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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween 

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I understand that it may have taken Patrick all of three minutes to change into his Halloween costume when he got home from school. He's currently walking around in his Grim Reaper outfit. Aubree has decided to ditch the costume she bought ("it doesn't fit right dad!") and go as some wrestling groupie girl. Terri's son is here and dressed up as "The Crow." It may only be 4:00, but Halloween is in full swing here already.
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We all know the historical implications of Halloween, but to the kids it is all about fantasy. For tonight, they get to dress up like someone else. They get to be a character. I always enjoy all the creative costumes the kids seem to come up with. I know that I always looked forward to this day when I was a kid, and enjoyed it until the time I graduated from high school.

Aubree thought I should dress up as a woman, but I didn't think I could quite pull it off.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

F.A.P.E. 

I've spent all weekend discussing special education law with the rest of my class, and I thought I'd write a little about what special education is and what it means in today's classrooms and schools.

Throughout much of the history of this country, children with various disabilities were systematically excluded from public education. Supported by several Supreme Court decisions, it was commonplace well into my lifetime for a local school to say, "I'm sorry, but we can't educate this child here." The options for parents were to educate their child at home or to send him/her to an institution or a special school (for the deaf, blind, etc.)

In the 1970's two Supreme Court decisions ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny children an education based on their handicapping condition. At the time of these decisions it is estimated that there were eight million children being kept out of the school system. The court stated that this was a violation of the "equal protection clause" of the 14th amendment, the same reasoning used to strike down schools segregated by race. Congress followed this decision by passing Public Law 94-142, now known as the Individuals with Disability Education Act (I.D.E.A.) The law guarantees each child a "Free and Appropriate Education" (F.A.P.E.)

IDEA is a sweeping law that placed the burden of education of every child on the local school district. This federal law has never been close to being fully funded by the federal government, but that is another story. The local school becomes responsible for every child within their boundaries at birth and must begin providing formal services at age three. The school must make every effort to locate, test, evaluate, place, and serve each child with a disability. Each child must be given an Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.), which is to be arrived at jointly between the parents and the school district.

So far, so good? Now is when it gets difficult. What exactly is a FAPE, and how do you know it when you see it? There have been thousands of court cases between parents and school districts trying to resolve this question. The decisions from all these cases and subsequent reauthorizations of the law have made this a constant work in progress.

As a practical matter, special education has always been difficult and controversial to administer. The federal regulations and court decisions are voluminous and sometimes difficult to decipher. There are quite a few lawyers making a very good living at telling schools, "you can do this but you can't do that." It changes every year with new court decisions and new regulations. The forms are constantly changing.

Special education teaches burn out at a rate higher than any other teacher. Many of the best ones jump at the first chance to move on to other positions. On top of dealing with children who have severe health or behavioral issues, there is the paperwork. If you've never seen it, the paperwork can be unbelievable. As of this moment I still need two special education teachers and school is nine weeks old. They just aren't out there.

There is a growing "inclusion" movement which moves children with special needs into regular education classes with special education teachers playing more of a resource or supporting role. Now it is the regular education teachers who are consternated. They feel that they don't have the proper training or background to deal with the children who are coming into their classrooms. This can often cause conflict between special education teachers and regular education ones. It can also cause conflict with parents who don't want their child in class with "those kids".

Each year I sit down with my son's teachers, discuss goals, and prepare his I.E.P. I also sit in meetings with parents of other kids in my position as an administrator. In my own case, I am a knowledgeable advocate for my son who wants the best for him, but I am also understanding of the practical limitations that the school faces. Many of the court cases result from parents who want a "Cadillac" for their child while the law only requires a "Chevrolet". The school must take necessary and reasonable steps to help the child progress in school. It is not required to fix all wrongs or to pay for every service under the sun. Of course, the difference between a Cadillac and a Chevrolet is what makes a lot of lawyers wealthy litigating all these cases! The word "appropriate" is definitely in the eyes of the beholder.

Special education, with its focus on the unique exceptionality of every child, is not always a perfect fit in school systems which are in many ways mass production institutions. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Friday Night 

I just got home from class. I enjoy these classes, but they make for a very long day. Needless to say, there won't be a weekend roundup tonight. I could write a nice post about federal I.D.E.A. regs and their application, but I think I'll save that for a later time. :)

Hey you out there. Have a wonderful weekend...ok?

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

Its been a dark, cool, misty Wednesday. It reminds me of my days living in Washington.

I'm gearing up for my next class which begins this weekend. The subject? Special Education Law. My boss told me, "uh oh, you're going to go take that class and come back and tell us everything we're doing that is illegal!" It could happen. This area of the law is complex, and even ever-so-vigilant schools can violate it if they are not extremely careful.

I think Patrick is finally accepting the idea that I won't let him wear his costume before Halloween. Now he just says, "Dad, the moment I get home from school on Halloween I'm going to run and change into my costume. I can live with that.

Elections are only a couple of weeks away and not a moment too soon. Tired of all those commercials on TV and radio yet? Its not that I don't like politics...I do. I just tire of the electioneering and the idea that an ad has to run thousands of times.

I'm in day two of SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Operational Protocol) training tomorrow. The instructor simulated what it is like to hear a lesson in a language you don't fully understand by teaching us a geometry lesson in Italian. Ok, I admit it. I found an attractive woman speaking Italian to be quite stimulating. Yes, and the training was pretty good too.

I'm also a sucker for a woman with a British accent. What can I say?

Patrick to me..."Dad, if I grow some hair on my chest, will you stop making the chili so spicy?"

The weeks are just flying by. I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving. Can you believe its right around the corner?

