts which has filled parents and students with anxiety. The latest threat is that the food stamp program for the entire state will be cancelled in January unless legislators find a solution to this budget shortfall.

In simplest terms, state democrats want to raise revenue through additional taxes while state republicans want to cut funding.  It’s a bit more complex than that, obviously, but that’s the crux of the issue:

Just hours after the second special session of the year ended, the Louisiana House Republican Caucus, which has positioned itself as the largest opponent to Edwards’ agenda, vowed it “will not waver” in the third.

“Since the first day of this legislative session and throughout the special session, the Louisiana House Republican Delegation has been crystal clear in its opposition to growing the size of government,” the caucus said in its statement. “We will enter into the upcoming special session laser-focused on reducing state spending and meeting the critical needs of the state. Our commitment to the taxpayers will not waver.”

Governor John Bel Edwards (D) wants to raise revenue through extending an expiring tax:

Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to give a short session-opening address about 5 p.m., urging lawmakers to agree to extend one-half of an expiring 1 percent state sales tax. House Republican leaders have been steadfastly opposed to the half-cent proposal and continue to push for a smaller fraction.

And so while both sides are steadfast in their positions, it seems, and unwilling to come to any compromise, we are spending around $650,000 million for each special session.

Makes perfect sense to me.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia (Oct. ’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – In my post last week I attempted to take you inside the Common Core classroom, to pull back the curtain and show the complete and utter loss of autonomy and creativity teachers have experienced under this program to the point that teachers are not even allowed to use their own words; we work from scripts, prepared slides, and prepared teacher notes.

From my post last week:

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no “rock star” teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled, and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

There are many problems with this approach to teaching, only one of which is that every student is taught in the exact same way.  All that training we received on diversified learning styles was apparently hogwash.

Another problem is that some teachers are afraid to speak out for fear of recriminations, so we don’t really know how bad this really is.  Some of us just close our door and teach the way we know students learn.  We use our own words and our own activities developed with specific student needs in mind.  Then when the test scores come back, and they are wonderful, it looks like Common Core is working.

Let’s restate that: teachers are silently rebelling against this boring drivel and teaching as they were trained, and they can’t speak out for fear of getting in trouble.

Other teachers are just leaving the profession.  The nationwide teacher shortage is epic.

Consider this teacher from Georgia; explaining why she left the classroom she writes:

You start talking to teachers, trying to figure out where their fire for education has gone – why they appear as robots, or automatons, simply going through the motions. What has happened? You dig deeper and learn of prescribed and scripted curriculum; teachers are expected to be at the same point in the same lesson every day. For transient students that idea seems based in reason, but the practice has been detrimental to teachers.

You learn of the pressure felt by both teachers and students to perform well on standardized tests. You learn of the autonomy stolen from teachers to make any decision beyond a seating chart in their room. You learn of the complete lack of empowerment (and active process of disempowerment) of the teachers and then learn this is a widespread issue. Teachers across the country are begging for a shift away from this robotic sort of teaching.

Some are leaving the field. I did, and, while I ultimately found myself working toward my doctorate, I knew the k-12 space was no longer an option as I refuse to leave my brain on the sidelines and act as a robot. Feeling disempowered was a nonnegotiable for me and for many educators.

It’s all about the test.

When did it quit being about the students?

Michael Deshotels at Louisiana Educator writes:

Remember the term academic freedom? This is an almost forgotten concept in today’s world of test teaching and scripted learning. But academic freedom has allowed the American education system to foster creativity in both teachers and students for many years before this recent trend of standardized education. It was an education system that has made the U.S. the world leader in scientific achievement, literature, and art. It is not a good idea to abandon academic freedom in hopes of small increases in standardized test score.

As a veteran educator it hurts me to see this happening to students.  I don’t teach English: I teach kids, and I care deeply about my students.  To see their eyes glaze over when the slides come up and the informational texts come out, when the script is read, is so disheartening.  So yes, I’m that teacher that goes off script. But I’m also speaking out.  Tentatively and yes, with some fear.  I love my job and don’t want to lose it.

