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Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Night Lights 

Tonight I will be attending our school's high school football game, something I will be doing every Friday night for the next couple of months. Not only is it part of my job, but I feel like it is something I should be doing to support our kids. Our team is the top rated team in the state in our class and the games should be very entertaining. Our coach is a classy guy who runs a first rate program that he says, "exists to support the academic program of the school."

One of the things that distinguishes high school administration from elementary and middle school is the sheer number of activities and events that necessitate your attendance. It amazes me to look at the school calendar and see all of the things that are going on, from athletic events to band concerts, to academic bowls, to choir performances. Almost every week of the year has at least one evening event. This will certainly keep me busy!

As a result of my Friday night obligations, the blog roundup is suspended until such time as I am able to do it justice. Please consult my first rate blogroll on the right hand side if you wish to do some excellent reading.

Have a wonderful weekend my friends!

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and it has definitely been one busy week.

A couple of my administrative colleagues have been out the past couple of days for training and a family emergency, leaving me a very busy guy. I had a steady stream of people in my office almost all day. It does however make the time just fly by. I absolutely love my job and I’m having a blast every day.

Okie Doke is once again organizing the Okie Blogger Awards. If you are an Oklahoma blogger, please stop by and submit your nominations!

Ellen’s memorial service will be later this week. Joan has graciously volunteered to represent Ellen’s blogging friends at the service. I know that Joan will be wonderful and that many of us will strive to be the wind at her back as she reflects on what this wonderful woman meant to so many.

I guess I just don’t understand Leona Helmsley’s will. She leaves a trust fund of $12 million dollars to take care of her dog while leaving $5 million to two grandchildren and zilch to two others. She also reaches beyond the grave to require that the two grandchildren who did receive a bequest will lose their money if they fail to visit their father’s grave at least once a year. She is a bizarre story right to the end.

Aubree’s boyfriend broke up with her, and for a day or two it was a devastating event. Now she tells me, “I’m so happy that I’m single!” Umm…yeah.

Is it really possible that two years have passed since Katrina?

The most common issues I’ve dealt with the last couple of days at work? Dress code, cell phones, and “public displays of affection.” One of these days I’ll come across a kid making out with his girlfriend while talking on a cell phone and wearing jeans with holes and tears all over them. It would save some time.

So how is YOUR week going?

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How Do You Make Them See? 

Two situations today made me think about a question that plagues many teachers, administrators, and parents. How do you make them see?

The first student belligerently refused to serve her assigned detention. She knew that such a refusal would get her suspended, an outcome which she totally was in favor of. She is seventeen years old and has almost no high school credits in three years. She wants to drop out of school and the only thing holding her back was her mother’s refusal to sign off on this choice. In this state you can drop out at her age with parental permission. She said, “I hate school. I won’t go. You can’t make me.” She repeated this to her mother in my office. My question to her was, “Ok, lets say your mom gives in and allows you to drop out. Then what” She mumbled something about getting a job. “What kind of job could you do?” She couldn’t name a single job that she would be willing to do or was qualified for. “Don’t you think you should be able to answer that question before you talk about quitting school?” Thirty minutes of a conversation with her mother and I produced no answers. How do you make her see what her choices will lead to?

Then there was the young man handcuffed in my office at the end of the day. He was also seventeen years old but was not even one of our students. He had wandered in off the streets with some of his buddies, got belligerent with the security guards, and found himself handcuffed with the police on the way. He calmed down after awhile and we chatted about what he was doing. “I think I might go back to school sometime.” “Oh yeah….when?” “I dunno…sometime”. Then he related to me that his girlfriend was pregnant and that he would be a father in a few months. I asked him if he wanted his daughter/son to have a father that found himself getting arrested or thrown in jail. He told me that his own father had spent most of the past twenty years in jail. He said he didn’t want to be like his dad. I told him that it seemed to me he was headed in that direction. He disagreed. I asked him if he had a job and he mentioned getting fired last week. I said to him softly, “don’t you see where this is going? No job. No school. If you don’t make a change you’re headed down the same path? How do you make him see?

Creating a vision of the future and tying it to present day actions is a major challenge in schools and in the home. How do you create that connection between what happens today and what happens in the future? How do you make someone understand that what feels good right now will lead you down a path to ruination? You relate your own mistakes, those of others, and try to say, “you don’t have to do this.” You are young and the world is there for you to seize.

How do you make them see?


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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Today's Schools 

I suppose it is inevitable. At this time of year the standardized test results for the previous year are released. As schools come off or go on the “needs to improve list”, advocates cheer on schools that succeed and critics bash the ones that don’t. The impact of these test scores is profound, affecting everything from real estate prices, to economic development, to where parents decide to send their kid to school. This year several vaunted suburban district schools joined some of the urban ones on “the list”.

