Tag Archives: children

It’s a Dog Eat Dog World and I’m Wearing Milkbone Underwear

It has been a while since I last posted a blog.  I have noticed that writing is like exercising: if you don’t get the chance to do it, you feel yucky.  My problem has been making the time to write.  Anyone have any ideas?

After our vacation, our three boys began their soccer, (forgive me worldly readers) futbol seasons.  We had a seven-year-old playing recreation, a ten-year-old playing on his team and guest playing on the next age up, and the team of the twelve-year-old plays in games in two leagues.  I should have written while at the fields, but some of those games were played in freezing temperatures.

Plus, in the middle of all of this soccer, an animal bites my twelve-year-old.  No, the shark from Hawai’i did follow us to Ohio.   That would have been an interesting story.

Brindle Akita dogs

Brindle Akita dogs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A ninety-pound (41 kg) Akita decided to taste my seventy-pound (32 kg) son’s right arm.  (Never buy bacon flavored body spray.)  The Akita won the first battle, but lost the war when my son’s friend kicked his dog in the head.

The bite was bloody enough for them to call 911.  The paramedics bandaged Andy and drove my wife and him to the hospital.  I was on the other side of town … at a soccer game.  When I arrived at the hospital, I asked Andy how he was doing.  He looked scared.  I took a look at the bite and told him in my best black knight voice, “It’s only a flesh wound.  You’ve had worse,” which is true.  This is the same son who tried to learn about velocity and mass with a slingshot and golf ball.  I am still waiting to see when he will put his two missing front teeth to use and play hockey.

Andy is fine now.  The bite did get infected and we spent some time in the hospital and we were worried.  I am proud of the way Andy has handled the healing process.  At school, he played basketball with only his left hand.  The day the doctor took the stitches out he played in a soccer game.  He is one tough kid.

In fact, now that I think about it, Andy is always willing to take risks and try experiments.  Like right now.  He is over the neighbors’ helping cut down a dead tree with a chain saw.  You would think I would remember Han Solo’s words, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Han Solo

Han Solo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What risk did you take today?

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Things that make you wonder…

Have you ever wondered?  Of course you have.  Perhaps you wonder how the deer know to only cross at those yellow signs on the road.  Perhaps you wonder why black olives are packaged in cans and green olives are packaged in jars.  Or, perhaps you wonder how everyone seemed to know Lassie was barking because Timmy was in trouble.

I enjoy wondering.  My love for reading has allowed me to wonder what it would have been like in a different time and place.  My desire to visit new places all of the time has encouraged me to wonder what it would be like to live in that location.  And, I wonder why people act the way they do.

People’s actions are like character’s actions in a story.  When I teach literature, I focus on why characters behave the way they do.  Sometimes we can explain it; sometimes we cannot.  For example, it is difficult to explain why the jury found Tom Robinson guilty in To Kill A Mockingbird.

However, it is easy to explain why Heck Tate said “Bob Ewell fell on his knife” at the end.

Recently I have been presented with some strange behavior by students that have made me wonder.  Perhaps one of you can explain these teenager’s logic.

1. I went into the boys rest room to wash my hands and noticed someone sitting on the floor in the stall.  Fearing he was regurgitating his math lesson or the school lunch, I asked him if he was ok.  He came out of the stall and tried to lie.  He finally confessed to be cutting his class, which was in the media center.  Since when did a boys bathroom floor, where aiming to hit the toilet is not a priority, become a “cooler” place to be than the library?  In 23 years I have never seen this way to cut a class.

Stainless Steel Stalls

2. I was walking down the hallway to the lunch room.  I never get school food, for I am trying to live a long life.  However, today I did not pack my lunch.  I stopped a young man who was breaking our dress code and asked him, “what class are you in right now?”   He responded, “I’m going to get some food at the grab and go line.”   I said that I wondered when the grab and go food line became a class.  So, I asked him again and we proceeded to his class. He did not pass go, collect $200 or buy any snacks.  I wonder why someone tries so hard to attract attention to himself then complains about getting in trouble.  When you scream, people tend to notice.  

Tomorrow we have outlines due.  I wonder what creative excuses I will encounter.  I am certain that I will get five students saying “I didn’t understand the assignment” even though we spent two class periods working on it.  I will probably hear three students tell me “I forgot it at home or in the car.”  Of course, one or two students will tell me that they were typing it and left it on the printer.  I do wonder if I will get “my brother got mad at me and lit it on fire, again.”

