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In Praise of Teachers: A Letter for Teachers, Parents, Students, and the Community

 

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In Praise of Teachers:  A Letter for Teachers, Parents, Students, and the Community

 

Teachers Appreciation Week gives us all a chance to look back at the extraordinary teachers who have impacted us throughout our childhood and throughout both our lives and those of our children.  For those of us in the field of education, we also have the chance to remember teachers with whom we have worked.  I have been fortunate enough to have worked closely with over 400 teachers in 40 years of education as a Massachusetts teacher and principal.  Through my work, I feel that I have learned a great deal about teachers and the incredible responsibilities that are part of the profession.  Of course, to paraphrase Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s  in The Little Prince,there are things we see and know with our eyes, and others–sometimes even more important–that we see and know with our hearts.    I have observed and admired teachers all my life, and I write this letter to each and every one of you–to every teacher I have had the pleasure of knowing.  I invite you all, and all your colleagues, your students far and wide, and the greater community of parents and townspeople  to read along or listen in.

 

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Dear Teachers,

 

I have seen you as each new year begins in late August, frantically running from WalMart to Kmart to Target to Staples to the Dollar Store—spending hundreds of dollars of your own money to purchase motivational posters, extra crayons and glue, marbled composition books, stickers that say “Awesome Work” or “I’m Proud of You.”  I have seen you spend the full week before school begins putting up backings for bulletin boards, re-stocking your classroom libraries, and putting together folders for Day One.  I have watched you as you try to map out once more your whole year, and vowing that this year you will be the best teacher that your children have ever had—the best teacher that you can be.  I was with you—in spirit—all those nights in August when you couldn’t sleep because you were so excited—and more-than-a-bit nervous, as well—because of all those new kids that you were about to greet in just a couple of weeks.  Even after you finished that Master’s or CAGS degree—piling on still more college bills–even after spending  5 or 6 weeks in summer taking courses to continually learn new skills for teaching students—still you worried how you could be possibly be prepared for the multitude of students about to enter your classes—students with such a wide range of skills and talents and with an equally large range of backgrounds and personalities—as well as family, personal, and academic problems.  Still you approached that first day with eyes filled with hope and hearts filled with compassion—with dreams of helping each and every student to learn, to achieve, to grow—to reach for the stars and to ultimately achieve his or her dream.

 

I have seen you work so very hard—day in and day out–as teachers.  I watch you literally run around the room in pursuit of that ever-elusive goal—helping every single student to understand and master a skill on which you are focusing that day or that week.  You kneel down beside little kindergarten desks to check the formation of their letters; you bend over middle school desks to check a student’s map of the United States; you run back and forth to the whiteboard to demonstrate the correct way to calculate the volume of water in a container.  You run from the SmartBoard to the children’s workstations, from their computers to their reading circles.  You are up and down and up and down and up and down, and you are constantly in a whirlwind of motion–and by the end of the day, you just KNOW that you have run a 10 kilometer/6.2 mile road race (if not a warrior run or a half-marathon) because your legs and your back and your shoulders are absolutely killing you.

 

And that doesn’t even begin to touch on how emotionally drained you are.  You have made about one thousand judgments and decisions every hour.  “Does Linda or Jason really understand this concept?”  “Should I give another example?”  “Should I ignore that child who is whispering?”  “Should I correct him or her?”  “Should I try some proximity control?”  “Should I praise that student for her answer?”  “What should I say—‘good job’ or ‘nice work’ or ‘great answer’?”  “Should I explain WHY  it’s a great answer?”  “Should I give the kids a break now—or wait 5 minutes?”  “Should I make that little joke now to liven up the class a bit, or will that break everyone’s train of thought?”  “Should I call on Jennifer now—or Taylor—or Alex–or Javier—or Aliyah—or Noah—or Desiree—or Tyrone?”  “Should I allow Susan to get a drink now—or Joshua to run to the bathroom now—or Mark to go to his locker to retrieve his homework—or Kadence to call her mom to bring in the money for the field trip?”  “Should I correct Sophia’s poor grammar in her excellent answer to my question about the story we just read, or should I just compliment her for thinking creatively and expressing herself so clearly?”  You are constantly scanning the rows or the groups of tables for students who look confused or uncertain or excited or bored—and you are constantly reacting to each of those students.

