Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday Favorites... totally sick!

By the time I posted last week’s Teacher Dad Friday Favorites, I had called out sick from work. It was aweful! I swear that I hadn’t been that sick in more than 15 years. Shaking, chills. I seriously wanted to cry, and my kids thought I was going to have to go to the hospital. I was in bad shape.

That Friday morning I went to see the Nurse Practitioner that has become my medical person locally. She’s part of a larger group of health care providers in our area, so there is a bit of a network she’s a part of. That being the case, they have created (or use) an online system for messaging with patients, providing billing info, and keeping track of records. It’s similar to online grade books that teachers can use for communicating with parents.

So after seeing my FNP Friday morning, I left knowing that my rapid strep test was negative and that I’d have to wait all weekend to know anything more. But, with this MyChart system, I knew Sunday that my throat culture was positive for strep, and by 9am Monday my FNP had messaged me to let
me know my prescription would be waiting for me at my pharmacy! It was great, and incredibly convenient.

I even had to message her about getting a medical release to go back to work, and she was able to provide one to me online to print out with out having to go back in. I will admit that prior to this experience, I had been reluctant to sign up for MyChart. I couldn’t see why it would be helpful. But now, it’s definitly one of my new favorite things!

Thanks to The Vancouver Clinic and it’s use of MyChart! And FNP Heather, you rock! Thank you for your medical care and getting me back on my feet.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ambitious... is that the right word?

It’s easy to imagine how hectic the home life of a family of 7 can be. Throw in teaching, blogging, part time work, small business ownership, and coaching and I’m sure your head is spinning. A normal response from someone I’m meeting for the first time is “whoa, that’s a lot; you must be tired” or “really, 5.. I can barely manage my life with 2”. My favorite all time response was: “Wow, you’re ambitious.”

I like to hold onto that “ambitious” label. I’m proud of that idea. My wife and I... ambitious:

We were ambitious when we moved from Denver to Atlanta for my wife to go to school. I had to find work. I struggled in a post 9/11 world. My wife worried for me, then her mom had a medical emergency, but came out smiling. I fought to pass a Praxis test to get into an Ed program; she was top of her photo class with a project inspired by the beautiful song “Round Here.” We felt far away. Worried about her mom, I rejoiced at my acceptance into an Ed licensure/masters program in her hometown. 

We moved. Drove all the way from GA to AK. She worked to find a job; I thrived on my new Ed path. I received my teaching license, and she worked as an after school program coordinator helping students get the support they needed. She was great, but wanted more. We started our family; I accepted my first teaching position. 

Our first kiddo was born, and she still worked. I taught and took a class here or there to complete my masters. Money was tight, but it didn’t need to be... debts had piled for school... moving.. life.. She followed her heart and started her photo business. First born wasn’t a fan of sleeping. He was sensitive to so many things. We were exhausted; I taught and went to night class. She carried, soothed, fed, built her business, and researched everything to help our boy. 

Tragedy.. we traveled 3 times to say goodbye to loved ones back in Chicago.. through sorrow grew hope; our fist baby girl. Her small business continued to grow. I change schools, but haven’t finished my masters.

We took a vacation. Life was great. Then more sorrow. So unexpected to not even get to say goodbye.  Rattled, we moved forward and planned a path to grow our family through adoption. Over a year later having shifted our plans, we have our twins. Money was tight, adoption expenses were high, but we did fund raisers.. it’ll be ok.

I finished and defended my masters project. Our 4 kiddos were great. Business was growing. But the school district was suffering. Pink slips and low moral. I began to feel like I was done. I looked for a new opportunity; we tried for another baby. It happened altogether a new opportunity and our new pregnancy. We moved from AK to WA.. the house didn’t sell, pregnancy was tricky, stress was rediculous. Healthy baby was born. Debts grew.. more moves for homes and a new school.. restarting a business.. 

Ambitious? I hold onto that, but maybe it was all just crazy. The fact that I’ve done it all with the same person at my side it just amazing. Of course we’ve argued, cried, said terrible things, thrown things, and I’ve slept on the couch a couple of times. But maybe that’s just what ambition is sometimes. It’s pushing yourself and your partner out of comfort zones to cause conflict that you then have to work through together. And I can tell you honestly that there was plenty of conflict through all of the “ambition” we’ve lived through, and some of it was down right aweful... but there is no other person in the world that I would have rather grown this life with than her. We continue to build our family on ambition and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.. but for the record, there will be no more actual moving! We’re staying put here.

