Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Finding the positive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How do you life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Family Day - The Compassion Experience

For most people the start of November signals the beginning of the holidays. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and then it's a straight shot to Christmas and New Years. Which, I will agree, are amazing holidays each year. But for my crew, November holds a more special place in our hearts.

November is adoption awareness month (read a past adoption post here), and being that my family of 7 consists of a pair of kids that have come to us through adoption, we have an added appreciation for November. And if things weren't already great for this month, we celebrate a huge adoption milestone this month as well. We call it our "Family Day" and it symbolizes the day that our family "officially" became our family.

My wife and I have been with our boys since the day they were born. They were "ours" well before we held them in our arms, but in a world of legalities, we had to go through the court system to finalize the adoption all the way down to getting our names on their birth certificates. The day that this happened in front of a judge was 5 years ago this month! And each year we celebrate this day as our Family Day, a day we focus just on our crew.

Each year we do this a little differently depending on where we are physically and financially. In years past, we've tried to do a fun activity (Zoo, Children's Museum, Chena Hot Springs, family hike) and then go out for a family dinner. For our activity this year, we were pulled towards providing a deeper experience for our kids. With all that is going on in our day-to-day lives, it's far too easy to disconnect from the life experiences of others around the world.

We feel it's important for our kids to understand that there so many things to be thankful for each day, AND even more reasons to find opportunities to give back and help. There is no reason to use all that we have just for ourselves when there are kids throughout our country and the world with so little. So, this year we took our family to The Compassion Experience, a mobile exhibit that allows you to step into the world of 2 children growing up in a 3rd world life. We started by experiencing the story of a boy from Ethiopia whose parents left him with an Aunt. He wasn't allowed the same privileges as his cousins, but his story shows how he kept a positive outlook. After time, a neighbor convinces his Aunt to allow him a chance to be a student on scholarship. His story goes through the heartache he experiences, but also the support he received from his sponsors to finally become an artist and builder.

As we walked through his experience,
listening to him tell his story, I watched how each of my kids reacted. My oldest four (5, 5, 8, & 10) looked through each room interacting with the story. They were engaged, and showed elation for his successes, and sadness for his defeats. His story hit each of them in a different way. Two of the kids were overwhelmed with all of it, and were ready to be done when we exited his story. The other two were ready to learn more as they looked through the pictures of kids that we could choose to sponsor.

It was at this point, that my wife took the two that wanted to go on to the second story, while I took our youngest, and the other two out to a playground next to the exhibit. We were all moved by the reality of their lives, and left the experience wanting to help. And while we couldn't commit to sponsoring a child this go around, it is a goal of ours. We will instead get back to our Christmas tradition of giving a gift of a farming Heifer International.  There are many options for helping, and I've linked to the gift page on their site to see all of the great options. Please take the time to visit both sites and consider helping this holiday season.
animal to a family in need through

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Listening Ears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 26, 2016

My Teacher Dad Vote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 9, 2016

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

State Testing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for taking the time to read my post. If you are new to The Teacher Dad site, you can follow me on Facebook and on Twitter for updates and Teacher-Dad related ideas, thoughts, and posts! You can also subscribe below to receive email updates and a free copy of my ebook The Teacher Dad Guide to Inclusion and Accommodations (How to approach teachers about your student's academic struggles)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy 8th birthday MGM. You are truly amazing.

Friday, March 11, 2016

St. Baldrick's.. because I hate cancer!

I know that I'm not alone in hating cancer. And I don't typically come out and say that I hate anything.. But I really, truly hate cancer with a passion, and how it damages a person and a family. Since I was 17 years old, cancer has been involved in my life in some capacity. But over the last 10 years, it's impact has been
overwhelming. I've lost 3 relatives directly to cancer since my oldest was born. I've also nearly lost my mom to heart disease related to her cancer treatments. And these feelings were compounded this past week with the "anniversary" of my Godmother's passing. She's the second of my aunts to lose the battle to cancer. Her death was incredibly hard for me, because she always made it clear that her role as my Godmother was special for her. I knew that I was a special part of her life, and other than my mom, there was no other special "role model" woman in my life than her... She's missed for sure.

With all of the ways cancer has impacted my life over the years, it was, and continues to be, an easy decision to participate in annual St. Baldrick's events. When I was approached to participate for the first time 10 years ago, I had two family members losing their battles. It came at a time that I needed to do something. I felt so powerless, and participating in St. Baldrick's provided a way for me to feel like I was could do something to at least honor their struggles.. their pain. I wanted to do it for my mom, her sisters, and my grandparents to let them know that I was with them.

