Thursday, November 28, 2013

Very Thankful for Family

Today is Thanksgiving, and well, I didn't turn my alarm off last night, so I'm up early with a quiet house.. might as well write a post I've been trying to frame all month! :)

November is a month dedicated to a lot of things. There is the obvious Thanksgiving connection with plenty of your friends posting a daily thankful post on Facebook. For me, I'm most thankful for my wife and 4 kids. They're amazing, and throw me through a wide range of emotions and levels of exhaustion each and every day that make me a better husband, father, and teacher with each minute I spend with them. I love it!

November is also the "awareness" month for diabetes, epilepsy, and healthy skin to name 3 of 14 that I was able to track down. Out of those 14 there is one that stands closest to my heart, Adoption Awareness Month.

As I mentioned before, my wife and I have four beautiful children together, half of which came to us through adoption. I'm pretty sure you would be able to recognize which two they are, as they don't necessarily have the same skin tone as my wife or I, but then really none of my kids share the same skin tone. In fact, when you do look at us, we are a unique hodge-podge of personalities, hair colors/type, and attitudes. We are quite the head turners when we go out. I call us a parade of crazy as we thunder through stores! :)

People are always stopping us to say how beautiful our family is. And they are.. My family. There is no doubt in my mind that the four kids that I tuck in every night are mine. I'm equally their father, and I love them of each so very much. My heart couldn't be any more full with gratitude for the fact that I have each of them. Each a miracle.

Creating a family is difficult in so many ways. There are many factors that are out of your control in just having a child to start with: getting pregnant, finding an adoption match, or working through the foster care system are all things that require outside forces (whatever you would like to call them) that you simply have to wait and hope for. And then, when Baby arrives the parenting journey doesn't just get easier. All of the worry and hope you had leading up to the baby being born continues each day as you work hard to parent your child to becoming a competent, strong member of our society. It's overwhelming at times. But the magic of life that my kids bring to me each day is just phenomenal!

Since going through our adoption, I feel like my wife and I have become the go-to advocates for our friends and family. We love talking with parents that are interested in following our path, and we've been thrilled to watch others create/add to their family using our attorney/agency. So as to not make this an extremely long post (my kids are waking up now wanting some breakfast), I'm going to highlight a few of the key learning points you should know about adoption:

1) My kids weren't "given up" for adoption. Asking adoptive parents why the kids were "given up" isn't the best approach. An adoption plan was made, and in the end, that plan is for my wife, my kids, and I to know. Ultimately, you have to squash that curiosity until the family is at a place that they are comfortable in sharing such information with you. And, sorry, but that might be... never.. :)

2) Yes, they're mine. The one question I'm asked the most is "Are they yours?" Now, I understand that my crew and I look unusual. I can see all of the questions that cross people's minds as we walk by, and because we are that "odd," filters are thrown out the window and we get "are they yours?" My fun response is, "Shh, no! I found these two a couple aisles over, but don't tell!" That one doesn't go over that well.. go figure! :) So, I would advise to instead say, "you have a beautiful family." Yup.. that's it. Because if the kids aren't all mine, that's the point I would say, "oh no, I'm just watching these two." See.. much better. Assuming that we are a family, actually makes things less awkward.

3) Introducing your friend's kids with the descriptor, "and these are their adopted kids" isn't necessary. It kinda gives the feeling of a sideshow. "Look! These kids are different!" My kids are simply my kids. I wouldn't think to introduce your kids with, "and this one was born vaginally, while the other two here are C-section babies.. neat, huh?!" A little weird, right? So, let the adoption talk be handled by the parents. It makes things a little smoother.

4) If you see a family that appears to have children that are adopted, walking up and saying, "they're adopted, right?" as though you just solved some mystery to win a prize is actually quite annoying. Whether they are or not, is simply not important. The fact that they are a family is all that matters. Even if you have adopted, and you are just trying to make a connection the blunt approach can be awkward. Again, I have gone with, "your family is beautiful, it reminds me of my family." See? Opening the door to show that "hey what you have going on here, is similar to me." Better, right?.. yes! :)

Ok.. my kids are starving, so I'm going to leave you with those 4 tidbits. I'd love to hear more suggestions or even field any questions that you may have. Please leave a comment below, and share the post if you'd like. Thanks for reading this, and HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Seriously, what's my motivation?!

You may not have known this, but I spent my four years of college life studying for a degree in business. Out of college, I worked in customer service, sales, and management before realizing my calling as an educator. With the loving support of my wife, I made the career shift and here I am now. The hardest part of it all? Wasn't working with the kids, lesson planning, or having to go back to school to get a masters. No.. in the end all of that was fine. The hardest part for me has been transitioning into a very different way of approaching work.

I spent my childhood watching my dad bust his butt in corporate America, and work his way up to executive positions. He was professional, trustworthy, and driven. Those qualities led to his success. I saw that, and lived by that out of college becoming an assistant manager of an Enterprise Rent-A-Car office just after a 1 year with the company. I work hard, I have a great attitude, and I strive to be the best. Promotions and raises followed in each of the positions I held before going back to become a teacher. So the challenge has been finding the driving, motivating force each year to become an even better teacher.

I get the idealistic concept of getting better for "the children." Sure. But isn't that why I got into the profession in the first place? Of course I work for the students each year. I give everything I have to motivate and inspire my students to be dedicated learners. I exhaust myself to the point that I'm not my best in my own home sometimes. And with each year I give my all, I have to find/create ways to motivate myself into the next year. And for a driven person a new motivation will be found, but for those teachers that aren't... well don't we see so many grumpy teachers doing the same thing EACH and EVERY year?

Now, please understand that I'm not tying this all to $$. I don't necessarily think that providing incentives in the form of money always leads to the most positive things. I mean just take a look at how corrupt corporate America can be when incentives are solely $$ based. We don't need that kind of drama in our schools.. we have plenty already! But I do think that there are creative ways to encourage/motivate teachers to continue to bring new ideas and energy year to year. For example, give those teachers that are leading the way opportunities to lead professional development. Give them a voice, and an opportunity to feel their value in front of teaching peers. Or what if positive performance evaluations could lead to supplemented teacher education. I know that I'd love to be working toward having an ED Leadership Degree paid for, instead of having to fork over $5K to $8k for a promotion into an Admin position. Yeah, us teachers have to pay more $ for the opportunity to move into an Assistant Principal or Principal position.

At this point, I'm thankful to have a drive to success that was handed down to me by my parents. I strive to be the best, and when I thought I had reached that I started to get negative about the profession.  It was hard to work to be even better when I felt I was already at a level beyond a lot of teachers around me. Then I found out, I wasn't even close. I reached out with technology and found a base of teachers and administrators that have further inspired me. This inspiration has led to new changes in my classroom that I know continue to set me apart from my peers. And, these connections continue to help motivate me to step further down the path to Education Leadership. I see so many changes/challenges coming to education, and I want to meet those head on!

