A Little out of touch

Recently stories have come out about the extravagant spending of School Employees Retirement System (SERS) Board Members.  This is the union that represents non-teachers –  janitors, bus drivers, custodians and retirees.  The most recent planned spending is a trip to training in Hawaii for a cool $7,500.

At a time when all pensions are under fire, but especially public pensions which are funded by us the taxpayers, this is insensitive and unconscionable spending.  According to the DDN, the spending for out-of-state trips by the Board has been over $240,000 over the past years – and you can bet they did not go anywhere other than vacation resorts.  Many of the Board Members have taken advantage of the opportunity to spend days on each end side of the trip – at taxpayers cost – to do additional site seeing.  In the business world, this is usually on your own cost.

My personal favorite Board Member is Barbara Phillips, who has managed to spend over $49,000 on out-of-state travel in the last four years.  In real life, the mild-mannered Ms. Phillips is a school bus driver.  But in her off hours she is a member of the SERS Board.  Despite having trained financial advisors managing the $11 Billion portfolio, Ms. Phillips feels her input is extremely important.  Ms. Phillips spoke of her need to attend the training(according to the Dayton Daily News): “We are talking about billions of dollars , how to invest.  And I do not have a college education. . . so therefore I needed the education, absolutely.”

From my experience:

(1) My personal experience, and talking with friends, is that “training” events are a mixture of training and boondoggle.  There is training provided, but it is rarely i-depth enough to make you a master on the subject.  Rarely does the training last full days for every scheduled day.  And there is always planned time provided for fun activities.

(2) In the age of Skype, virtual conferences and MOOGs, do we really need to fly to Hawaii to get trained?

(3) I am not the smartest guy in the world by any means.  I have an MBA in finance.  But to think I could possibly take any training and somehow feel competent to manage a portfolio of billions of dollars is ludicrous.  The complexity of the financial market is incredible these days.  Rose and I have a financial advisor and we have someone else do our taxes because both of those things are too darn complicated for us.  We pay them to be professional.  We review the status with the advisors periodically.  But to think we could possibly manage things better than them – on a part-time basis – I’m not buying it.

That’s why I say, perhaps they are a bit of out touch.

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Can’t please anyone – Senator Rob Portman

I am not a very political person.   To be honest, I can’t tell you if I voted for Senator Rob Portman when he won in 2010.  And this is not a post defending or castigating him.  But he provides the fodder for my latest post.

Recently, Sen. Portman, a Republican from Ohio, changed his position on gay marriage.  Up until now he has been a staunch opponent of gay marriage.  He changed his position at the same time he announced that his 21-year-old son is gay.  I have to admit that I have not given this gay marriage issue much, if any, thought.  To be honest, it is not on my top 10 list of issues I think a Senator ought to be concerned with.  So I really do not care which side of this issue he stands on.  And it does not bother me one bit that he changed.

His change of position has drawn a lot of hot comments.  The wacko’s on the extreme right are all over him.  They feel like he has abandoned them.  Worse, according to some of them “he might cost Ohio” his Republican Senate seat.  In 2010 he won with more than 57% of the vote.  He was one of the top candidates for Vice President last election.  He is recognized as one of the experts on the US budget at a time when the budget is arguably the most important issue facing us.  But somehow his change of position on this one issue is going to upset the race  – which is three years away – that much.  And Ohio will swing wildly to the left because of this.  Rubbish.

I guess he could have said, “I understand my son believes he is gay.  I wish he would allow his mother and I to pay for him to go a clinic to cure him of this disease.  But he does not want to do that.  So, I will continue to love him as a father should but I will not support his choices in life.”  I guess that might have pleased some of those fanatics.

But what kind of father would that make him?  A father who abandons his child.  A father so insensitive to his child that he cannot let love transcend philosophical differences.  Isn’t THE most important thing in his life to be a good husband and father?  If someone cannot make sound judgements as a father, why would we want him in a position of power?

Not to be outdone, those on the left, while “praising” Sen. Portman for “getting on the right side of the issue” have a beef with him.  It seems he should have come to this position long ago – when he first got into politics.  Somehow his change to their side is “tainted” because he only changed when a family situation caused him to reflect.  I guess allowing your life experiences to change your position on something is not “pure” enough for them.

So here is what I get from all this:

(1) If you start out life on the “wrong” side of an issue, you are always wrong.

