Friday, December 18, 2015

One year means so much

Our baby turns one today. Yeah.. I don't know how that happened either. A year moves so quickly, especially that first year of a baby's life. The last two years have been nothing short of a whirlwind. From a becoming pregnant, to a 2300 mile move, to a new job, to living in an apartment, to having the baby, to surviving the first year.. it's been a wild and wonderful adventure.

The best part is our little girl. I hope that as she grows older each year that she knows just how special she is to us all. For all the crazy the last 2 years have been, she has been nothing but perfect. This little one year old shows us how to love each day, and how to enjoy each moment regardless of the chaos that surrounds us. She is the perfect reminder of how the universe give you all that you can handle, and for that I couldn't be more happy.

Today also marks the 1 year anniversary that my loving wife nearly sacrificed herself for our baby. Nothing makes a man feel more insignificant than watching the struggle, sacrifice, and pain of childbirth. No amount of foot rubs, back rubs, or feeding ice chips makes up for all that a woman gives in having a baby. Last year, I stood by the side of my wife as her blood pressure kept rising. I watched the concern grown within the room. I promised it would be ok, but I didn't know. She was exhausted and in so much pain. But she never gave up. She put her heart, mind, and soul into caring for a safe delivery of our little girl. It was inspiring to hold her hand and to love through so much struggle. It's what makes my wife the amazing mother and person that she is. Her passion for our family, for her kids, is unmatched. She is amazing, and our kids and I are super lucky that we have her.

I love you my little girl, and my amazing wife. Today will always be a day to celebrate the both of you.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's a Test!! A push for Project Based Learning.

I'm writing this post at the end of a long day of testing my algebra 2 students. Topic? Quadratics.. graphing and solving. Yup, it's a rough one. I have the responsibility of teaching 3 classes of Algebra 2. And my 3
classes are populated with the kiddos that, for whatever reason, have a dislike or a disconnect with math. Now, I'm honored that my admin team believes in my ability to connect to, and motivate this wonderful group of kiddos. And believe me, these kids are great. The majority have creative spirits, broken math confidence, and an element of anti-establishment that creates an entertaining yet challenging classroom environment.

Truthfully, these kids are some of the brightest in the school. The hard reality is that the traditional nature of the school setting prevents them from showing their talents. As a father of five, and a passionate teacher, I see how academic structures can be confining. And that those that flourish in a traditional setting do so, in large part, because they have the ability to memorize, and sit through direct content style classrooms. But not every kiddo has that ability. Some need to be able to explore content in different ways.

I'm a veteran teacher at this point. I'm 11 years in, and I've got a pretty good handle on how to help kids learn. But here I am looking out across my classroom giving "another" math test. And a few are going to do great, but I'm watching kids draw frowny faces, question marks, and dripping fake tears onto their tests (seriously!). Sure, we can say that they didn't work hard enough. They could have tried harder, put more time in outside of the classroom. But, for me.. I see that I'm just another math teacher failing them.

These are the kids that need the projects, and the creative connections to pull the content and interest from them. These are the kids that needed more from me than just comedic (some would call silly) lessons that are full of energy. Sure they laugh and sure they simulate interest, but these tests won't reflect that they gained a ton of quadratic content knowledge.

Imagine these kids spending 2 to 3 weeks exploring quadratics through a rocket project in which they get to build a rocket to reach a certain height or go a certain distance. Maybe they construct trebuchets or catapults, or maybe we simply do an experiment bouncing a ping-pong ball into a red SOLO cup....? Or maybe not that one. And then after they do that, they get to present their learnings not in a test, but in any way they would like. Maybe they create a movie, an art project, an essay, or whatever creative presentation they come up with.

SO how do we make this happen? It's got to come from a culture change in the schools. Teachers will need the inspiration and time to create an environment that is more project based. It's near impossible for a single teacher to plan, develop and implement a project based learning environment without sacrificing a life outside the school. And let's face it, I have a big life outside of school that I don't want to jeopardise!

It also is going to take a lot of work from teachers to break away from the traditional teaching setting. The notion of teachers talking just to hear themselves talk will have to go away to make way for student exploration and questions. For some this will be completely and terribly difficult. These teachers believe that worked for them works for their students. And that simply isn't true. These kids need a new type of learning environment.

If the idea of a project based learning environment sounds like something your own kids would thrive in, take the time to get more involved in the school district. Help us push for change that is more in line with what we know if best or better for our kids. If not, most school districts will stick with the same old type of education that you and I thought was boring 20+ years ago!

To see this type of learning in action, please watch this video. It's amazing, and it's what I'd love to be a part of as a teacher, but also as parent to a kiddo attending such a school.

And finally, thanks for continuing to follow and support The Teacher Dad! You can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and now on Pinterest to keep up with my father of 5/teacher antics!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Suspended Reality for students

This past Monday, I found myself in one of those "made for tv moments" when I stepped between a group of boys that were amping themselves up for a bit of a throw-down. That's right.. on a Monday!

You see, I have a group of senior boys in that class that like to dabble in trouble making. And a junior in that same class, spent the weekend thinking that it isn't ok for them to act that way, and decided on this Monday to do something about it!

So, to make sure we're on the same page, this was a 3 to 1 fight this kid was ready to start in my classroom! Major cajones! Especially, when 1 of the boys is a 6+ft ripped football player, another is 6+ft with a major chip on his shoulder, and the third will fight anything that breaths (did I mention he's also completed basic training?). All up against a super nice theater type kid who simply had enough BS from these three.

Now, I own that this all is going down in MY classroom! I really pride myself on creating a safe and respectful classroom setting. AND I own the responsibility of managing my classroom without sending every behavior issue to the office.

There's two main reasons I do this (credit: THE Mr. Colling):

1) Every time a student is kicked out of class, that student misses out on the learning that is (should be?) taking place in that room. This is also a kid that probably has a history of issue causing that is totally preventing him or her from successfully navigating through the education system. The history we have as educators is to throw these kids out of school which doesn't help them at all, and perpetuates the cycle of acting out. So, I don't want these kids to leave my room! I'm responsible for their learning, and I can't do that if they're not in my room.

2) It's my room! If the kids in my room don't feel safe and respected, they're not going to learn anyway. So, if I can't own the shit that goes down in my space with these teenagers, then how can I expect them to trust or respect me as a teacher? Think about it. You had at least one teacher that sent kids to the office for everything. Nobody learned from that person! They couldn't manage the making of a sandwich, let alone a group of 4 disruptive kiddos!

So, I stepped between the group. Asked the junior to leave the room. Told the seniors to sit and shut it. Let the junior rant for a few in the hallway, and then reminded him that he just dropped to a level he didn't want to go. That we was better than what he was trying to do, and that I respected him too much to see him waste himself on starting a fight with those three. The kid hit a wall of reality, and we agreed that it wasn't in his best interest to throw down with those three. He apologized to me, and we went back into the room.

Then, I called my 3 seniors to the hall. They immediately jumped into cursing out and threatening the boy, but I shut that down pretty quick. And simply said, "You will leave him alone, and whatever crap you three are saying to him during my class is going to stop, now. You're not to sit near him, and you will avoid. But think about this. He spent all weekend fueling up for this, and you have to give him credit for sticking up for himself. You three would have done the same thing in his shoes, so back down, leave him alone, and if I hear that you three do anything to him this year, graduation will be difficult to attain. Clear?"

They nodded. Smiled. And agreed. The rest of the week was the most productive that class has been since the very beginning of the year. I even had one of the three stay after school on FRIDAY to get extra help. And the the junior, totally back to his normal jovial self. Why? Because I handled things, and I made sure they all knew I was in charge and that crap wasn't going to happen in my room.

