Author Archives: Michael Brown

About Michael Brown

I am an Elementary School teacher in the state of Washington. I enjoy writing, bird-watching, working in the garden, photography, and spending time with my family.

Year List Through February 16


1 Brant – Branta bernicla Three Crabs US-WA 16-Feb-14
2 Cackling Goose – Branta hutchinsii Nisqually NWR US-WA 2-Feb-14
3 Canada Goose – Branta canadensis Ruston Way US-WA 19-Jan-14
4 Egyptian Goose – Alopochen aegyptiaca Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
5 Gadwall – Anas strepera Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
6 American Wigeon – Anas americana Levee Pond Park US-WA 20-Jan-14
7 Mallard – Anas platyrhynchos Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
8 Northern Shoveler – Anas clypeata Levee Pond Park US-WA 20-Jan-14
9 Northern Pintail – Anas acuta Nisqually NWR US-WA 2-Feb-14
10 Ring-necked Duck – Aythya collaris Nisqually NWR US-WA 2-Feb-14
11 Lesser Scaup – Aythya affinis Levee Pond Park US-WA 20-Jan-14
12 Surf Scoter – Melanitta perspicillata Penrose State Park US-WA 9-Feb-14
13 White-winged Scoter – Melanitta fusca Penrose State Park US-WA 9-Feb-14
14 Bufflehead – Bucephala albeola Levee Pond Park US-WA 20-Jan-14
15 Common Goldeneye – Bucephala clangula Ruston Way US-WA 19-Jan-14
16 Barrow’s Goldeneye – Bucephala islandica Penrose State Park US-WA 9-Feb-14
17 Hooded Merganser – Lophodytes cucullatus Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
18 Common Merganser – Mergus merganser Puyallup River Loop US-WA 24-Jan-14
19 Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator Penrose State Park US-WA 9-Feb-14
20 Ruddy Duck – Oxyura jamaicensis Fort Steilacoom Park US-WA 15-Feb-14
21 Common Loon – Gavia immer Penrose State Park US-WA 9-Feb-14
22 Horned Grebe – Podiceps auritus Penrose State Park US-WA 9-Feb-14
23 Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus Puyallup, 1013 4th Street Northeast US-WA 18-Jan-14
24 Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias Ruston Way US-WA 19-Jan-14
25 Great Egret – Ardea alba Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
26 Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura John Wayne Airport US-CA 4-Jan-14
27 Northern Harrier – Circus cyaneus Sequim, 4876-4896 Sequim-Dungeness Way US-WA 16-Feb-14
28 Sharp-shinned Hawk – Accipiter striatus Puyallup, 1919 West Pioneer Avenue US-WA 6-Feb-14
29 Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii Puyallup River Loop US-WA 24-Jan-14
30 Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus Ruston Way US-WA 19-Jan-14
31 Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
32 American Coot – Fulica americana Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
33 Black Oystercatcher – Haematopus bachmani John Wayne Marina US-WA 16-Feb-14
34 Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus Three Crabs US-WA 16-Feb-14
35 Willet – Tringa semipalmata Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
36 Marbled Godwit – Limosa fedoa Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
37 Surfbird – Calidris virgata Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
38 Sanderling – Calidris alba Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
39 Western Sandpiper – Calidris mauri Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
40 Pigeon Guillemot – Cepphus columba John Wayne Marina US-WA 16-Feb-14
41 Heermann’s Gull – Larus heermanni Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
42 Mew Gull – Larus canus Three Crabs US-WA 16-Feb-14
43 Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