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Time 

Terri watched bemusedly last week as I pounded out the assignment for my previous class. It was due on Friday, had been assigned for several weeks, and I started working on it in earnest on Monday. She gently teased me about procrastinating and she was definitely correct. I had put this assignment off till the last minute, calculated how long it would take me to complete it, and finished it on Thursday, one day before the due date. My other project, which I had a great deal more enthusiasm for had been completed for two weeks.

I thought about how I managed my time, an increasingly important issue in my life. What projects to take on first? How do I prioritize them? Balancing work, school, family life, writing, reading, recreational activities, etc. is a never ending job. There are jobs within jobs and priorities within priorities. When I wake up in the morning my mind begins whirring about the things I need to get accomplished that day. Which ones can I put off? Which ones do I WANT to put off?

The assignment above is a perfect example. Unlike the other assignment, this one did not require a great deal of creativity on my part. It seemed like drudge work and I consigned it to the bottom of my priority pile. Yes, it had to get done, but not a day sooner than I had to get it done. There are projects at work that I'm chomping at the bit to complete and others that I have in my back pocket. My tendency is to let things drift, then focus laser-like on them when I finally get around to it. Ask the kids. Aubree teases me about it being hard to get my attention when I'm in my zone!

Sometimes it is quality of life vs achievement question. Get the assignment done now or enjoy the afternoon watching football? My achievement motor is revving higher than it has in many years, but I don't want other things to be overwhelmed by it. I've lived my life in phases, sometimes favoring achievement and at other times putting it aside in favor of quality of life. I'm in an achievement phase right now, but I don't want it to be completely overwhelming, and it would if I let it. I remember the days of spending much of the weekend in my office with little Patrick and Aubree, changing diapers, while trying to complete that report or perfect that memo.

Then I remarried and put achievement on the back burner, perhaps mistakenly so in hindsight. Now I've come full circle and my engine is revving at previously unknown RPMs. I want badly to be successful at what I do. I also to take care of the kids, be there for my family, and not let my romantic life slide.

If there is an area that I need to improve on (and there are many!), it is time management. How to make it all come together? I know this is a question that many face, probably including quite a few who read these words. How do you do it?

So I juggle the balls and try not to let them hit me on the head.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

LPDs 

Never let it be said that our political candidates are not working creatively to solve the serious issues of the day. Right here in my home state, a candidate for state superintendent of public instruction, the top educational post in the state, has been looking at the issue of school shootings and has come up with a solution.



His solution? While others are wasting their time talking about guards, metal detectors, and other security system enhancements, he has a better idea. Use textbooks to stop the bullets. You thought that geometry textbook was only good for learning theorems? Wanted to throw away your literature textbook because you didn't enjoy Shakespeare? Au contraire. And don't let it be said that he tossed this idea out there casually without research. He and some of his friends took a stack of textbooks out and shot them, testing various textbooks against various types of weapons. Check out the video above.

The AK47 shot through two textbooks together. Therefore, if you see a gunman wielding an AK47, be sure and grab three textbooks to protect yourself. Just a 22 pistol in his hands? That Spanish textbook should do the job.

This groundbreaking research opens up all kinds of possibilities. We could add this to our intruder drill preparations. "Ok students, everyone grab a book!" We would have course have to make sure we order the sturdiest possible textbooks to be properly outfitted for the occasion. I just bought a school law textbook for my class and it is very thick. Who knew that it could have a double purpose? I think I'll sleep with it from now just to be sure.

This opens up possibilities outside of schools. After all, why not share this knowledge with the rest of the world?

We could send textbooks to soldiers in Iraq. Because its the military we'd have to rename them. I'm thinking LPD's, or "Literary Protective Devices". The added benefit is that they could learn chemical equations during their off duty time.

Put away that pepper spray or mace ladies. We could arm every woman with an algebra text. You'd have to make them stylish of course. That pale green just doesn't go with a lot of outfits.

I even see an application for the Secret Service. Can't you picture those guys walking alongside the president, holding up textbooks to protect him?

The possibilities are endless!

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Weekend Roundup 10/20-10/21 

This was an especially good Friday. There is nothing like a day off to recharge your batteries.

This gave me some time to tour some of my favorite blogs. Wanna see what I found?

Lime writes about an incident of teenage violence. Irina writes about losing and finding.

Tara has already started Christmas shopping. Joan has been waiting for her laptop.

Hillbilly mom was gearing up for a trivia contest. Lisa’s kids geared up for a food fight.

Barn Goddess wonders what tonsils are good for. I wonder how Kyleen managed to do volunteer work for ten straight days.

PM Prescott has a new fridge. Sarah has a bad experience with an online flame.

Leslie’s hubby doesn’t want to go to the doctor. New Wave Gurly doesn’t know what her dream meant.

Rain knows what she is grateful for. Margaret knows that cheerleading can be dangerous.

Ellen shares the recipe for….Ellen. Pat shares memories of interviewing World War I veterans.

Roselle has a modeling gig. Bobo has a wedding anniversary.

Annabel found it strange to be back in Pennsylvania. Jules found it exciting to pass her certification test.

WordsonWater takes a shot a blog pirates. Jennifer takes a shot at cleaning for a friend.

Thomai writes about being open. Apple writes about “bus driver’s day.”

Teresa is hooked on a reality show. Sudie Girl isn’t hooked on the idea of IPOD shoes.

Susan wishes several happy birthdays. I’m sure Stacey wishes that her house will sell quickly.

Jack writes about making and losing friends through blogging. Leen writes about a concert that sounded wonderful.

Carol discusses a baseball dilemma. Phoenix discusses her Halloween preferences.

