We need to stop graduating 8th Graders

I’m finishing up my fifth year of teaching in Detroit. Haven’t posted in a while. I’ve learned tons in the last few years that I’m excited to write about and get out of my head through the keyboard. Right now, I want to write about something that bothers me every single year in Detroit at this time during the spring – 8th Grade Graduation.

Why should 8th grade graduation bother you, Joe? This is a time to celebrate, moving on to high school, finish up a phase of life and jumping into another at the same time. 

I do celebrate this and every year I am proud to say that ‘I’ve invested in that 8th grade class.’ I hope to see them bloom into amazing people, citizens, fathers, mothers, workers. Actually, the very first 8th grade class I taught 5 years ago will be graduating high school this year. I wrote them all a personal letter before they left. I am always happy to see 8th graders move to the next level and the next challenge in life.

But the words “8th grade graduation,” the graduation tickets? Caps and gowns given to 8th graders? I have seen 8th grade promotion ceremonies, 8th grade moving along ceremonies, but graduation? Cap and gowns? 8th grade graduation parties? 8th Grade Junior-Prom? Going from middle school to high school is not graduating, you do not put ‘middle school graduate’ on your resume when you apply for a job.

The danger in this is instilling a very shallow sense of accomplishment in our kids. I will clap and cheer and, heck, I may even pay for your cap and gown when you graduate high school but making kids feel like they have reached a mountain top at the end of 8th grade does not send them soaring into the next phase of life, it sets them up to expect to be celebrated and rewarded for even the smallest of transitions and accomplishments.

Send your 8th graders on a trip, have them dress up for whatever ceremony you do to promote them on to the next level, make it excellent and inspirational. Give a speech and a certificate… but celebrate them at the level of a high school or college graduate, in the same dress and in the same atmosphere and you are only misleading your kids.

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How Busta Rhymes keeps poverty alive and well.

Who’s fault is poverty.

Can it be a personal decision? sometimes.

Generational poverty? sure.

I’m not super interested in who’s fault it is, but I do like to help people out of it.

There are TONS of reasons that people are impoverished and plenty of people to blame but I haven’t heard anyone talking about how our cultures rap-stars help keep people in poverty.

I believe people should stop pointing the finger at policy, politicians, legislation, and lack of funds for the overwhelmingly impoverished communities in our nation.  Start knocking on Busta Rhymes door. and Kanye’s door. And Lil Waynes door. and 2 chaniz door. and Jay-Z’s door, Why?

Because they are, what I would personally consider, the “Tru” enablers of poverty. These celebrities show my kids what’s valuable, what makes a person, how to interact with each other, with girls, what makes someone a man… And it is crap. 

Watch this video and come back..

http://www.kevinnottingham.com/2013/11/26/busta-rhymes-thank-you-feat-q-tip-lil-wayne-and-kanye-west-music-video/

Here is my theory: With a consistent output of music like “Thank you,” “I Luv Dem Strippers,” and “I am a God“. These rappers will successfully keep a large majority of my students disillusioned with rolex watches, Hennessy bottles, polo logos, Louis Vuitton belt buckles, True Religion jeans and Cartiers with the dark tint.

I wrote this poem about why I do what I do that you can purchase off of iTunes if you enjoy it.

I’m picking up the mess

Hip-Hop culture

Two Chainz, see you’re the best

Not many people can talk about strippers

and claim to be “different” at the same time

I got my own struggles with purity

But, I also know I got 300 kids looking at me

Brace for impact

it’s a weight on my shoulders

But I can handle it

I’ll own that

They’re gonna imitate

But I’ll initiate

I’m not a rap-star but I can show my kids honor

I tour 10 months a year with teachers

and that’s just for starters

I can show my dedication

Model being a father

I don’t need a mic or stage lights

They burn up

They blow out

My whole crowd…It’s sold out.

I aint’ fueled by the fame

I aint’ fooled by the money

Every word is love and that’s why the can’t stop me

You got my whole school rocking your songs Two Chainz

But no more of them are going to college

In fact

More of them are facing struggles

Cause they want sex and entertainment

Instead of being men hard workers and fathers

See cause you’re so dope

It’s common knowledge

So busy helping with nothing

Wasting verse after verse

with billions watching

And all you can muster up is noticing your ceiling’s missing

International exposure, middle finger up.

It’s garbage, join your competition

Kanye, the world doesn’t need any more Gods.