So, for me, I'll always find a way to become better because that is simply my nature. I want to be the best, because I want my students to be the best. And when I felt exhausted, I reached out to find others like me to help build me up to keep going. But how do we inspire those teachers that don't have that drive? The ones that are not changing and growing as professionals? The ones that aren't looking for their motivation?

I'd love to hear some suggestions, so please comment below. Tell me what you'd like to see school districts/communities do to further encourage/motivate teachers to strive to be better. Or tell me, how you find inspiration to be better year to year.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

It was just a game

Updated: I recently shared this post with my high school soccer coach (Mr. P). We both couldn't believe that 20 years has passed since this game. He also couldn't believe how much I remembered! I guess it shows just how impactful of an experience it was for me. It's most difficult to look back on now as a father of 5, knowing that the families of the 7 kids that were killed in the accident have been without them for so long. Truly unfair for them. So today, my thoughts and prayers to go the families. Because really, it was just a game.. 
Coverage of the 20th anniversary of the tragedy can be seen, here.  

Today marks the 20 year anniversary of a day that I'll never forget, and probably was one of the most life changing events in my teenage life. It's taken me a long time to process how exactly the events of the day changed me. And in many ways, I feel this day has helped to define me as the husband, parent, and teacher that I am today.

Twenty, years ago I was a senior in high school. I'm pretty sure I was defined in life as a soccer player. That's what I was best at. I was on a path to play soccer in college, and I'm sure that there would be some (hi, Mom & Dad) that would argue that there was a path to even play pro-soccer. It was my life.

I was varsity Co-captain of the team that year. We were loaded with great talent, and our goal was the state championship. The path was clear, and our regular season showed that we were definitely contenders. As we entered the playoffs, our confidence was very high. We won a couple of games, and we were excited to be heading into the sectional championship game against a high school we knew we would roll over.

And then tragedy struck. The day before the game a bus load of students heading to our competitor's school stopped on some train tracks, and was hit by a train. I can't remember the numbers, but there was a death toll. It was overwhelming the emotions that I went through. There were friends and siblings of the soccer players on that bus. I remember talking with a few teammates about our hope that the game would be postponed... It wasn't.

The day of the game, school took forever. I'm pretty sure I didn't learn a thing that day. I was numb trying to mentally prepare. I don't remember the bus ride other than we all signed a soccer ball showing our sympathy to the school and the students. We tried warming up as normal, but the stadium was packed. Camera crews were there to cover the game, and none of us had experienced anything like that.

We presented the ball to the other team, stood silently through the National Anthem, and the game started. It was obvious that we were the better team. We controlled the game, but we couldn't seem to finish anything. The first half was highlighted by my header off of the post on a corner kick. We entered the second half tied at zero.

The second half was marred with more missed opportunities. And then one of our teammates knocked out one of theirs while challenging for a header. The sight of the player motionless on the ground with an Ambulance on the field sent chills through everyone. It didn't help that our teammate taunted them by something along the lines of, "that's right, we took another one out." .... yup, sums up how this was going to end for our team.

Play resumed, but stayed scoreless through regulation and overtime. The fate of the game was going to be determined by penalty kicks. Our coached asked who wanted to go... I raised my hand feeling that as captain I needed to... I was to kick 4th.

I have no idea who shot before me, but I do know that I needed to make my shot to give our team a chance. I placed the ball. Took my few steps back. I remember the silence. So many people. So quiet. The whistle blew, and I hit the ball in the same place as I had been practicing for weeks. CLANG... this time I hit it off the post. I don't remember crying at that point. No. It was after the next player made his penalty shot winning it for his team, that I fell to the ground. I was spent. I believed I had lost the game for my team. The tears flowed. I knew my teammates would blame me. I blamed me.

But in that moment, my coach came to my side. He picked me up and looked me in the eyes and said:

This is just a game. Kids died yesterday, and this is just a game.

He was right, so very right. I stood up and congratulated the other team. I remember trying to keep it together on the bus ride. I remember having to do some homework when I got home. I also remember, that my passion for soccer left me that day. It was a tough way to learn that lesson that there is so much more to life than silly games. But for me, I had been defined by that game for my whole life. I was "that soccer player-guy." I had nothing else. 

I didn't know how to manage the feelings I was going through, and I don't think anyone truly understood where I was at that point. After months of grappling with my emotions, I eventually left my comp team as I couldn't handle the constant push to always have to be at the complex working out even after practices and games. My drive was crushed after that 1 game. I chose to not play in college, but enjoyed playing intramural sports with my fraternity. Even those games got overwhelming for me at times. 

In the end, I know that this one event opened my eyes on how I wanted to live my life as a husband, father, and teacher. I approach each day loving the life that I have, and taking as much time to appreciate everyone around me. Does that mean that at times I choose laughing and playing in place of getting something done around the house or at work? Sure. And I know that in doing so, the people in my life are better for it.  I also know how single events in a child's life can stay with them and change them. And I spend more time paying attention to who my own kids are, and who my students are so that I can be there to help them when/if moments like this touch their lives. I want to be to them what my coach was for me in that moment: a role model.  

Thanks for reading this. Choose to have a great day, because you can. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

To play (sports), or not to play (sports)

I listen to ESPN radio in the mornings. I'm a dad. It's something that I simply have to do at this point in life. I can tell you the exact point I started listening too. I was flipping around AM radio back in
the summer of 2006 (shortly after my first was born) looking for anything about the World Cup that was currently being played in Germany. I finally get to ESPN radio, and this jerk, Colin Cowherd, is slamming American soccer saying that the absolute best American athletes play football or basketball and not soccer, so we'll never truly compete in the sport when the best athletes of other countries Do play soccer! I was furious! I'm a soccer player! I was a great athlete, and by the end of the show... I totally agreed with him, and I listen to the guy everyday.. Love the guy! (Excerpt of his show is below)

Colin talking about US beating Spain and his description of soccer players/fans. BTW: I'm 6'1" .. :) Classic! 

Which brings me to the now. This past week, Uncle Colin (as he refers to himself) was explaining why his kids won't play travel or comp sports. His feeling is that the time that would go to playing on a comp team would pull away from family time, and he wants the time with his kids to be spent traveling and experiencing things with them as a family. I totally get that. But I'm going to come at it from a different perspective.

Yup.. that's me! Maybe 13 or 14 years old.
I played travel soccer since maybe the 4th or 5th grade. By the time I was in middle school, the commitment was extreme. Not only time wise, but also financially on my parents. Now, as a kid I was pretty shy, and confidence wasn't a friend. I worked hard, and listened to my coaches, and I became a pretty good soccer player. My team won the state comp tournament several times. We traveled to some of the best tournaments in the country, and by the time I was in high school, my entire team and coach became part of a club in the Chicago area that became one of the best in the country (Sockers F.C.).

