Musings of a Caffeinated Teacher Home Alone

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First off the girls are all gone; just me and the brother-in-law at home.  I celebrate my man freedom just as most men dream…filled the water softener, rested my eyes for 2 hours, drove to Anderson to watch some of my students perform in Winter Guard, made food that makes the girls roll their eyes and comment about the smell and presence of veggies.  I am going to round out my bachelor-life with a sci-fi film fest of some “geeky” faire followed up with an historical film.  Before I embark on my night that explains my lack of popularity in high school; I thought I would muse…

  • Friday night we had our NJHS “super, fun night” for our new 7th grade students.  We had fun…I once again established myself as the greatest “river shark” ever.  My kids are so trusting; even after I tell them not to trust me.  Watching my 8th grade officers provide leadership and support warms my soul.  Also the high school kids that come back to help represent all that is good in America. Talking with them for an hour after the night ended makes everything work the time. Once again the 7th grade selected great officers to represent our chapter.  They stepped over popularity and elected true role models to carry the torch of this great chapter.
  • I am embarrassed to watch what is going on in the Republican race.  Petty insults and vulgarity are low-brow.  Is this the best our country can manage.  School have pushed the message of “no bullying” and yet the bullying comments are carried on national media and celebrated in some circles as “telling it like it is”.  It reminds me of line from the Machiavelli’s The Prince when he writes, “For the vulgar are always taken by appearances and by results, and the world is made up of the vulgar, the few only finding room when the many have no longer ground to stand on.”  George Washington would move to Canada if he knew this was his Presidential legacy.
  • ISTEP….
  • There would be some changes if I was ever elected dictator of the world.  I have pondered if we would save money if we gave all elected officials a $1,000,000 a year salary, but did not allow them to be lobbied, vote on bills that they received a financial benefit for passing, all campaign money was donated into a blind trust that distributed the money without strings.  Would this bring back “civic virtue”; would we have a modern Cincinnatus or Washington rise to office.
  • Why are schools not rated on longitudinal data versus short term tests?  Should school be measured on what they produce? Schools get points for students who go to college, trade school, military, Peace Corps, mission trips, or enter any job that allows them to avoid government assistance to eat.  Schools would lose points for high school drop outs and graduating unemployed students.  Of course, as elected dictator, all high school drop outs would immediately be brought to the military recruiter for ASVAB testing and service selection.  It seems that is a much cheaper and more meaningful measurement.  The money that the states use to subsidize testing companies and politicians could then be used to create organic farms in schools and entrepreneurial programs at schools to teach real skills and provide income to students that need it.
  • This week started the selection process for my We the People class for next year.  This is so tough.  Thanks to my brothers-from-other-mothers the list is down to 60 names. Whittling those names down to a class of 24 will be tough.
  • Tis the start of the season of tears…electing new officers means saying goodbye to old officers, hiring new Camp Tecumseh counselors means saying goodbye to a great class of senior counselors (this year’s senior class will be especially tough–there are a lot of them and they mean a lot to me), building a We the People class for next year means saying goodbye to this year’s class (they are so very special to me…we all know it is coming…small comments are made…but we just move on from the subject), the current 6th grade students coming by for Charger Connection night means that my 7th grade kids who have grown so much this year will be soon be gone.  I hate being a teacher; I love being a teacher.
  • I am blessed to teach with folks who care about kids.  To some students are numbers and rankings.  To my teaching-brothers they are souls with futures.
  • I was inspired watching the HSE JV Winter Guard perform to convert the blue steps in my room to a faux rocky outcropping so that I could enter into the room to the song “Circle of Life” from the Lion King and I could walk up the two steps (more than that would kill my knee) and the kids could all give a little bow.  We could sing the chorus “pink pajamas penguins on the bottom” all together.
  • My no more “B’s” and “D’s” program for holistic grading is taking off like wild-fire.  Well three people have talked to me about it.  I should start branding myself a consultant and make a lot of money.  Now if only my “deportment” grade on report cards would gather such a following.
  • I drink too much coffee…
  • Sketch-noting is the real deal.  My 8th grade students stun me with their work; my 7th grade students have mostly embraced the concept.  Next year’s first 9 weeks are becoming clear in my mind.  I plan on building my class around how to learn to be a historian (and student).  Emphasizing the skills of reading, analyzing, understandings, and arguing will pay dividends for the rest of the year.
  • I am making another cup of coffee…
  • When I am elected dictator of the world my classroom will have a Chromebook lab with wireless print capability.  All software will be loaded by me.  I would like to have one day where the kids who did not do his or her work did not walk into my class playing a game on his iPad.
  • Okay that is enough musing for this week.  Time to watching Serenity and Selma.
  • If a rich benefactor ever slips me enough money to open my own school it will be called Socrates School of Quality Query.  We will be called the S2Q2’s. Latin will be taught.  Books will be read.  Recess will be had.  Songs will be written.

