Summer of Thanks #23 – Valerie Ax

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Ax Family at TecumsehThere have been many special families and people in my teaching career; so making my list of 30 was extraordinarily difficult.  Valerie has been a constant in my teaching life; as a tech specialist who actually cared about making tech work for the user, to the parent of four terrific kids (3 of which I taught and all were counselors at Camp Tecumseh), and someone that I could talk to about raising daughters.

At work Valerie always wants to help make whatever problem you are experiencing go away.  She will uncover every stone to make something work; long after when most people would say, “It can’t be done”.  In the early days of yearbook, when creating a digital yearbook was just getting starting, Valerie was my MVP.  She figured out every Photoshop and PageMaker problem that I ran into.  She helped everything from infrastructure, to finding grants, to getting cameras fixed.  I know I burdened her, but she never complained and I probably never conveyed my appreciation to the level her help deserved.

Valerie’s kids were and still are a source of joy for me; from Danny’s plastic car medallion (he is wearing it in the above photo) and public reminder for daring to get ran over by a car when he was my student (potentially causing him to miss my class…a deadly sin); to Sarah building my lion/lamb box that is still used today; to Emily who was responsible for getting Joe Reitz his only school detention; and, finally, to Adrianne who is Valerie’s clone and was part of one of my favorite set of counselors ever (her photo climbing back up the hill to Black Hole during a snow storm is still part of our counselor training).

Box - Out of the Box Repaired


Lastly, I would like to thank Valerie for all the pep talks over the years about raising girls (still a mystery to me).  Her patience and support is a real kindness to me.  Her friendship has been one of my favorite parts of my teaching career.

Summer of Thanks #22 – The BFM

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BFM 2012 CollageThe Boy Friend Mafia was named by one of the founding member’s wife.  What Anna Stumpf, aka “She who should be feared”,  meant by the moniker was that we spent so much time together and we were always working an angle to make our school better.  The BFM is a loose term with kind of murky membership.  For the sake of this thanks I am going to deal with the core membership that goes on the summer trip.

1.  My first thanks goes to Kevin Stumpf.  I always use the descriptor “faithful” when describing Kevin to other people.  He is the person who you can always count on at any level.  Like myself, he entered teaching in a non-traditional manner.  It is through his questionable start to college, his rise up the ranks at Wal-Mart, and return to college that give him a laser focus on what he wants to do; which is to become a great teacher.  Kevin has grown every year as a teacher; he is constantly searching and expanding his knowledge base.  Unlike some teachers who have 1 year of experience 20 times; Kevin has nearly a decade of experience.  I love to listen to him talk about his next step on the path.  On a personal level, Kevin is a source of joy for me; his snarky comments about our sports rivalries and his quick wit make me laugh.

BFM 2013 Collage

2.  My second thanks goes to Dave Broviak.  Dave opened up Fishers Junior High with us so many years ago; back then junior high was just a gig until a high school job opened up;  hummmm…  Dave is a character in his own right; he taught both of my daughters and the girls were better off for it.  Dave is a critical member of the BFM; he brings to it the quirky side of teaching and friendship.  He is role-model to so many kids, because he invests in their lives and opens his own life experiences to his kids.  He is an author who just finished his second book.  His work was part of the inspiration for me to write my own book.  No BFM trip would be complete without Dave; his willingness to go to baseball games with us, even though he is not really a fan, is part of why he is so special.  He can find joy in anything that we visit.  I admire him for that.

BFM 2014 Collage

3.  Pete Girbert has joined us on the last two BFM trips.  He fits the four of us even though most of us distrust anyone who speaks French.  Like the rest of us he loves knowledge so every tour, random Americana stop, and small town is something that Pete enjoys.  While Pete is not in our building full-time, he has been part of our Steak n’ Shake group from the beginning.

4.  Tony Sturgeon is the last traveling BFM member….I will address him later.

Summer of Thanks #21 – My Students

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Book - PicturesI have been blessed in my teaching career with terrific students; starting with my student teaching kids at HSE Junior High and Westfield High School, to my kids during summer school at HSE High School, my Anderson students, and my Fishers Junior High students.  I feel blessed because with very few exceptions they have followed where I tried to lead them; some even figured out my real lessons.