And through it all, I was wiped. The intensity that came with being a comp athlete is difficult, and doesn't always bring with it the down time I feel kids should have. At one point in high school, I was playing 5 days a week (practicing three and games two). Throw on that my commitment to my school work, and a desire to fit in with some semblance of a social life and I simply felt exhausted and trapped. The fun of playing my favorite sport was gone, and shortly after my 18th birthday, I walked away.

So, now as a parent, I use the experience I had as the basis for my thoughts on youth sports. First off, my kids aren't playing organized sports before the age of 5. And when they do, it'll be limited. Part of the problem that I see with youth soccer, for example, is that we get kids wrapped up into structured play so early that the creativity and fun is pulled. At the elementary ages, games are to be fun and youthful, and not at a level that brings stress to those involved (including parents). This is the age we have to build the love and enjoyment of the game.

Second, my kids will play comp sports (or sports in general) when THEY want to, not because I want them to. This is not a slam against my own parents. They knew I was a good athlete, so they wanted me to compete at a level they knew was best. But, the decision wasn't alway mine. I will forever thank them for the opportunities they provided, because I'm a better person from them. But when I see 6 year olds in full pads on the football field I have to wonder if that is the kid wanting that or the parent? For me, I don't see a need for comp sports before middle school. I'm all for a fun Rec. experience for these kiddos, but when the target becomes WIN at ALL costs for an 8 year old, maybe the wrong message is being sent?

And third, I'll be all for the comp experience when my kids show they're ready personality wise. Those that thrive in the comp atmosphere do so because of the attitude that they bring each day. The love of the game drives them to a determination to succeed that makes every training and game not work, but life. When they show a love for it that goes beyond just hanging out with buddies, but to a desire to create an opportunity for themselves in college and beyond then I'm in. And I'll go to the corners of the world to make it happen. But as soon as it become a chore for us all to "make" the kid even go to practice, then it's time to scale back and rethink the commitment.

In the end, I truly hope that one of my four kids builds a love and passion for a sport that draws them in to wanting a comp experience. I, to this day, love soccer. I dream about getting back on the field. About heading a corner into the back of the net again. It was a huge, defining part of my life, but it became something that drained me to the core and in a way left me broken. So, while I'd love to have a kiddo play, I will never push it on them. I want their childhood to be about them, and their dreams. And if that means sports doesn't become a part of it, then I'm ok with it. And that's that.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

I found my peeps! And they're digital!

The other day while I was out and about, I ran into a gentleman who stopped to admire my family. This happens a lot. There is something remarkable about a dad shopping with his four kids that just makes people want to stop us and chat. Anyway, he mentioned that he was a retired teacher and had moved up here to be closer to his grandkids. When I mentioned that I was a teacher, he simply shook his head, and said, "I could never teach now-a-days. All of the fuss over teachers and evaluations. All of the tests the kids have to take. No way I'd take that!"

I have to admit, I didn't know much what to say to him. Thankfully, my kids made a turn toward squirelly-ville and I walked away reflecting on his statement. The truth is, I connected to what he said. I've spent the last 2 summers working hard to leave teaching to find an opportunity to get back into the business world. I've interviewed for positions in finance, real estate, and marketing.

But, for me, it wasn't trying to leave because of the current demands on teachers, like this gentleman was describing. No, that stuff I don't mind. If you're good at what you do, you'll meet the demands with passion and energy. Instead, my reasons were due to the complete and total isolation I felt as a teacher. As a man in my young 30s with 4 kids teaching the way that I do ("Info-Taining" - credit @Kevin Honeycutt) I looked around my building and the district and I didn't see anyone like me. Maybe they're out there, but the time to collaborate and gain inspiration from other teachers was not available. I was drifting, and I began to realize that I needed to find some connections, and inspiration.

Then late in this past summer a fraternity brother, and fellow teacher jumped onto Twitter. We started following each other, and I began to see his feed fill with members of his teacher community. I started following a few of them myself, and I realized that maybe there were more out there like me than I realized. I began connecting with some of the bigger names in the field and drawing inspiration from what they were doing and saying about education. These connections began to fill me up, and get my creative energies working again. I have the energy inside to meet what the new Common Core based state standards are expecting of me and my students.

What I've learned over the last 6 weeks has been that regardless of your profession, you need to have a community of support. For me, I found that my community of peeps are digital, and I'm alright with that! :)

Monday, September 30, 2013

My "flipping" classroom

I've been seeing a lot of talk lately (twitter) about "flipping" the classroom. What it boils down to is increasing teacher/student working interaction by using classroom time as "homework" time and home for the instruction time. The teacher provides instructional material through the use of video, audio, or other for the students to take in on their own time outside of school. The result is class time used for more direct, teacher guided practice and projects done during the school day. This drives away the possibility of students struggling to pass a class because of homework since it's done under the supervision and support of the teacher. Sounds pretty good, huh?

Well, I have to be honest, I've been doing my own version of this for several years now. I created a blog that I post mini-lessons to. These lessons are a quick 5-6 minute re-teach of the day's lesson. I use my document camera to take a single take of the lesson. I then upload it to YouTube, and pop it on my blog. (take a look here). The kids and the parents (especially the parents) love it. It's a great way to keep up with the class, and to see how I'm teaching the material.

The trouble I'm finding is that up here in Fairbanks, there are sill quite a few families that don't have internet. That may be simply because they live so far out of town there isn't service available, or maybe they can't afford it, or maybe they think the internet is The Government's way of keeping track of you (a more real fear up here than you might think). In the end, there is still a strong percentage of kiddos that don't have the internet for me to expect them to watch my lessons at home.

Truth be told, I have a tough time expecting my students to have any homework done whether that is watching one of my videos from my blog or the traditional homework assignment. What that means is that I have to use my class time for observable practice. I make it my goal to see as many problems each of my students does in my class each day. I need to see with my own eyes how all 120+ of my kiddos are doing when they are right in front of me. I can't expect parents to be helping, or for them to be doing the work diligently at home. I have to instead anticipate the fact that I have no idea what home life is like for my crew of students, so it's on me to teach them while they're right there in front of me. And if I can see them do the examples on their own, or with the help of a neighbor, then I know that for the "now" they get it.

Now, do I still assign homework? Sure. Math is a skill that needs to be practiced, and a strong majority of my kids find the time to do that work for a little bit of credit (5pts/assignment). But I find ways to still help the kiddos that simply can't get any type of homework done. I do this because I believe my job is about assessing what the kids know, and not on whether they can do homework. So for example, I can take the performance shown on a quiz and extend that documented knowledge toward a homework score. And then when/if that assignment does get finished, I can replace it with a new score, because I will take any assignment late as long as it's turned in before the end of the quarter it was assigned.

In the end, I do provide my lessons to the students out on the www, but what I've learned about "flipping" my classroom has more to do with me striving to effectively teach, and assess my students while they are right there in front of me, and less about expecting them to accomplish anything at home... even if that thing is watching their favorite math teacher teach! :)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

They'll learn, just be the role model they need.

