Category Archives: Education

Seven Lessons from Vacation to Apply to the Classroom and Life

Spring Break in Arizona! Our family loved leaving twenty-degree weather in Ohio!  With temperatures in the 80s, the water park was just what the doctor ordered to thaw out these old bones.  All of my cares and worries drifted away as I floated in the lazy river.

As usual, I planned the entire trip, with some input from the wife.  As usual, the kids, who never wanted to be bothered with helping me plan, complained.  It is too hot.  The kid’s games are rigged.  The room is too small.  (There are six of us; every hotel suite is too small!)  The slides are too steep.  The slides are too slow.  The wave pool is too smallLesson one: kids will complain.  They come out of the womb crying and complaining, and it doesn’t stop for a very long time.  Don’t let the complaints stop you.

However, our kids are getting older and a little more independent.  The oldest went to a different pool at the resort and napped.  The thirteen year old got hot and bored and went back to the room to read. I, too, got bored, so I grabbed him and we explored the area and had lunch.  Lesson two: It is ok to split up and “differentiate” the vacation experience.  We do not all love the same things.

One of our family’s highlights was dinner at the Rustler’s Rooste.  They had a long horn bull out front, a slide to enter, and a magician who came to the table!  The kids had a blast and the food was great!  Lesson three: Make it fun! 

Next, we drove to Sedona, Arizona, to take a jeep tour and see the beauty of the area.  The red rocks of Sedona, sights like my favorite, Snoopy Rock, and the bounces of a jeep going through dry creek beds was a new experience for all of us.  It is not even close to sliding in an SUV in the snow and ice and seeing your life flash before your eyes.  And an experienced tour guide sharing survival skills, in case she crashes, is also helpful.  Lesson four: A knowledgeable guide makes learning fun, exciting, and memorable!  Be a knowledgeable teacher!

Snoopy Rock - Sedona

Snoopy Rock – Sedona (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Grand Canyon Railway trains at Williams Depot

Grand Canyon Railway trains at Williams Depot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After the jeep tour, we went to Williams, Arizona, home of the Grand Canyon Railway, where we spent the night and travelled to the Grand Canyon by train.  The kids were on their Ipads, and my wife and I enjoyed the scenery and the relaxing ride.  Once at the South Rim, we took a bus tour to see different viewpoints of the Canyon.  Of course, the teens had to inform us that the Canyon was all the same: “Look there is are layers of rocks over there and over there.”  And, “Wow, there is the big ditch again…”  Interestingly, they, and especially the wife, were all a little nervous about venturing toward the edge.  I wasn’t and when I saw a ledge about 4 feet below the rim I was standing on; I had to jump.  I landed, waited for the gasp, and peeked over the rocks… “April Fools!”  Don’t be mad at me.  Several years ago, the wife cried to me that she was pregnant with number five.  Then, she said, “April Fools!”   Lesson five: when you can play with people’s minds, do it!  Then, keep your kids away from the edge…

We spent the night at one of the National Park’s lodges.  We told the kids we might hike into the canyon.  The next day, the wife informed me that she was very nervous and afraid about hiking into the canyon because the boys tended to push each other.  Apparently, she did not like the idea of having one brother push another down the side of the cliff.  We only hiked two miles, and downhill was easy, but the children realized what a hike it was.  We met people hiking up from the bottom with children the same age as ours with backpacks and not complaining.  Without any prompt from us, our children realized that others had it harder.  Lesson six: Once we can see the hardships of others, we learn we could have life (or English class) worse.

In the end, the kids agreed the best part of the trip was the hike.  The hike that pushed them, challenged them, and made them feel good about accomplishing something.  It was a reminder that our job as parents and teachers is to give challenges to the kids; to allow them to push them to be better.  Lesson seven: Challenge the kid!  They want it and they grow! 

What lessons do you learn from trips?



Filed under Education, Learning, Lessons from students

I Refuse to Work!

What happens when a student refuses to do the work?  What would you do?

Yesterday, I had a young lady with a 2×4 chip on her shoulder refuse to comply to class procedures.

The background:

Since day two of school, I give the students 3 words and their definitions.  The students then create a sentence with context clues.  Yesterday, I walked around the room, looking over shoulders and offering encouragement until I came to Angie’s desk.  Once there, I stopped in my tracked and looked at an empty desk, for she was not on task.  Before I could say a word, she said, “Don’t talk to me.”  Of course, being the rebellious person that I am, I had to say something.