Walker doesn’t think he’d eat monkey brains. Babs thinks she knows why she doesn’t have time to blog.

Steph hears from her past. Sears and Home Depot hear from Okie Doke.

Stop by and pay them a visit. You won't regret it.

Have a wonderful weekend my friends.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

It is Wednesday and a chill was in the air today. A brisk cool breeze was blowing across my school campus this afternoon.

I'm still finishing up all the assignments from my last class before I take "Special Education Law" next weekend. It is a LOT of work.

I spent a good chunk of today trying to learn the ins and outs of school budgets and finance. Our school treasurer probably was tired of answering all my questions. I am a rather inquisitive guy when I'm on a roll.

Girl problems. Oh girl problems. We've had a girl in the office for two days now, scared to go to class. There are a whole group of girls who wish her harm. Further investigation reveals that she not only flirts with their boyfriends, she brags about how she is going to steal them away. This doesn not endear her to her female classmates. This is middle school drama at its finest.

Aubree and I drove through Arby's this afternoon. When we drove off she said, "Dad, that drive through guy was staring at me. It was kinda creepy." Oh yeah? We drove a couple of blocks and she said, "of course, I can't blame him, me being gorgeous and all!" I said, "are you sure you don't have food stuck in your teeth?" That earned me a punch on the arm.

I'm up to seven "pre-approved" credit card offers from one single company in the last couple of weeks. At one point I received the exact same offer four days in a row. Whats up with that? They are spending quite a bit of money on someone who has no intention of applying for their card.

Did I mention it was cold here today?

Most of the kids in this state are out of school the next two days for fall break/state teacher's meetings. For me, it means that I still have to work tomorrow, but its not too bad. We were scheduled to meet at a supervisor's house and have a training session with beverages on her deck. The cold may knock out those plans.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is keeping Patrick away from his Halloween costume until it is actually Halloween?

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Relationships Matter 

In doing research for my recent class, I read a slew of articles that dealt with something that would seem to be common sense. It was research dealing with the student-teacher relationship and its importance. With the plethora of research dealing with brain function, the bevy of studies involving student learning and achievement, and decades of looking at teaching styles and methods, this is something that is often overlooked.

In education, as in life, relationships matter a great deal. Also as in real life, the relationship depends on many factors. The most prominent factor that comes up in the research is that students need to perceive that their teacher cares about them as people, not just names in a gradebook and numbers on a test. Just as a soldier fights hard in the field for the people around him that he cares about, the research is emphatic that students perform better for teachers with whom they have a positive relationship. WHY do we want the kids to learn? So we can look good and get raises? So we can pat ourselves on the back? If students perceive that their teacher is just punching the clock and doesn't share with them why learning is important for the student, they will not perform as well. Because to them it is often personal. You and I may be able to work for a boss we don't like and respect, adolescents have not learned that coping skill.

True enough, there are those internally motivated students who will learn if it is Attila the Hun or Tinkerbell teaching the class, but those students are increasingly rare. This is often so frustrating to me and my colleagues. "Why don't they care?" is a common refrain. This is where the relationship is so critical. You have to build enough of a rapport and a relationship with kids so that you are credible when you show them why they should care. It can't just be, "do this or you'll make an F." An "F" is just a letter.

I'm not talking about being a softie. Deep down, kids don't care much for softies either. They don't like classrooms where anything goes. They don't like false praise. They don't like their time being wasted and they hate phonies. They can smell that a mile away. If you don't like them, they know it. They can't make you like them, but there is one thing they do control...their own effort. I have explained so many times to kids that not doing your work is not punishing the teacher, but punishing themselves.

Kids appreciate a teacher who is organized and is a tough, but fair, disciplinarian. They can deal with consequences when they are fair and everyone is held to the same high standard. Just as in parenting, effective discipline shows kids that you do care. You care enough about them to hold them to a high standard of behavior and will accept nothing less. Being direct and honest with them is important. If their project is the greatest thing you've ever seen, tell them why. If it needs improvement, tell them exactly how they can improve it.

I'll submit this statement. If the relationship between the teacher and students is not strong, all the good teaching methods and wonderful curriculum in the world will be largely wasted.

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Sunday, October 15, 2006

Thirty Years 

As Terri and I sat watching "Saturday Night Fever" for the first time in many years last night we snickered at the polyester pants and open collared shirts. We talked about the times, the music, and where we had been when we first saw the movie. But it also triggered something else inside me. I did remember where I was at that time but I also realized that it had been almost thirty years since I changed schools and met Terri.

We lay in bed and talked about it last night. Just before I drifted off to sleep my thoughts ran back almost thirty years to my decision to transfer to a different high school during my sophomore year of high school. It was a wrenching and difficult time and it is not often that I think about it.

I had fallen in love with the game of basketball as an elementary student. My dad, a former high school basketball coach, nurtured my love of the game, teaching me how to shoot and showing me in our driveway the various nuances of the game. For me, as a young man, there was nothing more satisfying than the "swish" of the ball as it fell through the net.

I was something of a basketball fanatic. I played every day in my driveway, rain, cold, sleet, or snow. I played in the dark, the headlights of my dad's Pontiac only outlining the goal in the otherwise dark night. I played until my mother made me come inside, only reluctantly bringing my ball in for the night. I constructed a wooden ramp, something like a skateboard ramp, and placed it under the goal. I resolved to shoot 1000 free throws each day and the ramp rewarded me if I made the basket, rolling the ball back in my direction. If I missed I had to chase it.

