Saturday, December 6, 2008

Experienced... or a new low?

"I want to come to work, teach my subject and enjoy my job! I don't want to come to school to babysit turds!"

This is an exact quote from myself when I was disciplining 3 students at the end of the day, in my home base, on Friday afternoon. "Disciplining" might be the adult term I would use to describe what I was attempting to do. I actually feel like I was ripping them a new one.

One of the students had not one, but TWO cell phones confiscated from him during class throughout the day. This was actually the 2nd student in two days in which I had taken multiple phones from. I had a similar discussion with him the day before, so you can believe my frustration when I had to go through this whole scenario again with him. I accused him of not listening, of having a hearing problem and of purposefully disrespecting me. The other children in home base were surprised, and couldn't look away when I was yelling. Because I never yell. I don't have to. I feel that I can get just as much, if not more, accomplished without raising my voice THAT high. I take the whole "I am so disappointed in you" approach because it worked on me when my parents would say it.

But the truth is, it doesn't work on some kids.

For some kids, you have to use their language and you have to get in their face. Maybe it's because that is or isn't the tactic their parents use. Maybe their brains can't wrap themselves around the words "deceitful" or "immature".

So after the "disciplining" was over, I digested the encounter. I looked back at how I disciplined these kids in front of their classmates, which is something I don't typically do because I feel that the kids deserve a certain level of respect and privacy when dealing with these matters. But, lecturing them, pointing my finger in their faces and using an octave that startled these boys might have prevented other students from making the same type of stupid decisions because none of them have truly seen me freak out. And I used the word "turd" instead of "dumb shit" because that was the word that was going through my mind, because it did adequately describe their behavior. But using the word turd was probably better than using the alternative because I like to think it demonstrated restraint on my part and it displayed my own maturity level (because I might have cussed at student when I was 24) and it revealed my level of expertise with middle school kids. So I like to think of this episode much like attaining a new level on Super Mario Brothers. But, I also used a synonym for poo, and that's nothing to really write home about.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Team Lazer Explosion

My friend Rita and I have decided to start our own movement. A revolution, if you will. A philosophy of teaching, even.

It's called: Team Lazer Explosion and we want to do what's best for kids, no matter what. We believe that everyone can get along amicably with everyone if we all focus on the positives in our lives, love our jobs, do our jobs well, and treat others with respect (including the students).

We believe.

We've only got one question for you: are you in, or are you out?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cannibalism in the Schools

My sincerest apologies for not posting anything in awhile. I am unfortunately going to have to rely on the same 'ol excuses everyone else in the world uses: I am just too darn busy. I am busy teaching an extra class. Busy taking a course at USF. Busy training for the Miami marathon. Busy coaching volleyball. I am busy and I love every minute of it, but it can be rather exhausting at times.

I am disappointed to admit that I haven't been too busy to notice how teachers are treating each other at school. It is very disappointing for me to see this noble profession reduce to "only the meanest survive." I know that there are the usual suspects for this type of behavior, one of them being the sagging economy and the stress it puts on our profession. Yes, I know we don't get paid THAT much, but we kinda knew that going in, right? I know it's difficult for teachers to be able to afford a house here, but that's Sarasota (my husband and I just went through a short sale - it was not a pleasant experience). Most teachers I know aren't married to another teacher (only a few come to mind, like Doug and Jennifer), so those whose spouses work elsewhere have the odds stacked with them in that they are potentially pulling in more money than my husband and I.

I also know there are the things people carry with them everyday to their job. Trouble at home, parents are getting old and/or sick, spouse has lost their job, college is expensive for the kids, etc. I get that, I really do. I am amazed my parents were able to do what they did and I admire them for doing so. I understand how difficult life can seem and the added pressure of standardized tests, principles breathing down your neck for your lesson plans and misbehaving kids only adds to the already elevated stress level.

But I feel like it's gotten to the point where experienced teachers (some of whom I once looked up to and respected) do nothing but complain. They complain about the kids, how they don't know anything and how their parents don't do a good job raising them. And they criticize other teachers on campus because they don't teach the same way, because they are lazy or because they simply just don't like them. Let me tell you something my mother always said to me that might help you get out of this vicious cycle - YOU are the only person YOU should be concerned with. YOU. Not others, YOU. You can't change how others teach and you can't control other people - the only person you can change is yourself. So, instead of blaming other teachers on campus for not preparing the kids correctly for your class, why don't you prepare the kids - that why the kids need you. Worry about your own classroom and your kids. .