I recently saw a post on a LinkedIn group page asking "Have you ever met a student that didn't want to learn?" I ignored clicking on the discussion for several days... I wasn't ready to read the disappointment that I knew would follow such a question. It's not that I'm cynical in regards to teachers (I am one!), it's just that I know there are a lot teachers out there that are simply getting a paycheck. That aren't in the profession for the kids, and show no understanding to what the outside world might look like for them.

I've seen so many crazy things in my 8 years of teaching in Fairbanks. The hard conditions translate to harsh realities for many people (adults and kids) up here when temps can get so low that they become life threatening. And with all of the kids that come into my room daily, with all of their stories some of which you wouldn't wish on anyone, I've never met a single kiddo that didn't want to learn. That didn't want to be cared for in a school setting.

Now, don't get me wrong. There are some students out there that are tougher to get through to. Some who have lost all faith in adults for whatever reason. Some that are simply at school to survive another day, and know nothing more than to act out for someone to give them attention. These kiddos are the ones that cause distractions, that end up getting kicked out of classrooms, and spend most of their time in In-School Suspension. These are the kiddos that need to have someone show them they care beyond a superficial level. And in order for this to happen, an entire school needs to be ready to help. Because if even one teacher starts writing them off, and forcing the kid out of the classrooms with referral upon referral, then there will never be the time to reach the kiddo to help build the sense of self-worth that is needed to pull them out.

Even at the elementary school level, I've seen teachers, counselors and principals write kids off. Kids that still have more than a chance, because deep down I know that they want to be helped. That they want to learn and grow as people. They just simply have been told by the people around them that they can't. And these kids have then given up.

So, I challenge you to make a stand and help all kids by understanding that even in the most disrespectful encounters they simply have learned to have their walls up. They've learned a behavior that we can work together to fix. If you better the attitude you bring each day, and act as the positive role models they need, then we can fix the craziness around us all.

I know that I became a teacher to change the world, by being a positive role model to kids. I didn't choose this career because I love math, and the politics of education. I did it because the most important people in my life as a kid were the amazing adults that taught and coached me. I'm doing this to say thank you to all of them for helping build the man I am today.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

You like Ice Cream? Me Too!.. Now What?

This is my 7th year teaching middle school math. Some would say that I'm now guaranteed a place in heaven for my time spent here. I think that's being kind, and those spots probably are saved for elementary school teachers! - I seriously wouldn't want that job!! :)

I've learned a lot about teaching over that time, and I think the main thing was emphasized with my beginning of the year activity. I've done something like this activity before, but this year, I was able to help tie together the main point.

Instead of doing one of those normal "ice breakers," I broke my students into groups of 3 or 4 to compile a few lists. I handed out a piece of paper to each group and the person that started with the paper wrote down the first topic. Then passed the paper to the next person to write down an idea, who passed it to the next, and so on.

The first topic I gave them was to list the qualities that make a great teacher. I'm sure you're thinking, "It's 7th graders! Why would you do that?" Well, because I trust them to be honest. Sure I'll get answers like: pay us money, give us candy, don't give homework. But I knew that, and made the joke before starting, so they could focus on the real things. Each class list was different, but the main things were:
The list from 4th period

  • Be responsible
  • Be understanding
  • Explain things well
  • Be fair and respectful
  • Have a sense of humor
  • Good Listener
  • Thoughtful
  • Unique
  • Enjoy Teaching
  • Be Encouraging
  • Creative
  • Caring/Like kids

Not a bad list, huh? When they were asked, they could spell out exactly what they thought makes a great teacher. When I pressed further, I was surprised at how many of them could mention more than one teacher from their past that they felt was a "bad" teacher, and gave crystal clear examples to support the claims! It's always eye opening to hear their perspective on classroom situations! 

The next list was about them. What did they have to do to be successful in math class this year? The answers... even better:

* Work hard                                             * Raise my hand                       * Ask questions
* Turn work in on time                            * Be respectful                          * Don't waste time
* Listen to the teacher                              * Be prepared                           * Care about my grades
* Focus                                                    * Study                                     * Follow directions 
* Pay attention                                         * Don't give up                         * Have a positive attitude

After we had put all of their ideas up on the board, I stepped back and congratulated them. I told them how proud I was that they already knew what it takes to be a great student. I then promised them that I'll do all that they asked of me in the "great" teacher lists they created. I would do all of that, and all they had to do was everything on their list! 

It is at this point that the main point came into view: They can't be successful without me being great, and vice versa! They can expect me to be all of the things they want out of a great teacher if they can live up to the qualities on their list. I promised to hold them accountable if they hold me accountable. 

I am the best math teacher they will have this year, and they are the best students I will have this year. And if we work together, it will be the best school year they have ever had. I loved creating this moment for them to see that I'm here to work with them, not against them. I'm a teacher that they can trust will be what they are asking me to be. I've created a relationship with them within the first few days of school that goes beyond the simple "I like Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream TOO" type of Ice Breaker. We now have a contract that is printed and up on the wall, so that if I'm slacking or if they are, we can point to our list, smile, and fix things to make it a great year! I can't wait! 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Seriously? Because of testing?

My wife and I are reality TV watchers. We don't watch them all (it's hard watching anything at all with 4 kids, a business, and teaching), but we do have our favorites. There is something about vegging out to the silly drama in the lives of others that helps us transition to sleep time.

One of our favorites right now is Master Chef. It's a cooking competition on FOX that is another in the TV empire of Chef Ramsey. I personally love the guy! Would love to meet him and talk soccer, cooking, and family. (So if you know him.. let me know!)

The focus of the show is to pit 20 "home cooks" against each other to win the title of Master Chef. They cooks compete in different individual and team challenges and in each episode one chef is asked to turn in his/her apron. It's awesome seeing the wonderful creations that these self-taught cooks can pull together in a timed challenge.

In the most recent episode that my wife and I watched, the show started with what is called a "Mystery Box Challenge." The aspiring chefs have to cook with whatever ingredients are in the box coming up
with their own unique creations. The best dish gets an advantage in the elimination challenge, so it's a big deal!

But for this challenge, there is one huge box at the front of the room. When the box is lifted family members of the cooks are revealed (to be used as inspiration to cook something new... not to be cooked!). However there was one contestant that didn't have a family member there at all. The hardest part, is that it was the contestant that is a single mother, and her love for her son has been her motivation through out the season. Naturally, everyone is thrilled to see their loved ones, and the camera pans to her crying in the back wishing her son was there.

I'm sure my wife and I weren't alone in immediately wondering where her son was, and if something had happened. So, when Ramsey walks an iPad back to show her a video message from her son, we were ready to figure out what was going on. You can only imagine my surprise when the reason he couldn't come be there for his mom was because of state testing! And when Ramsey leaned over and said, "That's important," I nearly lost it!