I would like to say that I remember every student that I have taught, but that would be a lie.  There is only so much room in my memory.  The kids that I remember clearly are the ones that invested in class; and it REALLY helps if they became Camp Tecumseh counselors.  Brad Jackson used to tell his Camp Tecumseh seniors that while he may forget their names over the years; it is the traditions of excellence that will make the lasting impact.  My room is filled with reminders of my past students and their contributions to my class.

Book - Stars and Hilton FrisbeeI have told the story of how Jason Hilton’s Frisbee came to be screwed into my wall.  All the open house and senior pictures fill one space and provide stories and bragging about kids from the past.  Each of my Students of the Year has a place for their plaque; they become part of my classroom lexicon.  My students find the picture of Emily Bailey and I she calls me “coach”.  My past students are part of me and some still own a piece of my heart.

Book - Student of the Year Plaques

So to all my past students; thank you for bringing me great joy over the past 18 years.

Summer of Thanks #20 – Laurel Fassold

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Mike, Laurel, Caitlin, Ally - 2002This thanks goes out to the person that has given me the greatest gifts of my life <okay my mom might argue with my declaration>.  Ever since I left home for the military at the age of 18 my life revolved around myself and even when Laurel and I married in 1992 my life did not change that much; until the moment Laurel gave birth to Caitlin.  It was in that moment my world changed.  Never had anyone blessed me more.  A couple years later she blessed me again with Ally.  She provided me with purpose.  After 22 years together we have weathered storms, peaks and valleys.  However, every day she provides me with the stability of a home and family.  This is the foundation of my life.  Thank you.

Summer of Thanks #19 – Fishers Junior High School

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Fishers Junior High SchoolI am biased about my school; the place is special.  What makes FJH special is the heart that beats in the school.  The staff at our school actually likes being there and it shows throughout the building.  You see it in the cleanliness of the building, the meals that are served, the quality of care from the support staff, to the leadership, and in all the opportunities that are given to our kids.  Many of the clubs and programs in our building are sponsored for little to no money; programs suddenly appear out of a passion to help kids.

I mentioned in my thanks to Brian and Crystal that our staff has a blue-collar mentality; it is one of our defining features.  In fact, the building reminds me of the best places I worked in when I was in the military; there is an esprit de corps normally found in high quality military units.  Even though our building has been on the short-end of the stick in infrastructure (my 14-year-old computer was just replaced this summer; however, the 14-year-old monitor is still there) and redistricting; the building does not wallow, it just moves forward.  While we complain to each other, there is that moment when we just accept it as our reality and just go to work.  That hard work is illustrated every time I enter the building on a weekend or at night and I bump into 2 or 3 others in there “getting ahead” on something for class.  We could hold staff meetings (if we did that kind of things) the week before school with all the staff in the building.

The best part of our building is the community that exists; story after story exists where our staff helped someone in need on our staff; quietly and without fanfare.  We also have a culture where stories connect us to each other; normally the stories revolve around some moment of temporary insanity, but none the less it binds us.  It is the same as those familiar family stories that bring out laughter in the retelling.  Of course, at the 7th grade level, Camp Tecumseh binds us closer; I call it the “Harvey” factor.  The staff loves our time together at Camp and we love the time to interact with our students outside the traditional classroom setting; seeing us square dance with students has a certain impact on our school climate.

Years ago a professor from Indiana State University did a climate survey.   He called our climate the most positive he and his staff had analyzed; we weren’t and aren’t perfect, but we genuinely care for each other and our students and that is a lot.  Every once and while there is a vague job offer that comes my way and I never give it much thought because I know that I teach with the finest folks, led by great leaders, and have a wonderful group of kids every year.

So thank you Fishers Junior High!

Summer of Thanks #18 – Crystal Thorpe

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Thorpe-TOCweb1I have been blessed in my second career to have worked for three great principals.  As Tony and I have presented outside of our district we are constantly hearing stories from other teachers about terrible principals; we just smile and nod because we have nothing to add to the conversation.  There is almost a sense of guilt that occurs because we have been so blessed.  Crystal is the third principal of my teaching career and I have already discussed Roger Norris and Brian Cronk.  In many ways Crystal’s arrival hit me at the right time in my teaching career.  It might surprise folks that know me, but there is a part of me that is really opinionated about what works in the classroom.  It might be telling that in my book that I have only cited only one other author or article.