I also feel like some of the older, wiser and more experienced teachers do nothing but complain about some of us "younguns." They bitch and moan about our teaching styles, how we don't use the textbook enough and how we need to be teaching to the FCAT. Or that we are there only to be "friends" with the students. (No offense, but the day I am concerned with being friends with 13 and 14 yr olds is the day that I need to be admitted to a mental institute. My happiness does not depend on the friendship of these kids, contrary to what you might believe.) Apparently their philosophy is this: if the kids enjoy your class and like you, then you must do something to get them to like you, so you are only doing you job simply to get satisfaction in knowing kids are your friends. Well, here's another one of my hairbrained ideas - how about instead of complaining about us, you help us! The young teachers on campus that I know do not walk around like "cock of the walk" and we do not claim to know everything. We know we are not perfect. We know we have a lot of learning to do. But we also have a lot to offer too. We were in college not that long ago and have been taught some news ways to reach kids - that doesn't make us experts, but believe it or not, you might even learn a thing or two from us as well. So instead of trying to make our lives miserable and by acting like we are back in high school and shunning us because you feel like we just aren't good enough to eat at the same table as you, take us in and work with us, not against us. We are on the same team! We both want what is best for kids! It's not "us vs you"! We're not trying to make "you" look bad! When we lesson plan, we plan with our kids in mind, not how we are going to show all of the old fossils on campus how much better we are than you!

I also have a difficult time looking up to and respecting the more experienced teachers when they themselves do not behave professionally either. And no, I am not talking about what they do on the weekends, because that is their business; I am referring to their actions while in school. For instance, there is a teacher who I have apparently pissed off, and, ironically enough, I am not sure exactly how I managed to do this. I actually liked the teacher a lot last year and felt like they were someone I could go to for ideas and/or suggestions. Unfortunately, this teacher has not told me what I did wrong, like a professional and grown-up adult should, to ensure that I wouldn't do it again. Instead, this individual complains to their students. Yep, you read it right, their 13 yr old students. I went through the gamete of emotions when I found this out - shocked, surprised, upset and then the "oh well, I don't live my life to make her happy" feeling. This person has gone so far as to criticize me for not wearing my helmet every time I ride my scooter (sorry Mom) but why is that any their business what I do with my life? I am not running for a political office - I am a middle school science teacher! What does not wearing my helmet have to do with me being a decent educator? No offense, I could do much worse than by not wearing my brain bucket (i.e. helmet), but honestly, why would someone be thinking about me that much... does this person lie awake at night and think of this crap?! There are many more important things to be concerning yourself with instead of me. Don't be pathetic and don't waste your time and energy being pissed off at me. Think think about what you can for your own children or your own students. Think about how lucky you are to have a loving family and a job that pays you decently. Be grateful you even have a job right now as I am sure there are hundreds of people out there who would love to trade places with you for they have lost their own jobs. Be grateful you even have a roof over your head or a fridge full of food, for that matter.

The other day, my friend Debbie asked me what is was like to be 29, because she loved it when she was 30. She liked feeling more responsible and liked that people didn't coddle her like they might have when she was younger. I actually thought about her question for the rest of the day and I think I finally have an answer. I enjoy it, because I feel like I am looked at like a real adult. But what I miss about my early 20's was that I was naive. I thought teaching was one of the best professions to be in. I thought everyone was in education for the right reasons. I thought teachers treated each other with respect and kindness and were open-minded enough to accept those of us who are different. And I thought the kids were always put first. I know that all of these things just aren't true for the most part and I wish I could go back to believing that they were. I wish the experienced teachers would embrace the inexperienced teachers just as the newbies would embrace the wiser, more experienced veterans. I wish we would all do what's best for kids. I wish we could all just get along. I know this life and this profession is not perfect, but I can only worry about myself and my kids and my classroom. I can only do the best that I can to provide the type of education I wished some of my former teachers had provided me. And I am also aware that sometimes, your best just isn't good enough. But at least I try.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

