Wednesday, December 18, 2013

More Homework Meme

There have been numerous people doing the More Homework Meme and a few folks have tagged me. However, I am complying with the homework that my Twitter Best Friend For Life, Lyn Hilt, assigned me, as she was the first to tag me. I think it is a great way to get to know our fellow bloggers/tweeters, so here it goes.

For starters, here are 11 random facts about me many people may not know.

1.     I was a collegiate triple jumper at North Central College and won 3 indoor and 2 outdoor conference titles in that event as well as finished 9th in the country as a junior. 
2.     When in high school, I worked on a dairy farm where I milked cows twice daily as well as other odd jobs on the farm.
3.     When I was 10 years old, my younger brother and I ran away from home. We returned about an hour later.
4.     I am constantly terrified about parenting my two boys.
5.     For the past 708 days (and counting) I have not missed a single day of running.
6.     When in college it would not be uncommon for me to sit and play video games for 5-7 hours at a time.
7.     I was a sports reporter for my small local paper when I was in high school. I wrote under a pen name because I was playing in some of the events that I covered. The coaches always found it interesting that the reporter was aware of half time speeches and such because they didn’t know it was me.
8.     I hate berries…all of them.
9.     I am an Eagle Scout.
10. I have never watched a single episode of Lost but have seen every episode of Seinfeld more times than I can count.
11. When I was young (don’t quite recall the age) I flunked swim lessons and to this day am petrified of being in deep water.


Here are Lyn’s questions and my attempts to answer them the best I could.

1.     Do you have a middle name? If so, what is it? Anything special about it?
My middle name is Daniel and it is a family tradition as my father’s name is Daniel. My oldest son’s middle name is Joshua.

2.  What color are your eyes?
Funny you should ask that. J I actually have one blue and one green eye. It is always a fun conversation starter.

3. Where would you go in a time travel machine? Would you stay?
As a history teacher, I am not sure I can really just pick one time period to visit. If I had to pick one, I would say that being in Egypt as the Great Pyramids were being built would be pretty amazing. It would be so valuable to see how the aliens really came down and built those for the Egyptians. Yet, I would not want to stick around.

4. Who is the person you most trust in the world?
Without a doubt the person I trust the most in the world would be my wife Christie.

5. What high school activities did you participate in?
In high school I played basketball all four years and baseball for one. For clubs, I worked with student council and yearbook. Hard to believe but I also had some minor roles in our school productions of Guys and Dolls as well as Grease. No, there are no known videos of those floating around.

6. If Twitter ceased to exist tomorrow, what would you most miss about it?
I would miss the people and the conversations I have at any given time. I greatly value the people I have met and the relationships I have formed. That and I would miss knowing when Dean is taking a nap.

7. Seriously, what do you think of the Miley Cyrus song, Wrecking Ball?
Not a fan but as soon as Steve Anderson does it for karaoke I will probably like it.

8. Do you cook or bake? What is your specialty?
I will occasionally cook and make a mean Chicken Parmesan.

9. What is the first concert you ever went to? (Excluding school concerts)
In all seriousness, I am not sure if I should really admit out loud the answer to this question. When I was a young adolescent, I was a big fan of the New Kids on the Block. Yes, you read that correctly. One year for Christmas, Santa brought me and my older brother tickets to go see their concert and I am man enough to admit I had a blast, sang along while wearing my NKOTB concert shirt and may still have a button from those boy band years.

10. Have you ever been “starstruck?” Explain.
This was a tough question as I have been fortunate to meet some pretty amazing people in the past few years. I was surely starstruck when I was fortunate to meet some Chicago Cubs players as I threw out a first pitch at Wrigley Field. However, I would have to admit I was more starstruck when I met President Barrack Obama in the White House last year. It was a bit overwhelming and a moment I will never forget.

11.  How far away from your birthplace do you live now?
I currently live about ten minutes away from the hospital where I was born.

Next Up:
1.     Chris McGee
2.     Will Chamberlain
3.     Ben Grey
4.     John Spencer
5.     Tyler Amidon
6.     Paul Bogush
7.     Brianna Crowley
8.     Pernille Ripp
9.     Kathy Melton

Here are your questions:

1.     What was your favorite children’s book as a child or favorite to read as a parent?
2.     If you had won that insane lottery jackpot, what is the first thing you would buy?
3.     Can you touch your tongue to your nose?
4.     If I were to meet you up at a bar, what drink would I buy for you?
5.     When was the last time you laughed so hard it hurt, and what was it that made that happen?
6.     What is that one movie that shows up on TV that even though you have seen it a hundred times you still leave it on and watch?
7.     If you could sit down and interview one person, living or dead, who would it be?
8.     Paper or plastic?
9.     What is something you have always wanted to do but continue to procrastinate and make excuses as to why you have not done it yet?
10. Have you been able to unlock the code and figure out what a fox says?
11. If you could pack it all up today and move, where would you land?