Happy 21st Birthday Caitlin!!

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Numbers Pictures - 2- ColorNumbers Pictures -1 - Color

Beet (short for Sugar beet–for those reading and wondering–I have called both girls this since they were babies), I have to confess to you that I am stumped to what to give you for your 21st birthday.  Sure I could join with everyone else and give you alcohol, drinking glasses, and maybe a margarita machine.  I just don’t want to be like everyone else.

So I am taking a different tact.  I want to go over the twenty-one reasons that I celebrate your birth.

C and M - Feb 16 1995

Reason 1.  I saw you first.  For the first time, I understood unconditional love the moment in the hospital when I held you in my hands.  It is something that is hard to explain to a non-parent.  Your birth was especially a sweet when we were unsure if a child was in the cards.  A childless marriage was something that we thought was a possibility as your mother and I struggled to have you and considering our ages at the time. There were moments in the hospital as I sat there watching you with your wide-open eyes that appeared to understand the world around that I understood what it means to know that I truly mattered.

20141215_112211Reason 2.  You are your father.  *Sorry about that*  I see myself in you.  The good and the bad; the strength and the strong-willfulness.  You have my sense of humor.  I am proud that you have inherited the hatred of failure and the idea that you can always just apply more effort to a difficult situation.

12002050_10207771075103099_6292584886211677500_nReason 3
.  You have decided to take a career that serves others.  I cannot adequately express in words how much you becoming a nurse makes me  proud.  You have decided to dedicate your life to easing the suffering of others; in a world that thinks that the world should pivot on their wants and desires this is notable.  I have  loved your moments of compassion that are glimpses to your future.  You have always had a soft spot for those that are wounded.

C, M, and Kelli -- LuauReason 4.  Your year as my cadet teacher meant so much to me.  It gave me chance to spend time with you and for a group of my students to meet you.  There were kids that you were able to reach that others would have not stuck with.  You also were so much your father in your directness, compassion, and “no excuse” mentality with kids.  Having you jump right in with my kids was so much help.  If the teaching environment was different I would have encouraged you to forego all other careers and become a teacher.  You have that “it factor” that great teachers have; it is something that cannot be taught.  Someday I would love to see you go back to school and become a teacher of nurses.  It would blend all those things that you are passionate about together.

C, M, and L - Mike USAF Retirement - 1995

Reason 5.  You provided the push that I needed to leave the security of the military and put down roots.  Your mom and I married late in my career and there was a REALLY GOOD chance that I was going to have to be gone for a year on an unaccompanied tour overseas.  Doing so would have meant a longer career and promotion, but this little round-faced, olive-skinned beauty made me not want to miss a moment with her.  The idea of being gone would have been too much to bear.  Therefore, “Hello Retirement” and as result me becoming a teacher.

2012 (4) tecumseh fassold x2 nominationsReason 6.  You make me laugh.  Stories that you tell are made funnier because you have a gift of making people laugh.  Your willingness to make fun of yourself makes you even better at the craft.

Caitlin - 7thReason 7.  You will forgive me for posting your 7th grade school picture.  That is what separates family from friends; we have to forgive each other because our connection is at the DNA level.  Even when your father may by “accident” post an embarrassing picture you will find yourself forgiving your father because our love is unbreakable.  #lovedad #pleasecallmeda

Caitlin helping Allison ride bike - Sisters PictureReason 8.  You help your sister when she REALLY needs it.  Now I wish that you each were kinder to each other; I know deep in my heart that you have each other.  You loved your “sissy” from the start; of course, we did have to keep you from hitting her on the heart too hard when you kept saying “my sissy” and there were those times when you kept shoving her out of the Little Tykes garden yelling “mine sissy”.

2012 (4) tecumseh fassold x2 dance 3Reason 9.  You are not afraid of dancing. I know that this has never been mentioned, but you are not blessed with great rhythm.  I love the fact you dance with a smile on your face and joy in your heart. Dancing the Electric Cotton-Eyed Joe with you at Camp Tecumseh brings a smile to my face.  The fact you wanted to dance with me at Camp Tecumseh brings me even greater joy.  I know being my daughter in a school system where I teach has not always been easy, but you accepted it for what it was and you found joy in it.

