Category Archives: Education

Fishing with Captain Ron

IMG_0240Our third day in Costa Rica had us up early and driving to meet Captain Ron for fishing on Lake Arenal.  I spoke with Ron several times prior to our visit, and he was ready to teach our family a few things about fishing. Even our omniscient son.  (He is 13 and knows everything!)

Ron said it would be easier if we found this little path on our side of the lake and he would pick us up on the shore.  Since we found a cow path of a driveway in the dark, I figured a path to the shore would be easier.  Plus, we would be able to see Captain Ron and his boat from the road.  I was almost completely incorrect.  (Luckily, I have been married for 18 years and am use to being wrong.)

Due to the whole area being a rainforest, we only occasionally saw the boat from the road, which was about ½ kilometer above the shoreline.   However, finding the path in daylight was easy.  It was as wide as the car, but I am pretty sure our four-wheel drive SUV could not make it up the muddy slope.  We decided to hiked to the boat.

Captain Ron welcomed us, made us wash the mud off our shoes and feet, gave us some safety tips, and got us started right away.  He was gregarious and taught us about the culture and area.  While he regaled us with stories about fishing, the volcano, and his moving to Costa Rica, I couldn’t help but notice that I had seen and heard him before.  It was an eerie feeling.  Finally, it occurred to me.  He was Bruce Campbell, the actor who plays Sam Axe on Burn Notice.  When I told my 13 year-old, the biggest Burn Notice fan on the planet, he agreed.  We mentioned it to Captain Ron, and he laughed, saying he had only seen the show once.IMG_0257

Captain Ron and our youngest, who decided to use his head as bait.

Captain Ron and our youngest, who decided to use his head as bait.

He kept to his cover story that he moved from San Diego and has been fishing Lake Arenal for over 9 years.  However, Andy and I still think we may have been helping him scout a location for a future episode or even being secretly filmed as extras during one of the peaceful scenes, which accounts for about thirty seconds of the show.

Nevertheless, Captain Ron fed us the best banana bread our family has ever tasted, sandwiches even my finicky daughter loved, fresh pineapple, and plenty of sodas, juice, and water.  He did offer to bring beer, but I thought it was too early for the kids to be drinking.

Ron was true to his word.  He taught us how to troll, which was extremely easy and effective that morning.  And, he taught us how to cast properly, but the fish did not bite.  Thus, we did more trolling, which allowed us to admire the volcano, the mountains, and the rainforest. IMG_0260

I guess it is like reading a novel.  Sometimes freshmen get focused on the ending: how many fish did I catch?  Consequently, they miss the characters, in this case Captain Ron; the description of the scenery, for instance the volcano;  and information on the culture.  I am glad we were able to take the time to enjoy the whole “freshman” experience.

My catch!

My catch!

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Filed under Education, Learning, Uncategorized, Vacations

Curves, Dirt, Darkness and Our First Day

State Flag of Costa Rica

State Flag of Costa Rica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The excitement of vacationing in Costa Rica reached its crescendo when we landed in San Jose.  We had researched, packed, and reviewed our Spanish.  We were ready for the first day!

First stop: customs.  A word of advice: when asked the reason of the visit, it is best to not be facetious with the agent.  Either it was a language barrier or he did not have a sense of humor.  My answer to his question: “To set up a Tanning salon.”

Second stop: rental car pick up.  We were advised to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle.  The rental car process took some time.  Nonetheless, by 2:30, we were almost ready to leave.  We needed lunch.  There was a restaurant next to the rental place, so ate lunch – a very, very, very long lunch.  (Costa Ricans don’t seem to believe in fast food.)  Despite this delay, I felt we would have no problem arriving before darkness set in.

Third stop: Hacienda Encartada at Lake Arenal.  Mapquest indicated it would take two and a half hours to drive there.

Incidentally, I have been driving for a few years – my first car being a ’65 Chevy Bel Aire sedan.  It easily sat 6 teenagers, and more if the trunk was utilized when we went to the drive-in.  I thought I had seen everything.  Silly me.

As we left San Jose, I noticed the highway was not like the Interstates at home.  There were three lanes: always two lanes uphill and one lane downhill.  Along the sides of the road vendors sold fresh food, and cars would quickly brake and stop and purchase a snack or dinner.  I also noticed that sharp turns around mountains on roads with no guard rails were a greater deterrent to speeding than police cars in the medians.  I started to believe Mapquest incorrectly estimated the drive time.

As a result of the slower speed, our excitement started to fad.  Spectacular views greeted us around every bend; nevertheless, sitting on a plane and then in a car became monotonous.  However, about two hours into our journey, the trip got a little more interesting.  The paved road suddenly ended.  No warning.  Just dirt!  Only, the GPS said I was on the highway.  In addition, this dirt highway would reduce to one lane for bridges over the numerous rivers.   I knew Mapquest incorrectly estimated the drive time.

In spite of these obstacles, I confidently reassured the family we would arrive before dark.  After all, we only had another hour or more to go, and it was only about 4:45 p.m.  Did you know that the sun sets between 5:00 and 6:00 o’clock year round in Costa Rica?  Me either.  As a result, we had to search for a dirt driveway in complete darkness.  Plus, Costa Rica does not have street names or addresses.  If you want to mail a letter, you address it: Jose Amigo, 400 meters west of the church and 150 meters south of the Best Western, Tamarindo, Costa Rica.  Luckily for us, my daughter’s super hero power is night vision.  She kept telling me to turn, but I could not see any path.  Finally, I trusted her.  We drove a kilometer on a muddy, pot-holed cow path to a house on the side of a mountain.

