Category Archives: Lessons from students

What I have learned over the years from the students in my classes.

Wow – Where Did the Time Go! Or, Was I Procrastinating?

I meant to take a short break from writing… due to the busy time of the Holidays.  I reread my last post and, apparently, my student’s question about Thanksgiving and Christmas being the same break was a prophesy for me.   After I graded over Thanksgiving, I assigned another essay to be due before Christmas break.  I encouraged students to turn it in early for some extra credit, and five students did.  The rest, well, they validated the reason I do not give weeks to write an essay or create a project.  We work in class for 2-4 days and then it is due two days later.  This gives the kids a chance to turn it in early for some extra credit or ask me for help before the due date.  But I digress…

Of course, I have Romeo and Juliet essays to grade right now, but procrastinating by writing can be more fun.  See, I learn from the students every year.   The essays were due on Friday by 7:30 a.m.  and we did not have school.  The busses would not start due to the extremely cold weather we are experiencing.  Luckily for the students, our district began using Turnitin.com this year.

Little side story here: Eleven years ago several of us asked for the district to purchase a license to use the website.  However, we were told the money would have to come out of the English Department’s budget of $500.  Yes, you guessed it, the license cost more than that.  Evidently, none of the administrators saw a use for checking the originality of science, history, foreign language, and every other subject’s writing assignments.  Thus, while the English department was teaching proper citation of sources and how not to plagiarize, the rest of the school may have been fine with copying from Wikipedia, the bane of all researchers!  Never fear, we asked again around year six, and were told there was no money, which was true.  In fact, the district had to layoff dozens of teachers and two curriculum department administrators. Luckily, this year the Teaching and Learning Department, formally known as the Curriculum Department, has grown beyond pre-cuts days and saw the advantage to using Turnitin.com.  (I guess it makes one sound more intelligent or more powerful if the department has two names.)    

So far, only the English and Language Arts Department is using it, but I am sure the Math, Science, and the rest of the departments will learn how to use it during one of our weekly Professional Development meetings.  

Back to the main topic (Procrastination): My favorite feature of Turnitin.com is the time stamp.  I can have the submission deadline  be midnight or 7:30 a.m. or whenever.  I can then learn when the student turned it in.  I also do not have to deal with using instructional time to have students staple papers together (no one owns staplers), needing to print during class, and listening to excuses of forgotten folders containing essays at home.  Some students still have the excuses, “I couldn’t submit my essay” or “I do not have Internet” or “My printer was out of ink or broken, or “the dog urinated on my laptop.”  Therefore, I have instructed them to (A) email a copy to me or share it with me on Google Docs, (B) bring a typed or hand- written copy to class to give me as they explain the problem, (C)  print from our computer lab before school, or (D) take ownership of YOUR problem and solve it.  The reality is that 92.4%  of the excuses come about because of procrastination.  (I found that statistic on the Internet, so it must be true!)

Although, the company checks originality, it also enables teachers to grade the essays online.  There is an automatic grammar and punctuation checker; however, it is not always correct.  For example, it always indicates the title of the essay and the first sentence is a run-on-sentence.  Teachers are able to create their own comments; thus, no more writing the same comment over and over again.  We merely highlight the mistake and click the comment!  I am finding it an easier way to grade, as long as I have an Internet connection.

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Filed under 21st century skills, Education, Goals, Humor, Learning, Lessons from students, Measuring Student Success, Writing

Holiday Break

I have had great trouble making the time to write.  I am only writing now to “workcrastinate.”  I should be grading essays, but writing is more fun than grading.  Go figure.

I had to make time to share a question a student had for our class last week: “Is Thanksgiving break and Christmas break at the same time this year?”

I was proud of myself for not responding in a sarcastic manner, which is one of my goals this year.  Then, I realized, the student was not asking that strange of a question.  She may be very in tune with a politician’s work schedule.

I can see her getting elected one day.

As for me, I am thankful that this Thanksgiving I will have the opportunity to grade many essays.

 

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Filed under Education, Humor, Lessons from students, Writing

Ready to Teach

Thank Heaven last week is behind us.  We survived assessment testing and little instructional time.  This next week will feel more normal with a writing assignment and actual teaching.

Of course, last week also gave me a chuckle.  An Honors student looked at our text book and asked, “Is this just full of stories?”  In an effort to not be sarcastic, I answered, “It also has poems, essays, a play, and part of an epic.”  However, some of the things I wanted to say were:

– “No, it has math problems, too.”

– “Of course not, the book merely has disconnected words.”

– “Are you sure you belong in Honors?”

– “No.  It is just a heavy weight and part of the President’s fitness plan for the youth of America.  Here, you need another book.”

Well, back to teaching!

 

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Perspective: Seeing the World Through Another’s Eyes

We enjoy exploring so much that we hardly to the same place more than once.  A few of our exceptions are Walt Disney World, which can NOT be seen in one visit, and Harrison, Nebraska, which is family and riding horses and roping cattle for wild west fun.

My family loves horseback riding to round-up the cattle.   I, on the other hand, can take it or leave it.  Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy riding; however, I would cover more land on an ATV.  Plus, I know how to control the machine better than the animal.

It is the thought of riding a four-wheeler that led us to one of the most educational and exciting excursions of our trip in Costa Rica.  Sure, we could have ridden horses on the beach or through town.  But, to race along the roads, the beaches, and the muddy trails on a four-wheeler would be awesome!IMG_0443

Originally, I did not think we would be able to do this adventure.  According to websites, all drivers had to be 18 or older and only two of our six qualified.  However, we learned that some rules were overlooked.  We had three licensed drivers, so we were good to go.

