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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Evaluation 

As a football fan, I watched with interest this year's N.F.L. draft coverage. Each team selects players coming out of college that they believe will help their team. For players selected at the top of the draft the payout is tens of millions of dollars. For those at the bottom? A few grand, a hotel room, and an invitation to training camp. Why are teams willing to lay out millions for 22 year old kids? Because they believe in their potential. Why so little for the guys at the bottom? Because they believe their chances of success are minimal.

A few days ago I sat in a meeting with my school district's director of personnel. He was talking about hiring and firing statistics. He was crunching statistics, trying to come up with a way to minimize failure in hiring teachers. What do successful teachers have in common? What do teachers who have been fired have in common? How can we determine someone's potential for success before they ever step inside a classroom? They are trying to be more scientific about. When I applied for promotion I was forced to take a test that would "determine my potential for leadership." By analyzing my answers to a multiple choice test they can tell if I might have what it takes. That is the theory anyway.

But we're so often wrong about people. Many believed Ryan Leaf to be a much better quarterback than Peyton Manning. I've hired teachers that I was SURE would be successful, but it didn't turn out that way. Some of those I wasn't quite sure of became outstanding educators. There are some things you can't measure and some things you can't tell. I once put a boy on my basketball team mainly because I liked his attitude. By the end of the season he was my best player.

This is true in our relationships too. Some have found true love the first time around and it held fast. Others, like me, have had a long tortuous road to finding happiness in a relationship. Ever been with someone you were sure was the right person only to find out you were terribly wrong? Whether in employment, athletics, love, or life, when you are dealing with people there are always "X factors". You can't find it on a resume. That Wonderlic test you give them can't measure their heart. How fast they run the 40 yard dash, how sweet their jump shot is, or how well they swing a bat doesn't always tell the truth. How good she looks when she walks across the room doesn't let you know what she'll be like when the chips are down.

Sometimes we see things but think we can change them. That person you interviewed may have some rough spots, but with YOU as his boss everything will work out fine. That guy may have a little drinking problem, but once he's with YOU it will go away. That quarterback may not be able to find the open receiver, but if YOU coach him he will learn. Sometimes we are right but many times we aren't.

But often everything looks great. You can't find a flaw in that athlete. That prospective employee knocked you out with his resume and interview. That guy is so charming that you know true love is out there on the horizon. Then those "X factors" come into play. When it comes to people it is always something of a crapshoot. Being cautious can better our odds, but you never know for sure. It does make life interesting, doesn't it?

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Weekend Roundup 4/28-4/29 

Que dia! I'm so glad its Friday for a menagerie of reasons. I'm also glad to present this edition of the weekend roundup. Its not as lengthy as it used to be, but hey......I don't have the jump shot I used to have either. If you're not included please don't beat up on me!

Walker has a new toy. Karen has ancestors with interesting stories.

Sarah shares a funny website. Thomai shares her meditation prayer.

Simply Satisfied’s husband blames everything on messy rooms. Don’t blame Joan if you buy a Safeway Taco Kit after reading this.

Teresa is a birthday girl. Carol is a stitcher extraordinaire.

Sally was feeling blessed. Margaret was feeling stressed after a scary school incident.

Jules shares her own unique Mother’s Day poem. Lime shares a picture of herself wounded.

Tara takes us back to the days before downloaded music. Colleen takes me back to my days in retail with this story of an irate customer.

Apple tried to do a good deed and was rebuffed. Greek Shadow discovered that those who volunteer aren’t chosen.

Irina reports on censorship at her university. Deni reports on the stress of looking for a job.

Need a “Thursday Thirteen” button? Phoenix has some designs. Need a blanket knitted? Caren did a nice job on this one.

Vickie asserts her need to be herself on her blog. Mary Lou asserts some tough love.

The Fool shares a few moments of his morning. Jennifer shares some photos from her boy’s surgery.

Jack has some antidotes to writer’s block. Snav has some weeds that are better than a dozen roses.

Ellen has lost a lot of weight. She might gain it back if she ate some of Pearl’s soup and bread.

Janine is out of her funk. Meg is planning to work on her food addiction.

Dawn got herself crowned. Keb got her 20,000th hit!

T. Marie discusses our sense of entitlement. Sudie Girl discusses her feelings about language and immigration.

Trick wonders when you KNOW. I wonder when I’ll hear about Restless Angel’s new car!

Terra Extraneus shares some thoughts on the Book of Judas. Tisha shares her sometime desire to be Catholic.

Breazy is off for a fun weekend. Dee is a happy drunk.

Sporked Tongue has some thoughts about gas prices. New Wave Gurly has some thoughts about waves.

I hope you enjoy this posts as much as I did. Have a fantastic weekend my friends.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

Once again it is midweek and I've certainly had my plate full.

We have a boy who was suspended long-term from school before I got there. He keeps wanting to come back on campus to visit his friends. We keep telling him to leave and he keeps coming back. Three times he has ended up being handcuffed by security guards waiting for the police and a guardian to arrive. Three times he has received a ticket for trespassing. The last time he was on campus he was supposed to be in court on the first trespassing charge! I feel a bit sorry for him but he can't be on campus while he is suspended, banging on classroom windows, and walking up and down the halls like he owns the place. I have the strong impression that his family has no control over him at all. He just goes where he wants, when he wants. A warrant was issued for his arrest after he missed court. Sad. The last time he was brought in by the security guard I asked him, "aren't you getting a little tired of this? I personally would not want to be handcuffed." He said, "you ask way too many questions." I chuckled and replied, "well, I have been accused of that."

I've also been working to upgrade our science curriculum. We are adopting new textbooks and I've also been looking at several different programs to supplement what we are already doing at school. I enjoy doing curriculum work. Its fun! The problem is trying to find the time to work on it during the hustle and bustle of a regular school day.

Aubree is still practicing every weekend for her church play. The performance is in two weeks. She has her singing solos down pat, but still needs to work on her speaking parts.

We are also trying to come up with something for the science fair. Part of this weekend will be devoted to getting the science fair project up and running.

Patrick is talking non-stop about the state Special Olympics meet, which is coming up in a couple of weeks. He is already trying to negotiate spending money with me. "Souvenirs dad! I have to buy souvenirs!"

Patrick has been quite the charmer with Mystery Girl. He runs and opens doors for her. He picks out earrings for her to wear. He points out clothes in the store he thinks she should buy. "You would look great in that outfit. Of course, you make anything you wear look great!" My son, the charmer.

It looks like this weekend will also be partially devoted to painting in the new house. We have several ceilings to paint. Have I ever mentioned that I don't like painting ceilings. I never fail to end up with paint all over my face. I'll be lucky if a big dollop doesn't land right in my eye.

We got Patrick several packs of "Yugi Oh" cards for his birthday. They cost a few dollars and you never know what you're going to get in one of those packs. He was delighted to be informed that one of the cards he got was an extremely rare one. It sells for several hundred dollars online. Of course, he doesn't want to sell it. He wants to use it to win Yugi-Oh "duels." Aubree said sweetly, "Patrick, can I see that card just for a second?" He handed it over and she cackled and ran from the room yelling, "EBAY! EBAY! EBAY!" That didn't go over well with Patrick.

Life is very good but very busy!