Imagine what would have happened if I just sent them to the office. The anger between then would have grown. Each blaming the other for the trouble they were in. That class time before a test would have been totally wasted for them. And my classroom would be a petri dish of unease for them.

So, the moral? Own your classroom. Own your office space. Step in and take control of the environment, so that the task at hand can be met. There is going to be conflict in anything, but as long as it's managed properly, we can still have success. Don't punish kids by kicking them out of school. School needs to be a place that all kids, even the trouble makers, feel safe and respected. Kicking kids out for not understanding how to handle conflict won't solve anything.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. Please use the comments section to share a story about a time a teacher owned or didn't own the classroom management. What happened? How did it feel having to go to that class each day?

Also, take the time to follow me on facebook and twitter!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Stress, Common Core, and young learners

I've recently found myself in several conversations about the strain that is falling onto elementary school teachers. Specifically, on the lower elementary teachers that have been handed a TON of content responsibility in meeting certain learning objectives as set by the new common core state standards (CCSS). 

Now, I've written about the CCSS several times on my blog (The "New" Math, Homework Issues, & It's Over Reaching). And I don't want this to be another "The CC sucks!" type post. Because, while it does have some glaring flaws, the idea of it I still stand by. I like the inquiry driven and real life content connections that are encouraged by the CCSS. I appreciate the idea that we should have a national set of academic standards, so that a kiddo in 3rd grade that moves across country won't be at a total loss when it comes to school. 

I instead want to talk about this strain that is suffocating many elementary schools. I've witnessed this strain first hand with the experience my oldest 2 kids had with kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades. As kids of a teacher, they both loved the idea of going to school while they were in preschool. But then K and 1st grade happened. Both witnessed extreme pressures from teachers and schools that were very standards focused. We heard phrases like "grade level expectation," "standards based assessment," and "compared to others in this grade." The focus was placed on where the kids "should be" based on these standards, and not on who my kids are as people or learners. I often left school meetings thinking that the CCSS were more important the my kids. As if there was a CCSS God that needed to be appeased at the expense of my own kids. 

And the results of this are extreme. I hear more and more about kids in elementary school having tutors, or parents spending hours after school each day teaching a kindergartener how to read. Seriously?! The pressure to have kids doing academic things at such a young age, before most are developmentally ready is just frustrating. 

Kids are natural learners. They will pick up on the things that they find interesting or necessary. But if we are forcing the issue on things like reading or math at a young age, before they are ready, we will turn them away from the love of learning. And, if you talk to an early elementary teacher, they know that. Most want to go back to a more relaxed way of teaching, but the CCSS loom. Especially in buildings or districts with administrators that force the pressure. There are places out there that look at the CCSS, smile, and remain focused on a fun, relaxed, and student centered way of learning. Some schools have embraced the CCSS with a relaxed approach remembering that kids will learn to read when they are ready. 

These schools are the ones that are still performing well on standards based assessments, because the kids aren't stressed about them. A test is a test is a test. The teachers aren't made to feel like their jobs are on the line if a few kids don't meet "grade level expectation." Life goes on knowing that the kids will eventually learn to read or do math when they are ready to. And as my wife says, "kids learn to walk and talk when they are ready too." You don't hear about families hiring tutors for those things, and if you do, you think they're crazy! 

So the point of this? Don't stress about your kiddo's reading level at grade 1 or even 2. Pull the stress off your kids, and let them know that they can and will learn. Let them know that all you ask is that they try, that they work hard, and that they not give up. And more than anything, tell the school to back down. If your kid is coming home feeling stupid, talk to the school. That's not right. All kids learn differently, and at a different pace. If the school doesn't know that.. then find a different school! I have a post (here) for that too! 

Ultimately, the CCSS put a lot of pressure on the elementary schools. There is a ton of emphasis on getting kids to learn things before most are developmentally ready. The good schools take that pressure off the kids and themselves by focusing on what learning should be. Others let the pressure slide right down to the kids and their parents. It's not ok. And, if you're feeling that stress from teachers, or parental peers, remember that you're not alone. That there are plenty of kids out there that are reluctant readers, or that struggle with math. And that's ok, because your kiddo will get it when he's ready to. Don't force the issue at home by stressing about it further. Let the school hold onto that stress. Your family doesn't need it. There are plenty of successful people that didn't ace every grade in elementary, middle, or even high school. Help your kiddo become the excellent person he is going to become by supporting his strengths and not stressing over the weaknesses.  

Thanks for taking the time to read my post! Please take a moment to follow me on facebook, and on twitter @Ken_TeacherDad.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Inspire and protect through kindness and love

My oldest loves history and reading. So, naturally when he recently came across a book from the I Survived series about the a Nazi Invasion he was all in. If you're not familiar with the books, they are mostly historical fiction set through the eyes of a kid that lived through the experience. There are several in the series and he loves them.

Being that he just finished this book, I found myself in a car ride being grilled about what I knew about World War II and the Holocaust. I could tell that his head was spinning trying to understand how such terrible things could happen. <who's head and heart wouldn't hurt after reading such a book?> Our discussion quickly turned into his second passion which is engineering, and I started hearing about the inventions he's going to create one day that will protect us all from this evil from ever happening again. His creations will be the most powerful weapons, and will keep all people safe.

Normally, I just sit, nod, ask questions, and mostly just listen. But on this day, I had just read about Pope Francis' speech at congress in which he spoke of Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr (among others). I had also watched a video on Facebook of Pope Francis stopping his motorcade, so he could bless a child in a wheelchair <yes I got choked-up watching the reaction of the child's family>. I thought of this man that lives his life for peace and faith, and I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to speak to my son's fears differently. I wanted to inspire him to think about protecting us in a different way. What follows is a summed up version of what came out that day:

Do you know that the Pope is in the United States right now? And that he recently spoke to the members of our government? And in the speech he talked about 2 other wonderful men that you've heard of: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke about them in such high esteem not because they built powerful weapons, not because they fought the violent wars, but because they stood up for the freedoms and rights of others. They were proud men that fought for what they believed was right for all people. These men fought to protect the rights of others not through violence, but with reason and words. There are others too. Others that are famous for how they cared for the people around them. Mahatma Ghandi and our Mother Teresa fought to care for so many. They were leaders without having to create violent weapons. So, while I'm proud of you for wanting to protect our family, just continue being the kind and honest boy you are. Don't worry about creating machines to protect us. Instead, take care of us by loving us the best you can. Take care of us, by being the best version of yourself in as many moments each day as possible. And remember that there are men and women out there everyday working to protect us, so you can live the free life you have. We are blessed to be together. And when you're older, please go be the engineer you dream of becoming. Invent all you want, but always remember to fight for peace, love, laughter, and freedom for all. 

I have to admit that I was surprised at all that came out during my little speech in the car. And I think my son was, too. I hope that all of what I was trying to say was clear to him, and for the most part I think it was.

I admire true leaders and people who stand for what is right for all. The Pope's visit has inspired me to be more to my own family, to my friends, and to the school community I belong to. I find myself wondering how I can best inspire, support, and care for those around me better than I already do. Do I show kindness to all? Do my silent moments still inspire and encourage? Do yours?

Thanks for taking the time read, share, and follow my posts on The Teacher Dad. Use the comment section below to tell me about a time you were inspired by the actions or words of another person. What happened? What did you do?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

So.. why not teach?