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Lessons for Marriage and Parenting from Star Wars

A few months ago my children found my high school yearbooks.  After seeing my pictures, they decided I was a nerd.  However, I was never a nerd, nor am I one now.  Honest.  In fact, for a few months in 1995 I was even suave and debonair enough to fool my future wife.  Along this journey that started in a galaxy far, far way, I have learned a few things:

1. When picking up women, make sure there is little competition.  Han Solo won Princess Leia’s heart.  The only competition on board the Millennium Falcon an Old Jedi, a twin brother, a walking giant hairball, an annoying droid, and a rolling vacuum.  When I met my wife, I was the only single guy at the Euchre Party.  I was her Han Solo rescuing her from the Death Star.

2. Jedi mind-tricks work.  I can never seem to find the droids I am looking for.  No matter what I may be thinking, my wife always has a way of making me agree with her.

3. When you think: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” you are probably right.  I have never been in a dire predicament like being in a garbage masher or giant slug.  However, I have been too close to crying child who either blows out his diaper or vomits all over me, the dog, and the carpet.

4. Wookies and some people are poor losers.  I have yet to lose an argument with my wife because I am a poor loser.   Unfortunately, this characteristic has been inherited by my youngest son.  He is a sore loser when I crush him in War, Go Fish, Sorry, and every other game.

5.If one of your family members disappears, expect a trap.   In Cloud City, C3PO knew Darth Vader and his storm troopers were there but he disappeared before he could warn anyone.  When my daughter was an infant, my wife would disappear.  Immediately the little baby would scream and cry until Mommy returned.

4. Yoda is right: “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  Luke doesn’t believe he can lift his fighter out of the swamp.  He is right.  You have to believe to succeed.  We have learned to make the kids do the chore right.  They get to keep doing it until it is done correctly.

5. Do not negotiate with bad guys and children.  While Leia is held prisoner on the Death Star, Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader ask her where the secret rebel is.  She reveals the location to save the planet.  They blow it up anyway.  Negotiating with children works the same way.   You give them a cookie and then they want a glass of milk.

Yes, Star Wars has helped many of us “cool” people face what life has to offer.  The Force is with us!

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Gift Ideas for Teachers

Yes, it is that time of year when my wife shops for the teachers of three of our children.  It’s not that she doesn’t like our fourth child.  The girl is just too old.  There seems to be an unwritten rule that once your child reaches junior high school; gifts for teachers are no longer needed.  Sympathy cards seem more appropriate to adults who willingly subject themselves to the moodiness of teenagers.

Nevertheless, I have been fortunate enough to receive a few presents over the years.  And as the Trojans learned  to beware of Greeks bearing gifts, I am cautious when students give me baked goods without a list of ingredients.

During the past twenty-three years I have been given some really good gifts, though.

Being a graduate of The Ohio State University and fan of their sports teams, I have been given T-shirts, buttons, book marks, socks, and my favorite, a wolverine hunting license.  On the other hand, sixteen years ago, one malicious student gave me a M!#H&$@n shirt.   He still wonders why he is in my class, again.

I also enjoy teaching mythology and use many allusions in my writing, speech, and teachings.  Over the years I have been given a few books on mythology that I keep in my classroom.  This gift idea allows my future students the opportunity to research, learn, and giggle uncontrollably when they look at the nude gods, goddesses, and heroes or read about Zeus and realize he had more affairs than a Presidential candidate.  Gifts for my classroom are always welcome and they benefit so many.

I always put a thought of the day, not an inspirational quote, on my board.  For example, “Why are actors IN a movie but ON TV?” Or, “If all the world is a stage, where is the audience sitting?”   Sometimes students laugh; sometimes they don’t.  Some kids think I have a sense of humor; some kids tell me not to quit my day job.  It doesn’t seem to matter which opinion a student has because I have been given joke books from kids who think I am funny and from kids who have no sense of humor.  Either way, I get to laugh.

To be candid, I am not a great shopper.  Ask my wife.  She usually returns half of the stuff I buy her.  I would like to just give her gift cards; oh wait, I did: a visa, a master card, and a discover card.  However, that takes the fun out of the holidays for her.  She says the fun is opening gifts.  I think she really enjoys the thought of me walking around a mall with a lost-child-look on my face, trying to figure out what clothes she would like, and guessing what size would fit her because women’s clothing sizes vary.  And, she makes me take the kids, so she has a quiet afternoon – the true gift.  But I digress.  A good gift for a teacher would be a gift card.  Many teachers use their own money to buy things for the class room or the students. A gift card shows appreciation and allows the teacher to treat himself or herself.