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Imagery 

Taking my cue from the charming Jules, I am doing a meme for the first time in awhile. I usually avoid them like the plague, but this one seemed fun. My task? Pick a few fellow bloggers and come up with a picture or image that seems to fit them. I can't do my entire blogroll like Jules did, but I will select a few each week and try to come up with something.

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This night-time shot of New Orleans makes me think of Thomai. Her love of the city, its people, and its culture shines through in much of her writing. She may be a California girl, but she has the soul of a New Orleans musician. Beautiful, opinionated, artistic, passionate, and creative, she never fails to spark my imagination with her writing. She's a mother, an artist, a filmmaker, a yoga instructor, an activist, and a writer. She also has a big heart and I treasure her friendship.

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I chose this one for Vickie. This sweet southern belle has many sides to her that are not always obvious at first glance. Vickie is an inspirational writer who has not allowed adversity in her life to determine her destiny. She conducts herself in a classy, elegant, way and her blog always makes me feel warm and smile when I read it. Sometimes she will surprise you when you least expect it. She oozes warmth and charm, and her blog is one of my must-see stops on the net.

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This photo of a table laden with Trinidad style food reminds me of the lovely Lime. This wife, mom, and writer extraordinaire developed a love of all things Trinidad during her stay there. No offense to anyone else, but Lime puts out the best Half Naked Thursday posts out there. She is witty, articulate, highly creative, and also someone I consider to be a good friend. As her friend, I would advise her to stay off zip lines for awhile. She makes me like my reading with a twist of Lime.

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It doesn't quite fit, but I when I think of Irina this one of the images that comes to mind. Remake Rodin into a young, attractive, thoughtful college student with a passion for international affairs, and you are getting closer. Irina writes about her work at the United Nations, her college classes, her native country, religion, politics, films, and the things large and small that make her life interesting. She may be half my age but she challenges me to think. I like that.

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Then of course there is Jules, who got me started on this in the first place. What kind of image can you come up with for an outspoken girl who loves margaritas and seems to think a lot about sex. I didn't say she always thought about it. She just thinks about it a lot. She also works with young children and describes her work in a way that never fails to make me laugh. She is lovely, has a great sense of humor, and seems to know how to have a good time. Read her blog and you never know what you'll come across. It could be a funny preschool story or a picture of a guy's ass. Here are two margaritas. She can have both of them or share with the person of her choice.

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It was hard coming up with something for Walker. Darth Vader was just too easy. This guy is one of the best writers I've come across in the blogosphere. You want raw honesty, great storytelling, and perspective given in a stiff, straight shot? You should be reading Walker. You may agree or disagree with him. He may make you angry or make you laugh. But you'll want to read him. Don't go to his blog hungry when he writes about food. I can almost smell it when I read his food posts. I thought of the Iron Chef...Greek style, without the accent. He could win the competition and then write about it.

I'm sure you can't wait to see what I come up with for YOU. I'll do another edition of this in the near future.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Bring Them Home 

Longtime readers know that I rarely write on political topics here. But the situation in Iraq is more than just politics. The situation in Iraq will impact this country and the world for decades to come. I've watched the situation for years now, read all that I could, and talked to returning soldiers. Slowly, inexorably, I've come to the conclusion that it is time to bring our soldiers home.

I've long been sympathetic to the argument that we shouldn't "cut and run". You shouldn't invade another country and leave the place in chaos. But I now think that there will be chaos no matter when we leave. We've reached the point where American presence is no longer valuable.

Its time to bring them home.

I say this as someone who supported the first Gulf War and various other American interventions around the world. I am no dreamy eyed pacifist who believe that bad people will do the right thing if you just sing John Lennon songs to them. Judicious use of American military power can help make the world a better place. Our continuous presence in Iraq will not.

Its time to bring them home.

The American military has done a magnificent job. They won the war against one of the world's largest armies with minimal casualties. Some of our finest young men and women have answered their country's call and served in Afghanistan and in Iraq. But winning a war and occupying another country indefinitely are two different things. If we stay there, I believe that years down the road we will still be reading stories about roadside bombs killing young American soldiers. For what purpose? Enough.

Its time to bring them home.

We've occupied Iraq for several years now. They've had elections and formed a government. We've given them a chance to build toward their future. The bloodshed continues and will continue into the forseeable future. It is their country, and Iraqis will decide when they've tired of killing each other and want to live in peace.

Its time to bring them home.

Iraq has become a homing beacon for the world's terrorist fanatics. As long as we are there they will keep coming. Its not being afraid. Its using common sense. Its time to send the terrorists scurrying somewhere else.

Its time to bring them home.

Occupying a foreign nation has always placed a drain on the occupier and cannot forever hold. Ask the Romans. Ask Alexander the Great. Ask the British. History teaches us that long occupations are untenable. No one likes to live under occupation by a foreign army. I wouldn't. You wouldn't. Friendly or not, I'd want them to go home. Most of the Iraqi people want us to leave. We've outstayed our welcome. We either have to pour many thousands more soldiers in there and totally subjugate the country or we have to leave. I say leave.

Its time to bring them home.

If anyone should be helping keep peace and order in Iraq other than Iraqis themselves, it should be the United Nations. Yes, I know that the U.N. has been historically ineffective and corrupt. But the issue of Iraq should be a worldwide problem with a worldwide solution. Other nations have been critical of our postwar occupation. Some of their criticisms have been legitimate and others have not. In either case, its time for the rest of the world to step up. Its time for us to step out.

Its time to bring them home.

The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein in power. He was a bloodthirsty, troublemaking, meglomaniac with delusions of grandeur. He attacked his neighbors and slaughtered large numbers of his own people. He is on trial now in Iraq. This is where he should be tried for his crimes. He is answering to his own people. We got him out of power. Our job is done.

Its time to bring them home.

The WMDs that were the causus belli of this war were never found. They existed to some degree in the years before the war, but were no longer present when American soldiers arrived. The reason for our intervention is gone. So is our cause for staying there.

Its time to bring them home.

This isn't about politics at all. I've voted for presidents of both parties and will probably do so again in the future. I'm an independent minded voter who thinks that party labels are just that.....labels. The political consequences are irrelevant to me. I don't care who looks bad or who was right and who was wrong.

Its time to bring them home.

It is said that we must occupy Iraq to spread democracy. You can't impose democracy from the end of an M-16. The Iraqi people either want a democratic, free society or they don't. We can't force them to do it. They've had free elections now. They have a democracy. Whether or not they keep it is up to them.

Its time to bring them home.

Many of the Iraqi people are grateful that we deposed Saddam Hussein. They aren't grateful that we are patrolling their streets, arresting their relatives, and occupying their nation. If a neighbor comes to your home and helps you with a problem you are grateful. It doesn't mean that you want him to move in and run your house. Most of our soldiers have been consummate professionals. But they are still occupiers and now have become targets. Every day we stay there makes many ordinary Iraqis more resentful of our presence.

Its time to bring them home.

No more American soldiers should die in Iraq. There are things worth fighting for and causes worth dying for. The untenable occupation of Iraq is not one of those causes. The soldiers have done their job and done it bravely. They deserve the thanks of a grateful nation for their efforts. What they don't deserve is for any more of their brethren to die there.

Its time to bring them home.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

Birthday Boy 

An Open Letter to Patrick:

Hey hotshot. You're fourteen years old today and I can scarcely believe it. Has it really been that long since I held you in my arms in the maternity ward of the hospital? For almost 1/3rd of my life you've been a part of me.