We cooked some food we bought at a super market, which was really the size of a 7-11 store.  Then, we hit the sack.

IMG_0168

Daylight awoke us to a spectacular view of Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano.

With this adventure in mind, I think of the first day for the freshmen.  Filled with excitement, they plan the routes to their classes, what they will wear, and pack their school supplies.  Next, they sit in classroom after classroom, hearing similar rules, different procedures, and becoming bored.  Once in a while, some teachers take away the asphalt and make the students sit up and take notice.  Or, lunch rolls around with discussions of classes and teachers (or cute girls and cute boys).  Of course, when the day ends, darkness arrives in the form of “nap time.”  At least I always need one at the end of Day 1.

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Filed under Education, Learning, Vacations

Comparing Freshman Year to Visiting Costa Rica

Soon the first day of high school will arrive.  The fear, anxiety, anticipation, and excitement of doing something “new.” But, school is not really new to kids.  Nonetheless, we know there are new experiences in high school, which can be compared to travelling to another country.  For example, our family of six vacationed in Costa Rica.  We have travelled across the United States and have been to Canada and a few Caribbean Islands via Cruise ships, but those day trips to a foreign country are not really like flying into one and being visitors for a week.

Like a freshman listens to advice from parents, teachers, siblings and friends on how to dress, what classes to take and clubs to join, we sought advice from travel sites and blogs to help us in deciding what to bring, what to wear, and which activities to do and what to see.

What to bring?IMG_0272

Coming from the flatness of Ohio and going to a Central American country, we thought we would pack shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and swim suits.  When in fact, we learned that we would need more.  Our first location was Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano.  This mountainous rain forest can be cool in the morning and evening and full of mosquitos.  Lightweight pants, a raincoat or light jacket, and mosquito repellant were necessary.

Freshmen (and their parents) should check school websites for materials lists.  Or at least, send the student to school with paper, pens and pencils, and folders.  Unlike a foreign country, additional supplies can be found easily and economically.

What to wear?

Freshmen will get advice from many people.  They have to determine what is helpful and not.  For instance, some parents, like me, haven’t been a freshman since 1981, thus their advice to wear deck shoes, Levis, and a Polo shirt with the collar up or long skirts and sweaters should be double-checked with friends.  Although my children and wife will disagree, I have noticed some changes in fashion over the last couple of decades, especially on my daughter’s first day of high school, which is another blog entry.  The best advice I ever received was to remember: “You are not dressing for this job.  You are dressing for your next job.”  I have mentioned this on occasion to some students, but they don’t always get it.  I would show them a clip from Pretty Woman, but I know I would get in trouble.

Cover of "Pretty Woman [Blu-ray]"

Cover of Pretty Woman [Blu-ray]

What activities would be best? 

Naturally, it depends on interests, talents, and time.  I was the class treasurer, and today my wife handles the checkbook.  I also dove into swimming for the first time.  Today, parents make it seem that a kid should have been involved in a sport for years, or they won’t make the team.  This is not always true.  My advice: get involved in high school.  You have the rest of your life to work.  (Unless you are like me and never leave.)

Some siblings, especially those who are still in high school, offer advice that is meant to terrify the younger sibling.  For example, some older brothers tell their siblings that freshman have to sit in the corner of the lunchroom and carry the senior’s lunch trays.  Of course, some advice is meant to take advantage of the gullibility of the neophytes.  Upperclassman use to try to sell forged elevator passes, or give inaccurate directions that force the freshman to walk a mile between classes.  Of course, due to excessive standardized testing, the juniors and seniors have lost this creativity, so I have been forced to help the freshmen learn to not trust and be self-reliant.

Therefore parents, give your young adults some supplies but be ready to buy more, learn fashion trends, and encourage involvement.

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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning

What You Can See in Costa Rica That You Don’t See in Ohio

Our family just returned from Costa Rica, and we learned mucho.  My high school Spanish was a little rusty, but I managed to get by.  My favorite saying, “Como se dice ____?”  or “How do you say ______?”  proved very useful!

In keeping with the theme of my blog, There were many “freshman – like” experiences for our family.  The slower life style and sunrise at 5:30 and sunset at 5:30 gave us a new perspective. I plan to share some of the lessons in the next few weeks.

Expected

  • IMG_0851Mountains
  • Surfing
  • The Pacific Ocean
  • Sodas – small restaurants that also serve as the owner’s home.
  • Rain Forests / jungles
  • Howler and Spider Monkeys in the trees
  • “Cow Farms” as my wife called them.  (The rest of us call them cattle ranches.)
  • Signs in Spanish
  • Huge, fresh, and delicious pineapples
  • Kilometers.
  • Road construction.
  • Hanging bridges through the rain forests.
  • Zip lines through rain forests.

Not expected

  • People walking along the road carrying machetes.
  • People walking along the road wearing a shoulder strap with a machete and carrying an umbrella.
  • Sloth, monkey, and iguana crossing signs.
  • Horses, goats, chickens wandering along the road.IMG_0795
  • Dogs lying down in potholes in the middle of the road.
  • More potholes than at home.
  • Traffic jams caused by cows walking down the road.
  • Road construction without orange barrels.  Instead, they used what looked like coffee cans with a metal rod or stick with a ribbon cemented in the center.IMG_0631
  • Cow paths to a house on the side of a mountain that overlooks a lake and a semi-active volcano.
  • “Mini Mega Super” store, which was as big as a convenience store.
  • “Aztec Ruins” which were really the cement framing of a new home.
  • Shacks with dirt floors yet bars on the windows.
  • Security guards who use a plastic link chain to stop cars from entering parking lots.
  • No street names, signs or addresses…having the police lead us to the condo.
  • Riding 4-wheelers on the beach.
  • Catching Mahi-Mahi and Tuna, filleting it on the boat, and having a restaurant cook it that night.IMG_0710
  • Meeting some very friendly and happy people.
  • Pura Vida!

