Archive | January, 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Evaluation

27 Jan

Regents week is a particularly strange time in public schools.  It is an entire week of exams–held twice yearly–in which students are not afforded any instruction time, but are assessed and evaluated on the skills and content they have accumulated in their courses that year.  And as the grading commences, their teachers, and their schools are evaluated and assessed as well.  The hallways are eerily empty, and quiet.  In the classrooms there is not the chatter of authentic learning, or gossip; educational debate, or bickering between students or students and teachers.  For some of the tests the school floor is more-or-less entirely empty.  Teachers sit quietly in rooms as they proctor, staring at the students, as the students stare blankly at bubble sheets; or we meet in departments to grade exams; or we meet in departments to talk about our work going forward.  Students almost always walk out of the exams supremely confident (and in a city where nearly half of the students will be disappointed with their result, this should speak volumes) and teachers hold their breath.  Sometimes it seems like the teachers, and administrators are more concerned about the tests than the students.  In the next few years that will almost certainly be the case.

In his “State of The City” speech two weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg proposed an education plan that the media and his supporters have heralded as “Ambitious” and “Long Overdue.”  As discussed in my last post, I have theoretical/philosophical issues with almost everything Bloomberg proposed in the speech.  But for the sake of this post, I want to focus on the “Evaluations” section.  The NYT Schoolbook accurately describes the conflict Bloomberg faces, with $60M of federal funding being withheld from the City Schools because the state mandated that the money could not be dispersed without the districts reaching an agreement on evaluations with their teachers’ unions.  The common rhetoric is that the UFT (city teaching union) held up the funding because they refused to simply let bad teachers be evaluated and moved out.  What is not reported, and what many media outlets; loud-mouths riding the trains, and sitting at bars; or Facebook friends whose knowledge of the issue comes from news and Bloomberg funded commercials is the following:

  • State politicians chose (on their own) to make the “evaluations mandate” in order to provide the funding to the city’s schools.
  • The money from national funding would not be provided to the schools that are struggling.  It would have to be spent on new initiatives and programs (and not necessarily ever made available to the students from neighborhoods and schools that struggle most; or students who need the most services.)
  • The two biggest snags on the mayor-union negotiations were propositions to include student test scores in teacher evaluation, and the decision that evaluations would be made by administrators and third party representatives from network or district offices (not peer teachers.)

It shouldn’t even be necessary to explain why the second proposal in bullet three is worrisome for teachers, but I fear it is.  In school environments where teachers often have philosophical differences with their administrators that can grow into “personal” problems (as they do in every other work place), it is dangerous to give such power to individual administrators, whose career can be made or broken by impressing their seniors in district and network offices.  It was once the case that Principals were required to have served five years in the teaching profession, having shown excellence in educational service, before even beginning the process of applying for leadership position.  Typically this meant a few years of service as an Assistant Principal, apprenticing under another proven Principal before you became a Principal yourself.  Assistant Principals also were expected to teach at least one class (ideally maintaining some sense of what it is like to work in the classroom with students each and every day.)  Look up “Principal” in the thesaurus, in fact, and you will find “head teacher.”

Things done changed.  A few years back, some folks saw the Harvard-produced model of Teach For America (where untrained but well-educated and career-accomplished individuals were offered Masters Degrees while being thrust as first year teachers into high-needs schools) were so impressed by the notion of it, even though it was still to early in the game to see evidence of its risk-reward, and decided to craft a similar program for Principals.  They called it “Leadership Academy.”  Now a teacher who has served a full-time role in a school, and impresses some people in an interview can be given a school as a full-time principal (often a new school, and often a school servicing the city’s highest-needs children.)

Now, say your son Johnny happens to be a student at UpperWest High.  And Johnny has finally met a teacher whose engaged him in mathematics, his attendance has improved drastically because he has that teacher first period so he is dying to get to school each day.  The teacher helped Johnny pass his first ever Math Regents, and is helping him prepare for college math courses, and going beyond his call of duty to meet with Johnny and an English teacher every week to work on his personal essay for colleges.  Conversely Johnny’s History teacher is a cynical, out-of-touch jerk who tells Johnny he will never amount to anything, throws worksheets at Johnny and then sits at his desk reading the Post each day.  What you don’t know is Johnny’s history teacher is buddies with the UpperWest High Principal, they’ve worked together at the Principal’s old school, and the take their wives to Jones Beach on the summer weekends.  Johnny’s math teacher (the one who changed his outlook on schools?)  Well, he is young and a bit arrogant, and has rubbed the Principal the wrong way once or twice by asking questions that may have been perceived in the wrong tone as questioning authority.  Let’s say you find out shortly before Johnny’s graduation that the Math teacher received an “Unsatisfactory” rating and is now being terminated.  The history teacher, after he returns from the principal’s house on the Jersey Shore this summer, will enter his 15th year in the system, and make a 6-figure salary to throw worksheets at kids, read the Post, and ridicule other people’s children.  This is what we talk about when we talk about evaluations, as proposed by the Mayor.