I’ve never been one to make excuses for shortcomings in our public schools. Like the guy who works in the sausage factory I know that there are many things that are not always done the right way. I know that there are some teachers and administrators that do a poor job. Immersed in the research as I have been for the past year, I have a laundry list of my own of things I think need to be done. I try to make it a practice to never defend the indefensible, so I acknowledge there are certainly valid criticisms to be made of public schools.

I also see many of the good things that never see the light of day in the public eye. I work with many talented administrators and teachers who are dedicated to serving the needs of students. The news media does not cover teachers who stay long hours tutoring kids or who develop innovative teaching methods that produce results. Today’s teachers undergo the most rigorous standards in the nation’s history just to get in the classroom. There are a great many talented teachers out there and they are not all in the private schools. We also put them under the gun as never before. When I first started teaching you were primarily judged by how you kept order in the classroom. If your students were well behaved and quiet you didn’t have much to worry about when the time came for evaluations. Today’s teachers have their test scores scrutinized every which way. I will be meeting with teachers soon to go over last year’s test scores in minute detail. We will examine every student population and how they did in various areas of the tests.

This post points out that today’s public schools are being asked to solve every social problem under the sun. We have therapists and social service coordinators to address issues that students bring with them to school. We attempt to educate every child that walks through the door to a standard that has steadily increased. We are asked to address medical issues, child nutrition issues, psychological issues, gang culture, housing issues, child abuse, and a host of other non-academic problems. We do this because kids cannot learn when these other issues hang like a cloud over them as they walk through the door each day. Today’s schools, especially in urban areas, are becoming one-stop shops to address issues that would have been off the table when I first started my career. This is no excuse. It is a statement of today’s reality.

The post also points out how many assume that there was some kind of educational golden age a couple of generations ago where students did not misbehave, everyone learned to a high standard, and schools were clean and orderly. I admit that I’ve probably been guilty of this myself….”back in the day when I was in school…(fill in the blank). At least part of the answer to this is that we are educating kids today that never saw the inside of a school in their teenaged years back then. It was quite common a couple of generations ago for young people who did not plan to attend college to drop out of school and take a good paying job in the nation’s factories. My first wife’s father did just this, dropping out, joining the army, then taking a job with a well known national manufacturer. He earned a comfortable living, enough to support a family of five. Those kids stay in school today because those jobs are not there anymore. We also educate millions of special needs kids, including my own, that did not attend school or who dropped out early. Most homes in those days had two parents to provide support. Society has changed and brought into our schools challenges that did not exist before. We must meet those challenges, but to pretend that things are exactly the same as they were forty years ago except for those lousy teachers is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. We did however walk uphill both ways in the snow to get to school each day.

Yes, public schools provide my paycheck and perhaps I am not totally unbiased. But I do feel like the bash-fest that goes on regularly does a gross injustice to the people who toil away each day to educate kids and receive little compensation and no thanks in return. I am proud of the work I do, can’t imagine doing anything else, and I’m not alone.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Goodbye My Friend 

The passing of my friend Ellen marks the end of her long struggle with a disease that sapped the very life out of a vibrant woman. If there was ever a test case for the notion that bad things happen to good people, this was such a case. I join many in mourning her loss.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Ellen, but I wish I had. I know I would’ve enjoyed swapping stories with her about our teaching careers, the kind of stories that people like us have a seemingly never-ending supply. I knew her in words and pictures and I know I would’ve loved to have known her in person. But this doesn’t denigrate the value of having known her only through this medium. I value greatly the friendship I had with her.

When I was going through a difficult time in my life Ellen was there with a comment or email, sometimes a quick quip that made me smile and sometimes something more meaningful that made me ponder what I was doing. She was interested in people and their stories, and I so appreciate that she took time from her busy life to extend a warm hand of friendship to a guy she had never met.

Here in Oklahoma we refer to people like Ellen as someone who has “her head screwed on straight”. She had morals and values, a sense of right and wrong, common sense, and a sense of perspective. She had a relationship with her husband that she treasured. She had her hobbies and activities and she exuded contentment and happiness. I admired her greatly and can only imagine the tremendous role model she must’ve been for thousands of young students.

Alas, a happy ending was not to be. She fought valiantly, exhibiting a sense of grace and courage that many of us can aspire to. I am glad she is at peace but I will miss her greatly.

Godspeed my friend.


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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek. At least I think it is…this week has been such a blur.

It sounds like the kids had a good first day of school. One of Aubree’s teachers is a woman we hired as a first year teacher many years ago when I was at that school. She was always very organized and I can see she still is from the “parent homework” she sent home on the first day. Patrick started classes and also worked a couple of hours at his school job. He isn’t thrilled about the fact that his first paycheck won’t come until October, reminding me that I should keep paying him his allowance until then. The kid never misses a trick!