I reminded her that she was to be copying the vocabulary words and creating an original sentence.  She felt the need to repeat, “I said don’t talk to me!”

With that, I sent her into the hall.  She was poising the class with her negative attitude.  I have tried to help her, but her anger prevents her from succeeding.  At the start of the last nine weeks, I feel that I have to concentrate on the kids who want to do well.  It is a constant struggle any public school teacher faces.

Well, I told Angie to sit in the hall, and class discussion was a positive experience.  I wrote a discipline referral and the vice principal suspended out of school for two days.  It seems that her attitude and behavior is not confined to my class.

I am left with the feeling that she has a lot of baggage in life and will not succeed.  However, I do have to teach the other 29 students in class.  Am I suppose to cut the losses and give up on her?  How much time and energy do I devote to her?  This is something every educator in the United States struggles with.  If you have the right answer, I am all ears.


Filed under Education, Learning

Seven National Crimes in My Classroom

The freshmen are reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm.  I love history and teaching the kids about Josef Stalin and Russia is a passion for me.  However, for some reason, most teens in 2013 are not as excited about this as I am.   Therefore, I continually look forward to finding ways to bring the novel’s themes to the lives of the students of today.

February 4–11: Yalta Conference

February 4–11: Yalta Conference (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer I ran across “The 10 Cannots” by William Boetcker.  He was an American religious leader and influential public speaker during his lifetime (1873-1962).

Born in Hamburg, Germany,  he was ordained a Presbyterian minister soon after his arrival in the United States as a young adult. The Rev. Boetcker was ordained in Brooklyn, New York. (Wikipedia)

Boetcker also spoke of the “Seven National Crimes:”

▪   I don’t think.

▪   I don’t know.

▪   I don’t care.

▪   I am too busy.

▪   I leave well enough alone.

▪   I have no time to read and find out.

▪   I am not interested.

Everyday, I see these crimes committed in the classroom.  (To be truthful, I am the one committing some of these every once in a while.)  Consequently, while rereading my notes, I started to reflect on my life and “crimes.”  Soon, I will present these questions to my classes with the hope that they will see some connections to an “old” book and their lives.

  • How do you think critically?
  • How do you become knowledgeable, even on matters that don’t interest you?
  • How are you a caring, active member of the community
  • What are your unproductive and unfulfilling activities?
  • How do you get involved in their community life?
  • What have you read recently?
  • What is your passion in life?

“Never mind what others do,” Boetcker said. “Do better than yourself, beat your own record from day-to-day, and you are a success.”

Wish me luck…

Please note: the related articles are meant to make you think.  They do not necessarily represent my ideas.


Filed under Education, Learning, Lesson Plans

Florida Teacher: A Fruitless Pursuit of My VAM Rating

I have to wonder if Ohio’s Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) will be like Florida’s Evaluations…

Diane Ravitch's blog

Please read the link in this comment. Kafkateach has been trying, again and again, to find out what her VAM score for 2011-2012 was. No one will tell her. No one knows. It is being calculated. It is being recalculated.

If it takes two years to find out what your evaluation score is, what value does VAM add?

Will someone be sure to let Arne Duncan and Bill Gates know?


She writes:


The new and improved teacher evaluations in my district have proven to be nonexistent. It’s March 12th 2013 and we still have yet to receive evaluations and our VAMs for the 2011-12 school year. The state, the district, and the union have been tossing around the stinking pile of value added bogosity like a hot potato. Nobody wants to accept responsibility for the data. Millions of public school dollars have been wasted on designing an evaluation…

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Filed under Education, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

Change Is Good; Learning Is Good

Recently one of our assistant principals observed my teaching.

I remember my first observation.  I worked hard on my delivery of the pre-reading notes.  I use to think it was important for students to see how much I knew about an author or poet.  After all, I did have the book with all of the answers.

Actually, I did not get a teacher’s annotated edition until I was in my 6th year of teaching, and this forced me to think and be creative on my own.  It was a true blessing.  But, I digress.


English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dicki...

