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!