We were still mega-busy at work. One of the most difficult parts of administration is fighting your way out of the office and not letting yourself get chained to the desk. There are always people wanting to see you, always crises to handle, but it is important to get out into the building and into classrooms as well. I think I need a secret escape hatch!

Ellen’s time in this life appears to be short as reported in this heartwrenching post by her husband, Curtis. She is resting comfortably but the prognosis is grim. Please keep her and Curtis in your thoughts and prayers. She is adored and loved by so many. Life is such a gift and hers is a life that keeps on giving.

Michael Vick will apparently plead guilty to charges stemming from his involvement in dogfighting. Goodbye $130 million N.F.L. contract. Hello prison cell. Goodbye multi-million dollar endorsements. Hello orange jumpsuit. It is difficult for me to comprehend the thrill Vick could’ve gotten from fighting, torturing, and killing dogs. Where is the sport in that? He makes gazillions of dollars and all he has to do is not commit felonies to receive funds from his bloated contract. The mind just boggles at the thought.

I am so ready for football season to begin. One of the many things I love about the fall is football. Tomorrow night our high school team opens the regular season. A late night game on Thursday isn’t ideal, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy watching the guys.

So how is YOUR week going?


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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The First Days 

The school year is now two days old. Anyone out there who works in a school can tell you what the first few days of school is like. There are always snafus and things that don’t work smoothly. There are students without schedules. Some of the students who have schedules have lost them. There are students who wait until the first day of school to come in and enroll. Many of the new enrollees do not have records from their previous school. How do you know what classes to put them in when you don’t know what they have already taken and passed? Many of the kids don’t know what bus they are supposed to ride. The lunches always take longer than they are supposed to, as students familiarize themselves with how to get to the cafeteria and how to key in their student ID number. Some of the classes have too many students while others are quite small. Some rooms don’t have enough chairs. People get irritated from having to wait in line to get enrolled. Kids who have schedules want something changed immediately…” I didn’t WANT P.E. I WANTED Driver’s Ed!”

You get the picture.

One student who I knew from his middle school days came to my office in tears. “They say I’m a freshman. I’m 17 years old. I should be at least a junior!” I pulled up his records and he had exactly one credit after two years of high school. I told him gently, “if you only have one credit you ARE a freshman.” He got mad and threatened to quit school. I said, “I can’t manufacture credits for you out of thin air. If you pass all your classes this year you won’t be a freshman anymore.” He didn’t like that answer. I offered to get him into an alternative school where he might be able to make up some of those credits quicker. He didn’t like that answer either. “I want to play football!” I gently reminded him that he was ineligible for football based on last spring’s grades. He didn’t like that answer either. He once again threatened to quit. I told him that I couldn’t help him if he didn’t listen to me. He left angry but he did come back today. Of course, he also decided to stay in the cafeteria for all three lunch periods. I don’t think the cafeteria offers any credits.

And so it goes.

Both of my own children start school tomorrow. We’ve done the school supply shopping thing, jostling with all the other people who are trying to find all the things on their list. Of course, the kids don’t want plain spiral notebooks. They want spiral notebooks with all the pictures and colors. The plain ole spiral notebooks are found sitting all lonely in back of the store. You can also choose from plain yellow pencils and much more expensive pencils with all the swirly decorations. It’s a racket I tell ya!

I’m enjoying my job and I hope the kids also have an enjoyable school year. Both of them are very excited. I had to nix Patrick’s idea of wearing his suit and tie on the first day of school. I told him he could wear it when they took pictures and that it wasn’t the greatest idea for him to wear it when it is 100 degrees outside. Aubree did spend several days deciding what to wear the first day, the options changing over the last couple of days. Of course she also had to have her hair cut.

For you teachers, parents, and students out there…..Have a great school year!


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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Another School Year Begins 

The first day of school is Monday. If the numbers are to be believed, over 1400 teenagers will pour into our forty year old building to begin this school year. I’m excited. I always am this time of year. I always am on this day. I often have a hard time sleeping the night before. This will be my 21st first day of school as a teacher/administrator and I’ve looked forward to all twenty one of them. Yes, I enjoy the time off in the summer, but I am always ready for this day.

I have a number of challenges ahead of me this year. When I think of all of the things that I have to do and all of the things that I want to do, I wonder how I’m going to fit it all in to one school year. Operating a large comprehensive high school is a huge undertaking and it is quite daunting to think of what lies ahead. We have much work to do to improve our academic programs, to raise test scores, to get kids ready for college and the adult world.