*Side note: this week our oldest turns 12 marking the anniversary of my lovely wife becoming the greatest mom in the world. Happy BIRTH day!

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Teacher Dad’s Friday Favorites

I’m excited to introduce my new weekly segment called “The Teacher Dad’s Friday Favorites.” Each Friday I’m going to feature something that I find to be a “go-to” for me as a teacher and/or as a dad. This could be a thing, or a place, or a thing at a place.... whatever I want to share each week. My hope is to introduce you to a something new that you might find just as interesting or helpful. It will also be a way to give a glimpse into my life as a teacher and father of 5.

The first thing I want to share has truly been a game changer for my family. Imagine the fun of being a dad and taking 5 kids grocery shopping. The fights about who stands on which part of the cart, or who the better helper is, or the common “are we done yet?” Buffered by the irritating “oh, don’t you have your hands full” and “some one’s in the dog house having to take the kids to the store.” The awkward fake laugh reply pails in comparison to the commenter’s own belly chuckle at there own poor sense of humor.

Natuarally, any chance I got to do the shopping at night or without my kiddos was one that I took. Then my glorious wife (yes she reads the blog.. hey honey) suggested that we try Fred Meyer’s ClickList. It’s wonderful. Plain and simple they do the shopping for you, walk it to your vehicle, load it and you drive away. Yes you have to pay, but it seriosuly takes you all of 10 min to drive up, get your groceries, and leave.

How it works:
1) Download the Fred Meyer App and link it to your Rewards card.
2) Set your favorite store location
3) Start shopping for your normal items. Leave a description of what you look for when picking
    things like produce or meat.
4) Check for digital coupons to save more money.
5) Check out and set your time for pick up.

Any items you order that they don’t have available will be substituted with a similar item if you permit it when you place your order. There are certain items I don’t do this for like our favorite tea, salad dressing, and laundry cleaners. But for most others this works just fine. The best part is that you pay whatever the best price is between what you ordered and the substituted item. For example, I always order the Fred Meyer brand almond milk, but when it’s substitued with a name brand we pay the cheaper price of the Fred Meyer brand.

I can’t ever envision going back to shopping the old way again. I hope wherever you are that you can use Fred Meyer’s ClickList or some version of it. It’s truly a game changer.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Teacher Dad: How to navigate the political landscape in your classroom.

The political landscape today is tough for educators to navigate. We feel restrained by the truth that public school teachers are NOT to be vessels for political messages. We are encouraged to stick to content, and only bring up current events if applicable to what is already planned for the classroom. As a math teacher, I see how easy it can be for teachers to stick to curriculum avoiding conversations that could ruffle the feathers of students and their parents. There is always a little voice in the back of my head reminding me that I have to toe-the-line when it comes to voicing my own opinions regarding world politics.

However, there is another voice that screams the truth.. "I became a teacher to be a positive role model to the kids in my classes!" Because, in my mind, my ultimate goal each day to be a positive force for my students. My entire philosophy of education rests on building relationships with students by creating the trusting atmosphere students need to take academic chances. If they feel safe with their classmates in the learning environment that I'm in charge of, then they will be willing to open themselves to the mistakes needed to learn.

I'm good at this. My students trust me, and feel safe.. But now the world they look to outside of the school walls feels crazy to them. And who do they come to?.. I feel like I led you to the answer, but if you missed it.. they come to me or their trusted teachers. But we're trapped in the expectations of what a teacher should be.. and it isn't a person that talks politics with the students.

However.. I'm a smart guy, so I'd like to share with you the 3 ways you can deliver a positive message of acceptance, safety, and hope to the students without crossing that political line us teachers are advised not to cross.

1) Fairness: This may seem like a no-brainer to the best of us, but holy hell there are plenty of teachers that are simply not fair within their classrooms. At this point, it is vital that teachers display fairness to all students in every class each day. I make it a mission to discuss fairness with the students regarding decisions I make on how I grade things, how I accept late work, when I'm available for additional help, AND in maintaining order in the class. Every kiddo is treated the same respectful way, because that is the right way, NO the only way to handle things. In doing so, I'm demonstrating just how safe my classroom is for each person. That everyone is allowed the same opportunity for success, and that if someone is struggling it's up to us all to help. Because that is what fairness is. Helping others won't take away or hurt your grade. You'll still get that A, but now someone else has a chance for an A too... because you helped.

