Saturday, October 15, 2016

Listening Ears

My wife and I have used the phrase "put on your listening ears" with all of our kids over the years. We use it when we can see that our crew can hear that we're talking, but just aren't listening to what we're saying. Or when they anticipate what they think we are going to say missing our point completely. As parents, we try to emphasize the importance of listening to those around you in order to be effective communicators. By listening to and considering all sides or opinions, educated and thought-out opinions can be established and then further explained.

Now, that doesn't mean that I'm always perfect at it, as I'm sure my wonderful wife will tell you that I often anticipate what she is saying, and speak to points that she never made. For the record.. she does it too.. Just less often :)

We all get caught up in the speed of the world around us, and selectively listen to most things. We hear the points we want to hear, anticipate our conclusions, and stand by opinions that we truly can't have a foundation on based on the lack of listening we've actually done.

The other day, after the last debate, I was speaking with an adult peer of mine. This person was surprised that I wasted my time listening to the debate stream from my phone. "Really? I knew it would be a train wreck. I know what they're going to say." In fact, I noticed many posts on Facebook saying how they were SO glad to skip the debate to watch football or whatever else.

And THIS surprises me. Because in this same conversation the person, and another peer went off on the increasing premiums and pharmacy costs under ObamaCare. And everything they were frustrated about was exactly a talking point of Secretary Clinton. I listened to her speak to each of their frustrations during that debate. And when I said that, these two adult peers of mine admitted that maybe they should watch the next debate.

I've let this conversation sit in the back of mind as I continue to watch and read things on Facebook supporting the idea that many of us are selectively listening and anticipating talking points from each of these candidates. So much so, that I see so many people picking candidates without actually listening, OR sometimes worse, based on feelings about a person that they've never met, and only know about through media coverage.

We are less than a month away from one of the most important voting days in my lifetime. So, I encourage you all, to put on your listening ears. Really listen to the candidates without selective listening, without anticipating your own feelings about what you think is going to be said. We expect that of our kids, our friends, our employees, the students in our schools, and our elected officials. But I feel that there are many out there that are missing that expectation of ourselves during this election. If you do that, I don't care which candidate you choose. I just want to know that those that voted listened, truly listened to the points the candidates are making for our country.

Friday, August 26, 2016

My Teacher Dad Vote

I have never much been into politics. As a kid, I was always just focused on being a kid (playing sports, GI Joe, Star Wars, video games, etc.). It always surprised me when I met people my age that were so passionate about politics. Especially in college. I had and still have fraternity brothers that are actively involved in everything politics.

The first time I voted was for President Bush Jr in 2000. I just didn't like Gore.. Not sure why I didn't, but didn't. Then 9/11 happened and in 2004 I voted for President Bush again. I felt like he was the best to continue navigating us through the Middle East mess. At some point, I learned to believe that I was a Republican. 

During Bush's second term, my first 2 kids were born, and I had become a teacher. I began to listen more to the happenings of the world around me. I actively listened to the 2008 candidates. Things began to matter so much more for my own kids, and for the livelihood of my students and their families. I was moved in so many ways as I listened to the message of hope spoken by candidate Obama. He spoke with such intelligence, passion, and pride. I felt patriotism for him as a leader that I never felt for any President in my life at that point. I remember standing, holding my then 7 month old daughter with tears in my eyes as he spoke in Grant Park having just been elected President. I was so proud to be in that moment with her knowing our country was truly moving forward. 

In the 8 years since that moment, I stand proud of all that our President has worked to accomplish. But, I'm stunned at what has happened to our country. I'm now the father of 5 kids. Two of those 5 are twin black boys. I've gone from having tears of pride to having tears of real fear and worry for our future. Today, we have a candidate that can be openly prejudiced against different races, cultures, & religions and gain support towards winning the presidency. How can that be? Because his opponent in this election has support from big business? Because she has become a political scapegoat for a terrorist act on an US Embassy? Because she's a woman that is intelligent and with a strong voice?