Seriously? As a teacher, and a parent I'd rather see my child after two months than not! Especially when the reason is that he has to take a state standardized test! Really? There isn't a plan in place to do a make up test? Or maybe in Philadelphia missing the "test" comes with heavy fines or something? But to me, it just seems ridiculous that a child miss any opportunity to see a parent after a long period of time when the reason is because of state testing. Where is the cut off here? What if it was a chance to see his mom who had been deployed in the military? Or if she had been in the ICU out of state and there was an opportunity to see her that happened to fall on a state testing day? Does the kid miss seeing a parent in all of those situations? I just don't get this line of thought.

I teach in a school that is more than 60% military. I've learned that I'll get the most out of my students if I show understanding and support when they miss something school related in order to spend time with a parent that hasn't been home for a long period of time (weeks, months, or years!). I get the most out of the parents as well.

I think the producers needed to push a little harder on this one, and not have so easily allowed state-testing to be a good reason to not bring the kid to Cali to see his mom. It's not. It's just a test. That's right, I said it! It's JUST a test! And I think this little example proves how stupid-crazy we've become over the concept of testing. It's just silly!

And the worst part is this kid is going to grow up and a part of his memory of this entire thing will be missing this opportunity because of testing!! It's just another example of something school related leaving a bad impression on a student! A test that matters not one bit to his possible future success in life prevented him from an awesome memory with his mom.

Life is about the memories you create with your loved ones, and this was a lost opportunity blamed on state-standarized tests. Not cool!.. ok.. my rant is over. Thanks! :)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Help me choose a school!!....for my kiddo.

It's August! I'm just as surprised and freaked as you are! For the last 2 years, August has been a little too crazy for my family. Our oldest will be in 2nd grade this year, so 2 years ago we were trying to figure out where to enroll him for school. We were left trying to answer that same question again last year at this time... I don't want to talk about his Kinder-year, so don't ask! ... or ask, but buy me a beer or two first!

With the amount of stress and anxiety we've been through, I thought I would write a little (my first attempt was WAY too long!!) about our experience in picking the right school for our oldest. My wife and I started by looking at the local public school. For reasons I don't want to get into, he couldn't go there.  (yes.. I'm saying that as a public school teacher!)

We explored all of our options for him within the district, and applied to the lottery system for two of the three charter schools in the area, but also did a few out of area requests for schools outside our "boundaries." Both the charter schools had an educational focus that fit our son. Really that is where you should start this process, by using your expertise on your own child to find the best school fits. We felt these two were hands down the best. We did the "out of area" requests as back-ups to the lotteries, but we also considered private school, and homeschooling.

For our oldest, we know how inquisitive he is, and that he loves to explore a variety of different learning topics. We also know that he is super social. He loves to be around other kids, and kids love to be around him. For those reasons alone we knew that homeschool just wouldn't happen for him, but would be our last resort. For private school?... well, like many, we just weren't in a financial position to tackle that one. But, there are many good things to consider when looking to take that path. 

As things started playing out, we were completely at the mercy of the lottery system, and the individual school principals considering our requests. For his kinder-year, we watched every good option pass us by, and were left enrolling him in a school we were not happy with. Even as a teacher in the district, not a single shred of additional consideration was given. All doors felt slammed in our face. We were shattered.

But, for first grade, we found out days before the start of the school year that his lottery position for one of the charter schools was green-lighted, and he was in. The rush to get everything together for him to be there was crazy, and we truly felt like we won The Lottery. The school is such a great fit for him, but if it hadn't worked, he would have been homeschooled for his first grade year. It had gotten that bad, and our very last resort was the only option. As a teacher in the district, I felt so disappointed, and unappreciated. So when this all worked out the way we needed it... it was just so wonderful.

So, the breakdown when considering schools for your kiddo:

  1. Start with focusing on your child. You are the expert, so you know what learning environment will be best for his/her learning.
  2. List out all of the school options: Public Schools, Charter Schools, Private Schools, Home School. What is feasible? What isn't?
  3. Review the curriculum. Sometimes that will be a deciding factor. What do they use? What is the reputation of the material? Why was it chosen? Is it best for the kids, or was it chosen as a Band-Aid? 
  4. Talk to the teachers/principal. You will know in the first couple of minutes if they are dedicated educators. Are they excited to meet you? Do they talk about their school with pride and not as a used car salesman? Are there award winners that work there? 
  5. Talk to parents of kids at the schools. What do they think? Who are the teachers to avoid? Can they name more of those than teachers to get? Is there a PTA? Parents will be honest, so ask your questions.
In the end, finding the best school for your kiddo is all about knowing the strengths and interests of your child and matching those to the best school option. Sometimes that will be easy and the local public school will be perfect. Other times, you may have to pray to the charter school lottery Gods in order to get into the best school for your student.

If your only option is one that you are not happy about, then make yourself present in the school. Advocate for your kiddo, and act like the expert you are. It's a hard job being a parent in this situation especially if you have working hours during your kiddo's school time. It may seem like you don't have any control, but I will tell you that you will be the driving force behind your child's school success. My students that have parents that make learning a priority by setting the right educational tone at home, are the ones that are typically doing the best. Don't ever let a teacher, administrator, and anyone at a school make you think they know your child better than you do. They all work for you, so set the expectations for them as well. Do it respectfully, but hold them accountable. The great teachers will work with you and your kiddo to make the experience beneficial for all! If you don't like how things are going, talk to the teacher, then the principal, go to school board meetings, talk to the superintendent, write a letter to the editor, get other parents involved, and take control of the quality of the education in your area.

I hope you found this helpful. Let me know if you have any questions or additions (if I missed anything) by leaving a comment! Oh, and please feel free to share this with anyone you think might benefit from reading it. Finding the right school can be so overwhelming, it's important you know that you are not alone in dealing with the stress.

The video below is news coverage talking about the charter school lottery in Buffalo, NY, 
and the stress parents go through. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Those who can't teach

I was truly lucky this past school year to have a student teacher from the U. Some would probably argue that I wasn't lucky at all, and that I might have been being punished. I don't see it that way. Sure, he was a little... quirky. Sure, some would call him strange. I liked to consider him just a "little" socially awkward. He came to AK from the East Coast where he studied and worked as an engineer. The position he had was downsized, so he decided to become a teacher in order to stay in Alaska. I don't necessarily understand this line of thinking, but it made sense to him that teachers can find work anywhere, especially in Alaska... ?

So, when the University came to me asking for a personal favor, I was intrigued and flattered that they knew I was the man for the job! Even after meeting him, I knew that I would be one of the few that would give him a chance.  The first semester he spent observing my classroom. He asked a ton of questions.. sometimes multiple times.. in the same conversation.. all during my prep! :) I was as honest as I could be with him without telling him that I didn't think teaching was for him. Because, I honestly believe that if you want to teach (I mean really WANT to teach) you will be just as effective as some people who are already teachers, so you deserve a chance to see what it is really like. And I really thought he could do it.