44 Western Gull – Larus occidentalis Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
45 California Gull – Larus californicus Three Crabs US-WA 16-Feb-14
46 Glaucous-winged Gull – Larus glaucescens Ruston Way US-WA 19-Jan-14
47 Rock Pigeon – Columba livia Newport Beach, 100 48th Street US-CA 2-Jan-14
48 Eurasian Collared-Dove – Streptopelia decaocto Puyallup River Loop US-WA 22-Jan-14
49 Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura Newport Beach, 222 Old Newport Boulevard US-CA 2-Jan-14
50 Great Horned Owl – Bubo virginianus Nisqually NWR US-WA 2-Feb-14
51 Anna’s Hummingbird – Calypte anna Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
52 Allen’s Hummingbird – Selasphorus sasin East Lake Village Clubhouse US-CA 3-Jan-14
53 Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon John Wayne Marina US-WA 16-Feb-14
54 Downy Woodpecker – Picoides pubescens Nisqually NWR US-WA 2-Feb-14
55 Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus Puyallup, 1013 4th Street Northeast US-WA 18-Jan-14
56 Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus Clark’s Creek Park US-WA 3-Feb-14
57 American Kestrel – Falco sparverius Levee Pond Park US-WA 20-Jan-14
58 Merlin – Falco columbarius Puyallup, 414 5th Avenue Southwest US-WA 6-Feb-14
59 Peregrine Falcon – Falco peregrinus Renton, Washington 167 US-WA 8-Feb-14
60 Black Phoebe – Sayornis nigricans Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
61 Cassin’s Kingbird – Tyrannus vociferans East Lake Village Clubhouse US-CA 3-Jan-14
62 Steller’s Jay – Cyanocitta stelleri Sumner Veterinary Clinic US-WA 5-Jan-14
63 Western Scrub-Jay – Aphelocoma californica Kalles JH US-WA 14-Jan-14
64 American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
65 Common Raven – Corvus corax Quilcene, Washington 104 US-WA 16-Feb-14
66 Black-capped Chickadee – Poecile atricapillus Puyallup, 1013 4th Street Northeast US-WA 18-Jan-14
67 Bushtit – Psaltriparus minimus Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
68 Red-breasted Nuthatch – Sitta canadensis Home/5th Av. NW, Puyallup, WA US-WA 25-Jan-14
69 Pacific Wren – Troglodytes pacificus Firgrove/Ballou Woods and Wetlands US-WA 25-Jan-14
70 Marsh Wren – Cistothorus palustris Nisqually NWR US-WA 2-Feb-14
71 Bewick’s Wren – Thryomanes bewickii Puyallup, 1013 4th Street Northeast US-WA 18-Jan-14
72 Golden-crowned Kinglet – Regulus satrapa Home/5th Av. NW, Puyallup, WA US-WA 11-Jan-14
73 Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula Puyallup, 1000 7th Avenue Southeast US-WA 15-Jan-14
74 Western Bluebird – Sialia mexicana Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
75 American Robin – Turdus migratorius East Lake Village Clubhouse US-CA 3-Jan-14
76 European Starling – Sturnus vulgaris Anaheim Hills Post Office US-CA 2-Jan-14
77 Cedar Waxwing – Bombycilla cedrorum Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
78 Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
79 Spotted Towhee – Pipilo maculatus Puyallup, 1013 4th Street Northeast US-WA 18-Jan-14
80 Song Sparrow – Melospiza melodia Puyallup, 1013 4th Street Northeast US-WA 18-Jan-14
81 Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis Home/5th Av. NW, Puyallup, WA US-WA 5-Jan-14
82 House Finch – Haemorhous mexicanus Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
83 Lesser Goldfinch – Spinus psaltria Yorba Regional Park US-CA 1-Jan-14
84 American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis Puyallup, 601-649 3rd Street Northwest US-WA 5-Jan-14
85 Evening Grosbeak – Coccothraustes vespertinus Firgrove/Ballou Woods and Wetlands US-WA 25-Jan-14
86 House Sparrow – Passer domesticus Anaheim Hills Post Office US-CA 2-Jan-14