Here’s how it works:
  • Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  • Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  • Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  • List 11 bloggers.
  • Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Forgotten Ones

Lately in my language arts class our focus has been on listening and speaking skills. Specifically, we are working on public speaking, which can be very difficult for some students…and adults. I model and help them along the way as best I can. We start out with doing some silly speeches, which are short with the goal of getting the students comfortable in front of their peers. Last week we decided to take a little bit of a turn and I tried to infuse a little bit of character education within the speeches.

We were having some class discussions about reputations and how we establish and change them. That led us into a conversation about a legacy and what an individual leaves behind when they move on into another phase of their life. It was a fantastic conversation so I decided to make the next speeches around that topic. I asked the students to write a one-minute speech about how they thought their peers viewed them. In other words, what did they think their reputation was? On top of that, I wanted them to go into what they wanted their legacy to be when they left our school in three years and went on to the high school.

I was a little skeptical on what I was going to get back because students, I assumed, would not really have a grasp on how they were viewed by other people. I was pretty confident that most students would come up and think they were good kids and everybody liked them and they just want to be remembered for being a good kid who got good grades.

On the day of the speeches I noticed a lot of the students were hesitant and I would say almost a little nervous looking. We had a conversation about making sure we had an environment of trust and anything shared during these conversations would be kept in the room. The kids were all about it and it seemed like there generally was a touch of excitement about the speeches behind the nervous energy you could sense in the room.

The first few were nothing special in terms of content. They got up and they knew they were good kids they wanted to keep being good kids. Then I had one of my very quiet and shy female students come up front and give a speech. Everybody in the room went dead quiet. She gave a speech about who she thought she was. She assumed that most people, even those in our own class, didn't even know her name because she was so quiet. She shared how she was tired of living in other people’s shadows. She went on to talk about how she wants to change and she wants people to see her, hear her and know her. Her legacy was she wanted people to simply know her name. I am not sure why this particular speech struck me but the fact that a 6th grader wanted their legacy to just simply be known took me by surprise. She didn't say she wanted to be known for being a fantastic athlete or a musician or even a high achieving student. She simply wanted her name to be known.

For some reason I just thought about this student and I could not get her speech out of my head. I have so many conversations with teachers about how we're meeting the needs of all of our learners. I look at what we do in school everyday to push kids in all of the varying groups and subgroups. I think about how much time, energy, money, and resources is spent on the “lower end” of our student population making sure we get them above that sacred “meets” line. Then I see how much time we spend trying to enrich and push our gifted kids.

Yet, I bet if you look at your classrooms and your schools, the squeaky wheels always get the oil. That is to mean that we often forget about our quiet kids or the forgotten ones. The kids who sit and do their work and are quiet and don't cause a problem. These kids can go through an entire day without a single teacher or peer speaking to them. It really made me look at what I'm doing this school year. I've made no secret about the group of students that I have this year and the challenges they have brought me as a person and as a teacher. It is very easy for 10 percent of the students to take up 90 percent of my time. There are days where I feel like those 10 percent consume 98 percent of my time and attention.

This particular student’s speech struck a chord reminding me to make a renewed effort to focus on and build relationships with those quiet kids. This particular student really brought home for me the idea that they often have the most to say and the most to offer as well as are the most likely to be forgotten and ignored. What are you doing to connect with the forgotten ones in your school or your classroom?


Monday, September 16, 2013

The "Real World"

 If you speak to educators at any level they will inevitably tell you they want to prepare students for the “real world”. I too have claimed that my goal is for students to be able to manage and thrive within this realm of future realness. Funny thing is, we all have a different definition of what that real world is. For example, I grew up in a small town of 1100 people where everyone knew your name, your business and your dog’s name…and your dog’s business too. The only minority individual in town was my adopted sister and English was the only language spoken. Many of us worked on farms and our largest exposure to drugs was a case of PBR and the occasional dip of chewing tobacco. In addition, I didn’t experience death in my life at a real level until I was an adult and lost my grandfather to cancer. For me, that was my “real world”.

Yet, as I sit with another round of students the harsh truth of this real world came and slapped me in the face today. Without breaching any sort of confidence of student privacy, I will say that some of my students shared things that blew my mind. They have experienced loss, death, pain and suffering unlike anything I have experienced in my life to this point. Exposed to things by the age of 12 that I still have not been is a sobering reality. Many students have coped with life events that would bring most adults sobbing to their knees and incapacitate them.

Yet, here they sit in my class without a sign of the troubled waters beneath. Their peers sitting next to them completely unaware of what they have experienced or been exposed to. In many cases, their other teachers are oblivious as well. Despite all of their hardships, they manage it because that is their world. It is their normal. They don’t know any differently just as I didn’t when I was growing up. They are already living in a real world and for many it is far more real than the world we are preparing them for in school.