At the start of second semester, I started handing over classes to him. I did everything I could to give him all of the control. I don't want to say that I threw him to the sharks, but I wanted him to see what doing this "job" is really like. I'll admit that he was at an immediate disadvantage considering I'm a well liked teacher. My students were not the most receptive to him taking over for me, but I had given all my confidence in my student teacher to help ease the transition. He had made a lot of progress and truly showed that he wanted to make teaching happen.

Ultimately, about 2 weeks into having all of my classes he looked at me with sweat on his forehead and panic on his face and said,"This is so much harder than I thought it was going to be." And I found that very... as bad as this is going to sound... satisfying. Not that I was happy to see him struggle. Far from it. I just knew that teaching for him was going to be difficult, because there are simply a lot of people that can't teach. Sure, some of them already have the title of teacher and earn a paycheck doing something they are not at all good at. But there are plenty of you out there in other career fields that just wouldn't cut it. Could you still get a job as a teacher? Sure, as I just said there are plenty of current "teachers" that can't teach. The hard part for me was that he had come a long way, and was making progress. I really thought he was going to make it happen. But, I think in the end, an opportunity presented itself and it was better for him to take it and move away from teaching.

This experience helped me to my conclusion about teaching which is that the best teachers can do just about anything. The best teachers sell a topic to students within the first 5 minutes of a presentation. We give the best customer service when dealing with parents. We are counselors to our students providing advice and support when they need it. We are leaders within our schools encouraging our teaching peers to meet the standards by which we teach. We are quick thinkers capable of reading an audience and turning a train wreck of a lesson into a masterpiece or taking a major hiccup during a lecture and smoothing it out as if it didn't happen. We think on our feet, and tackle all issues as they happen. So, really, those of us that can teach do so because we couldn't handle the mundane life of doing another "job." I've been there. I worked in customer service, sales, and management out of college. I was great at it, but what I get out of teaching (other than exhaustion) is a challenge to provide a positive impact on society that isn't out there for most of you sitting cubical-side.

In the end, there are still so many people out there that use the statement, "those who can't, teach." So, if you hear someone say that, send them my way. I'm always willing to have visitors in my classroom to hang out and observe. I'll even let the person have a shot at doing a presentation on a topic of his choice within his career field. Just as long as he knows that I'll judge him on his professional ability to do his job based solely on how well the students test on the content presented. Oh, and that test, will be one that I create or will be created by someone else on what we think should be covered. :) ... what? no takers? :)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Talkin' Shop

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with another teacher-dad the other day. He's a 5th grade teacher, and from what I can tell, a pretty damn good one! Whenever I get to talk to other teacher-dads (happens rarely!) I like to get a sense of what inspired them to teach, and how they feel about being a teacher. I knew immediately that his perspective on education was similar to my own.

One of the things I asked him about was whether he felt respected as a male teacher. He said that he hadn't thought about it, but that he had just received a teaching award (super jealous) that helped him realize that he truly did feel as though the community of students and parents at the school appreciate and respect him. That feeling of appreciation from them was all that mattered to him each day. 

Our conversation shifted at that point to acknowledge that we both agreed that we ultimately work for the students and their parents and NOT the principal. All to often, I'm seeing teachers working for the principal, the superintendent, or even the curriculum while forgetting the true purpose of the job is to teach and work for the kids. He made a great point that the role of a good admin is to support the teachers in doing this by not getting in the way of instruction. They need to simply be there to encourage teacher creativity, and promote student safety. I feel that a main contributing factor to the "decline" of  education is the fact that our perspective on who we work for is lost. At the end of each day, week, quarter, semester, and year we need to leave the school knowing we did what was best in the interest of the students and their parents. Instead, we have a strong percentage of teachers more worried about test results and pleasing the district, so our students are suffering. 

At this point, I realized that I didn't want to spend our ENTIRE conversation talking about admins, so I shifted our talk to a less serious topic: being a teacher-dad. :) I asked him how he managed his life as a teacher and a dad. The main point he made was about patience. He admitted that the hardest part about being a teacher-dad for him was the limited amount of patience he had for his own kids after spending an entire day teaching. We traded stories about coming home from a day of teaching and being set off by the smallest of things that our own kids do. Our expectations of our own kids become so much greater than those we have on our students. It becomes unfair for them when you then combined those high expectations with depleted patience, and we are suddenly flying off the handle over spilled milk! And our kids look at us as if we are seriously insane.. which in the moment we totally are! It was so reassuring for me to connect to another person on this level. To know that the frustrations that I have as a tired teacher-dad were shared by someone else. We didn't get into solutions or ways that we could help each other in those moments where our patience levels are gone, but it was healing just being able to share all this with someone similar to me.

As a consumed teacher-dad I find that my world is so heavily centered on teaching and parenting that I forget that there are others out there like me. This small conversation was truly a grounding time for me, and I really needed it! I'm hoping to catch up with him again soon. Probably the at the next district teacher development... which is just weeks away at this point... yeah.... blah... Can't wait to blog that later. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Living On Through Our Family

My wife's last living grandfather passed away last Monday morning. He had been struggling with health, but at 85 years old he took each day grateful for all that he had. He was an amazing man, a true Alaskan Pioneer. He worked hard, but did so each day for the love of his family. I met him for the first time days before I married my wife. I felt as though I was instant family to him, and to be a part of this family (Fairbanks Royalty I call them) is quite amazing. Each time I saw him while around town, there was never a question of whether I would get a "hello," but whether I would be able to withstand the strength with which he hugged those he cared about. And he cared tremendously about my wife and our family.

Losing someone you care about is terribly difficult. And I will admit that I wasn't the closest person to Grandpa C. I'm not a blood relative. I'm just a lucky guy that hit the marriage lottery. That said, the hardest part of loosing her grandfather is feeling the pain his passing has created inside all of those that I am closely tied to. My wife, of course, but also my sister-in-laws, and most directly, my father-in-law. My admiration toward my wife's father is... well let's just say that I feel privileged to call him dad. He is amazing, and is someone that I look up to at level of my father. So, seeing him hurt at the loss of his father and knowing how much I care for both him and my own dad makes the passing of Grandpa C even that much harder.

But through all of the pain that the family is going through, I'm learning so much about coping with sorrow by seeing this wonderful crew come together to hold onto what Grandpa C created, family. And at the center of the healing has been the great grandkids of the patriarch. My kids have been a part of the ray of happiness that has provided the break in the grief that my father-in-law, his siblings, and all of their kids have been feeling. They have been able to provide the smile through the tears.  Each one of the little kiddos running around is here because of what this one man created with his life. And now these little ones are helping to provide the sense of continued history for this great man, and to be here to help warm our hearts during this difficult time.