AFA State - June 2011 - C and M - TrophyReason 10.  You let me be your coach.  I loved being YOUR coach.  It was your choice always.  You know that coaching was never as important to me as being with you.  I would have been as satisfied being in a folding chair cheering you on.  Some of my favorite memories with you were the discussions to and from the Wade Gym.  The stops at Starbucks and Hong Kong Cuisine; the laughs and the talks are forever etched in my mind.  You are and will forever be my favorite player.

C and M - 6 BDay - 2001Reason 11.  You made me feel like a hero.  The hugs, the thank yous when I fixed something for you, made you something, painted something or just took you to breakfast on Saturday mornings could make everything worth it.  You have always been able to bring clarity to my place in the world no matter how deep in the chasm I was mentally.  As a dad, there is nothing better.

C - In Dads Slippers - 1997Reason 12.  I never have to worry about you being able to fill my shoes.  When I am gone you will make deeper foot prints than I ever did.  Someday you will save someone’s life.  There is no doubt that kid that you will move mountains.

Father and Daughter Dance - C and MReason 13.  You gave me so many fun times at Father-Daughter events.  I loved being able to dress up, dance, and just laugh.  I really enjoyed when we had our 50’s event because dancing with your feet on top of my feet still gives me goose bumps.  I can still feel your little hands in my hands as I tried not to squeeze too hard.  Every father should have these moments with a daughter.  You did not even complain about my singing since I knew every song that they played.

M and C - NJHS InductionReason 14. You shared school with me during your junior high years.  Your work on the yearbook helped make your 8th grade yearbook one of the best we ever put out.  You put in so many hours that snow filled year.  Between us that year we did most of the book.  Hugging you when you were inducted into our school’s National Junior Honor Society brought me such pride.  I loved how you choose to volunteer at Cumberland Road Elementary School for your community service hours.  I think it put you on a path of service.

12239891_10208101601446051_5507231047170534241_nReason 15.  I love how dedicated you are to BSU Dance Marathon.  You go canning, serve in leadership, fund raise, and unearth those dancing moves all-night in the name of kids.  Your sheer joy in serving inspires others to do the same.  It makes me proud to see you leading dances and cheering you team on during the night.  You even sacrifice wearing yellow which we all know you hate.   This is your third year of working with this worthy cause.

12341086_10208202665692594_2841229337811404130_nReason 16.  I love how much time you spend with your Grandma Inman when she is here.  You take her out and spoil her. I love you patience and kind heart.  In life there are two ways to look at situations; I love that you choose to find the joy in being with family.  You make me proud.

12004698_10207771075983121_6443402571136889277_nReason 17.  Who would ever have thought that my nursing school student would make the dean’s list both nursing semesters and become the Alpha Phi academic chair.  You passing on the value of hard work and the not-so-secret secret to success makes me sure that someday you will be in charge of teaching future nursing students the ropes.

51ku+yorYUL._SL500_SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Reason 18.  You are responsible for ending Babe Ruth’s curse. When you were in your bracelet making phase you made one in the Red Sox colors for me to wear during the playoffs after the New York Yankees had destroyed them Game 3.  After I put that bracelet on they never lost again…8 straight victories.  My best non-family moment in my life; sitting on the hands and knees begging for the Game 4 of the World Series to end in a win.  Tears of joy rolling down my face.  The world will never know the service that you brought to New England.

6272_10205191939586323_5312373473416272862_nReason 19.  Dad’s Day.  My favorite thing about you being in a sorority is all the fun we have had during Dad’s Day.  We have fired guns, run obstacle courses, faced on go-cart tracks, and gambled like Vegas.  Everything we have done as been a day or night of laughs and memories.  We had a chance to compete together, win a rubber chicken, shoot targets (where your shooting would stop any intruder), work on self-defense, try to put Taylor in the wall, and for a brief moment in time rule the blackjack table.

C, A, D with Counselor SweatshirtReason 20.  You and your sister were part of the reason that Camp Tecumseh was saved in our district.  I worked so hard writing people and contacting people because I wanted you both to be able to go Camp as students and counselors.  I wanted you to experience as students the best example of teaching our district has to offer.  Also, you deserved to receive the rewards that counselors understand.  The year when both you and Ally were at Camp as counselor made me shed more than a few tears.  Saying goodbye at the senior breakfast “tear-fest” was doubly hard, but the sense of relief that washed over me made everything worth it.  Take pride in knowing that you played a part in saving this great institution.