I am going to stop preparing kids for the real world that frankly doesn’t exist out in some mythical space and future time. Instead, I want to help kids navigate the real world they are living in right now. Listen to them and provide what ever supports I can. Feel for them and recognize there is far more beneath the surface if I just take the time to look and care. Don’t assume that a smiling face and nice clothes are synonymous with a perfect life and happy existence. Recognize the real world exists but don’t prepare students for it but rather help them live in their real world as each individual defines it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

I Used to Think...

I used to think bad teachers needed to be fired. Now I realize bad teaching largely exists because of a lack of exposure to good teaching.

I used to think homework was the way to reinforce learning. Now I realize it a tool used to coerce compliance and reinforce the notion of haves and have-nots in the home.

I used to think punishing a student would change their behavior. Now I realize most kids need to be taught how to behave and punishments reinforce a cycle of misbehavior.

I used to think we did not need administrators. Now I realize how valuable an effective administrative team can be and the impact it can have on teaching and learning.

I used to think parents were something to be feared and I only had to contact them when things were going badly in school. Now I realize the vital role parents play in creating strong partnerships between home and school and how impactful their involvement can be.

I used to think the more work I piled on a kid the more they would learn. Now I realize the more valuable the work I ask kids to do the more they will learn.

I used to think that modeling for students was always the best way to teach. Now I realize modeling can lead to copying and can rob students of true learning experiences.

I used to think Captain Crunch was a good breakfast food. Now I realize how horrible that is and defer to more healthy choices…like Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

I used to think I could be a superhero and was responsible for saving the kids in my classroom. Now I realize I can’t do it alone and my responsibility reaches far beyond the walls of my classroom.

I used to think having technology in my room made me a better teacher. Now I realize technology will not transform my teaching without me first shifting my teaching.

I used to think kids were motivated by grades and that could increase engagement. Now I realize grades are often less a reflection of academic abilities but rather an indication of prowess at playing the game of school.  

I used to think the kids that always raised their hands were the smartest ones in the room. Now I realize the ones who rarely speak have the most to say and are often the ones worth listening to.


I used to think I was a good teacher. Now I realize that good is not good enough and I must to keep working to be better. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Parent Pushback

Lately, I am seeing a troubling trend that I am sure is not new, but as a “younger” parent I am starting to take notice of.  Many of my friends have kids starting back at school as well as countless members of my PLN online. My inboxes, streams and updates are flooded with great back to school pictures but also some complaints. It appears that lots of parents have experienced things with their child in school they are not happy with. This is not a terribly new occurrence but some of the reactions are not sitting right with me.

Parents are loathing the fact they have to sign a paper indicating if their child doesn’t turn their work in on time it will be marked as a zero. They post updates about the absurdity of a teacher’s homework calendar and insane amount of packets that are coming home nightly for completion. Some are even sharing personal stories about signing off on classroom rules and policies they completely disagree with. Another trend is children being injured at school and parents not being notified. This troubles me. If parents are upset enough to post and share about these things, then why are they not taking steps to change it? Why are they not at least making it a point of conversation with their child’s teacher or building staff?

When I begin questioning these individuals, they all have excuses about why they do not step up and push back on the classroom teacher. The most common answer is they don’t want their words or actions to be held against their child. There is a fear if they become “that parent” their child will be singled out and treated differently because of it. Another reason I have heard is many of these parents are teachers in their child’s district and have a level of anxiety over their jobs. If they push back as a parent, what will that mean for their role as a teacher?

I wish I had an easy answer to those problems because the sad reality is both of those things happen in some cases. I have seen this first hand and it is something in the back of my mind as a parent. I can’t defend those teachers and yet many teachers would welcome the parent feedback and others just may need to be pushed. As a teacher if I am doing something that is upsetting to a parent or family, I want to be aware of it. If not, I can’t change my practice or at least have an opportunity to explain my actions. On the other side of the fence, as a parent I feel that my children deserve the best education possible and will advocate as such in a professional and appropriate manner. If parents are not willing to standup for what they know or think is right, the inevitable outcome is more negative updates and inboxes.

Just as I feel teachers have a moral obligation to stand up for every child, do we not expect parents to do the same for their own? Yes, I recognize that many educators fear parents will be unreasonable or inappropriate in their perceived demands. If we as parents stand by and allow things we disagree with to be done to our children, we are part of the problem. On the other hand, if we as teachers do not provide opportunities and situations for parents to provide that feedback, then we are the bigger problem.


What are you doing as a parent to constructively push back on your child’s school or teacher? As a teacher, how are you providing a forum for this discussion to take place?