Our school is one of the nation’s most diverse high schools with fairly equal numbers of white, black, and Hispanic students and significant numbers of American Indian and Asian students. We have a number of athletes who are major college prospects. We have students who will go to college on academic scholarships. We have talented musicians and artists. We have kids who can sing and kids who are brilliant in the use of technology. We have kids who soak up all they can in A.P. classes and kids who make the tools in the woodshop sing.

We have teenagers who are mature beyond their years and some who seem hopelessly immature. We have kids who know what they want to do with their lives and some who have not a clue. We have kids who have a burning desire to succeed and some who don’t seem to care.

Most of the students come from blue collar families or from families in poverty. What they do here will affect them the rest of their lives. There are few if any trust fund kids whose path ahead in life is assured. There are several hundred seniors we will turn out into the world in nine months. What can we do to get them ready? There are almost 500 freshmen who will start high school. What can we do to make them successful? These are the challenges that quicken my pulse and inspire me. It energizes me and makes me want to get up in the morning.

I’m sure I will learn a lot and grow a lot during the coming year. I’ll be exhilarated and excited. I’ll be exhausted and frustrated. I’ll sometimes be angry and sometimes I’ll experience the quiet satisfaction of knowing you did something the right way. I will work my tail off this year and try to do my part in building a great school.

After all, this is what I do. This is what I love. This is who I am. I’m a school guy and I’m proud of it.

Here we go!


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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and yes…its so hot I wouldn’t cook eggs on the sidewalk for fear of burning them.

My job is in full swing with enrollment, scheduling, orientation, etc. Our enrollment is more than 150 over the spring projection. The good news is we have a lot of kids that want to come to our school. The bad news is with those numbers we wouldn’t have enough teachers. We wouldn’t be able to add any teachers until after the first couple of weeks when we see how many warm bodies actually occupy desks. Right now it is all in the computer. In school you always want to see how many actually show up.

One of my former middle school students walked in the door today. She ran over to me and said, “Mr. S., did you hear I had a baby?” I told her that I hadn’t heard that and was silently shaking my head. She is fifteen years old and in no way capable of raising a child.

We have over 80 teachers. I wonder how long it is going to take me to get to know all of their names. I need a cheat sheet with pictures.

Our students report to school on Monday and my own children start school a week from today. Its that time! Aubree has her school clothes and has gotten her nails done. Now she wants to visit the hairstylist before she starts school. We have to get all the important things taken care of, don’t ya know!

Ellen is still very much in my thoughts and I hope she is in yours as well. If you haven’t stopped by recently and said hi to her, I urge you to do so. Her husband, Curtis, is printing out comments, reading them to her in the hospital, and hanging them in the room.

Patrick lost his father recently. Please stop by and offer your condolences if you have a few moments to spare.

So how is YOUR week going?


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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Did You Know? 



If you haven't seen this before it is worth your time to spend a few minutes watching it.

It poses to schools a difficult question. What are you doing to prepare kids for a world in which technology is changing the way we live so rapidly?

Students are often ahead of the teachers where technology is concerned. Almost every middle school kid I asked last year (in an extreme high poverty school) had a My Space page or blog and knew how to edit it, change the fonts and colors, etc. When I set my concern about kids being on My Space aside (and it is a big concern), you would have to acknowledge that most of the adults in the building couldn't do that. Today's kids are adept users of the internet and tools such as PowerPoint.

A question we discussed today was how to harness this interest and ability into learning algebra, literature, and history. What will teaching and learning look like twenty years from now? It probably won't include a chalkboard, the primary teaching technology when I started in the classroom twenty years ago. A scant ten years ago my school went online in the library, using a phone line snaked around the room to access the internet on a 14k modem. My school district is now building a wireless school with high speed net access available everywhere in the building.

My friend New Wave Gurly recently posted that she had a new job teaching entirely online. The number of online courses has grown dramatically in recent years. As high speed internet becomes more widely available, this is a natural progression.

The video asks..."did you know?" It isn't so much what we know. It is how long what we know will remain true.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Hold The Cheese 

On some level I had sympathy for this guy. He drives through at McDonalds, orders a couple of quarter pounders without cheese, goes home, bites into one, gets sick, and has to be rushed to the hospital. I am not a big cheese eater myself and many times have asked that items that normally have cheese be delivered to me without it. How many times have they nodded their heads and delivered my order to me and got it wrong? Lets just say it happens quite often. Those of us who have pounded our arteries with fast food know that the first rule of thumb is…check your order! You know they’re going to screw up. You know that your Dr. Pepper might be a diet coke, your apple pie might turn out to be a cherry one, your request of mayonnaise might turn out to be mustard. Your objective? Get the food you want and get it fast. Their objective? Take your money and get you the hell down the road so they can take more money from someone else.