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Learning

Fighting Bullying

Toward the end of the school year, I read a story that has been circulating on the Internet for years.  I verified that it is true on the website truthorfiction.com.

He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minn. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million.   Very neat in appearance, but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.   

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving – “Thank you for correcting me, Sister!” I didn’t know what  to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it  many times a day.   

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher’s mistake. I looked at Mark and said, If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!”   It wasn’t ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, “Mark is talking again.”  I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.  I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room.   As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me.  That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape, and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Sister.”   

At the end of the year, I was asked to teach junior-high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instruction in the “new math,” he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in third.   One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled.  Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend.”   That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual.   

On Monday I gave each student his or her list.  Before long, the entire class was smiling.   Really?” I heard whispered. “I never knew that meant anything to anyone!”  I didn’t know others liked me so much.”   No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.   

That group of students moved on.   Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip, the weather, and my experiences in general.   There was a lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, “Dad?” My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. “The Eklunds called last night,” he began “Really?” I said. “I haven’t heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is.”   Dad responded quietly. “Mark was killed in Vietnam,” he said. “The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend.”  To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark. images

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before.  Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, “Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me.”   The church was packed with Mark’s friends.  Chuck’s sister sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps.   One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water. I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up  to me. Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. “Mark talked about you a lot,” he said.   

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. “We want to show you something, his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.” Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.   “Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.” Mark’s classmates started to gather around us.  Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. I keep it  in the top drawer of my desk at home.” Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.”  ”I have mine too,” Marilyn said.  “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. I carry this with me at all times,” Vicki said without batting an eyelash. “I think we all saved our lists.” That’s when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.   

The density of people in society is so thick that we forget that life will end one day. And we don’t know when that one day will be. So please, tell the people you love and care for, that they are special and important. Tell them, before it is too late.

-Written by Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun. 

I read this around the same time my wife and I watched a documentary on bullying.  This led me to think: how could I do something like this.  I thought of the bullying and cyber bullying I hear about.  I thought about how teaching is like life: making connections with people, something no standardized test will show.   I thought of the fact that some teenagers are confident enough or brave enough to compliment others.  I see this everyday.  However, many are fearful, like I was, that they will be laughed at or considered strange.  I remembered that I did not smile much in high school unless someone smiled at me.  Not until I was older did I realize smiles were contagious, and I held the power to create a positive environment.

Therefore, this story inspired me to try something like it.  Due to my teaching 160 students, my copying all of the positive comments on paper was too time consuming.  Instead, I had the students write a message on one index card for each classmate.

This simple writing activity (I instructed the kids to write with specific details and more than one sentence) had the students smiling from the start.  They worked diligently to personalize their messages.

When the day came to read the messages, the kids were as excited as, well, as kids on the last day of school.  Many girls were surprised to see that other girls loved their curly or straight hair.  Compliments flew through the room.

I have not heard from any parents or students, but I did hear about the list from a little brother of a student.  He told me his sister told him all about the assignment and how much she loved it.

I guess Sister Helen is still teaching.   50751007_127083548039

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Filed under Education, Learning, Lesson Plans, Lessons from students

My Best Friend, Captain America

I finished the year with three weeks of creative writing, which was one week too long.  Freshmen ran out of creativity the third week or they just wanted to be out of school.  Next year, I am incorporating creative writing every week.  I am hoping it will be a way to differentiate instruction, as I can work with each student on his/her strengths and weaknesses.  

I had many great pieces turned in, and I wanted to share one stellar short story.  The author shares a typical freshmen experience: dating and relationships.  

I hope you enjoy it.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Captain America: The First Avenger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Hey, Abbie!”

I turn and spot Cody, my best guy friend, coming towards me. I wave him over as I slam my locker shut

“Hi.” I greet him with a smile as we begin to walk to the lunchroom. “How was first period?

“Same as usual. Mr. Hall practically sleeps through every lesson, and when he does teach, he drones on in the same monotone voice.” Cody shakes his head, then begins to mimic Mr. Hall.

“ ‘Now class, today we are going to go to sleep… I mean, go deep into American history. If I fall asleep, make sure you wake me up if the principal stops by.’ “ I burst into laughter, unable to keep a straight face at the sluggish, lethargic look on Cody’s face. He always makes me laugh, no matter how hard I try.

“At least you don’t have to be in Ms. Simpson’s class. We had another sub today.

“Another one? Jeez, Abbie,” Cody said with disbelief in his brown eyes, “don’t you guys have a new sub almost every week?”

“It seems that way, doesn’t it? She’s always out for being sick, having meetings… You name it, she’s probably used that excuse.” We chat on for little while, enjoying the break we have between classes. Then, we begin to talk about our plans for tonight.

“What do you have going on, Cody?” I ask.

“Some of the guys are thinking about playing some basketball down at the park. You could come if you want.” he tells me with a grin. “We can always use some more cheerleaders.” I toss my dark hair.

“Very funny. Do I look like a cheerleader to you?” I imitate some of the brighter, more enthusiastic cheerleaders at school. Cody laughs at my impersonation, clapping as I end my act.

“In all seriousness, as much as I’d love to come and watch you dominate the court without even trying,” I tease him, earning a bashful smile from Cody, “my dad told me he had a surprise to show me at supper.”