Now the math teacher was not a caricature: there are teachers like that everywhere.  In every single school there is at least one or two teachers like that (even the ones the mayor is trying to shut down.)  Most teachers are good teachers, who are willing to go above and beyond their contractual obligations to help their students.  The history teacher was a caricature.  But it wasn’t my creation.  This is the teacher the Post and Mayor Bloomberg would like to have you believe is populating half the classrooms in the city.  Many teachers come to teaching, the argument goes, because they see it as an easy ride.  It couldn’t possibly be that pressures of the system make otherwise good people make bad decisions.

But let’s imagine that we live in the world as Mayor Bloomberg sees it.  The people his people have chosen to run schools are so well-intentioned for our kids that they can overcome human nature, and wouldn’t play favorites or politics in evaluating their teachers.  There is still the second stipulation to discuss.  Should teachers be evaluated on how their students do on tests?  Well this sounds like a great idea in theory.  But as Homer Simpson once said, “Even Communism worked in theory.  In theory…”  The theory begs two sets of questions though:

  • Who creates these tests, and what are they trying to measure?  How is it decided what is important to measure and why?  And how best to measure it?*
  • How do we then use the data/results to fairly evaluate teachers in a very diverse set of schools across the city?

The second bullet is a very difficult one to address.  And as I am trying very hard hear to avoid making this about my personal experience, let’s look at three different types of schools as evidence of why this proposal might concern the teachers and the union.  Let’s look at an “Elite School” like Bronx Science; a “failing” Transfer School, Harlem Renaissance; and the school on Rikers Island, Island Academy.  Obviously the teachers at these three schools are working with very different populations and students in very different life situations.  This isn’t to say there aren’t many students in each school with “mirror” students in the other two.  But these are the facts: a Junior taking an English Regents at Bronx Science, was in the elite percentile of the thousands of students who were dedicated enough to their own schooling and had the support of their families to take a test in 8th grade so they could get into one of the “premier” schools in the city.  They not only did better than most of the other kids who ever had a shot at taking that test, but now they have attended this premier school for three years, and shown a history of completing homework, attending nearly every day, and many other signs of academic success.  Meanwhile a Junior taking an English regents at Harlem Renaissance has transferred there sometime in the last year or so because he could not show these same signs of academic success at a traditional school (most likely one that is not even considered “elite.”)  He may have a young child, may have been incarcerated for the past six months, or may not have any parental involvement (indeed in a typical transfer school several of the students will be homeless or living in a group home.)  The next borough over, on Rikers Island you will find “Juniors” who may have struggled or dropped out of a traditional or transfer school.  The average reading age of the teenagers I taught in a Juvenile Center 3 years ago, was elementary level (between 4th and 5th grade, according to a “Star-Reading Assessment.”)  Given the transitional nature of the students (in and out of court, transferring prisons, getting locked up and released) it is entirely fathomable that a handful of students will come into the ELA class there one week, and be given the Regents Test the very next week.

Let’s put some names on these anonymous teachers: according to the school website, Bronx Science’s E5 teacher (whose students will be taking the Regents when they complete E6 in June, is Mr. O.  I do not know the name of the English Teacher at Harlem Renaissance, but we will call her Ms. B., the English Teacher at Island Academy, when I was working in that district was Mr. T.  Now these three teachers, in these three very different situations, with very different class, and school environments, and social issues impacting their students outside of their school day, are being evaluated with results data from the same exam.  My argument isn’t that one of these teachers is at a clear advantage regardless of how good he or she might be as an educator (although, I think that argument could certainly be made.)  My argument is, how in the world could you contract a system that would equally and fairly evaluate all three of these teachers based on how their students did on an exam?  If you did, how could you expect to know what impact Mr. O. (or either of the others) actually made, vs. their teachers in previous years?  Maybe it is the Sophomore English teacher at Bronx Science who teaches the kids the skills they need to pass that test, and teaches it so damn well.  And what would be the reasonable way of evaluating Ms. B., when the attendance at her school is below 70%, and 25% of the students didn’t show up for Regents (automatically failing.)  How could Ms. B. be held accountable for choosing to work at a school with such a high-needs population?  For trying to give kids a second chance and sticking with them against all odds, even at a school the Mayor would like to shut down despite the “A” on its most recent report card?  Not just held accountable, but punished for it.  And are we really going to judge Mr. T’s teaching ability by how kids with elementary-level reading ability did on a Regents exam after sitting in his class for, perhaps, a week?

