Week 3 – “Sticking the Landing and the Power of Community”

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As I have mentioned before I have a student teacher, Rachel is special and has those elements that I think set great teachers apart from good teachers.  There are tell tale <excuse me I need to go kill a fly> signs that I am right.  This week she was discussing the Nile River and she witnessed that students cannot comprehend river flowing north because they associate north with up, some might remember the Fassold Rule that “all rivers flow downhill”.  Well in 2nd period she spontaneously had 3 kids join her in height order and asked the question if they represented the elevation of the land which way would the river flow; nice.  However, by 4th period she was on a roll and she decided to jump up on to my round table to increase her “elevation”; well…my round table is not support by four legs, it is supported by a single post in the middle of the table.  <dramatic pause> Yep, she jumped up on the edge of the table and over it goes; papers, books, pencils, student teacher go crashing to the ground.  It is in this moment much is revealed.  After gravity finished its work, Rachel jumped up in her best Olympic gymnastic “sticking the landing” pose and said “Ta da”.  Rachel FTW. She has her first week under her belt and she is ready to take the next step of building lessons that build to her strengths and not just teaching my lessons.  It is a big step for every new teacher.  It is one of the many reasons I believe scripted education is a disaster; the transference of passion of learning and subject cannot be read from a script on a page.  Transferring passion is organic and requires intrinsic motivations and inspiration.  I will quit teaching the very day someone comes to me to teach like someone else.  I have told Rachel that she is my last student teacher.  The reason for that is simple; I want every second with my students.  I have only a few years left before I retire and I want to milk every chance to do what I love to do.

My wonderful principal said something to me this week that I look renewed; and I guess that is true.  Some of it is physical after a tough couple years, but it is teaching 8th grade US History under the We the People model that has my blood pumping.  These kids are amazing.  We have our own social media site on Edmodo and the kids are leading the charge to generate discussion and learning to converse in civil discourse.  They are becoming aware and engaged.  They have been so impressive that I dropped them into groups much earlier than I anticipated and they have started their breakdown of their units in preparation of their district papers.  We have started using Socrative for our quizzes; it is great.  My kids just bring devices and I keep borrowing a couple I-Pads from Tom Modglin.  The kids were shocked at the power also of Google documents and the fact that they can all type on the same document at the same time.

I needed the 3-day weekend to catch up on grading and my exploding in-box.  Have a great weekend.

Week 2 – “Back 2 School Night and ‘Sweeping the Leg'”

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Week 2.  For my 7th graders, this is the time when the gloves come off and my academic lambs take a beat down.  My class is a BIG change for my new students because I am frustrating in my lack of perceived help; they don’t want help, they want me to give them the answer.   On the day that I issue textbooks (never to be used again after this activity) I give them a little longitude and latitude review (simple); BUT the last 3 questions cause them a lot of problems.  I asked them why lines of longitude are basically the same length and why lines of latitude are different lengths.  Most get those two questions; some needed my Winnie the Pooh ball to help understand.  On the last question I asked them to draw the EXACT representation of 90 degrees North; to set it up we talk about Ockham’s Razor.  Days, it takes days for them to get this right.  I am little help, short of telling them that they are not completely accurate.  There is frustration by them and a little taunting by me.  My rule is that until one student gets it that the question will go unanswered and even then I only recreate lines of longitude intersecting at the poles with string to provide a hint.

There is a sense of “do it for me” in some of my kids that is frustrating.  It is not from a lack of capability; it is a learned helplessness.  For example, I gave my students a class guide that contained pictures and written instructions to complete the simple task of taping papers into our interactive notebooks.

Class Guide - Day 8 - Stone Age Part II - Page 1Class Guide - Day 8 - Stone Age Part II - Page 2

As I walked around class there would be about five kids that were dumbfounded by the task and looked at my with puppy dog eyes and asking for help.  For those you that know me; this was not going to go well.  I would ask them to read the first task and then look at the picture; then I would ask them what they thought they should do and walked away with an “L.A. Law lawyer pivot”.  I hate self-imposed helplessness.

My We the People 8th grade history class is going pretty well, even though the period flies by and I never get to everything.  This came to a head last Monday I tried to force 2-hours of learning into 42 minutes.  I had to apologize to the kids on Tuesday and put one of my best kids in charge of calling me out if I sacrifice understanding for coverage.  I have to confess that I feel the time racing out of the hour glass as we compete in November and we have so much to learn.  I count my blessings that we did a good job and identifying kids; they bring an energy to the class.  I joked after we talked about John Locke that we should tattoo “life, liberty, and property” on our arms as a reminder of the state of nature; the next day some of my kids had their tattoo.