 

I have been there with you and felt your heart skip a beat when that light comes on in a child’s eyes and he says, ”Mrs. Johnson, I get it!  NOW I get it!”  I have felt your heart swell to twice its size when you read a sophomore’s essay in which he writes, “One day I will hold my Mom’s hand and tell her that she has always been my hero because she has sacrificed so much to keep our family together.”  And I have been there, as well, when a child’s suffering becomes your suffering.  I have seen your pain  as a child confides in you that he just doesn’t have any friends—or that the kids on the bus call him names.  I have seen the tears stain your cheeks when a child explains to you that her dad is not coming home anymore.  I have felt your chest and throat tighten up when you see a child come in with bruises, both seen and unseen.  I know how you grieve when a child loses a friend or family member to an accident or to drug or alcohol abuse.   And all those times when a child struggles to understand but the understanding will not readily come, no matter how hard he or she tries—those times, too, cause your heart to ache, and make you even more determined to find a way to reach that child.  And I know how many times those children and their problems keep you up late at night—wondering if and how you can help, and praying that you can find a way.

 

And I know about the long, long hours that you put in before and after school.  I know how often you get up at 5:00 in the morning to put the finishing touches on your lesson plans for that day or that week.  I know how regularly you spend 2 to 3 to 4 to 5 hours a night or sometimes even more on schoolwork.  You get home from school, help the kids with their homework, prepare dinner, clean up, and then spend until 10 or 11 o’clock correcting papers and getting ready for the next day.  Over the course of a week you correct hundreds of spelling, grammar, math, geography, history, science quizzes.  In a year, those hundreds become 5 to 10 THOUSAND quizzes and tests.  In a career, that amounts to maybe 250-500 THOUSAND quizzes and tests—that you painstakingly design, prepare, and correct.  You collect the data gathered from those tests and analyze it, deciding what you need to re-teach, and to whom, and in what manner.  And then there are the writing assignments—the paragraphs, the compositions, the journals, the lab reports, the essays, the book reports, the research papers.  You know that teaching is a seven-day a week job because you spend so many hours on Saturday and Sunday reading and commenting on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of papers.  “Why does Gatsby confide in Nick?” — “Explain how an airplane flies” —  “What can you do to help our environment?” —  “Consider the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government in explaining the balance of powers” —  “What character changes most in this book, and explain how he or she changes” —  “Solve this algebra problem and explain each step as you do it” —  “Explain impressionism and Monet’s style” — “What is meant by good sportsmanship?”  —“What is a Shakespearean Hero?” — “How is haiku formed?” — “What does Robert Frost mean in the last line of the poem?” — “How can you make good choices?”  I have noticed that often the majority of your February or April vacation (sometimes both) is taken up with correction and grading of these kinds of papers.  And then there are the seemingly never-ending progress reports and report cards—totaling and averaging hundreds (perhaps thousands) of grades, and writing or typing comments on report cards.  How many late nights and occasional all-nighters you have had to endure in order to meet progress report or report card deadlines!

 

I know about the moments of self-doubt too—times when you wonder if you are really making a difference, times when you wonder if you can possibly correct one more spelling quiz, times when a student moves out of the district AGAIN—just as you were beginning to finally get through to her.  There are the times you wonder if anyone notices how hard you are working, how much you care, how creative your lessons are, or how many extra things you are doing for kids.  I am well aware of all those extra things you do as, well—the poetry club, math club, drama club, computer club, chorus, student council that you advise.  You organize geography bees or spelling bees or math competitions.  You coach students after school to prepare them for the MCAS testing.  I have been there too as you coached football or wrestling or softball or cheerleading or basketball.   Many of you reach into the community or beyond to bring science or art or music programs to our schools for enrichment.  And those field trips to Davis Farm, the Red Apple Farm, the Science Museum, Theater at the Mount, the Museum of Fine Arts . . . I realize how hard it is to organize those trips for your classroom or for the entire school—and yet you do it—voluntarily—every year!    I have stood in awe as I saw you organize and conduct and chaperone a school trip to Nature’s Classroom or Canada or Washington, D.C.  The fundraising activities, the meetings with administration, parents, and kids—unbelievable—but you did it all!  And how about all those school activities that you helped out with?  Those field days, school dances, talent shows, author teas, game nights, toy bingo events, school plays,  lip-sync competitions, spirit days?  And then there are those programs for peer mediation, training active bystanders, and organizing friendship groups.