What we talk about when we talk about evaluating teachers this way, is creating a system that rewards teachers for protecting their own asses, and fleeing to the top performing schools.  What sane and accomplished teacher would stay at a Harlem Renaissance, or volunteer to trek out to Rikers Island everyday, when they are going to be evaluated by the same exact method as their peers in schools where the kids simply do not fail the Regents?  And then what happens to the kids at Harlem Renaissance, or Island Academy?  Who teaches them, now?

What we talk about when we talk about evaluations, is how to keep the focus on teachers, and administrators, and policy makers, union bosses, and politicians.  We aren’t talking about the kids anymore.  We just aren’t.  Is this what we want the “Education” sections of our newspapers, the topic of debates politicians have about education, and the theory of people in the education field to be about: the teachers?  Since when was that what the national discussion of education is supposed to be about?

The following is true:  Like clockwork, every six months, when the regents approach I have the same dream.  I wake up in my dark bedroom, and in an adjacent room there is a lone bulb shining.  I get up and I walk toward the bulb, but as I get closer the hallway lengthens until I am feeling more and more isolated by the time I reach the room.  When I get to the room (which is usually the kitchen in my childhood home) there is a small table with an ELA Regents Exam and a pencil.  When I look the exam is not for one of my students.  It’s for me.

*This will be the topic of my next post, coming very soon.

**Congrats to my students who passed, and managed to read all 2400 words of this post to get to this message.  Of the students with a 70% attendance or better, 99% of you passed, as I promised you would.  Only 8 students overall did not receive a 65+, and while my heart goes out to ya’ll, I can honestly (and with a great sense of frustration and disappointment) say that I don’t know what 5 of you look like.  So again, congratulations.  The State of New York now believes you are ready for college.

Love, Love, Love

20 Jan

“Some things you do for money, and some you’ll do for fun. But the things you do for love are gonna come back to you one by one.” –John Darnielle

When it comes to my work ethic, particularly with my personal writing, I operate under the influence of a debilitating cocktail of practice: I am at once an extreme procrastinator, and incapable of stopping something I start…even if it means imploding the whole business 3/4 of the way through and starting all over without break or consideration. This leads to an instance like what I have here in this post. At lunch today I began writing a new post (a piece excoriating policy-makers and administrators for creating toxic work environments in schools) before ultimately deciding during an early evening Facebook break that this was an exercise in unnecessary negativity.  So I scrapped the whole thing for a fresh start.

During this trolling break, scrolling through my “news feed” I came across a piece that two friends had both posted within a two-hour period (and no it had nothing to do with SOPA.) This particular link was a letter from a new collection of John Steinbeck’s writing. It was a response to the news from his son that his son, Thom, had fallen in love with a young lady at his boarding school. I was struck by two things: the fact that his son, similar in age to my students, was confiding in his father about his first love (the letter references the sons’ insistence that this was “not puppy love”); and the the way in which Steinbeck addressed the dual nature of love itself (this extremely potent power that can be both life’s greatest blessing, and most fearsome curse.) I don’t know that it is something I have been seeking out in the literature I have read lately, the music I have been taken by of late, or the speech and art that has moved me, but this idea has recently been with me in abundance: that love is a duality (it can be both a boon and a burden, and it is a necessary a gift to give to those we curse as well as those we bless.) More and more, these days, I believe this to be true in my interpersonal relationships, in my dealing with family and friends, and even in my work.

On MLK day I was searching for an appropriate quote to express the sentiment of King and other intellects of his time who helped to shape the institutions that have influenced me on a daily basis and in my career (schools, prisons, economic systems, etc.) I was reminded of a quote by David Dellinger, Chicago Seven member, and someone who marched, spoke, and rallied beside King.

“THE ONLY WAY WE CAN BEGIN TO BREAK THE VICIOUS CIRCLE OF           BLINDNESS, HATRED, AND INEQUALITY IS TO COMBINE AN UNCOMPROMISING WAR UPON EVIL INSTITUTIONS WITH AN UNENDING KINDNESS AND LOVE OF EVERY INDIVIDUAL-INCLUDING THE INDIVIDUALS WHO DEFEND EXISTING INSTITUTIONS.”