To date, my participation, and the participation of others on teams that I've "captained" have raised over $14,000! I'm humbled by all that I've been able to do to show my love and support to all that battle cancer and its damages everyday.

I encourage all to please take the opportunity to put a few dollars to St. Baldrick's this year. AS much as I hate the idea of my family fighting cancer, I hate more the idea of kid.. a child, having to go through the same battles. Click the link below to go to my St. Baldrick's page.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

A teacher and a tie

"I don't trust a teacher in a tie."

This was spoken in my direction from a fellow teacher as I was leaving my school recently. My quick response was, "I know, right? So, untrustworthy." This teacher was walking ahead of me and continued by saying, "I at least recognize you, so it's not your first year." It's at this point that I realized this person was suggesting that I was only in a shirt and tie because I was new to the school. I could feel the resentment to my newness. So, I hit my teaching peer back with, "no, it's my second year here, but my 11th year teaching."

As expected my teaching comrade spun around with a distasteful look, and said, "oh, so you're going to be an admin then, huh?" The disgust and judgement oozed off of every syllable of the question. I answered, "possibly." The reply was, "figures." And that was the extent of the conversation.

When I got to my car I laughed. Having just finished reading this blog post written by a veteran teacher calling out other long time teachers for their lack of leadership, and overall negative approach to the teaching profession, I realized I had just experienced this veteran teacher angst first hand. Sure it stung a little, but I totally get it. Teaching is just f#@$ing hard. I know to the outside world it doesn't look like it is, but when you do it right, it's exhausting to put so much passion and effort into teaching 100+ kiddos a day. Sure we get summers off, and nice holiday breaks, but after 20 years, it takes it's toll.

So then to watch the world around you change, and the social perception of educators change, it has to be so hard to wake up bounding out the door to work with kids that simply need you to motivate them to learn. It becomes easy to cash it in, and just start making it through year to year. You pick your top yearly lessons and hang your hat on the popularity of that single moment in the year. You adjust how it's written to meet the newest content standards that have been passed down to you.

Then you watch as the next crop of young teachers step in with tons of energy, enthusiasm, and "strategies." It's just hard. I totally get it. I'm 11 years into the profession, and I've tried leaving multiple times. I've interviewed for business positions trying to dust off my marketing degree. I'm tired too, but for me I always get called back to wanting to be in the classroom. It totally helps that I'm new to this school, and that over my 11 years teaching I've been in 3 different schools. I've mixed things up, and not allowed my career to be stagnant. My guess is that many of these "grumpy" veteran teachers have been in the same classroom for over 10 years! They need a change, and summers just don't cut it. They need a new class to teach, or a new school, or a new set of responsibilities. Sure that puts more on admins to recognize when a teacher needs that jump start, but it's super necessary.

Because the alternative, is a bunch of veteran teachers picking on people wearing ties.. and that's not cool! My mom gave me that tie! And I look damn good in it! I've been wearing a shirt and tie to teach for all of my years in the profession. I know that most teachers don't, but for me I see it as another way that I demonstrate to my students how seriously I take my job. I want them to know that dressing professionally isn't just for business folk, and that being a professional is something that you can display in looking nice for work.... and my MOM gave it to me! It's a nice tie!

Have you been "bullied" by a grumpy veteran teacher? Tell me about it in the comments below. And what do you think, is the veteran teacher angst just exhaustion from working a tough job for so long?

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Call the sub! I'm staying home!

This past week was exhausting. Four out of the seven of us were sick with flu like symptoms creating a home environment that can best be described as survivalist. There was plenty of laundry done, and insane amounts of ginger ale and toast consumed while we did our best to get the house feeling better.

And I get to use the pronoun WE, because I was there helping each and every minute. I ended up taking 3 sick days to be home to help with the all that went into taking care of my sick family. So, with Monday's holiday and my 3 sick days, I had a 1 day work week!...errr.

When I first started out teaching, taking sick leave was something I hated. I disliked being away from my classroom, because it was MY classroom. I'm in control of what happens in there, and how the kids learn. It is my responsibility to get things done, and if I'm gone, I have to trust a substitute to take over... and that never goes well.. or hardly ever! I would feel guilty for missing, and worry that it made me look bad. I mean, people don't take time away from work! It's just not natural!

I grew up watching my dad take little time away from work. He'd work long hours during the week, and would often go in on weekends. As a CFO, he was responsible for so much at the office, and that weighed on him pushing him to bust his butt at all cost. I watched that everyday, and believed that I would also spend every waking minute working while finding time here and there to make a sports game or to coach.