Veterans Day 2008 (53)Reason 21.    That day you read your Veteran’s Day tribute to me at the 8th grade convocation.  It is the greatest honor that I have ever received.  I still have your speech in my desk at home and it gets pulled out every Veteran’s Day since your 8th grade year.  I cannot imagine at 13 years of age standing in front of a 1000 of my classmates in a room filled with adult guests and show the class and bearing you showed on that day.

Happy birthday beet.  If you were older I would have been able to include going to movies (especially Disney movies), singing along, Blue Cheese dressing, crying at movies, crying reading books, napping on the couch, crime solving television shows you putting up with me.  Have a great 21st birthday.  Change the world for the better.









No more “B’s” or “D’s”!!

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B GradeOver the last year there has been in gnawing in the back of my brain; this persistent itch.  This itch is me rolling around in my head the question, “What is a “B”?” grade mean on one of my many questions?

This question has been forming for years.  My teaching focus is on my kids analyzing, understanding, and connecting information.  I give a lot formative and summative checks on this focus.  Grading doubts form when it comes to grading answers to my questions.  “A” answers are easier to identify; the student understands.  Now I do give myself a way to identify those exceptional answers that show both understanding and connection; those answers clearly earn an “A+” or “A++” with a lion drawn on the paper.  *Post a comment if you don’t know about what a lion answer is in my class and I will attach that chapter from my book that will probably never see the light of day.

My problem?  Can an answer or a project earn a holistic “B” grade?  Can someone “almost” understand? Can someone almost follow instructions.  I think a “B” answer became for me a well written incorrect response.  Does incorrect understanding deserve a grade that could put a kid on the honor roll?  I am sure math teachers struggle with this same kind of thing when considering partial credit.

In the second semester my grading has changed to the following:

  • A+: Lion’s work; work shows complete understanding and connection to outside variables.
  • A: Excellent response; clear understanding.  No violation of Fassold Rule #19 – Saying a thing does not make a thing.  Answer completely supported.
  • A-: Response answered question accurately.  Supported, but may have missed another obvious support that would have strengthened response.
  • C+: Well written and supported response that was incorrect.
  • C:  Faithful incorrect response
  • C-: Work done for completion; little connection to question
  • F: Incomplete


We the People 2015 – 2016

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First off let me apologize for taking so long to write.  Second let me apologize for how how long I sense this post is going to be…it is winter break and I have been up since 4 am and the coffee is warm and Christmas music is playing because Ally fell asleep to it on the couch in the living room.

This year I worked with both Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers High Schools as a judge and unit adviser; plus had my own team at Fishers Junior High School.  I believe in this program.  I believe in the power that this education brings to the students.  My beliefs in education is an amalgam of the 18th and 21st century with a little Socrates mixed in; We the People speaks to my beliefs.

Fishers Junior High We the People Team

We the People Team Photo at State - Dec 2015

I love these kids.  They are a great and powerful group who are masters of their fate and captains of their souls.  In the end they came up short, finishing second in the state to the great Brown County team.  Below is the email I send to the staff about them:

Well we finished second again to Brown County. The race was close again, but Brown County was just better.  Indiana has the strongest middle school program in the country because the Indiana state legislature funds the program.  The benefit is that everything is first class and over 100 middle schools participate.  The downside is that the best team in the country, Brown County Middle School, is in Indiana.  Brown County has been the state champion every year since 2009 (the first year) and until FJH arrived last year there was never a contest.  In addition to being Indiana State Champion, they have won the National Championship twice and were runners-up at Nationals last year only to a Washington DC private school dedicated to civics and government.  They are led by a great teacher, Mike Potts, who is a friend of mine.

Our kids did great.  We had great rounds.  We improved from last year, but we have some more steps to take.  Congratulate the kids if you see them.  They are disappointed, but they showed grace and poise the entire day.  They are a credit to Fishers Junior High and our district.

After analyzing scores (which some of you know is something that I loved to do) it was obvious how much we improved in the eyes of the judges from the previous year, but Brown County did the same thing.  They won 4 units (one by one point) and we won 2.  They won 7 rounds and we won 5.  So very close.