(2) If you use life experiences to change your way of thinking on an issue, you are either a “traitor” to the cause, “wishy-washy” or an “okay” convert, but not worthy of full acceptance

I would hope that we all change our positions on some things as we grow.  Isn’t that what “experience” is?  According to one definition I found, experience is “Familiarity with a skill or field of knowledge acquired over   years of actual practice and which, presumably, has resulted in superior understanding or mastery.”  I would hope I am a better husband, father, friend and teacher as a result of a “superior understanding” of issues.

Shouldn’t we want our politicians to do the same?

Change your spouse or not?

Rose brought up an interesting point the other day.  Something she read prompted the question of “if you could, what is one way you would change your spouse/significant other?”  We’ve all heard that question one way or another.  Perhaps we have thought of it.

Of course, Rose said it took her a long time coming up with a way to improve on me. Ha ha! The best she could come up with was to have me be “more the life of the party”.  She said that because I am usually the one who wants to go home early from parties or outings.  She would love to stay out later and talk.  So having me stay out later would make it more fun.  But she also decided there would be some downside to that same “change”.  If I changed to be willing to stay out longer, I probably would not be the same person with respect to saving money.  Perhaps being more of a “life of the party” guy I would be more inclined to spend money and “have a good time” all the time.  Having me be frugal has served us well (go ahead, all of you that know me, you can think or comment on how dull I am and how tight I am with money).

I think that pondering this entire issue was Rose’s great insight.  Of course we would like to change others to our own mind’s “improvement”.  If we could get it just perfect, that would be great.  But then the person would not be who we partnered with.  And it is really impossible to change one feature that does not have an impact on some other feature of a person (That would be the Law of Unintended Consequences rearing its ugly head). Like your spouse to be cleaner around the house?  Maybe they become a germaphobe or drive you crazy picking up after you.  Lose a few pounds?  Maybe they become a fanatic about the food they eat and so you are not able to enjoy that ice cream or potato chips or a cold beer.

As I see it, all of our features and idiosyncrasies and beliefs and ways of thinking are tied together in what makes a person.  They are all in some weird balance.  When you try to change one of them, you are inevitably going to change others.  The changes you make may not be what you want to happen.  And because life is imperfect, the changes we wish on others will never be perfect.

So you probably need to stay with the recipe you got now.  That doesn’t mean we should all try to improve some aspects of our life.  But it needs to come from within.  “Wishing” greatness on someone else opens up a Pandora’s Box of issues that we can neither foresee or potentially control.

That’s why I am here – Part II

My last post was about my teaching experience and how I know that I am here to be a good listener and role model.  But I’ve also come to realize I am here for another good reason.  I’ve worked with at least half of our senior class on applying for scholarships.  All of this work comes during my spare time or during my own classes when the students in class are doing work.  Yep, I constantly have 3-8 “visitors” in my room virtually every period of the day.  The visitors are students who either don’t want to be stuck in study hall or students who need my help.  So it is distracting some days – make that every day.  But I know that is part of the service I need to provide.

As the seniors get close to ending their school careers, they now realize they need to apply to schools and apply for scholarships.  Many of them don’t know how to approach these items or don’t have a lot of support.  So they come to me (and I feel very grateful that they do).  I’ve been helping them write short essays about themselves.  My old experience in the proposal center, where we had to use clear action words to convey our strengths, has really come in handy.  With very few clubs to join in school, students do not have a lot of extra-curricular activities.  And many of them have not done much volunteer work.  So we are working on crafting a strong story from a weak foundation of demonstrated activity. But we are doing it.

For me, it is fun.  For them, they are grateful that they have someone to turn to that can help them get the applications done.  So that is another reason why I am here.

That’s why I am here

I had a reminder today why I am supposed to be a teacher at the school where I teach.  It is not necessarily the way you might think makes the most sense.  And I am sure it is not what the Department of Education has in mind.  But it is reality.

Since Sophomores are taking the Ohio Graduation Test this week my second period class only has one person remaining for the week.  Today she wanted to talk.  So I was glad to be a sympathetic listener.  As she told me the story of her current personal situation I was shocked, astounded and dismayed.  It has really left a mark on me.

I know I am here at MVHS because today a student needed someone to talk with.  She needed to be talking to someone who would not be a judgemental listener.  She needed to talk to someone who would listen and not tell her what to do with her life.

She is flunking my class, not because she is incapable but because she does not do the work.  I am not the kind of person to yell and scream about “doing your work”.  Nor do I shut out or put down those who are not doing well in class.  I know it is their choice.  So I proceed with class and hope I get some results.  In her case, I have a better understanding of why she is where she is grade-wise.

