Monday, July 14, 2014

Measuring a Teacher's Success

I am proud to say that I am the son of a teacher. My mother taught fourth and fifth grade. Well, that is until I came around. I have always said that her career in education was the first of several that I ended. I also knew that Mom was a good teacher, but it seems that I am constantly reminded by her former students just how good she was at teaching.
Let’s just say that her last year of teaching was over forty years ago and we will protect the age of all involved (including myself). There are very few things in this world that stand the test of time and especially four decades of time, but the impact my mother had on her students certainly did. Over the years I have met many of her former students and most have told me that Mom was their favorite teacher.
I also think it says a lot that both my sister and I went into youth work. My sister is a high school English teacher and I suspect she has the same impact that my mother did. I chose to go into 4-H work and I can only hope that in forty years my former 4-Hers will remember me as fondly as my mother’s students remember her. OK, so enough of the bragging on my mother, if she were alive she would really be embarrassed and probably a little peeved at me for writing this. So what is my point?
During my career in Extension we were asked each year to document the meaningful results and impacts we had during the past year. It was not hard in the agriculture part of my job. I could say I helped x amount of farmers with y problem and it resulted in this amount of economic benefit or a certain amount of increased production. Even in the area of community development I could say I did this and this impact was the expected benefit.
Those of us who have worked with youth know that documenting impacts and successes is just a bit harder. I often said, tongue in cheek that I was going to write down in my reports that none of my 4-Hers had been arrested in the past year and therefore I had saved the county several thousand dollars in court and jail costs. However, I also recognized that the kids I worked with would not get in trouble whether I as their 4-H agent or not. The bottom line is that those who work with youth often do not see the successes for many years but the benefits are profound.
Mom has been gone for several years now and I miss her each day, she put the same energy and dedication into being a farm wife and mother that she did into teaching. I guess that is why I always am lifted up when I meet one of her former students. I find it amazing just how much impact elementary teachers have and I can only wish that she heard from her students like I have over the years. I also know that what I have experienced is not uncommon or unusual for the children of teachers. Which makes me wonder why we don’t seek out those teachers who have made a difference in our lives and tell them.
Those are the impacts that each person who chooses any other kind of youth development work hopes to make on the kids they are charged with. We hope that something we do will push, pull, prod or inspire just one person on to bigger and better things, but we are never quite sure. You feel good about what you do, you know it is the right thing to do, but measurable results are often years  and lifetimes away.
I am quite sure that teachers are among the most patient professions, just by that very nature. It also makes me wonder just why we don’t hold them up, why we don’t put them on a higher platform. Each of us has been helped and inspired by a teacher and we credit them for helping us achieve whatever success we have accomplished, many times we don’t come to that realization for many years.
I will close this out before I get to gushy, because Mom would not have liked that either. She believed that whatever you did, you did it well and you did not do it to get praised. I will just say that there is something comforting and reassuring each time I talk with one of her former students. To them even after forty plus years, early impacts are meaningful and important.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Water, We Will Have a Plan

I am writing this in the middle of what seems like monsoon season. For the past couple of weeks we have gotten rain about every two to three days and the weather pattern doesn’t seem to be changing in the near future. Yesterday I was asked if we had gotten too much rain. My response was that it was a lot easier to figure out what I am going to do about too much rain rather than too little.
I know this can all change in the blink of an eye and in two weeks we will all be worried about when our next rain will come. I have heard many people compare this year to another. You know the old well in 1974 it rained every day for three weeks and then it quit until December. The truth of the matter is that we have no idea when our rains are coming or shutting off, even those paid to tell us what the weather is going to do.
The best thing about this period of wet weather is that Western Kansas has also gotten some beneficial moisture. I know the drought is not broken there and it did nothing to help the wheat crop but I am sure that the rain helped to boost morale. Isn’t it funny how something we cannot control has such a grip on our outlook on life? The bottom line is that water whether too much or too little can have that effect on us?
I have had the opportunity to be a part of sending some recommendations to Governor Brownback for his water plan. Specifically we were asked to address the declining Ogallala Aquifer and the silting in of our federal reservoirs. On the surface it seemed like a fairly easy exercise but in reality it was a monumental, utterly complex undertaking. In all of this I realized that water issues will probably be our biggest problem in the years to come.
The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is the most controversial. The quick, easy answer for those of us not using the aquifer is to shut it down. After all, it is declining and in a matter of some years probably will be gone. It is not that easy. Sure if we had known fifty or sixty years ago what we know now we probably would have handled it a little differently, but what can’t we say that about. The truth is that the Ogallala is the lifeblood of an entire portion of our state and it affects much more that production agriculture.
The entire economy of Western Kansas is dependent on pumping water out of the aquifer and each part of the economy is dependent on the other. Farmers, feedlots, dairies, processing plants, and even the municipalities are all inter-dependant and all rely on the water stored in the aquifer for survival. Take away one segment and you will cripple the others. It is a very, very complex and highly charged debate over what to do.
Then there is the equally complex dilemma of what to do with our federal reservoirs and their silt problems. Dredging them out seems to be an easy enough solution until you really think about it. We are not exactly flush with money right now and it will take an unimaginable amount to do the job right. That does not even take in account the massive amount of silt and how to dispose of it. Silt can be spread out on agriculture grounds but in very small quantities and with an equally high cost. Restoring our federal reservoirs will be an engineering feat of historical proportions.
All of this seems to be very daunting and after a massive amount of input from a lot people from every segment of our population I am sure a water plan will be formed. I am also sure that following the formulation of this plan unexpected problems and issues will appear.  Does this make the process of formulating the plan useless?  The answer is no, it has started us down the road of thinking about and addressing some of the most important and complex issues we will ever face. I am equally sure that we will find solutions and most of them have not even been developed or even thought of yet. We will find answers that will not only address the problem but make us better stewards of our limited water and more efficient producers of the food we all need.