Monday, December 2, 2019

A Legal Age for Cell Phones and Social Media?

What does the ping or buzz of a cell phone have in common with drinking alcohol, smoking a cigarette, and gambling?  All of them result in the brain releasing dopamine, and that makes us feel good!  Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that affects your emotions, movements and your sensations of pleasure and pain.  It functions as a neurotransmitter that sends signals to other nerve cells and is a major component in reward-motivated behavior.  Dopamine motivates one to take action toward goals, desires, and needs, and gives a surge of reinforcing pleasure when achieving them.  It is important to note that while this chemical is released by the above mentioned acts, along with endorphins and serotonin, dopamine is also released when exercising.  In reality, your body craves physical movement and even though a person may not like to exercise, when they do, the chemicals are released and the person feels good.

So why this little mini-lesson on dopamine and the “pleasure release?”  Because we often become addicted to things that give us pleasure.  As mentioned above, our bodies crave the release of this chemical, and to get that we often develop both a physical and mental addiction to it.  In the case of cigarettes, manufacturers have added other chemicals, like nicotine, to reinforce addiction.  And even with exercise, there are people that one could argue go too far, causing their bodies to break down.  And now, we have people, particularly young ones, who get that rush of pleasure when they hear that phone ping or feel it buzz.  The natural consequence of this is that they cannot put their phone away or get away from it.  In our classrooms we see this all the time, and when it becomes a disruption and I take a phone away from a student, it often looks like an addict giving up their drugs.  It is very difficult for them, and when they return to the classroom they are highly distracted because they are wondering what they are missing out on because they do not have that phone in hand.  They even become a bit agitated because they do not get that dopamine release without hearing the ping.  I am not making this up!  We see it happen with some of our students!

Here’s something else we know about young people and their devices.  According to a recent study published in January 2019 edition of the Journal of Applied Biobehavioural Research, spending too much time on “social media” sites like Facebook is not only making people miserable, it is also making them depressed.  In a study that involved 504 millennials that are active users of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and/or Snapchat, who met the criteria for a major depressive disorder also scored higher on the “Social Media Addiction” scale and exhibited other behaviors that are associated with major depression.

In another study conducted by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania, they concluded that for those subjects who drastically cut back their use of sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, they often saw marked improvement in their mood and how they felt about their lives.  One of the researchers, Melissa Hunt, stated “It was striking.  What we found over the course of three weeks was that rates of depression and loneliness went down significantly for people who limited their (social media) use.” 

Simon Sinek, a British-American author, motivational speaker, and organizational consultant, who once worked in advertising, makes it very clear about the addictive nature of cell phones, and most important, how relationships are impacted.  When people go to meetings or out to dinner, and they pull out their phone and lay it on the table, they have sent the message that the people around them are not important to them.  They have told everyone else at the table that the phone is more important than the people in the room.  They are much more interested in what is going to happen on their phone than what is being said across the table.  Think of what people do when they are waiting for an appointment, whether it is at the dentist’s office or for a meeting with the principal.  They pull out their phones.  There may very well be other people in the room and instead of talking to other people, they are running through their phones.  When this is done at conferences or meetings, relationships suffer.  People get to know one another in the in-between times, and they cannot do that when they are checking out their phones.  This is not just an issue with teens; it is an issue with all of us!  However, teenagers have grown up with these devices and have not learned how to talk to each other, face-to-face, and socialize with each other.

Sinek also talks about the fact that young people are not learning to talk to people and have no idea how to develop meaningful relationships.  They have grown up in a world of immediate satisfaction, in large part supported by their smart phone.  They have the world at their fingertips!  They have developed what Sinek calls “systemic impatience,” and if they do not experience success right away, they consider that failure.  Relationships take hard work to develop, and young people do not have experience talking with people and working through difficulties.  In many instances, they are afraid to talk to people because they haven’t had to in order to communicate.  