I am by no means a scholar of the 50s and 60s or Dellinger himself. My knowledge of King is limited by my age. And I am actually not a great fan of Steinbeck (although I do count Grapes of Wrath as an absolutely essential read for any student of literature and the humanities.) But that letter, and those words by Dellinger rang unbelievably true and real to me in a personal sense, but also in a professional one. I had to delete what I had written in this blog previously when I thought about these words, this concept, in the context of what I am experiencing as a teacher and mentor in the type of environment in which my students, my coworkers and I are try very hard to succeed (against odds) each day. The truth is, I would like to believe, even my frustrations and occasional anger come from a place of love.

When I worked in a cubicle, staring at database screens all day, everyday for the first 2 years of my post-collegiate career I would say to anyone who listened: “I don’t care about money, I just want a job that I love going to each day.” Most days since I began teaching over five years ago, I can say that is the case (even if many of my students would argue I don’t always show it.) The days I feel like I can’t roll out of bed, or I can’t deal with one more act of idiocy, or I need to shut off my lights and be alone, I can say upon reflection after the moment, are only the result of my passions, as well. I guess I believe too passionately in the practice and ideology that drives me to teach how I teach, where I teach and why I teach. And when this is met by policy, expectations, and evaluations that are antithetical to my own ideals…well, it is, I will admit, frustrating to a level that I would label somewhere between “infuriating” and “crippling.”

Hang with me for a minute here, because perhaps for anyone who has not dedicated their careers to working with young people, where I am headed may seem a stretch. But when I read Steinbeck’s advice to his teenage son about the dichotomy of the two types of love, I thought not only about how this quote could serve as a teachable moment to the young people I teach every day, but how invaluable this sage wisdom could be for the adults who shape the students’ lives and education daily. “One (type of love) is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you – of kindness, and consideration and respect – not only the social respect of manners but the greatest respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.” In the work of many policy makers, administrators, and yes even some teachers, it is this unfortunate first example (self-serving love) that dictates their careers in education. Decisions are made, policies are blindly enforced, and things are done in schools and classrooms daily by adults who value self-importance at a greater standard than kindness, consideration, and respect.  Shit, I do this myself on occasion.  I have visitors from the network coming in?  Scrap the real lesson, and give them the old dog and pony show.  Have to earn that good old “Satisfactory” rating.  I am not proud of this.  And I am certainly not proud of the fact that I am forced on a regular basis to shut my door and block out or ignore that much more severe examples of this self-serving “love” are going on in hallways, classrooms, and offices throughout the school, city, and nation.

The quote that opens this post is from a song that has been repeating itself often (to my sheer pleasure) on my iPod these days.  It is a song titled “Love, Love, Love” on the album Sunset Tree by The Mountain Goats.  The entire album is a thirteen-song love letter by the lead singer, John Darnielle, to his recently deceased step-father.  His step-father abused and neglected John for most of his childhood and young adult life.  It is this song, and the one that follows it (and concludes the album) that stand out most for me.  Part of it is the way that Darnielle so succinctly and cleanly illustrates the dichotic nature of love as not only a notion, but also a real and true feeling that cannot be placed in any one box, or perhaps even put into words, and yet it drives the things we do in life, almost everything we do.  And then there is the universality of what he is saying.  Of course I do not believe that the institutions and policies that frustrate me in my daily work as a teacher can be equated to an abusive step-father (although I would argue that education policy in modern America is becoming increasingly abusive towards an already underserved segment of the nations’ population).  However, I do think there is something more universal in what Darnielle sings.  It is the same message that Dellinger made so eloquently in his speeches; that Steinbeck made in his letter to his young son, Thom; and that so much of the best literature about the human conditions shares, as well.  What we do from a place of love (both the beautiful and the ugly things we do) so long as it is sincerely done from that place of love, is the most worthy and real thing we can do.  This is why I laugh when someone like Mike Bloomberg suggests increasing teacher salaries based on test-performance, and objective evaluations, or paying large “signing bonuses” to top students from elite colleges who sign-up to teach.  These are not the teachers you want, Hizzoner.  The teachers who are in it for the money almost always are the ones who hide behind their union, and who value their own intellect and paycheck over their students’ experiences and needs.  These are exactly the people Bloomberg and his anti-teacher acolytes are really railing against.  So why make the incentive to teach all about money?