At this point I can only hope that this fad goes the way of all of the others that I’ve seen in my twenty-three years.  These programs hang around for five years or so and then we reinvent the wheel and do something else.  I hope I can survive this one.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT —  I have just completed year twenty-three as a teacher of sophomore English.  I’ve been there long enough that people are starting to ask, “How many more years do you have left?”, wondering if I am planning retirement one of these days.  I have always said that I would stay as long as I enjoyed my job, my kids, and my mission.

But let me tell you, teaching today is not what teaching was when I started.  Back in the good old days teachers had autonomy in the classroom: as long as you followed the curriculum and taught the mandated standards for your subject area, you were free to achieve that however best suited the needs of your students.  I’ve been to hundreds of workshops and training days where we learned that all students learn differently and we learned how best to reach all types of learners.

Apparently the game has changed.

Now, all kids learn the same way from the same script from the same pre-fabricated slides and they all read the same text on the same day across the district.

The Honors kids are taught the exact same material as the remedial learners.

As a veteran educator who has worked hard to bring life and creativity into my classroom, this new method has been a real challenge for me. Common Core has absolutely stripped my classroom of the fun things we used to do.  No more classroom debates over the guilt or innocence of the boy in Twelve Angry Men; no more mock trials of various literary characters, no more novel studies, no more poetry slams.  Now, we read “chunks of text” and highlight them.  We annotate.  We fill in graphic organizers.  We look at dull slides.

Teaching has always been a passion and it seems to me that the best teachers are those that inspire and mentor.  It is about so much more than just the material in the textbook.  Teaching is about building relationships; a child will learn more from a teacher if there is a connection made between them.  If that child knows that the teacher cares about him and is interested in his success, he will learn. Teachers develop these relationships in part through meaningful lessons developed with the needs and interests of their students in mind as well as through individual conversations with students.

This common bond is harder to develop with scripted lessons.

On my own blog, I wrote an end-of-the-school year post in which I lamented how scripted lessons have changed my classroom and I received several inquiries about the scripted lessons that Louisiana ELA teachers are now mandated to use.  In my post last week I wrote:

[The year] began with a series of workshops and in-services throughout the summer last year which served to introduce us to a drastically new curriculum which we were mandated to implement “with fidelity” this year. It was so radically different from what we have been doing that this was a terribly stressful objective to me.

I’m “old school” in many ways and teaching without a textbook and following a script has been hard for me. I am also a rule follower and so while I wanted to follow my mandate, I’ll admit publicly right now that I did not always follow the script. I tried. We are on block schedule and so our academic year is made up of two semesters: I have one group of students from August through December, and then new ones from January through May.

First semester I tried really hard to do that first unit as prescribed. It took less than two weeks for the light in my students’ eyes to go out and for them to start eyeing me with dread. I stuck with it and supplemented more engaging lessons where I could while teaching all the same standards. Second semester it was much the same. I was a little more comfortable with the new curriculum, but it is still mind numbing and dull. Nothing but annotation, graphic organizers, and Cornell Notes. All day, every day.

I’ve always been under the (perhaps misguided) belief that parents would not be pleased with the scripted classroom.  “If only they really knew!” I would tell myself.  I have railed and ranted about Common Core but it seems that either nobody is listening or else that nobody has the power to change it.  Or maybe people just like it.  Whatever the case, this post is just one more attempt to pull back the curtain of the classroom and show people what the typical day looks like in a scripted, Common Core classroom.

A few years ago a group of Louisiana educators came together to write a new ELA curriculum designed to help students be successful on the high stakes end-of-course tests:

[Meredith] Starks is one of the more than 75 teachers who have been selected by the Louisiana education department to write an English/language arts curriculum. While most states using the Common Core State Standards tend to look to commercial publishers for standards-based curricula, Louisiana educators couldn’t find material that fully and coherently represented the now 7-year-old ELA standards.

“We just decided … there wasn’t anything on the market good enough for our teachers,” said Rebecca Kockler, the assistant superintendent of academic content at the state education department. And who better to fill that void than actual teachers?

The state started developing its ELA curricula, called “guidebooks,” in 2012, and the first iteration was published in April 2014. Louisiana has since revised its own standards, which are based on the common core, and revamped the guidebooks to give teachers more resources.