You've known for some time now that you were adopted by your mother and I. We had tried to conceive for years, tried expensive treatements and surgeries, and had begun to look into the idea of adopting. The opportunity was suddenly staring us right in the face. For months before your birth we prepared for the new baby that was to be part of our lives. I remember painting the baby bed, going shopping for baby clothes, and buying all those gadgets that new parents think they must have. I was to be a father and I was so excited I could barely stand myself.

I took you to a high school prom when you were one day old. The high school girls and the teachers swarmed around you all night, and I was so very proud. I was a dad! You were my son! I had a baby boy! Your mom took off work for a couple of months to be with you and then summertime came and I had you all to myself during the day. I was a new dad and had all kinds of things to learn. I became a semi-expert at mixing formula, washing bottles, and putting you down for the night. So many times I'd hold that bottle to your mouth, rock you back and forth, sing to you, and watch you fall asleep. I'd tiptoe down the hall to your room, gently lay you in bed, and as soon as I started to walk away, you'd wake up and start crying. I took you everywhere with me that summer. We went fishing together, picked blackberries, took walks in the woods, and ran around in my little truck.

I remember your first words, your first steps, the first time you ate "big people food", and your first birthday when you delighted in smearing that cake everywhere. I changed countless diapers, learned the fine art of burping a baby, shopped for your clothes, and took you swimming for the first time. You were such a happy infant, always smiling and laughing, loving and friendly.

As you grew we came to understand that you were special. You weren't like "everyone else". Those differences became obvious as you entered pre-school. You had your own unique ways, fascination with swords and umbrellas, a love of cartoons, one of the funniest laughs I've ever heard, and a creative streak that would continue to flourish. Do you remember when I used to lay on my back on the bed, put my feet up, balance you on them, and hold my hands with yours? We would rock side to side and I would sing The Doors "Roadhouse Blues" to you as you cackled with glee. Roll baby roll. Remember when you demanded that I sing, "Rocky Mountain High" and "Take Me Home Country Roads" to you every night?

You delighted in Dr. Seuss stories, knowing all the words to a number of those tales. One of your favorites was "Yertle The Turtle". You would climb up on top of me and pretend to be at the peak of a "nine turtle stack." You knew all the words to "Green Eggs and Ham" . You loved those little story books with the sound buttons on the side. We read those books until they were worn out. Do you remember the birthday where my brother-in-law and I spent all day putting together a swingset while keeping you out of the backyard? The next day at your party you received an umbrella among the gifts. When we walked you to the backdoor you walked out and said, "Oh, a swingset." Then you walked back in and asked, "where's my umbrella?" I should've known.

Along the way you learned how to make some of the most mystifying messes I've ever seen and the fine art of raiding the refrigerator and eating the dinner ingredients planned for that night's meal. You can be terribly frustrating at times Patrick, but of course you know that. But if people only see that side of you , they miss so very much. You are the most loving boy I've ever known. Those who know you the best love you the most. Your teachers at school always become taken with you and are quite protective. Your cousins learn how to play games "The Patrick Way". Your grandparents love your unique sense of humor. You do have a way of saying the funniest things at the funniest times. Your uncles have enjoyed dueling swords with you and taking you to movies and sporting events. Your mom still loves you from an ocean away. Others who have been part of your life have also found those endearing traits that I enjoy so much. You are one-of-a-kind, my son.

I love the way you crack that crooked smile when you've said something funny. I love the way you play "Star Trek" with me in the car. Make it so #1. Engage warp engines. Set navigational controls for home. Engage. I love the way you can take a 2 liter bottle, a bread twisty tie, a piece of construction paper, and a stick found outside, and make something that looks like a work of art. I love the way you always try to renegotiate when you are told no. "Ok Dad, I meant we could go to Fuddruckers NEXT weekend. Can we go to McDonald's tonight?" I love the way you come up and give me a hug and tell me you're glad to see me. I love the way you can be so gentle with your sister. I love that serious look on your face when you're preparing to run a Special Olympics race.

We've ran quite a road in these fourteen years, haven't we? From my farm baby, to my precocious pre-schooler, to my growing boy, and now into a young man. I've been there every step of the way and I will always be there for you. I may not have always been the perfect dad.
I may have lost my temper with you too many times. I may have been frustrated. I may not have always known what to do. But you know something Patrick? I've also loved you in the unique way that a father can love his son. I'm so proud of you, so excited for your future, and so awed by your talents. As you prepare to grow into manhood, your daddy is proud to be by your side.

I love you Patrick. Happy 14th Birthday.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Down Time 

It has been a VERY busy week and I have a busy weekend ahead of me. I think I will take the opportunity to rest and relax a little tonight. Hence, I regret to say there will be no weekend roundup this weekend. Yes, I know this has happened more lately, but then again, I've been so busy the last month or two. I do have Patrick's birthday to prepare for this weekend. I'd have to buy out Toys R Us if I got him everything he wanted.

There are plenty of good blogs out there. If the mood strikes, take some time to explore some of them and we'll be back next week at the same bat-time.

Have a fantastic weekend my friends. Don't do anything I wouldn't do, and if you do, please post all about it! :)

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Its A Boy 

Of course we've known for some time that it would be. Daniel Jacob Stone entered this world today at about 3:30 p.m. and weighed in at 7 lbs. 8 oz. Aubree swears he looks just like her, even with his head full of dark hair. My brother passed out cigars, including candy ones for the kids. He was a very proud father, very excited, and the baby looked just great. I'm an uncle again and I'm thrilled for my brother and his lovely wife. They will be wonderful parents.

There were other new parents in the maternity ward of the hospital, milling about, holding their babies, with that "new parent look" on their faces. It really is a miracle, this life, and to see a baby just an hour hold sucking on his thumb, orienting himself to this world, crying for food or warmth, enduring all the poking and prodding of the nurses, is still a sight to behold no matter how many times you've seen it before.

I looked at that new baby and thought of my father, his legacy living on in this baby boy. He will never know his grandfather, but he will learn much of him as he grows up.

I looked at that new baby and thought of my own kids, remembering when they were so small and everything was new.

I looked at that new baby and thought of my brother and his wife and the adventures in parenting that await them in the years to come.

I looked at that new baby and thought of the life that awaits him. Everything is possible for him right now. He will grow up in an ever-changing world and I wonder what life will have in store for him.

New life. It is so very precious. Welcome to our world Daniel Jacob!

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

Its midweek and I've been a busy boy.

Those of you who work in schools will know what I'm talking about. Spring break is over. Standardized testing is over. The weather is warm. What does all this add up to? Kids who think school is out already. Motivation is a difficult problem and behavior can deterioriate if you don't stay on top of things. And this is just the teachers! :)

We had a girl bring one of those mini baseball bats(about 2 1/2 feet long) to school to "protect herself". When told of the consequence of bring such a potential weapon to school she said, "how do you know I wasn't bringing it for softball practice after school?" I told her, "when I see a softball team playing games with those little bats we'll have something to talk about." That kinda shut her up.

Aubree has been faithfully rehearsing for her part in an upcoming church musical play. She has three solos and I can hear her belting them out in her room. She enjoys performing and has some stage presence about her. I'll be excited to see and hear her perform.

Of course, when she's not performing those church solos in her room she is singing along with her Kenny Chesney CD. I'm not a big country music fan, but I think I know all those songs by heart now.