I'm not going to sit here and say that I'm a huge Hillary supporter. In fact, I voted for Bernie in the primaries. But, for the record, I'm not voting for her as an anti-Trump vote. Not at all in fact. 

I don't think of myself as a vocal person. I like to sit back and listen to any and all respectable sources be that blogs, podcasts, shares from friends that I respect and trust. And through that I've learned a lot about Hillary Clinton. I've learned that she's made mistakes, but has had plenty of victories in areas that I believe in. 

I'm voting for her, because she's never backed down. She has taken hit after hit from things as personal as her marriage, to her political opinions. And yet, she never ran away or backed down from her drive for presidency. She has shown resilience when all around her criticised her and called her a murderer. She didn't get nasty back, either. She didn't get into petty name calling. For the way that I've seen it, she has stood by what she has believed in, but has allowed her views to change as she has listened to all that is around her.

I've learned in my own life that when you are doing great things, making changes, and are at the top, you will be attacked. Your actions all the way down to the number of soccer shoes you have or your classroom management style will be questioned. And it is so easy to hear all that is said and hide away. But Hillary hasn't. She continued to stay in the center of things, and to follow her path in life with strength, confidence, and gusto.

So while one candidate stands as a symbol of fear and hate, I see another that is a shining example of female resilience and strength. She is an example that I would be proud to have my daughters look up to. She compliments what they already see in my wife (a business owner, strong, determined, passionate). So, yes. My vote is for Hillary. I'm not going third party. I have no need to. Because in my life I want to know that my kids will grow up knowing that it is normal for a black man to be president and for a woman to be president because that is the right direction for our country and that is what continues to make our country great.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

They're smarter and more balanced, because state testing..?

State Testing.

Just in reading those words, you're already a bit angry.. aren't-cha! Since my students took the Smarter Balanced math test in May, I've been trying to process my feelings and thoughts on the matter.  And the word that best sums up my experience and the experience of my students is torture. For one, I spent each class block listening to the same complaints and questions:

*Do we have to take this?  *Is it a grade?  *Will I still graduate if I do bad?
*Then why are we taking it? *This is stupid! *I don't care how I do on it?
* Does this even matter to anyone? *You never taught us this!
* These questions are impossible! *Seriously, who came up with these questions?
*Shit!..err, Sorry Mr. Mach, but what the hell?! When did we learn this?
*Why can't I have my cell phone?!!

That last one.. the cell phone. It was if I was creating a horcrux out of it by murdering their souls as I asked them to place their device into the plastic container. The look of hatred that spewed from them.. I'm thankful that my small children weren't around to witness it!

The students harbor so much hatred towards these tests, or at least a strong enough percentage of them do. And I don't like using the word hate, but it fits for this. They hate the test, the process, the time waste, and the feeling it gives them. No one likes to feel stupid, and for many the Smarter Balanced test makes them feel so very, terribly stupid. And there are a couple main reasons that the kids walk away feeling stupid after these tests.

For this first reason, I'm taking a higher ground approach, and making the difficulty of this test reflective of teachers. So, the Smarter Balanced Test asked questions that require a Depth of Knowledge that most teachers just aren't getting to with their students. This means that while the kids may actually know the concept, the questions are asked in a way that requires them to show that understanding or apply the understanding differently. This is a shot to the gut when you can see the information you need, but you're not directly sure how to use it to get to the correct answer.

Now, to piggyback on that.. these questions are HARD. There are few adults that work for any of the governing bodies of the 15 member states of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that would take the test and feel good about themselves afterwards. I've been "privileged" enough to work through the interim assessment and walked away feeling challenged, tired, and down about the prospect of my students feeling prepared. And I feel like I'm an above average teacher. But there is just something in the way the test is worded and how the test is laid out that can at times be confusing. There is a practice test that anyone can take (click here), and I would encourage you to take a look just to get a feel for what I'm talking about.