Mayor Bloomberg, the teachers you really want are the same teachers any student would want: someone who lives by the words of Steinbeck, Dellinger, and Darnielle.  The ones who know it’s not about the things you do for money, or fun, but about the things you do for love, love, love.  Even if that love is so passionate that it means they protest outside your office every time you make a rash statement or try to push an agenda that shows you do not know our individual students from a statistic.  Are these people angry with you?  Yes.  But believe me, it comes not from a place of selfishness, but a place of love.

Dear John: Saying Thanks and Good Luck to One of the Three Teachers I admire Most

4 Jan

I owe an incredible amount of “career debt” to three people I have worked with over the years. One is a shaker-and-a-mover, one is a mad-scientist, and one is a true-G. For the first two years of my career I was blessed to work with all three. For five years, just the last two. I have learned endless amounts from all three: how to navigate the system and teach what you think is valuable and important and right, while still speaking the language of the policy-men; how to create meaningful projects that can both assess students’ knowledge and skills, AND address things that are valuable and meaningful to them as individuals; how to work in multiple modes of media; and how to go out for a beer on a Friday night and say ‘Well this, that, and the other sucked, but how ‘bout what happened here!’ In any career path, connections and networking are important. I have had innumerable job opportunities, and extra-curricular opportunities presented to me through my friendship and common philosophies with these men. I was able to work with the high-security dorms in the juvenile centers (something that was actually an honor at the time, as odd as that sounds), to find a job as an English teacher at a Transfer High School when I needed a break from the jails, and work with an incredible group of students in an afterschool program eventually taking part in conferences in California and a film showing at the Queens museum celebrating their work. I have no doubt that when my run at my current school ends there will be other opportunities out there thanks to these three. Anybody who has worked just about anywhere, one would imagine, understands how phenomenal it is to partner with people whose work you respect. In any job I have ever had, from painting houses during my high school summers, to sports research, through my teaching career there have been people whose work philosophies I simply couldn’t tolerate and others who inspired me daily to keep par.

When I sat down for dinner Monday night, at a fun little pizza spot in Union Square, I looked down the table through a crowd of the students whose work at my school has made me the most proud over the course of these last two years. And at the other end was the man most responsible for their success. Next week he hops a plane to California, where his career continues to rocket upward, and where other students are going to be blessed with what the gift of a good mentor and teacher can mean.

My boy John is not a traditional teacher. He won’t get a “rating” from a principal at the end of the year (shit, not a single administrator or policy-man came to the film showing he and the Famous Nameless crew—his afterschool conglomerate—held at the Queens museum this September.) He doesn’t get paid to do what he does, and often pays out of pocket for food, or Metrocards, for his students. He doesn’t dress like a traditional educator, doesn’t act like one or speak like one. Sometimes people mistake him as a student. Here’s a guy who didn’t get into education to be a preacher/teacher, but did it to make meaningful connections with kids who needed that “semi-adult” influence in their lives. He works with kids, often tirelessly, and cantankerously (kids can be frustrating sometimes) but always kindly because he believes it is what’s right. Because he wants them to have the opportunities and life-fulfillment that art and education and philosophy have given him. And I imagine because he agrees with me that it doesn’t matter if you are facing 15 years in a cell, or growing up in the posh Jersey suburbs: you deserve an education that values you and your experiences, and gives you the opportunity to grow into the best person you can become, day-by-day. That’s not bleeding-heart liberal bullshit, and it isn’t No Child Left Behind delusion—it’s a philosophy that is necessary to survive in a system that is not about the teachers, and definitely not about the students (in fact, I am sure he will be embarrassed about this post because it is so much about him and not the Famous Nameless…but I will get to that.) I don’t think I could ever get into the Research/Academia thing, not as it applies to studying Education, anyway. But I think very few people have the style, the intelligence, the flair and the ability to connect with kids that John has. And for that reason, it is hard to imagine that his “research”, writing, and more importantly his impact on individual students’ lives won’t be rewarded greatly down the line. I could see in the faces of some of my students last night that it already is.