I was small, skinny, shy, not particularly athletic, but I was stubborn and tenacious and I could shoot the basketball. During my junior high school I clawed my way up the bench, from the end toward the top. I worked my way past many of my more athletically gifted teammates and by my 9th grade year I was playing quite a bit. All but a handful of very gifted athletes sit further down the bench than me, a scrawny, scrappy, slow kid with a good shot.

I was looking forward to high school. We had been attending those high school games for years. I idolized those older boys in the blue and white and dreamed of the day that would be me out there. When they played in the state championship game I imagined that it was me out there hitting the winning shot.

We started practicing as soon as school started. Right away I noticed that things weren't going as well for me as I'd hoped. The practices were very physical and focused on drillwork that demonstrated athletic ability. I ran the cones and did my best in all the drills, but those drills didn't focus on the two things I could do very well....dribble and shoot. When you play sports you can always sense where you are in the eyes of the coach, and I knew I was not making a great impression. I was 5'7" tall and weighed 115 lbs., easy to push around in those very physical drills. Still, I knew I was doing the best that I possibly could, and just knew the coach would see that I had something to offer. I only needed to grow, something I prayed for almost every single night.

We were shooting free throws that fall afternoon at the end of practice. The assistant coach came upstairs from the office and called out the name of a teammate. He went downstairs and emerged a short time later in his street clothes. Then he called another name, and I saw a friend of mine leaving with his head down. I stopped him and he told me he'd been cut from the team. Just a minute later I heard the assistant's booming voice...."Brian, come here for a minute please." The assistant coach had always been nice to me and he put his arm on my shoulder as we walked wordlessly down the stairs to the office. The coach was sitting at his desk and he motioned me to sit down across from him. The assistant sat down at his own desk and pretended to read the "Street and Smith Basketball Yearbook." I'd practically memorized that book.

"Brian", the coach said, "You've really been working hard and you are a real hustler. But I don't think we're going to have room on the squad for you this year. I'd like you to be our team manager. You are a fine young man and I think you'd do a good job for us." It felt like someone had dropped a barbell on my head. I tried not to but the tears flowed as I sat there with my head in my hands. The manager?? The guy carrying the bottles of water around? Handing towels to teammates that I'd beaten out only the year before? The thought was humiliating and I wished I could be anywhere but in that office right then. I looked over to the assistant coach for support but he never glanced up from his magazine. He told me I could think it over. I showered and dressed, and exited out the side door, not wanting to walk through they gym, past my teammates, where everyone knew what was going on.

There were still thirty minutes or so before my ride would pick me up. I decided not to wait, walking the 8-10 blocks home on that cool autumn early evening. I got home just as my mom was heading out the door to go pick me up. She asked me what was wrong and I told her that I didn't want to talk about it right then. I ran to the sanctuary of my room and closed the door. Sitting on my bed was the book I'd been reading, a biography of basketball great Pete Maravich, a hero of mine. My nerf hoop hung on the wall.

Of course my mom came upstairs and I told her what had happened. Soon my dad was home for dinner, and after the dishes were cleared it was time to talk. I told dad everything that had happened, everything that had been said. My dad, a mild mannered man, gritted his teeth as I told him the story. He said, "Briny, this is not the end. There are other options, and if you want to play we will find a way." What options? "Let me make a few calls", he said. Dad had been out of the teaching profession for a long time, had joined the world of business, but he still knew a lot of people.

When dad left the education field he had been teaching and coaching at a smaller school, just five miles away. He got in touch with the coach there and I was invited to try out. I walked into the strange gym, full of players I'd never met. The first drill? A shooting drill! My shot was in good form, and after practice the coach said to my dad, "he could certainly help us. He's a very good player."

Then came the decision. Leave the school system I'd grow up in, leave my friends behind, and go to this smaller school? I knew I wasn't going to accept the coach's offer to be the manager. I'd either quit and give up the game or I would transfer. I decided to transfer. The assistant superintendent tried to persuade me to say. At first he wouldn't sign the transfer application. He insisted on meeting with me and my parents. He said that he would force the coach to let me back on the team. But even at that young age, I knew I didn't want to be on the team that way. He sighed as he signed the papers. Many years later he would hire me for my first administrator's position in that same school system.

I enrolled in my new school and came to enjoy the smaller pond I was swimming in. I met many friends (including Terri!), and settled into high school life. Then something began to happen. I grew. And I grew...and I grew. Finally! Within a year of my transfer I'd grown to 6'0" tall. Within another year I was 6'4". A couple of years of hard work had made the most of my modest athletic ability. I was by no means a stud, but I could run up and down the floor, could dunk the ball, and could compete pretty well.

We opened summer league play the summer before my senior year. I looked at the schedule and saw the name of my former school. I circled it on my calendar that hung in my room. It came time for the game, and when we walked into the gym I saw the coach...yes, that coach...sitting behind the bench of his team.

I'd been waiting a long time for this, and honestly I was a kid possessed. I'd never ran so fast or jumped so high. Time after time down the floor I scored. My teammates fed me the ball, knowing this was an important game for me. In the third quarter I broke free, dribbling the ball down the court, and for the only time in my life I dunked the ball in a real game. I hung satisfyingly on the rim for a second longer than I should have and when I landed on the ground I turned toward the coach and looked straight at him. I know that he knew what I was thinking. We won the game against the bigger school and I'd never felt as good in my life as I felt with sweat dripping from every pore and the towel around my shoulders.

The coach approached me after the game and I was surprised. He said, "Brian, you played a helluva game. Obviously, I made a mistake with you." Just like that, it felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. I thanked him and we shook hands. It takes a real man to admit a mistake and I had to admire him for that. I would see him around in the years to follow and we would always acknowledge each other, the story not something to be talked about again. I saw him in meetings when I returned to the district as an administrator. I wondered if he'd learned any lessons from that experience. The lesson? Kids sometimes are late bloomers. Don't discount heart and guts. See past the obvious. I think it taught me those same lessons plus a few others.