All Things Considered: The Resurrection Parents

Truthfully, I know I shouldn’t pass judgment on parents when I myself have never experienced the pain, trouble and work that go along with raising a teenager, but sometimes, parents drive me crazy. I’d like to think I was a pretty good teenager, and I am sure my parents might agree or disagree, depending on how they were feeling about me at that particular moment or whether or not I had pissed them off that day. I think teaching middle school is one of the most difficult yet rewarding grade levels to teach – of course I am fully aware that teaching middle school is my ONLY teaching experience, but hey, I have coached high school volleyball for 8 years, so that counts for something, right? But the end of the year stress for myself (and others, I might add) may not actually be the children in my classroom. It’s the parents of those children that tend to drive me insane.

Why is it that parents who hadn’t been involved ALL school year (or were involved at first, but then drop off the face of the Earth) now suddenly decide to parent and email the teachers demanding to know why their child is not earning an “A” in their classrooms? They are like those resurrection ferns you see while hiking in Myakka that look like they're dead in the heat of the summer, all dried up and brittle. But the moment it rains, they wake up out of dormancy and come back to life. I know it’s never too late to get involved, but I just love it when parents freak out with only 12 days of school left once they’ve realized their child hasn’t turned crap in all quarter and ask why we can’t make a special exception for their child because little Johnny just doesn’t have the self esteem to earn another zero.

I especially enjoy it when parents ask us why we grade the way we do and try to provide suggestions, like giving a grade based on effort. “But little Johnny would have handed it into you if you had told him that it was due.” You’re right lady, I make sure your kid is beyond earshot or in the bathroom shitting his brains out and THEN I tell the rest of the class that the assignment is due the next day. Not to mention that information is written on the frickin’ board in the same freakin’ spot everyday. But hey, it’s never little Johnny’s fault, is it? It’s because I’m a rotten teacher.

I also really enjoy meeting with parents, coming up with ideas and strategies to help their child, and then the parent never following through on any of them. Then when you call them on it, it’s like they never agreed to do any of that anyway. NO WONDER your child has an 80 IQ, for the love of God!

Truthfully, I feel sorry for the children of these parents, because their parents are not consistently involved in their education. And kids know when adults aren’t being genuine. I think this parental behavior is a source of empowerment for the students, because if they aren’t receiving enough attention at home and notice that their parents appear to give a crap when their grades slip, then they put 2 and 2 together. They begin to let their grades slip on purpose, JUST so they can get the attention they crave, and more importantly, need from their parents.

I know for every neglected child I have in my class, there are 75 kids who are blessed and lucky enough to have parents who care and who are willing to do whatever it takes to help their child succeed on their own. For all you good parents out there – thank you for being supportive and involved. Keep up the good work. Your child will thank you someday.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

18 days, but who's counting?

The end of the school year always seems to be rush by you like a blur. Remember when you were a kid, sitting in the back seat of the conversion van (complete with “Disney World or Bust!” handwritten sign that you made the day before left), counting the minutes until you finally can be more than 5 feet away from your younger and annoying sibling, and watching the numerous motorists speed by your window? Depending on the angle at which you are looking, that car could just look like a colored brush stroke that is there for a fraction of a second, and then it’s gone. That’s how quickly the end of the year is for me. This will be my 4th experience with “end of the year” activities, end of the year stress and end of the year excitement. I always mention this, but I feel that you knowing how many years experience I have greatly influences not only my perspective, but it also provides you with a background on my somewhat limited teaching experience.

The kids are working on a fantastic collaborative project called “The 20th Century: The American Experience”. The name is schweet – I made it up myself. As you know, if you are an avid reader of this blog, I absolutely adore integrated units. My mentor, Debbie Shults, showed me what a true collaborative unit should look, smell and feel like for student and for a teacher. I just can’t get enough of those darn units! They take an immense amount of work and time for each teacher on the team, and sometimes there are disagreements, but we put our egos aside and do what’s best for children.