For many years my educational circle was very small; made up of just 4 or 5 people that I would talk with about the craft of teaching.  Crystal expanded my circle by one.  She knows the craft and she especially understands reading and writing.  Our passions overlap in this area.  I find myself seeking guidance instead of affirmation; this is something that does not come easy and it only happens with people that I trust completely.

As a leader, Crystal gets it completely.  She understands the difference between leadership and management as evident from the way she conducts herself on the job.  She sets direction, first and foremost, on what is best for kids.  Now this seems an obvious thing to most people, but education can be about grandstanding and making yourself look good for your next job.  I have seen these people come and go in both my careers.  Crystal has a blue-collar mentality of goals, hard work, and self-evaluation; this is perfect in a building filled with like minded teachers.  She stays current professionally and enriches versus force-feeding new ideas.  She made a great impression on a building that lost a beloved principal by listening and observing for a year before she started to put her stamp on the building.

Crystal has been so supportive of me at a professional level.  For example, last school year’s success with the FHS We-the-People team inspired me to want to start a middle school team and compete at the state-level.  To do this was no easy task.  First off, I would need to teach an 8th grade class; however, there was no way that I would jeopardize the strong team dynamic that exists at the 7th grade level and with our district in a budget crunch there was no chance of teaching during my prep.  So in order for this to happen, I would need to put my 6 classes of future Globetrotters into 5 classes and then have one class of 8th graders.  Crystal never hesitated and she supported every change to make it happen.  Why?  She saw a way to improve the educational opportunities for our kids.

I count every year that Crystal comes back as principal a blessing.   So thank you Crystal for being a great principal.

Beyoncé’s I Was Here – Thanks Ally for Sharing

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I was here logoAlly shared the Beyoncé  video tribute to the humanitarian efforts of the United Nations and it blew me away.   I guess what tugged at my heart was that the people who got their hands dirty and helped people would matter in the long run; they are the ones that world would remember that they were here.  It should be the goal of every human being to leave a POSITIVE mark that they were here.

Summer of Thanks #17 – Tim Wade, Bill Getman, William Million, JD Allen, and Geoff Tease

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So to put this thanks in context, I coached Caitlin for 10 seasons of softball; first in rec, then All-Stars, and finally in travel softball.  Truth be told I never liked coaching in games; there was a part of me that died a little when the girls would fail in an at-bat or in the field, their anguish caused me to suffer right with them.  I loved when they succeeded and felt genuine joy for them.  For many reasons, I think that I was better suited for coaching rec softball; I lacked the killer instinct that some coaches have to put the team ahead of a player.  There were girls I should have let go because of a lack of ability or the detriment that their parents brought to the team.  However, I loved practice and the time between games with the kids, parents like the Goleys and Bontragers, and my fellow coaches.

103_1264 I was lucky enough to coach with some terrific people.  During my time in rec softball there was Geoff Tease and JD Allen.  Geoff knew more about the game than JD and me; however, his calm demeanor and ability to coach the finer parts of the game were so critical to raising the games of the kids we coached.  Now coaching rec softball can be interesting as the ability of some girls could be called into question; spending time in the dugout during those moments that defy description were some of my favorite times because of the banter between Geoff, JD, and myself.  It brought light to moments that would drive normal coaches crazy.  JD was always willing to be the head coach so that I could avoid paperwork and meetings.  His genuine love of kids was never more evident than when he coached; there was no malice or meanness in JD, he genuinely wanted the best for every girl on the team.

img026When I coached at the all-star level, my biggest rival from the rec league days was added to the mix.  Tim Wade and his daughter, Hannah, were easily the best at the rec level.  Tim was a better coach and Hannah was the best player at the rec level.  Tim taught me so much about how to be coach; he is the original Energizer Bunny, everything he did he did loud, with energy, and enthusiasm.  I loved practice, but Tim REALLY loved practice.  He would hit balls for hours if there was one girl who wanted more work.  He would leave work at any hour just to practice.  Tim understood that recognition was important; from game balls to “attaboys”, Tim recognized the accomplishments of kids.  Tim, who grew up with very little, would not allow any of his players to lack for a piece of equipment or uniform.  Without fanfare, a girl who lacked something would suddenly have it because of “Coach Tim”.  There are few people in my experience who have such a big heart for kids.  Tim made my coaching time fun.  He is someone that I could trust with anything.