I just don’t like cheese all that much but I’m not allergic to it. I might scrunch up my face a little but I wouldn’t have to be rushed to the hospital. Mr. Jackson however, seems to be violently allergic to said cheese, allergic in a life threatening kind of way. If cheese could kill me there is no way I am biting into that burger without checking it out first. I don’t care how dark it is, what I’m doing, who I’m talking to. I’m checking out that burger. Cheese? I take it back, or if that isn’t practical call the store and chew on the manager a bit. Then I meander into the kitchen and try to find something cheese-less to eat.

Alas, he bit into his burger and became ill. He was rushed to the hospital where he racked up a $700 medical bill. McDonalds says they’ll pay the bill. He turns them down, wanting a wee bit more than an apology and his medical bill paid. He wants ten million dollars. His two companions also want a piece of the pie, saying they risked life and limb to rush him to the hospital. One screwed up fast food order = a life of luxury, replete with beach house, little drinks with umbrellas, and a trophy wife on his arm. I really have a hard time believing that the judge wouldn’t double over in laughter, but this is a country where we love our lawsuits. Slip and fall in Wal Mart? Get rear-ended? Fall off the ladder? Get jilted by your lover? Its time to get paid. After all, a judge sued a dry cleaners for $54 million because they lost his suit. He did lose, disappointing legions of men everywhere who hoped to retire to a private Greek isle when their suit got lost.

Thinking about all this has made me hungry and McDonalds is only a few blocks away. I could use a quarter pounder.

Hold the cheese. Or not. I could use the cash.


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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sleep. Who Needs It? 

There are not a lot of good things to say about getting older. I can’t run as fast, jump as high, or lift as much as I did back in the day. Firmly entrenched in the dreaded middle age, I sometimes come face to face with my physical limitations. I know a lot more but I can do a lot less about it. Life just isn’t fair that way.

However, there are silver linings in dark clouds. One thing I have noticed over the past couple of years is that I appear to need less sleep than I did before. My ex-wives could tell you that I was a legendary sleeper-inner on the weekends. During the week I would stay up late, get up early for work, and make up for all that missed sleep on the weekends. Sleeping until noon on Saturday was not an uncommon occurrence. I always considered myself the polar opposite of a morning person. I was the kind of guy who hit the snooze button three times, laid there and stared at the clock, and jumped out of bed at the last possible moment. Then I would get showered and dressed in a hurry and rush out the door.

This morning I was awake and making coffee at 6:30 a.m. This is not an uncommon thing for me on weekends now. I wake up early, don’t feel tired, and start my day. All you morning people out there were always telling me about enjoying the early morning hours with your cup of coffee and I never got it. Now? I get it. The good thing is that I haven’t had to change my night owl ways to enjoy the early morning. If I have 5-6 hours of sleep I feel refreshed and good to go. I stood on my back porch early this morning with my cup of coffee and enjoyed the relatively mild temperature that would soon enough turn into a 100 degree day. I enjoyed the serenity, the peace and quiet of the house asleep.

It seems only right that advancing age should yield me this one small benefit. Maybe I’ll get greedy and start thinking that I should be able to dunk a basketball with two hands again. Does that seem too much to ask?


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Friday, August 10, 2007

Weekend Roundup 8/10-8/11 

Yeah, I know its been a few weeks since I've done one of these. Although its a relatively short one, I thought I'd get back in the groove.

I continue to urge everyone to stop by and visit Ellen and Curtis. Let them know you are thinking of them.

On to the roundup. I find some posts I'd like to share. Please join me!

Irina has some thoughts about the subway. Jenny has some thoughts about the loss of a friend.

Lime was stripping wallpaper. Barn Goddess was in a funk.

Susan encourages everyone to comment on Ellen’s blog. So do I! Kyleen was encouraging the same thing!

Sally was thinking about an old hymn. T. Marie was thinking about speed bumps.

Kathy shares an update on Regina and Ellen. Bobbie shares a special request.

John writes about getting angry. Joan writes about having leg cramps.

Michael is going to Indiana. Guilty Secret is going on a holiday.

Walker talks about politically incorrect human nature. New Wave Gurly talks about telling her boss that she’s leaving.

Margaret was feeling grumpy. Rain was feeling in need of a bubble bath.

Jack thinks prostitution should be legalized. I think Babs is going to the Okie Twist Off.

Used To Be Me has a new baby. Tara has a kindred spirit.

Linda writes about couples communication. Mary Lou writes about meeting Ellen.

Redneck Diva wants to be busier. Karen wants to take a break.

Aka Monty brings back some of her older posts. Phoenix brings us a beautiful photo.

Jules is getting settled in. Lil Bit is started a “featured blogger” series.