But over the last 10 years that I've been teaching, my views on taking time off have changed. Sure, I still know that chaos is expected when I return to my classroom. "Mr. Mach, the sub didn't know anything, and you need to reteach it all!" That my favorite pencil will be gone.. seriously.. who takes a nice mechanical pencil!!!?? And that it's really days of instruction and progress lost. That said, I have to put my family's needs first in those moments. I could have just gone to work this week, and left my wife who herself was sick alone to take care of the throwing-up kids. That would have been the best idea, if I truly didn't like being married or seeing my kids.

I have learned that taking care of my family is more important than the properties of Kites and Trapezoids in a high school geometry class. And sure, I have an important job, but using my sick leave doesn't make me a bad person. If anything, it shows my students that I value my family, and take pride in being able to help out at home. For some of the kids, that may be a more important concept to learn than that the diagonal connecting the vertex angles of a kite is the perpendicular bisector of the diagonal connecting the non-vertex angles AND is also an angle bisector to the vertex angles! Awesome info? Sure it is! But it isn't more important than the health of my family!

Now, tell me how you feel when your kid's teacher is sick and not at work. Do you take sick days from your position?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Lessons from Diane Sawyer's interview with Sue Klebold

Last night, my wife and I watched Diane Sawyer's interview with Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold. For those of you that recognize the name but can't place why, Dyan was one of the "Columbine Shooters." We never intended to watch the interview. In fact, we had no idea it was even going to be on. But, being that we are parents, educators, and hobbyist sociologists (ok my wife has a minor.. I dabble), we couldn't stop ourselves from watching. 

It was clear from the first moment we laid eyes on this woman, that her life had been shattered. Just close your eyes, and think about what she has experienced. I'm sure you don't want to, because it was HER kid that did this. But that's the thing. You know how much you love your own kid or kids. How your heart just beats for them, and you do all that you think is right. But there is no manual. There is no way to know for sure, especially as we get caught up in the busy of our lives. It's overwhelming to sit in those feelings and imagine the life she has lived since that day. 

As the interview went on, there were so many emotions that we went through as we relived that day, but as parents, not as the college students we were back then. We send 4 kids to school each day. We pack their lunches, do hair, check for glasses, and load them up with, at times, just a quick "love you" & "see you after school." It's the same way many of the parents of the victims did that day, and the mornings before any of the countless school shootings since. We sat numb at the idea of that quick morning "goodbye" being the last. There is no fairness to any of it. To lose a child at a place that we trust to be safe is world shattering. It shouldn't be possible.

This feeling goes further for my wife, because she's married to a teacher. A high school teacher in a very large affluent school. I'm charged with not only educating my students in math, but also being on the front lines of student/teenage life. Any more, what is the job of a great educator? It can't be expected that we JUST teach kids content.. can it? With all that happens in the lives/development of teenagers, how can we not want our teachers to build relationships with the kids? At this point, it has to be a part of the job description. We have to expect our teachers to role models, and figures of support. NOT just content drivers, or standards enforcers. But how do we make that happen, encourage it, or even put that in a contract when all discussion is on budget cutting and the importance of STANDARDS!! 

It's crazy to know that before the shooting at Columbine, one teacher did contact Dylan's parents to let the know about a disturbing paper he had written. It was passed on to the counselor, and no further action was taken. Dylan and the second shooter, Eric, had also been arrested for felony theft. The judge gave little to no punishment. Both events were calls for help. But these signs were missed, and with the continuation of school shootings in our country, these signs occasionally still go missed. 

So, what is the takeaway from all of this? For my wife and I, it's that we can't get caught up in the bustle of our everyday to the point where we overlook the importance of special or significant little moments. That moment of "goodbye" needs to be special each day. Each hug, each worry, each bit of sadness needs to be taken with equal love & concern for each of our kiddos. But further than that, our concern and care needs to extend to the friends of our kids, to my students, to my wife's clients, and to the family we have all over. It's so easy to get caught up in money concerns, deadlines, house cleaning, laundry, or even political campaigns to the point where those little signs are written off. If anything, last night's interview was a reminder at just how important our roles as parents, teachers, and role models are each and everyday. We all have a responsibility at helping support the lives and success of each and every kid that crosses our paths. It's not that Dylan's parents failed him, it's that many of his calls for help went unnoticed by all the adults in his life. Sure his parents own a great deal of that burden, but I know that if he were one of my students, I would own the responsibility I had in overlooking the help he needed. It's my job to know my students, and to care for them beyond if they know how to use the quadratic formula or not. It's my responsibility to be great for my kids and my students. 