Back to school night is always interesting to me because we have it so early that there is not a chance that I know their child’s name; however, I can always tell which classes will have my better students; those are the classes that are standing room only.  Needless to say that my We the People class was full; even though they were 8th grade parents who do you attend B2S night at the same rate as 7th grade parents.

Reflections on Week One – “Fresh Challenges Equal Fresh Outlook”

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Our first week of school is only 3 day; thank God.  This year offers new opportunities; I am teaching one section of 8th Grade Social Studies under the We the People Civic Education program, I have a student teacher for the first time in a LONG time (but it is someone that I know), and my six 7th grade sections are squished into five sections.

2014-08-15 12.59.52I was motivated to start a We the People team to our FJH after traveling with the Fishers High School We the People team to Washington DC to compete in Nationals.  It was not without some challenges; establishing a program, finding kids, getting approval, making schedules work; you know just a few challenges.  Thankfully, our building is led by Crystal Thorpe and opportunities for kids are always encouraged.  Jackie Wolf, our guidance director, made the schedules work and the BFM helped recruit and identify kids.  In the end 31 kids took the challenge.  Our first week was about setting the tone; we played, we got to know each other, and we got ready for the next grueling month of building a foundation.

2014-08-14 08.47.12I am excited to have student teacher; not because I like giving up my students, it has everything to do with WHO is my student teacher.  Rachel came through our building and she was in NJHS, a student-athlete in our building, a 3-year Camp Tecumseh counselor, and my cadet teacher during her senior year.  She burns to be a great teacher.  We will work on her journey of honing the craft and art of teaching.  She also gets the added benefit of having me as her classroom aide in a couple periods where our kids need a little more classroom support.

2014-08-16 09.33.37All my Summer Lions were recognized and they have their own place in my classroom.  Thanks to Dave Broviak for helping teach me how to make buttons.  In all 17 kids took the challenge; which was terrific for the first year of the idea.

2014-07-12 17.29.42This year is also about technology.  I have added Remind to both of my courses, Edmodo into my 8th grade class, and I built a green screen (Chinese lanterns are not pictured; they provide diffused light) to create “enhanced” classroom videos.  I am also looking into writing a grant to create a Google Chromebook lab for my We the People class as we use Google Docs to collaborate on the writing of papers.

2014-08-16 22.46.50I was glad to finish my summer challenge of writing 30 “Summer of Thanks”; it was a lot of writing, but worth it.  I find myself wanting to write more of them because of the people that I did not thank; like Steve Baney, Brent Farrell, Mike Beresford, Tom Quellhorst, Robert Heinlein, and a couple others.

2014-08-12 17.13.07The first week was filled with challenges associated with the start of the school year; anxious parents and kids, a little drama, and more than a few stuck lockers.  But I end this week with hope and optimism; now on to our first full week.

Summer of Thanks #30 – Tony Sturgeon (Last, but not least)

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1397914655861My last summer of thanks goes out to the most important person in my teaching career.  Tony Sturgeon is the best teacher that I have known and he has been a major reason for any success that I have achieved.  In short, my career would have contained a major void without my partner of the last 18 years.  Tony is my colleague, foil, friend, and brother.  I count him in that small group in my life that will forever be part of my being and heart.  There will come a day when I retire and Tony will stay teaching; that is not a day that I relish facing.  The following is an excerpt from my book:

Teaching can be a Robinson Crusoe existence …. students aplenty just like coconuts, but peer interaction and support is not always found.  My greatest blessing in school has been my teaching partner-in-crime, Tony Sturgeon.  We have been teaching together for 16 years…we started together at first year teachers and despite the 14 years that separate us age-wise; he has been my friend, confidante, sounding-board, grounding wire, and educational brother.  Tony holds me accountable.  He is simply the best teacher in our district.  We have been an effective team, because our strengths compliment each other and our personalities push each other. 

Tony co-directs Camp Tecumseh with me <along with Maureen Randall who we call ‘mom’, because she takes care of us at camp> and part of our most enduring traditions is counselor and teacher skits.  There is a skit called Banana where one person plays the magician <the straight man> and the other plays the doofus volunteer; Tony plays the magician because he can stay on course is in the middle of chaos…I play the doofus because unscripted chaos is my area of comfort.  This is a metaphor for our teaching relationship.  We both have ideas, but Tony always handles the mechanics and keeps us on track.  Luckily for me, we still teach on the same team.   Our “Globetrotter” team used to be the four core subjects; last year the team was down to just English and Social Studies, but the core of our team has always been Tony. 

 Tony and I play the foils for our kids; he is Yankees and I am Red Sox, he is Star Wars and I’m Star Trek, he is pop music and I am power folk music, and we make fun of each other.  On the other hand we support each other’s classes and assignments.  We could grade each other’s work because we see education the same way.  We share professionally and keep each other on the edge.  He is my brother in arms.  There is no one that I trust more.

