Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Quickies: Delays, Tests Results, Delays, Night in Vegas, Hope, (Updated Below!!)

 UPDATE ON JULY 29: I have arrived in ATL. I made the red eye flight from Vegas, had a great aisle seat next to a lovely couple, and got to the hotel without a hitch. I then promptly fell asleep which is why I didn't let you all know I had arrived sooner. But yes, I am alive and well and enjoying the lovely countryside where everyone, but EVERYONE, says hello as you pass by. I could get used to the South, yes indeedy. Except, somebody forgot to mention to God to layoff the heat/humidity at 6 in the morning! I can say that getting off the plane to that mess of weather at 6am made me realize how great we have it in Fresno - our nights are incredible.

1. Delays: Every other time I have taken the USMLE, results arrive in three weeks. Hence, last week Tuesday I was beyond nervous all afternoon and evening in anticipation of my arriving grade. I felt in my heart I had passed, but you just can never tell. I waited and my heart pounded. I awoke at 4am and started checking the computer. Every email message that would arrive in my inbox made me nervous - was it the one?! But around noon, well after results usually arrive in in-boxes, I realized there was to be no results. Another week of waiting and anticipation was the only result to be had.

2. Test Results: So, I waited another week, spending a lot of time working out and swimming in the pool to relax my mind and take it off of the test. My family and friends, God bless you all, did an amazing job keeping me distracted. But there was still no guarantee results would arrive today. The USMLE states not to bother them until it has been at least 6 weeks - they definitely under promise and over deliver, a good thing. However, if it were to arrive today, I was planning on flying to Atlanta for an interview and would not be able to retrieve the results early in the morning. Hence, God brought AA into the picture; I gave her my log-in information and this morning she checked and when I landed, my heart beating way too fast and my nerves a hot mess, there was the text: "Congratulations Doctor!!"

3. That brings us to my trying to get to Atlanta. I'm flying there for an interview with an airline and they are flying me "Non-Rev" - that means they aren't making revenue off of me and I fly stand-by. The flight from FAT to SLC, which was the one we were all worried about, went without a hitch. SLC, however, was a completely different story. Flight after flights that went to ATL was overbooked. From 830am until noon I watched flight after flight leave without me. Then, I was to be rebooked on a flight through Vegas that left SLC at 140pm. However, when I went to board that flight, there was some sort of problem with the ticket. Res Agents on the phone said they couldn't do anything to fix it because I was still listed as not having flown at all. Weird, I must have teleported from FAT to SLC. Res told me the Gate agent could handle the situation. Not true. The Gate agent said there was absolutely nothing she could do - I had been locked out of the system. Great. Stuck in SLC with a bunch of proselytizers and no way out! In the end, the AMAZING lady at the place I'm interviewing was able to intervene and get the ticket fixed. With 20 minutes before the 340pm flight to Vegas, we got my ticket fixed and I am in Vegas now, waiting for my 1130pm flight to ATL.

4. When in Vegas, rule number one is to live it up. So, I took a $6 shuttle from the airport to the Strip and walked up and down the strip. I'm exhausted quite frankly! I got to enjoy the views both in day time and night. I used $20 to gamble, which I promptly lost in about 30 minutes and that was it for the gambling. Besides, I was more interested in one thing: the Bellagio water fountains. I spent almost an hour and a half there. It was incredible. Relaxing and rejuvenating. I'm now back at the airport as I write this, using the amazing internet connection (and it's free!). FYI: on top of everything else, the Salt Lake City internet sucked!

5. Hope: Romans 12:12 says "Rejoice in Hope, be Patient in Tribulation, be Constant in Prayer." One of the most challenging periods of my LIFE has just ended. I can't say I enjoyed it and I most certainly won't say I would consider doing it again. But, now that I have arrived at the end, it feels great. I feel accomplished. The hope that I had, but more importantly, that my family and friends had for me, that never diminished and certainly never extinguished, has been amazing and carried me through. God bless you all.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Elderly and Disabled Put At Risk by DUMB Government Ideas

California recently decided that one of the ways to cut its budget deficit is by slashing money to home health workers. These include nurses, health aides, meals on wheels deliveries, and other individuals that go to the homes of elderly and disabled citizens and provide them with care to ensure that they can continue living independently, in their own homes. When I first heard that California was going to reduce the wages and benefits to these home health workers, I found it to be an incredibly STUPID idea - another example of our government leaders acting EXTREMELY DUMB (something they have proven time and again that they are adept at!)