I have regrettably had to delete several "anonymous" comments in the past few days. I have been blogging for 2 1/2 years and can count the comments I've deleted on one hand. These comments were in poor taste, a thinly veiled attack on someone else, and not the kind of thing I want to see in my blog comments. I have always viewed the blog community as a way to build friendships and connections, not as a forum to attack other people. If you want to attack someone else, write away in your own blog, but please do not use my comments as a forum for anonymous (or otherwise) attacks, especially on matters you know nothing about. My email is on the sidebar if you wish to discuss something with me, but I will no longer allow my comments to be used in this manner. I have never been a believer in deleting comments and have allowed marginal comments to remain when I probably shouldn't have. Don't like someone? Then don't read their blog or bash them somewhere else. As Forrest Gump said, "thats all I have to say about that!"

I think the kids must've watched "The Chronicles of Narnia" DVD about fifteen times. I know that movie about as well as I know Kenny Chesney's CD now. Its actually very well done.

I will probably have to go next week and interview with a panel of college professors for admittance into my doctoral program. Group interviews. You gotta love'em. Not.

Mystery girl and I continue to have a fantastic time together. We each have a few old stories we can tease each other about and neither seems to be shy about taking advantage of that. I would reveal that she once tried to set me up with another girl on a band trip, but it would be so unfair to use my blog in that manner. So I'll remain quiet about that.

There is a blogger that I admire who is going through a difficult time in his marriage. I know how difficult this is my friend, and I'm praying that you are able to work things out.

I'm already spoiled by my Blackberry. I don't know if I'm becoming more efficient, but I'm certainly more on top of my work email than ever before. I typed a short reply to one while doing breakfast duty this morning. Come to think of it, maybe I am becoming more efficient.

I want to thank all you publicly and privately responded with advice on my previous post. I intend to use several of your suggestions. Y'all rawk!

My new house is slowly coming into shape. I'll finish painting the new bathroom this weekend and it will be ready for tile and fixtures. Yay! Then we have a bedroom project to start on. Should be fun!

I forgot to post this and had to come back and add it. I will be an uncle again tomorrow as my youngest brother and his wife are having their first child. I'm excited for both of them and I look forward to welcoming little Daniel into our family.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It Had To Happen 

My daughter is eleven years old and I knew it had to happen sometime. I did think that it wouldn't happen for another year or two. It happened yesterday. That change that pre-adolescent girls go through happened to my little girl yesterday at school. She jumped in the car yesterday afternoon and said, "Dad, I started". Oh boy.

We headed to the drugstore to get the necessary...err....supplies. Please understand that this is an area where I'm not the most knowledgeable person in the world. As she and I stood there and looked at row after row of feminine products, I felt like a fish out of water. Do they really need that many brands and sizes? I mean, c'mon now. How many different adjectives do you really need to put in front of "Maxi"?

We stood there and looked at each other, with her saying, "Dad, what should I get?" Ummm....I don't know. I don't think the super, heavy duty, mega, hyper maxi thing is for you though. I saw a nice looking lady standing down the aisle and said, "let me go ask her." Aubree grabbed my arm and said, "noooooooooo dad. Thats embarassing!" I'll tell you what is embarassing young lady....standing in the femine products aisle looking like a doofus! After due consideration we made our selection and dropped it in the shopping basket. I think we did just fine, all things considered. It could've been worse.

Then she said, "what happens if I want to go swimming this summer?" You had to ask that, didn't you? I said that there were certainly products that would work in that situation and that we would figure that out as time grew closer to actually going swimming. Are you sure you don't need some help with math or something? Its time for mystery girl, my mom, niece, and sisters-in-law to step up to the plate on things like this. Dad does the best he can, but his knowledge in certain areas is somewhat limited.

This is just another reminder that she is growing up, becoming a young lady, and not the little girl that has been with me so long. I know that many changes are coming in her life and I look forward to helping her deal with the ups and downs of growing up and maturing. She's at that age where she is part little girl with dolls and stuffed animals and part adolescent who likes rap and music videos. I see the changes coming on a regular basis. In spite of any limitations I might have, I'm honored to be her daddy and will learn what I need to know to be up to the task.

But did it really have to happen right now?

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Get Out of Jail Free 


I was amused by this story which came out last month. Utah Jazz basketball star Andrei Kirilenko's wife stated in an interview that she let her husband have a fling with another woman one time each year. He has her permission if that groupie in Seattle is just too much for him to resist. A get out of jail free card. A yearly "woman allowance". Kirilenko is obviously a very intelligent man on top of being a pretty good basketball player. His reaction? "

In the meantime, the most amazing part of the story is Kirilenko's reaction. "Of course it was a surprise," he says, "but I'm not planning on doing anything."
This may be one of those moments akin to your wife asking you if she looks fat in that dress. It may seem like you have an option of what to say, but you really don't. There is only one way to answer that question. Maybe Andrei was thinking along those lines. I guess the test will come when that Angelina Jolie look-alike groupie girl jumps in the elevator with him at the team hotel.

The author of the article implored men to ask their wives what they thought about the whole idea and for women to put forth the notion to their husbands to guage their reaction. Some of the replies were hilarious. A couple of my favorites:

This is what I think: The day my husband is drafted into the NBA is the day that I will permit him an annual allowance of women. I will go even further than Kirilenko's wife -- I will allow him 10 women per year while he is in the NBA. (Given that he is a 36 year old, 5'8" Jewish man from Westchester, N.Y., I am willing to take the risk).

"Why you piece of #@%&$, I oughta cut your #$%&* off!" She heads for the kitchen to make good on her threat, and I'm thinking why did I get her those ultra sharp Wustof knives last year for Christmas?? I pick up my dog, Rusty, to save him from the carnage, but I soon realize we won't both make it, so I toss him like I was in a shot-put competition.

"Run Rusty, save yourself, it's too late for me … don't look back, don't ever look back!" I scream as one of my jewels gets skewered. Rusty yelps and heads for the neighbors. Smart dog, real smart dog I think as I start to black out.

She said, and I quote, "If you can go out and sleep with whomever you want, then the mailman is going to have a very interesting week."


But this got me to thinking.....this is a concept that could be spread to other areas other than extramarital hijinks. An allowance. A life mulligan. A get-out-of jail free card. When I was teaching I sometimes let kids earn a homework pass that could be redeemed for an assignment any time during the year. Of course, the kids who actually did what it took to earn them were the kids who would hardly ever use them. Maybe Andrei is like that....but I digress. Here are a few ideas for this get-out-of-jail-free card:

What if you had a pass that would allow you to tell your boss or a co-worker exactly what you think of them one time a year without recrimination? You walk into the bosses office and say, "get off your ass you lazy slob". He starts to sputter and reaches for the pink slips. You smile and hand over your card.

My kids could use a card like for the exasperating things that kids do. When Patrick has taken the DVD player and re-engineered it into a hyperfrequency modulator and I start to feel my temperature rising, he hands me the card. That arrangement would perhaps get him through the rest of April and then he'd be on his own until next year.

I wouldn't mind having a get-out-of-speeding card. The nice officer pulls you over and his pen is already starting to write out the ticket. You hand him your card and let him find someone else to fund the new city hall.

How about a foot-in-mouth card? We guys(well, some of us) have an unfortunate habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. When she gives you that incredulous look and threatens to cut you off, you pull out the little card and say, "not this time honey!" The foot-in-mouth card.....don't leave home without it.