Maybe John lucked out with the crew he pooled together (an often amorphous gathering of some of the quirkier students from our school and a neighboring school.) I know I count myself lucky to have taught each and every one of them formally and informally. But I think there was something more special than lucky about how that particular crew came together, the things they were able to create, the conversations they were able to have, and how they applied it to their more traditional schooling. To be sitting Monday night at a table filled with unique individuals, each with different styles and personalities, and stories to tell was a bittersweet moment. John raised a toast and assured his students that the best was yet to come, and he was still their family: new opportunities will open for them, and they have each grown up an incredible amount over the past 18 months, or so. And that was undoubtedly true. On one side of the table I was looking at one of my absolute favorite kids to work with (and watch grow up) over the past year, a completely changed young man from the one I met 18 months ago; and his girlfriend, a few short months away from graduating thanks to help from her teachers and her own improving self-confidence. On the other end, kids from a different school who used to stop by my class even though they were from a DIFFERENT SCHOOL just to spend the period tutoring my own students in Macbeth. On one end a student who was (probably illegally) pushed out of our school but still comes back on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to meet with the Famous Nameless. On another end a student working on a documentary comparing-and-contrasting the story of students in a graduate program for dance at NYU with his own boy, a dancer, who can’t keep himself out of jail long enough to give his dreams a true shot. I don’t think it can be expressed the changes in attitudes, approach to school, confidence, and just plain valuing of their own lives that these kids have made. And, listen up Famous Nameless, it isn’t because of John (although he’d love for you to believe that 😉 It’s because you had a little luck, and pressed on it with a lot of energy, and a bit of motivation from a great mentor. But it ain’t all about the teacher. It rarely is.

So in two years these kids will all be sitting in college classrooms, or ‘Raymond’ will probably be sitting in his basement, playing death metal and staring at a fractal screen-saver (but that’s a different story.) And I guarantee if you asked them what educational experience influenced them the most, and brought them to this point in their academic career, they would say “The Famous Nameless” without skipping a beat. So why does this stuff go unnoticed? How is it possible that a guy who went out of his way, spent his own time and money, took kids to places they had never been and created the type of art they had never before fathomed gets to leave without a single “Thank you” from anybody beside his kids and a few co-teachers? I am not sure. I guess there is no rubric at the Dept Ed to evaluate the meaning and worth of such work. I guess if it cannot be privatized and corporatized: measured with the traditional forms of “data” it isn’t meaningful. The irony here is that the data is right in front of our eyes. About a dozen pieces of indisputable data: one dozen kids whose lives were greatly impacted and whose schoolwork improved, who forged bonds they never would have otherwise, and created art and discussions and film that most kids could not create (I don’t care what school they are from.) Johnny, my man, if you never get a single meaningful “Thank You” from an administrator or Dept Ed Big-Whig, you know that the showing at the Queens Museum, the dinner Monday night, the memories of the Famous Nameless, and the meaning of this experience will be with them moving forward…all this is a much more powerful thanks.

Johnny: Sean, Andy and I are going to miss you man. The Famous Nameless will miss you. Safe travels, and teach those kids in Oakland how we do.

Angel From Montgomery

2 Jan

The other day I was on the couch listening to Deja Vu and drinking Rolling Rock. I texted my father: “I am turning into my pops. Deja Vu on vinyl and Rolling Rock in hand.” Two days later I was at my grandmothers 90th birthday. She says to me: “I am just so happy to see you happy.” That’s my family: the most selfless people in the world. At my parents wedding they played “Teach the Children” for god sake.

The truth is I could never turn into my pops. I don’t have the strength. My dad has been married to the same unbelievable woman for 38 years. I was married to an equally amazing one: I couldn’t make it last five. My pops has changed the lives of kids in a way I cannot fathom. Students from 30 years ago still email him. I probably just show my students how not to act as an adult.

This isn’t a woe is me post though. It’s about how goddamn lucky I am to have the family I have. 2011 was no fun for the most part. Trying to figure out how to be my own man, work for assholes that don’t know shit about what’s right for kids, be single and cook and shit, and treat people right? This shouldn’t be so hard. But it was. In mid-march my parents talked me off the ledge. In June my brother saved me. A few weeks ago I went to a concert with my brother and remembered again how wonderful life can be with the right support.

My family are Saints. Not because they have all of them dedicated their lives to teaching, not because they are loyal to a fault, and not because they helped me through a goddamn mess of a year. Because I don’t know any other people that care so much about doing right by others as they do. Because they live and love and love. And don’t ask anything in return.

I learned something this year: the world does not revolve around me. 29 years and I honestly just learned this. Never going to be my pops. Can’t be. Never going to be a Pulitzer Prize winner. Not enough people out there as fucked up in the head as me. Never going to be the man I promised to be on July 15, 2006. Couldn’t be.

But 2012? I am going to kill shit. And not because of me. Because of the people who hold me up, and always have. Deja Vu on vinyl and Rolling Rocks. If that’s the closest I can get to my pops I am cool with that.

Carry On. 2012