 

But even with all the extra activities, you save your most incredible effort for the classroom:  the classroom, where you try your very hardest every single day to reach every single student.   You prepare lesson plans using backward design.  You  consistently use state frameworks and address learning standards.  You remind yourself of what Rick Lavoie said—that “Fair does not mean treating every child the same; that fair means giving each and every child what he or she really needs to be successful.”  So you teach not just to the middle of the class, but to every child.  You sometimes group students by interest or ability or randomly.  You set up learning stations.  You constantly monitor how students are doing—if they are understanding.  You ask questions and try to make sure that you are asking students to use their higher order thinking skills.  You use the District Curriculum Accommodation Plan (DCAP) and knowledge gleaned through scores of workshops to address differences in learning styles and abilities.  You are familiar with and constantly review IEP’s and 504 plans and DCAP’s to ensure that you are meeting the many and varied needs of all students.  You develop ISSP (Individual student success plans), as well, whenever needed.  You put into practice differentiated instruction and gear your efforts to address multiple intelligences of students.  You administer DIBELS and Fountas and Pinnell tests, MCAS tests or PARCC tests and use the results of testing to plan and modify your instruction.  You request Child Study Team meetings when children have special problems, and you use the recommendations from those meetings to modify and improve your instruction and create successful outcomes.  You try your hardest to motivate your students to learn—you challenge them, you reward them.  You send home positive notes in agendas or on special cards or stationery.  You call home whenever you can to help parents to become partners in their child’s education.  You discuss triumphs, and challenges, and problems—and you work cooperatively and helpfully and positively with parents.

 

And more than anything, you let children see how much you care—because you DO care about each one of them—more than you can ever say.  You show it by how hard you work, by the words you use with children and parents.  You show it by the thoroughness and creativity of your plans.  You show it by how well you teach—how much attention you pay to each child and to the goal of having each child really master the material.  You show it by all the extra things you do, the special things– the smiles, the warmth, dedication and commitment.

 

And I am there, with you, as well, when you receive those very personal special rewards at the end of the year—children who leave your class with strengthened skills in reading, math, science, social studies, art, music, phys. ed. and more—as well as higher levels of confidence.  You have taught them to carefully consider their options before making choices.  You have taught them to put themselves into the shoes of another before making judgments.  You have taught them to treat others the way they would hope to be treated.  You have taught them to care about others—their neighbors, their classmates, their peer in other states or countries.

 

And so, my fellow teachers–those who served long before, and those who serve still–I want to tell you all on this day and on every day–that you will always have my profound gratitude, my unending thanks for all of your extremely hard work, your caring, your dedication, and your commitment to your students and to your position.  Yours is the job from which all others flow–the job from which dreams– and careers– and lives are made.  As Astronaut Christa Mcauliffe observed, you do indeed “touch the future”—and we are all the better for your tremendous efforts in doing so.

 

Sincerely and warmly

Mitchell R. Grosky

Former Athol-Royalston (Massachusetts) Teacher and Principal

Current ARRSD School Committee Member

 

 

 

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The Importance of Making Good Choices: The Recent Cases of Paula Dean and Aaron Hernandez –originally posted on June 26, 2013

“It all comes down to the choices you make!”  Over the past 40 years in education, I have made that statement or ones like it thousandsDesktop2 of times to students and to my own children as elementary principal, teacher, and parent.  I have said it to them in the classroom, in my office, in the cafeteria, out on the playground, and on the soccer field.  And I have had a great deal of company in saying that.  So many teachers, guidance counselors, paraprofessionals, school nurses, and parents have their own versions:  “Take your time and make the right choice”   or   ”Be careful not to make a bad choice” or “Life is all about choices.”  Sometimes I tell children (as my wife has always said that SHE was told) “When you have a choice to make, pretend that your dad (or mom) is perched right there on your shoulder” and think “What would my dad or mom want me to do?”  or finally “What is the RIGHT thing to do?”

These thoughts are especially relevant  and close to my heart this week as the news reverberates with reports on the cases of two very different media stars–one a darling of television’s Food Network–Paula Dean, and the other a New England sports hero–Aaron Hernandez.