At least he doesn’t claim to be different

Cause he’s not

Got whole songs dedicated to bringing down women

Saying the types of things that would put a normal guy in prison

It’s a messed up story but I’ma Help clean it up

Call it like Wiz Khalifa, cause I’ma work hard

But I’ll play harder to unscrew what y’all screwed up

My kids deserve better than you

My kids deserve better than this

I’m bringing some thing new to this generation of Kids

My First Year of Marriage: What I have Learned and Loved.

year one marriage

I have learned and loved so much about marriage in my first year with Heather as my wife. It makes me happy I didn’t read too many “reasons to not get married in your 20’s,” blog posts. Otherwise, I could have missed out on the richness of the greatest human connection of all time.

I wanted to narrow down the three biggest lessons I have learned this year as a married man and remember them as advice for myself. So I wrote them down and you are welcome to learn as well.

     1. Remember why you are married.

Marriage simple, it can be hard but it is beautiful and simple. I am convinced that marriage is designed to reflect God’s love for us. So when people see my marriage, it should be an illustration of the unconditional love, faithfulness and forgiveness that God shows us. God’s love is the foundation of our marriage and when there is conflict, reflecting Christ’s love to each other and to the world must be the goal and anchor. Ultimately, as much as Heather and I love each other, there must be a third strand to the cord and for any marriage to fully come alive only Christ can be that strand.

    2. View your marriage as a garden.

Viewing my marriage as a garden has been the strongest word picture from this year that I can communicate. I want my garden to be beautiful and healthy. That means that there is a time to plant and to start new things. There is a time to harvest and celebrate progress. There is a time to focus on cultivating the soil, removing impurities, and making it a healthy place for things to grow. Weeds and things that should not be growing in the garden need to be removed by the root so they do not grow into large issues that take over and bring death. Also, time needs to be spent in a garden, not just to watch over it but to enjoy it’s beauty. For anyone becoming a husband or wife, I’d challenge you to always tend to your garden.

3. Bring Security. 

I want my wife to be open with me. I want her to feel safe being open emotionally, spiritually, and physically. In order to experience that openness an atmosphere of security needs to be facilitated in my marriage. I am not just talking about financial security. Heather deserves a full expression of love from me. There should be no doubt of my devotion to our relationship and faithfulness to her heart. She is the most important human relationship in my life, as your spouse should be.

Overall, I love marriage. Heather brings so much good to me and she is a precious gift and beautiful partner in life. Marriage is refining and purifying, sometimes hard, but always good for my soul.

Why we need to eliminate ‘specials’ in schools

With such an emphasis on Common Core State Standards, schools are pushing for higher test scores, more rigor, and more focused classrooms. School administrators and teachers alike are feeling more pressure than ever from the top to achieve more and “close the gap.” With this in mind, schools need to highly consider eliminating specials in our students’ education.

This is coming from a music teacher: for the sake of our students’ future, we must trim the fat.

It’s very important for me to emphasize that although I am anti-“specials,” I am in full support of classes like music, media, art, dance, gym, etc. Offering classes like these do not only afford creative outlets for kids but also help with brain development, learning life skills,  applying knowledge from other class and bridging cross-curricular concepts.

Schools unintentionally miss out on opportunities for growth by  treating and calling classes like media, woodshop, music and art as “special” classes.

-Read about a school who addressed the ‘specials’ issue and ran in the opposite direction taking their math proficiency scores from six percent to 34 percent HERE.-

When you refer to something as “special” you imply that it is “extra” or not part of the essential.  Let me give you a couple examples of “special” things: desserts and privileges. There is a reason that English and U.S. History are not referred to as “special.” Classes such as these have words like “core,” and “academic” associated with them. A simple use of vocabulary sets the art teacher and their class apart, but not in a good way. One teacher’s class is dessert, one is a hearty dinner. People can “do without” dessert. When they go on a diet, they typically don’t pass on the steak for the sundae.

You may be saying wait a minute, they aren’t core classes so what should we call them? You should call them whatever is going to empower the teacher of that subject, whatever is going to show importance to the student, equality among  teachers, to parents and the community.

There is a big risk when staff and students alike do not regard classes like music, gym, art and media of equal importance. It shows that only part of their day and education overall is important. We need our students engaged. Administrators need to acknowledge “specialists,” as equals among teachers for the sake of school culture. Every class must be important to the school, students and parents. This starts with the vocabulary.