Teaching is Like a Box of Chocolates

Yep. You guessed it. You never know what you’re gonna get.

This year I appear to have gotten a box full of caramel peanut clusters. Yeah, there are one or two of the ones that are filled with the liquid fruit-flavored stuff, but I can deal with that. They’ll cleanse my palate to help me appreciate the others even more.

And there are close to three dozen of them altogether.

Don’t get me wrong. I work really hard to make sure all of my chocolates feel like they are the expensive variety, even if they are full of artificial flavors and colors. I will strive to help them meet the standards that the state chocolatiers have set for them.

It should be a delicious year.

Why I’m Voting for Obama, and Why It Isn’t Easy

It’s simple. I agree with more of Obama’s policies than Romney’s. I believe that the extremely rich should be taxed at a higher rate. I believe that abortion should remain safe and legal. I also agree it should be rare, which will be a lot easier with easy access to birth control through our health care plans. We should be building the energy infrastructure of the future now, with emphasis on alternative sources of energy which are currently underused. Government needs to get involved in creating jobs directly since our corporations aren’t and instead are sitting on their fat profits. I believe that women should be compensated equally with men who are doing the same work. I believe that everybody should have access to a fair health care plan.

But here’s why I’ll be holding my nose as I mark my ballot: The Democrats are killing public education. It is dying a slow, agonizing death. I believe it can still be saved, but we are going down the wrong road. Twenty-six years ago I thought I had found my true calling when I entered the Seattle University (read that as “expensive”) teacher certification program. I dedicated my life to teaching at great sacrifice to myself. Now I struggle to do the best I can for my students while feeling like I’m being attacked from every side.

Let’s start with charter schools. Supporters like to call them “public” charter schools, though they are often run by private corporations. Who attends charter schools? Those who are able to enroll, that’s who. Not every student in a predefined attendance area as in traditional public schools. Parents have to make a conscious decision to enroll a child in a charter school. Right there is the main advantage for a charter school. They aren’t getting the students from families that don’t give a damn about education, or those who are too busy working 55 hours a week at three jobs and don’t have the time or energy to help their child with their homework, or are out of the information loop. What’s amazing to me about that is that those schools still manage to fail in all too many cases. And in the meantime, the surrounding traditional public schools have had many of the more capable students sucked out of their classrooms.

Next, teacher evaluation based on high stakes tests. Sounds good on the surface, right. After all, if the kid doesn’t pass the test, the teacher must be lousy, right? Then please explain the student who by all measures is a star with a great future, who fails all sections of said high stakes test. Please explain how it is fair to count the test of the student who has hated school from day one and puts no effort into that test. If a student enters fifth grade reading at a first grade level, how can it be an accurate measure of learning to expect him to read at a fifth grade level by the end of the year? When the parent of a student likes to brag about how successful he is despite doing poorly in school, how much effort is that student likely to put into learning? These scenarios are all real. And the only way I think it is possible for them to all succeed is if someone is cheating.

All the previous example apply to the concept of merit pay as well. And added to all this is the fact that teachers are constantly told how to teach by their administration. They are given little latitude for selection of learning materials, teaching methods, student grouping, scheduling, and much more. Yet we are responsible for the outcome.

In short, the Democratic ed reformers are going about this all wrong. We are going down a road to the end of public education, and my candidate is out front leading the way.

Success is in the Eye of the Beholder

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about presidential campaigns, qualifications, policies, candidate biographies, et al. What matters the most in choosing a president? Personally, I believe policy positions are everything. When I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, I voted based on his policy proposals. It was exciting to me that a man of African descent was going to the White House, but that fact had nothing to do with my vote. The fact is the Republican Party has offered me nothing for more than three decades.

A lot is made of personal background and “character” in politics. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama came from less than advantaged backgrounds and made something of themselves. Yet the right can’t stand them. George W. Bush and Mitt Romney are examples of white privilege run amok. I have long thought that if W weren’t named George Bush he’d be laying drunk in a gutter somewhere. But his image was sort of down home and folksy, which appealed to a certain segment of American society.

Romney on the other hand plays the high society high roller to the nth degree. The average person will have a hard time relating to him if they vote on candidate biography. But the dyed-in-the-wool Republicans love his big money story, although I’m not sure what he really did to earn it. Would he have had the opportunity if his name weren’t Romney? Mitt and W are proof that the Old Boy Network is alive and well.

I really think the Obama campaign needs to showcase his biography. He is a real American success story and people have forgotten that. Put it out there.

What Would You Do?

There is a little boy in our neighborhood I’m worried about. I’ll call him Sam. Sam is four years old and always seems to be unsupervised. He rides a bike up and down the sidewalk without a helmet, crosses the street on his own, walks uninvited into peoples’ houses, and seems to be in danger of injury or worse.

Sam has started knocking on our door regularly looking for our seven year old son. When told he should be at home, he says his mom told him to go play outside. He lives in a nearby apartment complex which has had a history of trouble. He says he and his mom live with her boyfriend. Barefoot and shirtless, he roams the neighborhood like a homeless waif. He is clearly developmentally delayed, craving attention, and neglected.

It breaks my heart. What would you do? Report him to CPS? Ignore him? Feed him? Clothe him? Would you let him play with your children?