2) Creativity: This one is a little tougher at times, but work to find ways that the students can express themselves within the content area. Find ways the students can write more stories, do more art, make a song, write a play.. something that can get their creativity working. Especially in math class! Get them doing problems where they need to create something. Instead of a quiz one week, have them express their knowledge in a creative way. How can they show me they understand a concept by using an artistic form? This is an amazing way to shift the playing field for some of the students. Suddenly, those great quiz takers are having to re-think things and see their classmates in a different way. The artists thrive in getting to be the lead in a project that showcases their talents and highlights a different way to understand the math we're doing in the class. It's important to shift the lens sometimes, and finding ways to build creativity makes that happen.

3) Exploration: I've changed my teaching style over the years. I was once the typical direct instructor, but that doesn't really get the students to think. We need thinkers, problem solvers, and team players right now. With that in mind, my classes are asked to work in table teams to explore the new content together in place of me rambling on for 40 minutes. I create a set of problems that the students start with guiding them to understand the material. For example, when it came to solving systems of linear equations, they quickly learned that finding the point where two lines cross is easy with a given graph. But what if they had to find that point without a graph? What would they do? The table teams created their own methods. They figured it out using what knowledge they already had, and then problem solved. I KNOW.. right?! How cool. And yes, they figured out substitution, and then I blew their minds when I showed them elimination! But they were pumped to have done it on their own first! They critically thought out how to solve a problem together. They didn't just take what I gave them, and vomit it back on a page for me. They owned the problem and solved it!

Those three things are the backbone to bringing the positive, inclusive atmosphere students deserve in every classroom. Other important things to consider would be to find ways to have the students analyzing graphs and working in understanding data manipulations. Help them investigate how changing the scale used on a graph can warp the reality the data is showing. Create historical math problems, or better yet, put together an entire project on the Electoral College... I had one once. I put it together a made up election between Spongebob, and Shrek. I have to find that and update it...

Ultimately, own your classroom, and make it a safe place for everyone to take chances. Your classroom should reflect all of the best things you want for this world. I do all that I can to model what life should be like when my student leave. And, I encourage you to focus on the same, because that is what our students deserve.

Please use the comments section to share a story about a teacher that was your positive world influence. The teacher that you knew was working to make things better by simply being fair, creative, and exploratory with your learning.  And please share this post with your teacher friends. We're all in this together, and someone might need that reminder. Thank you!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

There is no quick-fix for public education

I'm going to come right out and say it.. yes, I'm a teacher.. I'm sure the name of the blog gave it away only subtly. But I need you to know, I'm not writing this to bash our new President's pick for Sec. of Ed. You can find, and have probably already read plenty of stories, blogs, and posts about her.

Instead, I'd like to take the time to agree that our current system of education is not great. It's not the best for all students across this great country of ours. I know that there are plenty of people that struggle every day sending their kids to the local public school. It might be the teachers, the administrators, other kids, home life, educational programs, or a multitude of other possibilities. My wife and I have struggled at times sending our kids to the local public school for our own reasons. We've wished for other alternatives, and then we've gone out to find them.

But, we've had the ability to do that. We've been able to move, make long drives, and take financial chances to find the right educational environment for our kids. It's not been easy. In fact there have been countless arguments, and nights where we've cried ourselves to sleep wondering why it has to be so hard. And I'll admit that we have it better than most, but we are not even middle class. Lower middle? ..probably. It's still been a struggle.

I bring this up, because I agree that creating educational options for kids is very important. But vouchers isn't the route to take. Good to great schools are limited in space regardless on whether you have a voucher or not. Parents wanting to use a voucher will be limited in ability to get their students to out-of-district schools. And honestly, how will the government oversee the fairness of this voucher program nationwide?

I just know that it's another "All-In" option with the hope of a quick fix. But, there isn't a quick fix option for the issues surrounding public education. The problem isn't common core or standardized testing. It isn't school funding, teacher unions, or unqualified teachers. In fact, all of these educational hot topics distract from what is really damaging public education. And that's fear.

People are afraid. Parents, students, teachers, administrators, anyone that is in contact with education in any way is afraid. The best schools are the ones that have been able to squash the fear. The kids feel safe being there. The parents feel safe knowing the kids are getting fair learning opportunities. The teachers feel safe knowing that they are respected for the professionals that they are. And the Admins feel safe, knowing that they get to work in a place of trust within the community. At these schools, learning is about the growth of each student intellectually and civically through investigative projects and group work that is led of the natural inquisitive qualities of kids. And it's all possible because they aren't afraid to take educational chances.

