Excellence comes from…….? By David Reid Otey

The general rule of life experience for a skill to be highly advanced or mastered is ten thousand hours. This begins with the very first lesson and includes private practice time. As a teacher, who thinks way too much in and out of my class room, I pondered the phrase ” give me excellence from you”, or the many other ways of phrasing that same sentiment: ” That’s not good enough, You can do better than that, Don’t get lazy on me, Care about your work, Care about yourself, You’re smarter than that and you know it”, to name a few.

My peer teachers often talk about the difficulties they have with ”reaching” the grade school students. Reaching means motivating, convincing and persuading students to show interest and care for learning, and for committing to produce high quality work for high grades. These are good  to great teachers I am talking about. They use various techniques along with high quality curriculum–meaning really smart people put the curriculum together based on ”driven research”, ( a shameless lead to a blog I wrote about THAT topic). At any rate, the question now for me is, where does excellence come from ?

Excellence is not isolated as an attitude, really. It’s an actual ability to produce. Since mental and physical abilities are shown/revealed in tangible  products/projects people can see, this makes excellence a level of objective skill. Excellence has to be taught, trained and practiced. Excellence deals with ”focus” and ”staying with the game”. Teach a child to ”focus”  and to ”stay in the game” in performing a variety of activities; dancing, making models, playing a musical instrument, cooking, and many other choices; and you are teaching that child to know and feel confidence. Confidence that CREATES the ‘attitude’ of success, the ‘attitude’ that ” I can handle anything by focusing and staying with the steps (pieces) of  the picture I want/need to make.”  So, excellence describes the ability of the person to focus, stay with the game and to perform expertly on whatever task is given. So, who teaches the children how to be excellent ?

The parents and associated relatives. That’s who. The training to be able to do anything starts at home. Always has and always will. Economic level of the family does NOT matter. I have worked with lazy rich kids and high quality poor kids. What matters is the parents (s) and others who provide opportunities for their children to be a part of something big, to create, and to be at their side guiding, modeling, helping, boosting their spirits, helping them stand when they fall, encouraging and empowering their own and maybe even the neighbor’s kids. Now, it is true that a teacher’s job is to do those very things. BUT–you usually cannot do those with a child who is trained in an ‘entitlement mentality’, who thinks the world owes him a life and a place to live, along with other expectations for whatever reasons.

Good news though is that it is possible for some of those students to be retrained and led onto a track toward excellence. It’s been done before through a lot of  time consuming work. It’s a frame of mind, excellence is, and it’s foundation must begin at home and continued throughout life. A lean toward excellence in everything we do makes for a greater peace, greater success and wonderful opportunities.

Thank you for reading. )

Driven By Research-? By David Reid Otey

A recent article about people angered over Common Core Standards included a statement from CCS supporters that the CCS system is “Driven By Research”.  I teach special education in a grade school as my day job. It’s been a joy for eighteen years and still is, more so today than when I started. Not because of any specific standards but because of why I do this job: the love of learning and of helping children grasp, understand, practice and master skills they will use later to help preserve the existence and progress and success of the communities they live in.

In my work I stay aware of the pros and cons of every new system that comes a long as a result of someone figuring out a way to get government grant money for ego-building projects disguised as national improvement utopian plans. CCS is the newest happy meal in the mix. I have listened to  peers praise and damn the CCS. The phrase ”research driven” has been used so much that it makes me laugh now. One lesson I finally understood after decades of learning and sorting through pros and cons of any issue is this: Research is as subjective as anything else in life. All research is driven by whichever club, committee, family, organization, street corner gang, political party or neighborhood watch group has an interest in researching anything. Here is the clincher. WHY they are researching in the first place: to affect an improvement that benefits and advances the position of control, fame or finances of their group.  Experts exist on both sides of every issue. It becomes a match not of wits so much as of who advertises the most, yells the loudest and convinces the best with expertise in all styles of social-political propaganda (which, in itself, is good or bad–depending upon which side of the propaganda you stand.)