It is important to note that for the most part, I do believe schools fall into this pit unintentionally, but it can be quite damaging to students view of their elective class. I have seen students begin to view classes like music, art, media and gym as unimportant as early as kindergarten. This is a result of students being pulled or kept from these classes due to behavior problems in other classrooms or because they need extra help in another subject.

Keeping kids from classes like art and music should not be used as consequences for bad behavior. Doing so shows students and educators that these classes are, in fact, ‘special.’ That it is a privilege to go to ‘special,’ much like going to the movies. In addition if your behavior does not improve in your “core” class your consequence is missing “special.”

Now, lets not let “specials” teachers off the hook either. If you teach in one of these areas, I would be happy for this blog to challenge you as well. Is your class rigorous? If you are not put on the same level as other teachers around the school, have you voiced an opinion to have that changed? I believe this issue in schools has also come from a long line of music, gym, art, and media teachers who have been fine with being the outsiders of the educational community they are surrounded by.

This is 2015. With common-core breathing down our neck as educators, now is the time for both administrators and teachers alike to eliminate ‘specials’ and embrace that all classes are important in building our students’ future. Let me leave you with a couple challenges for anyone reading this:

  1. Administrators, do you have ‘specials’ in your school? Do some digging to see if this helps or hurts your school culture.
  2. English, Math, Science, Social Studies teachers, have you unintentionally lowered the value of another class by using attendance as a reward or consequence?
  3. Art, Music, Gym, and Media teachers (and others like them). Is your class rigorous? Are you using your class to bridge concepts, build life skills and intentionally give students a chance to apply, in your class, what they have learned in other classes?

No dessert for me please.

Summer Listening

Music is a wonderful cultivator. Exploring others creativity is a great way to spark your own, no matter what kind of artist you are. I thought I would post a couple artists I have been enjoying listening to this summer that make me think about things. 

(Hip-Hop) Propaganda “Crimson Cord” – Prop is a West Coast rapper, African American guy raised in a Latino community in Califorinia. He belongs to a group called Humble Beast. His raps are rich in culture and he speaks into a lot of social issues in our culture. His unique beats and flow are sure to capture your attention. 

Coldplay “Ghost Stories” (maybe for non-hip hop fans) – Coldplay is one of my favorite bands, Just released their latest album “Ghost Stories.” The lead singer, Chris Martin, recently went through a divorce as he was writing this album. It’s interesting listening to songs like “Magic,” through that lens. 

Find some thing to dance to, learn a new dance with some friends like the “DLow Shuffle.”Having some fun and dancing around with people is good for you. 

My Greatest Frustration as a Teacher

I found it. My greatest frustration as a teacher. 

It’s me. 

I read a recent blog post called ‘Give a Kid a Pencil,” It is a wonderful blog post about building the culture in your classroom and what you choose to make a big deal. Pencils were his illustration,  But it was an ending quote that stuck out to me. 

(To teachers in regards to having pencils to give to your students if they don’t bring one to class)

“I am a college graduate and a professional. I have no trouble accessing the power structure of our community. How can I complain about finding pencils? In light of what so many others struggle with daily, this problem is minor. Find a way. Pay for them, borrow them, ask companies to donate them, hit up family members for pencils as holiday gifts. Have a pencil drive. Do a car wash for pencils. I don’t know, but figure it out. Life is a cycle of problem solving. You can find the pencils.”

I have often left a class, as most teachers have, and said “wow, that was just a bad class,” or “they were horrible today.” But I have been starting to curb my language and it is helping with my internal frustration. I’m taking the responsibility, and saying “I wasn’t able to bring them back in today, I will have to try something else tomorrow,” or “that lesson sucked, I definitely need to revise that before trying that with kids again.”

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean kids are totally off the hook for being poorly behaved and it’s all my fault. But if I’m not ready for them, if I haven’t covered my angles, If I wasn’t able to adjust, I can’t point at them when it goes wrong. The bluntness in the blog above really stuck with me, “I don’t know, but figure it out.” I’m the teacher and something has to change on my end. 

Maybe you are like me right now. It’s been a rough year/semester. Defeat is a familiar feeling for you. You have muttered a few too many profanities under your breath in class like me. It’s time to finish strong and tell yourself to make an adjustment on your end because you have what it takes and your kids deserve it. I don’t know, but figure it out.

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