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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weather-forecasters and Athletes

Well, winter remains stubborn. The opening games of our baseball and softball season have been postponed in advance of an approaching storm. Perhaps as much as 6 – 12 inches of snow is expected to drape the area overnight and through tomorrow. Just when we had a brief hint of spring a week and a half ago, we are once again confronted by the realities of living in upstate New York where weather is fickle. Perhaps this is a cruel April Fools’ joke played out by Mother Nature.

Now that I think about it, the job of a weather forecaster is rather interesting. In what other occupation can you provide such expansive predictions – i.e. “…from 6 to 12 inches of snow will fall…” or “the temperature will be in the thirties tomorrow” and not fear that you'll lose your paycheck? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could speak so broadly in your role at work? I’m not suggesting that it’s an easy job by any means. I'm certain that it's difficult to read the various factors that influence weather outcomes. However, weather forecasters, despite the latest and greatest technology like Doppler Radar, often appear to miss their mark. Where else but weather and baseball can someone be successful less than half the time and still continue at their job? In baseball, if you get a hit in 30 out of every 100 at bats, a 30% rate of success, you’ll be richly rewarded in an amount of money measured in millions.
Even when weather forecasters are wrong, their mistakes may not be considered bad. For example, if the prediction of rain on your outdoor party turns out to be in error, you’d be happy about the sunshine that basks your guests as they enjoy the get together. And, in baseball, if your favorite team experiences victory when the player who hits .220 knocks in the winning run, you can overlook his faults as a hitter.
(off the point remark – I’m not looking forward to school tomorrow since I’m a loyal fan of the Detroit Tigers and they opened the season today with a loss to the New York Yankees – a fact that will not escape the attention of many learners at Heatly. Maybe we’ll have a snow day and people will forget about it over the weekend or the Tigers will gain revenge before we return to school Monday)
If the success spectrum runs the gamut from the relatively low level of baseball batters and weather forecasters to the extremely high level of airline pilots and neurosurgeons operating with no margin for error, I suspect educators would be, and should be, placed far closer to the doctors and pilots than the baseball players and meteorologists. Every parent should harbor high expectations for those people who contribute to the learning experiences of their son or daughter. There are few opportunities for “do-overs” when you are looking at the value of a child’s future and their opportunities and possibilities – all of which are impacted by the efforts and energy of multiple staff members. What does a parent have that is more important than the hopes and dreams of their child?
This represents a tremendous burden of responsibility for educators. It is an especially difficult role at an extremely challenging time. Educators are bearing a significant portion of the growing angst sweeping the country in the form of a mass of people who have become disgruntled and weary by the stress and strain of a bleak economy.  I believe that the words and actions captured in news article after news article attacking collective bargaining units (often targeting teacher unions) are voices of frustration expressed by people fatigued by weak economic indicators that have been as relentless as a bulldozer. What else can people say? Who else can they blame? How else can they communicate their fears and anxiety? Certainly teachers and other educators have been exposed to the same rise in gasoline prices, heating oil, groceries, and everything else. The thousands of thousands of teachers across the country who have been laid off in the last couple of years is a testament to the vulnerability of the role of teacher. This year promises to be no different except that with so many teachers already laid off there are fewer to be laid off without shutting education down.
Teachers and unions have unfortunately become lightning rods for those lamenting the vise like grip of the economy. After all, has anyone expressed outrage at the annual multi-million dollar salaries of athletes? Instead we welcome the opening of yet another season of baseball with fanfare – with spectators shelling out, on the average, over a hundred dollars for a parking spot, concessions, and a seat at the game to watch players who make small fortunes. And, if you can’t get to a game then you can relax at home and view game by game access to your team’s contests through a special cable program, or follow along on your cell phone.  There are nine members of this year’s New York Yankees twenty-five player roster who have annual salaries larger than the entire annual operating budget of the Green Island Union Free School District. Whew!
Let’s take another perspective on bad-boy Charlie Sheen who made over a million dollars an episode for his weekly television program (which apparently wasn’t enough to persuade him to observe the expectations and guidelines imposed at his work-site and keep his job). Instead of being ravaged for his indiscretions and obscene salary during a recession, his every move is shared by reporters to fans starved for news on their favorite actor, and his every thought is received by hundreds of thousands of devoted fans via Twitter. Ah, what a life. Interestingly, Charlie Sheen has been both a TV fan and a baseball player, at least the one he played in a role of a pitcher in the film Major League.
When I think of the value accorded an educator working to shape the intellectual, emotional, and social growth of children over an extended time, I’m reminded of a quote attributed to Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. He was apparently asked how he felt during his journey to the moon. He replied by pointing out that he realized that he sat atop a huge rocket that was constructed of over three hundred thousand parts – all purchased by the government in a low bid process of procurement. Surely, we cannot pay our teachers salaries on par with the rock stars, starlets, and professional athletes who all too often serve as poor role models for youngsters, but we shouldn’t expect that we can secure the best people to positively influence our children and protect our investment in their future by using a low bid process either.

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