Vickie talks about tree spirits. Sudie Girl talks about cartoons.

Okie Doke is taking nominations for the Okie Blogger Awards. Is it really that time again?

Have a wonderful weekend my friends!

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 

It is midweek and it’s a scorcher! It was 100 degrees here today and you could definitely feel it. Naturally, our high school football team started its two-a-day workouts.

I continue to urge you to go to Ellen’s blog, comment, and lift her and Curtis up. I also continue to urge you to urge others to do the same. I want to thank Joan, Susan, Sally, Kyleen, Kathy, Bobbie, Mary Lou, and many others who continue to write about Ellen. She has been moved to a palliative care facility to make her more comfortable and Curtis has been by her side.

Here is someone’s list of the “ten weakest songs by badass bands”. I happen to like Ozzy’s “Mama I’m Coming Home”. Do you expect the guy to bite heads off bats and scream for the rest of his life? It’s a good song!

Aubree has been told to relate to her friends that they are not to call the house later than 10:00 p.m. (9:00 on school nights). There was a period where the phone was ringing constantly, sometimes very late. Things improved greatly.

Well, not quite. A few days ago the phone rang at 1:00 a.m. Everyone else in the house was asleep and I almost was. I glanced at the caller I.D. and saw the number of Aubree’s little boyfriend. I answered the phone, a few seconds of dead silence ensued, and he hung up! I immediately called back and no one answered. I left a message that someone at this number had called my home at 1:00 a.m. and hung up. The next morning the phone rang from that number again. It was the boyfriend, calling to apologize, and telling me he was grounded from the phone for a week. I accepted the apology. Apparently the bf then got mad at Aubree because he got in trouble. She in turn got mad at me for getting him in trouble! I explained to her that he had caused the problem and that I hoped he learned a lesson. Oh, the drama of a pre-teen!

I turned in my last assignment for my summer classes. Whew! Such a relief. I now have about a month before my fall classes begin. My classes? “Qualitative Research Analysis” and “Public School Personnel.” Sound interesting?

I am totally busy at work. This “before the kids arrive” period is intense with scheduling and other issues. It swings into full gear next week with teachers reporting, schedules being passed out, freshman orientation, etc. Here we go!

So how is YOUR week going?

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Do It Like I Did It 

Before you start reading this post, please read the previous one and go visit Ellen!


Being a pro football fan and more specifically a Dallas Cowboys fan, I was pleased to see Michael Irvin inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yes, I knew about the pipe and the prostitutes, about his reputation as a partier, but Michael was a great football player. I didn’t think much of him as a man but the guy could play the game. His accomplishments on the field were admirable but I saw a rich spoiled narcissist. Great football player. Not such a great guy. Took care of business on the field. Indulged in risky behavior off of it.

Then I saw and read his induction speech. Either Michael is as great an actor as he was a football player or he has gone through some changes in his life. The end of his speech was especially poignant. With unwiped tears streaming unashamedly down his face and talking to his two young sons sitting right in front of him, he said:

(If you are short on time, skip to the last couple of minutes)

You know the Bible speaks of a healing place. It's called a threshing floor. The threshing floor is where you take your greatest fear and you pray for help from your great God. I want to share something with you today. I have two sons. Michael, he's 10, and Elijah, he's 8. Michael and Elijah, could you guys stand up for me. That's my heart right there. That's my heart. When I am on that threshing floor, I pray. I say, God, I have my struggles and I made some bad decisions, but whatever you do, whatever you do, don't let me mess this up.

I say, Please, help me raise them for some young lady so that they can be a better husband than I. Help me raise them for their kids so that they could be a better father than I. And I tell you guys to always do the right thing so you can be a better role model than dad. I sat right here where you are last year and I watched the Class of 2006: Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Harry Carson, Rayfield Wright, John Madden, and the late great Reggie White represented by his wife Sara White. And I said, Wow, that's what a Hall of Famer is.

Certainly I am not that. I doubted I would ever have the chance to stand before you today. So when I returned home, I spoke with Michael and Elijah . I said, That's how you do it, son. You do it like they did it. Michael asked, he said, Dad, do you ever think we will be there? And I didn't know how to answer that. And it returned me to that threshing floor. This time I was voiceless, but my heart cried out. God, why must I go through so many peaks and valleys?

I wanted to stand in front of my boys and say, Do it like your dad, like any proud dad would want to. Why must I go through so much?

At that moment a voice came over me and said, Look up, get up, and don't ever give up. You tell everyone or anyone that has ever doubted, thought they did not measure up or wanted to quit, you tell them to look up, get up and don't ever give up.