Shopping for a family of 7 presents many challenges. There's of course the financial aspect of it all:
7 mouths to feed + 5 of the 7 are growing kids + keeping it healthy = big % of paycheck bye-bye
And then there is the logistics of finding the time to do the shopping when I teach, wifey owns a business... oh, and that little fact that we have 5 kids under the age of 10!  
2 working parents + 5 kids + 1 store = extra vino in the cart

Pretty much me.. sans the earbuds! ha!
The final answer to our shopping insanity is to do it late at night after the kids are asleep. This actually isn't too bad for me. Since I do the cooking, it's easy for me to then do the shopping. My wonderful wife gets time to work in her office, or relax, while I load up a podcast and do some shopping! I look at it as great me time. 

I get to meet and/or see a lot of interesting people shopping late at night. Typically, the stores are pretty quiet too, so the people working at the check-out are really bored. Since I always pop my ear buds out when I'm in line, conversation naturally happens. I always ask about school, where they went, what they liked about it, who was their favorite teacher and why? 

This past week, on my run to the store, I found myself in conversation with a college aged kiddo. When it came up that I was a teacher, she smiled and said, "I think I really want to be a 1st grade teacher, but I don't know... Everything about teaching seems so crazy anymore."

And it's true. There are teacher shortages, strikes, student test performance linked evaluations, and the dreaded common core <said in spookiest tone>. All of these are true, actual things that are happening in the world of public education. I hear many teachers having a hard time encouraging others to become teachers. That under the current demands, teaching just isn't a profession that they would recommend to people. I get it. And in that moment when she told me that, I could have said all of those things. 

But, the look in her eye when she said that she wanted to be a teacher stopped me. Because there was that look of passion that only a TRUE teacher has when talking about the profession. I could see that she would be an excellent teacher for a group of 1st graders. That she would be the type that would do what was best for the kids, and eventually get past the worry of all of the above mentioned strains. I saw a person who would truly LOVE the job. 

Don't all kid deserve a teacher
that loves teaching?
Ultimately, being a teacher is about loving the job. It's about surrounding yourself with people that support you in having a positive and lasting impact on the lives of others. I couldn't do this job without the support of my wife. I couldn't do this job if I hadn't learned from my teaching mentors that all of the common core mumbo jumbo is just another fad that will dwindle away into something new. And that the key to me being successful as a teacher has to do with my passion for being a role model for my students. 

So, I did for her what she needed. I told her to do it. That I could tell she would be a great teacher, and that I believed in her. And as I walked away to load my car with groceries, I could still feel her smiling behind me. I truly hope she becomes a teacher. And any of you that want to do it, that want to make the jump into teaching, go for it. It will only help us current teachers to have more passionate, hard working, kid centered teachers around us. It makes the profession look that much better! And as a father of 5, I WANT those teachers for my kids. I want the ones that LOVE the job, and have the passion I saw in that young adult! So, why not teach?! Sure there are all of the glass half empty reasons to keep you away, and if those are the ones you see.. go find another profession! Stay away from mine. But if you see the glory of what teaching kids can bring to your everyday, then PLEASE step up and be a part of team! 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Charter schools.. they're not bad

I'm a teacher and I like charter schools. I know that I'm often in the minority regarding this feeling, especially in my new home here in Washington. Recently, the state supreme court declared that charter schools are unconstitutional. This headline surprised and concerned me... at first.

Having recently moved here from Alaska, I'm kinda new to the local ed world. Up in the AK, our district included 6 alternative learning schools. Some were charter schools, some were magnet schools, and others still just fell in the "alternative" learning category. Our kids went to a charter school that focused on place based education. Specifically, the teachers created a curriculum that used the surrounding watershed as a source of educational enhancement. The school was very hand's on, and great for the active learner.

In all, there are 3 elementary options and 3 high school options beyond that of the traditional model of public school. These options are super popular, highly sought after, and completely funded by public school dollars. How is that? Well, all of these schools fall under the school district umbrella. They may have their own board of parents, but THE school board had to approve the charter and set the guidelines. They are public schools just without the "brick and mortar" feel of what a public school is typically like.

As a father of 5, I see first hand how incredibly different my kids are from each other. They have different interests, sensitivities, and learning styles. My oldest thrives in a traditional education setting. He needs the structure, but has the self drive to make it work. Our second in command needs more freedom. She's our artist with a strong hint of stubborn that won't just sit there and do a worksheet. She would thrive in a less traditional model, something that a charter school offers.

In our new district, there are no alternative learning systems (aka schools of choice or charter schools) in place for elementary and only 1 for secondary students. I know that at least one of my kiddos would benefit from something different, so it's frustrating knowing that option just isn't there. Thankfully, the district is building a team to discuss a new magnet/school of choice to be build for high school students.. and yes, I'm doing all I can to be a part of that team.

So now back to the headline. When I read deep into what the vote was about, I realized that what was unconstitutional were private charter schools. Schools that were not under a district umbrella, but self regulating, and set up by board members not voted on by the public or community. This ruling was not about my understanding of charter schools from my Fairbanks time, but was about the issue of public dollars going to a private school (albeit not a religion based school entity). This is about the constitutionality of vouchers, and a family being able to use public dollars to go to a non-public school. You can read my feelings on vouchers here, hint: I again side skew of my teaching peers.

The take-away of all this, is that charter schools or schools of choice give kids options beyond that of the traditional school setting. School was such a boring place for me to be. I did well only because I hated letting people down, and I hated feeling stupid. These schools are so important to the ever changing learners that we have, and allow for creative collaboration that most people need anymore. Please take the time to watch the video below. It about an amazing school that I wish was available to my oldest daughter. She would thrive in an environment like this!

And don't forget to follow me on my new facebook page! 
And on twitter!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

They deserve to be Safe and Sound

Schools are tricky places. Some are super small, and all the kids know each other. Others have hundreds to thousands of kids trying to make it through each day. All schools in turn need teachers. We're kind of an important part of the whole process, right? :)

So, when you send your kiddo off to be at school you are truly relying on the teacher to be the adult, the safety to your child. The teacher becomes the "go-to" for making sure your kiddo feels safe, happy, and
ready to learn. As a teacher and a dad, I try to bring that feeling to my classroom. I want my students to know that they are safe, not only from harm, but they are also safe to learn.

The reason I'm bringing this up has to do with a moment my oldest son experienced last week at his elementary school open house. These events are managed chaos. You have kids and their parents going every which way. Some open houses have a scavenger hunt activity to make sure you go to all the necessary places (pick up binder go here, PE outfit go there, don't forget the lunchroom!) and others are just free-for-alls. Through the hoopla, one of his teachers from last year saw him from across the way, and came over to give him a hug. That's right.. she went out of her way to come see him, give him a hug, and talk to him about his summer.

It was that moment that defined his academic experience last year. What made things great for him, is that the teacher cared for him each day. My wife and I knew she cared from the very first conference we had with her, because she was able to tell us who he is as a person, and learner. She knew his sensitivities, she knew his struggles, and she was able to tell us how she was going to help. As a teacher, that is what I try to do with all 110+ students I have each year. When a parent calls or writes, I want them to see that I know their kiddo. That I'm on their team. That I'm a trusted adult to their student.

This need for care was further supported this week when I was talking to our babysitter. She was telling me about a teacher she had when she was in high school. He was the state teacher of the year. I asked what made him so great? Was it dynamic lessons? Was it his amazing use of classroom technology?

Her response was that he was simply a nice guy. He made everyone want to learn, because it was clear he wanted them all to succeed. She admitted that it sounded crazy, and that there must have been more to it.
But I get it. His relationship to the students was so strong, that they loved learning in his room. They wanted to be there. He made that feeling happen for them.