I don't know what your personal belief system is, and I'm not here to preach anything to you. I can't say that I'm a "religious" person. I am spiritual, and I have a deep faith in the beauty of life. That said, what I have come to believe about life and death has been learned through the lives of my own children and their great-grandparents. It has so impressed me to watch the interactions between people separated in life by some many years. They live through each other creating a bond that is truly overwhelming. Each hug is cherished. Each laugh a moment trapped in time. They've taught me to live for my family and the moments we have together. To never be afraid to hug as tight as you can, so the person can feel how deeply your care for them. To not wait for a phone call. To go to everything and to cheer loudly for everyone. And, most importantly, to celebrate each and every life we touch.

Since my oldest was born 7.5 years ago, he's lost 3 great grandparents. Three people that loved him to a level that only great grandparents could understand. And while you might think that this has been hard to deal with on the parenting side, I can say that his strength and faith in life has only made my wife and I stronger. The way all my kids have embraced living, and celebrating life is so remarkable. They keep everyone they care about so tightly in their hearts that each day is one to celebrate. The memories, the spirits, and the emotions they had with each of the "greats" continues to stay with them. I've witnessed my oldest have conversations with his "greats" after they have passed. I've seen how the new additions into our home seem hand picked by a recently lost loved one. I've witnessed so many miracles in my children that my belief system is ever changed. It doesn't make loosing someone so wonderful any easier. We all miss Grandpa C so much, and as the entire family prepares to go back to the new normal after this week of being together I can only cherish the fact that my four children had the honor to feel his love through so many kisses and hugs. He will always live forever in each of them. We love you Grandpa C. Thank you for helping to create such a wonderful and loving family, and we know that in this new adventure you are on each day you continue to pray and light candles for us all.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Daddy Dragon!!

I love being a dad. There is truly nothing more that I wanted to do than be a father when I grew up. So, when I'm home, I do all that I can to be around for my little ones. The down side is that the honey-do list tends to get put aside while I manage a house with 4 kids running around. This has been especially true during the summers. You know, during my "time-off" of teaching. My glorious wife (no she didn't have me write that) owns and operates her own business to continue the stream of income during my non-teaching times. And because she works from home, I do all I can to keep house and manage a daddy day-care. As I'm sure many wonderful housewives will tell you, "It's not easy." Throw on top the normal husbandry house hold chores, and I'm running crazy managing the daily stress created by all that needs to get done!

This past Saturday was a fine example of this. My kids like to get up talking, and being defiant toward anything that I suggest. They'll talk about anything. My oldest loves talking about his robot army that will protect the world, and any other invention he has come us with. My twins like to break all routine that I've tried to keep in place from when mommy was Queen Bee while I was at school. And my lovely daughter, well.. she's a 5 yo typical Alaskan toughie! It was a typical morning sprinkled with the stress of family coming into town, so there was a lot of work needing to be done around the house. That, and my wife was trying to wrap up work for some clients, so she can focus on the family as well. All that, and this was the way the day started:

Me: Alright, before you can have breakfast, you need to use the potty.
A (2 yo): NO!
Me: Please be quiet, mommy is sleeping
A: Mommy see-ping. Okay. No potty!
M (5 yo): Where's PK? Is he up? Can we watch TV?
A: NO!
PK (7yo): Dad will you make me eggs? And I was thinking that when I build my army of robots...
Me: A, you have to go potty. And M & PK will you please go down stairs?
M: PK let's play dragons in my room!!
PK: Sure! Dad will you be the daddy dragon?
ME: Where's OE? A, please get on the potty! Eggs? Sure.. Dragon? Maybe.. I'm just.. wait not in M's room. Remember, mama is still sleeping. Please go downstairs.
M: Yeah! Daddy Dragon will meet us in my room! And OE has your computer! GIVE IT BACK!
Me: Don't yell at OE.. AND PLEASE BE QUIET!
PK: Daddy Dragon, are you coming downstairs?

Now this conversation continued all through potty time and into breakfast. It was un-nerving to hear a constant chorus of "DADDY-DRAGON, Are you...!!"combined with a loud screaming from a hurt child! Then add in the stress of laundry, house cleaning, yard work, and family arriving soon, and my morning was quickly tailspinning out of control! I hadn't even had a sip of coffee yet!

Needless to say, I pretty much turned into a Daddy Dragon. If I could have blown fire, I'm not sure we'd have a house anymore. I'm not proud of it. And it took most of the day to get things back on track with me and the kids, and yes, mama had to get involved to simmer the tensions down. It wasn't pretty, and I felt terrible that I let the stressors of living in a family of 6 get to me.

So to better prepare for my days, I've been trying get up before everyone, and have me time. I'm in a better mood. I can focus on what I want to tackle that day, and I can meet the energy of the kids head on. And while I can still be a daddy-dragon at times, I know that getting myself on a routine that starts with me is important. I know that this "daddy" time is necessary, just like "mommy" time is necessary for all of the mommies out there. It's a hard job managing the house, kids, and everything else. Especially, when you have two or more bouncing in different directions! But, when I get those breaks to the day, the breaks my own wife talks about trying to get while I'm teaching all day during the school year, I'm a much nicer daddy-dragon. And I like being that type of daddy-dragon.. now if I can add more hours to the day to get some of these projects done I would be amazing!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Sit, Stand, Bend Over

I'm the father to 4 wonderful children. I have a 7 & a 5 year old (the bigs), and twin 2 year olds (the littles). Yes, it sounds as crazy as you would think! The unpredictability of each and every day is amazing. Each time my wife and I think we have it all planned out something happens that brings all of our momentum crashing down.

And it isn't like we have just one kiddo that we can count on for bringing the drama! Oh no, that would be easy. It is almost as if they talk it out in the middle of the night, and decide which of them is going to be the loon-bucket that day. Or which ones, and how they're going to rotate throughout the day to see at what point my wife and I are going to break and fall into complete insanity!

To top it off, we are potty training the twins. They are doing remarkably great, and we have plenty of victories each day, but when the unpredictable moments can now include smeared poop and screaming, things can get out of hand quick.

I can only relate it to a sketch that comes from the show Whose Line is it Anyway? called "sit, stand, bend over." It sounds worse than it is, but the main idea is for the improv comedians to go through a scene where in each moment one has to be sitting, one standing, and one bending over. And through out the scene they try to throw each other off by switching positions. Here's an example:

I feel this is a perfect representation of what parenting 3 or more children is like. Except it isn't sit, stand, bend over. In fact, you never know what version you could possibly be playing. And that's the best part, you don't get to be a member of the audience! Oh no, you get to be an unwilling participant in the crazy game! Sometimes it is fighting, asking, helping. I'll be fighting trying to get the twins on the potty, while the 5 year old is asking for something to eat, and the 7 year old is helping by sitting in his room. Or maybe you'll find yourself in the "public tantrum, snotty nose, questioning" game! Like today at the store when we were leaving and the 5 year old was screaming off the hook with the 7 year old asking over and over if he behaved well enough to be off restriction and the youngest twin was covered in green, gooey snott. It was awful trying to pay for the 3 items we needed while managing everything. I think I actually at one point wiped his nose with my fingers and scrapped it on an old receipt! Extra points for that one!