In Mrs. Dean’s case, what has her food empire in hot water are the reports of her using the “n-word,” making racist and anti-semitic jokes, and singing the praises of a hypothetical plantation-style wedding with Blacks dressed up in tuxes and waiting on Whites.  Thus far, these reports have resulted in her having her contract with the Food Network terminated after eleven years.  She also lost her very lucrative contract as spokesperson for Smithfield Farms.  All of this from not thinking carefully BEFORE repeating a racist joke—from making a poor choice in what stories to tell or what words to use to describe a group of people.  It apparently doesn’t matter that many of these offenses may be years old.  Many people may believe that she continues to feel and/or speak this way.  Many more may wonder if there are still additional people to come out of the closet who can report on offensive language she has used more recently.  Choices have consequences.

The second case continues to unfold in the headlines today as the police have arrested Mr. Hernandez–star tight end for my own beloved New England Patriots who recently honored him with a five-year 40 million (yes, you read that correctly) 40 MILLION dollar contract.  As I gaze past my computer towards the television news at this very moment, I see that Aaron Hernandez has now been charged with first degree murder and five weapons charges.  Whether he is guilty or innocent of such charges, one does not have to wonder how many opportunities he had that evening to make a choice–either a good choice or a bad choice.  It seems that he must have made some incredibly poor choices that night–choices that have resulted in his being released from the Patriots and much more seriously, being charged with murder.

Unfortunately, these are just the two most recent cases of famous people making the worst possible choices—choices that impact their lives in the most negative and destructive of ways.  Dan Levy of Bleacher Report points out that just in the NFL,  ”Just this year there have been more than 30 players arrested for myriad offenses, ranging from driving under the influence to assault to carrying a loaded gun in an airport.”

The following is a very partial list of just some of the hundreds of famous athletes convicted of crimes in the past few decades: Ray Lewis, Plaxico Burress, Dexter Manley, Art Schlichter, Donte Stallworth, Rae Carruth, Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, Ryan Leaf, Mercury Morris, Bam Morris, Lawrence Phillips, O.J. Simpson, Michael Vick, Marion Jones, Steve Riddick, Barry Bonds, Lenny Dykstra, Dwight Gooden, Denny McLain, Pete Rose, Daryl Strawberry, Ugueth Urbina, Allen Iverson, Charles E. Smith, Sly Williams, Trevor Berbick, Riddick Bowe, Esteban de Jesus, Mike Tyson, Tonya Harding, Craig MacTavish, Boris Becker, Roscoe Tanner, Oscar Pistorius (Wikipedia).  Most of these you recognize from American sports leagues, but there are many other names from countries and sports all around the world which are listed on this wikipedia site: Please feel free to check out crimes committed by athletes in soccer (world football), bodybuilding, Canadian football, cricket, cycling, darts, diving, figure skating, Greco-Roman wrestling, competition fishing, horse racing, rugby, motorsports, sailing, skateboarding, snooker, surfing, swimming, and martial arts.

Outside the sports arena, the list of celebrities who have had problems (some minor and some major) with the law goes on and on: Chris Brown, Kanye West, Roman Polanski, Joyce DeWitt, Phil Spector, T.I., Sam Shepard, Coolio, Katt Williams, Coutney Love, Amy Winehouse, Lil Wayne, Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, Mel Gibson, Tobey Maguire, Soulja Boy, Andy Dick, Rick Springfield, and Big Boi (thanks to Wonderwall) R. Kelly, Kim Delaney, Yasmine Bleeth, Carmen Electra, Dennis Rodman, Barron Hilton, Robert Downey Jr., Jennifer Capriati, Daniel Baldwin, Mickey Rourke, Steve-O, Lil Kim, Ozzy Osbourne, Fifty Cent, Vanilla Ice, Axl Rose, Christian Slater, Marilyn Manson, Lindsay Lohan, Eminem, Hugh Grant, Kiefer Sutherland, Paris Hilton, Kobe Bryant (thanks to AllWomenStalk???)

Politicians making bad choices ( in the past decade) which resulted in charges or convictions or resignations included the following:  Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner, Elliot Spitzer, Tom DeLay, Jim McDermott, Jim Traficant, Dan Rostenkowski, Buz Lukens, , Ronald Blackley, Scooter Libby, Jesse Jackson, Claude Allen, Jack Abramoff.  Of course, Bill Clinton’s choices in the way he conducted his personal life–while not resulting in a conviction or resignation–greatly tarnished his presidency and impacted society and families in inumerable ways.