These Guidebooks are what we are now using in lieu of traditional textbooks in our classrooms; they are comprised of “readers” which are copies of material bound together which are non-consumable and serve as a sort of textbook.  Students also receive a consumable packet with each of the four units and these are copies of graphic organizers, text passages, speeches, charts, etc. that students can write on and annotate as required.  These are reproduced and distributed each semester to students.

Teachers work from scripted Teacher Notes and prepared slides which we are instructed to follow “with fidelity” so that every student in every classroom gets the same text on the same day in the same way.

That’s what I mean by scripted lessons.

As an example, let’s just walk through a typical lesson in tenth grade English.

Unit 1 is on Rhetoric in grade ten and Unit 1, Lesson 1 goes like this:

After verbally introducing the unit, this is slide 3 in which the teacher introduces the unit objectives to the students:

With the unaltered slide displayed, the teacher is to say:

“Throughout this unit we will read texts that use language to achieve a purpose. At the end of the unit, you will be asked to select one of the texts and write an essay about how that text uses language to achieve a purpose. You will also research a topic of your choosing and write a speech about that topic. Finally, you will demonstrate your ability to analyze the language of a new text. To do this, we will need to study the specific choices authors make in order to achieve their purpose and advance their argument. We will read speeches, essays, and informational texts.”

The teacher is then directed to distribute handouts, highlighters, and Reader Response Journals. It’s a lot of paper.  Students also receive a copy of “What is Rhetoric” by Gideon Burton.

The teacher reads the text to students while students follow along.  This is supposed to take about two minutes.

Then with the above slide displayed, the teacher directs students to read the text independently and annotate.

The teacher notes at this point look like this:

Suggested Pacing: ~ 7 minutes  Directions: Have students read the first section of the text again, independently. Instruct them to use a yellow highlighter to mark “central ideas” and green highlighter to mark “supporting details.”
Guiding Questions and Prompts:  Say, “ Central ideas are main ideas. They are what the reader should remember after studying the text. They are usually followed by details that provide support. What is the central idea of this section?
Say, “Supporting details are specific pieces of information that support the central idea. They can provide explanations and/or examples of the central idea.” What details does the author use to develop the central idea?
Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that a big idea is an important part of the text.
Access the annotated exemplar in the Additional Materials section. Be absolutely sure students understand what a big idea is before beginning the task.
Students should re-read the text independently, marking the big ideas of the text with their yellow highlighter.

Students are directed to take out their “Vocabulary Log,” write down “rhetoric” and define it.

The teacher notes  look like this.

Suggested Pacing: ~ 12 minutes Directions: Be sure students have access to dictionaries. Have students retrieve the vocabulary log they received at the beginning of class.
Say “You will add to this log throughout the unit. It is very important that you keep track of this handout.”
Select a student to read the sentence in grey, using an established class procedure.
Place a blank handout under the document camera.
Fill in the word “rhetoric” and prompt the students to do the same.
 Ask: “What part of speech is the word rhetoric?”
Prompt the students to look up a concise definition for the word “rhetoric”.
Fill in the definition under the document camera as students follow along.
Ask students to locate a synonym, antonym, and/or related word for “rhetoric”.
Fill in the fourth column under the document camera as students follow along.
Have students record the source sentence from the slide.
Prompt students to turn-and-talk for 30 seconds to a partner about their understanding of the term “rhetoric.”
Keep time. Have partners switch. Monitor the room during the turn-and-talk, checking for understanding.
 Guiding Questions and Prompts: In your own words, what is “rhetoric?”
Turn-and talk to a partner for 30 seconds.
Student Look-Fors: Access a partially completed vocabulary log under the Additional Materials tab. Students should fill out the first row of the vocabulary log along with you.
Rhetoric is a noun.  Be sure to clarify what you mean by “concise”
Not all words have synonyms, antonyms, and word families, but each word has at least one of the three.
Refer to the partially completed handout for guidance for each word throughout the unit. Students should copy the source sentence directly from the slide, including the citation.
Additional Notes: Consider collecting the logs and storing them in the classroom to prevent student loss. You could also have the students store the log in their class folder, if that fits in your daily class routine. Develop a system for soliciting individual student feedback early and use it often (i.e. a cold-call system).
Then the student is directed to turn to his partner and talk about the word “rhetoric.”