Addiction.  Depression.  Damaged relationships.  Is it time to step in legally to prohibit use by our youngest and most vulnerable?  In the summer of 2019 there was a bill  in Congress to raise the age to use vapes, e-cigarettes, and tobacco products to 21.  Yes, serious health conditions result from their use over time, but I believe we can same about the emotional, mental, and physical health of those addicted to their electronic devises and what they can access.  For a very long time I have made the comment that we are putting incredibly powerful devices — smart phones — in the hands of kids that are not developmental mature enough to handle them.  It’s like putting a six-year old behind the wheel of a race car.  Kids do not need them.  They were fine before these things came about, and they will most likely be better if they could not use them until they are mature enough to handle them.  Yes, there is no doubt that there are positive uses for this technology.  But there needs to be balance, and for many of our young people, that does not exist.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Thoughts About the Gymnasium Uberlingen Exchange — Part IV

Upon my return from the trip to Germany, I have had a number of people ask the typical questions of “What was your favorite part of the trip?” or “What was the one thing that really stood out?”  Generally my reply was along the line of “There were many things; too many to pick just one!”  Then I would tell about how all of my mental images of the country I had developed over the years were confirmed, and how beautiful the place was.  Of course I shared about the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, as well as a couple of side-trips Tammy and I took to Oberstdorf and Dachau.  However, as I reviewed the journal I kept on the trip, and have thought back to different things we did, there were a number of “smaller” things, those that were not necessarily in the travel guide, that made a significant impression on me.

Something that I have come back to a number of times since the trip was a very brief, but memorable encounter we had with a gentleman that stacks stones and sells photographs of his natural sculptures to make a living.  His name was Sepp Bogle, a tanned, burly man with long white hair and a matching, bushy beard that wore a blue t-shirt and blue shorts.  We had about a half-hour wait for a train at a village called Radolfzell, located along Lake Constance, and we decided to walk a little ways down a pier to enjoy the beautiful day.  I saw these stones that were stacked on a concrete ledge, and Bogle standing near by when we found a bench to sit on facing the lake.  Shortly after, a large swan came out of the lake right in front of us, walked toward and then past us, headed toward the stone sculptures.  This burly man then proceeded to “shoo” him away, and at that point we struck up a conversation.  

He shared with us that he spends six months in Radolfzell, staying in a room at a hotel or on the pier when the weather permits.  The other six months he goes to one of the Canary Islands, where he basically lives the same life as he does on the shore of Lake Constance.  He provided an English copy of an article that was written about him, and talked to us a bit as well.  He was soft-spoken and very nice, and we discovered he was a very successful business man earlier in his life, acquiring great wealth and living that fast-paced lifestyle.  However, that was not what he wanted, and after his marriage fell apart, he opted to leave all of that behind and get in touch with what he believes is much more important in life.  In fact, in addition to stacking stones and selling pictures, he often counsels people who seek him out, as well as others who are referred to him by people he has gotten to know over the years.  I wish we had spent more time talking with him as there are times that I wonder if I could actually live a similar life.  

Another one of the little things I enjoyed was a visit to the small village of Birnau, about ten miles from Uberlingen, where we saw perhaps the most incredible church I have ever seen.  The Birnau Abbey Church was decorated in the Baroque style, and included beautiful ornamentation, sculptures, and paintings.  While I have not seen some of the great churches, cathedrals, or basilicas in Rome and elsewhere, I have visited a number of them in other places, and I have to say that nothing has struck me the way this small little church did on the Bodensee.  It was amazing!

Coming from an agricultural family, I was particularly interested in farming in Germany, and since we spent the majority of our time in Baden-Wurttemberg and Bavaria, there was a lot to see.  These are the two primary agricultural states in the country.  Though nearly all of my observations were from the road, it was none the less very interesting to me.  For one thing, the farms were very small compared to what we have in Iowa, and in some respects, it seemed that everything was on a smaller scale.  Their tractors and machinery looked the same as what we have, but were about two-thirds the size.  The same with hay bales.  Dairy barns were constructed of wood rather than metal, and smaller because at most a farmer may have had twenty cows.  What was fascinating to me was that there were many places with fruit trees that were a hybrid that grew up instead of out and were planted very close together.  And, they had netting over the top to protect them from birds and hail.  They also had taller nets that covered hops that were growing, climbing over cables that were stretched the length of the nets.  Fascinating!