What is my point here?  It is a simple one–or rather, simple to state, but much harder to put into practice.  As parents, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, clergymen….we need to continue to help children—from the time they are very young through adulthood–we need to continue to help them to slow down, to think, to consider the available choices, to weigh the pros and cons and possible consequences, and to make good choices–the best possible choice in every possible circumstance.  We need to consider hypothetical circumstances in which one might find himself or herself.  We need to dialogue about choices available.  We need to role-play.  If a student DOES make a bad choice, we need to make sure that the students recognizes the choice the child had available to him or her, the choice which the child made, and the possible choices which would have led to a much better result.  The problem?  Good schools—like those here in our Athol-Royalston District and in many other districts in our state– are already practicing all of these strategies.  So what is to be done?  Do we just throw up our hands and assert that children, teenagers, and adults will continue to make poor choices?  Hardly!  Giving up is not an option–can never be an option.   We need to dedicate more time to teaching both children and adults good decision-making skills.

How can we do that, however, when schools are already jam-packed with time on reading, language arts, math, science, social studies–as well as art, music, health, physical education, and other subjects?  How can we do that when we need to continue to stress academics and time on learning so that we can compete with school systems in other countries, in addition to being  competitive in the global market.   How can we do this in the same 180 days of school we have had for decades?

One solution is to extend the amount of time we spend in the classroom.   I have long been an advocate of significantly increasing the time that students spend in school to accommodate both the needs of students and the needs of a more complex and competitive world.  Either increase the school day by an hour a day, or increase the number of days in the school year.  Increasing the school day by one hour a day–every day Monday through Friday– adds 180 hours –the equivalent of  30 extra six-hour days to the school year.  On the other hand, school systems could simply begin to increase the school year by adding additional days every year to the academic year.  Next year would have 182 days, the year after 184, 2015-16 would have 186 days, 2016-2017 would have 188 days and so on–until we eventually reached 200 days per year.  It is important to note that currently China has 260 days of school per year, Japan-243, Germany-240, Zimbabwee-225, Austrailia-220, South Korea-220, Israel-216, Russia-211, Netherlands-200, Scotland-200, Thailand-200, Hong Kong-195, England-192, Hungary-192,  Switzerland-191, and  Finland, New Zealand, and Nigeria all with 195.  Of course, increasing the school day and/or school year definitely would require additional funding for salaries commensurate with the added teaching time, but that is another subject for another blog entry.

A very important final point, however:  all the names mentioned above–all those convicted of bad behavior at least and serious crimes at most–are famous individuals.  Of even more importance is the undeniable fact that every day, every month, every year there are people in our own communities–young people and adults–who make bad choices (all-too-often horrible and disastrous choices–with irrevocable consequences) and who end up in real trouble with the law-or even worse.  Sometimes these choices end in serious injury or even death.  Sometimes we see their names in the police news or the court news or the obituary page, and sometimes we may not.  They are–all too often–our neighbors, our friends–sometimes even our family members or relatives.   For their sakes and for the sake of our children and our society, we need to find a way to ultimately help children, teenagers, and adults to make better choices.  It is the smart thing to do, and–more importantly–it is the RIGHT thing to do!

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President Obama’s State of the Union Address

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OK….first of all the above Help Wanted ad is only in jest; the LAST THING we need is a new President—REALLY!  I’m not an expert (as if you couldn’t tell) but I am an American citizen who follows the news carefully through newspapers, television (ABC, NBC,CBS, CNN, and FOX), magazines, and the Internet.  I really make an effort to be well-informed–like so many others of you out there.  Yet one of the greatest problems in this country is the number of citizens who simply refuse to become well-informed by any measure whatsoever.  Either they watch/listen to only one station and hear only one viewpoint, or they simply tune out and do not spend any real time making an effort to really understand the issues.   Millions and millions of Americans did not bother to watch the President last night.  Instead they watched programs on other networks or dealt with other real or perceived priorities–playing cards, doing household chores, completing homework, visiting their favorite bar, catching up on some overdue sleep, playing with the children, working out at the gym, chatting on Facebook, playing video games, and any other of a hundred other activities–some important, some not-so-important.   News Flash:  It is incumbant upon those who live in a democracy–those who live in what many of us firmly believe is the greatest democracy in the world–it is incumbant upon every one of its citizens to become and remain well-informed.  And that requires work–real effort and time on all of our parts.