Following this, students are then directed back to the text and their annotations and the teacher is directed to have the students write a “summary statement”:

Ask: “ What is the most important information in this section of the text?”
Ask: “How can we boil that down to one statement?”
Have students write their summary statement in their RRJ. Then, model a concise summary statement under the document camera or on the whiteboard.
Ask the guiding questions below.
Guiding Questions and Prompts:
“What makes my model summary statement good?”
“Does your model have the same qualities?”
Student Look-Fors: Students should indicate that the definition of rhetoric is the most important information in this section. Students should then write a practice summary statement in the reading response section of their RRJ. Model summary statement: “Rhetoric is the study of the effective use of language in one’s own writing and in the writing of others.”

With this new slide displayed, the teacher then directs students to revise their summary statement.

Following that, the teacher verbally recaps what students should have learned in the lesson and then she moves on to lesson two.

Unit 1, Lesson 1 is comprised of eleven slides that must be displayed as the teacher works through the lesson.  In districts on a 90-minute block, two lessons are to be completed each day.

The teacher can vary slightly from the script but must follow the lesson with fidelity.

In Lesson Two, students read the same text again, “What is Rhetoric,” and highlight in multiple colors to identify main ideas and supporting details.

That’s what a scripted lesson looks like.  They are literally that: scripted.  Teachers have a printed stack of these teacher notes which are to be annotated before presenting each lesson and which she can produce to supervisors upon request.  The lesson number and standards must be visible to students on the board each day as well as the objective.

In this way, theory goes, every child across the district gets the same lesson on the same day in the same way.  There are no “rock star” teachers who have an unfair advantage over less capable teachers.  The playing field is leveled and this helps measure how effective these lessons are in meeting the criteria for standardized testing.

The Guidebooks are on the Louisiana DOE website and most of the graphic organizers and their completed versions can be found there by both parents and students.  It’s important that students do not have their cellphones in use in class or they can just look up the answers and copy them down; teachers must monitor this.

Scripted lessons have pros and cons.  Many teachers bristle at the loss of their own creativity and autonomy; many feel that scripted lessons strip the passion from teaching and focus too much on the test while others are relieved at not having to write lesson plans or create their own lessons. Districts know exactly what is happening in each classroom on any given day and feel that a prepared curriculum is one way to ensure all necessary standards are taught.

However you feel about scripted lessons and the prepared curriculum, parents should at least know what it is and how their child is being taught.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – This Memorial Day I am offering you a roundup of related readings.

Memorial Day often coincides with the end of the school year for children (and teachers) and has customarily been dubbed “the unofficial start of summer” holiday. That being said, and I’m preaching to the choir, I know, but we should always remember the purpose of this day: to remember and to honor the fallen.

A roundup of readings for you today:

The 31st Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride is this year.  Bikers from all over the country travel to Washington, DC to pay tribute.

Here is a collection of Memorial Day photos from around the world.

USA Today reminds you that Monday is also National Burger Day.

Here is my 2014 post on the Kelley Brothers; our hometown lost three brothers during World War II, one of them on D-Day.

Photos from Arlington Cemetery.

Here is a Memorial Day reading list.

Tropical storm Alberto is going to dampen a few Memorial Day BBQs.

A history of Memorial Day.

Some television somewhere will be showing Saving Private Ryan.

If you’re going to fire up the grill for Memorial Day here are some recipes for burgers.

And if burgers aren’t your thing, here are recipes for ribs and frosty, chilly drinks.

We have several local events we attend each year; there is always a service at our local veteran’s cemetery and then the American Legion has a wreath laying ceremony.  After that we usually spend the day just relaxing and grilling.  Yes, it’s the unofficial start to summer but as you are planning your day, take time to remember the fallen.

 

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and Melrose Plantation, due out in October.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It has been about ten days since I launched my Classroom Library Project in an effort to build a new classroom library for the purpose of encouraging my high school students to fall in love with reading again, and in those ten days I have now received over 60 books donated from my Amazon Wish List.

That’s simply amazing to me.  It reaffirms my faith in humanity that people will donate to a project like this.