So thankfully we have that unit to keep the kids busy and to keep us preoccupied with actually teaching. Seriously, I am just as anxious for school to be out as the kids are, and it’s not because I hate my job, but it’s because I just need the break! As I age in years with this profession, I begin to see what my retired teacher parents have said for years – breaks are not for the students as much as they are for teachers. But then again, why should I have ever taken anything my father said seriously, especially when he would tell me that flies would come out of the ceiling fan in the bathroom and eat your hair if you didn’t wash it? My dad, by the way, has no hair on the top of his head. He would use his baldness to scare my brother and I into cleaning ourselves well, hair included, because apparently the bugs and flies ate his hair at some point in his life.

My dad also said that the 3 best things about teaching are June, July and August.

If you would have asked me 2nd quarter what I thought the 3 best things about teaching were, I probably wouldn’t have answered the same way my father did. I probably would have deliberated on it for awhile and would have tried to say something honest and profound.

Right now though, I’d say June, July and August are starting to sound like a rather intelligent response.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The planets need a job

So while my kids were toiling away with their state standardized tests the past 2 weeks, I was given the opportunity to work on some planning. I have to admit, I have been extremely busy with completing my National Board portfolio the past 2 weeks, so my month-ahead lesson planning had fallen closer to being only a week ahead of the kids. I know, bad teaching etiquette, right?

I don’t think so and the reason is this. As I have a unit plan in place, there will come times when I need to make adjustments, create time for deeper learning experiences or even make time for teachable moments. I like being prepared, don’t get me wrong, but I also have learned to become flexible and have evolved with my students.

So for my next unit, my students are going to create planetary resumes. You read it right, folks. Resumes of the planets. In Mr. Simoni’s social studies class, the students will be introduced to personal economics and will actually begin writing their own resumes. The boys who have already informed me that they plan on applying to Publix this summer are already ecstatic about writing their own resume to accompany their stellar job application.

What I noticed that while I was creating this mini-project is that I cannot possibly plan any other way than backwards. I have seen the promise land and will shout from the mountain tops on how beneficial and effective backwards planning can be. Ok, so I don’t have a mountain, but I do have a blogspot.

Anyways, I created a rubric, a sample planetary resume on Pluto (who knew Pluto could be so useful?!), a chart of Human Resume sections compared to Planetary Resume sections (e.g. work history vs. planetary history) and even a data table example of what students SHOULD copy down in their composition notebooks. For the last project, I provided students with some website examples but let them explore the web using numerous search engines. Well boys and girls, the scaffolding structure needs to be removed – my little munchkins are using Google, NetTrekker and any other search engine they can think of (and isn’t blocked on the network) to complete their quest to make a planet’s resume. After they research all 8 planets, they will be paired up with their new shoulder partners (thanks to Kagan) and will each complete 4 resumes, combining them to create a packet of the solar system.

Pretty nifty, eh?

I thought so, given I have never done this type of activity before. I have created a few sample templates using Microsoft Publisher for the students to choose from on my science website that they will download into their network folders. If students feel creative and adventurous enough, they can create their own.

We start tomorrow.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Verdict Is In

Ok, so Monday was the last student presentation on Work & Power. I have to admit, while my students were ready for me to return to my position of the whole "song-and-dance" gig in front of the classroom, I too was just as eagerly chomping on the bit. I missed being in front of the kids, helping them with their work and watching their a-ha moments. Honestly though, I think I missed feeling needed.

On Monday they also received a self and peer evaluation form. They were to first give themselves a grade for their work, effort and participation with the group project. They then needed to assign a grade to each of their group members. It was hilarious to see just how they viewed themselves and how they had some very high expectations of themselves and of their peers. Some kids willingly gave themselves a "C" while giving their group members "A's" and "B's". Some kids were brutally honest and were tough as nails when filling out the peer evaluation forms, while others would sacrifice their grade in order to keep their friends happy. It was entertaining to read their reasoning (for example, one student wrote: She was the best leader I have ever worked for in a group project!) in order to support their peer grades. I cracked up at how they commented on what they learned:

"I learned how to work with people I don't care for very much."
"I learned that teaching is a lot harder than it looks."

"I realized that Newton's laws really weren't that difficult to understand - you just had to have someone explain it to you in English."