We also experienced a number of different things in their culture.  To no surprise a lot of people ride bicycles, and ride them significant distances.  There is no place in the towns and cities to park cars, so bikes make a lot of sense.  Of course you can take a train about anywhere, and people do.  It is a very popular type of transportation.  Some of our kids stayed with families outside of Uberlingen and rode the train every time they needed to come for an event or departure.  We rode a train quite a few times, and I have to say that it is a shame we do not have that kind of transportation more available to us in our country.  

One thing that was a surprise to many of us is that bottled water had “gas” in it, and you could buy it with different levels of gas.  Gas means carbonation, and most of our kids really did not care for it.  In a few places you could find water without gas, but that was the exception rather than the rule.  Along the food line, I expected different cuisine and was able to try traditional German food.  However, just like in our country, there were ethnic restaurants every where we traveled.  Pizza places were all over the place and it wasn’t hard to find a Chinese or Italian restaurant.  McDonalds was interesting as it lacked many of the traditional choices we have, and had quite a few different ones.  While we were there they were promoting a number of items with jalapeƱos.  Most satisfying were the ice cream stores!  In downtown Uberlingen there must have been at least ten ice cream shops, all of them featuring very elaborate treats.  I believe I ate ice cream every evening!

There are a number of things I am sure I will remember from this trip; some that I had never seen before.  There was also quite a bit that was familiar.  All of that said, I think two of the things that will remain with me as they took me back to the days of my youth were that every vehicle I rode in had a manual transmission, and I saw many of the old cigarette machines that used to be by the exit of restaurants years ago.  It was kind of strange to once again see those things as I had not thought about them in years.  I guess in some respects, the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Thoughts About the Gymnasium Uberlingen Exchange — Part III

Over the years I have talked to a number of people who have participated in the exchange, either as a student or as a parent of student.  I have to admit that I am still digging into the history as bit, trying to learn more about it, so my knowledge of who has been involved over the years is still quite limited.  What continues to impress me is the friendships that have endured over time.  Certainly that has not happened in all cases, as I know not everyone has continued to stay in touch.  But that said, I am impressed with those who have built relationships over the years.

To no surprise, one of the founders of the exchange, former principal Steve Story, has maintained relationships with Lothar Fritz, a former educator at Uberlingen, who was integral in starting the exchange.  They visited each other over the years and have continued correspondence far beyond their time working at their respective schools.  I know that Mr. Story often communicates with Herr Fritz in regard to their mutual interest in football, or as we call it, soccer.  In addition, I have talked with a number of parents of former students who have visited their former exchange students in their travels to Germany, some attending weddings and other big events that have taken place over the years.  

Earlier this year I had conversation with Judy Heyer, who has remained in contact with her exchange partner, Thomas Lailach, over the years since they first met each other in 1985.  They have become very good fiends, visiting each other countless times, including attendance at the recent wedding of Judy’s son. She remarked, “What an awesome experience the exchange was and I cannot express what it has meant for me!  So glad it is still an option for our students.”  Thomas’s son Nik came for a visit this fall at the start of the school year and spent a couple of days at school.  Perhaps in the future he will be part of the exchange as well!

While we were in Uberlingen I had the opportunity to meet Joerg Burghardt, a retired teacher who participated in a number of previous exchanges.  He traveled more than once with students, and developed a very strong relationship with former North Fayette teacher, Aaron Bicknese.  Over the course of a number of years, Herr Burghardt has made a number of visits to West Union to visit his friend Aaron, as well as others he has met over the years.  The reality is that in the big picture friendship can extend beyond oceans and continents, and because of this exchange, some friendships have endured for years.  When you think about it, having that friend that you are willing to get on a plane and fly ten hours to see is a pretty special friend!