English: Daguerreotype of the poet Emily Dickinson, taken circa 1848. (Original is scratched.) From the Todd-Bingham Picture Collection and Family Papers, Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

     After my mini-lecture, I read the poem to the class.  It was Emily Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop For Death:

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labour, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries; but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.

Then I began to ask questions.  Are there any words you do not know?  What figurative language do you see?  What do you think the theme is?  Etc.

I would pause and wait for answers.  I would repeat or rephrase what the students said.   I would write notes on the board.  I was leading the lesson.  And, I received a great evaluation.

I try not to be the sage on the stage anymore.  I wonder how many of my students that day remember the poem?  While I read the poem, what were they thinking about?  While I asked a question and one student answered it, what were the other students doing?

I have to lead at times.  I know grammar rules better than most of the kids.  However, I do not have to explain what reading selections mean.  If I taught this poem today, I would do it differently.  I would have the students write a journal about what they want to do before they die; they would create a bucket list.  I would have the students get a partner and read the poem to one another.  Next, they would answer questions similar to the ones I asked that day long ago.  After they were finished, we would bring the class together, and I would let the students lead the discussion to see if their analysis of the poem was similar or different.  The final evaluation would be an analysis of a different poem.

I am curious to receive the feedback from our assistant principal.  He observed my warm-up activity of having students copy three vocabulary words and writing a creative sentence with figurative language as the context clue.  While the students do this, I take attendance and talk to students who were absent.

Next, the students used our laptops to write their short stories.  My classroom became a buzz of activity as students shared ideas, read each other’s stories, and asked me questions.  It never became too loud, nor was it silent.  I do wonder what my first principal would have thought of this. I ended with an exit ticket of self-evaluation:  If you had more time, what would you have done differently?  Of course, the students had the next day to continue their writing.

Now to grade those stories…


Filed under Education, Learning, Lesson Plans, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations, Writing

Kids Say the Darndest Things

1957 edition illustrated by Charles Schulz

1957 edition illustrated by Charles Schulz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I know it is not right for a teacher to laugh at a student.  Nonetheless, some students say things that make me laugh.  For example, today one of our vocabulary words was indefatigable, which means “tireless.”  Orville shared this pun as his sentence with context clues:

Q. If a car is indefatigable, why doesn’t it run?

A. It’s tireless.

However, sometimes students are like us parents – they say something without thinking.  I heard through the grapevine (so it must have really happened) about a student asking a not-well-thought-out question.  After studying Spain for two weeks during Spanish class, the student asked, “Do they speak Spanish in Spain?”  I hope this was just the child’s two seconds of stupidity we all have each day.  (Although, according to sources close to home, I am up to 34 minutes each day.)

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To Move Or Not To Move

Romeo and Juliet with Friar Laurence

Romeo and Juliet with Friar Laurence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It was a perfect weekly plan for my lessons.   I was going to give a test on Romeo and Juliet this Thursday, Valentine’s Day.  See the irony?  Alas, I was not prepared to be met with students saying, “On Thursday, sir? the time is very short” (4.1.1).  It was as if they knew we were reading Act IV today.  Every student seemed able to quote Friar Lawrence.


It turns out that the history and biology teachers are giving tests on Thursday also.  Thus, I had to contemplate what is best for the kids.  Do I stick to my plan because it is what I want?  Do I give in to kids because they seem to whine?


The truth is that I was not 100% positive I would be ready to give the test on Thursday.  Plus, we could use time to write the outline/rough draft of the essay.  Therefore, it looks like Thursday will still be for love, Friday will be for the tragedy of love.



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

Non-Responsive Student or Victim?

The day started with an email.  Our intrepid leader sent out the draft of the plan with aiding a non-responsive victim we may find.  She told us about this drill a month ago, and it can help us know what to do in an emergency.  It’s a great idea, but I still felt the need to be facetious this morning.

I ran into one of our vice principals, a former social studies teacher, and I couldn’t resist a little fun.  I asked him, “What if the non-responsive person is in a social studies class?  Isn’t he just sleeping?”

HaHaHa.  Karma sucks.  We had the drill today.  Outside of my classroom.  I was the first one on the scene.  This is how it played out:

“BEEP!” The tardy bell rings.  Students were already getting laptops out to finish their revisions of an essay.  Louis was asking me for help because he has a propensity for writing run-on-sentences you know the kind that never seem to stop or utilize any punctuation what-so-ever.

