What your zip code says about you and the breadth of your experiences with education

Thank you to M. W. and D. P. , both somewhere in Illinois. I appreciate you weighing in on the subject of relationships between business and education. Your comments helped me to better appreciate how our zip codes affect our thinking AND help me understand why much of what is going on in today’s political miasma truly reflects the haves and have nots.  When you decided you did not like an ‘uncomfortable’ conversation, you immediately decided it was about you, out of guilt, since too many things seemed to describe you and your behavior. You gave yourself away.

I am a tutor with Wyzant and after having done substantial research, kept noticing inconsistencies regarding how tutors have been differentially handled. My questions have arisen from the fact of having read every nook, cranny and bit I could find on the website and there is NO small print, often there is nothing in print.  There are no explanations for many things which happen and often it is days before I actually notice a ‘change’ manifest itself and the effects it will take on students and myself as a tutor.  Since I have a background in education and have a keen interest in knowing why the change in A affects B in manner X, I look, watch, collect data and ask more than an average amount of questions.

The most obvious question to date is how I became a ‘Top 100’ out of 75,000 tutors. By any reasoning ability this is a strange, almost random occurrence. I asked Wyzant how this was achieved  as I would like to know what I did which caused this synchronicity. No answer from Wyzant. There were some folks who did not even know there was a top 100 or top 250…..I am going to go with marketing ploy. Pick some tutors, give them a high rating and see if this brings in more business as you have created ‘selective’ groups of tutors.  I don’t need to be in the Top 100 to know I am good.  My self esteem is not so diminutive where a ‘note’ from Wyzant changes me into a different type of tutor.   http://www.mensjournal.com/adventure/races-sports/how-participation-trophies-are-making-our-kids-soft-20150725

It would help  if my % of dollars paid was increased since it is clear Wyzant needs to spend very little money on marketing me.   Giving a tutor this ranking is the equivalent of giving out stock options, which only work if X happens. Giving someone the money they are worth actually demonstrates their value.

What I found out was there are other tutors who share my concerns and these are tutors who typically make $50/hr or less and live where the average middle and upper middle class folks live.  These tutors are curious as to the inner workings of things as they wish to improve their rankings and probably raise their rates. Of course there is no specific answer to achieving the top since I don’t even know what I did in 2014 which was remarkable and have nothing what-so-ever to share in regards to improving one’s ranking. In this instance people want information which is actionable.

The tutors who charge more per hour and live in wealthy enclaves  share a similar interest although there is a particular characteristic to it.   The tutors at the higher end of the socio- economic range want the ranking, much as one gets for their position in their graduating class and money is not so much of an issue.  They charge enough per hour where the ranking itself will push them onward to more students who can afford them.  The trophy is what is being sought, so the how and the why is not as relevant as the fact it was achieved. There is limited interest into how the ranking was achieved.

These two groups do not  share my concerns equally as they do not have many of the same experiences with  public education. The following is an article which demonstrates  one of many differences between different zip codes. I won’t even fully get into the differences in funding by zip codes.  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial-disparities-american-schools_55b67572e4b0074ba5a576c1

The issues surrounding these two groups of tutors is so diverse, one can not even have the discussions necessary to start a bridge. The group who ‘does not know’ really does not wish to know and so the discussion is upsetting and unsettling. In a world where there is little equity in the education system, the people who we wish would pay attention to the situation usually can not stomach the discussion so they block it out at every turn. This is what I found with M and D above. They could not stomach the discussion so instead they turned it inward as a criticism about themselves instead of a thinking point.  Instead of being able to argue their points, they decided they did not like the discussion and had it closed in a tutor forum.  This supported Wyzant in not having to divulge any information about their practices and saved the profit margin for yet another day.

The problems faced by these two different sets of tutors are similar in some instances and in others, amazingly different.  To start with, test prep tutors who are great at what they do usually charge accordingly and this denies access to many students who have capacity and not the pocket to benefit from these tutors.  This puts students with a smaller budget into the possibility of not getting into the college of their choice due to test scores not demonstrating their ability in comparison to peers from a more wealthy area where test prep is de rigor.  Yes, I know, test scores are only one aspect of college acceptance and apparently an important one as wealthy families make it happen. The issue I am addressing is called equity.

In an issue I addressed in a previous blog, students who are in a lower income bracket are often in a situation where their parents and/or they them self do not know how to do a better search for a best fit tutor as the possibilities are ‘limited’ to $/hr posted, ratings, and experience in hours.  When these fields are manipulated to improve profit margin ( presenting new tutors at a substantially lower percentage split instead of experienced tutors with a track record willing to make a rate adjustment), it repeats what we already know about experienced teachers fleeing certain classrooms in certain schools. This again is not equity; It is profit margin.

Bringing these discussions into the light of day causes tension and frustration. Most notably to those in zip codes where these discussions are often political and not based on actual experiences with the education system as the education system caters to them as great servants.  While the various and sundry discussions can be shut down by people unwilling to address the issues, the problems remain.

Wyzant benefits from the discussions remaining at the kum-by-ya level and not having to address the details. The tutors in particular zip codes are protected from having discussions which are too unsettling and the students, well, the students continue to be the ones to lose since money and education do not seem to mix well, if at all.