A  teaching friend told me recently she was frustrated by the stresses CCS is placing on our students. She said it very unfair to shove this system into a place where it doesn’t belong. I smiled as I said, ” I agree. But we know something those great researchers overlooked or never worked with kids in the first place to understand. Kids Rule. They always have and they always will. They rule by giving the results that prove what motivates them and what they consider to be important techniques to keep them interested. It’s a business. The kids are customers, like it or not. They can shut something down pretty fast. If they understood their powers better, they would be shutting a lot of things down regarding curriculum choices in their schools.”   I have seen curriculums change, watching old text books of past “research driven high quality perfection” being thrown in the dumpster.

In the meantime, as the cloud of controversy slowly moves its mass across the crowds of protesters and praisers, the clock keeps ticking. I have never yet seen the three hands on my class room clock stop because of issues, only because of dead batteries. The kids show up and we get started with “ok, today we look at this and how….”.  Numerous reading and math programs have sailed through the halls of every school, each one being labeled as the ”King James” version for all to use for the conformity systematic learning, as if all minds were wired the same, as if all families agreed on the same standards for raising children, as if all families shared the same importance of education in their homes.

Bottom line is this. We teachers will do what we have to do, are told to do. But when we see THAT LOOK, that warning sign in the faces of our students, equally represented by the shifting grades they receive from assignments, WE will shift, too, as we teach them, as we feel what they are telling us with their moans, with their aggressive or nervous energies. We are the real experts. We know how to intervene with subtle weavings of ”common sense standards” between the scripted sentences of the teacher manual. We know how to reach the minds we have interacted with consistently in close quarters for a long, long time. Think of it this way: combine the film where the children’s eyes would glow as they stared at anyone to hypnotize them into a self-destructive act WITH the opening speech of The Outer Limits-“we control your tv set” (mind), and you have the reality that makes ALL “good” teachers instantly engage with ”sanity preservation standards” to run a smooth, happy, successfully learning class. And THAT, by the way, comes from ”driven research”. 🙂    Have a great day.  The End.


JUST ONE ROUND TO GO. by David Reid Otey

One day will be the last day to do anything at all, and it might be blessed to extend into the night before the body gives up the spirit. For many there isn’t much time, if any at all, for reflection and change, for apologies and praises. So, I’m writing this all at one setting with no break, sitting in bed, a bit tired but feeling adventurous. 🙂 I will write about kids and poverty and teaching them because that is what I do for a living.

Every kid is normal for the genes they have, for the neighborhood they come from, for the brain training their families gave them and for the experiences and desires and dreams their clan direct them to.   Taught to try ? maybe, maybe not.   Taught to handle anything ? Maybe, maybe not. I call my special education kids ” swiss cheese” kids, because they know things out of order and have missing information. In the scope and sequence of learning topics, my kids can know the seventh thing without knowing the fourth. Probably because they somehow go together. They don’t have any problem with wanting to play, and they tire like all kids.  Butt they can’t keep up the pace. The other kids pass by the each one quickly. I love my work. I have variety, challenges, hope, adventure; a bunch of opportunities for contributing. And that’s why I give my grade school wonderlings some power of their own in our class. I am the example their parents cannot or will not be in guiding them to know how to see themselves as better than the insults and cruelty they will consistently have to deal with throughout their lives: the same negatives their parents experienced yet could not fight back against within their own psyche.  I allow the kids to find their talents and create with them in the class room. I give them trips to the world and to space on the school computer through virtual trips that are awesome. I give them cultural variety–the singing sisters and the Capitol Children’s Choir for the wonders of the human voice. It’s fine with me to hear a few of them sing like Peter Boyle in his characterization of Young Frankenstein. To me, it’s joy because their spirit is living and growing and experimenting without boundary, without fear. They watch artists create, like the painters who pour cups of paint over stacked blocks, to feel the call within themselves to ”play” with color and form and all of that.  One of my kids knows every single move of the pieces in Chess, and he almost kicked my butt in a game yesterday, laughing like an ape when he stole my Queen. I roared at him like a pirate. he laughed more. I can afford the time to let them ”become” some of what they are meant to be, to hopefully ”see” themselves as worthy and capable and imaginative.  There is marvel and magic and some of God’s creative power in every single person. What we can become and what we can create. What we can grow in and contribute towards. Those matter much more than conformity of knowledge.  And, so, now I must get some sleep. I have to say this was very hard to do when fighting sleep. 🙂 But I honestly made it–never once editing and never once leaving the laptop for a bathroom break. This round is up now. 🙂