Ultimately, these tests are trying to serve a purpose. We all can agree that we want the children of this country to receive the best education possible. And I would hope we can also agree that standardized tests are NOT the best way to make that happen. With over 98,000 public schools in our country, we can NOT expect each of them to be working at the same level, especially when funding and resources are not even close to being equally distributed OR socio-economic lifestyles and opportunities are SO diverse from one neighborhood school to another. These tests can serve the purpose of showing us teachers that we need to strive to improve student depth of knowledge, but there are better ways to make that point than picking a standardized test that allows for a strong percentage of students to walk away feeling stupid after taking it. That doesn't improve anyone's academic experience, or lead to a generation of high school grads confident for their future and ability to positively impact the world around them.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

It's not okay. The right way to accept an apology.

All day, everyday I deal with kids. Yes, this is by choice. I decided to become a teacher, and I always knew that I'd be a dad one day. So naturally, yeah, I interact with kids regularly. And, much like adults, they make mistakes, say things that are mean, do things to be mean, and all around act like..

Through all of my interactions with kids there is a certain issue I'm growing very tired of, and it has to do with apologies. I think we can all agree that apologies are often things that are only said, and not always felt. A true apology shows feelings, remorse, and an overall acknowledgment of the hurt caused by the loss of trust in that moment.

In the hecticness of life, we all spew out apologies so quickly and easily that we are causing a new problem that I'm truly growing tired of, especially since it's making its way through popular media "reality" and/or "politics." And this problem has to do with the phrase "that's okay." This phrase should no longer be acceptable when an apology has been offered up. It has become so standard that it's almost a reaction now, like getting into the car and buckling up. You don't think about it, but there you are driving all buckled up.

Sure, there are certain times when saying, "that's okay," when an apology is given is totally acceptable. But, we are saying it way too much any more, and we need to get into the practice of actually accepting an apology in a way that shows self respect, and acknowledges that what happened wasn't okay, and shouldn't happen again. I would love to hear more, "I appreciate that apology, but what happened wasn't okay. It hurt, and I really hope it doesn't happen again." Just think if we were to start accepting apologies more like that! And not, "that's okay." Because it wasn't and isn't okay to be hurt by other's words or actions. But we are creating groups of people that keep pushing the issue, because they keep hearing "that's okay" for their apologies. The remorse in doing something wrong isn't there, and they keep getting away with it, because we are modeling weak ways of accepting apologies.

As a dad and a teacher, I've been stepping in to better model how this works. It's been amazing watching how the kids have altered things in my classroom and at home just in how I've responded to apologies by what I'm saying or having the kids say. I've listed a few options below as ideas to try when you are accepting an apology, or are helping a kiddo receiving an apology.
  • Thanks for apologizing, but please don't do it again. I'm disappointed in how that went down.
  • I accept your apology, but I'm not happy that happened, and I'm still hurt. 
  • I hear your apology. I know that I'm expected to accept it, but I'm still hurt by what happened.
  • Thank you for apologizing. I do appreciate it, and I can see that you feel bad about what happened.  
I would encourage all of you fellow parents and/or teachers to at least consider finding your own way to escape from using the "that's okay" response in apologies. We can see in social media and the news all of the crazy things people seem to be getting away with saying and doing; and the insincere apologies that follow. It's up to us to show and encourage those around us to speak up with appropriate responses to apologies. This isn't to be done in a way that attacks the person apologizing, but to instead reinforce our own self worth, and establish the notion that what happened isn't okay, and shouldn't happen again. 

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

You're the perfect mom for your kid(s)!

I've been blessed to have been surrounded by so many amazing mothers over the years. Obviously, my mom has been my one and only mother through every day of my life. She has shown me so much about strength, love, and determination. She has given tough love, but has also shown me what unconditional love and pride truly is. She's amazing and I thank the universe everyday for her and all that she is to my sisters and I. And I include my sister, because I see so much of the love my sisters have for their kids as a reflection of what my mom has been to all of us. She truly has been a shining example of motherhood to the point where I think the universe had a plan in putting her birthday so close to mother's day! But to be fair, I'm not saying that my mom was perfect.. gasp!!! None of us are.. But what I've come to understand is that she has been the perfect mom for me.