And then it happened……people were surprised.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html

http://drugtopics.modernmedicine.com/drugtopics/Modern+Medicine+Now/A-tragic-lesson-in-risk-management/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/799851

As a teacher, I am allowed much less latitude in my day to day existence then the average person who is not a teacher – (no actual education experience yet has a college degree, may be a parent, after school provider service, baby sitter, etc).  This lack of latitude is not a problem, rather it presents a unique dilemma.  Society expects me (with my nifty CA State Teaching Credential) to act differently and generally better so I have little wiggle room if something goes wrong. As a science teacher, I can tell you, up front and honestly, ‘Things go wrong’ and so I do all I can for reasonable risk assessment in an attempt to avoid the ‘something going wrong’  starting small and becoming HUGE.   Adam Lanza went wrong. Come to think of it, so did NECC (New England Compounding Center).

When I have had to deal with work colleagues, administrators, parents, etc., about avoiding problems,  the  mantra I most often hear is, ‘Well we have been doing it this way for ______ (pick your amount of time) and have not had a problem’.  The second most often heard mantra is, ‘We have a license, degree, certificate…..’.  My favorite mantra: ‘Kids don’t come with operating instructions’.

I want to roll my eyes as mantra one means we can’t/won’t/are afraid to change. Mantra two indicates abdication. My favorite mantra translates into lack of use of common sense and/or asking for help.

When something goes wrong, these mantras never hold up with talking to parents, police, doctors, etc. These mantras do have the capacity to help some one feel better about the lapses and excuse ineptitude, which is why we have lawyers and insurance.  These mantras allow people to feel okay about not being a functioning member of their family, work colleagues,  group of friends and community.

We are a society so separated from reality we expect others to take responsibility for everything from poor parenting to bad grades to bad behavior. When something bad happens, we console ourselves with the concept we ‘did the best we could’ and immediately start looking where to point blame.

I have to ask – did you really do the best you could? Were you afraid in some way and so you chose to take the easier path?

Were you putting some self interest in front of your job/relationship with another person(I can’t deal with lunatic parent B so I will just give the kid a C and call it a day – even though the kid has some serious learning and behavior problems; I have to have enrollment numbers up so I will accept whatever kids come to my program;  I was afraid to address parent Q their child has behavior X consistently and it is not benefitting their age/play mates; Just this once I can let it slide – it will keep everything calm and so on) and did not step it up?

Anything in science ‘lab’ can become dangerous under the wrong circumstances so we practice, practice, practice-we practice how to use particular tools correctly, who gets to pick up broken glass (ME and any other adult only), how to stop, drop and roll (we light candles and peanuts for experiments some times), how to walk around a puddle. We talk about why, at the end of the day, it is quite important I return children to their parents in the same or better (they learn something and maybe grow a gyri on the brain!) condition and I have told them I really never wish to have to call a parent from the ER.

I am strict. My students need to demonstrate they know how to WALK with scissors pointed downward….and this is at all age levels. We learn how to position a butter knife (blunt edge) since with enough force, even a butter knife is dangerous.  I have explained that while I would do anything I could to keep them alive, I don’t feel like doing open heart surgery today so they must walk with scissors AND they must walk and HOLD scissors a particular way.  Knives and tools requiring use of ‘force’ must be pushed away from body for proper use. Fortunately for me I have not had to do heart surgery – I have had to deal with ripped clothing, scissors falling just shy of puncturing a toe as child wore sandals, scissors being used in wrong direction (don’t ask me how the child was able to do this to try and unplug the glue bottle) and kid getting cut on hand, etc.

In the case of Nancy Lanza, the story unfolded all too sadly after the fact. Apparently she practiced my favorite mantra  and the most often heard mantra about having a license (for anything, as if this makes you invisible from harm, most especially  a license for a gun).   Not only did Mrs. Lanza practice one of the mantras, her so called friends aided, abetted and abided in the mantras.  After Friday 14 December 2012 people began to blame the NRA (yet, Mrs. Lanza had a license). People were able to construct a bit of a story about Mrs. Lanza – she was generous with money yet never managed to talk about one son.  Mrs. Lanza does not seem to have any ‘close’ friends or they sure are not talking.  People confused Mrs. Lanza as a teacher.  People knew Adam was different (interestingly, kids can always tell when some one is  different even though they may not have words for the ‘different’) and yet apparently his different was ‘normal’ – AND THEN IT WAS NOT.

Some one was afraid to use the tool of truth and sincerity.

The methodology of CAREFULNESS rules what I do.  I have substantially more to lose for a ‘mistake’, no matter how well intentioned I was in avoiding the mistake.  My choices are public (they occur in a classroom for all to see and hear), my choices are constantly what parents talk about.  My choices supposedly have more impact on a child then anything their parents could/should do…….