In recent years, at least in the time that I have been at NFV, I have seen siblings come on the exchange, and I have seen one of our families host seven exchange students, with all five of their daughters traveling to Germany.  The Brian Gibson family has been all in on the exchange, and in talking with Linda, mother of the five girls who have participated, it has been an incredible experience.  We have had a number of conversations over the years and being able to meet students from Germany and travel to their home has certainly been a highlight of the educational experience for their family at NFV.

One of our most recent students who was involved in the exchange, Rezner Buhr, has traveled back to Uberlingen, spending time with a number of people that she met when she took her initial trip in 2017.  We have had students who have from Uberlingen on the exchange, and then their sibling has come over after the fact.  A few years back, Janika Merkle was on the exchange and stayed with the David Pleggenkuhle family, and then the next year, younger sister Hanna spent the entire school year at NFV, staying with the Tim Feldman family.

When we were in Germany on this last trip, I was informed by Hans-Juergen Borde that according to GAPP, the German American Partnership Program, this is the longest continuous running exchange between two schools that currently exists.  When you think about a chance meeting that took place almost forty years ago between two teachers who thought it would be a great idea to have an exchange, and the friendships that have been established, it is truly incredible!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

If You’re Not Cheating You’re Not Trying: I Call BS!

I am sure that many of you, especially those of you have have competing in athletics, have heard someone say “if you’re not cheating you’re not trying."   I honestly cannot tell you the first time I heard it, but I can tell you that I have heard it come out of people’s mouths too many times to count.  I have heard it from coaches, parents, family members, fans, and athletes, among others.  It has been said to me by people I have worked with closely, sometimes jokingly, but not always.  It generally is said by people who maintain a win-at-all-costs mentality, that tend to believe that the integrity of the game is secondary to winning.  More often than not, it comes from people who recognize that they do not have what it takes to win, and thus they believe that either they or the team they follow must circumvent the rules to beat the better team or individual.  

This was brought up not long ago in a conversation that I was having with a colleague at school who shared that 1) he absolutely hates that philosophy and 2) he was bothered because someone had made the comment in front of one of his kids, who did not understand the context in which it was being said.  As an avid sports fan, I value the integrity of sports and recognize that in order for games or contests to be fair, there must be rules to govern them.  A person of character respects rules and follows them.  As a former athlete and a coach, I recognized how important it was to find an edge, an advantage, to improve my/our opportunity to win.  They way that is done is to put in more time to sharpen skills, or studying the opponent to plan strategy that will better take advantage of my/our strengths.  Building up one’s cardio fitness, or developing a game plan to our maneuver a team are common, accepted methods used to pursue victory.  Cheating is not.  Exploiting loopholes in rules is not.  Attempting to injure an opponent is not.

A true sportsman wants to compete against the best, when their opponent is at their best.  Whether it is in team competition or individual against individual, to truly measure yourself in the quest for ultimate victory, you want to compete with integrity so that you can honestly say you won.  Victory is not as meaningful when the opponent is not at their best, whether it is a football game against a team who has lost it’s best quarterback, or a 3200m race against a runner that is under the weather.  To be the best, you have to beat the best!  True competitors want to challenge themselves against the best, and frankly, are frustrated when they do not get that chance.  By the same token, they want to compete on a level playing field, which is where the issue of cheating comes in to play.

For all of their Super Bowl championships, history is not going to be kind of the New England Patriots.  People can argue all they want about the greatness of Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, and it is reasonable to consider both of them as the greatest of all time in their respective positions.  That said, in the sporting world, they are considered to be cheaters, and one has to question whether or not they would have won as many championships without cheating.  Belichick has pulled different shenanigans over the years, including “Spygate” when a Patriot staffer was directed to videotape the New York Jets play-call signals so coaches could study them for a future game.  The team and head coach were fined a combined $750,000.00.  Perhaps more famous was “Deflategate,” when the game balls used by the Patriots had air let out of them so Brady could grip them better.  In that same season, they used “deception” with what were determined to be illegal formations in a game versus the Baltimore Ravens that were so cleverly designed that they fooled the referees as well!  Bill Belichick epitomizes the statement used for this article: If you’re not cheating you’re not trying!”  And the crazy thing is, most football pundits argue that they most likely would have won without cheating!