Then, this stranger, a thirty-something woman with a clipboard, enters my class.  I see many badges, the kind schools, businesses, and hospitals give out that are difficult to read, yet give some people the sense that this person is safe and belongs here.  I didn’t fall for it.  I did not recognize her, and I grabbed the only weapon a good English teacher has: my red pen.

“There is an unresponsive victim in the hallway,” says Miss Stranger.

I get up and proceed to go to the hallway.  As I step through the doorway, she informs me, “It’s only a dummy.”

Seeing four students entering my class tardy, I ask, “Which one?”  I notice through the corner of my bad eye that she smiles.

I approach the dummy.  It is the upper torso.  I choose to not alarm the woman, but I know he is not going to make it.  I follow our written procedures:  I yell for one of my students to run to the office as I pull out my cell phone and call the office.  I call and get a voicemail.  I call again and get an administrative assistant and let her know what the emergency is, where it is, and to call 911.  Of course, I mention that it is a drill because I have no idea if Miss Clipboard has told anyone.  next, we here the announcement for a lockdown.

English: CPR training with Welch Allyn AED 20

English: CPR training with Welch Allyn AED 20 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She asks me if I know CPR; my certification expired years ago.  Another teacher arrives; she does not know CPR either.  The nurse arrives and begins CPR.  The AED arrives and the nurse works to save the dummy.  The drill is over.

We learned that we had some flaws in our plan.  I did what was written; however, I should have told my student to get another teacher.  I should have told the teacher to push the emergency button in the classroom and inform the office of the emergency.  When the lockdown occurred, the teachers in nearby classrooms stayed with their students, as we have been taught to do, and did not come outside to help.  We learned some other things, too.  However, these lessons apply more to me.  Soon though, all of us will be trained in CPR and be able to do more than yell for help.

When I explained to my students what happened, I said it was like the first draft we wrote.  We will look at what we did wrong, make improvements, and do it again.  It became a great teachable moment.

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How do I Differentiate Instruction?

Meeting kids where they are: Differentiating I...

Meeting kids where they are: Differentiating Instruction (Photo credit: Wesley Fryer)

Our school district is collecting data on the idea of removing all honors classes from the junior and senior high schools.  The theory is that teachers can differentiate instruction in the classroom to challenge the students at their different abilities.

I have done this in the past by offering extra credit assignments to students who want to push themselves beyond the curriculum.  For example, while studying oral traditions (folk tales, mythology, etc.)  students can research mythologies from other cultures other than Greek/Roman.  According to the picture above, this seems to be ok.

I have to admit, though, that I am a neophyte on differentiated instruction.  Offering extra credit to challenge students does not seem to be true differentiated instruction.  Some kids prefer to challenge themselves in a different manner than completing extra work in English / Language Arts class.  For example, Tina has an A in class and is the lead in the school musical.  She would rather challenge herself with theater, which is her passion.  She wants to be an actress.

I think I should be grouping the students and assigning them different projects based on previous grades or standardized test scores. I have begun to research and ideas are bouncing around my brain like popcorn in the microwave bag.

I could use some feedback from folks in education and those of you who have other life experiences.

1. What do you think about eliminating honors classes?

2. Do you have any ideas how I may incorporate differentiated instruction in my classroom?


Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Learning, Lesson Plans

More Rebels!

I had another rebel in class the other day.


Students were to be writing the rough draft of an essay in class.  I have found that making them write in class reduces plagiarism.  Most kids copy or download  an essay from some website like .  It’s not that hard to catch them because I can Google the essay too.  I don’t like to be a “Gotcha” teacher though.  I would prefer to use class time to help them through the writing process.


I was walking through the classroom and checking with students on their progress.  I peered over Katerina’s shoulder, looked at her paper, and blinked three times.  I thought I was having trouble with my eyes again.  I was having trouble reading her essay.   Then I realized, she was writing in Macedonian!  I started laughing, which of course disrupted class for a minute.  What a rebel!


Map showing the distribution of the Macedonian...

Map showing the distribution of the Macedonian language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Of course, Katrina has been an excellent writer all year.  Plus, she always does her work.  She turned in a great essay, in English, and I am pretty sure she did not pull it off a web site.  (I talked with her mom.)


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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Writing