The higher standard is sometimes frightening and often frustrating. I can lose my credential in the blink of an eye if a child is hurt  or some stranger abducts a child under my care (even if the child stated they ‘knew’ the person since a child’s knowing is distinctly different from an adult knowing) even if I told two kids to go to the bathroom together, I am expected to have eyes on the back of my head and a third eye at all times. The  same  behavior is  not  required/expected of a parent – something going ‘south’ would be called an accident.   Adam Lanza’s behavior was apparently an accident since no one seemed to see it coming and yet it seems all the signs were there and the signs were pretty blinding neon, most especially having an interest in guns and sharing guns with a child as a demonstration of responsibility.

Since my livelihood depends on how well I can inculcate the use of particular  tools, I am careful to note the following:

Bleach – great for sanitizing. Five drops in a gallon of water is good stuff when there is no clean water. A child drinking bleach left below the kitchen sink is deadly.  Scissors – awesome for arts and crafts. Kitchen scissors can be used to cut chicken bones.  Falling on scissors can cause blindness, puncture wounds, death. Pencil – great for writing on paper and drawing. Flung across the room, can cause blindness. http://www.cnn.com/video/?hpt=hp_c3#/video/us/2013/01/25/dnt-pencil-spears-tot-in-the-eye.whdh   Rubber band – wonderful for making a model airplane propeller turn. Horrific is shot to the face. Minimally painful if it hits a tender part of the body. Needle – great tool for sewing on a button, getting glue stuck in neck of glue bottle, making a tiny hole to demonstrate starlight in a black piece of paper. Completely dangerous on many levels up to and including carrying germs so we should not even use it to pretend we have magnetic skin.  Magnets – wonderful for holding things to refrigerator. Great for an MRI which can help in doing a medical diagnosis. Terribly bad when swallowed by children and the magnets bind in the gut.

The above are just the minimum of issues I deal with as a teacher.  Add on taking students on a field trip where the generally accepted standard is 6-10 children per adult (and many times the adults act like children).  Add on being distracted for one second by a child who does not understand the word NO  is indeed  A COMPLETE SENTENCE when stated by an adult and you start to get a tiny view of my world.

When children act out, I am clear in communicating with parents and administrators regarding what happened as I just watched my life pass before my eyes and that of the children I am in charge of.   I do not have a ‘free pass’ – ever.  I am not unempathetic, I am honest, sincere and don’t let acting out pass for the ‘next time’.  This is known as the practice of behaviorism – catching it when it happens, addressing it and moving forward instead of letting the behavior go and become a routine.

This methodical approach applies to not only  all tools above  but  the speaking tool in human relationships with family and friends.

In the same way I  would state  guns are a tool (air BB pellet guns at summer camp for target practice, hunting, use on big game drives in Africa), and require extraordinary care in use, I would state honesty and telling the truth to parents, friends and family is so important when something is ‘amiss’.

Tools and truth  are a safety issue  – improper use of a tool can have some unintended consequences and outcomes.  Improper use of truth (protecting some one from feeling hurt, their self esteem tapped, etc.)  does not help people seek help/services/support  before something unforeseen happens.  We need to treat our relationships the same way we would demonstrate respect for a tool – practice telling some one something is wrong and share how to get help; report a problem to the police (the converse of this is not ‘snitching’ and we all know how this works in neighborhoods with gangs), follow up and practice again; check things out every now and again to make sure things are in good operating condition – especially your relationships.  Don’t let being politically correct stop you from being ACTUALLY CORRECT.   If you have that ‘feeling’ inside of something being amiss, talk to your friend, their family members, etc. Report what you think is amiss- your internal gut is more accurate then you realize (Gary Zukov, The Seat of The Soul).

I have never seen cops at a shooting range practice without goggles and ear mufflers.  I am not condoning guns although I support the idea that if you have a gun, you should at a minimum know how to use it and store it appropriately.   This is what leads me to state that guns in and of themselves are not inherently dangerous, rather the people using them are dangerous.

People without care or thought or an understanding of risk management have difficulty imagining the horror of  everyday items in the house.  Liza Long noted this in her piece above. People with  problems of mental and behavioral health issues are not inherently dangerous – rather the people who have mental/behavioral  problems tend to have a proclivity to be dangerous for a variety of reasons.  Not saying something to the person or their adult care taker  due to the impoliteness factor is dangerous. You have a tool (your brain) to think through information, analyze the information and share if something is not making sense.

When you get down to it, a teacher should not be different from anyone else.  A teacher should be respected for noting when something is amiss in equal proportion to when they note something is awesome and wonderful. A teacher should be appreciated for honesty when it comes to children.  Generally this is not the case as there is no nice way to tell the truth about something being amiss.  If this were the actual case, some one somewhere in a small place called Newtown, CT would have rung a warning bell about Nancy Lanza, her relationship with guns and her son who was different and perhaps should not (in retrospect) have been shown how to shoot guns.   Some one at the college where Adam attended or a friend of Nancy’s who had kids themselves should have noted something was incongruous and at a minimum, contacted the police as a ‘heads up’ and let the police follow up.  It seems both Nancy and Adam had a unique relationship with schools.

The danger is not the ‘tool’ – the danger is in not knowing how to use a tool – any tool, not practicing enough and expecting a better outcome than if you actually made the  attempt to  thoughtful and careful about all tools, including the SPEAKING UP tool.   Speak up instead of being surprised.