Such a Good Question…..chasing a dream.

As another family fun weekend wrapped up with ice cream sandwiches at the dining room table, I began to reflect on a question that had been asked of me today. It was probably only the fourth time the question was asked. I know, I am killing all of my readers right now. Ok, the question. Do I miss coaching at all? Before I answer the question for my readers and tell you the response I gave my friend today, I want to express some hardcore feelings and emotions I have had for the better part of six months.

Ever since I can remember playing across the street from my house, I have always loved basketball. When I was in high school I had a varsity coach who was a great role model for me and I knew then I wanted to coach the game. From the very first coaching job I had, I always wanted my players to have the same drive and attitude as me. I wanted to teach players how to apply hard work and perseverance to real life and let them know that is how you reach your accomplishments.

I have been through a lot of ups and downs in coaching. I have been through two win seasons, and I have had sixteen win seasons. I have had teams be tournament champions and been close twice to moving on to regionals.

Recently I was asked to step down as a varsity coach after one of the best seasons the girls program has had in several years. Why? Simply because the parents didn’t like me and the lack of support from administration. An administration that needs to grow a backbone and tell the parents how it should be. Needless to say, I had many sleepless nights and I grieved. I became angry and wanted to scream. Today, I still carry a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I still carry a small chip on my shoulder because I did everything for those kids and never once wanted the glory for anything. I am a humble person and proud of my accomplishments, but I never took credit for anything my players did and I admitted my mistakes.

So, to answer the question that had been asked of me. Believe me and I am being honest when I say no, I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the late nights away from my family, the summer dates I spent away from my family, the phone calls and paperwork that had to be done, etc. I would say I miss the kids, but the good ones are far and few between in seems anymore. It’s hard to find young athletes with a work ethic.

I am sure some of you are doubtful I am telling the truth, but I assure you I am. I am not saying I don’t have any wounds, because I do and though they are almost completely healed, I have had to find refuge in something to help me express my feelings and put my work ethic to use. I still want to make a difference in students of today. I am choosing to do it through my classroom, instead of on the basketball court. I used to be chasing a dream of being a conference champion, or district champion in the coaching realm. Now I want students to walk out of my classroom, excited to read and write. My dream has changed. Writing has helped me see things so much differently since being part of the National Writing Project. What is my new dream? Those of you who know me understand what it is. Those who don’t, just keep your eyes out on the bookshelves.

Where one door closes, another one opens.

Cheers!


Applauding My Fellow Educators

As I bring my my first week of school to a close, I begin to think about my colleagues and my friends that are in the education field. Whether it is a high school teacher, elementary teacher, principal, college professor, or literacy coach, I know everyone of us has been working extremely hard this week and in the previous weeks, for those who have already been back at it for some time.

I really started thinking hard about the time and effort teachers spend getting their classrooms ready, creating lesson plans based on the curriculum that they are teaching, and the hours of professional development they have participated in. I wanted to give my colleague a really big hug today after she made a comment about how she reached 9:00p.m. the night before and she still wasn’t done preparing for the next day’s lesson. She then proceeded to look over at her counter and saw she still needed to take care of a household chore and she almost began to cry. Why did she feel like crying? It’s simple, she felt she was neglecting her family because of all of the work she still had to do for school and she was exhausted. Some might say, to stop working and take a break. That is easy for someone to say that may not be in education. You see, we care! We care about the children in our classroom first and foremost and we care about our jobs. It is evident that education is suffering all over. A lot of teachers and programs have been cut. Those of us that are lucky enough to have our jobs still care about what we are doing in our classroom and we will do what it takes to make it work. As I sit here writing now and knowing I have been up until at least 11:00 every night, I applaud you all for your efforts and your sacrifices.

Those of you who may not be in the education field, I want you to know that educators are hustling and bustling and breaking their backs to bring education to generations of children. Working so hard that family time is being sacrificed. A price we are all willing to pay because we love our jobs and want to see kids be successful in school and in life. For some teachers, they hope they can simply be a positive role model for children who may not have one.

So, I applaud all of you who are connected to education in some fashion. Continue to work hard and make the difference that means so much to kids. Eventually someone will stand up and take notice.

Cheers!


The Disconnected Student

Today was my third day of school and things have been running smoothy. Today was a busy day with my students. Teaching five hours of language arts is exhausting, but I am up for the challenge. My students were engaged today in our computer labs establishing their gmail accounts and becoming members of our classroom Wiki space where they could start their short biographies and we could start organizing the space for their e-portfolios. Like any other technology endeavor, we ran into glitches, but we overcame them.