Lastly, I appreciate a card or note.  Too often communication between a high school teacher and a parent is minimal.  When it does happen, it usually is about a concern or problem.  So, a little note with some personal information about the student helps build the relationship to effectively teach the child.

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Happy Face, Lying Face

“This is my happy face,” my youngest son showed my wife and I with a smile.

“This is my lying face.  I can tell the difference because I can hear the laughing in my head.”

This leads to the question, “How do you really know when someone is being mistaken about the truth, giving misinformation, or lying?”  I am no expert and I don’t mean to brag, but I have caught a few kids in lies during my tenure as a teacher and years as a parent.  When you can’t hear the voices in a person’s head,

  1. Watch their body language.  Once when I asked one of my sons if he had a cookie in his mouth, he covered his mouth with his hand and mumbled, “no.”
  2. Notice a lack of eye contact.  When I confronted my oldest son about his hitting his little brother, he hid his eyes from me by running away from me.  I know the little one was truthful when he told on his brother because I could see the tears in his eyes.
  3. Look for nervous behavior.  During a quiz, I noticed a student looking at me every thirty seconds.  I sat down next to him to help him feel safe and assuage his nerves.  I whispered to him, “Are you having trouble?”  He replied, “No.”
  4. Ask for details.  When I asked a young lady if she had read the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet last night and she said, “Yes,” I asked her about what happened.  She told me the two characters talked on a balcony.  I pressed for more details.  She told me they were brother and sister.
  5. Beware of negativity.  Several years ago I smelled cigarette smoke coming out of the bathroom at school.  When I informed the unknown young man that I had to escort him to the office, he denied doing anything wrong.  He kept claiming he didn’t smoke as he flushed a toilet.  He then accused me of always picking on him.
  6. Listen for the pause.  Often students will pause when confronted with a question.  They may utter an “um” or “ah” as they formulate their lie. Well, at least that is what I found to be true.
  7. Ask again.  One year on Christmas Day, I noticed about 20 candy wrappers on the table.  I asked my middle son if he ate them.  He denied it and was too young to immediately blame a sibling.  A little while later he complained of a tummy ache, so I sat on the couch with him.  He regurgitated all over the couch, carpet, and me.  I asked him again and he admitted he had lied.
  8. Listen for “honest” phrases.  This year I have several students who start their explanation for not having homework with phrases like, “to be honest” or “the truth is.”  Honestly, I don’t know why they try.

 I know some experts have more tips, like look at the pupils.   However, this seems obvious since pupils and politicians have a commonality: they lie like teenagers trying to get out of trouble.

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There is an old adage: The apple does not fall far from the tree.  When a parent comes in for a conference or when we talk on the phone, I can see how true this statement is.  For example, I had a parent arrive late for a conference to discuss the child’s frequent tardiness to class.  During another conference, I was subjugated to excuses why work was not completed; many were similar to the ones the teenager gave me in class.  I am not heartless and understand that feces occurs once or twice a year, and these occurrences prevent an assignment from being completed on time.  However, some folks make it a habit to create the excuse prior to doing the work.

I could sit on my throne, look upon all students and their parents and judge their shortcomings, for I am perfect.  Just ask my wife.  On second thought, don’t do that.

The truth is I watched one of my little  apples waste away his evening last night, and I never realized I was doing something similar.  It was a free night for our family except for the wife; she had to work.  However, the kids were free:  no swim practice, no soccer training, no basketball practice, and no Tae Kwon Do.

There was a catch though.  My daughter, who has missed school due to illness, had to complete her assignments.   My oldest son, who is having a birthday party soon, had to clean the basement.  His younger brothers were going to help him and the chore would take about 30 minutes.

‘We will start at 4:30, Dad” promised the apples.

At 4:35, I asked, “What time is it?”

“It is 4:35!” yelled my first grader.

“Hey Apples,  it’s time to clean” I reminded them.  With a few grumbles, the trio went to the basement to pick up toys.  Within two minutes, the younger two came upstairs.  The birthday boy decided it would be fun to throw toys at them.  When confronted with this poor behavior choice, the oldest reminded me, “Dad, you always tell us to try to make a chore into a game I was just having fun.”