It all worked out in the end, didn't it?

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Weekend Roundup 10/13-10/14 

Its Friday the 13th. I choose to emphasize the Friday rather than the 13th part. :)

There were some really excellent posts that I came across this week. Mind if I share?

Leen discusses letting go. Roselle discusses some things about herself.

Jules has a hypothetical question….kind of. Chicky Babe has an interlude.

Irina is tired in a good way. Tara is happy about attending the Indigo Girls concert.

Jack hates filing papers. John hates what Wal Mart has done to smaller stores.

Susan reports on Jobs Daughters…it sounds great! Barn Goddess reports on finding a dead girl.

Lime writes a letter to her mother. This is a must-read post. Bobo writes about a parent’s heartache.

T. Marie writes about a dream she remembers. Leslie writes about genetic testing.

Carol shares pictures of her cats. Apple shares some interesting thoughts about teaching and learning.

Snav is open for suggestions for her Friday posts. Mary Lou is enjoying some Indian summer days.

Breazy talks about having fun with her kids. Rain talks about a noted artist.

Annabel tried on her wedding ring. Sudie Girl will be trying on lecturing for size. She is teaching a class on blogging.

MamaKBear has a blogiversary! Jerry has a soybean harvest.
Phoenix shares her daily routine. Aka Monty won’t share about how a woman showers.

Splendid wonders what life is worth. Walker wonders about wedding vows.

Teresa got to meet a famous author. Jennifer wishes writing came easier to her son.

Margaret couldn’t find a picture that matched what she saw. Kelly couldn’t understand why conspiracy theorists think they are smarter than everyone else.

New Wave Gurly is contemplating changes. Melessa contemplated her favorite Disney songs.

Sarah loves Friday the 13ths. John loves the memory of this day…the day he proposed to his wife.

Show'em some love please!

Have a wonderful weekend my friends.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

It is Wednesday and a beautiful fall day it was here in Oklahoma.

I have been working on my school's "site improvement plan" for the last couple of days in preparation for a meeting today. A couple of colleagues and I decided the best place to work was in the back of the library. In our offices we couldn't stay away from the phones, the kids, and other people who want a piece of our time. So we hid out in the library. It worked great the first day. We worked for five hours straight and got a lot accomplished. But it didn't take long for word to filter around as to where we were. Today I had kids coming to the library with discipline referrals they wanted to discuss or scheduling issues. "How did you know I was in here?", I asked. The girl said, "Mr. S., everyone knows you've been working in here. I knew right where to come."

This caused me to do my best Al Pacino ala "The Godfather" imitation.... "I try to get out but they keep pulling me back in!" I don't think the student got the reference but she thought it was funny anyway.

I turned in part of my assignment for the class I just completed. My portion of the presentation my group put together was on "the teacher-student relationship"...as in how to improve it. There is some interesting research in this area I may have to share later. It always comes back to something a colleague once told me. "The kids become absolute experts on you. They know all of your mannerisms, your expressions, your body language..all of it. You'd better become an expert on them." So true.

I did spend some time trying to convince a middle school girl that someone touching the outside of her soda bottle wouldn't infect the liquid inside. This was like trying to convince Aubree that Patrick farting on the outside of her soda bottle wouldn't create "fart pop" on the inside.

What is it about farting anyway? I just finished reading a present from Terri (ain't she sweet?), Bob Woodwards's "State of Denial". Among all the serious accounting of Iraq War decision making were stories about White House officials telling fart jokes and playing with Whoopee cushions in policy meetings. Why is it that I have this image of a snickering man saying, "hey Mr. President....I just let one!"

I just want to set the record straight. Guys do think about more than food, farting, and sex. I rarely think of farting and not all that often about food.

The recent highlight of Aubree's life was Terri picking her up from school. Terri drives a bright red Mustang and Aubree was insistent that she be picked up on Terri's day off. She wanted to be seen getting into that Mustang.

Its ok to be nostalgic now and then. I looked up the website for my school district that I worked at in Washington state. Even though much of the site is "under construction", it still made me think of those people, those teachers, and those kids.

To answer Walker's question, I can't blame blogging for making me go bald. But I did start to lose hair in my first year of teaching school. Hmmmm.

I hope for a return of Vickie soon and hope she is recovering. Everyone needs a dose of Vickie now and then and I miss her.

As I type this I'm listening to Aubree singing "This Is What Dreams Are Made Of" in her room.

It makes me smile and it makes me think, "I'm living the dream."

So how is YOUR week going?

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Holding Back 

One of the things I dealt with last spring and this fall was the issue of whether or not to retain a student in the same grade. At the middle school level this is a huge deal. This is not high school so we are not talking about Carnegie unit credits, but middle school students are expected to pass a certain number of classes to move on to the next grade. I have had to tell more than one student, "sorry, but you are staying in the same grade you were in last year."

I've always had mixed feelings about this. I don't like the idea that the students could think they could sit in class all year, do no work, and just get moved on to the next grade. I remember the outcry several years ago over "social promotion", or the idea that students get moved up just because of their age, regardless of whether or not they passed their classes. After all, how can we tell students that the classwork is important, yet reward the ones who master the material and those who don't by moving them up the ladder. Where is the motivation and where is the fairness in that?

But yet multiple research studies show that retaining a student in the same grade, especially at the secondary level, makes it much more likely that the student will never graduate from high school. When they are a 17 year old sophomore they will simply drop out and take the G.E.D....or not. Very few students will stay in high school until they are 19-20 just to get that diploma. We all know what that lack of a high school diploma will mean for them.