Cute, right?

I am not sure if every student learned all that they could have about physics through this project but I do know they learned something. Whether that something will help them pass the FCAT, I'm not certain, but I am sure they learned that my job is not a cake-walk, physics is a rather difficult topic to teach and Sir Isaac Newton was definitely a weird dude (he invented calculus and then didn't tell anyone about it for 30 years).

I still can do some fine tweaking here and there with this activity, but overall, I would declare this project a success.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

More kids are ruined at the dinner table

I am a former collegiate athlete and I can vividly remember working my butt-off to have the chance to play volleyball for a Big Ten school. I remember my father pushing me to be the best that I could, but he did it in a way that never made me resent him. I loved volleyball and I loved the fact that my dad did too. He never talked much about me and my mistakes on the court while at the dinner table or on the way home from a match. I consider myself lucky, considering he was the varsity girls coach anyways. He always said that “more kids are ruined at the dinner table than out on the court.” I didn’t really get what he meant until this year.

After I had retired from the 5 hr practices, the long weekend away matches and the persistent excruciating pain in my left knee, I decided to give coaching a try. Believe me, coaching is not as easy as it looks. Just because you are a great player, trust me, that doesn’t always equate to being a great coach.

I started out coaching freshman volleyball and then middle school track. I absolutely loved it. It allowed me to still be involved with sports that I love, but I didn’t get as sore as I used to. I would still practice with my kids and demonstrate stuff, but it just isn’t the same as being out there for games, you know? Anyways, this year marked my 10th year coaching girls volleyball. And you want to know what? I finally feel like I knew what I was doing. Not bad, I suppose. It only took me 10 years to get here!

No matter the amount of experience you have accumulated or the number of victories or the number of tournament trophies, you will always have to face at least one parent every now and then who feels like their kid just isn’t being given a fair chance. Honestly, I rarely experienced this whole parental –confrontation thing until I was here in Sarasota. I am NOT saying parents are worse here than they are in Westerville, because my dad has some real hum-dinger stories about crazy parents from up there too. The most recent incident remains fresh in my mind because I interact with the parent just about once a day while I am at work.

I hate keeping more than 12 kids on the volleyball team because I just feel like if the kids are there everyday practicing, then I need to reward them with playing time. If I keep more than 12 players on the team, then those extra kids are competing with each for that slice of valuable playing time, which equates to everyone getting to play less. But on the other hand, I absolutely hate cutting kids from the team. It breaks my heart every single time. I tell myself not to keep more than 12 because it only brings problems. I give the girls the whole “Michael Jordan was cut from his freshman basketball team” speech and how if I could keep all of them on the team, I would. And I mean it. I wish I could. It’s such a Catch 22. When I hold the parents meeting, I tell parents that I do not promise equal playing time because playing time needs to be earned. I also created a list of ways that parents could become their child’s cheerleader, and not the overbearing, nagging and confidence-crushing parental type.

So the most recent episode was in between matches. Two parents came charging out of the stands to have it out with me. I didn’t even see them coming until they were on the court, jaws clenched and heads shaking back and forth. Their child hadn’t played yet that day and I was honestly going to play her in the next game. But how could the parents know that? All they saw was their little girl looking depressed and defeated while on the bench. I am not a parent yet, so I can only imagine what it is like for them. I also have rarely sat the bench as an athlete, so I can only imagine that too.

Regardless, the parents accused me of playing girls with half of their daughter’s talent and this and that… And I let them speak, nodding my head, saying “I understand, but I will not discuss other players on this team with you. I will only talk to you about your daughter.” As she continued on, I reiterate my original statement and I told her that I heard her. She then says, “If you weren’t going to play her much, then maybe you shouldn’t have kept her on the team!” And I responded, “You’re probably right.”

The truth is, this little girl was a last minute add on. I had originally cut her from the team, but on the last day of tryouts, I saw some real potential. So I decided to take a chance. Unfortunately, she didn’t improve and instead, her dedication, her enthusiasm and her effort just went downhill. The asst coach and I tried to work out why, but we just couldn’t help her. She would come to practice late because she would be socializing with her friends after school instead of changing in the locker room – which I never told her parents because I was truthfully afraid they were pushing her too hard in this sport anyways. I also absolutely refuse to put an athlete into an unsuccessful situation - how is THAT going to help her self esteem when she commits social suicide on the court with her team mates shaking their heads and questioning why she is even there in the first place? The last thing I wanted to do to was to make this young athlete hate volleyball even more. So I tried to protect her.