These schools are rare, and are commonly found in communities that are generally wealthy. It's in these communities that people don't have to worry about income, health care, or the everyday safety of their children just walking to school. They are living a life we should call middle class. A life that the service industry in our country doesn't provide even at 60 hours a week.

What is wrong with our public education system has more to do with the national social injustice against those that live in our least financially stable communities than it does with Common Core or unions. We need a Sec. of Ed. that is willing to speak loudly to the need of more governmental support for the families that can barely take care of themselves, or are struggling to simply get by while the adults in the house work multiple jobs.

Now, before you step away from this post thinking I'm about to go on some liberal tirad, please understand that I've voted along both party lines in my life. I have relied on state aid with a college degree, and family to support. I've taught in a school where kids lived each day not knowing what they would eat or where they would sleep. I grew up in suburban comfort with a CFO papa and stay at home mom. I've worked in sales and management on an hourly wage busting my butt to make it ahead. I've walked away from jobs and into stints in newspaper delivery and waiting tables all with a college degree. I see the drive and hustle of the adult students in my college night class that I teach. I've seen all sides of struggle, and the hard work it takes to raise a family as best you can.

And what I've learned is that if we stripped away the struggle and fear of having to simply survive, our schools would be amazing places of safety and inquisitive discovery that allow all kids the chance to learn. If
we treated the population of our GREAT country with kindness and understanding, then our schools will be more open for all types of learning potential. But, if we continue to keep populations of our country living in suffering poverty, or in a drowning middle class then all types of education suffers, because the fear and blame will continue to spread. WE will continue to look for quick fixes that have no impact on the overall improvement in making all schools better. Our problem is a societal problem that our elected governing officials need to want to help fix. When we work together to remove some of the burden throughout our country, then education will improve. Vouchers aren't the answer. Destroying common core isn't the answer. Taking care of the people of the country is the answer. When we all get back to living comfortable lives, then we will see education excellence return to the core of our nation. This is what our Sec. of Education has to preach to our President, members of Congress, and the Senate.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Finding the positive

I'm not going to write a post highlighting the crap of 2016. I don't need to, because we all have our own pains from this year. We don't need this post to rehash more of those feelings that we can simply find in watching a news broadcast or in reading the headlines of any news source. 

So, I want to talk about a highlight of mine that I keep coming back to that needs to be shared. I have the privilege of working as a teacher to over 100 students a year. That means in the last 12 years I've at least touched the lives of 1200 different people. That means there are 1200 individuals with whom I've had the honor to share life experiences. My goal each year is to make those as positive as I can, so that I can do my part in shaping the world in which my family and I live. And I know that I have my good moments when I get the thank you notes, or the after school drop-in visits, or the facebook friend requests to let me know that I'm having the positive influence I strive to have for my students. 

The crazy part is that too often I have focused on my role as a force of positive energy for my students that I failed to open myself to all that I can learn from them. There are so many stories of strength, bravery, and inspiration that run through the lives of my students that in the hecticness of a school setting they don't get to share, because I simply don't give them the opportunity to do so in my math class. 

But on this one day about a month ago, I stopped a student (we'll call him Joe) at the start of class to ask him a question. I had grown curious to understand the story behind his relationship with a student that is part of our intensive resource program. This student has figured out Joe's schedule, and used the passing period to wait for Joe outside my room. My other students all say to the boy using his name, and giving him hi-fives...which is already awesome. But Joe gives the boy a hug each time, and spends a minute talking with him, before making sure he gets back to his class. 

After their exchange this one day, I asked Joe how he knows the student. There are always moments where I'm prepared for an answer, but I didn't see his coming. Our exchagne went as such:

Joe: Mr. Mach, he's good friends with my brother. My brother has down syndrome as well, and he comes over to our house to hang out.
Me: Oh. So, does your brother go here too? 
Joe: No, he will next year. He's in 8th grade now. 
Me: Are you excited to have him here in school with you next year?
Joe: Well.. <hesitating> No. I really don't like what they do here. It actually makes me very upset to see how they treat the students in the program. They are so much better than trash collectors. They're treated like they can't do anything. Sure it's good that they learn life skills. They need those. I know that. But, my brother didn't even know consonants and vowels, Mr. Mach. I taught him those in 15 minutes. He knows the difference now, because of me. Not the schools. They deserve so much better. 
Me: Wow. I really appreciate how passionate you are with this.. are you thinking of pursuing a career in this?
Joe: I know that I could do a better job right now. But, yeah. I really believe in these kids, and I know that I can be a voice for them that they need. 