And THAT, that right there is what all kiddos deserve from school. They deserve a safe, caring place where they can spread their wings and soar. A place where they can feel valued, so that learning can happen. It is near impossible to teach that to people. You either care for the kiddos in your room, or you don't.

So parents, trust your instincts when it comes to teachers. You can tell within a few minutes of conversation just what type of teacher you're dealing with. You should be able to tell when a person is authentic and real with your kiddo. You can hear when the teacher truly understands what makes your kiddo tick. And if you're not sure, your kiddo will be able to tell you for sure! So ask and listen. If your student is talking about how great his/her teacher is, than that's a good sign! Roll with it. Or send an email just asking how things are going. The response should show insight into who your kiddo is as a person and student. You should know that in the teacher's room your child is safe and sound. Hmm.. reminds me of a song :)

If you haven't already you can follow me on twitter and Facebook using the links below! Thanks for supporting The Teacher Dad! 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Our #travelingfamilyof7

It has taken me over a week to process the adventure that my tired family survived since mid-July. From road trips to being a part of a family wedding, to the two week work-cation back in Fairbanks, our family has put some miles on our bodies this summer.

The most recent trip to AK was capped off with an overnight set of flights that truly questioned my sanity! I knew it would be tricky, but living a long flight taking off at 11:40pm.. check that 12:40am destination time with 5 kids was almost too much! I've used these days following the trip to reflect on it all, and I've created a list of suggestions for parents that may have to choose a late night flight or are flying with kids at all.

1) Sleep. And I don't mean on the plane.. although if you can manage it, power to you! No, I mean that afternoon or a few hours before leaving for the airport. Find a way to rest up before leaving for the airport. I decided that the time leading up to the flight would be best used backing up the images my wife took during her photo shoots. No. Bad, Ken. That should have been done earlier in the trip! Rest was important. In fact, I would suggest even putting the kids to bed in the normal routine, so that they get a few hours before heading to the airport. We tried a few movies, and hanging out with family. That ended up being too much, as several of them didn't handle the exhaustion too well (my oldest 2 if you can believe it!).

Literally dropped in my lap
by a flight attendant
2) Food. As many snacks as you can bring in fact. We tried to feed the crew a huge meal before we left for the airport, but in true form, all of them were hungry by the time we got to the gate. Thankfully, I packed an assortment of snacks (nuts, pretzels, Goldfish Crackers, and fruit&nut bars). The kids ate pretty much everything. If bringing snacks isn't in your skill set, you can always pick things up at the airport, or on the plane. We typically fly Alaska Airlines, and for flights that are more than 2.5 hours, they offer warm food for purchase. We've tried the Fruit and Cheese Platter as well as the Mediterranean Tapas Pack. We have also found that the flight attendants know this too, and hand out plenty of extra snack packs!

"Is that an old Game Boy?!"
3) Electronics. Yes.. iPods, iPads, laptops, DSs, and old school Game Boys (my childhood Gameboy is brought out only for flights, and my oldest wants nothing more.. it's also a head turner and conversation starter)! Bring them. Be liberal with their usage. Occupied kids on a long trip are kids not ticking off the people around you. That, and when they sit quietly for the entire fight, you look like the most amazing parents! My wife and I hold on to all of the devices, and hand them out only when we are on the plane. We don't want them to lose interest while we are on the plane. If you already know that your kids are over their devices, then some flights have devices you can rent, wifi options, and now even free programming on your own device. Alaska Airlines has the Digi-players that offer a variety of movies, and TV shows. We've rented them before, because nothing is more awesome
than a new/different electronic experience!

Luggage also makes a great pillow!
4) Luggage. One trick that we use with the kids, is to make sure each of them has at least one bag or backpack that they are responsible for while we are walking through the airport. This typically isn't too hard, especially since we ask them to pack that bag themselves, so they take it very seriously. Our oldest packed plenty of his favorite books, while the younger kiddos included a lot of little toys and trinkets that never got a look while we were on the plane. I also through in some activity books and snacks so that each of them had other things to occupy them on the plane. The other luggage suggestion is to check your bags. I know that time is precious, and some of us have trust issues with airlines regarding baggage. But for your sanity, when traveling with small kids, check as much as possible. We fit all of our clothes, shoes, and toiletries for 7 people in 4 suitcases that we checked. Sure that all costs money anymore with airlines charging for bags, but it's worth it when you don't have the stress of additional bags to lug around while safely wrangling kiddos. 

5) Seating. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I've talked with a lot of parents that didn't purchase seats together, or chose to fly stand-by in order to save some money. As a father of 5 kids, I get the need for watching every penny! That said, I've learned that there are some things worth the extra cash. Planning ahead, and having the seats picked with all of us together takes away one of the worries. Now maybe as the kids get older, and don't want to be seen in public with their parents anyway, then maybe we'll put them all in the back of the plane, while my wife and I sit together closer to the front. :)
    It also helps to plan who is sitting where prior to getting on the plane. This prevents fights and arguments from happening between the kids about who is sitting where once you're on the plane. "NO, I want the window!" When there is a line of adults waiting to find their seats as well... that doesn't go over well. So, tell the kids where they are sitting. Line them up that way as you board the plane, and if it helps, have bribes ready to go: "Well, I have a bag of gummies that says you're sitting in the aisle."
    And the last thing about seating, take the early seating if possible. "We are now boarding those that may need extra time getting on the plane, and families with small children." Take that! Get on the plane, get settled, and for your enjoyment, watch the happy faces of the people walking by when they see your wonderful family sitting ready to go!

Alright, those are my top 5 suggestions for airline travel with multiple kiddos, and overnight trips. We have traveled a lot as parents, and have heard over and over how great our family is as we get off the plane. Remember that there is no reason to dread this time. Traveling is an adventure. Some kids totally dig it, while others are going to be more nervous. We have kids that fall into both of those categories. If you stay organized, calm, and loving everyone will have a great trip!

Tell me about a trip you've taken with your family in the comments below. Do you have any suggestions that I missed? Do you have a travel nightmare story? You can also see more images of our trip on Instagram under the hashtag #travelingfamilyof7 or some of the fun tweets with same hashtag on Twitter.

Also, please "like" my new Facebook page, click here. This is going to be the new center of The Teacher Dad universe! Thanks!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Talking about death with my 7yo

"Daddy, my friend's mom died."
This was my oldest daughter's reason for not being able to sleep tonight. She's been having a hard time going to bed a lot lately. Most of her reasons involve her fear of something that to her is very real, and shows her growing feelings of empathy. 

We are currently visiting with my wife's family and staying with her parents. The little girl next door is close in age to our 7 year old, so they have been playing together a lot. Today, the new friend informed my daughter that her mom had died, and that the woman she lives with is actually her grandma. This information rocked our daughter's world. 

She didn't know how to process the idea of her mom and dad being gone. Her mind and heart raced from the feelings of grief and sadness she was imaging would be felt. And then she couldn't let those go, as she tried to fall asleep. 

All of this crescendoed and she melted down in tears. She sobbed as she told me about her friend. I asked her what she was most upset about, and she replied with, "I don't want you or mommy to die."

At 10pm, after an extra long day filled with playground trips, dinner out, and a birthday celebration for her cousin, this wasn't exactly the conversation I was anticipating! But I knew this was an important moment. At 7, she came to me with her fear. She came to me for help, and was able to put it into words. It's that alone that requires my attention. I have to respond showing her that I'm the guy she needs and can trust. I'm dad, and she can talk to me, about anything.

Death is always a tough subject for kids. I asked her what she thought would happen to mom and dad after we died. She told me about heaven and angels. I then asked her to close her eyes and picture my smiling face. As she did that, I took her hand and placed it over her heart. I told her what I know my wife and have already said to our kids, "no matter where you are mom and dad are always with you; our love made you; our love for you will never go away." 