While we're at it, how about a "shut up card"? Ever been around someone who just wouldn't stop talking even though it was obvious you wanted to end the conversation? Whip that baby out and they instantly turn silent and walk away.

The possibilities are endless. Mrs. Kirilenko may have started a movement here.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

A Boy and His Toys 

Those who know me well are aware of my affinity for "techy" devices. Since I was a kid and just HAD to have one of those new cassette players, even though my 8-track tape player worked just fine, I have always been fascinated with consumer electronics and gadgets. Many of you probably rolled your eyes at the Roomba, which purported to do your vacuuming for you. Not me. I was thinking how cool it would be to have one.

Perhaps some of it comes from my dad, a man of the technical world. The computer he had in his closet was the first I'd seen in ANYONE's house in my life. The little terminal sat there blinking while he inserted a telephone receiver into rubber cups, trying to connect with his mainframe computer at work. He experimented with voice command technology in the 1970's and I remember playing voice-command asteroids in his office, yelling, "Left, Right, FIRE!"

Then of course came personal computers. I bought my first one in 1996, connecting to the internet with my sparkling new 28.8 modem. Of course, that computer was hopelessly out of date in a year or two and I had to have another. Then the cycle repeats. I purchased a new computer awhile back when my old one crashed, knowing that in a year I'll be casting my eyes longingly at the new versions with all the bells and whistles.

Last Christmas, thanks to a group of friends, my long-stated desire for an IPOD was fulfilled. Now I listen to my tunes on the move in high tech fashion., marveling at the quality sound contained in such a small package. I'm still thrilled whenever I put those earphones on my head and let Led Zeppelin's guitars fill my senses.

Now I have a new toy that came out of the blue. I was told to come to the office so that I could get trained on my Blackberry. "I have a Blackberry?" It turns out that I do. My district is purchasing them for administrators in the belief that we will become more organized and efficient. Check out my new baby.
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I've been letting my fingers do the walking on this tiny keyboard, learning all the cool functions of this gizmo that snuggles comfortably on my hip. Check my email while on playground duty? No problem. All my appointments from Outlook are there at my disposal. A colleague wants to make an appointment with me? She sends a request, I accept, and there it is in my calendar. I need to walkie-talkie the dean? No problem. I need to know my latitude and longitude? Push a button and there it is. I need to make a note and don't have pad and paper? Punch it right in. I'm telling you, this is fun stuff for a techno-boy like me!

I'll also be purchasing a laptop sometime in the next month or two for use in my doctoral program. For this, I have a great justification. Its for educational purposes, don't you know. I'm sure I will get great use out of it, taking it back and forth to my classes. But I also will have a laptop, the first one I've ever owned. This may be unimpressive to those of you reading these words on your laptop screen, but I'm kinda hyped about it! Now I just have to keep Patrick from trying to convert it to a hyperfrequency modulator. He's a techy guy of a different sort.

Now someone needs to invent something that will sort socks for me. THAT would be cool. :

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Weekend Roundup 4/14-4/15 

Wow. What a week. I'm sooo ready for the weekend! But before I could go about my weekend activities, I simply had to skip around blogland a bit. Here is what I found on my rather short trip tonight.

Karen’s dad had a birthday. Breazy had an eye infection, but at least it wasn’t the bad kind.

Irina discusses the meaning of freedom. Jules discusses the things people say.

Thomai wants to live somewhere where people are nicer to each other.

Lime reveals secrets of the prune. Sally reveals an infatuation with a nice guy.

Mary Lou wasn’t happy with her bargain ham. A library patron wasn’t happy when Amanda caught him looking at pornography.

Simply Satisfied discusses the power of words. Greek Shadow discusses what is going on at his school.

Susan shares some people pictures. Vickie shares a different side of herself.

Hillbilly Mom has some issues. Colleen has some trouble sleeping.

Phoenix has a new teenager in the house. Apple has a “brown thumb”.

Michael recommends a classic movie. Aka Monty recommends wearing underwear on a windy day….or not.

Terry talks about the role of illegal immigrants. Teresa talks about volunteering at her son’s school….and a funny exchange!

Molly isn’t feeling well. Neither was Keb. As a matter of fact she was cranky.

Redneck Diva received the perfect Easter present. Janine received a lube.
Dawn has Easter travel plans. Margaret has some letters written.

Jerry remembers a near-death experience. Chosha will probably always remember the Rolling Stones concert she attended.

Veronica celebrates spring at her home. T. Marie celebrates her mom’s birthday.

Joan isn’t fond of Norton at the moment. Inky had problems with it as well.

Heather shares a pregnant picture. Trusty Getto shares his thoughts on local political parties.

Stationery Queen had a birthday. Meg had a big car-repair bill.

Jack is scared about what is going on with Iran. New Wave Gurly is playing “American Pie” trivia.

Roselle was lusting after a hockey player. Muse was seeing the exit sign.

Lip Schtick had some questions for you. Walker has the definite knowledge that he doesn't want a sex change.

Happy Easter weekend my friends. Be careful out there! :)

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

It is Wednesday and the entire week has been a blur.

The weirdest thing happened last week. For five consecutive days my boss and I came to work dressed in the exact same colors. On Monday I wore a black suit with a yellow shirt. She wore a black skirt, black jacket, yellow blouse. It was like that every day all week long. On Tuesday we were laughing about how great minds think alike. By Thursday we were saying that it had a twilight zone feel. Even the kids were noticing. One boy came up to her, looked over at me, and said, "whats up with you and Mr.....you know, the big bald guy?" I told her that if this didn't stop I would have to call her the night before and make sure we weren't wearing the same colors. We don't want people to talk.

I mentioned a few days ago that I was offered the opportunity by my district to have my doctoral studies paid for. What I didn't mention was that I had less than a week to gather all application materials, essays, letters of reference, and transcripts. This week has been a flurry of activity to get all of that done. I went over to my old school yesterday and sought out my principal, telling her I needed a letter of reference to the doctoral program. "No problem", she said. Then I told her I needed it TODAY. I came back a couple of hours later and she had a gushy, complimentary letter all typed up and ready for me.

Another requirement was that I take the G.R.E. On less than two days notice I went this afternoon and sat through the exam. I had not one scintilla of preparation or study. I had no idea what would even be on the test. I scored a 1240, with a much higher score on the verbal portion than the quantitative. Give me those antonyms and analogies any day. It wouldn't get me into Harvard Business School but I think it will suffice for this purpose. I did find myself wishing I had reviewed a little geometry before I went in. There were a lot of questions on gemoetry and I found myself struggling to remember those formulas. I haven't taken a math class in well over 20 years. I think it showed!

I'll receive the score on the written/analytical portion of the test in the next few weeks. At least I didn't have to solve any slope/intercept problems in that section.

I found this site which purports to estimate your I.Q. based on your G.R.E. scores. Pretty damned close. The bad news is that I don't qualify for MENSA. Oh well. They probably sit around and do geometry problems for fun.

Things are going mysteriously well with my mystery girl. We have enjoyed each other's company immensely and have caught up on a lot of what we didn't know about each other for the past 25 years. One of her adult sons likes dualing with light sabers, playing video games, and Yugi-Oh cards. Patrick has found a soulmate there! The other likes sports, cars, and rap music. Aubree looks at him like he's a god. Thats no mystery!