 The conversation wrapped up shortly after that, and I did all I could to hold in the tears of pride and appreciation I had for Joe in that moment. As I mentioned above, I've worked with so many kids at this point, and I have 5 of my own.. and it's that passion I heard in his voice that all kids deserve from the adults around them. It's that drive for positive improvement I found echoing through all he was saying that pushed me to see that we're all okay. While we want to hear, and believe that the kids these days are not as connected to the world around them, I see examples like the one with Joe that prove that kids these days are just as remarkable as we need them to be. So, I'm ready for 2017 knowing that we will get through all that is thrown at us. 

Please help shine the light on the positive by sharing this uplifting story as well as one from your year. 

Thank you all of being a part of my Teacher Dad world and cheers to a safe, productive, and family centered 2017!  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How do you life?

I gave a test to my geometry students last week. The first test since election day. And much like all test days, I asked the kiddos if they had any last minute questions, reminding them, a) Yes, they have to take it, and b) No, I won't give them the answers.

I do this before every test, because I know there is that one kid who will finally ask the question that he's been meaning to ask for days, but just hasn't done it. I always answer the question even if it means that some kids won't finish the test during the class period.. more time can be found. I want the student to know that it was ok to ask the question, and that I was there to answer it. It's an opportunity to build trust with that student, so maybe next time he won't wait to the last minute.

Anxiety was high for this test, so I fielded several questions in each of my classes. Business as normal really. But then in my 6th period class (last of the day) after answering a question on incenter, and another on constructing altitude, one of my students raises his hand with one of those smiles on his face that is telling me
that he thinks he's about to be funny. I call on him, and he throws out, "Mr. Mach, how do you life?"

The class reacted with a mix of laughter, annoyance (several students just wanted to take the test), and paused reflection. It would have been easy for me to write it off, and tell the kid to cut it out, but under the circumstances of the last 2 weeks, I decided to answer the question as seriously as possible. What came out was similar to this:
How do I life? Well, I make sure that I wake up every morning with the best attitude that I can. I wake up focused on being the best version of myself that I can be each day, because in being the best version of myself I might inspire others to do the same. I life by treating people the way that I would want my kids to be treated or my grandma to be treated. I wake up knowing that if I'm honest, kind, and hard working that good things can happen around me. Because I don't know what type of day or back story those around me are having. I can only control what I bring to each day, and I life by bringing the best day that I can for me, my family, and all of you. So, that's how life. I own it. I don't blame others, and I accept people for who they are by celebrating the wonderful differences between us. Now, remove everything from your desks except a pencil, compass, and straightedge. And let's make this happen! 
My message to the class had impact that day. The student that asked the question has a tough time with school. Life isn't the easiest for this kiddo, and in that moment I said something that connected. For the first time all year, he asked questions during the test to better understand what needed to be done. He showed resolve that I'd not seen in him before. He was serious about his work, and for the first time in a long time, he cared about doing well.

I take my job seriously. Not because I LOVE math, but because I get to work with kids all day. I get to know that for a few of these kids each year, I get to be what Mr. Wyman, Coach P, Mrs. Kolder, Mrs. Nyquist, Ms. Belzer, Ms. Anderson, and plenty of others were for me.. role models. Because in my life, school is a place to grow as a person. School is a place to learn about how to be a member of society from those adults around you. I look at school as a place where compromise, listening, compassion, and
understanding are the root of success, because these things foster the trust and comfort allowed for free thought and creative thinking. School is NOT for rigid rules that create people fearful of thinking out of the box, or in thinking only what they are told to think.

There are too many schools that rule through authority, and create a level of fear that stymy the free thought needed to move our country forward. It is the responsibility of our public education system to change from our old traditions by learning to foster an environment that allows comfort for students to take chances, to learn trust and respect others out of appreciation for our individual thought and creativity.

This is an important time for teachers to work beyond the stress of regulation, standards, and evaluations. We need to see through the burden of what legislators have put on us, and in many cases, what administrators allow to fall on our shoulders. This is a time that requires us to create the safe space students deserve to be in while at school. We are the drivers of change, and the models of character that some students need.

This is a time for us to answer each question the students throw at us, and more than anything, a time to show them how to life.