Over the years our group has expanded to the group called the BFM.  Educationally we are all very different from each other.  The bonding factor is the desire to do right by kids.  This group brings me joy, but more importantly brings so much to the school.  These guys have a love of kids that manifests into so many kid-first programs, for example the BFM has:

  1. Started our district’s first National Junior Honor Society that requires 50 hours of community service, high grades, and role model behavior. Nearly 25% of school is a member of NJHS.  This is not just a paper distinction.  These kids are the real deal.  We have seven staff members who volunteer for no pay to make this chapter vibrant.
  2. Started our school’s metal and paper recycling program that funds scholarships and other school project needs. We recycle 4 tons of paper each month on average and during the school year we will recycle 1000s of  pounds of aluminum cans.
  3. Sponsor our Charger Integrity Awards that recognizes the kids with the best character in every sport, extracurricular, and teaching team. We just finished recognizing these “menschadictorians”
  4. Created the Charger Challenger Competition between teams that is composed of a combination of Minute-To-Win-It games and a Jeopardy competition. The competition is held every 9 weeks and is an exciting event for students and teachers alike.  Students must have a “C” or better and be “referral free” to compete.  A traveling trophy is held by the winning team and a hallway wall records the winning team.
  5. We also created our Tri-Charger Cup competition that awards points on a system “loosely” based on the houses in Harry Potter. Students earn points by getting involved in extracurriculars and teams.  They also earn points by getting on the honor and high honor rolls.  Every good thing earns points and bad choices can take away points.”

I remember the day that Tony won our district’s Teacher of the Year.  The pride that I felt was akin of a father watching his son homer in Game 7 of the World Series to win an extra inning game.  I jumped up so fast that I pulled a muscle in my back.

So, my friend “thank you”; if I teach more than 5 more years it will be because of how much I value our friendship and working relationship.

Staff - Tecumseh 2009 - Sturgeon Napping with Crown

Summer of Thanks #29 – Students That Keep in Touch

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When my teaching career began I was completely unprepared for the sense of loss that occurs when your students leave to continue their life journey.  Starting with my student teaching year at HSEJH (HSE Class of 2002 which I already thanked) to my wonderful students from last year’s class it has never left me.  I have shed my man card more than once on the last day of school and in the hour after school that I normally sit by myself and wipe tears from my face.   I have written before about my lack of love for the beginning of the year; but to recap, the new kids who occupy the desks in August are trespassing on the desks that I have loved from the previous year.  I know it is not logical, but there is nexus of feelings where my loss intersects with a touch of irritation that squatters have taken up residence in the house of my beloved neighbors.

As tough as letting my students go at the end of year, one of the greatest joys in teaching is when students come back or contact you.  I cherish every note (I have saved every one).  Look forward to the chance to visit and have shed a tear to two with an “out-of-the-blue” email.  Social media has been a blessing in this regard and it is fun to watch folks that I remember their 12-year-old self announce the birth of her fourth child, get married, move to an exotic country, or just enjoy a good meal at a mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall.

So to those of you that have thought of me and dropped me a note…thanks.

Summer of Thanks #28 – Maureen Randall

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Tecumseh - Session 1 - April 2010 (74)Maureen Randall has been like a sister to me for my entire teaching career.  Tony, Maureen, and I all started together at HSEJH 18 years ago.  For a time we worked in the resource room together; an interesting experience for all three of us filled with stories that still bring smiles to us.  In was a blessing from God how we all ended up starting our teaching careers together.  Tony was hired first to teach Social Studies on the HEROES team; I was then hired to teach Social Studies on the Globetrotter Team; the English teacher on the Globetrotter team left for greener pastures; Tony and I conspired to move Tony to the English position on the Globetrotter team if Maureen was hired to take his Social Studies position.  Roger Norris who I have already thanked agreed and the three of us continued our link.

When Fishers Junior High School opened Maureen came over in the caravan and a year later she became the third director of Camp Tecumseh with Tony and I.  She would fill that third co-director spot for over a decade.  She kept her two “boys” in check and in line.  Kids may have starved and been forgotten without her reigning the two of us in during those early years of us having no clue what we were doing some of the time.

On a personal level Maureen has always been someone I could talk to about family, teaching, and life.  She is my other sister (not like I don’t have enough of them already).  She taught both of my girls and I appreciated how she treated them and so many other kids with a motherly love.  She has put up with 15 years of being the only female in the department and has been a voice of reason for the various Central Office edicts that I thought was a waste of time.

So thank you Maureen.