Also, like it or not, there is a social issue to consider and the welfare of the other students. You send your son/daughter to 6th grade in middle school. Sitting next to him/her in class is a 14 year old who has been held back multiple times. They are older, more streetwise, and just as likely to not do the work as they were two years before when they were sitting in the same seat. There are 8th graders in my building who will turn 16 years old in the next few months. Last year we had a 17 year old in the building. , sitting in class next to 13 year olds and infecting them with a heavy dose of bad attitude. We sit and watch the younger kids follow these older retainees like they were the pied piper.

Sometimes at this age it is a lack of maturity or skills that gets a student retained. More likely it is dysfunctional families, drug abuse, or other outside factors that makes them disinterested in school and unwilling to do what it takes to earn the grade. In some cases they know the material. They just aren't going to do homework or do anything on the test other than play "connect the dots."

I have honestly seen few retainee success stories. You hold them back a year...or two, and eventually have to promote them because they are just too old. In the meantime, a 16 year old pregnant girl sits in class next to 12 year old girls who think they older girl is just the coolest thing ever.

I do believe in accountability and I do an internal recoil at the idea of promoting a student with straight "F's" just because of their age. But I'm also fairly convinced that simply warehousing them for a few of their teenage years benefits anyone.

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Weekend Roundup 10/6-10/7 – Thank You Edition! 

In celebration of my blogiversary I want to do something different with the weekend roundup this week. I will link to blogs instead of specific posts and offer my thanks for how the blog/blogger has affected me.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. Many blogs have impacted me and this would be the world’s longest post if I linked them all. If I left you out…well…remember it has been a long week!

Thomai has been reading here for a long time and has been a friend for just as long. She has the beautiful combination of compassion and clarity of thought that has helped me get through a few dark hours.

Ellen has been one of the truly inspiring people I have “met” through blogging. She’s an educator, a terrific writer, a fighter, and an inspiration.

It seems like I’ve known Lime for a very long time. I haven’t, but I wish I had. She has the best HNT posts anywhere, a rich and textured way of sharing her life, and a unique twist on life. She is also one of my best online friends ever.

Veronica is a kindred soul and I feel close to her even when we haven’t talked in awhile. Kindred souls are like that.

Roselle writes with passion and perspective. She thinks of things I would never think of and I really enjoy visiting her blog. And who could not love a blog called “Smoke Signals”?

Leen is perhaps the writer who touches me the most, and that says a lot. She is a must-read.

Snav is someone I KNOW I’d love to meet. Her blog is like a breath of fresh air.

How is it that Splendid writes so few words and says so much?

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in Hillbilly Mom’s class. I know I would.

I’ve been through it all it seems with this wonderful lady. It seems like I’ve known her forever.

If I was searching for a role model it wouldn’t be a professional athlete, a rock star, or an actor. It would be John Strain.

Steph and I have been friends since my first days moving back to my home state. We’ve ate Mexican food together and attended a college football game. She’s a wonderful person and bakes a mean batch of cookies too!

Aka Monty is one of my favorite people in blogland, real-life, on Mars or wherever I can find her. After listening to her radio program I think I would love to hear her every day spinning tunes on the way home from work.

Reading Jennifer’s blog always makes me feel comfortable. She is warm and expressive and she is a regular commenter here.

Jules is my would be stalker who writes about her life with passion and honesty. I think I need to buy her a margarita sometime.

Then of course there is Joan. I just love Joan and its not just because she calls me “teach”.

Mel is my connection to Japan and the far east. She always has the most fascinating pictures on her blog.

Mary Lou. What can I say? She’s been here almost from the beginning and has been a voice of humor, common sense, and compassion throughout.

Barn Goddess brings a perspective that I sorely need in the hustle and bustle of life. She’s a gem.

Shannon is going to school just like I am. I can feel the excitement and the stress that goes with it when I read her posts.

Jerry likes Mexican food in Oklahoma. That’s good enough for me. More seriously, he’s a super nice guy.

New Wave Gurly, she of the quick wit and great voice, is one of a kind and has been a wonderful friend to me.

I have shared with Annabel the travails of the single life and it looks like we both have happy endings.

Vickie is the true Georgia peach, an extremely talented and expressive writer, and a pretty wonderful human being to boot.

Michael is a famed local blogger, a nice guy who I’ve had the pleasure to meet, and a superb writer on all kinds of subject matter. When I first mentioned to Terri that I was a blogger she said, “oh, like Michael Bates?” Yeah, but not that good.

MamaKBear is a fellow Okie who I wish I could’ve met at the blogger roundup. She tells her story with zest and passion and I hope to get the chance to meet her some day.

Irina is a gifted writer, an astute observer of society, and some day will be a very successful international lawyer or whatever she chooses to be. She is also a regular reader of this site and I hope she will continue to do so!

Colleen shares tales of retail work mixed in with very personal posts that touch my heart. She’s one of the best and I consider her a friend.

I love visiting Rain’s blog, and not just because of the sexy blonde with the sword. Her posts are interesting and informative, with serious posts about serious issues combined with her own experiences and take on life. I hope rain drops keep fallin on my head.

John once wrote a post about trying to find a mate that I wish I had written.

I don’t know how restless she really is, but she really is an angel in many ways.

Teresa is someone I’ve felt connected with since I first became aware of her. She has helped me in ways large and small, and we share that bond of being parents of a special child.

Tara and I know quite a bit about each other and I’m glad about that. She is one of the best writers you will find online or off.

Susan is a wonderful Canadian lady that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know. She almost always makes me smile.