Now tell me what you think. Use the comments below to share your memories of that terrible day at Columbine. Did you watch Diane Sawyer's interview? Do you feel like your school is a safe place? What makes it a safe place? 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"Fresh, Clear, Well Seasoned Perspective"

I'm a Pixar fan... Ok... A huge Pixar fan! So, often times scenes from those movies will pop in my head triggered by the words I just said or even events surrounding my everyday living. This past week several events caused the scene below with Mr. Ego from Ratatouille to pop into my head.

Perspective... A huge theme for my week. I've needed a good heaping serving of it to keep me grounded as the week lead me up to today, my oldest kiddo's 10th birthday! It's hard to believe that I've been a dad for 10 years. This week has given me time to reflect on what these 10 years have been for me and my family. And when I'm deep in reflection, I often play the "what if" game. What if PK was an only child..? My mind spent a lot of time on that this week. I see Facebook, and all the wonderful lifestyles of my friends with 1 or 2 kids. I fantasize at the financial comfort my wife and I would have. How her business would have grown more. How I would have not only secured my masters quicker, but maybe I'd also have an admin license. I dreamed of the house we'd have. Would we still be in Alaska? What if we stopped at 2 kids..? What if.. What if.. What if...?

Then I would sit back and take in the perspective. How could I live without any of my 5 kids? That just wouldn't be right. They are all amazing kids and I couldn't live a day without them. And who's to say that we wouldn't have endured different hardships having just had a single kiddo? Sure things have been tough, but in the last ten years, we've done so much! We've added 4 more kids, lived in 5 different homes, had vacations, weddings, earned a master's degree, started a business, started a blog, and showed our kids what living and family is all about. My wonderful 10 year old is who he is today because he is the big brother to 4. His kind, loving nature, imagination, and passion are all enhanced because of his siblings. So more perspective, how would it have been fair for him to not have his MGM, A-town, OE, and ZuZu? .. Perspective!

My second connection with perspective is truly it's own post, but fits the theme too well! So, I'll sum this part up just to keep PK's bday celebration at the center of things! Earlier this week, my wife shared with me a headline and article from the newspaper in Fairbanks, our old home. The story was about the school district looking to cut 80% of the nurses employed and working in the schools. Of course, this is being done in an attempt to trim costs in a school district that has been struggling for years now (increased class sizes, difficult contract negotiations, buildings with leaks due to trees growing on top of them).

Cut to my staff meeting this week, where I listened to the "big" worry for my school admin team... "We should have 22% of our student body eating free and reduced lunch, but year to year those numbers are going DOWN. Why aren't they filling out the paper work?" Then we got a break down of which activities the "subgroup" participates in and heard about the difficulties in trying to figure out how best to engage this group of kiddos more with sports/activities.. "...but how do we do that with say, the swim team? They have practice at 5:15am every morning!"

Perspective.. there are plenty of middle to upper class school districts doing more than fine in our country, and will continue to do more than fine while the schools of our lower to low-middle class districts will continue to fall apart. There is no fairness to this. It's time for more perspective. You can read a great article by Nate Bowling, a past teacher of the year, addressing this inequality here

Sunday, January 24, 2016

It's a Preschool time of year!

For those of us parents with kids older than 5, we know that January and February are cutthroat months! It's Preschool registration season or if not yet, it's coming! The intense battle for getting THE all important spot in THE all important preschool is an amazingly stressful experience.

Some of you may be reading this thinking, "It can't really be all that stressful." Oh.. you just don't know the half of it! Finding the right preschool become a near Hunger Games experience for some families. There is major wheeling and dealing to get kids registered into "elite" programs. My wife (Machc Photography) and I actually had a little celebration when we realized that we didn't have to worry about preschool for the next school year. Our twins will be moving on to Kindergarten!! No more private preschooling for a few years!! Then we'll have to get back into the preschool hunt for littlest. 

Having done this several times, I'd like to share some of the ways that we've made preschool hunting work for us!

1) Take the time to jot down your own expectations for your preschooler. What do you expect preschool to be like for your kiddo? What do you hope your kiddo will gain from their preschool experience? How big do you envision the class size? Do you want volunteer hours? What does pick-up and drop-off look like? Will there be field trips? Is daycare necessary? How about electives (e.g. Spanish, dance, music)? What does your monthly budget look like for tuition? Does your kiddo need special services, and if so, what specific support is needed? Is Religion a factor? How far away is it? This may seem like a lot, but in answering these questions my wife and I were set as to what we wanted for our kids. 