She opened her eyes, smiled, and gave me a hug. I ran my fingers through her hair as she fell asleep. In the end, I can't promise heaven and angels. But I can promise that I'll always love her, and that when I'm gone she'll always have me in her heart. If her strength in religion grows, then her belief in a life after death will just sweeten my promise of always being in her heart. 

How have you dealt with talking with your kids about death? Please share your thoughts or stories in the comments below. Or reach me through Twitter @ken_teacherdad with #teacherdadcomments. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Twists and Turns Can't Break Us

Just over a year ago, my family and I completed our 2400 mile move to Washington. The decision to leave our
home and lives in Alaska was hard to make, but opportunity called me to Washington. The opportunity for professional growth, better cost of living, and a more secure education system for our kids were driving factors.

It was a big decision, and with any decision there will always be factors that come out of nowhere making things a little more... interesting. 

There wasn't a way to foresee the drama coming from the moving company (never again doing that), or the difficulty in selling our house, or the health concerns that my wife would face during the last months of pregnancy, or the many other twists we faced. 

They say nothing strains a marriage as much as money concerns, and moving. My wife and I added to that a career change and a new baby. Put simply, we put ourselves through a lot. Ok, more than a lot. 

We faced our fair share of blaming each other for the different stressors. We argued. We fought. Unfortunately, even in front of our kids. It was hard not to in a 3 bedroom apartment. There are many moments that I'm not proud of for this year, and in many ways I questioned the decision we made in leaving. 

But through the arguing, through the stress, my wife and I always found ways to reconnect around the positives. The 5 healthy kids, the amazing families we come from, the supportive friends we have, our career opportunities, and the fact that we have each other. I couldn't imagine a life without her laugh and smile. A life without her "perfect imperfection" (thanks Mr. Legend ). 

I believe most marriages would have broken having gone through all that we've put ourselves through. But not us. We have eachother. And I know that while we're not perfect, we're perfect for eachother. 

So, to my wife, thank you. With our 14th wedding anniversary just days away, I hope you know that I love you more today than yesterday, and there is no one else in the world I want to grow old with. 
I think you're amazing in so many ways, and I can't wait to finally, FINALLY settle down and create the family life we all are ready to have in our new home. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Two Weddings & My Family

Weddings are the best! Over the past 8 months, our crew has been to 2 wonderful weddings. There is just something so wonderful in having family together to celebrate love. And I've especially enjoyed the fact that my kids have been able to go and be a part of the magic.
Wedding Cake!!

That said, nothing is ever "easy" when it comes to getting a family of 7 ready for a wedding! The first wedding required a weekend trip with a dad (me!), 4 kids, and a prego wife at home. Nothing spells fun like airline travel with 4 kiddos! Thankfully, I had some help from a wonderful sister-in-law, and her boyfriend (the newliest-wedded couple!). The trip was a whirlwind with late nights, treats, food, treats, dancing, treats, swimming, and did I mention treats? The kids were so strung out on lack of sleep, sugar, and jet-lag that it took a good week just to get them back into the groove at home. And then all I heard was, "Do we leave for Auntie's wedding today?" And, "I liked the cake at Auntie's wedding!"

NO! Walk together!..Slow down! :)
Last weekend was wedding number 2! And unlike the first wedding, 6 of the 7 of us were IN the wedding. Ring bearers, flower girls, and a bride's maid! I was support cast in getting everyone where they needed to be - dressed and ready to go! Nothing spells wedding fun like organizing 4 year old twins to walk side-by-side down the aisle holding a sign for everyone to see! Or how about 4 of the 5 kids needing to use the bathroom during the ceremony! One of which was a near baby blow-out!

But through it all, the kids got to spend time with family. We spent nearly 2 weeks living in a house with my wife's parents, her sisters, their husbands, and all of the cousins. We swam, cooked, watched movies, played outside, and did family things. We created memories that will be everlasting for the kids... And of course they loved the wedding cake!

Much like the the first wedding, the transition back into "normal" life was tough. Tough is actually putting it nicely! And it wasn't just the kids! My wife and I still are spent from the festivities! It didn't help transitioning right back into work teaching summer school.

But now, after being home for just about a week, things are getting back to normal. So, what I've learned through this all is that the memories are priceless.. that is, if you can handle the transition back to the normal. For us it takes about a week. I wish that I had planned to not work the week after the wedding. Or it would have been great for the kids to have had a camp or more playdates set for when we returned, so we could have helped to smooth out the transition period. That said, no regrets! We all had so much fun at both weddings, and are so happy to have been there for our kids' beautiful Aunties!! 

Tell me about a wedding experience you had with your kids in the comments below. How was the transition back to normal life? What advice/tips would you give? 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Green Smoothie Family

About 5 years ago, my wife and I were pretty unhappy with our weight. We're not big people, but we just didn't feel we were the healthiest. I had made a goal to never be over 200 pounds, and I was sitting at 210... OK! 215... eek!

So my wife did some research into healthy eating habits, and started reading up on green smoothies from the Simple Green Smoothies site. If you're not familiar with green smoothies, they are smoothies that are typically made with organic fruits and veggies (use what's in season). They contain no dairy, and are blended up with just ice and water (coconut water, coconut milk, or almond milk work too!). At first I have to admit that I was totally skeptical, and we didn't even have a blender! But, as the high quality husband that I am, I decided to jump aboard and give them a try.

We did our research into blenders, and decided to get a Ninja brand blender. I will admit, that we totally wanted a Vitamix, but did I mention that I'm a teacher?.. :) We were excited to get started with the blending, and the Ninja did a great job. We quickly fell in love with our smoothies, and that "we" includes our kids! 

Our kids loved having a smoothie every morning, and then with dinner too. My wife and I loved the fact that they were getting veggies multiple times a day, and were begging to have a smoothie with each meal! (I've included our favorite recipe below).

Naturally, when you are trying to lose some weight, simply doing one thing doesn't magically make the pounds slip away. We are both former athletes, and we knew that exercise was going to have to be included in our plan in combination with some calorie counting. We decided to just do a smoothie and sandwich diet. We'd have a smoothie for breakfast, and then a sandwich & smoothie for lunch and dinner. We'd throw in different breads, cheeses, meats, and other "toppings" to spice up the sandwich, as well as guacamole and chips as a side.

With exercise, we both managed to lose the weight we wanted. It was great. Of course, over time and the addition of more kiddos, we lost some of the routine, and one can only eat so many sandwiches! But the one thing that has remained and is a staple to our daily lives is our morning smoothies!

We had to replace our Ninja Blender with the Nutri-Ninja Pro when the motor died, but we're staying true to the Ninja blender family. I happen to love the Nutri-Ninja Pro because I can make individual servings in a ready to go cup. It's hard when I'm making smoothies for everyone since I can't do one big pitcher. But I love the idea of getting each of the kids their own cups, so they can make their own smoothies with the ingredients they choose.

Use the comments below to tell me your favorite smoothie recipes or to talk about your blender of choice. You can also hit me up on twitter at @Ken_teacherdad.

The Teacher Dad Recipe!
(use with the Ninja Pro large cup)
Half an avocado
1 Banana
Large handful of spinach
1 pear
small handful of frozen mixed fruit (peaches, strawberries, grapes, pineapple)
Top off with as many frozen blueberries as you can
add between 1/2 to 1 cup of water for blending.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Project Semicolon #semicolonEDU

Over the last week, I've seen several posts on twitter with the hashtag semicolonEDU. At first, I'll admit, I glossed over the posts having had no prior knowledge of what #semicolonEDU was about. But then I noticed more posts, and these included tattoos of semicolons, and strong messages of support and love for my friends in the twitterverse that were participating. My interest was snatached, and I started clicking the links (Project Semicolon Site and The Nerdy Teacher's site) to learn more.