After the parents stormed off, I stood there with the asst coach, digesting what had just happened. I thought about sending the child home with her disgruntled parents. I thought about not playing her at all. But then, who was I really “punishing”? The young female athlete or the parents? But what if the parents thought what they said to me actually made me play her in the next game?

At that point, I didn’t really care what they thought. They had never played volleyball before and why should I be concerned what they thought of me? Just because the parents were acting like butt-heads didn’t mean I needed to treat their daughter like one.

After we won the next game, the father tried to apologize. He hugged me and said, "No hard feelings, right?" I smiled and pulled away from him and responded, “Regardless of how I feel about you and your wife, that doesn’t affect how I feel about your daughter.”

Boo yah.

I have to admit, I felt a little proud of myself for being much like my father. He was always good at those kind of things. One-liners, calming parents down, 400+ victories… you know, the usual. I am just glad I acted more like my dad in that situation than my mom.

Lord only knows what my mother would have said. My kids would have been taught a bunch of new cuss words, that’s for darn sure.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Kids never cease to amaze me…

Alright, so I am going to be the first to admit that I am not very knowledgeable on the topic of physics. Granted, my undergraduate degree is practically in Biology and I have difficulty with math, so I am probably not the best candidate to be educating the youth of Sarasota on Newton’s laws, force and acceleration. I am actually probably doing them a disservice by even attempting to tackle word problems to produce some random number with the unit of joules attached. (Or Newtons or m/s2 for that matter.)

So I decided to try something new. I decided to jigsaw the physics portion of the curriculum by dividing it up into 6 topics – magnetism, kinetic & potential energy, Newton’s laws, simple & compound machines, force & acceleration and work & power. Ok, so the concept of jig sawing is not a new technique but I have truly been apprehensive in the past because of class dynamics, constructing set guidelines or expectations and, for lack of better terms, lack of teaching experience. I just didn’t feel like I had enough know-how to implement a jigsaw activity AND have it be an effective learning experience for my students.

I really wasn’t able to put it all together until Monday. I had my assessment in mind (the kids were going to create 2 low, 2 medium and 2 high level questions) so I knew what I wanted them to cover. I then made a rubric, a self evaluation form, a peer evaluation form, a student checklist and the project description sheet. The students had a set of guidelines they needed to follow in order to earn full credit. They had to present a 40 min lesson to their peers and had to include the following: essential vocabulary, equations, practice problems, visual aides, a demo, a hands-on activity, use of technology and an in-class assessment. I was trying to get my students to hit as many of the learning modalities as possible, as well as getting them to work effectively together within a group.

So on Tuesday, I introduced the project, went over the rubric and answered questions. I had at least 3 different textbooks on the desks and I put all of the laptops away. The first 2 days consisted of gathering information and teaching themselves on their topic. One of my students commented to me after looking through the books on the first day, “This is going to be tough! We have to learn the material before we can teach it!” I smiled and asked my students if the lights were getting brighter in the classroom, because I saw the light bulbs going off above their heads. I was still concerned though. I was worried my 4 day time line for research and presentation construction wouldn’t be enough. Don’t get me wrong, I am ok with extending deadlines IF (and it is really a big if) the entire team is experiencing difficulty.

I allowed students on day 2 to work on the computers to gather more information and to begin putting their presentations together. I even showed them how to save pictures and place them into the backgrounds of the Power Points (PPT). I also reminded them on how to hyperlink websites to their PPTs and for a moment, they looked at me like I was the most intelligent human being they have ever seen. I have to say that it was one of those few times that I felt more knowledgeable about technology than they were. The really great thing was, my kids were working. They were working together to accomplish the same goal. They were focused. And I was bored. During a few periods, I wandered from raised hand to raised hand to clarify directions or to say “Yes, you can use the restroom.” It was a rather dull and uneventful day.