In looking through my facebook feed lately, and reflecting on all of the moms I've seen during my life I realized that I'm also so incredibly lucky to have witnessed other amazing mothers and their styles of parenting. When I think back to my childhood, I remember my Aunties (my mom's sisters) and their different mothering styles. I see their strengths in the wonderful parents that my cousins have become.  Each of them show amazing dedication to their kids while bringing a zest for humor and youthfulness. I see in each of them the amazing qualities I will always remember of my Aunties (their moms).

But it doesn't stop there! It hit me that even my best childhood friends had great moms in their lives, and in turn these old friends of mine are amazing dads and moms as well. I see them all with wonderful spouses, careers, and lives that I know reflect much of the dreams their moms continue to have for them. And again, I'm not saying these wonderful ladies were perfect, but for my friends and who they are today, their moms were perfect for them to guide them to this point. 

And in thinking about moms, I can't continue without bringing up my mother-in-law. A modern day angel. A person who exemplifies kindness and love in all she does. A person who literally risked her life to have her 3 youngest children. Having her as a mother figure in my life for nearly 15 years now has made me see just how precious every moment is. Her mothering style is different from that of my own mom, and was perfect for raising the 4 strong, intelligent women her daughters have become. 

All of this leads to my final realization, and the point of this post. When I took this past Mother's Day and this past week, to think about all of these wonderful moms I've been blessed to know, I can take all the things that I admire of them individually and put them together as all of the things that make my wife the absolute best mom in the world for our kids. She shows the softness and care of her own mother; the unconditional pride/love and strength of my mother; and the joyful laughter and youth of my aunties combined with many other qualities that are guiding our 5 wonderful kids through childhood towards being adults.. one day.. not soon! :)

And no, she's not always perfect. But moms aren't supposed to be. Kids need to not just see the perfect. Kids need to see the struggle and the mistakes, and how we work through them, and become stronger. My wife shows love, pride, laughter, and joy while displaying her strength and perseverance throughout each day. My kids have a mom that creatively and professionally runs her own business while she does the work of a stay at home mom. I'm a lucky man to know that she is the model my kids grow up with each and every day.

So, to all of the moms in my life, thank you for being who you are to your kids. And remember that you are the perfect person to be in this role for your children. You are who they need (good and bad) to help them to become the grown-ups they are destined to be.

Use the comments section below to tell me about your mom! What qualities from her did you admire the most, OR what lessons did you take away in the "what NOT to do" category?

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

My life path connects to #Ecuador, and NOW so does Yours! We need your help!

In my lifetime, I've come to the belief that our lives have a certain path that is laid out before us. And, throughout that path, we are led to places we would have never expected, and initially don't understand. But after awhile, the reason we are where we are, and have experienced all that we have experienced becomes obvious. We suddenly come to a place on the path where past moments and relationships pull together creating an overwhelmingly emotional and/or enlightening experience the humbles us to the smallness of our world, AND the powers of our Universe.

The earthquake in Ecuador a week ago has created one of these moments in my life. I'm writing this extremely overwhelmed at how events in my life have pulled together in a way that allows my family, that is fighting to not only survive, but to also save others, to get help from a Sigma Chi Fraternity Brother whom I've not directly spoken to since graduating 16 years ago.

I've been asking myself how it came to be that this beautiful Alaskan chose to come to Des Moines, IA to attend Drake University? How is it that I then fell in love with her, and her wonderful family? How is it that I joined the Fraternity that a young man from Ecuador also decided to join? Why did my wife's younger sister and her husband decided to move to Ecuador? And I realize that part of the reason this all came to be is so that during this tragic time in Ecuador these three wonderful people would be there to help each other, and all of those that need support while the country works to recover.

Now, I'm using this platform to reach YOU. YOU that have found my site, and have been reading my posts. Maybe you've been a fan, or maybe this is your first time coming across my site. Regardless, you have now crossed my path, and I'm asking YOU to help these three amazing people that are fighting to save others after this terrible earthquake. The devastation is severe, and the infrastructure in Ecuador is making things very hard to get help to those that need it. I'm asking YOU to not stop your prayers for those in Ecuador. I'm asking for you to contribute to one of the sites linked below, so more relief/aid can get to those that need it. Share this post, or share the video below on your Facebook and Twitter. Don't let those fighting to survive be forgotten. Please find a way to help.