“A surprise? Weird. Your dad isn’t really the kind of guy to hand out presents.” Cody has a rough relationship with my dad, on account of an unfortunate incident with a basketball rocketing towards my dad’s head. I’ve tried over and over to smooth everything over, but Dad has never really gotten over it. He still calls Cody “that boy” whenever Cody comes over to play basketball or do homework, and Cody just called him “sir” or “Mr. Banks”. They had a mutual understanding with each other; as long as they ignored each other, no tensions arise. I shrug, curious myself.

“I don’t know. He just told me to be home this evening. Who knows what he has planned? If whatever it is doesn’t happen, I’ll try to go over to the park though.” This brings a smile to Cody’s face. For some reason, it makes me blush. What’s going on with me? I never get like this around Cody, but nowadays it’s been happening often. I shake my head, clearing my emotions, and get up from our table

“I have to go take a Spanish test. Talk to you later.” I wave and walk off.

As soon as I get home, I go up to my room, turn on my Carrie Underwood CD, and sit down to my homework. I do this every day, and it never gets old. After a few minutes, my dad walks in.

“Hi sweetheart, how’d your day go?” He says this calmly and matter-of-factly, but I stare at him like he has multiple heads. He never asks how my day was. Sweetheart is a foreign term to me. He hardly ever looks up from his laptop when he’s home, except to ask “why are you wearing that?” or “is that boy here again?”  I narrow my blue eyes, suspicious of his intentions.

“Is there something going on?” I ask carefully, not wishing to offend him, but still skeptical about what is coming.

“Well, honey,” I raise my eyebrows at “honey”, now certain I’m not going to like what’s coming next, “tonight, I’ve taken the liberty of inviting a coworker from the office to come with us to a movie.” I look blankly at my dad, uncertain of what this has to do with me. He straightens his shoulders proudly, and beams at me.

“John, the man who’s coming, has a son about your age who is also going to the movie with us. He’s a very popular, very smart young man, and his family is of excellent standing, and so I thought that…” but I interrupt him with an outburst of my own.

“You set me up on a date!?” I glare at him, shock and now anger surging through my body. “How could you, Dad? I don’t even know him. I’ve never even been on a date. I’m staying home from a basketball game for a blind date?”

Dad folds his arms, leaning against my  door frame with a look of superiority.

“Well, Abigail, I simply thought that since you are, after all, growing up, and you’ll soon be looking for someone adequate to spend your life with, I’d steer you in the appropriate direction.” My jaw drops, and I just stare at Dad, unable to comprehend what I was hearing. He continues, growing more confident at my silence and using the you-know-I’m-right voice.

“You’ll soon be noticing boys, and it’s time you were adult about making the smart choice about who to place your affections on. From what I’ve seen, you only spend time with that boy. Therefore, you need some more possibilities.” My face burns bright red as I stand and glower at my father.

“Cody is one of my best friends, and regardless of what you think of him, you have no right to set me up with someone I don’t even know. And besides, marriage isn’t about “making the smart choice” or “finding someone adequate”. It’s about finding the person who’s just right for you, who God made you to be with. Who understands you, and loves you.” He rolls his eyes at my mention of God, then just looks at me and says,

“Please put on that dress on the bed that your mother laid out for you. You’re going to this thing whether you like it or not.” My mind begins to reel desperately, searching for a way out. Then, I have an idea.

“Wait. Dad, how about a compromise?” He cocks his head for a moment, then nods.

“I’m listening.”

“How about I go tonight, with no complaints, and in return, you let me bring one friend. Just to maybe lessen the pressure of being ‘on a date’.” I try to put this in words that will make my father say yes, for I already have a plan, and know exactly who I want to come. Dad looks past me for a second, thinking, and then finally, he nods.

“Very well.”

“You promise, Dad? No backing out, no matter who it is.”

“Okay, I promise. Now, who is it?” I firm my jaw, and smile nervously at him.

“You remember Cody, don’t you?” My father narrows his eyes instantly, then opens his mouth to refuse me, but I quickly interject.

“That’s who I want to bring tonight, Dad. He’s my best guy friend, and he’s the one I’d be most comfortable with. You promised, remember.” I walk over to him, and gently push the door closed. “I’ll be down in time to go!” I sing out. Inwardly, I’m cringing at telling Cody what’s going on, because I know exactly what he’s going to say.

“Your dad did what?!”

I wince as I hear the astonishment in Cody’s voice over the phone. I’d called him immediately after Dad had told me about tonight, and now I was about to tell Cody my plan. First, however, I’d had to tell him what Dad had done.

“I can’t believe he set you up on a date.” Cody is obviously pretty annoyed at my dad, and I can’t help but feel kind of good at how indignant he is on my behalf. Where are these feelings coming from?

“I know! I’ve never even met this kid. He could be a creep for all I know.” I shift uncomfortably; now’s the time to ask him if he’ll help me. “I did get him to compromise on one thing. I told him I’d go willingly-”

“Willingly? You want to go?”

“Just wait a second. I wasn’t finished. I told him I’d go willingly with no complaint if he let me bring a friend so it was less ‘date-like’. And he said yes.” I take a deep breath, knowing Cody’s waiting for the relevance of my deal. “I told him I wanted you to come.” I hear Cody’s sharp intake of breath, and then silence. After a second, he says,

“You want me to come? Why?”

“You’re one of my best friends; it’ll be way more comfortable for me to have you to talk to so I’m not just sitting in awkward silence with a guy I just met. And, I had an idea. If you’re there, maybe you can distract him. You know, talk to him about video games, guns, I don’t know, guy stuff. We can all be together, and it’ll be fine.” I know it’s going to take some serious begging to get Cody to agree. “I know you’ll miss your basketball game, Cody, and I’m really sorry, but can you please do this? I really need your help. For me, please?” I wait for a response. After what seems like forever, he finally answers begrudgingly,

“I’ll do it. For you. But just so you know, Abbie, you owe me big time.” I laugh, a wave of relief coming over me now that I know I don’t have to go alone.