Isn’t that what all of us as parents want to be able say to our kids? DO IT LIKE I DID IT. Some of us are blessed to have made good choices throughout life and are able to say this to their children. Others, like Michael, have made errors, some of them grievous. We aren’t able to say, “DO IT LIKE I DID IT”. We have to point to someone else and say “do it like he/she did it.” Some of us have to say, “Do THIS like I did it but don’t do THAT like I did.” I could tell from Michael that this was genuinely heartbreaking for him. Maybe he didn’t feel so bad at the time. Maybe he was a self-absorbed millionaire doing what he felt like doing. But now, looking at his children, it all struck home. He was ashamed of some of his past actions and the hurt they caused his family. He felt like had to point to others as role models when he so badly wanted to be able to point to himself.

It wasn’t too late. By all accounts Michael has changed his life. He’s trying to do the right things. He is painfully acknowledging his past misdeeds without wallowing in them, something that isn’t always easy to do.

I’m not a celebrity like Michael nor will I be likely to be inducted into any kind of Hall of Fame, but I share in his dream. It’s a dream greater than glory, greater than celebrity, greater than money, greater than success. I want to be able to say, “DO IT LIKE I DID IT” and mean it. I may have to throw in a few caveats, like the small print at the bottom of a credit card application, but I want to be able to say it! Don’t we all? Don’t you?

Back to you Michael. I think you’ve just scored your greatest play. This is even better than that catch you made on Thanksgiving in 1995. You stood up like a man, addressed your mistakes, and then said something so important at the end, something that all of us have to do when we make mistakes.

At that moment a voice came over me and said, Look up, get up, and don't ever give up. You tell everyone or anyone that has ever doubted, thought they did not measure up or wanted to quit, you tell them to look up, get up and don't ever give up.

When we can say, “DO IT LIKE I DID IT” to our kids it will be because we did this. We looked up. We stood up. We didn’t ever give up. THAT is something we want our kids to emulate. THAT is something we can do no matter what we’ve done. THAT is the measure of a man…..or a woman. What Michael said touched me on a lot of different levels.

You’re not just a great football player now Michael. You’re a man and father. That is worth a lot more than your bust in Canton.

Now your boys can do it like you're doing it.


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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Just Do It 

In my early days of blogging, almost four years ago, I came in contact with a blogger from Canada. She was a high school teacher, full of the kind of funny, sad, and heartwarming stories that high school teachers often are. I don't remember who discovered who, but she has been commenting on my blog for years and I on hers.

Many doubt the connections that those of us who blog can find with others out there in cyberspace, but even though I've never met her I feel like I know Ellen. Everything from her storybook romance and marriage to Curtis, to her love of kids and teaching, to her appreciation of good food, to her hobbies and passions....they come out in her writing and made me feel like she was a part of my extended network of family and friends.

Those of you who know her are aware that Ellen has been fighting against cancer for some time now. During that time she has continued to live her life, travel, engage in her hobbies, and write on her blog. She has shown such courage, such humility, such a sense of humor, such a sense of peace, that there have been many times when her posts have left me speechless with tears in my eyes. This is a special lady, someone that I greatly admire. If this was my perfect world we would have the chance to work together in a school, to change the lives of kids, and she and Curtis would invite me over sometime to sample some of that gourmet cooking that I can almost taste through a computer screen.

But it isn't my perfect world. Ellen has been weakened in recent days as Curtis reports on his blog. She has not been eating and has been spending much of her day sleeping. She has been fighting but she is tired. It is time for the rest of us to fight for her in our own limited way. Curtis reads to her the comments that have been posted on her blog.

So I'm doing what I don't often do here. I'm asking you for something.

I want every person who reads these words to go to Ellen's blog and comment. Whatever words you can find to support her, please offer them. I also want you to post this challenge to your own blog readers on your blog. Pick up this banner. Let Ellen know that all of us, friends, family, and stranger alike are on her side. Think of her. Pray for her. Fight for her. Let's rock HaloScan's servers until they don't know what hit them. It is a small thing, but small kindnesses are what makes this world go 'round.

She is one of the best among us and deserves no less.

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Curve This! 

Situations like this come up more often than you might think. A student fails a class. The parent comes to school to complain, asking the administration to intercede with the teacher on behalf of the student or to modify the grade. At the high school level the stakes can be fairly high…the difference between a student graduating or not. A single failing grade at the elementary or middle school level is not as earth shattering, but I’ve seen high school students with athletic or academic scholarships lose them because of failing a single class. Grades are a big deal.