Cheating is a character flaw, and if I have heard it once, I have heard it thousands of times . . . sports build character!  Some of the same people that I have heard make the later comment, have also said the former.  Or, perhaps they have not said it, but have done it!  In my younger days I coached against one of the most competitive people I have met in my lifetime, and he was busted on more than one occasion helping or supporting his wrestlers cheating at weigh-ins.  Caught red-handed!  I am aware of coaches that have covered up incidents that would have otherwise resulted in their athletes being found in violation of the Good Conduct policy.  One of the more prominent softball coaches in the state of Iowa, who knows the rules as well as anyone, has broken them by having his players use illegal equipment.  I cannot count the number of times when I have brought up rules regarding coaching out of season I have heard the reply, “coaches from other schools are doing it."  The question then is “Why?”  Because, if you aren’t doing everything possible to win, you aren’t doing enough, and that includes cheating.  That is unacceptable!

In some parts of the sporting world there truly is a cesspool in which the win at all cost mentality is pervasive.  In particular I am thinking about college basketball recruiting.  What is frustrating is that to some degree there is acceptance, though recently, federal law enforcement has gotten involved and perhaps there will be changes.  I am concerned that our society has come to accept cheating as something that is going to happen and we just have to acknowledge it.  I would hope that we are better than that, and would prefer that our attitude would be that if you have to cheat, is it really worth it.  We cannot turn a blind eye to it and accept that we cannot do anything about it.  Those who cheat are not worthy of victory, under any circumstance.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Failing Online Charter Schools

I am not a fan of charter schools, or rather, I am not a fan of for-profit charter schools that siphon public money away from public schools.  It does not matter whether they are brick and mortar schools, or online programs.  In recent travels to other parts of the country, I have seen brand new buildings housing charter schools that look like palaces, and I have driven by some that occupy space in what appears to be worn out strip malls.  I am very aware of a few charters that have done incredible things, particularly KIPP Public Charter Schools, turning lives around for kids who come from poverty stricken backgrounds, but note that “public” is included in the title.  In Iowa, charter schools have struggled to gain a foothold.  In large part I believe that is due to the fact that the majority of people in a community have a positive feeling about the job being done in our public schools.  However, there are a few, and while proponents can argue that they provide more educational options to parents, overall, in our country they are not doing what they were intended to do.

In a report published in April 2019 by the Education Week Research Center, nearly three-quarters of students enrolled in online charter schools in the U.S. are attending “schools” where less than half of the students have graduated in four years.  Also contained in this report is the following:
Nationally, half of all virtual charter high schools had graduation rates     below 50-percent in the 2016-17 school year. Thirty-seven percent of schools had graduation rates at or above 50-percent. Graduation data for the remaining 13-percent of schools was masked for various reasons, such as to protect student privacy. There are about 163 virtual charter schools educating over 30,000 seniors nationally as determined by the adjusted cohort graduation rate, according to federal numbers.

In a Stanford University study in 2015, it was found that students attending an online charter school made so little progress in math over the course of a year that it was as if they hadn’t attended school at all.  That is unconscionable!  Let us apply that to our high school, or for that matter, any public high school in the United States.  If our students were not learning math in our classes, the community would be justifiably upset and many of us — from teachers up to administrators — would most likely lose our jobs.  In essence, we are talking about malpractice, and yet it appears that nothing is being done to demand accountability from these charters.