Day 3 was even more amazing. I showed my students how to download video clips from United Streaming and then hyperlink them into their PPTs. They were so ecstatic!

And the boredom continued to worsen. I was no longer needed, with the exception of a few questions such as “How does this look?” or “What if we did this…” or “We want to do this demo. Do you happen to have iron filings?” I brought my laptop in with me every day to help kids locate sample worksheets or video clips or information. But they didn’t need me. I guess I should be proud of them, like a momma bird pushing her fledglings out of the nest, my students were learning on their own. The thing was, they really didn’t struggle and have difficulty like a baby bird would – they were efficient, strong and ready. Almost too ready.

Day 4 was even better than day 3. My kids polished up their presentations, practiced demos, and even practiced giving their presentations by using stopwatches to see how long they were presenting for. They looked through the textbooks for sample problems and ideas for hands-on activities. They perused the Bill Nye DVD collection I have, in hopes of finding a 3 min video clip that could supplement their lesson.

I was so proud. My kids were finally there. They were independent learners, the objective I had been trying to accomplish all year long. You would think that I would be excited and relieved. And I was. I really was. It’s that Catch 22 thing – I was proud but I was also bored.

Next week, the kids will be giving their lessons to their classes. I am already impressed with their work ethic and their excitement with this project. I cannot wait to see how it goes. Yes, some will flounder, but so did I.

And I think I turned out ok.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Life happens

Wednesday night, I had to deliver a speech at my grandfather's funeral. On Wednesday, the gods did not bless me as I was bumped from my flight and forced to take the next flight, putting me in Central Ohio about a quarter past 5. Not a big deal, right? Well, the service was to begin at 6PM. Once my plane touched down, I grabbed my luggage, dragged it into a handicapped stall in the ladies restroom, changed into my black suit and hoofed it to the curb in my open-toe black heels. Note #1: it was 20 degrees. Note #2: I do not wear heels all that often and dragging luggage to the passenger pick-up was an adventure in itself (imagine a Steve Martin skit). Note #3: IT WAS 20 DEGREES! Yep, you read it right folks: open-toed heels. I swear, they don't make closed-toe heels in Florida. There's just no need!

Ok, so my brother's godparents swiftly sweep me off the curb and jet off to the funeral home. I arrive 5 minutes prior to the beginning of the service and I hadn't been able to print off my speech because I thought I was to speak on THURSDAY. I mean, that's how my brother's funeral was and no offense, that's really my only frame of reference.

Yeah, so here I am, walking up the podium, laptop in tow, to deliver my speech from my laptop. Needless to say, I felt like a giant dork. GIANT. Dorkasaurus.

After a few requests, I decided to post the speech on my blog. So here it is. I began the speech explaining why I had my laptop up there with me.

"...Regardless, I apologize – but as we all know too well, sometimes, life happens.

Last Thursday, I was actually preparing to embark on a charter bus to south county, Sarasota, for a volleyball match when I received the phone call that Grandpa had passed away. The assistant coach actually saw me leave the room and she said nothing. She knew. 2 of her brothers passed away within 3 months of each other. She has experience with “life happens”.

So when I asked to speak today, I have to admit, I was more than a little reluctant. I unfortunately have experience with this sort of thing, and I truly understand the statement “life happens”. I thought about what I could possibly say that would make this situation better, and would make everything ok. Unfortunately, I don’t think I am capable of doing that.

So instead, I would like to discuss the word that we as a society tend to use quite frequently in numerous situations, but doesn’t really describe death very well… Loss.

According to the dictionary, LOST has at least 8 different definitions. One of the definitions states, “to no longer possess”. I want you to think about how many minutes have you might have lost looking for missing car keys, sunglasses or the family dog?

This same word can be used to describe the Buckeyes not winning the National Championship two times in a row or when we finally have to go to the optometrist because we can no longer read the small print menus in dimly lit restaurants. It can even be used to describe when we are unable to find our way while on vacation and end up getting pizza for dinner because we just cannot locate that fabulous Italian restaurant our best friend just couldn’t stop talking about.