We were asked to compete at the National Invitational.  It was tempting; as the Equality of Outcome is always tempting.  I sent the below email to the powers that be to explain why will not attend Nationals until we finish first in the state.

Thank you for the reminder.  Our stance is unchanged on our attendance to the Invitational.  We hold fast to the idea that if we do not win Indiana we do not attend.  Our reasoning comes to the argument of Equality of Opportunity versus Equality of Outcome.  If we attend without winning it is Equality of Outcome and then we (I and my students next year) do not have in incentive to work harder the next year.  Our school looks at Brown County’s dominance in Indiana as a good thing.  After raising our game in our second year we laid out our plan for next year and my principal has even rearranged our schedule next year to provide me more time with the kids.

I know this is a long explanation, but I want you all to realize our thought process.  Meg, I cannot wait to work with you one of these years on planning our trip.  I hope to  see you when I travel with the Fishers High School team in April.

We will spend the rest of the year working to be better; it says a lot about these kids that they want to get better.  Both Fishers and Hamilton Southeastern High School are going to receive great kids ready to compete.  All year and during state we read William Earnest Henley’s poem:


Henley’s words were their credo.  I cannot be more proud of them.  Their names are etched on to my heart.

Hamilton Southeastern High School We the People Team

HSEHS - We the People Photo - 2015-2016

These kids also finished second in state.  I only knew one person on this team (Nailah), but their teacher is someone special to me.  Janet Chandler’s team was a joy to judge on Sunday’s (put many a NFL game on delay).  These kids are talented and have a genuine love of learning.  Each week they grew; their arguments improved and their ability to converse with thought and poise stood out.  They won two unit awards at State and neither award surprised me.

My Unit 6 kids (Nailah, Matt, and Jenna) were great.  Wednesday after school became our day and Taco Bell became our meeting spot (free Wifi and soda refills).  What always struck me about them was that they were always running to the next obligation.  I don’t know how they kept everything in balance. They all speak with passion and are models for civic involvement.  I will look forward to watching how each will change the world.

There is no doubt in my mind if these kids were to earn a wild-card invite to Nationals that they would finish in the Top 10; they are that good.

Fishers High School We the People Team

Fishers High School - We the People Photo 2015-2016Team Indiana!  Now this is a team that I knew a little better.  Some I helped recruit as they were counselors for me and they were a great fit for We the People.  Morgan joined Halley Rose as my former Students of the Year who will take a team to Nationals in Washington DC.

These kids are wildly talented.  Judging them each week was a joy (except when Timers called time on me when we were in the middle of great arguments–a few objects were tossed).  The month prior to State is where they morphed into a championship team.  They pushed. They learned.  They got better.  This team has a good chance to beat the Indiana record that the Fishers team from two years ago set with a 4th place finish Nationals. Oregon is their Brown County.  I look forward to watching them work towards their goal.

FHS - Unit 2 - Champion Picture

My Unit 2 kids.  Tuesday night was our night.  At my house with coffee and hot chocolate.  Editing papers and talking for hours (sometimes past my 9 o’clock bedtime).  They were never Unit of the week at practice, but when it counted they earned Top Unit at State!  Emma is holding their hard earned Unit award at state.  I have thanked Liz many times for these kids.

Foolishly, I promised my 8th grade team that I would not retire until I took them to Nationals their Senior Year.  This extends out my plans and delays my application to law school.

We the People is the best educational program in the country.  I will quote from one of my kids who wrote the following to me in her Christmas letter:

This past semester I’ve definitely found out how much work your class can be, but I’ve also found out that I don’t even mind all the extra hours of homework, because I love the homework.  I don’t think I would have fell in love with a class like I have this year.  So I guess to sum it up, I would just like to thank you for making We the People possible this semester.  It has given me a reason to look forward to going to school.  It has given me a life path/passion, because I have never loved doing something so much, not even swimming.