Why is this decision dumb? Because while it may cost $1500 a month to provide home health services to one person, it would cost the government nearly $6000 a month to cover the costs of a nursing home for this same individual! Some may argue we should cut that expense, too; if the elderly can't afford to pay for home health or nursing homes on their own, then they should just have to deal with it, some might say. I puke a little at the thought that people like this exist in our world. But I can show why that is an incredibly stupid argument as well. If we don't provide any care to these individuals, guess what - 911 is three numbers away and the hospital is a short, but expensive Ambulance ride away. The cost of the ambulance and even a short hospital stay can then skyrocket upwards of $50,000 for the individual - multiplied by the numerous times these folks will end up going to the hospital for falls, lack of nutrition, and other chronic diseases of the elderly. Someone on fixed Social Security benefits without savings is not going to be able to pay for these expenses and they will end up right back on the taxpayer.

There is an incredible New York Times Article on this topic that you can read and see further examples of why this is such a stupid idea. Just click on the link:

It is very sad to me that in our rich nation, we continue to see policies that cut the nose off to spite the face. We see this in other aspects of government ideas, such as education. Rather than spend the money upfront for quality early education and K-12 programs tied together with access to housing, healthcare, jobs, nutrition, etc, we instead run a threadbare operation...and ultimately end up spending MUCH more money on prisons down the road. It costs A HECKUVA LOT MORE MONEY to house a prisoner for a year than to provide excellent opportunities early in life!!

I am really beginning to question whether dumb people outnumber smart people in our society. And if so, why haven't we smart people done something about the dumb people? We have all come to feel so powerless to stop stupid policies that, in a way, we have just come to quietly acquiesce and accept them as inevitable.

Lord help us!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teaching for America

 "Just passing through."

"A threat to public education."

"Just building their resumes before moving on with their lives."

There has been a lot of debate about Teach for America, lately. The NY Times covers Teach for America quite a bit, I'm guessing because the NYC corps of Teach for America members is the largest in the nation. But, in almost every article I read, there is a general pattern that is followed, almost exactly, every time.

It goes like this:

1. Teach for America is in the news for another amazing accomplishment, like TFA teachers raising test scores in their classrooms more than other traditional teachers.

2. An explanation of what TFA is - a corps of stellar recent college graduates who work in some of the most difficult classrooms in America. Invariably, these days, there is mention of how incredible it is, in this economy, that almost 20% of the top graduates at many Ivy League schools are applying to Teach for America instead of Deloitte and Touche.

3. Of course, "there are critics" who criticize Teach for America because, as I put some of the quotes at the top of my blog post here, we are just passing through. We are not committed to the cause of teaching. We are just rookies using these hard to staff schools as a social experiment. We are not possibly as great as a veteran teacher. We should be ashamed of ourselves for just using already poor and disadvantaged students just to build our own resumes.

4. The article will usually finish by summarizing the amazing accomplishment that they originally wrote the article about in the first place.

I have never been asked to contribute to these articles, but I figure I have a blog with a readership of 6 people who I can vent my frustration to about this topic. And for full disclosure, I was a Teach for America teacher from 2004-2006 in the Baltimore City Public School System.

Here's how my article would be written:
1. Teach for America teachers THROUGH OUT AMERICA, placed in some of the hardest to staff schools, are accomplishing amazing things with their students.

2. Teach for America is a corps of recent college graduates from schools THROUGH OUT AMERICA, with diversity of ethnicity, culture, personality and opinion not seen in the traditional teaching pool. Individuals come from amazing schools, including small liberal arts schools like Whittier College (my college - nope, it's not an Ivy League, but frankly, I too am frustrated that TFA is branding itself more as a bastion of the Ivy Leagues, instead of pushing the fact that the majority of its greatest teachers come from Colleges like mine. In fact, my first year teaching, one of my housemates was from Dartmouth - he couldn't hack it. Funny, the small liberal arts school kid - me - was awarded Rookie of the Year that year by my school.)

3. There are critics - insert the oft-repeated and tired quotes that I have above. But, let's add that the very schools that they criticize Teach for America for abusing are certainly NOT being inundated with the veteran teachers these nay-sayers demand to see in those classrooms. Additionally, not even the majority of traditionally trained teachers who dedicate their lives to the profession are interested in staying at these difficult schools for their whole career. But nobody who is criticizing Teach for America - usually Professors in Colleges of traditional Teacher Preparation - is offering a better solution that is also viable (and, most ironically, most of them wouldn't dare go teach in the schools Teach for America places at, either!) Either put your money where your mouth is, or shut up and move out of the way so that those of us who would rather do instead of just say can get stuff accomplished!