But Seriously…

My previous post was a reaction to my frustration with Washington state’s new teacher evaluation law and its inclusion of student performance data. Obviously there is never going to be a parent evaluation system connected to our use of data in teacher evaluations.

But I would like to share some of the parents whose children have attended schools where I have taught. First, there was the father who informed me at a conference that it didn’t really matter if his son did well at school. After all, the father didn’t, yet was successful in the field of contracting. If that was the same message he gave his son, no wonder the boy was alternately apathetic and angry.

Then there was the dad who was unhappy that I didn’t cut his son some slack behavior-wise, and stormed off, shouting, “I’m pulling my kid out of this school!” Then, as if an afterthought, added, “And you’re a moron!” Well, you know what they say about falling fruit!

Next up is the eight year old girl who lived in a house that in any normal community would be condemned for human habitation. I witnessed the principal “escorting” her to the office as she screamed a never-ending string of expletives, including all known forms of the f-word. The scene reminded me of “The Exorcist.” What kind of parenting produces that?

I’ll never forget the day and a half I spent as a substitute in a classroom where a girl repeatedly called me “Mr. Clown.” Multiple trips to the office did not discourage her. The rest of the class was not likely to be offered future work with the state department either. This was obviously a troubled community.

And what would one expect from the boy whose father hasn’t held a job for any length of time since his son was born? Apathy oozing from his pores, that’s what.

I could go on, but my point is these students must perform well on assessments if their teachers are to be evaluated fairly. And what are the odds of that?




New Parent Evaluation System Advances to Governor’s Desk

The following is but a fantasy born of the author’s frustration with the shortsighted Washington State Legislature. It is not intended to incite hysteria among irresponsible parents residing in the state of Washington.

In an effort to make the new teacher evaluation system meaningful, Washington State legislators today approved a new parent evaluation system. To ensure that teachers are teaching students who are ready to learn, parents must agree to participate or their children’s test scores will be ineligible for use in teacher evaluations. In addition, the children of any parent whose evaluation ranks at the lowest level, unsatisfactory, for two years in a row will not have their test scores applied to teacher evaluations. Those children will then be removed from the home and placed in a boarding school until such time as the parents complete remedial parenting classes, hold a job for six consecutive months, quit smoking, receive counseling for anger management issues, and any other interventions as ordered by the courts.

Parents will be evaluated based on two twenty-four hour observations each year conducted by a qualified social worker. Evaluation criteria will include the following areas: Home Environment; Health and Safety; Enrichment Opportunities; Discipline; Nurturing; Modeling of Appropriate Behavior/Interest in Learning.

The social worker will give a minimum twenty-four hours notice of the planned observation. The social worker will be permitted to observe all family routines during a full twenty-four hour period. A second social worker will relieve the observer so that he or she may get a decent night’s sleep because nobody performs their best work when they are tired.  In addition the social worker will be permitted to interview any member of the family regarding activities not observed during the visit.

Unlike the new teacher evaluation system, parents will have the right to request a second evaluation by a neutral observer after initially being rated unsatisfactory.

The governor is expected to sign the law into effect tomorrow.

Bald Eagle Recovery a Reason for Optimism

I will never forget the first time I saw a Bald Eagle. I was twelve years old and on a family camping trip to Deception Pass State Park. My Dad and I, and perhaps my sister Barb, had hiked to the top of Goose Rock. Not a long or difficult hike, Goose Rock provides territorial views of Deception Pass, the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, mountains, and more.

At the top we saw a large, brown bird soaring over the pass. My Dad identified it as a juvenile Bald Eagle. I was in awe. I watched it for what seemed like hours, as it soared near and far, in overlapping circles, not once flapping its wings.

This was a big moment for me. First Bald Eagle of my life, not for lack of looking, but because their numbers had declined so precipitously in prior decades.

DDT, a major factor in the shrinking population, was still a few years from being banned.

The good news is Bald Eagles seem almost common now. I believe that on any given day I could find one within a half hour of my home if I set out to do so. Within the past couple of years I had six circling over my house as they moved slowly from west to east. A few years back I missed by a day or two  a congregation of close to a hundred at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

This success story points out why government needs to keep a firm hand on what businesses can and cannot do. Had DDT been left on the market, we would likely see no Bald Eagles in the continental U.S. They would likely be restricted to northern Canada and Alaska. But that’s not all. Peregrine Falcons, Brown Pelicans, and Ospreys may have disappeared from the contiguous states as well. And California Condors, to this day struggling to rebuild a viable population, may have vanished from the face of the Earth.