25 Things That I Am Thankful for This Thanksgiving

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thankful-heart-a_std_t_nv25 Things That I Am Thankful For

  1. Caitlin; her hard work at college and laughs she brings to the house when she is home.
  2. Ally; her musical talents and her willingness to share music and movies with me.
  3. Laurel; for being my workout and life partner.
  4. Tony Sturgeon; appreciate my educational brother in crime.
  5. Dave Broviak; my writing sounding board and the guy that held me to my basketball goal and made me play in September.
  6. Kevin Stumpf; workout inspiration who has joined me in my goal to getting healthier.
  7. My health; at the end of last school year I changed my diet and started exercising (thanks to Laurel for being my workout partner).  Gone is my high blood pressure, acid reflux, and blood sugar imbalance.
  8. The ability to play basketball again; I set my goal to play again and for 7 of the last 8 Sundays I have played basketball with Broviak’s Sunday bunch.  I love running around and playing again.
  9. Teaching my 7th grade students; their energy is motivating.  I love watching them grow as students and people.
  10. Rachel Smith; she fulfilled the promise that I saw in her years ago.
  11. The New England Patriots; I have loved watching them this season (except the Kansas City game), I appreciate the reign of TB12 and BB
  12. FJH; I love my school and appreciate the staff and students.
  13. HSEHS and FHS We the People teams; Janet Chandler and Liz Paternoster have been generous enough to let my service as a judge for their teams.
  14. Geoff Tease, Robert Dyson, and Taylor Schueth for helping with my junior high We the People team.
  15. My 8th Grade We the People team; the kids have been a real sense of joy for me, they have worked so hard and so want to be great.
  16. Amazon.com; thank you for being able to keep me away for the mall.
  17. The ability to DVR shows; during the school year I am never caught up on my shows.
  18. My Mom; I love that you answer the phone when I call on my many trips to Lowe’s.  I cannot wait to see you on December 16th!
  19. My annual BFM trip; it is fun planning for our next adventure; #BFM2015Boston, #BFM2016GreenBay
  20. The holiday season; it is a great time with family and renewal.
  21. The Northland Street friends; we continue to do life together and celebrate each milestone together; can’t wait to see everyone at the Hamer Christmas Party
  22. Books; I love that there is an endless supply of books that fuel my desire to know more
  23. Social media; thank you for connecting me professionally and allowing me to keep in contact with people from my past.
  24. My truck; every time I need to haul something, I appreciate that I don’t have to find someone to borrow their truck.
  25. My life; my family, friends, and job bring me joy and a purpose.  I am so thankful every day.

Not Enough Hours in a Week

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I miss having time to write.  It is cleansing to my soul.  One thing that those outside of teaching do not understanding is the demands on a teacher’s time.  As a matter of full disclosure, much of the demands of my time are things that I volunteer to take on.

The Great:

FJHS We the People Team Photo After Districts - Vax Photo - November 3

Last Monday (November 3rd) my inaugural Middle School We the People team competed at districts and they killed it.  They won five out of six unit awards and won districts by a good margin.  The best part is was that they realized that they can improve and are willing to work to be great.  I was thankful the Kevin Stumpf and Rachel Smith for going with me.  Qualifying for state was our team’s goal at the start.

The Tough:

I am serving on our district’s redistricting group; I felt the need to serve to try to balance the inequities in our district that have impacted our school for nearly a decade.  I feel the pressure to help my school.  The frustrating thing is that it seems like it should be easy; but there are so many competing interests and many of those interests are not about justice.  The government teacher part of me wishes that we had a council of grandmothers that would put aside the individual motives with a view on what is best for our district as a whole.

The Reminder:

My school is special and it does not get the recognition it should.   My school spends so much energy in creating opportunities for students that it does not have time to publicize our efforts after the fact.  Last Friday our school held its International Fair; we easily had 500 community folks show up to watch our kids perform and show their knowledge through displays and extras.  As much as I enjoyed the Fair it was telling to me that at 8:30 at night there were five teachers with a couple family members cleaning up the mess so that the custodians would not be burdened because of our efforts.  It captured our building in a nutshell; extend opportunities to kids, involve our families, love our students, and don’t burden others because of our efforts.

The “Why Can’t Things be Easy”:

We received our information about the We the People Middle School Nationals and; of course, it is during Tecumseh week.  What are the chances?  It will break my heart to put my kids on the bus to Washington DC without me.  Luckily, there are people out there that will step up to take my kids.

The Legacy:

Friday was my student teacher’s last day.  The reality is that Rachel will be my last student teacher.  She did a terrific job and deserves a chance to have her own classroom.  She fits our building because she loves to teach and she loves students.  Rachel worked hard to learn the craft.  If Rachel is part of my legacy that will give me comfort. I am aware that I will only be a teacher for a few more years.  It seems unbelievable that this is my 18th year as a teacher.  For many teachers that would put them at 40 years of age; not so for me.  Starting teaching at 37 years of age will not allow me to teach for 35 years like some of my peers.   I will not want to give  up any more of my classes to a student teacher: I want to savor every second of my time with my students.




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

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