I think its safe to reveal that in my high school yearbook she called me, "a wild and crazy guy." She claims that she doesn't know why she wrote that because I was actually shy and not at all crazy. But hey....its in writing baby! Every time I think about it I remember this album playing in my room upstairs.

Aubree has been very busy designing an "egg drop" contraption with a friend of hers for science class. She is very determined that the egg will not break when it drops into her box. She gets an "A" if the egg doesn't break and a "B" if it does.

I may have some other news soon on yet another new project, but I don't want to jinx it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

I'm still trying to solve some of those geometry problems. Hypotenuse? Get outta my head. Please?

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Leadership 

I'm told that much of what my employer is investing in me in time, resources, and money is to develop and hone my leadership skills. I've read several books on leadership in the past month and the ability to lead is obviously critical I've put a lot of thought into this in the past few months and done a lot of soul-searching about my abilities and shortcomings as a leader. Being an effective school leader requires a complex set of skills and personal characteristics. Therein lies the question. Do I have what it takes? I think that I do, although I have so much to learn and much personal growth to go through.

I could share with you the books I've read on leadership lately, but I think I want to take this in a different direction.

I'm not a particularly charismatic person. I don't light up a room with my very persona. It is said that leaders like John F. Kennedy did just that. They drew people to them by the sheer force of their personality and personal qualities. You WANTED to follow them They persuaded you, not with an arsenal of facts, but with those rare traits that some people are born with. That wouldn't be me.

Then there are those leaders who are shrewd and calculating. I read "Team of Rivals" which details how Abraham Lincoln managed to hold together a team of scheming cabinet members who all thought they should be in his chair. He did this in the middle of a raging, bloody civil war. How did he do it? He understood human nature better than any of them did. He was an astute judge of people and their character, and he maneuvered to get the most out of the talent that surrounded him, persuading them to set aside their ambitions for a larger person. I'm don't think I'm that shrewd.

Some leaders are so intelligent, knowledgeable, and well-read that they lead through sheer force of their intelligence. They know more than anyone around them and everyone knows it. Why not follow the guy who knows more than all the rest of us? He must know things we don't know, and understand things we don't comprehend. Thomas Jefferson was something like that. You couldn't bring half-baked arguments to him because he would demolish them. I'm nobody's fool but I'm no Einstein either. So there goes that one.

Then there are those who lead by moral suasion. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi come to mind. They had such a righteousness about them that inspired others to want to follow their lead. They weren't necessarily the brightest or shrewdest leaders of their time, but they didn't have to be. People followed them because they moved their hearts. This probably isn't me either.

Then there are those who lead by fear and intimidation. Insert the name of your favorite dictator or tyrannical boss here. They aren't very bright necessarily, don't know as much as many below them, and in most cases lack charisma and charm. What they do understand is how to push people's buttons and keep them in line through subtle and not-so-subtle threats. They use what power they have over you....your freedom, your life, or your livelihood to yank you forcefully in the direction they want you to go. This decidedly isn't me either.

So what does someone like me bring to the leadership table? I believe in what I'm doing and I believe that helping children succeed is vital for their future and our own. If you believe that too, I can lead you. Actually, we can lead together, because leadership isn't one person running ahead yelling, "c'mon guys, hurry up!" We should all be running together and sometimes I may push you into the lead. I may not have charisma but I do have passion.

I also have some skill in communicating with people in a non threatening way. In spite of my size, I speak in a soft voice and smile a lot. I think it helps. In my world you can get lost in the hustle and bustle of daily school life, but it is so important to take time to communicate effectively with those you work with. Its amazing the information you pick up just walking around and talking to people. To do this you actually have to be in the halls, in the classrooms, in the cafeteria, and out by the buses. You can't lead from a leather chair in your office.

In that same vein, I'm a pretty damn good listener. If you come to my office and want to talk, I'm willing to listen and hear your concerns. A lot of teachers know you can't fix everything, but they do like to know that you will hear their concerns out and take them seriously. An important leadership skill is knowing when to shut up and listen. I will freely admit that I don't have all the answers. Maybe someone else does and I'd be a fool not to hear them out.

In that spirit, let me toss it out to you. What makes an effective leader? What examples of great leadership have you seen in your personal/professional lives? What examples can you give of failed leadership that you've personally seen? Pick one or more of these and answer in comments or email. I'll be curious to see what you come up with.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Testing 1, 2, 3..... 

This is the week that all we dedicated school employees hate love to see coming. Oh yes, its time to administer those standardized tests. For four days this week we will be testing our students to see what kind of test takers they arehow much they've learned this year. In this day and time there is a lot riding on this week for a great many people.

Much time and effort is spent getting the kids prepared to take these tests. Much of education centers around these exams. Long gone are the days when "achievement tests" were mainly an informative tool for kids, parents, and teachers. Now they are a blunt instrument which can have a dramatic impact on school employees, parents, and the community. Its all about achieving A.Y.P. (adequate yearly progress) baby! If you achieve A.Y.P. you are golden for another year. The central office leaves you alone. Newspapers don't trumpet your failure on the front page. Principals don't get fired or transferred. Fail to make it? Look out. Schools are being shut down across the nation. Maybe some of them needed to be, but I suspect a lot of it is just shifting your problems around.

I've written before that I favor accountability in public education, and I still do. What I question is whether this testing regimen should be the primary focus of the school. "No Test Child Left Behind" has changed schools so much, some for good and some not so good. The curriculum centers around that test and the stakes are high. From the superintendent down to the classroom teacher the message is clear. There is nothing more important than this test.

One of the challenges is getting the kids to take the test seriously. If they play "connect the dots" on their test there is no real consequence for them at the middle school level. They will still move on to the next grade level if their grades warrant it. So much effort is put into motivating the kids to do well. Its even time to break out the gimmicks. Aubree's principal is a huge fan of the University of Oklahoma and all the kids know it. He's promised them that if everyone tries hard this week he will wear the colors of arch-rival Oklahoma State to school. Motivational speakers are brought in. Candy and soft drinks are used to bribemotivate students who see the tests as a really boring way to spend a week.

In my world this is Super Bowl week and we just kicked off. We won't find out the final score for a couple of months.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Doctor, Doctor 

I received official notification from my district that they are offering to fund a doctoral studies program for me in Educational Administration, Curriculum, and Supervision. This is of course contingent on me being admitted into the University of Oklahoma's doctoral program. I have an application to fill out, reference letters that must be done, transcripts to round up, and several essays to write. The deadline is next Friday!

This would be a three year program involving approximately sixty hours of post-master's coursework and a dissertation. A cohort of approximately twenty people will advance through the program together.

As long-time readers know, I have toyed with the idea of going back to school and getting my doctorate for years. Sometimes life has gotten in the way, and at other times I've just found excuses not to proceed. A large part of my apprehension has always been the dissertation. It strikes fear in my heart, having heard horror stories through the years. But now, assuming I can achieve admission on such short notice, I'm ready to go.

Its kinda scary, a three year commitment, continual classwork, research, and the dissertation. But if I'm going to do this the time is now. I've talked to the kids about it and told them of the time it would entail. They are mostly interested to know if it will result in a raise for me, hence an increased allowance for them! I told Aubree she could still call me dad and not Dr. Dad. Her succinct reply? "AS IF!"

I'm very excited but also a little nervous. The months ahead will prove to be very interesting.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

Weekend Roundup 4/7-4/8 

Its back and on track. I hope you enjoy this week’s edition of the weekend roundup. I know I did.