The above video is from Canoa, Ecuador. This is where my sister-in-law and her husband live. The Surf Shak is the restaurant that they had just sold this past fall. The current owners were both injured during the quake, and are hospitalized. You can read their story, here.

There are several link below that can help get funds to those working to rebuild. Please go to the Canoa Ecuador Earthquake Relief Facebook page to follow the progress and to find more ways to help.

This link goes to the gofundme site raising money for Canoa. Click here.
This is also a gofundme account going directly to a former firefighter and 9/11 first responder now living in Canoa and working to rebuild the community. Click here. <<Suggested by my sister-in-law, Maija!>>
This link is to the UNICEF page. Click here.
The James Dean Byrd Foundation to donate relief funds to get the school back up and running for the kids in Canoa to have a bright spot to their days. Click here.

I'm not linking to the Red Cross at this time, as there is not a way to donate exclusively to relief efforts in Ecuador.

If you have other, or better ways to help aid those in Ecuador please let me know in the comments or through email at theteacherdad(@)

Friday, April 15, 2016

My First Daughter - How we built our special Daddy/Daughter relationship

My favorite picture the 2 of us from years ago!
Eight years ago today, my First daughter was born. As a hopeless dreamer, I was thrilled to have a daughter. I could imagine the wonderful daddy-daughter relationship we would have.. picturing me as Steve Martin's George Banks character from The Father of the Bride. I could only smile at all of the perfect moments that
would be coming for the both of us. But, as we all know, movies are not always the best reflection of reality, and I will be the first to admit, my daughter's first handful of years were a bit of a challenge for me.

Now, please understand, it wasn't her that was the cause of the friction. Oh no.. It was me. In the moments I was struggling as a papa to my daughter, I would have said it was her that was the difficult one. But now, looking back over all of her wonderful 8 years, I just see that my understanding of that Daddy/Daughter bond was built differently than I expected.

I started my journey as a father of a beautiful daughter in many ways forgetting that my delicate flower was not so much a delicate flower. I expected her to need me more, to listen more, to almost hang from my every word.. I mean .. I'm her daddy! I'm the most special man in her life! I don't know what I was thinking! How incredibly foolish of me, huh?!

So, as I would approach situations with her, I expected to be in charge. But, that's not what the daddy/daughter relationship is all about! The successful dad to a daughter is man that can see that his role is to learn how to be needed by his daughter. For me, I learned that my oldest daughter needed me to figure out how to bring her back when her world seemed out of sorts. She needs a dad that doesn't get frustrated, because she'll take that head on in a battle royal! Instead, she needs me to provide for her a person that can center her when she's scared, hurt, sad, or feeling emotionally out of sorts. She's needs in me a man that models what the right reaction should be when she built up with emotion, and reacting to that pain in her own ways.

I learned how to be her rock, and that role just doesn't happen. I had to research, and try things. I had to be honest with myself when things didn't work. I had to learn to make her growth in becoming a strong, confident woman the center of my world. I had to figure out how to read what she needed of me, and provide that to the best of my ability. All in the name of building that wonderful/trusting daddy/daughter relationship that we both NEED in our lives.

It took awhile to really nail it down, but I can honestly say that I know I've got it now. My relationship with my oldest daughter is something so incredibly special. She can make me laugh harder than most people. Sitting and reading with her this past year, watching her grow in confidence as a student, listening to her sing, or come up with an imaginative dress-up pretend play story with her twin brother just is.. it's just so special for me.

Sure, she's tough. She's a red-headed, Alaskan, Sicilian spitfire. But she's also the most darling, loving, sensitive sweetheart of a girl as any in the world. I love her so much for all that she is to me, and for all of the ways that she has made me a better father and person.

Happy 8th birthday MGM. You are truly amazing.