Through my link clicking, I learned that Project Semicolon is a movement to show love, hope, and support to those that suffer from depression, thoughts of suicide, addiction, and self-harm. As the official website puts it:

A semicolon is used when an author could've chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life. 

Not a Tattoo, but sharpy works!
I love this. The idea of using the semicolon as a sign of hope. A semicolon is a writing tool. A symbol that most connect with English class and school.
School, a place where the teachers are on the front lines of working and connecting with kids of all types.

For me, this project means so much, because I take my role as a teacher seriously. My place in these kids' lives is not solely for teaching math, but to act as a role model, and for some a life coach. My goal each year is to have a positive overall impact on these kids' lives, so that they know in me, they have someone who believes in them.

I know that my time on earth hasn't always been the easiest. My junior high experience was the worst. My self-value was in constant question, because I couldn't handle the verbal bullying, and at times physical bullying I went through. I was made to feel that I was never good enough, and I quickly believed it.

My schooling was negatively impacted. I never felt like I had an ally at school. The teachers never seemed to care, and the kids were mostly just left to fend for themselves. I became an easy target because I was the kid that would easily cry. I never fought; it's not in my nature.

So, to be heard, at home I would say that I would kill myself, or hurt myself. I guess in some ways I actually was considering it, since I remember spending a lot of time thinking about it. I would think about how scary it would be to die. I would wonder if anyone outside of my family would care. And in the end, I never truly attempted anything because I was scared. I was scared to hurting my family, because I knew how much they loved me. It was never about my friends, and I know that it was never about my own story. I just didn't want to let them down.

As a teacher, I try to embody that role for my kiddos. I want them to know that I appreciate them. I try to tell them about my experience, so they can see that I made it. That I continued my story. We all have excellent stories to live, and the idea of a semicolon as a sign to remember that is just perfect for us educators. We're on the front lines, and the relationships that we build with our students strengthen the continuation of their stories.

I want to thank @thenerdyteacher for blogging about Project Semicolon, and sharing it with our wonderful PLN on twitter. Please use the comments section to tell your story or add your thoughts.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Summer School Lessons

When I accepted the position at this high school, I agreed to also teach Geometry over the summer. Apparently, the school hadn't ever had a summer school geometry option before, so I'm blazing a new trail! All I have for guidance is that I have 6 weeks to teach an entire year of geometry. Yes, the kiddos have to take the same tests, and yes, they are expected to do the same amount of work.

Geometry summer school isn't like what you would image it, or at all close to what the movies would suggest it be. I don't have 4 hours a day with the typical "difficult" kiddo. (That's right, 4 hours a day for 6 weeks and an entire year of content--jealous?) Instead, I have 12 kiddos 10 of which are taking the course to get ahead. The reason? These are kiddos that would like to get to Calculus BC before the end of high school. Yes, they are the driven achievers that believe the ivy league is the only league. The kids that over the weekend are anticipating the problems I'm going to assign, and doing them. The same kids that are fighting me for an A+, because the A, or God forbid the A- is just not cutting it for them.

So why am I telling you this? I guess its more of the light shining on the inequalities of the education system. I wrote about the comparison between this district I'm in now, and my old district before here. The truth is that I feel like I'm an amazing teacher with these kids. The class average is a B+/A- and they have all completed every task, assignment, and challenge that I've given them. A four hour class flies by, and we have a great time. These kids aren't here as punishment. And for the majority of the students summer school isn't necessary for credit recovery purposes. Opportunity to bountiful here in our town, and it reflects even in our summer school.

When I try to figure out how an entire semester of Geometry can be successfully taught in just 3 weeks, I come to 3 main conclusions:

  1. I have only 12 students! In a four hour window, I can easily connect with each kid on every topic covered. Individual attention is almost guaranteed, so those 2 students that are re-taking this class are thriving in a super supportive setting. They know they can ask me anything, and it's familiar to them. Technically, this isn't brand new material. They've seen it already. 
  2. These 12 students are completely motivated. I have 10 kiddos that are pumped about getting ahead, and spend their time competing with each other on which of them is going to be done and correct first. That energy is pumping through the entire room! So instead of having a room of 32 kids that a mostly just "getting through" the hour of math each day, I'm surrounded by a crew that could be thriving in a classroom led by a monkey. They push each other; even the two re-takers!
  3. There are no other distractions. They are not worried about the English paper due, or the 2 other tests they have later that day. Their focus is only on Geometry. There is no lunch room drama, or passing period breakups (I experienced 2 of those... really ruins a day!). Just four hours of Geometry, and the kids love it! They want to do all of their classes this way, and ask me why we couldn't change the entire structure of education! For the two that are succeeding at a higher level than the first time, I can see the excitement in understanding the material in a way they didn't know possible. 
Ultimately, I'm working in the perfect classroom environment. I'm responsible for the educational success of 12 kids in one content area over a 6 week period. And these kids are amped to be here. The only way to make this fail would be if I visibly didn't want to be here. But then why would I be teaching? If I didn't myself get pumped up to be in a classroom with kids that wanted to learn, why would I do this job in the first place?

I'm excited to start the 2nd semester next week. I'm anticipating the addition of a few more students that didn't pass the second semester of geometry this past school year. It'll be interesting to see if they jump on the already rolling summer school bandwagon or if I'll have to drag them a little. Either way, this experience has been eye opening, and well... fun!

Use the comment section below to tell me about your own summer school experience as a teacher or a student. I'd love to hear your thoughts! 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Teacher Dad: Time for Better Gun Control

I hate guns. They make me totally and completely uncomfortable. I've held a gun only once, and it was some sort of  military grade weapon and scared the you know what out of me. I couldn't for the life of me understand the why. What was the purpose? The answer I got was, "why not?"

That doesn't work for me. I get needing a gun for certain reasons. I married an Alaskan. I lived in the last frontier for 10 years. I understand hunting, or the need for protection in the wild. My father-in-law owns a gun for such reasons. I don't know much about it, but I know it's there. 

And I know plenty of other people who own guns for hunting purposes. Nothing military grade, but enough to take down a moose or a caribou for winter meat. All of this I get. I get the need for families in Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and other states with a great deal of subsistence lifestyles having hunting weapons. It's not for me, but I'm down with hunters being hunters. 

What I don't get is the need for firearms beyond that. I don't know when exactly my dislike of guns started. I was like most other boys growing up. We played "war" throughout the neighborhood using toy weapons. We'd run in and out of the backyards hiding from each other and springing attacks. 

But at some point that changed. Maybe it was the Brown's Chicken murders in my hometown, or the shooting near my junior high that had us on lockdown until a parent could pick us up. It could have been the front row seat to the Persian Gulf War (90's edition), or the unforgettable Columbine Shooting. It definitely hit the highest of moments at the funeral of a kiddo accidently shot by her relative, but the feeling was permanently sealed in a tearful drive home from teaching while listening to the news covering the Sandy Hook tragedy. 

The days following that terrible event I found myself in a Facebook "discussion" questioning the idea that the gunman would have killed those students and teachers even if he didn't have a gun. I pleaded that there would have been no murders that day if he had walked up to that school with steak knives, but my NRA "friend" wouldn't hear it. In my mind it makes sense that if the types of weapons he used that day were never available, those kids and teachers would still be here today. 