Our guide showed us a troop of howler monkeys, let the younger kids drive on the beach, and gave us a lesson on education in Costa Rica.  Luis told us how fortunate he was.  His parents were able to send him to a private school.

My children were surprised to hear what fortunate meant in Costa Rica.  First of all, Luis did not attend a preschool or kindergarten.  He started in first grade by riding a bus for one hour to an English immersion school.  Imagine, being seven years old, riding on a bus for an hour, having the teachers speak a different language, and then getting back on the bus for an hour ride home. My children were flabbergasted to hear what Luis did for an education.  I will have to keep you posted on when my kids forget that others have it a little tougher than them.  (I predict it will happen next week when our drive to school takes six minutes.)

I do know that my wife and I were reminded of how fortunate our family is. IMG_0473

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Filed under Education, Lessons from students, Vacations

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

Dear Dad

Here is another “creative” writer from one of my classes.  Writing from two different points of view is a talent.  

Dear Dad,

There are so many things I’ve wanted to tell you. For starters, I wanted to thank you for tucking me in, reading me stories, and always telling me goodnight when I was younger. I miss it ever so much. Even though you’re not here anymore, I know you’re still watching over me and helping me through every step in life. I would have also liked to thank you for helping me with basketball; you were always the first one to jump off the couch and come shoot with me. Another plus is that you were 6’7, so your genes kind of helped me out. There are just too many things to thank you for, but I should probably start on my questions for you.

I have way too many questions for you, so I’ll see if I can narrow it down to just the important ones. I’ll start with an easy one, do you miss me? I miss you! I haven’t seen you for almost three months. My next question is what is the weather like up there? No, this isn’t a tall joke, because, trust me, I’ve gotten plenty of those. Another question would be, have you met Him? If you have, is He really as great as everyone says He is? I just don’t understand how He is so great if He takes people’s loved ones. I’m hoping you can explain this to me. My final question is, how are you doing up there? Are you better than you were when you were here? Oh, and don’t worry, I’m taking great care of Mom, Shane, and Hannah. Shane just started travel baseball, I have basketball, and Hannah has soccer, so Mom has been as busy as a bee lately. Even though Shane’s team sucks, it’s good to see him following in your footsteps. Did you know we might move this summer? We’re still staying in Pickerington, just a new house. Oh yeah, and I have a boyfriend now! His name is Jeff. You would have liked him. Maybe one day, I’ll take him out to London to meet you. If you’re wondering about Hannah, she’s still into all her soccer and is trying to get recruited somewhere. It’s weird seeing her getting ready to go to college next year. There has been so much change in such little time.

This letter is getting somewhat lengthy, so I’ll try to wrap it up here soon. I just have a little more to say, and it’s the hard stuff.. apologies. I’m sorry for not cleaning my room when you asked, or not doing the dishes when you need them done. Back then, they all seemed like endless tasks, but now I would do them each 100 times just to see you again. I’m also sorry for not appreciating everything you did for me. Most importantly, I’m sorry for thinking you were just being lazy when you didn’t go to work for a whole week before you were diagnosed. Everything looked fine, but I’ve learned not to judge a book by its cover, because sometimes it’s better than expected.. but sometimes it’s a lot worse.

Well, I think that’s about it for now. I can’t wait until you write back! I would love to see your answers to all of my extensive questions. Thanks for always being there for me!

Love and Miss You!

Dear H-,

Thanks for writing me! You’ve become pretty good at writing, hopefully Mr. W. gives you an A. By the way, you don’t have to thank me for anything. I enjoy watching over you. It’s been a fun to see you grow up day by day. My favorite part is seeing you improve at basketball. Before, I couldn’t go to very many of your games, but now I’m sitting right there on the bench. I come to all of your games, no matter if it’s soccer or basketball. I guess it’s time I should answer some questions now.

How could you even wonder if I miss you? Of course I do! I miss the whole family. It’s not easy being away from everyone for three whole months, but it’s nice seeing Great Grandma, Great Aunt Kelly, and everyone else who passed before me. Oh, and child why are you worried about the weather up here? That should be the least of your worries! To answer your next question, no, I haven’t met Him. He also does not take people’s loved ones, He gives people their loved ones; He gave me you, your mother, your sister, and your brother. Every life is like a lease from God, then, when the lease is up, He calls them back to their true home. Even though I haven’t had the honor of meeting Him, you should never question His power. Now for your final question, I am doing great. I’m a lot better now than I was three months ago. Even though I miss everyone, it’s much better for me to be up here. I’m glad everyone is back to their normal schedule. Now about your little boyfriend, I don’t know him very well, but he seems like a good kid. Hopefully I get to meet him sometime. You also need to stop picking on Shane about how bad his baseball team is. They may be 0-8, but he’s only ten, he has plenty of time to grow into it. It’s also good to see Hannah preparing to go off to college. She’ll do great things as an adult. However, change is a good thing. It was time for our family to have a little change in our family. If you think about it, it’s only made us closer.

Now since you now I don’t like writing, I’ll try to finish up. Your apologies mean a lot, but who cares if you messed up a few times, that only makes you human. Going through life is like riding a roller coaster, you may have some ups and downs, but when you go down, it only gives you momentum to go right back up. Learning how to accept your mistakes is a big part of growing up. It did, however, hurt my feelings at the time, but I’ve moved on and left it behind. And so should you.

I think I’m going to have to leave off here; my hand is starting to hurt so much I might just have to write with my toes. Have a great day and good luck in the rest of your tournaments. Tell the family I said hi!

Love,

Your Father

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Filed under Lessons from students, Writing

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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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?

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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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