Karen comes live from Utah and I do mean live! I love her passion for life and her determined attitude.

I’ve twice had the pleasure of meeting the lovely Babs and I look forward to doing so again in the future.

Carol has been a true friend to me and I don’t see how I can ever adequately repay her.

Breazy has shared her journey and I feel lucky to count her as a friend.

Walker really needs to write a book. I know I’d buy it. He is a gifted writer with a slew of life experiences that he shares in a way that draws you in.

Redneck Diva didn’t win the award for most humorous blog for nothing. She is a hoot! She’s also a great mom and a friend.

Jack is prolific, always thought provoking, often funny, and has a wry sense of humor that cracks me up.

I have loved following Laine’s story. Sweet, sexy, and passionate, she always intrigues and uplifts me.

I share with Margaret a zest for public education and a desire to help kids. I wish I worked with her.

I could say the same about my compadre, Greek Shadow, a gentleman and a scholar.

My blog wouldn’t look like it does if it wasn’t for Ginger, yet another educator I’d love to have the opportunity to work with. She’s a doll!

Of course there is Leslie. She’s my former neighbor, margarita drinking partner, and all-around friend. I miss her.

I’ve probably never told her, but few bloggers have touched me with their writing the way Anne has.

The headmaster of Oklahoma bloggers, Mike is a great guy who has done wonders in strengthening the blogging community in this state.

Safiyyah brings a great deal of thoughtfulness and reflection to important issues.

Sass just oozes sensuality and reading her is never dull.

Phoenix is a great friend and a pretty damned good blogger too! I’ve learned much from her.

Several times Apple has made comments that made me stop and think. I love that.

You’ve gotta love Chicky Babe. If you don’t, you should.

Lip Schtick always makes me smile. She really should’ve attended the blogger roundup so I could meet her!

No one…and I mean no one, chronicles the frustration of single life better than Rachel. I used to wonder how she kept getting into my head.

T. Marie is another blogger that I feel like I’ve known for a long time. I still can’t get that image out of my head of her dancing on the table on my blog cruise. (

I always smile whenever Anica drops by.

Andie can take ordinary life events and make me want to read all about them. I love that.

I could go on and on, but its getting late. I may have to do another round of this soon, because I’ve left many people out.

There are also those who used to blog who I know are still out there and those who I’ve lost touch with. All of you have meant something to me.

Say it all together…with gusto. Have a wonderful weekend my friends!

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Trifecta 

It doesn't really seem possible, but this marks my third year of blogging. Yes, its my blogiversary! It doesn't seem possible that all this time has passed since the last one, much less three entire years.

I don't go back into my archives very often. What is there is there, and for the most part I don't choose to go back and re-live it. There is a lot of joy in those archives as well as a great deal of pain. But for this occasion I rooted around back there so that I could get a sense of what has transpired in the past three years.

I can feel the almost flippant contentment I had when I started blogging as just something I read about and sounded fun to do. I remember that guy.

I can feel the anguish I felt during the breakup of my marriage. I can remember what it felt like to pack up my things and move back home. I can remember the discussions with the kids, all those nights talking with them what it all meant. I remember the revelations that came to me as I thought about my life and pondered my future. I remember that guy.

I can feel those days back in my hometown as I settled in to a new job and home. I remember all those nights spent pondering my life and what it all meant. I remember the friends who tried to help me sort it all out. I remember drinking alone on Christmas Eve. I remember the rays of hope shining through what seemed like darkness. Oh yes, I remember that guy.

I feel myself struggling through dating and relationships, seemingly swaying in the wind, confused and angrier than I wanted to admit, making seemingly tons of mistakes, and wondering what I was doing wrong. I regretfully remember that guy.

I remember my father passing away followed by the news of a job promotion and admission into a doctoral program. I remember thinking about the cruel irony of that convergence of events. I still miss my dad so much, and yes I remember that guy as well.

I remember a chance meeting with a classmate from high school turning into a romance I could not have imagined. I smile when I remember that guy.

I also remember you. I have met so many fascinating and interesting people in my three years here. I have made friendships that I truly believe will last a lifetime. I can't even begin to mention everyone, but so many of you out there have meant so much to me. I can't even begin to thank you properly.

So after that stroll down memory lane I find myself here three years later. As I look back over three years I regret the many mistakes I have made, ponder the many lessons learned, rejoice in the friendships I have made, savor the life that affords even schmucks like me another chance, look in awe at my kids and the joy that they are, and relish thoughts of the life that lies ahead.

Life really is a journey and not a destination. After three years, this is still the place where I chronicle my journey. I'm glad you are joining me in the journey and sharing yours with me.

Join me for a little party in comments if you will. And you lurkers? There is never a better time to come out and say hi!

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Midweek Meanderings 

Ok, enough of the heat wave here. It is not necessary to remind me of the sweltering days of summer.

I was walking down the hall today and heard a girl say, "my hair is just a mess today!" Without breaking stride I said, "I know how you feel." For the rest of the day everytime she saw me she would start laughing and ask me about my hair problems.

A parent of one of our students got into a physical confrontation with several students after school and off campus. It resulted in the parent being hit from behind with a rock. Police charges were filed and the courts will do their thing. The reason for the altercation? An incident of "spitball shooting" in class. Words fail me all the way around.

I think there might be a slight error on my electric bill. I really do think we probably used more than $17.00 worth of electricity last month.

I'm relieved to read about the successful surgery on MamaKBear's mother-in-law. Please keep the family in your thoughts as she recovers. While you are at it, please keep Vickie in those thoughts and prayers too. She has been hospitalized and I pray for her speedy recovery.

