Category Archives: Learning

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.



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.


  • 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

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


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

The Oak Tree and Mom

Oak and Ash

Oak and Ash (Photo credit: Let Ideas Compete)

I visited my parents this weekend to wish Mom a happy Mother’s day.  She is struggling with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases and stays in bed all day and night.  My dad and I talk in front of her; she smiles and nods.  It used to be the other way around.  Mom had a way of dominating the conversation and Dad would smile and nod, adding a joke or story occasionally.

While there, I learned that my dad had to have the Oak tree in the backyard cut down before it fell in a storm and destroyed the house or neighbor’s house.  This was not just an Oak tree.  It was THE Oak tree.  It was the reason I planted an Oak tree in my backyard: to remind me of childhood.

Mom and Dad’s Oak was taller than the house.   Three adults, holding hands, could not wrap their arms around it.  Its shade covered three-fourths of the backyard and the back of the house.  The Oak wasn’t a climbing tree; the lowest branch was ten feet high.

What do my mom and the Oak tree have in common?

It is not their size.  Mom did have a large presence in our family, all five feet two inches and 100 pounds of her.  The tree trunk had to be cut in three sections for a crane to lift it over the house to the front yard.  Anything larger, and the work crew worried the crane would tip over.  A semi-truck and logging trailer hauled all of it away.

No, size was not a commonality.  The true similarity was the fact that the Oak and Mom were always there in my life.

They both protected me.  The Oak shaded me from the sun; Mom from everything else.

The Oak tree entertained me.  It dropped leaves in the fall and challenged me to catch them.  It wanted to help me improve my eye-hand coordination to improve my chances to be a professional athlete.  (It seems the Oak tree doesn’t know a lot about sports.)  Like the Oak, Mom would play with me.  When I was home from school, she would stay home from work.   We would play Monopoly or Payday for hours.  Luckily, Mom had more sense than the Oak.  She prepared me for the life outside of professional sports.

The Oak tree provided me with the opportunity to work every autumn.  I would get to earn my keep by raking leaves, raking leaves, and raking more leaves.  Every few days I was out there making piles of leaves.  Of course, I spent a lot of time jumping in 25 feet high leaf mountains.  Mom provided opportunities for me to do chores, help make spaghetti sauce and wedding soup.  Of course, I had some fun with the chores and did a lot of taste testing.

Well, the tree is gone.  The sun is setting; we know that.  May all of our Moms have a Happy Mother’s Day.

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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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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Writing

The Third Annual Star Wars Party and Standardized Tests

The second Death Star under construction in Re...

The second Death Star under construction in Return of the Jedi (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“May the fourth be with you,” stated my eight-year old son.

“And with you,” I replied.

Thus began our STAR WARS day, May 4th, 2013.

A month ago the invitations were mailed. The RSVPs had been given. At noon, my son’s fellow younglings would arrive for light saber duels, Jedi training, and good v. evil challenges. The Jedi were to depart at 3:15. Not 3:00 o’clock. Not 3:30. Three. fifteen.

This was my son’s third annual STAR WARS party. At the first party, someone thought it was a birthday party and brought him a gift. The mom couldn’t understand that our son would plan a party to celebrate STAR WARS! Really? I have seen Oscar parties, Kentucky Derby parties, and Super Bowl parties. Those parties do not even come close to my son’s STAR WARS parties for fun and excitement.

The best part is he does the planning. We ate Death Star grapes, StarWarsberries, and make your own pizzas. Every little Jedi would be happy.

My son informed me that I was not needed in organizing games or activities outside. In fact I was to do nothing except put the pizzas in the oven and take them out of the oven. Part of me was sad that he was growing up, and he didn’t need me. However, I quickly became happy when I realized I would not have to be hit with light sabers, or have those Ewoks jump all over me. I could relax.

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan

Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, at every STAR WARS party we have a kid cry. Even if I remind them that no one ever cried in STAR WARS. This year, we had one accidental hit on the head with a light saber. A little Jar Jar Binks walked into a light saber being tossed in the air. And, we had a couple of boys try to sneak into the basement to play video games:

“It’s burning up outside,” they whined.

“It’s 73 degrees. There is a breeze. Get a glass of water and go play,” I ordered.

They drank some water, petted our little Chewbacas and ran outside to join the fun. There were no further problems or complaints.

The party was an excellent demonstration of skills my son learned in school and at home:

*Writing invitations

*Using time management

*Planning activities

*Leading small groups

*Creating a menu for kids with food allergies

*Compromising so everyone has fun

I can’t wait to see how the Department of Education will create a standardized test to assess these skills. I hope he does well, or he may not be college and career ready.

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Filed under Common Core, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success

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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Filed under Education, Humor, Learning, Measuring Student Success, Teacher Evaluations

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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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