Summer of Thanks #27 – Melanie, Melissa, and Marcy

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Mike, Melissa, Marcy, Melanie - 1984Now my family is a BIT confusing; as I have four natural sisters, two half-brothers, and a half-sister.  To add to the confusion there are also two ex-step-sisters that were part of my life for a while.  One of my half-brothers grew up in my house, but he is 14 years younger than me.  So Joel and I did not do life together; when I left home he was a high-energy 4-year-old with a mess of blond curls on the top of his head.  My other half brother and half sister were not raised in my home and grew up with a father than kept no contact with his other children; so we are related by blood, but not experience or memories.  I also had an older sister that only lived a couple days.

Now that that is cleared up.  I did 16 of my 18 years with my three sisters before I left to join the military.

Melanie and Mike Fassold - Feb 1963My sister Melanie was my closest friend in my early life.  We were only 19 months apart and Mel was my playmate.  I always enjoyed her love of life.  In her youth she lived life like sleep was a delay to the adventures of the day.  I was always a bit jealous of the fact that during our junior high years she was a better athlete than me.  Life has not always been kind to her, but she refuses to complain.  I am always amazed at her artistic talent.

Melissa, Mike, and Jenna - 1987My sister Melissa was five years younger than me.  As a child she was a typical younger sister and we did not have many experiences together.  We became closer when she became an adult.  In fact for many years we talked on Wednesday nights.  I enjoyed her love of life and plans to “become more”.   Way too early she was taken from this world in a tragic accident.  It is a hole that has never been filled in my heart; even after nearly 30 years.

Marcy and Jeff AmesMy baby sister Marcy is one-of-a-kind.  What she lacks in height, she makes up in backbone.  She is a spitfire who loves her family.  We have so much in common, from the shows we watched, to our love of antiques, to our sense of humor.  My girls always giggled at the cuss words that flew our of her mouth when we would be bantering back and forth.  Her family is the only one that has ever lived close to us; so we have visited over holidays.  I loved when her family lived in Ohio, because we would see each other.   Her kids are cousins that my girls have spent time with and are close because of it.

So thank you for being part of my life.

Summer of Thanks #26 – Lyn Jones

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Lyn Jones.jpgLyn Jones is a force of nature.  Her energy and perpetual motor inspires me to get off my butt and do something that matters.  She is the reason that I was hired by Anderson University as an adjunct professor, she is one of the reasons for my beliefs in reading and writing, and she IS the reason that I am writing a book about education.  Lyn inspires because Lyn models what a teacher should be; she teaches writing, so she is a writer; she talks about improving the profession, so she does everything to improve the profession; she wants to expand writing, so starts an organization to bring writing to the masses.  She does all this without taking away from her family or individual growth.

During her time as a teacher in Fishers Junior High it was a foregone conclusion that she would be bound for different pastures.  She needed a bigger stage and platform for her message.  She wants to create readers and writers; a lot.  She also wants to send out into the educational world teachers that have a passion of building readers and writers.  Her stage got bigger when she became a literacy coach in our district; I am still bitter she was not our literacy coach, because I wanted to bask in her energy again. Her stage got even bigger when she took a job at Ball State; now she writes, has her own literacy village, she publishes, and she does it with so little time for herself.  She is a must follow blog and has brought a voice to other parents raising a child with special needs.

She is also the person who has pushed me to write.  I both thank and curse her EVERY TIME I write on my book.  Lyn inspires me to be a better teacher, a better professional, and a better parent.

So thank you my friend.

Summer of Thanks #25 – Brad Jackson

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Book - Brad Jackson telling Stories at Camp TecumsehBrad Jackson was a revelation in my student teaching year.  As the science teacher on the team, I got to see him close up and he was everything that I wanted to be as a teacher: off-beat, engaging, caring, energetic, project-based, and iconic.  In fact, one of my assignments to my student teaching year kids was to prove to me that Mr. Jackson was not an alien.  I based my belief on the fact he talked to birds, understood the intricacies of science, and during a parent meeting with a new family that spoke no English he suddenly burst out in Spanish to talk to them.

Brad is the reason that Camp Tecumseh has remained a viable program.  His energy and unwavering support have helped keep this one-of-kind program alive.  He still comes up to tell stories for our school even though it is a long drive.  Typical Brad; no complaints and no expectation for accolades.  He is least self-serving individual in my adult life.

Brad hates when people call attention to him; too bad.  He has been important in the lives of so many teachers and students.  He is an institution.  Every year he continues to teach is a gain for our district and students.   I have learned a lot from him; the two most important being “if you love your students, you can forgive them” and “tell the people that are important to you how much you appreciate them”.  The first lesson has been centerpiece of my classroom management.  The second one is the impetus of Camp Tecumseh tradition of saying goodbye to seniors, my sometimes long yearbook notes, staying behind to tell performers how proud of am of them, and this Summer of Thanks.

So thank you my friend.