I have spent a lot of time agonizing over whether I am supposed to be a teacher in the traditional  sense – one who imparts knowledge and helps students realize their learning potential (see my earlier post on the “Moses Effect”).  Or I am really here as a role model.  Am I supposed to be an adult who cares and allows the students to be what they are for better or worse?  Many would argue that I need to be tougher on students – I cannot dispute that.  I am WAY too soft on them.  But that is not me.

I know there are all kinds of “rags-to-riches” stories of kids overcoming tough backgrounds to be wildly successful.  Do I wish that for my students?  You bet!  But I have not walked in their shoes.  And I find it presumptuous and frankly demeaning for me – or anyone else – to tell them where they ought to be.  I can be supportive.  I can set high expectations.  I can tell them they have the opportunity to do something with their lives.  But I just cannot find myself in the role of taskmaster or master sergeant molding these kids into something.  It has to come from them.

So that is how I live day-to-day at work.  Many days I feel like an absolute failure because I am not generating learning.  I keep trying to improve my teaching.  But today reminded me of my true mission – and the one I like the best.

Does Yahoo’s New CEO have it right or not?

Yahoo has been having a lot of problems over the past few years.  Google had far surpassed it in searches.  Other social media like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest have far more page views.  Yahoo has gone through a number of leaders (3 CEO’s in 2012 alone).  Their latest CEO is a woman, Marissa Meyer.  She is the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company.  She is trying to turn around a company that is being battered on all sides.

Her latest set of moves has caused some controversy.  Two weeks after giving birth, she ended her maternity leave.  With her own money, she built a nursery next to her office and hired a nanny to take care of her baby.  Wow.  What does that say to women about maternity leaves?

On top of this action, she is now banning working from home.  Working from home has been a long-standing work practice at Yahoo.  But she believes that everyone needs to be in the office for two reasons: (1) technology companies do best with everyone collaborating in the office and (2) Yahoo employees have gotten a little lax with their work ethic and are talking advantage of “working” from home.

Many working women have seen these two actions as a “slap” at them.  They had hoped one of “them” – a woman – would understand women’s issues and be more supportive.  Women were looking for more family friendly policies.

But are her actions anti-woman?  OR is she really trying to resurrect a company that is dying?  Those are the key questions.  It seems to me that when a company is struggling they do need all hands on deck.  And being in the office is the best way to do that.  Maybe I am too old school but it seems like working from home provides too many potential distractions.  I also believe that the collaboration that happens when you are in the same building with others is immense – even if it is not measurable.  When you lay on top of this Yahoo’s problems, I think she deserves a pass.

Now her maternity steps have been a little over-the-top for me.  I get it that she is anxious to turn the company around.  But building a nursery next to your office at work and staffing it?  Wow, that is pretty outrageous.  I think it shows that sometimes the most driven of us have a hard time seeing the consequences of our actions.

I guess we’ll see how it works out for her and for Yahoo.

I decided to stop being a “hater”

In the past, I tended to root “against” a team as much as I root “for” another team.  Is that bad?

I always root against Kentucky in basketball.  I do not like their rabid, insane fan base.  I do not like the way they flaunt the “student-athlete” ideal that is college basketball by “hiring” players who only intend to last one year of school.  I don’t think they are a true representation of college basketball.

I always root against North Carolina because they are Duke’s biggest rival.  I’d get down to the end of basketball season and starting rooting for obscure teams to beat other teams just to keep the “hated” team out of the NCAA tournament (c’mon Providence, beat Villanova or let’s go Texas Tech, beat Oklahoma).

I’ve decided this year to change.  I figure rooting against someone is just a waste of energy.  I think it is better to put all of my energy into positive things.  So I no longer spend a lot of time worrying about who must beat who to “help” or “hurt” some sports team’s chances.  I’ll just root for the teams I like and hope for the best.  It is more relaxing.

As I thought about it, this same lesson applies to life.  We often spend so much time putting negative energy out – hoping somebody or some organization fails.  For some, it rooting against someone else’s happiness.  For others, it is hoping a politician or a celebrity or some manager fails.  Does it do any good?  Perhaps if they do fail we feel better.  But all of that negativity takes away some of the joy.  And in the end it is still wasted energy.

Think about yourself.  Are you a “hater”?  Maybe it is time to cast that away.

But I’ll still never root FOR Carolina or Kentucky!  : )