Cheryl’s son relates what the worst thing in the world is. Breazy’s daughter related that, “you just don’t care.”

Keb describes a close experience with ketchup. Veronica describes a visit from a fellow blogger.

Dawn is back home from Florida. Susan is spending her last night at her job.

Monica’s daughter received a wedding invitation….from a fifteen year old bride. Caren received some disappointing news.

Restless Angel bought some new CDs. Ellen’s husband bought “Rockin Rabbit” for her.

Thomai had a lot of tax deductions. Sally had a bit of a funk.

Trusty Getto recommends a song he downloaded. I recommend trying Irina’s little game.

Simply Satisfied writes of a china castle. Al writes about students wanting the right to carry bottled water.

Mama K Bear has a new car! Trick has a new man in her life.

Heather asks for prayers for a friend who lost her fiancé in Iraq. Annabel wasn’t asking for nostalgia when she was cleaning, but she found it anyway.

Lime chaperoned a trip to the state capital. Jerry spent some time helping his mom sign up for Medicare prescriptions.

Inky isn’t feeling well. Neither was Sallie.

Amanda keeps notes while watching American Idol. Jules introduces us to Baby Boss 2.

Margaret has a new driver in her house. Teresa has a new favorite drink.

Chosha covers it from A to Z. Greek Shadow covers another day in the classroom.

T. Marie was wondering whether she should call in sick. Aka Monty was wondering what women see in Josh Hartnett.

Amerloc shares a joke. Deni shares some kitty pictures.

Phoenix has blooming azaleas! Walker had a day that seemed to revolve around teeth.

Cootera was making snap judgements. Joan was bashing daylight savings time.

Funky Cowboy couldn’t get Georgia off his mind. Meg couldn’t help being Dear Abby.

Janine shares some unconscious mutterings. Terry shares his thoughts on immigration.

Stationery Queen is counting down to her birthday! Lip Schtick is probably counting down to next year’s NCAA tournament!

New Wave Gurly kicks off another school term. Redneck Diva’s kids were playing prom.

Pssssst! Have a great weekend my friends!

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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

Its Wednesday and all is well.

I'm thrilled to report that Patrick won a first place ribbon in the softball throw and a 3rd place in the 50 meter dash in the regional Special Olympics! Now he is REALLY excited about going to the state meet next month.

I continue to get to know the students at my school better. I did have to wonder when one of them high fived me and said, "hey there Mr. O.G." Mr. O.G.? Further inquiry revealed that O.G.= "Original Gangsta". This is apparently a good thing. Who knew?

I went in this morning and found my cell phone disconnected from the charger. Connected in its place? An older disconnected phone that Aubree likes to play with. Argh!

I was trying to print this past weekend and the paper kept getting jammed. For the life of me I couldn't figure out what the problem was. I kept sliding a stiff greeting card in and out of the slot and couldn't budge it. I thought that maybe the rollers were hopelessly bent. Finally, the truth was revealed. A pencil had somehow falled down there and was wedged in perfectly.

My niece has taken dad's death very hard. Since the day he died she hasn't slept anywhere but in his room. His room has now become her room. Somehow, it provides her a measure of comfort. There is all of her teenage girl stuff and then there is dad's chair just sitting there. I think she is probably going to have to undergo counseling to deal with grief surrounding dad's death and that of her mother.

We have a lady in the office who makes regular runs down the street to Popeye's Chicken. I hadn't had Popeye's chicken in several years until now. I could seriously get spoiled eating it. Yum!

Our school has an indoor pool and the kids starting swimming in it today. It took two full days for the pool to heat up enough for swimming to be a comfortable activity. Let me tell you.....they are lovin it.

There is this little boy who runs in the hall WAY too much. Today he came tearing around the corner at full speed and ran dead on into me. 70 lb. 7th grader? Meet 230 lb. principal guy. He bounced back and hit the ground. The other kids were quite amused. We had a little chat about hallway behavior and he said, "I don't think I want to run into you again!" I said, "I dunno.....that was kinda fun, but just to make you feel better I'll try to not let it happen again."

It looks like our school will be hiring a number of new teachers for next year. Perhaps as much as 1/3 of the staff will be new. That kind of turnover can cut both ways. It affords you the opportunity to hire teachers who are really excited about turning things around, but you also lose some teachers who have a great deal of knowledge about the kids and families.

So how is YOUR week going?

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There's This Kid 

There's this kid you see. He was a student at my previous school last semester. He and I talked a LOT. I also suspended him several times for various infractions. Still, we talked a lot. We talked so much that some of the teachers teased me about his being my second son. He told me of his parents, his neighborhood, his life, and his friends. I took him home once, bought bus tickets for him, and met with his parents several times. They were generally indifferent to this boy, shrugging their shoulders, indicating there wasn't much they could do. If I wasn't holding suspension over their heads they wouldn't even come to school to talk. He's fourteen years old and even his own parents have given up on him.

Actually, they've done worse than that. He was taken out of their custody awhile back because of continued abuse. He never told me that his dad abused him, but I had my suspicions. His dad was verbally agressive and nothing came out of his mouth that didn't seem like a threat. Try to talk about the fact that "Sam" reads on a 2nd grade level in 8th grade? Not interested. Just don't send him home to me.

"Sam" is in my new school, having transferred over the holiday break. Since that time he has been twice removed from his home for stints in the foster care program. He is an aimless child, seeming totally adrift. He is a chronic behavior problem. He gets into a lot of fights. He lacks boundaries when dealing with other kids. His reading level makes the classroom a struggle for him.

"Sam" won't acknowledge me in the hallways. He will catch my eye briefly, nod imperceptibly, and move on. But it hasn't taken long for our contact to resume at the new school. I walk toward my office and he's standing outside, shuffling his feet and looking at the floor. He doesn't say anything, but when I walk into my office he follows a few feet behind. He settles down in a chair and looks around my office. He picks up the sculpture of the phoenix on my desk and looks at it, and speaks for the first time in months. "What kind of bird is this?" I tell him about the legend of the phoenix and he asks a lot of questions. He notices that my nameplate is the same one from the previous school. He asks me some questions. "How do you like it here?" "Do you still talk to people at the old school?" "Heard anything from Mrs. R."?

He is soft spoken and very polite, nothing like the rowdy, disrespectful boy that teachers often see in the classroom. After awhile he relaxes and begins to make eye contact. He asks about the unusual clock I have on my desk and I tell him that it belonged to my dad. He said, "I heard your dad died. I'm sorry." He asks a few questions about my dad and I answer them.

Then he tells me what has been happening in his life the past few months. The police taking him from his home. Foster care. Going back home. Being pulled out again. Now back with his mother, unclear where dad is in the picture now. I ask no questions, just listen and nod my head. The bell rings and its time for him to go to class. He stands up and shuffles his feet and says, "Mr. S, can you give me a ride home?" I ask why and he says, "I don't think I have a ride and I live about three miles away from here." Apparently he walked to school this morning. I told him to come back and see me later in the day.

After he leaves I pull up his records on the computer and try to call the phone numbers listed. They are all disconnected. The emergency contact is a former neighbor who has moved away and no longer has contact with the family. She asks me to remove her from the computer so, "I can stop getting all these damn calls from schools." What to do? I used to load kids up and take them home all the time. Now its considered a risky thing to do. You open yourself up to allegations that you can't defend yourself from. Still, I hate to see him walk all that way. I waver a little and finally decide that I'll take him home just this once and talk to his mom when I get there. You can't just turn a fourteen year old loose like that and just expect him to find some way home. But at the end of the day he is gone, nowhere to be found. I write his name on my calendar to talk to first thing in the morning.