I love my days with the kids so much. They definitely keep my wife and I on our toes. And at the end of the day, its always fun to sit back and laugh at just how much drama and chaos we survived, knowing that one day we'll be missing it so much, just as our own parents miss us now. So no. I wouldn't change a thing. As crazy as it can be, and as much snott and crap (literally) we deal with, I couldn't be happier to have such a big and unpredictable family.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Glimps of What It's Like

I'm spending the summer doing some work teaching with the Upward Bound program at the U. It's a great program designed to help encourage Alaska native youth that will be the 1st generation of their family to attend college. Many of the kiddos have not been to a big city like Fairbanks (We're big by Alaskan standards!), or away from their homes for an extended period of time.

This is my 3rd or 4th year working as a teacher for then. I had taken a few years off when the program director changed and I was told that I was being paid too much. In fact, all of the teachers were told that, several of us walked away from the summer opportunity. Ultimately we felt undervalued and under appreciated. But, when I was approached by the new director (parent of a former student) to teach in a different position than before, I was intrigued, and decided to take the opportunity. Besides, I needed to have summer work to keep bringing in money for my family.

We always do a week of "training" before the students arrive, and that first day I was a little surprised to learn that I was the only certified teacher that was hired. The rest were grad students or even people that held different positions at the U other than professor. I didn't think anything of it. New people in leadership positions often choose to hire people they know or are comfortable with. This is true in any career field. Besides we all know that just because someone has a teaching certificate doesn't make them a good teacher! And sometimes excellent teachers are people that have no experience with teaching what-so-ever.

What truly gave a glimpse into the world of education was something that happened the morning of my 9th day of teaching. I was originally brought on to do a two week session on math careers and SAT prep. So, I had two days left working with the program and I received an email about 45 minutes before my class was going to start. The email was from the assistant director. The email informed me that my classroom had been moved to another building across campus starting that day. While this may seem not a big deal to you, I feel that this move provides a perfect understanding of how the education system works.

You see, the assistant director was uncomfortable with the classroom he had originally put us in. It was not as clean as he had hoped, and it didn't have airconditioning to help us through the hot days we had been having. That said, we had several fans, and that location of the classroom was perfect for my students and me. The part that gets me is that with just 2 days to go, he made a decision that directly impacted me and the students without consulting us. The decision was about him. And this is how the education system typically works. Decisions are about what administrators or politicians think. Rarely are the teachers and students asked. Curriculum, testing, technology, and overall school policy tend to be about what non-teachers think students and teachers need. Sure, sometimes those decisions are great, and an outside opinion was necessary, but often times things are decided on that put teachers and students into situations that were no better off than where we started.

The result of this lack of appreciation to what teachers do and know is that we start grasping for some sort of control. You can see this in how hard teacher unions are fighting for things. It appears as though we are constantly in the news complaining about this or that. Maybe the reason is that we feel that we don't have a say in what we are doing everyday to educate the kids in our classrooms. It's hard to know for sure, but in that one moment it's how I felt. That what I thought didn't matter to what a single person with admin power thought. If he wanted to change something, he was going to and he didn't care what those directly influenced by the decision would feel.

In the end, was the room nicer? Sure it was. Airconditioning on a 85+ degree day in Alaska is heaven! But was it needed? No, it wasn't. If we had been complaining about it since the first day, then I can see moving us for the final two days. Overall, it didn't ruin the experience for any of us. In fact, I know I benefited from the mile a day I had to walk to get to the room! I also learned that I need to really save up for an airconditioner for my own home! It was so nice! Maybe next year they'll just put us in the nicer room from the get go. Or when they don't, I'll just move us to a nicer room and send them an email letting them know of the change shortly before class starts! 

Friday, July 5, 2013


It's amazing all of the wonderful headlines that us teachers get in the press. The most recent one Teacher Accused of Having Heroin Delivered from represents what I'm talking about. I understand that in news the terrible and the shocking sells. A story about an amazing 3rd grade teacher won't get the clicks that we all would hope! But can we just for a minute try to stop the beating that the rest of us teachers experience when one of us does something completely inhumaine? 

Don't get me wrong. I understand that as a society we tend to equate the actions of one to the doings of anyone similar to them. All football players are not suspected murders like Mr. Hernandez, formerly of the New England Patriots, for example. Much like all teachers aren't into herion, abusing kids, or simply hateful people with liberal agendas.

That said, football players aren't expected to be to children what teachers are, so with every negative news story that makes the media's headlines the perception of what teachers are is severely impacted. Let's be honest here. Educators are not seen in the best light lately. As a society, we are continually placed in positions that make us look pretty awful. If you read the ABCnew story you'll learn that the person in question was a 20 year old aide, and not even a teacher!  Yet, the youth of America are still coming to school and we are still asked to be the best teachers we can.

So, I'd like to suggest that from here on out, for every 1 bad headline out there, 5 stories need to be written about the victories that the rest of us amazing teachers are having. And not just in the local back page of the news paper that the 65+ year olds read at their favorite diner or each morning. I'm talking mainstream, big time media outlets. Can we get the NEA PR peeps on this already? It shouldn't be hard to find several wonderful teacher stories out there. Sell that to the media! Be on the phones daily pushing the great stories. All the victories. Help us out... PLEASE! 

********* headline the next day Teacher Who Allegedly Bore Student's Child Facing 2nd Accuser. Okay, now you owe me 10!! Seriously! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

So it begins...

The first post on the blog. Wow. Where do I go with this? Take a serious approach and talk right away about how male teachers don't get any respect!? Or pull a twist and say something like "male teachers get the exact respect we deserve!" That'd be too much. Too hard hitting and I could scare some people away!

Maybe I could do something about being a dad! Take the time to tell a story about my four kids? Go super personal on it! Like how I've been interrupted multiple times to deal with things like wiping a kid's butt, but you don't want to hear about that right now. And frankly, I don't want to recount that experience. Just gross.. just gross. Seriously, buy the strong TP. Not worth saving a few bucks for the cheap stuff!

Oh.. I could take the humorous side of things and talk about a funny classroom time! Like the time I was handing out a big test to my 7th grade Algebra kiddos, and I asked a boy if he needed to borrow a calculator. He responded with this "no, I'm just going to three way with these two." And he pointed to the girls next to him! I had to leave the room and let my student teacher monitor for a few minutes. I just wasn't prepared for that! But, no. That's not the right opening either. 

It's tough. There's so much to talk about. SO much that a Teacher-Dad has to deal with and say. I guess that IS the point of the first post. To show you that this blog is going to cover a variety of things. One post could be hitting some hard ED reform topics and the next could be something as silly as poop or bad innuendoes. We're going to bring it all to entertain and enlighten you about being a Teacher-Dad! It's hard work, but damn it's rewarding!