2) Research all of the local preschool options. Hit the internet, talk to neighbors, look for fliers and signs in the neighborhood or at church. Check with the local school district. Talk to anyone with kids to see what they did. Write it down, write it all down!

3) Go to any and all open houses or Preschool fairs.  This is a super MUST! You have to find a way to to see each school and really get a feel for the teachers. My wife is a part of the local Mom's Club, so when they hosted a Preschool Fair, we made sure to go! It was the deciding factor for us when we met the school staff of the school we decided to go to. You really need to meet the people you are going to be sending your 3 and 4 year old to! 

4) Apply to the top 3 schools. You are going to narrow your search down to the top 2 or 3. At this point, you have to stay on top of registration dates, and get materials in on time! To be safe, register for the 2 or 3 programs that will work for you and your kiddo. There is always a chance that you don't get into the school you want, so it's good to have a backup. Yes, you loose the deposit for the school you decide to not attend, but it's best to be safe! We applied to 2 programs this past year for our twins. We got into both, and picked our top school. 

This process has worked for us in two different states, and 4 different kiddos. The key to remember is that you really should go through a version of this each year just in case what you are looking for changes, or your kiddo's strengths or interests change. The school we had our twins in last year is not the school they're in this year. We re-evaluated what we were looking for, and found a better fit. Try not to get too wrapped up in the little things like location of the school. If the closest school is just convenient, but the best option is a 20 minute drive, consider which is actually best for the kiddo. We.. ok my wife.. drives 40 minutes round trip to take our kiddos to and from preschool 3 days a week. Is it a pain in the butt (is she a saint for doing it?)? Of course!! But man, they love the school, and WE love all that they are gaining! 

I hope this helps you first time preschool hunters! And re-enforces the work some of you parents have been putting in for a few years! Please share this with anyone you think might benefit from the advice from this father of 5! And use the comments section below to tell us about your favorite preschool and where it is! 

Our favorite in Alaska was Young Learners! Our oldest daughter had an amazing experience there! 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

It's over!! THANK the MAKER!

As a kid Christmas was an amazing part of every year. It had everything I looked forward to, from gifts, to food, to family, and entertainment. I remember doing my homework in the living room listening to Bing Crosby's Christmas CD paying from the stereo. I loved it! I couldn't imagine how anybody could dislike this time of year.

Spring forward to the 37 year old me, and I get how it can happen. Life is full of things that either happen unexpectedly, or are a direct result of a decision you make. Sometimes those two things are amazing, and your life takes an up swing. But if they're not, life can hit a real dark, tough place. And when these hard moments happen at the holidays, it almost makes the hurt burden you more.

For some of us, the holidays reflect a feeling of loss or sorrow. A time where we miss the family or friends that aren't with us, for whatever reason. Maybe it's an unexpected passing, or time and space that keep you away. This Christmas marks the 9th year in a row that I've not been with my side of our family for the holidays. It's hard knowing that my kids have not created a memory of spending time with them in their lifetime.

Often times, it's easier to power through the missing of loved ones, when you can truly embrace the celebration of the season with those around you. There is nothing better than seeing the joy of Christmas in your kids. Having their spirit of youth and excitement propel you forward to decorating your home, and buying gifts. But again, that requires resources to make that happen. Sometimes finances aren't exactly where they need to be, because of decisions made (or not made) throughout the year. When you throw in money strain on top of feelings of loss or sorrow, it's difficult to find that "power through" and you find yourself taking down the Christmas decorations the day after.

And kids.. kids know things. If there is stress in the house, or pain, they can feel it. And over a two week period, those feelings can build up, and create behaviors that lead to lines in songs like, "And mom and dad can hardly wait for school to start again." Sprinkle in the breaking of the routine set from the school schedule, and parents are celebrating the new year for different reasons (only 2 more days, just 2 more days)!

For this year, I can't say that it's been too low of a down swing for my family. There were definitely amazing moments over the last two weeks. Time spent with my in-laws, and the magic in the eyes of my kids to name a few. But it wasn't all that it should have been for reasons out of my control, but for many that are in my direct decision making powers. So, I'm ready for this new year to continue on, so that I can work to make the 2016 end of year holidays better. Because next year, I don't want to be so excited to see the holiday pass.

So, Cheers to the excitement and possibilities of this new year. I look forward to keeping up with my The Teacher Dad site. Please take the time to follow me on Facebook and Twitter.