Of those who actually watched the President’s 80-minute address, some  did so with an open mind, intending to give our President a chance to explain what he would do in the second and succeeding years of his term.  Others, unfortunately, viewed the program with the most jaundiced of eyes.  They have already vehemently (and sometimes viciously) turned against our President–feeling that if he has not turned our country around in the grand total of 12 months, then he no longer deserves our support.  This outrageous opinion comes despite the fact that he inherited what many have called the worst recession since the Great Depression, two agonizing and expensive wars, a nearly double-digit unemployment rate, and a citizenry who seems to be conditioned to television’s 60-minute instant solution to complicated problems–a citizenry that seems to have totally forgotten that it took even the most successful of Presidents in the past (see Reagan, Clinton, Roosevelt, etc.)  nearly a full term or MORE to really begin to solve our Nation’s economic and other problems.

The afternoon before the speech, when asked by CNN correspondents what they most wanted to hear from their President in his State of the Union address, average Americans of all political stripes, stated overwhelmingly that they wanted to hear the President speak about jobs and the economy.  And so he did.  Addressing the intertwined problems of unemployment and the economy occupied the major portion of his speech.

I watched the President’s address in its entirety, and here is my analysis.  Under very difficult circumstances for our nation, he delivered a superb speech–perhaps the best State of the Union Address I have ever heard in my 59 years!  While he tried to give a realistic picture of the terrible situation our country was in when he took office, he also noted that “the worst of the storm has passed” because of actions his administration had taken–including the absolutely necessary bailout of the banks.

As accomplishments in his first year he pointed out that his administration had “extended or increased unemployment benefits for more than 18 million Americans, made health insurance 65% cheaper for families who get their coverage through COBRA, and passes 25 different tax cuts.”  With regard to those tax cuts, he insisted, ” that we cut taxes for 95% of working families, for small businesses, for first-time homeowners, for parents trying to care for their children, for 8 million Americans paying for college.  “As a result,”  he stated, “millions of Americans had more to spend on gas, food, and other necessities, all of which helped businesses keep more workers.”  And, he quickly added, “we haven’t raised income taxes by a single dime on a single person.”  He gave many examples of the success of the much-maligned Stimulus Bill or Recovery Act, but in summary, he said that “Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.  200,000 work in construction and clean energy.  300,000 are teachers and other education workers.  Tens of thousands are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and first responders”  He noted that the Adminstration is on track to add another one and a half million jobs by the end of the year.

Yet he did not pretend that we are totally out of the woods.  He noted that “One in ten Americans still cannot find work.  Many businesses have been shuttered. Home values have declined, Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard.  For those who have already know poverty, life has become that much harder.”  He went on the state that “This recession has also compounded the burdens that America’s families have been dealing with for decades–the burden of working harder and longer for less; of being unable to save enough to retire or help kids with college.”

So nearly all of you would agree with our President that these are the problems he must confront—he has a duty to confront–head-on–in this next one to two years.  How does he propose to confront and solve these problems.  Here is his plan—NOT filled with details, because an 80-minute speech does not allow and is not intended to provide details.  Those details will come as specific proposals are advanced in the days to come.  Yet the address did provide some broadly stroked proposals in key areas to significantly improve the daily lives of the people of our nation.  In brief, here are those proposals:

1.  A fee on the “biggest banks” to recover the rest of the money we lent to them (Most has already been recovered).

2.  A new jobs bill, starting with small businesses–taking 30 billion dollars of the money Wall Street banks have already repaid and using it to help “community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat.”

3.  A new small business tax credit to over one million small businesses who hire new workers or raise wages.

4.  Elimination of all capital gains taxes on small business investment and a tax incentive for all businesses tha invest in new plants and equipment.

5.  Putting Americans to work building the infrastructure of tomorrow–highways, railroads, clean energy facilities, home energy  rebates.

Slashing tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas and awarding  tax breaks to those companies that create jobs in the U.S.

7.  Serious financial reform–protecting our economy by providing for a strong, healthy financial market that “makes it possible for businesses to access credit and create new jobs” and which “channels the savings of families into investments that raise incomes.”

8.  Encouragement of  American innovation–clean energy, safe nuclear power, new offshore areas for oil and gas development, advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies, and a comprehensive energy and climate bill.

9.  Doubling our exports over the next five years, and increase that will support 2 million American jobs by launching a “National Export Initiative that will help farmers and small businesses increase their exports, and reform export controls…”

10.  Seeking new markets for our goods by strengthening trade relations in Asia and South America.

11.  Investing in the skills and education of our people by investing in educational reform which rewards only success–reform which raises student achievement.  This involves expanding these reforms to all fifty states so that “the success of our children ” depends more on their potential as opposed to simply where they happen to live.