To recap, our state has adopted its own version of Common Core and is now fully invested in pushing this curriculum across the board.  As far as ELA goes, it has stripped complete novels from the syllabus with the explanation that “if students want to read the entire book they can do it on their own.”  Meanwhile, students are required to read non-fiction articles and complete endless graphic organizers analyzing claim, rhetoric, proofs, as well as endlessly annotating through one “close read” passage after another.  In one case we read the same twenty-one-page speech three times, each time looking for something new.  No wonder kids hate reading these days.

As these books from my Wish List have been coming into the classroom, my students curiously eyeball me as I open boxes and envelopes, log in the accompanying notes so I can send thank-you notes, enter each book into a data base, and then I stick a pocket and sign out card into the back of each book.  Each book jacket gets laminated for protection.  I read each new arrival if it is something I’ve never read before.  I want to be able to talk about these books with my students. My kids are watching these books stack up and I can literally see their brains start to fire up.  They’re anxious to start reading!

One of the books that arrived (an anonymous donation) was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.  I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book on social media and now there is a movie coming out based on the book.  I’d never read it and in fact when I read the dust jacket my initial reaction was “ugh…another propaganda piece” because it is about a black teenager who gets shot by a white policeman.  The narrator of the book is a girl, his best friend, who was in the car when the incident occurred.

Despite my hesitation, the book has drawn me in and I can’t put it down.  I’ve already encouraged my students to check it out of their local library and read it and we have had long conversations about it.  The book never tries to preach one way or another, never bashes police officers, never takes sides; what it does though is open the door for dialogue. Reading gives us the opportunity to “rehearse” real life situations and talk about them, whatever the subject matter. The writing is engaging, and the characters are excellently drawn.  I can see a teenager picking this book up and not putting it down until the end, and that’s what I want to see.

I’m going to continue to build my little library over the summer through my Wish List and by combing thrift stores and garage sales.  I’ve also started a Donor’s Choose project to help get funding, and I’m applying for a couple of local grants.

I’ll teach the curriculum because it’s in my contract but I’ll bend over backwards to ensure that Common Core doesn’t kill the love of reading for my students.  If I have to work harder and spend more of my own money to do it, then so be it because I think it’s that important for kids to be readers and to love reading.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (Oct. ‘18/LSU Press).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — “What was the last book you read outside of school — something you read just for fun?  And if you don’t like to read, why not?”

That was my First Five for my grade 10 ELA students one day last week.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research this past year on literacy, curriculum, and how reading affects test scores.  It’s no secret that Louisiana has consistently placed near the very bottom of the list when it comes to reading scores as compared on a national level.

There are a lot of factors that go into those national scores, such as NAEP scores, and it’s not really accurate to say that all students in Louisiana are poor readers.  That is far from the case. But for clarity, in this post, I’m looking at those poor readers. Many of them come from low income families who don’t have books in the home or are products of families where nobody has had time to read aloud to the children very often.

As a parent of two avid readers, I was reading to both of my kids before they were even born.  As infants they were read to every single day.  They’ve never seen me not reading at least one book and our house has always been filled with books and magazines.  It’s just who I am.

But that’s not the case for many of my students.

Compounding the problem for these struggling readers is the Common Core curriculum in which students no longer read entire novels.  Common Core, at least as far as ELA courses, is terrible.  It’s killing the love of reading.  I’ve written about that rather extensively herehere, and here.  As teachers, in my district we have been told that if a student wants to read the entirety of a novel from which we are only teaching certain chapters, “they can read it on their own.”

Well, that’s okay for a strong reader, but I know a lot of struggling readers who will not be able to take on the elements in The Scarlet Letter without some help, nor would it be a book they would willingly pull off the library shelf.

Additionally, there is a difference between academic reading for class and simply reading for the pure fun of it.

What I want to be able to do is to create lifelong readers; I want my students to leave my class having read several books of their own choosing, about topics that they are interested in, and that they are excited about reading.

And since my official mandate is that they “can read on their own,” I’m going to start a classroom library.  Oh yes, we have a school library and it’s wonderful.  We have a librarian who orders books kids like to read and she listens to their requests and suggestions.  But I also think that a classroom library can supplement that. And a student that might not make an effort to go to the school library might just access a classroom library.