“Thanks, Cody. You’re the best. This means a lot to me. I can’t do it without you. I’ll meet you at the theater at 5:30pm.” I hung up, thinking, well, this is going to be fun.

            Later on, we meet Cody at the theater and wait for John and his son outside. As I walk up to Cody, his eyes slide past me, then refocus on me when I wave. His eyes widen, and his mouth drops open. I look at him questioningly, nervous about how I look, and say,

“What’s wrong? Do I look that bad?” My mother had made me clean up and put on a blue dress with matching shoes and a short jean jacket. She’d curled my long, dark hair and even made me wear some simple makeup that made my blue eyes sparkle a little bit more. I certainly looked different, that was for certain. He shakes his head, still in some sort of stupor.

“Abbie…you look… amazing.” I blush, annoyed by how much his compliment pleases me. He seems to realize what he just said, and looks down sheepishly, obviously embarrassed. He looks pretty good too, in a simple dark blue T-shirt and dark jeans. His hair still looks like he just got out of bed, but in a good way.

“My thoughts exactly.” Cody stiffens, and I turn around to see a guy about my age, tall and athletic, with slicked back blonde hair, baby blue eyes, and an arrogant look about him. He holds out his hand, looking me up and down in the process.

“You must be Abigail Banks, my date.” I cringe at the word “date”. “My name is Lance Quinn, your dad’s coworker’s son. It’s very nice to meet you.” I take his hand, trying to keep my composure.

“It’s… nice to meet you, too, Lance. You can call me Abbie.” I withdraw my hand, and turn to Cody. “Lance, this is-”

“I’m Cody Wyatt. Abbie’s friend.” Cody reaches past me and grasps Lance’s hand, shaking it rigidly. The two boys seem to stare each other down, as if issuing a challenge. I clear my throat, and that seems to break the spell.

“Lance, I hope you don’t mind, but I invited Cody to hang out with us and our parents while we have fun.” I try hard to stress all of the parts that makes this not a date, but I don’t think Lance is getting the message. He just smiles, and says,

“Well, Cody, I’m glad you could come and be with us as Abbie and I get to know each other.” He takes my hand and pulls me towards the theater. I attempt to withdraw my hand and look back at Cody. He looks almost angry, and I send him a pleading look, mouthing HELP!  He smiles quickly and follows, almost seeming pleased at my desperation.

As we all go into the theater, Lance immediately sits down in a big, open row, patting the seat beside him for me. I look over my dad, and he all but orders me to the seat with his eyes. I roll my eyes, and painstakingly sit down next to Lance. My dad makes a move to sit next to me, but Cody swiftly comes over and sits beside me. He smiles smugly at my dad, who is obviously not pleased but doesn’t make a fuss about it. I smile over at Cody.

“Thanks. You don’t know how much I appreciate all of this. Especially that,” I say half-joking, half seriously. He shrugs, and leans over to whisper to me.

“I wouldn’t leave you alone with Chance if you paid me.” I fight to hide my smile.

“It’s Lance, Cody.”

“My bad,” he says sarcastically, blinking his eyes innocently. “I’d hate to offend poor Lance.” Cody emphasizes his name. I snorted, and Lance looks over. He narrows his eyes at Cody, then smiles arrogantly at me.

“Abigail, have you seen this movie we’re about to watch, The Avengers, before?”

“Yeah. I’ve seen Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor, too.  They were pretty awesome.”

“How about you, Brody?” Lance asks, making Cody scowl. Why do guys feel like they’re one-upping each other by messing up each other’s names? Lame. “Have you seen the movie?”

“It’s Cody, and yeah, I’ve seen it.” He glared at Lance for a moment, then smirked triumphantly. “Abbie and I went with some friends last week.” Lance glowered, making me wonder about the two boys. What’s wrong with them? I don’t understand why they’re getting so ticked off with each other. Part of me wishes they’d stop acting like little boys, but the other part of me thinks I know why. I blush as I think about what the reason is. But that’s ridiculous. I barely know Lance, and Cody and I are just friends. Right?

Shaking my head, I tune back in to the conversation. Cody is trying to steer the conversation towards the topics I suggested before, but Lance just keeps directing his attention to me. Frustrated, Cody asks Lance who his favorite Avenger is.

“I think Iron Man is my favorite,” Lance says. “He’s a genius, and can, like, shoot out energy with his hands. Also, he has a pretty hot girlfriend. I’m still in the market for the last one.” He winks at me, and I blush, looking away, half embarrassed, half disgusted by his comment. Cody looks sincerely over at Lance, and says,

“You know, it doesn’t surprise me you like Iron Man. You remind me a lot of him. Especially through personality.” I hide my face from Lance, and look over at Cody, struggling not to laugh. He’s referring how arrogant and self-confident Iron Man is, and I can’t help but think he has a point. Lance looks over at him and asks,

”Who’s your favorite character, Cody? Maybe the monster, Hulk?” Cody responds,

“I like Captain America.”

“Why is that? Is he all the things you wish you were?” I glare at Lance, my dislike towards him growing.

“Out of bounds,” I warn him. “Be civil.”

“My apologies. Why do you like Captain America?” Lance asked condescendingly. Cody stares at him for a moment, then looks away and responds.