It isn’t what you think it is. By David Reid Otey

The news report said–whatever they say. But it’s mostly not what you think it is, if all you think is what they say it is. Truth is what you get when you’ve seen the situation from all angles and get the one picture that fits all the angles. Sherlock Holmes was noted for getting all the possible information and then seeing how it all connects before creating  the real situation and thereby gain the real answer for the dilemma. It takes time and connections and wisdom with more objectivity than subjectivity, to accomplish an environment of truthfulness. Detecting lies,  false fronts and slight of hands are part of truthful and comprehensive research for the most accurate report possible. Some elements of truth are blatantly obvious and can seem to present enough evidence for the framework in which to place everything else gathered up. BUT–sometimes THAT’s not truthful IF the blatantly obvious elements are not really part of the frame but–instead–belong to the inside arena. You know, this extensive blah, blah, blah scenario of finding the truth boils down to this: what caused the event I am looking at, and what caused the reason that caused the event, and so on–in other words—you are looking for the correct order of words and actions in the chain of cause and effect.

Decades ago the television program, Laugh-In, presented a hilarious sketch about a reporter taking oral information from a ”witness” and ”spinning” it into a completely different story that was false. That sort sketch had a very strong message: you hear an order of words and actions that might not be what really happened.  Truth is the correct information placed in the correct order of cause and effect. So, unless you know for certain every element of every circumstance  for any situation that deals with your life or someone else’s life, hold back judgement and hold back any commitment of support or condemnation you intend to jump in with. Remember the words of the song, Smiling Faces: sometimes they don’t tell the truth. Beware of the pat on the back. It just might hold you back. Bandwagon philosophy has ruined many lives, many families, many friendships and many neighborhoods that were impossible to reconnect once the TRUTH really came out. Be very, very careful about what you see and what you hear, especially from the lips of others who report what you never heard nor saw in the first place. Sometimes it isn’t what you think it is.   The End–or is it ?

How did that get here ?

My wife and I walked across the street from a closed bar parking lot to the fitness center. Near to the curb at the intersection, I was looked down to step up and I saw a cheap, plastic purple necklace in the dirt. Three feet away from that was a shard of  broken pottery. I wondered, “How did that get here ?”  I  guessed the necklace came from party favors at the last New Year’s Eve party in the closed bar. Maybe the broken piece of pottery fell off a truck or out of someone’s pocket as they walked by.

A lot what we need in life–things and people–are found ”by chance”, ”by fate”, ”coincidence”. People and things sort of ”drop off” from something or someone else because of backfired plans or  on the spur of the moment or  not wanted anymore. Bits and pieces make up a collage. Scattered notes, different melodies and different rhythms make up a song. We cannot have a full life with just one friend and only one experience. Understanding and personal growth go together from the bits and pieces of sharing within others lives, regardless how long the connection and type of relationship it is.

Every one of us are a collage of those bits and pieces. Some of the bits and pieces we don’t like we carry anyway because someone convinced us we had to. Everyone we meet and connect to means we are both connecting to each others variations, to each others collage of pleasures and pains, of joys and sorrows that will affect how we respond to each other depending upon the circumstances and the situations formed by those circumstances. And THAT is where we are supposed to grow, to help each other see and feel what is the truth about which bits and pieces we should keep and which we can throw away on the side of life’s road, so empowerment and encouragement can move our spirits higher to who we really are and who we are meant to become with the talents within us.

How did you get where you are ?   How will you get to where you want to be ? Who will you connect to and listen to for ideas to try that you would not have found on your own power? Who has the ideas and plans to follow that could help you be at the place you need to be ?  Check your mental and spiritual back packs for who and what you really need and what–or who–you need to disconnect from.  Everything means something. Every thought and every action comes from an influence, from some sideline experience we were pushed or persuaded or forced to become a part of. And once CHOICE entered our independence we then have the ability and the power to decide a lot of what we become.  The End.