“Nice try” I tell him.  “Only one-third was having fun.  Now two-thirds are not going to help you clean.  Way to increase your fun, son.”

Instead of writing from 4:40 until 8:00 like I should have done, I watched my son avoid cleaning the basement.  I wish I could blame him for preventing me from writing, but he was not the cause.  I chose to empty the dishwasher, run to the post office and the grocery store for milk … again, read my emails, go on Facebook, clean up the patio from yesterday’s storm, fix the grill, and do anything to put off writing.  I was waiting for a topic to hit me, like an apple falling on my head.

Fortunately for the soon-to-be-twelve-year-old, he realized if he was nice to his siblings, they would help him.  The basement was clean by 8:20, a new record!  The boys realized Together Everyone Achieves More.  I sure wish I had someone to help me brainstorm a topic or even write for me.  The only family member willing to hang out with me at this point was one of our dogs, Feces.

I sat down and read other blogs and websites for ideas on education or business ideas.  I found a few, and started to write.  However, the words did not flow from my brain to my fingers with great velocity.  In fact, they dripped like a leaky faucet and then disappeared down the drain.  At 11 p.m., I called it a night.  I had several ideas but no finished product.

When I awoke at 5:30 a.m. feeling semi-refreshed, I stumbled into the shower.  Today’s idea splashed into my face, and I  had to laugh at the irony of last night.  My son is just like me.   When we have too much time on our hands, we are our own worst enemies.

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It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

snoopyThe phrase has been used frequently as a comic device by Charles M. Schulz in the popular comic strip Peanuts.   “It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly, a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.”

—   Charles M. Schulz (Snoopy and “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”)

Thus began the greatest novel never written by a Beagle.  Charles M. Schulz was brilliant and a tremendous influence on my life.  And, years ago, I found the seemingly strange start to a novel to have actually been written and is now part of a contest.

it was a dark and stormy nightThe first ‘dark and stormy night’ was conjured up by the English Victorian novelist, playwright and politician who rejoiced in the name of Sir Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton. It has become synonymous with the Victorian melodramatic style, of which Bulwer-Lytton’s many works provide numerous examples. Since 1982, an annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest has been sponsored by the English Department of San José State University, California. Contestants are required “to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels”.

The original “dark and stormy night” appeared in his novel Paul Clifford, 1830:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

I hope I write as well as Snoopy.   What an imagination!  and now to see how my students did with the assignment of creating a sentence beginning with “It was a dark and stormy night.”  More on this topic later…

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ZAP!!! Electrifying Learning

Often, I am hit with ideas while teaching.  Although one of my students claims my latest idea is devoid of any intelligent thought, I can easily dismiss his opinion.  After all, he is only a teenager; what does he truly know about school, learning, and education in general?

The spark that ignited my idea was one of the vocabulary words of the day, interrogation.  Since it is Veterans Day, I required the students to create a sentence with a reference to the military.  As students shared their super sweet sentences with the class, one student mentioned torture while interrogating prisoners.

BAM!  My brain was on fire.

“Don’t teachers interrogate students everyday?”  I asked the class.

“Yes,” they responded with looks of curiosity and trepidation.

“Well, if I am interrogating, then I should be allowed to torture, too,” I hypothesized.  “Nothing too hurtful, just a little electric shock.”  I continued, “Imagine, what if I had a row of buttons that would give a little ZAP to a student who answered a question incorrectly?”   Of course, I might hit the wrong button and accidentally shock the wrong kid.  Oh well, feces occurs; the zapped kid probably didn’t know the correct answer either.

People never like great ideas.  For example, people told Walt Disney he was foolish to create a magical place for children.  Disney’s response: “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”  Students can be just like adults, and immediately I was met with negative comments.  The naysayers in the class told me the district did not have enough money to wire all of the desks, the desks were made of plastic and would melt, and one smart girl even said we weren’t allowed corporal punishment.

I use to see the negative side of everything, too.  However, I have been working hard to persevere through problems that arise.  I decided I would invest in the students education and would pay for the set up myself.  (We teachers are always paying for supplies, books, and additional resources for our students.)  Preventing the melting of a desk would merely require testing out the zappers.  I really do not think anything would melt; my dogs do not burst into flames when they get shocked from the wireless fence in our yard.  The last argument given by a student deals with laws.  I am not a lawyer, but Atticus Finch, the lawyer and father of Scout and Jem in To Kill A Mockingbird is my hero.  I believe he would be able to successfully counter that the definition for corporal punishment does not include small shocks.  And, if Atticus says it is ok, then I believe him.