Having a library in the classroom sends a message of literacy and encourages reading to students.  If that library is filled with nice, interesting books, just waiting to be read, even better. I want my classroom library to be filled with books that my kids want to read and that are geared toward their interests and their lives.

In response to my First Five question above, about the last book you read, I got answers like this:

“I can’t remember the last book I read.  I hate staring at thousands of words and sitting still that long.  I hate reading!”

and this:

“I don’t know. I think it was a Goosebump book.  I don’t have time to read.”

and this:

“I love to read books and I used to read all the time.  I don’t really know why I don’t read any more.  You can learn so much when you read.”

That student is right.  Reading can drastically increase a child’s vocabulary.  That in itself will increase test scores, but this isn’t about test scores for me.

A lot of the responses indicated that they liked reading in lower grades but somehow just quit doing it.

I don’t want one more child to leave my room not having read a book.

So, I have a plan.  I’ve assembled an Amazon Wish List to start a classroom library and as this school year draws to a close, I am planning new things for next year.  If I can’t teach books in class, I’ll do it out of class; I’m a rebel like that sometimes.  I have plans to encourage students to read from my classroom library and to share what they’ve read with others.  If I need to use incentives to get this started, I will.  (A kid will read almost anything for a honey bun!)  I have shelving and I have a corner space ready to go. I’ve ordered book pockets and cards so I can check the books out to my kids.  It will be attractive and inviting.

I want this to be a fun experience; not like the old Accelerated Reader program where you had to read a book “on your level” with the proper color sticker on it and then take a ridiculous test on it to step your way up to a quota.  Research shows that this program is useless.  Kids that like to read will read anyway and kids that have to read to get an AR grade just learn to hate reading more.

I’ve started an Amazon Wish List and if you would like to help, you can go here, and order whatever you like and have it shipped straight to my classroom. Most selections are under ten dollars. I’ve already started assembling books on my own through thrift stores and through the library book sales and the college book fair.  What I need now are nice, new books that pull my kids into a love of reading!

The list is here.  It’s long and I’m constantly adding to it.  I posted it on my own blog a few days ago and already I’ve received thirty-one books!  It reaffirms for me not just the good in people but that people really do believe in kids and believe in education.  The notes that are coming with the books indicate that people are choosing books that meant something to them or their own children as readers.

I’m collecting these books all summer and when we go back to school in August, I hope to be able to offer a well-stocked classroom library full of engaging books of all levels and subject matter to my students.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport. She is the author of the upcoming Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation (LSU Press/Oct.’18).  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It is a clear, glorious day here in the northwest corner of Louisiana.  I’m writing this from the wooden swing that hangs from my giant magnolia tree which is in full bloom with sweet smell of the South.  I’ve got two lazy cats at my feet, a cold beverage beside me, and meat on the smoker out back.  Life is good.

I do my fair share of complaining about Louisiana politics, politicians, the terrible state of public education, and pretty much everything else that gets under my skin, but most of the time I feel pretty lucky to live in the South.

As I read about poor John McCain planning his own funeral and about how friends are coming by to pay respects and “say things that need to be said,” I feel the need to count my blessings.  Say what you will about John McCain, but facing your own mortality must be difficult.

I try to keep in mind that every single day is a gift.

Today we are sitting outside, as I said, listening to our local college team play in the SCAC championship baseball game somewhere in Texas.  I thoroughly enjoy listening to baseball on the radio and much prefer it to listening to the commentators on television.  On the radio, the announcers have to paint a picture with their words and are much more descriptive and entertaining.

“Working in short sleeves the Bulldogs are wearing yellow jerseys today,” isn’t something you’ll hear a tv commentator say very often.

On television, since you can see the action yourself, they spend too much time having to fill air time with banal blather that bores me to tears.  When I can, I’ll watch baseball on television with the sound down and pull up audio online.  I’m weird like that.

Whenever I listen to a baseball commentator I can’t help but think about Roger Angell; was there ever a writer who covered baseball more beautifully?  I don’t think so.

You can have the NFL all day long; give me a baseball game any day of the week.  To me there is something so pure and so beautiful about the game baseball.  It’s like several different games of strategy in a single game and much more complex than it seems.  It’s truly America’s game, played by those “boys of summer,” and every other baseball cliché you can come up with.  Throw ‘em all in there!