The Bald Eagle is now a symbol of hope.


Republican Party has No Chance at the White House

I will say it now: Barack Obama can look forward to a second term in the White House. That is not to say that he is my first choice for president. I would take anyone with a better understanding of public education, the environment, labor, and human rights before I would choose Obama.

What I am saying is that the Republicans have no viable candidates at present. Here is my summary, see if you can identify the candidates. By the way, this is how I believe they are perceived by large numbers of potential voters, not necessarily their true character.

1) A corporate raider who tells you what he thinks you want to hear.

2) A disgraced, narcissistic former congressman on his third marriage.

3) An extreme right wing religious zealot who equates homosexuality with beastiality.

4) A fringe-dwelling oddball with no problem associating with the John Birch Society.

Again, this is what I believe is the widespread perception of the public, which in my opinion reflects a need for better campaign management.

And the worst they have to say about Obama is, “Muslim,” “socialist,” or “foreigner.”

Lotsa luck GOP.

Music, Part 1

One day in 1973 or 1974, I went to the Mercer Island Public Library. I don’t recall if I was there for a school assignment, to look for something to read, or another reason, but while there I started to look through the bin of LPs. The pickings were slim, but one record jacket caught my eye, “Country Cassanova”, by Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen.

On the front was a photo of a pretty rough looking guy leaning on a 60s vintage Lincoln Continental. Flip to the backside and the same guy is posing with seven others in front of an old Greyhound tour bus. They were a matched set with the one on the cover. Long hair, disheveled, a touch greasy looking, they looked like the guys mom warns you about.

Now, I had heard of Commander Cody due to a big hit a couple of years before, “Hot Rod Lincoln.” But that was it. The album in my hand was more recent, and contained tunes I didn’t know, with the exception of “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” which I had heard performed by another artist. But I checked it out, took it home, and slapped it on the family turntable.

What came out of the speakers was definitely not what I was used to listening to.  I owned a few albums by such artists as Cat Stevens, Elton John, and Jim Croce, but that was pretty much it. I had been heavily influenced by popular radio like many my age.

The title track opens the album with a single strike of the snare and a steel guitar riff which initially turned me off. Steel guitar, that instrument which seemed to me designed simply to evoke weepy emotions, was the last thing I wanted to hear. Put simply, it wasn’t cool.

The funny thing is, I kept listening. As the tracks went by I heard a wide range of musical styles. I wasn’t used to that, as the albums in my collection were mostly by singer-songwriters and all in a certain style depending on the artist.

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, January 2, 1976, Gold Creek Dome, Woodinville, Washington - Bruce Barlow, John Tichy, Bill Kirchen

But Commander Cody had multiple songwriters and did numerous covers of songs by other artists. Plus, some members of the band were multi instrumentalists. Besides lead guitar, Bill Kirchen played trombone, and fiddler Andy Stein doubled on sax. Steel guitar player Bobby Black often added a third voice to the horns making it sound like a full horn section. Rockabilly, swing, country, gospel, and more than I can remember filled the record with a lively set of tunes.

On top of all that, four voices shared lead vocals. Cody’s proto-rapping of his numbers really didn’t define the band’s overall sound, but added to a diverse song catalog. Billy C. Farlow was essentially a rockabilly singer and nearly channeled Buddy Holly on a cover of “Rave On.” Bill Kirchen’s baritone is heard on a number of leads and backups, often the harder edged numbers. Rhythm guitarist John Tichy seemed to prefer the traditional country and gospel tunes.

“Country Cassanova”, in my opinion, is not the best of the albums produced by this crew. That honor easily goes to their first live album, “Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas.” But it started me on a lifelong journey with music.

I discovered that I didn’t need to listen only to what my friends listened to, or to what the Top 40 gurus deemed good enough to sell advertising. Sure, I bought popular music and saw concerts by popular artists, but I was open to just about anything. I also soon discovered that local musicians didn’t just do covers of what was being played on the radio.

I will continue this topic in future posts.