DSC_0405Bill Getman is the person who brought Tim and me into the travel softball world; which neither one of us knew much about.  After working as an assistant coach for one year, Bill helped me head coach for a couple years.  Bill knows the game and brought two girls into the sport that had so much ability.  As my “across the street” neighbor, we spent a lot of time together.  His humor and passion for the game made up for the fact that he is a Yankee fan.

2012 ASA Mountaineer Showdown Team PhotoI was approached by the head coach after each of us had suffered from a team schism to merge our favorite players and families into a single team; it was my best coaching decision.  I was able to bring my favorite players that would include Tim and Bill with me to Indy Freedom.  Our teams clicked and for the first time as a coach I was able to concentrate on the things that I enjoyed.  The reason for this was William Million; he may have been the best in-game coach that I ever worked with, he knew every rule and nuance.  He was able to milk talent at times when we were running a bit short.  Caitlin and I finished our softball days with William and got a chance to participate in the Columbus tournament where we finished 6th out of 150 teams after going 0 for 4 in the seating rounds.  It was the greatest experience in my coaching career.

So gentlemen thank you for a great 10 years.


Summer of Thanks #24 – Steve Heiniger

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Heiniger - Mullet - 10 Year Photo Heiniger - Big Pike - 10 Year PhotoSteve Heiniger is one of those people you never forget.  His self-deprecating sense of humor and ability to find humor in every situation make him easy to spot.  This is not really why he makes my list.  Steve has been a role-model for me in life.  His faith, his devotion to family, his leadership at school, his tireless work at his church, and his devotion to making the world better set him apart from the masses.

Sturgeon and I have taught all the Heiniger children (now that his youngest is on our team this year); you can always pick out the Heiniger kids, they are the ones who are role models for their peers and that you could trust with the credit cards and car keys.  Each of the kids is their own person, but each has the common trait of goodness that you wish every person in the world possessed.  They are always the easiest and shortest Tecumseh counselor interviews, because they are exactly what you want impressionable 7th grade students led by.  Dana (the most patient person in the world) and Steve raised great children and as we say in our building; the apple does not fall far from the tree.

I am sorry for all the grief that I have and continue to cause Steve in his role as my department chair.  Steve has listened to every diatribe about one policy or another with patience and understanding; he doesn’t always agree with me, but he lets me finish anyway.  Steve is completely void of self-promotion and is not interested in grandstanding achievements; he is only interested in advancing student learning and making it possible for the teachers within his department to reach this goal. Steve is heavily involved in the leadership of his church.  His leadership is beyond sitting behind a desk; he, and his family, feed the homeless, work in the food bank, show up to every event, and even travel to Columbia to help raise the lives of those that most need it.  His heart is twice as big as most people’s.

We have had many conversations about kids, finances, and life; I have never told him that these talks mean a great deal to me and his thoughts carry a lot of weight in my world.  So thank you my friend.

Summer of Thanks #16 – Stan Lee and His Marvel Universe

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marvelI can’t imagine my world without the Marvel Universe.  It was my gateway to my love of reading.  I still have my comic collection and everyone of my favorites had the name Stan “The Man” Lee on the inside cover.  Stan brought into existence a world that fascinated my youth; a world where awkward youth like Peter Parker could become powerful and clever by nothing more than a bite from a radioactive spider.  I was drawn to his teams and I collected the Avengers and X-Men as a youth and up until Caitlin’s birth (children are so expensive!).

Jimmy Lunney - 57

My cousin Jimmy Lunney, who past away a year ago last December, was the person who brought me into the comic world; of course, he was DC; Justice League versus my Avengers, Captain America versus Batman, etc.  I am forever grateful to Jimmy for instilling my love of stories where good triumphs over evil and the good guy gets the girl.

1432302-x_men_141  X-Men-by-Neal-Adams-cover-demonstration

Lastly, comics fueled a love of art and I became devoted to the art of John Byrne, Arthur Adams, and Neal Adams.  I loved to draw the key scenes from their comics.

So thank you Stan Lee. Excelsior!