Has anyone ever told you a joke and you just didn’t get it? Or how about when you have called the cable company and they are trying to walk you through how to set up your brand new HD flat screen television, complete with surround sound speakers, DVR and a universal remote and you feel like the person on the other end is speaking Swahili?

Lost in battle. A lost cause. Lost in translation. All of these scenarios (and I am sure they are more than just these) are so frustrating that it can drive you to lose your mind.

To no longer posses. When we talk about losing someone we love, we no longer have them here with us, in this place, in this dimension or this time. But I feel that there has got to be a better verb out there to describe someone passing away.

When I have told my students that we lost my brother, on more than one occasion I have gotten the response, “Did you find him?” or “Where did you lose him?” “My mom lost me at the mall once…”

I can’t help but have a picture flash in my mind when I think about losing Grandpa. My family, complete with pajamas, hair rollers, slippers, robes and flashlights, are searching through a neighborhood in the dark, calling out his name. “Bill!” or “Grandpa!” or even “If you come home, we’ll feed you pancakes!” as if being motivated by food might just make him emerge from the bushes. Ok, so I can’t explain why my image is set in an episode of Wonder Years, but it still makes me smile to myself.

When people close to us pass away, our reactions always involve sadness, anger and regret. Why is that? When we cry, we cry for ourselves. We cry because they’re gone. We cry because we’ve lost them. We cry because we no longer posses them in our lives. But what have we really lost?

Let’s try to look at this from another angle – what have we gained? What DO we posses? From grandpa, I gained an unimaginable amount of laughter, kisses, moments and memories. My brother and I absolutely adored going over to the Buckingham’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas because that meant great food, cousins to play with, and relatives who just seemed to fill the entire house with laughter and love. I may no longer have grandpa to give me a big bear hug when I walk into his front door any more, but if I close my eyes and take a deep breath, I can still smell his aftershave and feel his coarse 5 o’clock shadow against my cheek.

Now, here is a brief science lesson: We are made of atoms. We tend to take our atoms for granted because we are pretty much unaware that they are there. Granted, they don’t even know that they are there either. These atoms were made at the beginning of time. No new atoms are created; they are just recycled throughout the ages. You and me and everyone here is composed of the same atoms that were once stars, dinosaurs and even George Washington. It’s kind of a cool connection we all have with each other. Atoms adhere to a single, overarching impulse to make you YOU. Isn’t it remarkable that a clump of inanimate, non-living pieces of matter can come together to make something living? I find that to be truly amazing. Life just happens and it will continue to happen, long after you and I have left this Earth. No one knows for sure how these atoms and molecules that put us together know how long they are supposed to be “us” before they quietly break down and go off to become other things. But there is some truth to what people say when they respond “He’ll be around” or “He’ll always be there when you need him.” Because literally, he is.

I guess what I am trying to articulate is that we may have lost Grandpa in the physical sense, but we still gained quite a bit. We shouldn’t be upset with what we don’t have, but rather, be happy with what we do. We posses an immense amount of memories and love between family members that would not have been possible if the atom’s that created Grandpa had never come together at the precise moment and the exact combination to create him. Death is a part of life, we can’t escape it and it just happens.

If we are to be sad, we should be upset with no longer being able to tease Grandpa about his stunning style and choice in fancy, schmancy, 70’s style retro suits. It’s ok though Grandpa, even though my own dad can’t fit into your red plaid Jimmy Crum (
see right) pants any longer (thank God), Eric just might be able to squeeze into that green plaid sport coat (complete with butterfly collar) and matching brown bell bottoms you have.

And life will continue to happen."

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

This is MY Life

Sorry for not posting ANYTHING recently. Life seems to have passed me by rather quickly, that or I just became swamped with obligations I oh-so-obligingly agreed to... National Board Certification, ActivBoard training, Gifted Curriculum online course, volleyball coaching...

Anyways, enough of feeling sorry for myself. I found this SNL skit today while I was searching for a clip to use in my classroom on how to create valid questions. My students have written children's non-fiction books on dinosaurs for a local elementary school and we are going to read them next week to over a hundred 2nd graders. As part of this project, my students are required to write low, medium and high level questions that they will ask during this field trip.

This video clip is an exact depiction of what teaching can be like... just not everyday (Thank God).