I'm tired of people being hurt out of hate. Guns or no guns. I believe that without the guns less of our brothers and sisters would be dead at the hands of hate. And I can't for the life of me understand how others don't see that. I can't for the life of me understand how a person can see the number of deaths at the hands of gunmen and conclude that to solve this we should have more guns. Let's bring guns into schools and on college campuses to keep people safe, huh? Didn't we progress beyond the "Western" lifestyle shown in a John Wayne movie?

Our country has come a long way since the birth of my first kiddo. Yet, in our present moment we can still have a man walk into a church and kill using a gun given as a gift. It's time to fight for better and frequent background checks. Let's fight to keep the right guns in the hands of those that use them to feed their families. Let's fight to protect kids by being realistic with how people are getting murdered. It's time to press for better representation within our government to help get things on track.  

My 5 kiddos are already living in an America with more freedoms than I grew up in, but I question if it is safer America? And if it's not, does making guns and ammunition more readily available really make anything better? I truly don't think so. And neither does the comedian in the video below. 

Clearly, I'm opening myself up to critics by writing this openly on my blog. I'm not interested in battling over my feelings on this issue, but please feel free to comment. And at least watch the video! Funny and true! 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


I've recently found myself in a position as a dad that I'm questioning just how I can hold the educators of my own kids accountable for my kids' learning. This is a strange dilemma to be in since I am an educator, and in my opinion... Well, I think I'm great at my job.

So, I'm sitting up late tonight trying to wrap my head around the academic year of one of my kiddos, and where the accountability of the teacher stands. As a teacher I do everything in my power to own the responsibility of my students' learning. If one of them fails, then it was on me. I didn't do my job. I didn't reach them. I didn't bridge the gap to help the student surpass the struggles of home life, learning disadvantages, or content interests. I, me, the teacher didn't get the job done. 

I'm sure you can see that I take this seriously. I expect the educators of my own kids to have the same passion. I want them to own the responsibility of teaching my kids. That these men and women will take the time to understand my children and teach to their strengths. I want them to contact me with more "I" based statements. I want to hear not what my kid isn't doing, but what the teacher is going to do to help. I'm tired of the word intervention. I'm tired of not "meeting standards." I want to hear "your kid is learning at his/her pace and that's great! Here's how I'm helping bridge a couple of gaps I've noticed." 

I want to hear responsibility not blame. Standards aren't teaching my kids or your kids. Educators teach the kids. Not apps on iPads, not Sylvan Learning Centers, not parents for hours after school each night, but teachers. 

The great teachers know this. The great ones or those of us striving to bring this to our classrooms. I'll tell you that it's exhausting, but as a father of 5, it's more exhausting to worry for my own kiddo's learning experience. So, I'm up wondering how this entire year, ending in less than a week, can be positively justified. What was my child's gain? 

And at this point, the positive is that the summer is around the corner, and my kids will be kids again. We can work on things that interest them. Read and write at our leisure. We can do learning the way we think it needs to be done. So that by the start of the next year, we can be ready for the next teacher and hope for the best. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Happy Fourth Birthday

Four years ago today, my wife and I began an amazing trip across the country to hold our twin boys and start a new chapter in our lives. I'm still not sure exactly how we were able to do it. Everytime I think back, I'm overwhelmed by how it all came together so perfectly.  The late night phone call, the scramble to book tickets, the phone calls for help, the excitement of traveling all night and day. It represents one those times when you know that a bigger universal power must exist. For everything to fall together the way it did, I know that these, now 4 years olds, were meant to be, and are forever my kids.

They have grown so fast, and with each day make our lives better. When my wife and I decided to add to our family through adoption it was because our hearts told us it was the next path. We followed our hearts, and they are forever bigger and better because of these two amazing boys.

We love you both so much for what you each bring to our family. While you are twins, you are so incredibly unique. A with your charming smile, strength, and athletic nature. O with your love of music, kindness, and inquisitive mind. Your friendship and love to each other is so perfect. Thank you for making your mom and I as well as your siblings the luckiest people in the world.

Here is the video we made when we first brought our boys home. Enjoy it, and have the tissue ready!

You can also read more about our story at the following links. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Monday Night Flag Football

For the past several weeks our oldest son has been playing in a flag football league. It has been so amazing watching him and his team grow together to learn a sport that, well clearly they weren't born to play. That may not sound fair, but to paint the picture think of a team that lacks raw talent and is kind of on the nerdy side. Something out of a Rick Moranis youth football movie (you know you saw that movie!). They are super cute and fun to watch. Especially the team spirit. The high-fives as each squad runs on and off the field just makes this daddio smile! They have so much fun, even as they watch other team score.. And score some more.

And while all that is enjoyable, the part I appreciate most is the sportsmanship shown from the coaches of the other teams we're playing. There is no running up the score; there is no teasing, or taunting. Instead, I see the coaches making the game work for both teams.  They take players off to give our team a little advantage. These coaches show care in talking with their teams to stress sportsmanship to the point where our team receives cheers for "big" plays from everyone including the players on the opposing team.

The result of all this is that our team is getting better. They still come to the games ready to work hard and keep trying. They don't "expect" to loose or get special treatment. They are there to figure out this game and get better. Our coach and the other teams' coaches are all chipping in to make that happen. So as our season is winding down I know that my boy is better and more confident from the experience. He can even say that he caught a TD and threw for a TD in the same game! I also know that he values good sportsmanship and doing the right thing not because it means he gets an "advantage," but because everyone walks away feeling better.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Teacher Dad : Parenting for Change

I'm a 37 year old white father of twin bi-racial 4 year old boys. I couldn't be any more proud of that fact. They are 2 of my 5 kids all of whom I love dearly. Our mixed race family turns heads everywhere we go, mostly because we are super cute! But also because we are clearly a loving family.

When my wife and I decided to add to our family through adoption we knew the responsibility we would have in raising our soon to be diverse family. We talked about the challenges that our boys could face as Black Americans, but then again we also discussed the challenges our daughters will face, and the overall hurdles we as parents will face in raising all of kids. Being a parent is challenging work regardless of family make-up. 

Our goal is to raise strong independent thinkers that can show empathy and compassion for all types of people. Kids that can follow rules, but also know when a rule needs to be reevaluated and challenged. We encourage our kids to feel, think, and question.

So, as I sift through the recent events surrounding the death of Freddie Grey in Baltimore, I'm asking myself what I would be saying to my boys if they were older. How would I try to explain to them what happened, and what has been a pattern of "happenings" in recent years towards black males?

And it's super hard. Because I'll have to explain to my suburban American kids that life isn't "fair" to everyone in our country. That there are some kids born into homes that don't have the same support and love that they do.There are kids born into families that live in places where opportunity is different, where schools are not like the ones they go to. That there isn't a choir class, or iPads, or arts & theater, or a library with new books every year. It's hard for me to have to explain that there are people that don't think it's fair to help these kids and families because they feel by helping we are only furthering a problem. That help equals dependency, and it's not okay to help people that will just then rely on that help.

I know that when I say these things the response will be, "why?" "Why are kids not being treated fairly?" "Why are there schools that don't have the same things my school does?" "Why do their families not have the same opportunity?" "Why do people feel that way about kids and families in that community?"

They are going to ask all of the right questions.  And I'll have to explain to them that it's history. That there has been a history of segregating the have nots from the haves. That while our country was founded on the idea of all men being created equal, it hasn't been practiced by everyone. I see that I'll have to look into the eyes of my kids and explain that because 4 of them fall into a "minority" subclass, that they might find a tougher road. And that's simply because of skin color or gender. That our country has a history of stereotyping people just on looks alone.