Most of the online charter schools are run by for-profit companies, and since the beginning, they have struggled with academic performance.  On a trip four summers ago we stopped in Indianapolis and spent some time downtown.  In a shopping mall, there was a lot of signage, including forty-foot banners spanning the walking area, advertising a couple of different online charter programs.  Both schools had kiosks where you could get information and sign your child up.  According to the Education Week study, not one virtual charter school operating in Indiana in 2016-17 had a graduation rate over 50% in the past four years.  What would you think if our school had a graduation rate of less than 50%?  On a national level, anything under a 90% graduation rate is considered low!

In Iowa, there are two “state approved” charter schools.  Both of them are for-profit, and both of them are aligned with and administrated by public school districts.  Students in the state can open enroll to either of the two districts and then enroll in the online charter option.  One of them is Iowa Connections Academy that is aligned with the CAM school district in southwest Iowa.  The other is called Iowa Virtual Academy in the nearby Clayton Ridge district.  In looking at graduation rates in Iowa, the state average for public schools in 2018 was an all-time high of 91.4%.  (North Fayette Valley has consistently exceeded the state average.)  The school district with the lowest graduation rate in that year was Storm Lake in western Iowa, a district with a very high percentage of ESL and low-economic status students, as well as a very transient population.  The second lowest graduation rate was CAM at 77%, which must include those students who enrolled in the Iowa Connections Academy (ICA).  In an online search, ICA’s profile reports a graduation rate between 70 and 79%, which is in lowest 50% of Iowa schools.  Clayton Ridge’s graduation rate was reported at 82.7%, which also puts them very close to the bottom of schools in the state.  There is no additional information provided by this district on the ICA profile.

While I am not sure of the financial arrangement between these two schools and their partner school district, I do know that state funds in the form of per pupil costs go to them through the open enrollment law we have in Iowa.  We have had a small number of students from our district choose to open enroll into the programs, two of whom graduated as they transferred their senior year.  None of the others graduated.  

In my opinion, this whole charter movement, which is strongly supported by current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is a way to separate certain groups of kids from other groups.  Many of the brick and mortar charter schools have specific entrance requirements that prevent students from certain demographic groups from enrolling, despite state and local laws that are supposed to prevent it.  It has been a way for the private sector to get public funding, and yet stay free of the same requirements and standards that public schools must meet.  In the accountability laws that exist in every state, no public school could survive unscathed with a graduation rate less than 50%.  The state would have swooped in, shut it down, and either close it or forced dramatic restructuring.  They have done this since the advent of No Child Left Behind.  However, the for-profit charter schools have been protected, and have not been held to the same standard.  It is a significant question of fairness and a level playing field.  In my mind, it is a misuse of taxpayer dollars to allow these failing schools to continue.  We wouldn’t stand for that if our school was failing.

Monday, September 16, 2019

What Your Kids Need to Know Before They Move Out

As a recent “empty-nester” I could have used something like the list I am sharing with you as my wife and I prepared to send both of our kids out the door to adulthood!  A lot has been said about our generation of parenting, quite a bit of it negative in terms of making our kids too dependent on us.  To a large extent, I agree with the criticism and have worked hard as a dad to prepare my kids to take care of themselves.  Some of it has taken hold, but some has not.  Tim Elmore, in his blog Growing Leaders, shares a list of 14 skills he believes we must instill in our children to prepare them to become independent, self-sufficient adults.  You may want to create a checklist from this and let it guide you over the course of the next few years.  I know that as I looked it over I still have some work to do!

14 Skills Your Kids Should Have Before Moving Out

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Thoughts About the Gymnasium Uberlingen Exchange — Part II

Shortly after I arrived and spent a couple of days in Uberlingen, I sent an email back to my administrator colleagues at NFV entitled Universal Truths!  We had gone on one of our outings, and I had just spent a good chunk of the morning at Gymnasium Uberlingen, with an opportunity to observe students and teachers, and to talk to my principal colleague, Hans Weber.  I also had a chance to talk with a teacher that we will get to know much better in the future, Ute Kramer, as she will travel on the next exchange to NFV.  In that small snapshot of time, I made some determinations, perhaps a little too soon or without adequate evidence!