This weekend I will spend some time researching this way to motivate my students to excel.  Yes, we teachers do not always get our job done during the school day.  A few of us even work to become better during the summer.

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Study Buddy Time and Staying on Task

*Today’s names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

“OK class, I want you to answer these five discussion questions based on the story you were to read yesterday.  The answers must be written in complete sentences and are due by the end of the class period.  You may work with a study buddy, and each one of you must write your own answers on your own paper.” Thus, with these directions we begin the mini-social hour in English class, and I enjoy the entertainment of having students work in small groups.

Why is it entertainment?  As soon as I say the words “study buddy” or “partner work,” faces light up as if it is Christmas morning or walking into the Magic Kingdom for the first time.  This day, I let the kids pick their partners.  Some students look around for someone who is smart or consistently does his/her homework.   Some students only look for their friend, even if they know he/she never does the work.  After all, socializing is sometimes more important than good grades.

Now begins my fun!  I give each pair of students a set of questions, and I walk around the room to observe.  Soon, one pair of students has trouble with a question, so they ask someone from another pair for the answer.   It takes the kids a couple of minutes to realize I gave each pair different questions.  Unfortunately for Bo and Mo, the two who never read, they never do catch on.  They just copy from someone else and think they have gotten away with something.  (I really think one of them will move to Florida and make the news for trying to use an alligator to rob the donut shop next to the police station.)

Another pair, Dotty and Marie, chooses to work together because they are best friends.  They know everything about each other; for example, what the other had for dinner last night, who was texting whom, their latest Facebook status, and what time they arrived at school.  What they have not figured out is that they have a combined class average of 47%.    Even the worst weather forecaster could predict what happens next: they begin to struggle with the questions.  Before their brains fry with too much thinking, they move on to a discussion on boys, clothes, and, of course, the behavior of other girls.  If they are lucky these two ladies will have a gossip radio show or be on some reality show that promotes drama.

I noticed Zeke and Chloe whispering and writing responses furiously.  I moved closer and listened in.  This pair had read the assignment, was discussing possible answers (the questions were open-ended and allowed for opinions and no right or wrong answer), and writing their own responses.  It was terrific to see intelligent conversation taking place.

I could have given this assignment as a quiz or open book writing assignment.  However, part of our curriculum requires class participation.  Like I do for all assignments, I began with the question: “How am I evaluating this?”  So, for this assignment, I decided that I would be grading the responses as one grade and the class participation as another grade.

As I walked around the room, I kept notes on the pairs of kids.  Of course, whenever I was next to a pair, the kids would be on task.  I knew this would happen, so I would focus on listening and reading lips of the kids who were across the room.  After all, no one is ever off task when the boss is around.  Since a few of my students read this blog, they will be on to my trick.  Oh well.

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Lemons to Lemonade

Recently, I was able to use our new class set of laptops to allow students time to create visuals for a Veteran’s Day concert with our school’s choirs.  I realize that a few of the students’ shows will probably be disappointing; nevertheless, I have already seen some amazing movie trailers and power point presentations from many.

I know how to create a power point, and our students have been creating them for classes since grade school.  One newer website that seems like a Power Point on steroids is Prezi.com.  I have not taken the time to play around with it, but I have watched students work with it.  Sometimes they run into a problem and ask for help.  Too bad I can’t give them much help; however, I can let a few of them work together to solve the problem.  Apparently, this is the higher level thinking skills our new CORE standards (national curriculum) is advocating.

Of course, we run into network problems that prevent some students from accessing their work, Powerpoint, or Microsoft Word.  The only help any of us can give is to fill a help desk ticket and wait for one of the three IT gurus to fix it.  Our IT people are good, but I think having three people for two high schools, three junior highs, three middle schools, six elementary schools, and a district office are overworked.  I hear that we may outsource a few positions to India.

Where does this leave the students?  They get the opportunity to learn time management skills.  Some did other homework because they knew they would have to work on the project at home.  In addition, they learn how to adapt.  The world is not perfect.  Trials and tribulations are thrown at us each day.  It is cliche but when life gave these kids lemons, they made lemonade.

I look forward to seeing their final products tomorrow.

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