Yes, I’m sitting here at the very edge of my summer break and my mind is full of summer projects and plans for things I need to do in the next eight weeks away from school.  I will weigh the importance of these plans and see what can be procrastinated and then get about half of them done. But probably I will spend a lot of time right here in this swing, sipping a cold beverage, visiting with neighbors, watching my cats lazily stretch out in the cool St Augustine grass and just be glad to be alive.

My wish for you on this Monday, at the end of this post basically about nothing, is that you make today count, be grateful for the small things, and that you find some kindness that you can do to brighten someone’s day today.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram: @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I read with interest the post by Baldilocks about the kids in the United Kingdom who can’t tell time.  It seems difficult to believe, doesn’t it?  But, it’s true and it’s true here in America too.  I teach in an American high school and I have kids who can’t tell time on a regular clock and who can’t read cursive.

That’s not to say it’s true with all kids, but there is a large majority of them that this is the case.

Leaning toward academics, I also have students who have never read a book voluntarily.  Let that sink in. I encounter on a daily basis any number of kids who have never voluntarily picked up a book and read it.  On any subject.

Even worse? Under the Common Core curriculum that is not likely to change.  Our ELA supervisor has told us “we will probably never return to teaching or reading entire novels in English.”

I’ve been reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide (2009) and at every page I’m both sickened but also seeing exactly what he is saying in practice every single day.

Administrators and supervisors will say that we aren’t “teaching the test” and that if we follow the Common Core curriculum faithfully that it won’t be necessary to teach the test, but look at what we give kids to read: chunks of text.  Pages of articles culled from Common Lit or from news sources.  Non-fiction articles.  These are followed by endless graphic organizers, analysis, sticky notes, highlighting in multiple colors, and mind-numbing multiple choice questions.

Unless kids read on their own, they aren’t reading for fun anymore.

In our eleventh-grade syllabus, they read only a few chapters of The Great Gatsby, not the entire novel.  This is true across the board for novels in high school.

To me, this is criminal.

Gallagher’s thesis is that kids will never become life-long readers under this practice and he builds his case with research and data throughout his book.  Consider also that the group this most affects are those kids in poverty who start out their educational experience through American public schools in “word poverty” because there are very few, if any, books in the home and they have not been read to often enough to build a large vocabulary.  They start out at a disadvantage which we make worse by eliminating pleasure reading in class.

I went to a literacy convention one year and met a lady who said that each year at Halloween, instead of giving out candy, she gives out books.  What a cool thing to do!  She said that at first the kids were surprised and a little irritated but once she looked out her window and saw a little girl reach into her bag to see what it was, and then she sat on the curb and started paging through the book.

What a wonderful gift it is to give a child the gift of reading!

As an educator, that’s what I strive to do, despite the constraints of Common Core.  There’s a large part of me that rebels at being part of the problem.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Can I just beat this drum one more time?

Let’s talk about the American public school system just once more, because I’m just not seeing the outrage that I would expect to see if parents really knew what was going on in classrooms with regard to curriculum.

In the first place, why do people think Common Core is gone?  I’ve seen over and over on social media that “we aren’t using Common Core” – in whatever state you’re in.  Perhaps some are not, but be very clear: even if your curriculum in your state is Louisiana Believes or Iowa Core, or whatever it is, it’s still Common Core.

What is wrong with Common Core?

A lot.

Common Core is scripted lessons.

Common Core is sterile, pre-made PowerPoint slides.

Common Core is 75% non-fiction.

Common Core is unrelenting standardized testing, some of which take three days to complete.

Common Core is stripped of teacher creativity and innovation.

Common Core is the heavy hand of Big Brother threatening to enter your classroom at any given time to ask which scripted lesson you are on and to examine your scripted teacher notes to be sure you’re reading them and that you are not altering the pre-made slides.  Woe be unto you that do these things:  you’ll get marked down on your evaluation rubric.

A spinoff of Common Core is the PLC, or Professional Learning Community, where teachers meet to discuss “data” from tests and work together to determine how to improve student learning.