I think of all of this, and I struggle with the idea that in 8 years when my boys are 12, that all of this could still be going on. That 8 years later we could still see areas of extreme poverty in our country. That we could still hear the same "just work harder" banter. That when my kids finally do ask "why" I'll have no better answers than I do today.

A colleague recently asked me about our decision to move to this community. A community that is noticeably less diverse than our previous Fairbanks, AK home. Did it play into consideration? Sure. It was a worry to know that our boys could be even more of a minority in this town. But, I also explained that since moving here we've connected with other families like ours, and that while we are not the norm, we are cared for. Does that mean things will be easy when our boys are bigger? No. No it doesn't. Their mom and I will have to put a strong emphasis on the importance of first impressions. On how to be mindful of surroundings and the situations they put themselves in. We'll have to talk about tone and the power it has in positive communication. The truth is we'll have to do this with all of our kids, because it's true for each of them. 

In the end, I know that they won't be totally alone in that they will always have the love from each other, their siblings, extended family, their friends, and of course their mom and me. We're so proud of the little men they're becoming and regardless of the life struggles put in front of them, this loving support team will always be there. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Teacher Dad : Teacher Appreciation Week

My last bite from day 2 leftovers! 
The other day our student council decided to get the staff a Chinese food lunch for teacher appreciation week. How awesome is that, right?! The funny thing is that when you get things catered and people have specific lunch schedules things have to be timed correctly. Well, it turned out that the food didn't get to school soon enough, and the teachers with the first lunch period missed out on the food completely. Not a big deal, because the amazing admins, students, and staff made sure to get plates of food to those that missed out.

But the entire issue got me thinking, and I realized that what happened in our building is a good picture of how things work for teachers across the US. Ultimately, what some teachers have available to them depends greatly on where their lunch falls (or where they teach). There are some schools out there with unlimited resources at their disposal, including parent volunteers, booster moneys, P/D funds, and technology devices. While others work in places that require them to spend out of pocket for nearly everything they need in the classrooms. There are schools where parents are begged to help on field trips, and all extra-curricular activities are funded at bare-bones unless they are strictly academically focused (i.e. you won't find a bowling team at these schools). These are the schools where the teachers weren't even offered a lunch!

I happen to work at the school with the best lunch schedule. You name we've got it, and if not.. we can write a quality grant and get it. We are super supported by an amazing community, and everyone around knows it. And, what amazes me is that I run into teachers that don't realize the great lunch schedule we have. "Lunch wasn't warm enough" (class size), "wanted chicken fried rice not pork" (kids not doing homework), "the seats aren't massaging" (teacher pay). And while those are all solid issues in the world of academics, there are teachers in the other lunch that don't even have a microwave to heat up the food brought from home! It is so easy to take things for granted, and educators are no different.

There are days that I wish all teachers would have to teach in a variety of different environments, so that we can all have a taste of what it's like some place else. I've had the privilege of teaching in 3 different schools in two different districts. I've seen a lot of things that have helped me shape my views on public education, and have helped me to appreciate a great thing when I've found it. I see the need to advocate for educational change and equality. But without a common voice, its hard to fight for change. Especially, when we do try and all it sounds like it teachers wanting more money or other negative headlines take over.

So, if you're reading this, and you haven't yet, please contact your kiddo's teachers and thank them for doing what they do. Sure, some of them might not be the best teacher your kiddo could have. You may not even like them. But the truth is, you don't know which lunch they might have at school or in life. And while, a quality teacher can leave all that aside to be the best they can be for the students, some just might need a pick me up that a "thanks, you're appreciated" message could bring to their day. So to my fellow teachers out there fighting the good fight.. I appreciate you!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Teacher Dad - Creating Memories

When I think back to my childhood, I think of specific memories. I remember big family vacations to Disney World, Sea World, Dude Ranches (yes that happened), and also little things like my sisters and I laughing at local Chicagoland commercials, and coming up with our own "van" dances to particular songs on the radio. There are playground memories, school friend memories and crazy memories.. like the time our neighbor lady walked out naked in front of all the neighbor boys.. to her defense, her kids shouldn't have let us all in her bedroom to play video games while she showered! Yikes!

Being the parents of 5 kiddos, my wife and I are always looking for ways to create these positive memories (sans the nudity) for our kids and their grandparents, and all of our extended family. As a photographer (Machc Photography), my wife has done an amazing job capturing it all for us to display in our house, and further encouraging our families to help in creating these memories. 

So, over our recent spring break my parents, while visiting from Chicago, made sure to create as many memories as possible with our kids during the time they were here. From trips to the Oregon Zoo and Children's Museum down to hotel sleep overs, and Fro-Yo at Menchie's, the kids are still talking about the wonderful things there were able to do with their Granny and Gramps. It was an amazing trip, and I can't thank them enough!

A quick pic at the Oregon Zoo
The best part about it is that I've learned something from thinking about my memories and talking over with my kids what they thought the high points of the visit were, and it ultimately isn't about the big stuff. The number one thing they liked was being in the pool with the Granny and Gramps. A close second was the hotel continental breakfast the mornings after the sleep over!  What they remember from it all, and what I truly feel when I think back to my memories are the feelings of happiness, love, and togetherness. It's those feelings we, as parents, have to recognize and encourage even through the taking to school, picking up from school, taking to practice, doing frustrating homework, cleaning up spills, and all the other chaos. We have to remember to keep those feelings front and center for our kiddos, so they can look back and feel those moments with us. So that funny song we sang on the way to practice in the car was a moment we let ourselves enjoy too. 

So go.. enjoy the moments with the kiddos to create memories you all will be able to look back on later down the line.

Thanks again for reading my blog, and sharing it with your friends! I'd love to hear some of your funny/silly memories, so please share in the comments below! 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Teacher Dad - More Thoughts on Common Core

I've been seeing a lot of posts in my Facebook feed like this:

Commenters then argue back and forth over the answer with many complaining about the "new" math common core has the kids learning. Some of the parents are irate going so far as to placing blame on the liberal media or our own President. Calm down already! 

The truth is that math hasn't changed. There is no "new" math. The common core is just a set of math and English standards, or more clearly, grade level expectations. The point of the common core is to set national learning expectations for all grade levels. That means all 2nd graders will be expected to know the same level of math all across the nation. Regardless of socio-economic conditions, budgets, or local culture. These expectations may be unreasonable or over done (I touch on this here). But the fact is the common core is here for a little while, and it might mean you parents have to brush up on things. Especially those of you that are seeing your kids come home with more homework in the early elementary grades where as young as 3rd grade they need to understand fractions...Oh no!! Fractions! 

For now, the answer to the above problem is 100. Parentheses first. Then multiplication or division which ever comes first from left to right. In this case... Divide first multiply last. 

I never did like Aunt Sally... Smelled of cats and cabbage.. And that hair lip.. No excuse for any of that! Yuck! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Teacher Dad ebook!

It's true! I wrote an ebook! It has always been a life goal of mine to write a book... I was a few credits away from a minor in English if you really want to know. :)

I wrote this Teacher Dad ebook to help parents better approach teachers regarding classroom concerns by acting as the kiddo's advocate and expert. Be it with an IEP, 504, or a general learning hurdle, this book will be able to give some ideas on how to build a partnership between parents and the teacher. It also fills you in on what you should be expecting of a high quality teacher regarding how your student's struggle should be handled, and when a teacher has crossed the line.

I couldn't be more excited to have this out there as a resource to help parents navigate the often difficult process of talking with a teacher about how to best help a student. You can find the book by following this link (here).

Thanks for supporting the Teacher Dad!