Let’s talk about grades. An instructor at a public school or a university professor typically has great latitude in setting up how a student earns a grade. One university professor I had gave points for attendance which added up to 80% of the grade. As long as you showed up you could fail every test and still make an “A”. Another professor I had gave tests that were virtually impossible to pass and curved them by 40 points or more so that everyone didn’t fail. Another awarded “martyr points” if you went into class and defended your wrong test answers, allowing those who would speak up a chance to earn a high grade even if they did poorly on the test. Only one of the seven doctoral classes I’ve taken so far has required an exam. The grades come from research papers and other assignments.

What is a fair system of grading and what is the purpose of a grade? I’ve always thought that the grade should be a fair reflection of how much of the course objectives a student has learned and the effort put forth to learn those objectives. Every teacher out there can tell you about the brilliant student who couldn’t be bothered to turn in assignments, and thus earned a low grade in spite of a superior knowledge of the course content. Then there is the other side of the coin, the student who comes to class every day, completes every assignment, seems to work hard, but consistently fails the exams. Does that student deserve an “F”?

When I was teaching I hated assigning an “F” to a student and pondered each one as I entered my grades. I had to be able to tell myself that I had done everything possible to help the student succeed, that I’d done “my part”. I used to tell my kids that you had to work at it to fail my class. If I pestered you, called your house, asked you to come in after school to make up work, gave you lists of missing assignments, offered you a chance to retake exams, and you still failed? Well, I could sleep just fine at night.

I found the minimum of grade of “45” mentioned in the article interesting. Do you know why many schools have instituted this policy? Lets say sweet little Sue Ann blows off biology the first quarter and has an average of “25”. Her parents ground her, she sees the light, and works like crazy the second quarter to bring up her grade. She has to be almost perfect to pass for the semester. If her average in the second quarter is a “90”, that is averaged with the “25” and she fails. Her semester report card reads “F”, “A”, ..semester grade- “F”. The argument is that kids can do math too and if they see there is no chance of passing the class for the semester even by making an “A”, they will give up.

Most teachers want their students to succeed. They also want to offer a rigorous course that requires students to learn and demonstrate their knowledge to receive a good grade.

When I was a high school teacher I taught a magnificently gifted basketball player. He blew off my class for weeks at a time, ignoring my entreaties. He was failing and this caused him to risk being ineligible for the playoffs. He had two weeks. I offered him a chance to make up the poor test grade he recently received and offered to stay after school and tutor him. He refused. I caught him cheating on the test. He failed. The basketball coach wouldn’t speak to me for months. I didn’t care. I’d done my part.

Back to the original article. Most of the time I ask the teacher for a progress report and ask to see a copy of the gradebook. I invite the parent and student in. I look at the student and say, “I see twenty grades here. You turned in seven of them. I would’ve given you an “F” too. What’s the problem here?” The parent usually turns to the student and says, “you told me you turned in everything!” The kid stumbles around for awhile and the meeting is over.

I have known a handful of teachers who I thought were unrealistic or unfair in their grading. Failing almost 70% of your students in a basic math class indicates that the problem may not be with the students alone, especially if other teachers who have the same students do not show this in their grades. One particular teacher from awhile back jumps to mind, seemingly proud of all the failing grades as if they were a sign of her rigorous virtue and with a grade book that was incomprehensible to me, much less the parent. But those are the exceptions. Most teachers I know take pride in their student’s success and want them to do well. They just aren’t going to pave the path with gold for them.


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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Midweek Meanderings 


Aubree is in the habit of writing notes. She often writes me little notes and leaves them on my desk. A note from your daughter like the one at left? Priceless.

Today was my first day at my new job. Like most first days I spent a lot of time unpacking, going through my predecessor’s files, getting my computer access set up, and meeting some of the staff who wandered in. I love the atmosphere. Everyone seems lighthearted, a lot of joking and teasing…in short, my kinda place!

School doesn’t start for three weeks, but the volleyball team was practicing, the band was rehearsing, and a lot of students were coming in to enroll or check their schedule. Ahhh…high school!

My school won two state championships last year and will contend for state championships this year in as many as five sports. I have a lot of ball games to watch in my immediate future.

I’m just as excited as hell about getting another school year off the ground. I love this time of year.

Elton John wants to shut down the Internet? That is about as likely as shutting down high school football in Oklahoma!

Three years ago today I left Washington and moved back to Oklahoma. I wrote this just before I left:

Now I look ahead to what awaits... a new home, new schools for the kids, a new job, and a new life. The possibilities are truly open and endless. I'm excited by the chance to start again. I'm not done by a long shot. I will find peace and hope. I'll meet new friends and enjoy them. I'll kick my career into high gear. I'll be the dad I always should have been. New possibilities, challenges, and interests await me. I'm ready for them.

I’m not Nostradamus, but those predictions turned out to be true. I wouldn’t have believed on that day that my life would be as good as it is now. Time gives one perspective, doesn’t it?

So how is YOUR week going?

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