“I like Captain America because he’s just a regular guy, who isn’t popular, or really anyone special, and still has the qualities that make him the superhero he is before he even changes physically.” He looks back at me, staring into my eyes. “Also, he falls in love with a girl who seems way out of his league, and somehow, she falls in love with him, too.” He flits his gaze to Lance for a moment, then back to me with his unflinching gaze. “Even when the girl could have had Howard Stark, the rich and handsome genius.” Lance scoffs, but I can’t tear my eyes away from Cody’s penetrating expression. Is he trying to tell me that he feels like Cap? Does he care for someone? Does he maybe care for… me?

Lance speaks up, breaking the intensity of the moment.

“Who was your favorite character, Abigail? I’d like the girl’s perspective on which guy you’d prefer.” I widen my eyes slightly, unsure of why he just asked me that. I open my mouth to speak, but my dad calls over from behind us,

“Kids, the movie is starting. Be quiet.”

As the movie starts, I think about this situation. My feelings are definitely certain concerning how they feel about Lance. He is stuck up, arrogant, and looking for a pretty face. Not my kind of guy. But I’m all confused about how I feel about Cody. I think about all that’s happened this night, and I wonder if it’s possible that Cody cares about me, and if I return his feelings. I think about him often, and we always have a great time together. He understands me like almost no one else, and always cares about what I have to say. He can always make me laugh, and is always willing to pray with me when I’m feeling blue or have some big decision to make. He’s even kind of handsome, with his dark brown eyes, messed up brown hair, strong frame, and crazy smile like he just played a prank on me.

As I watch the movie, I see Lance shift, looking like he’s about to stretch. At first, I don’t think anything of it.  Then, after a second, I realize what an idiot I am. He’s doing “the move”! I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I thought this kind of stuff only happened on corny TV shows! Panicked, I search for a way out of this increasingly awkward situation. I glance over at Cody, and see that he noticed Lance’s arm making it’s way down from its arc. His brow furrows, and he flashes his eyes towards me. I stare back, panic in my eyes, and again, mouth HELP! He makes a small nodding gesture, looks back at the movie, and, just as Lance is about to lay his arm across my shoulders, casually slips his arm around me. I dart my eyes to my left, and see Lance instantly recoil, anger and embarrassment in his countenance. He turns back to the movie, clearly furious.

My heart starts pounding, and I look to Cody, knowing my face must be bright red, and murmur,

“Thanks.” He smiles bashfully, and tightens his hold a little. I lean back some, actually enjoying the feeling of being so near to him. Bringing me back to my original dilemma. Do I care for Cody? I’m starting to think I do.

When the movie ends, I stand up and stretch, thinking, finally. I’d enjoyed it, especially the end, but Lance had been determined to split me and Cody up. He’d gotten up four times to “take care of something”, which forced us to stand and allow him to pass by. Each time we sat back down, I saw Lance glance back to see if Cody’s arm was still around me. Cody always stared right back, flashed a smirk at him, and returned his arm to its original position. I’m sure my dad is loved  that! I mean, if looks could kill… I guess I wouldn’t have to worry about whether I like Cody or not.

As we all walk into the lobby, and my parents say goodbye to John, Lance comes up behind Cody and I and asks,”Could I talk to you for a second? Outside?” I nod, glance at Cody, and walk outside with Lance. As soon, as we get outside and walk a little ways, Lance turns, grips my shoulders, and exclaims,

“What was that?!”

“Excuse me?” I say, trying to pull away from his grasp, and failing. “What do you mean? I thought the movie was pretty good. I mean, Loki was kind of a creep, but-”

“No! I’m talking about Brody!”

“Cody!”

“Whatever! You are my date. This was supposed to be the night I finally got a girlfriend and stopped getting hounded by my parents to find someone acceptable, who’s pretty enough, smart enough, and just… perfect!” He narrowed his eyes at me, and I get kind of nervous.

“Look, Lance, I’m sure there’s someone out there who’s perfect for you, but I don’t think I’m her.” I stared hard at him, trying to make him understand. His eyes were so filled with anger, and then indignation after my next words. “I think I’m meant for… someone else.”

“Who? Cody?! What does he have that I don’t?” His face twists, and I glare at him, still trying to pull away from his grasp.

“He cares about me; for what’s inside of me, not the outside. He’s kind, gentle, and makes me laugh.” The words fly into my mind, as I think about how I’ve never appreciated Cody as much as I do now, comparing him to this angry boy. “Now, let go of me!” He tightens his hold as I strain to get away once more. This time, however, I kick him in the shin hard. He grunts, but still holds on. I’m about to scream for help, when suddenly, a fist slams into Lance’s face. He stumbles back, letting go of me in the process. Someone pushes me behind him, and I realize it’s Cody. He glares furiously at Lance, and says forcefully,

“Never touch her again! Get out of here!” Lance, moaning as he presses a hand to his eye, turns and runs into the parking lot. Cody then turns to me, the anger and fury leaving his eyes and becoming concern.

“Are you okay?” I nod, and he points toward the direction of my neighborhood. “Let’s get you home.” We begin to walk.

“Where are my parents?”

“They already went home. When you didn’t come back, they assumed you went out with Lance for ice cream or something. Your dad and Lance’s dad seemed awfully pleased.” He sounds kind of bitter. Almost jealous.

“Why didn’t you go home?” He looks at me, kind of sheepish.

“I didn’t trust Lance. And I didn’t think you would have ever gone with him for ice cream. So, I waited until your parents left, and then went outside to see if I could find you. Then,” and I see him tense up, and hear the anger in his voice.” I saw Lance gripping your arms. At first, I didn’t know if, well, you know. You were… In the middle of something.” I blush. As if. Gross. He continues,”So, I just kind of stood still, waiting to see if you needed help. When you kicked him, I decided to step in.” He walks a little quicker, still tense, and tells me, quietly but with an edge to his voice,”If he ever bothers you again, let me know.” I think about the look of fury he wore when he confronted Lance, the way he pushed me behind him possessively. And then, I stop, turn to him, and kiss him on the cheek.