Some states, like Louisiana for example, have no ELA textooks (we can’t have those kids reading fiction now, can we?) and instead work from reams and reams of copies from the curriculum department.  It’s a paper nightmare.

The result of all this?  Frustrated kids. Frustrated teachers.  Kids learning only how to take a test.

Meanwhile, we are lining the pockets of people like Pearson who distribute these tests.

Why is there a national teacher shortage?  It’s not just about low pay.  I’d venture to say that’s not it at all. Most teachers go into the profession knowing the pay is low – that’s not why we teach.  It’s been low since the beginning of time and, trust me on this, we all know that teachers will never make the kind of scratch a basketball player or a football player makes.

No, teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate because they don’t get to teach any more.  Anyone can read a script, right?  Anyone can pull up the state mandated slides and read them, right?

Why are parents putting up with this canned curriculum business?  What are their kids learning?

I’ve long been a believer and supporter of public education but if I had a child in the public school system right now, and they were under Common Core, we’d be homeschooling or I’d sell my soul to get into private school.

Can someone explain why we are still putting up with this?

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram at @patbecker25.

By:  Pat Austin

The Shadows on the Teche. Now owned by The National Trust.

SHREVEPORT – I was traveling last week and because of that (and in honor of Pete’s 30-year anniversary!) I didn’t post.  Where was I?

We went to New Iberia, Louisiana to attend the Books Along the Teche Literary Festival.  We were there with people from at least twelve other states in the nation including Colorado, Michigan, Iowa, and Rhode Island as well as from several other countries.  The three-day event was filled with a variety of activities, seminars, discussion panels, bus tours, swamp tours, dinners, dance lessons, film screenings, an art show, a performance theater, bourrée lessons, and an authors and artisans fair. The great southern writer Ernest Gaines was there and read from his latest book which was awesome. It wasn’t possible to do everything, but we tried.

I wrote about the festival on my own blog and there was so much I had to split it into two posts.

And that didn’t allow us much time to take advantage of the other great tourist attractions in the area like the Tabasco Factory tour (we did that), Jungle Gardens (did that), Jefferson Island, the Conrad Rice Mill tour, and branching out from that, the surrounding communities are filled with history and things to see, like St. Martinville, St. Francisville, Loreauville, etc.  And yes, New Orleans is not that far away, nor is Baton Rouge.  Those places are already well-known for their tourist attractions.

But New Iberia has stolen my heart.  We hear a lot in this part of the country (I’m in northwest Louisiana) about southern hospitality, but New Iberia takes it to a new level.  New Iberia isn’t known for being a tourist town in the way Natchitoches is, for example.  But it should be.

Why? There was one point in the evening on our last night there that I decided that if I ever lost faith in humanity, or got frustrated with life, I just need to come to New Iberia because there is such a true joie de vivre in everyone’s face it makes you happy just to be there. It’s in their daily interactions, in their lives, it restores your faith in people. Plus, it’s just beautiful country.

Bayou Teche runs 135-miles through the area; ancient live oaks hug the banks and are literally dripping with Spanish moss.  The land is often flat and you see sugar cane fields, crawfish farms, and flooded rice fields.  The air smells like salt blowing in from the Gulf and the sky turns a bruised purple in the evening when the sun begins to sink into the west. We danced under the stars to cajun fiddle players and zydeco bands; we ate alligator, catfish, boudin, maque choux, etoufee, gumbo, and shrimp. What’s not to love?

We didn’t know one soul when we arrived and when we left I felt like I have a whole new cadre of friends.  One couple we met told us that when we come back we are more than welcome to stay with them. “We have an extra bedroom!” she said.  And she meant it.

Everyone we talked to, from the shopkeepers, convenience store clerks, waitresses, residents, everyone, truly engages with you when they talk to you.  It’s not just, “Oh how are you doing, glad you’re here,” kind a thing and move on.  They look you in the eye, listen to you, ask questions, engage.  They remember.  And they dance, they laugh, they love, they share wide open.

In the end, the book festival was just lagniappe to the true treasures of New Iberia.

If you’re planning to hit the road this spring or summer, consider a trip to south Louisiana.  New Iberia is easy to get to; it’s just south of Lafayette.  I know I’ll be back many, many times.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25.