First,  female students at Gymnasium Uberlingen dress very much like girls in our school, with shorts shorter than a conservative old foggy with a young daughter like me are comfortable with.  They do not have a dress code, but there were some observations made by a couple of their teachers that would indicate that many push the boundaries of what is acceptable in a school setting.  The boys, on the other hand, dressed a lot different than our’s.  First of all, sports are not nearly as large of a part of their culture as ours, and thus that kind of apparel influence was for the most part nonexistent.  No long baggy shorts, and not nearly the number of t-shirts.  They wore shorts and jeans, most of them other than blue denim, that were a lot more form fitting.  The point is that you could not tell the difference between American and German teenage females, but you most definitely could between the boys.

Kids do not do homework!  Teachers from the gymnasium expressed deep frustration that a high percentage of their current students do not do homework.  We see a lot of the same, to the extent that researchers have dug in trying to figure out why, and others in the field have spent a great deal of time determining what is valuable homework and what is not.  I was particularly surprised to hear this from gymnasium teachers because of their tiered educational system.  Those kids attending their school will take some very intensive exams at the conclusion of their final year of high school that will determine whether or not they will get into college, and then what college.  Talk about high stakes!  Perhaps it is indicative of this generation of young people that they haven’t internalized the concept of putting in the time to learn before you are assessed.  There are differences in motivation between our students and theirs due to the difference in school systems, but none the less students are choosing not to do homework.

Teachers from Uberlingen and our district claim that students are coming to school less prepared, and that parents are not as supportive of the school’s handling of student issues as in the past.  The same has been said in our nation’s schools as well.  In fact, schools have gone to great lengths to teach and provide services that are traditionally the responsibility of the family.  We have some great parents in our community, and I am sure that there are in Uberlingen as well, but like a lot of things, a “loud minority” often grabs the attention and focus of others.  Problems tend to receive more attention than things that are going well.  However, teachers in both places complain about giving up instruction time in their content area to teach things that should have been taught at home by parents.  

Something that was a bit of a surprise was that teachers do not feel appreciated, which is the same in our schools.  It has been well chronicled how teachers in our country face incredible challenges in the face of overwhelming criticism from a variety of different sources, and changes made by politicians.  A number of studies have determined that teacher morale is at an all-time low.  What I heard from teachers over there is primarily connected to changes in the school system made by the government.  The educational program is a lot more centralized in terms of curriculum that must be taught and assessments that have to be given.  Gymnasiums are the highest level schools for students in the country and designed to prepare students to go on to a university.  In recent years the government has relaxed admission standards and basically have taken the position that if parents want a child to go to a gymnasium, then they can, regardless of the child's academic level.  That is a drastic change, and means that there are kids in their schools that do not have the skills to succeed, and teachers are being asked to do more to see that they do.  It is a dramatic shift in expectations for teachers, and many are having a great deal of difficulty making the adjustment. 

Gaming online is a main competitor for student’s time outside of school, just as it is with some of our young people, as well as time spent on social media.  It seemed like as soon as we walked into a place that had free WiFi, out came all of the phones!  Fortnight is every bit as popular among German teens as it is with our’s.  One thing I did not see were phones in hand when students were moving through the halls at school, but at the same time, they were not carrying laptops either.  Keep in mind, however, that in their schools students stay in the same room and the teachers travel, thus the devices may have been left in the room.  Teachers expressed a similar frustration that students come to school tired in the mornings after late nights of gaming.

Over the years as I have traveled across our country, visiting schools and talking to educators, I have developed the belief that kids are kids, regardless of where they come from and live.  Now, having experienced a little bit of another country up close, this belief is further confirmed.  In this “smaller world” referenced in a previous article, technology has removed a lot of the unknowns.  More of the American way of life has seeped into the daily life of the areas we visited.  Technology has also caused change, and regardless of who you are or where you are, change is difficult.  Some of the challenges are the same for educators, both here and in Germany.  The more we communicate and work together, perhaps we can find positive ways to deal with them.