“Thank you.” His eyes go big, and his face turns bright red. He stares at me, searching my gaze.

“For what?” he barely whispers. I smile softly up at him.

“For watching out for me. For… caring.” He looks down, and then, as we turn the corner, we join hands as we walk.

After a couple more minutes of walking, we reach my house. I turn towards him, smile, and whisper,

“Do you remember at the theatre, when Lance asked me who my character was?” Cody nodded, still looking at me. I take a deep breath, and whisper,”I think if I could pick, I’d pick Captain America.” Then I turn and walk into my house. As soon as I get inside, I close the door and peek through the peephole. I see Cody standing there, silent, and then watch a beaming smile spread across his face. He turns around, jumps off the porch, and yells,

“YES!” I stifle a laugh, and run up the stairs. What I had been dreading all day since I found out I’d have to go through it had just become the best date ever. I’ll have to deal with my father tomorrow, but I know certain that no matter what he says, I’ll never go on a date with Lance again. Not after I’ve realized how I feel about Cody.

I begin to smile. This just proves what I told my dad. The perfect one for me is someone who cares about the real me, makes me laugh, and believes what I believe. Someone who truly completes me, who still has his faults, but accepts me despite mine. And, after tonight, I’m excited to see if I’ve possibly found all of this in my best friend.

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What’s in a Name?

Juliet

Juliet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s in a name?   Shakespeare explored this question in the famous balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet.  His answer, “that which we call a rose / by any other word would still smell as sweet”  (2.2.43-44).

Apparently, Shakespeare, or Juliet in this case, got it wrong.  The majority of my seventh period class, the ones who use their given names, had trouble with the idea that people could be called by a nickname, variation of their name, or even their middle name.  Yet, during the reading of To Kill A Mockingbird no one questioned Jean Louise Finch’s nickname “Scout” or Jeremy Finch being called “Jem.”

I guess Chris’ middle name may be Topher; Pat’s middle name may be Rick; and Rob’s middle name may be Bert.

My freshman experience today was realizing not all students finish their thought process before speaking up.  Of course, I am guilty of this, too … especially at home.

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It’s Not Always a Bad Day

Today did not start well.  I was blamed for a bad grade.

 

The Question Is What Is the Question?

The Question Is What Is the Question? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

STUDENT: Why did I get a zero?

 

ME: You did not answer the question.  Your answer was off topic.

 

STUDENT: I didn’t know what the question was.

 

ME: It was in your Reader’s Notebook packet.  You were to respond to Ch. 9-11.  See, it says that right here on the rubric.

 

STUDENT: But, it doesn’t have the question there!

 

ME: The question is in the Reader’s Notebook that I gave you.

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

ME: You never told me you needed another one.  Plus, I wrote the topic on the board and explained to the class what was being asked.  You were here that day.  Why didn’t you copy it down?  Why didn’t you ask me if you didn’t understand?

 

STUDENT: But, Sally stole it from me.

 

I guess if you run out of excuses or blame, you just repeat yourself.

 

I walk away to get her a new copy of the Reader’s Notebook.  Fortunately, she did well on today’s writing assignment.

 

Later, I learned why one student struggles in class even though she sits right in front of the board where I write the homework assignments:

 

STUDENT: When did you get that large cupboard?

 

ME: It’s been there since the school was built 10 years ago.

 

STUDENT: No Way!  I have got to start paying attention, more.

 

Thinking of grades, I could only nod my head in agreement.

 

Then, she asked if she could go to her engineering class because she just noticed she forgot her books and binders there.

 

I could only nod my head in agreement again.  I wrote her a pass.  After all, I have had these moments, too.

 

However, my day continued to improve.  After writing creatively for a class period, I had this conversation with a student:

 

STUDENT: I think I got carried away.

 

ME: Why? What were you writing about?

 

STUDENT: I wrote 600 words on having a monkey as a pet.  I started with some background scientific information and then went into a story.  I will continue it tomorrow.

 

ME: Excellent!  Good luck with it.

 

And during the last class, a student shared the start of an amusing story that he began in class and continued at home.  So far, his first four pages (he only had to write two) describe a man waking up late and locking himself out of his house when he went to get the morning paper.  I look forward to reading more of it.

 

What kind of day did you have?

 

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Why Do Student’s Test Scores Drop? It’s Complicated…

My number one son is in seventh grade, and has had to take an on-line standardized test three times this year to measure his growth in learning.  His September test score had him reading at a college level.  His December test score had him reading at the 11th grade level.  His March test score had him reading at a 9th grade level.

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastinati...

I am Procrastinating by Taking a Procrastination Test: I scored as an Above Average Procrastinator (Photo credit: Tricia Wang 王圣捷)

When I saw this, my mind reeled with thoughts… If he takes another test, will he be reading at grade level?  What if this trend continues?  Will he regress to the point that I have to read Dr. Seuss books to him at bedtime?

First, I called my local congressman.  He always has the answer.  I explained the situation and asked him what he thought.  He replied, “It’s obvious; the teacher is terrible.  She must not be doing her job.  The test scores prove this.”

“I can’t believe it, sir,” I replied.  “I have met her, seen the work she assigns, the passion in her eyes to help students become better.  She can’t be the problem.  Can she?”