Patrick continues to do his nightly negotiation with me for a "Halloween budget". He wants two costumes....one to play around the house in and one to actually use on Halloween night.

I'm currently reading "The Looming Tower" by Lawrence Wright, a compelling history of the events leading up to 9-11.

When I'm not reading I am working on my class project and answering "reflection questions" for the course I just completed. We have a couple of weeks after the end of class to electronically submit all of our assignments. Such fun.

My next class is Special Education Law and you have to love it when the professor is also the author of the textbook. The tome required for this course? "Education Law: Cases and Materials". It should be fun.

I'm so looking forward to this weekend. No classes!!

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Fortress Mentality 

Two school shooting incidents have dominated the news in the past week. Who can make sense out of the incident which left a student dead in Colorado or the senseless slaughter of young girls in Pennsylvania? I can't begin to comprehend the minds of anyone who could do such a terrible thing to innocent schoolchildren. What kind of mind excises their demons by killing the young?

Columbine brought a change of mentality to our schools and these incidents only reinforce that mentality. School security measures have increased dramatically in the last decade. Every middle and high school in my district has at least one full time armed security guard. Larger schools may have as many as five. We have metal detectors and wands to screen students and visitors as they enter the building. What might have once been considered idle threats or a student "shooting his mouth off" are take much more seriously.

A colleague of mine is the principal of a high school in my district. After the incident in Colorado a local news station decided to "test" his school's security by sending in someone undercover to try and gain entrance to the building. The intruder was discovered within ninety seconds of entering the building, detained by security, questioned, and released. Still, the newsman did get inside the building with a camera underneath his jacket and was able to shoot a few seconds worth of film. My colleague received several emails questioning his school's lack of security.

Of course it is proper to be concerned given the events of the past decade, but it is difficult to have airtight security without turning the school into something of a prison. Many schools were built decades ago and have many entrances, large windows, and even roof access. Most schools do not have fences or barriers. Many people walk in and out all day...students, parents, community members, local clergy, delivery drivers, staff, etc. The type of measures it would take to make security truly airtight would be unpalatable to the public and rightfully so. A truly determined gunman who isn't afraid of losing his life can probably blast his way in. We want our kids to be safe in school but we don't want them attending an armed camp either. The challenge is to preserve the atmosphere of an institution of learning and at the same time provide for the security and safety of the kids.

The guy in Pennsylvania was the milk truck driver. Who is going to suspect him? How do you prepare for something like that? It is a sad commentary on society that we even do have to worry about things like that.

**** MamaKBear's mother-in-law is undergoing brain surgery. Please stop by, wish her well, and offer your prayers and support to the family.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Boring 

In surveys of middle and high school students "boredom" is frequently cited as a major cause for being dissatisfied in school. It is often cited by those who drop out of school, those in alternative programs, and those who have persistent discipline problems.

I've heard it thousands of times. "Joe, why are you always getting in trouble in science class?" Mr. S., its soooo boring in there! "Why do you say that?" "All Mrs. Doe ever does is talk, and talk, and talk, and talk!" Well, do you listen to what she is saying? Maybe you're missing out on some really important information." "I try but I'm so bored!" And so it goes.

I've often rolled my eyes at this excuse and tried to explain, "Joe, you know that all your classes aren't going to be like MTV or a video game. It might seem boring, but if you tune it out you're only hurting yourself by missing out on information that is vital to you." There is some truth to this. Attention spans being what they are it is difficult for the teacher to give students all the information they need and it is very difficult to make it exciting. Students have to develop the self-discipline it takes to engage themselves in subjects they don't find particularly interesting and with teachers they find "boring".

Think back to your own days in school. What subjects did you find boring? Why were they boring? Was it the subject matter, the teaching style, or both? Various movies and TV shows ("Ferris Bueller" comes to mind) have dramatized the class where the teacher drones on and on in a monotonous voice, passes out endless worksheets, or tells the kids "just sit there quietly and read the book. By the way, there is a test on Friday."

The model for teaching for many years has been the all-knowing, all-wise teacher dripping out words of wisdom to hungry young minds ready to soak up the knowledge. Been in a classroom in the last twenty years? I've sat and watched teachers deliver what to me was a brilliant lecture, tying in diverse knowledge, connecting with other subjects, and connecting to modern events. I thought it was great, but when I looked around the room the kids were dozing, writing notes, or looking out the window.

One thing that jumps to mind is this question: Who is doing all the work here? The teacher has obviously put a great deal of time and effort into this presentation. They've done their research and their homework, but the kids are sitting there passively. Class is supposed to be about students doing the work, isn't it?

This is not to say that "teacher talk" is always bad. I've certainly done my share of it. I LOVE to talk about history with students. I've had to force myself to stop. I was having lots of fun, but I could see I was starting to lose them. It wasn't about my eloquence (such that it is). It is about learning. The teacher can lead a discussion, but it should be students doing most of the talking. It should be students doing the reading and research. It should be the students doing the hands-on projects.

Another aspect of boredom is academic rigor. One of my colleagues was relating a story about a high school girl he encouraged to take A.P. (advanced placement) classes. After the first progress reports came out the girl's mother was at school wanting her withdrawn from those classes. Why? She had two "C's" and the mother was concerned she wouldn't make the honor roll. Good grief! So we'll put her in classes where she isn't challenged and yes, she will be bored. You don't want to put kids in classes where they have no chance of success but they should be in classes that challenge them. Every kid should be in classrooms that not only engage them but challenge and stretch them. You remember those classes? The ones that made you work your tail off but it was so rewarding when you finished?

I think I'd better stop before I bore anyone. Your thoughts on boredom and the classroom?

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