Can the teachers and I make a difference in "Sam's" life? I hope so. I've seen behind the mask and do you know what? There's still just a boy in there who has been through hell. I know I'll have to discipline him. I also know that there is a potential there waiting to be lit. No one has found the answer yet, but its our duty to try and try some more. Actually, its more like a calling. This is what I do. It is what I'm meant to do. I didn't realize it when I got into education, but its the "Sams" of the world that touch my heart and motivate me. He's infuriating and can frustrate the most well-meaning teacher. Sometimes you just want to give him a kick in the ass.

Sometimes you just want to take him home.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Parental Involvement 

One of the many changes we will be making at my school is to launch a determined initiative to get parents more involved in the school. There is a bevy of research that supports the idea that high parental involvement is one of the keys to a successful school. Not only that, it is only common sense that if you want kids to be successful, the support of their parents is crucial. So, if it makes so much sense, why is parental involvement so low at so many schools around the country? There is no one easy answer. There are lots of them.

First of all, what is parental involvement anyway? Showing up for a monthly P.T.A. meeting? Attending conferences as needed? Firing off an angry note to the teacher when the parent sees something they don't like? Coming to read to kids in the library? Doing volunteer hours as a teacher assistant? Participating on a site-based decision committee? As you can see, it runs the gamut.

May I suggest that a great many schools have done a lousy job of involving parents? For many educators parental involvement basically means, "Show up when we want you to and discipline your child when they misbehave at school. Pay attention to those flyers we send home and be sure and send money on picture day. Oh yeah, don't forget the fundraisers either." This isn't parental involvement to me. Involvement means interaction. My new boss held a meeting with a small group of parents who showed up and went over the state testing scores with them. Many were shocked at the results. Shocked? This should be common knowledge in the household of every one of those kids. Its their school!

There is an attitude in my profession that since we have the degree, the credentials, the training, and the experience, that parents have little of value to say to us when it comes to curriculum, budgeting, classroom management, or scheduling. Be quiet folks. See the diploma on my wall and all those nice certifications? There is a lot of truth there of course. I probably do know more about those things than the average parent, and so do most teachers. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't be open to discussion. You can't just call parents and ask for their involvement just when you want something out of them. It doesn' t work that way. We can't get caught up in silly power struggles. You want parents to help with the fundraiser? Ask for their input on the reading curriculum too.

Of course it works the other way as well. Some parents only show up at school when they have a complaint. They stomp their fight and act as if we are all a bunch of incompetents who just don't comprehend their brilliant ideas. They invoke the dreaded, "I am a taxpayer so you have to listen to me and make the changes I want." Of course you are a taxpayer and you should have a voice. That is why we have a local school board. They are elected by you and provide community oversight of the schools. Some of the things we do that you don't like? They were approved or mandated by your elected representatives. Many of them come from the state legislature or from Congress. You elect those people too! You are either happy with how we address your complaint or not. Then we don't hear from you again until you're upset about something else. And while we're talking about it, please keep the politics out. I really don't give a damn what Pat Robertson or Jesse Jackson have to say about what should be happening in schools. When those guys come down to my school and mentor a child or help with hallway supervision, I'll listen to them. That rock sitting in the parking lot has more revelance to me than hot air from preachers and politicians who have an axe to grind and an agenda to hawk.

So whats the answer? Dialogue and involvement. The doors of the school should be open to parents. They want to come up and observe their child in the hallway, peek in the classroom door, or have lunch with their kid? C'mon up. I'll escort you myself. Parents should be involved with advisory committees that have some real influence over how the school operates. Parents should be involved partners and not flame throwing critics.

We all want the same thing, don't we? Its really a natural partnership. I look forward in my own school to trying to helping make it a reality.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Transitions 

There is an educational term that describes the teacher's task of getting students to switch from one task to another. For young people these "transitions" are sometimes to difficult to manage. Its no different for adults. Whether it be a relationship, a job, or some other area of life, this ability to "switch gears" is something that is a challenge for any of us.

Most of you know that I recently ended my relationship with Monica. She and I are both transitioning out of our relationship and trying to maintain a friendship. Why not? We are both decent, intelligent, reasonable adults in spite of the fact that our relationship did not work out. I am grateful to my friends who offered their advice and good wishes in this transition. I am also grateful for her friends who have been there for her. Transitions do not happen in a vacuum, and all of us need the support of those who care about us. For anyone out there who thinks that I have been "burned", nothing could be further from the truth. I do not have negative feelings toward Monica and I wish her peace and happiness. Both of us are dating again and making our transition in our own way. I know that she is excited about things that are occurring in her life and so am I! Life flows and moves on and I think both of us are doing well in this transition. If you are inclined to have negative thoughts about her on my behalf....please don't. Things are as they should be and both of us are moving on.

I have traditionally been able to maintain friendships with my "exes" and I think this is a good thing in most cases. You know each other better than most people do and caring about someone doesn't just end when the relationship does. Relationships don't always last, but many of things that brought you together in the first place can form the basis of a friendship if you can put aside the feelings surrounding the end of the relationship. You make the transition and everyone is better off for it.

I'm making a transition in my professional life as well. A new title, position, and a new school brings excitement and challenges. People don't know what to think about me yet. The kids look at me with a mixture of curiousity and fear. What is this guy up to? Teachers are much the same. When I walk into a classroom to observe instruction(and I've done a lot of that in the past week), I can see the looks on their faces. In my old school they would've just smiled and welcomed me to class. Now, they are wondering what I'm thinking and why I'm there. They catch me in the hall later and attempt to explain/justify what was going on in class while I was there. Some are openly lobbying me to keep their job. I'm the new kid and I'm just trying to figure out what is going on. I'm not making any judgements based on one ten minute classroom visit. I'm called "sir" a lot more than I'm used to. I walk up to the custodian, smile, and ask him how its going and he reacts by defensively telling me all the things he's done today. Maybe they don't understand that this is a transition for all of us. There will be time for all of that later. We all want the same thing....the best possible education for the children in our care. The rest will sort itself out in the days and weeks ahead.

If you're with us and really want to improve education for all of our students, then we're on the same team and I'll back you with everything in me. Not ready for that? Find another school to work in. Thats what its all about, isn't it? These kids are not throwaways and I will do everything within my limited power to make sure that they are given every possible opportunity to succeed. Remember that idealistic young teacher that you once were? Find him/her again. My administrative colleagues and I will give you a school with discipline, order, a focused curriculum, a workable schedule, and a sense of purpose. Your job? Teach your ass off to these kids and NEVER give up. This is your transition and mine.

I'm making these transitions with joy in my heart. I'm excited and optimistic about the future. It is springtime and I see new blooms every day, coming out of dormancy and read to show their colors to the world. My gears are shifting and I'm a better person for it. My future? It is bright and I'm ready to attack it.

When going through some of my father's things I came across a metal, sculpted phoenix. It was an award given to him for his work in designing a mainframe computer system called, "The Phoenix System". That sculpture now sits on my desk at work. It reminds me of my dad and it reminds me that like the phoenix, we can remake ourselves and arise from the ashes of our past and take flight.

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