4.  What other articles often fail to recognize or state is that Teach for America, at the heart of its mission, includes for the very fact that not every individual attracted to the program will stay in a classroom for over two years. Solving the problems of educational inequity - the so-called "achievement gap" - won't be accomplished if we only attack the problem within the field of education. What these big-mouthed, degree-laden education professors seem to be continuously missing is that we NEED people in our nation who worked in a school for a few years to get a better grasp of the problems faced by our students, so that they can then present plausible and solid solutions in whatever field they ultimately decide to dedicate their lives. Someone who has seen the challenge first hand can then make decisions in the arenas of housing, nutrition, healthcare, transportation, etc more effectively. THIS IS THE POINT!

5. My article wouldn't end with a summary of the amazing accomplishment - most people have pretty much figured out that Teach for America is a good thing. I would end, instead, with a plea. My favorite colleagues at the school I worked at in Baltimore, were my favorite because they were supportive, provided helpful hints and feedback through those challenging first months of teaching. They neither put me on a pedestal nor disdained me merely for the fact that I was a Teach for America member. They treated me like they would any other colleague - once I earned their trust and respect, we were a solid family. If we hope to raise our profession, we can't just sit idly and wish things stayed the way they were 20 or 30 years ago. We can't propose "solutions" that sound great but are not feasible, like super monetary incentives to get veteran teachers in these difficult classrooms - especially in this current economy! We must stop blaming and putting each other down. Rather, we should be the ones dictating the discourse for the future of education! We should not be allowing people who haven't ever been close to the front lines to be dictating teacher contracts and prescribing solutions. WE should be at the forefront of the positive changes necessary for our children. Ultimately, it must stop being about the adults and start being about creating amazing, life-changing, unforgettable educational experiences for the children we serve.

And the very last sentence in my article would challenge the biggest assertion by critics. I would include this quote from Donna Foote, author of "Relentless Pursuit: A Year in the Trenches with Teach for America". She writes, "there are much easier ways to burnish a resume than a two-year commitment to hard labor in some of the crummiest classrooms in America." Indeed.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Time Softens the Heart

I have taken a shower with a water bottle. I didn't go into the bathroom with the intention of doing that, but halfway through lathering up with soap, the lights went out and the water shut off. I was thrust into basically pitch blackness (there was no window in our bathroom) and the first word that came to my mind can't be published in a public forum. I found the emergency water bottles we kept by the bathtub (since this had occurred to my roommate on another occasion) and as I sparingly used them to get the soap off, I hated life. I hated my decision to go to the Caribbean for medical education. I SWORE I would never return to that retched "rock" lest hell freeze over AND pigs fly on earth.

But time has a funny way of taking memories like that and turning them into a very comic recollection in the mind. Family always used to tell me to appreciate the opportunity I was given to "live in a beautiful tropical place". Opportunity?!?! I used to think incredulously. YOU try come living in this place while simultaneously trying to cram macro amounts of information in micro amounts of time. Because while my power and water go off regularly, you are frolicking around in the resorts when you come to visit me, with their fancy schmancy generators and water tanks.

Despite this, I now find myself at the end of my medical school career. God willing on July 21 I will receive my passing score and a few short weeks after that, I will officially be Doctor A. And for those of you with the insight to have known 4 years ago where this very blog post is going - yes, I want to go back to the island. Now, I'm a practical person so I don't want to just visit St. Martin. When I spend money to travel, I like to see places I haven't yet been. So again, for those of you with insight four years ago to disagree with me when I said I not only hated St. Martin but the whole of the Caribbean, yes you were right again and I was wrong. I would love to go lay on the warm beach, frolic in the warm, calm Caribbean sea, and doze off to the sound of steel drums while sipping on a fruity Caribbean drink.

I indeed had the opportunity to live in paradise.

Video produced by AUC filmmakers recently. Some of my favorite places are shown. Enjoy!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Let Your Life Speak: The Prom

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead
I enjoy finding positive news. CNN does a great job of sharing inspirational stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I wanted a way to have them all in one place, so I am going to start putting them on my blog. I hope you find some of these stories as inspiring as I do!

The first will be about a young man who organizes a free prom for adolescents with life-threatening and sometimes terminal disease. Amazing what human will can accomplish.

The video is below and you can read the rest of the story by CLICKING HERE.