12.  A bill that would revitalize our community colleges.  Ending “unwarranted” taxpayer-subsidies that go to banks for student loans and using that money to give families a $10,000 dollar tax credit for four years of college.  Increasing the Pell Grants which many of us relied on in the past to help fund our college educations.  A new requirement that would allow a million college graduates to pay only 10 percent of their income on student loans, and all of their debt to be forgiven in 20 years (and in 10 years if they go into public service.

13.  A task force on Middle-Class Families.  Nearly doubling the child care tax credit.  A plan to give every worker “access to a retirement account and expanding the tax credit for those who start a nest egg.”

14.  Stepping ups refinancing of homes so that homeowners can move into more affordable mortgages (noting that steps last year allowed millions of Americans to take out new loans and save an average of $1500 on mortgage payments.

15.  Health care reform which gives coverage to millions of Americans who have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions,  preventative care in all plans, protection of Americans from the worst practices of the insurance industries, and the opportunity for small businesses and uninsured Americans to have the chance to choose an affordable health care plan in a competitive market.  These  would be plans that would preserve the right of all Americans who currently have insurance to keep their doctor and their current plan.  And very importantly, it would reduce skyrocketing costs and premiums for millions of families and businesses.

16.  A plan to freeze government spending for three years (except for spending relating to national security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. This freeze would go into effect in one year, after our economy improves.

17.  The establishment of a bipartisan Fiscal Commission which would provide a specific set of solutions by a certain deadline.

18.  To increase trust in government, a requirement that lobbyists disclose each contact they make “on behalf of a client with my Adminstration or Congress.”

19.  The establishment of strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.  Here, the President actually took a daring swipe at the Supreme Court that just voted to “reverse a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests–including foreign corporations–to spend without limit in our elections.

20.  Earmark reform on all these pet projects (aka “pork”) that find their way into unrelated bills.  The establishment of a website that would post all earmark requests BEFORE a vote is taken on those requests so that “the American people can see how [and why] their money is being spent.”

21.  Renewing focus on “terrorists who threaten our nation.”  Continued investments in homeland security.

22.  Increasing troops and training Afghan Security Forces so that “they can begin to take the lead in 2011, and our troops can begin to come home.”

23.  Removing all of our combat troops from Iraq by August of this year.

24.  Commitment to support men and women in uniform and veterans when they come home; building a 21st century VA and a commitment (headed by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden) to support military families

25.  New initiatives, sanctions, and negotiations to reduce nuclear weapons around the world.

26  Providing world leadership in helping other counties with problems in climate change, HIV/AIDS, fighting bio-terrorism and infectious disease, and other problems.

27.  The prosecution of civil right violations and employment discrimination and strengthening laws dealing with civil right violations and employment discrimination; repealing the don’t ask, don’t tell law in the military.

Now, admittedly, this is a very ambitious agenda–but it is the agenda on which this President was overwhelmingly elected.  It is an agenda that he HAS made some progress on (as noted above) although we all wish that the progress could come more quickly and more easily.   The focus, however, is where the Americans wish it to be–on jobs and the economy.

Let me conclude with the point on which I began:  Let us give this President–OUR President–a real chance to succeed–not just 12 months.  As you might guess, I didn’t vote for Bush, or Nixon, or even Reagan, but I did give each of those Presidents my respect AND a full 36-42 months to make good on their promises and to make some real inroads in turning our country around in what I felt was a positive direction.  The idea of a 4-year Presidency is to give that President a term to really make progress on his agenda–even if it is not the agenda of the candidate that you would have preferred to occupy the office.  President Obama is President of ALL Americans.  As conservative Republican actor and activist John Wayne once said when referring to President Kennedy, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my President.  I hope he does a good job.”

That’s what I would request of each of you.  Give our President a chance to do the work for which he was overwhelmingly elected.  Have the patience with his Administration and the respect for the Office and the Individual that true Americans have always given their President.  Stop the name-calling, the insults,  the profanity, the exaggerations, the refusal to even consider other points of view.  Educate yourselves on the issues and stay educated.  Let the best of your instincts and your intellect show themselves on talk shows, editorials, blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Internet forums. Let us try to work as one country–as one People–in solving the multitude of problems we face and making our country all it can truly be.

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