“Constituent, she has fooled you into thinking she is doing a good job.  The test scores are the proof!  Your son’s learning was measured.  There is no other answer.  She is making your child less ready for college and career.  Teachers like her are the reason we have the new evaluation system.  Fifty percent of her evaluation will be based on your son and his classmates last test.   Now, thanks for calling.  I have to attend a fundraising dinner and discuss why evaluations based on economic growth for congressmen are not fair.”

“Um, OK.”

I hung up, more confused.  My daughter saw my confused look and asked me what was wrong?  I told her about her brother’s scores.  Of course, she came up with the answer.

“Duh, Dad.  He is 13.  He IS getting dumber!”

“Of course! I forgot what you were like at that age.  It’s not the teacher’s fault.  It is Number One Son’s fault.  He needs to take responsibility and ownership for his learning.  Thank you daughter!”

“No, Dad.  I meant that he takes after you and Mom.  Look at you.  Mom tells us you got good grades in school.  You even have a Master’s Degree.  But, you don’t know how to fix things, can’t find your keys, and think your own jokes are funny.  You get dumber every day! Plus, Mom calls orchards apple-tree farms, forest rangers bear catchers, and recently thought the air conditioner in the car was not working… then she pushed in the AC button.”  Face it, you two are not rocket surgeons!”

“Funny.  Real funny.  Go to your room!”

After all, what else could I say?  I begin to wonder if she is right.  I have been forgetful lately.  I forgot the wife’s birthday, Christmas, and our anniversary.  I couldn’t help Number Two son with his fourth grade math homework.  And, I didn’t win the NCAA March Madness tournament at work.  Number One’s regression is my fault. Do I tell my wife? No way!

I decide to ask Number One.  I show him the scores.  I ask him if he has any idea why the scores have dropped?

He laughs.  I wonder why he thinks that his getting dumber is so funny. 

He explained: “Dad, the first test day was the third week of school.  I was excited.  I was pumped up.  I tried my best to impress my teacher and make you and Mom proud.”

“Well, Number One, I am very proud of those scores.  You were awesome.  However, what happened for the next test?”

“It was in December, Dad. I was distracted with the thoughts of what I was going to buy you for Christmas.”

“Really?  You were thinking of my gift? You are so thoughtful… Wait a minute.  You didn’t get me anything!”

“Just kidding!  I was thinking of all of the gifts I would be getting.”

“OK, Number One, that makes more sense.  That explains test number two.  What about the third test in March?”

“Oh, I didn’t do my algebra homework and needed time to do it.”

“It was an English test.  I don’t understand, son.”

“As soon as I finished my test, I had free time.  I could do my Algebra homework.   You know me, Dad.  I was the kid who would color a picture in first grade in one minute in order to go outside and play.  I skip steps in Algebra because they take too much time, and I get the right answer.  It’s all about efficiency, Dad.  I play soccer the same way.  One touch passes.  No one ever out runs a pass.”

“Number One, let me see if I understand.  You scored low because you rushed through the test.  You had other priorities that day?”

“You know Dad, you aren’t as dumb as you look.  Want to go outside and kick the soccer ball?”

“Why not, Number One.  As long as I am not tested on it.”

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

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School Time Fun

Last week my fourth grader brought home a flier for a fund-raiser.  Let me go on the record: I loathe fund-raisers.  I would rather go to the dentist.  However, Sonny likes basketball and the fundraiser was to watch a game between teachers and the Harlem Wizards.   I saw the look in my son’s eyes and knew he was very excited.  This is the kind of event kids love.

We even talked the second grader into going.  (He prefers watching Star Wars and using his imagination instead of sports.)

Well, the evening was a success.  There were funny jokes, dancing with basketball stars, and the ever popular: teachers losing!  Sonny’s work during recess with his fourth grade teacher did pay off though; she scored two points!

I enjoyed seeing friends entertain the kids.  There was my son’s best friend’s mom pretend to use her Ninja skills to fight a wizard player who was a foot taller than she.  Luckily, it ended peacefully.  🙂  And, the community member (a former U.S. Professional Football Player) who was asked to try out for the Wizards during the game missed his one shot by a mile.  The kids did not know it was on purpose, but I know it was.  His shot was worse than my best attempt.  He could not be that bad.  Seriously.

The best part was the referee.  It was my boss, the principal of the high school.  Apparently, she played basketball in high school and college.  She followed the directions of the Wizards and called a “great” game.  She was a great actress and my sons believed everything she did, whether it was a bad call, putting up with disrespect, or even giving the benefit of the call to the teachers.  For her acting, Mrs. H. deserves an Oscar or at least an Oscar the Grouch.

Tonight reminded me why I teach.  It is not the tests scores.  It is not the novels, although I do love them.  It is the fun!  It is the connection with the kids.  It is the immeasurable that no test will ever show.

Think about it.  Do you remember a test score?  Or, do you remember a teacher?

I remember my third grade teacher, Mrs. Duda, who let me help her grade papers and get the films from the office.  I remember Mr. Collins, my eight grade English teacher, who saw my reading and writing ability enough to let me read the main part for a play in class.  I remember Mrs. Collins, my senior English teacher, who saw more potential than I was ready to admit to.

Next year, I will be evaluated on student growth, which is not a bad idea.  However, the growth is to be measured by one test.  The day of the test could be a “bad day” for the kid.  The student could be like my oldest, a “bad test taker.”   What about the impact or influence I have had on a student?  Unfortunately, this is not easily measurable.    Thus, my evaluation will not be accurate.  For now, if you want to know who are the good teachers, listen to the kids.  They will tell you, either directly or indirectly.

What I have learned in twenty-five years is that a good relationship with students creates success.   Now, I have to figure out how to turn the standardized test into a positive relationship.

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