As I was getting things started in my first language arts class of the day, I asked students to raise their hand if they did not possess an email at all. Out of my five classes of 20 or more students, I had at least 2 students in each class raise their hand. Now, I am not a math teacher but that comes to about 14% of my students who do not interact using email. Then, after I thought about it, I asked the student who doesn’t have Internet access at home. Those statistics ranged at about 20%. Being that I teach in a very rural school district and our district has almost 1/2 the student population on free or reduced lunch, I am sure this plays a significant role in the students not being able to go online. Some people might think it is due to the fact my school is a small district. This isn’t always the case though. At my wife’s previous school, which is three times the size of mine, there are a significant number of students who were not connected to the Internet at home; somewhere in 30% range. That information was based on a survey the school gave to the kids.

After I had the chance to decompress today, I began to wonder if these students were going to struggle for the rest of their student careers. I see having an email, like every household having a VCR once upon a time. My belief is kids are going to need these tools to be successful not only as a student, but in the real world. The other side of me knows I need to be compassionate towards these students and help them get caught up, or at least get them closer to what technology does have to offer. In addition, I know their are more of these students out there.

Let’s make sure we all understand our student’s background and work on helping them get connected with those of us that have been for some time. Because let’s face it, there are disconnected students out there.

Cheers!


Generating Genuine Student Excitement

My house has been bustling with energy this week. With my wife starting a new job as a high school band director at a school only nine miles from our house, myself starting a new teaching assignment, our house was rocking. However, most of the energy in our humble household was being expelled from our son who was amped up to start pre-school. Let me enlighten you how excited he was. Monday night during a three hour stretch he was up eleven times. All we could do as parents was direct him back to bed. We knew he was excited and we didn’t want to squash his enthusiasm.

As my wife and I waited for our son to get up again and walk into our bedroom, we talked about how remarkable it was that our so was excited. We discussed how students at his age generally liked attending school. I am sure it is because most of their day consists of playing, but my son still came home learning some letters for his name. My niece was a 2nd grader last year and she was still loving school. Needless to say, the conversation my wife and I were having was great. Then I asked a question that resulted in us hearing nothing but the tree frogs and crickets that resided outside of our window. I simply asked, “Why do students or kids in general lose that desire and excitement to attend school?” As we sat there, I broke the silence by following up with another question. “Is it our fault as educators?”. My wife and I both agreed that we didn’t think it was our fault as teachers… entirely.

So what does cause students to lose that excitement they once had as a pre-schooler or a kindergartner? Is it the simple fact they grow older, or is it lack of nurturing from parents. While talking to my niece a few weeks ago, I talked to her about entering school for the upcoming school year and to my surprise, she wasn’t looking forward to it at all. I asked why and she simply replied it was boring. Now, my niece is very bright, so is school too easy to the point it is boring? As a parent and a teacher, I know I will encourage my children to like school and make the most of it while they are there. However, will this be enough?

As I separate myself as a parent and go into my teacher role, I have to face the challenge of keeping my student’s attention every day. Yes, that means even the ones that seem impossible to reach. I really want to know what makes my students tick. I want the middle school students in my school to say I like going to language arts class. Which, if you are an English teacher, you know we already have that strike against us.

Anyways, I am interested in hearing what other teachers, parents, adults, etc. have to say about my thoughts today. I know I have a lot of questions, but I do think something can be done.

If my son has such a desire to go to school, I am sure there is something we can do to get more kids that are older genuinely ecstatic about learning. Thoughts?

Cheers!


New Teaching, New Attitude!

Today was the start of the 2011-2012 school year. Due to numerous cuts in our district, I went from just teaching 8th grade language arts to 7th and 8th grade language arts. From the time I enter my classroom, to the time I am done 6th hour, my day is filled with grammar, reading, writing, and a numerous digital natives.

Prior to the school year starting, I was apprehensive and anxious about my new teaching assignment. In addition, after a week of professional development where emotions were high and me not exactly being my usual professional self, I wasn’t exactly excited about going back for day one.

After doing some reading over the Labor Day weekend and spending a fabulous weekend with my family, I decided that it wasn’t my new teaching assignment that was causing all of the anxiety or anything that might have happened during our first week back as teachers. The problem was me, plain and simple. What do I mean? It is easy to get disgruntled with our state legislators, or governors, or the whole government system. I can be snotty towards my administrators and place blame on them for the current situation that I in for teaching. But why? What good is it going to do to be frustrated and go into school with a poor attitude. I believe it was Stephen Covey who said no one can make you feel a certain way, you control your own feelings and how you react to people. Plain and simple, I needed an attitude adjustment. A phrase I have found myself saying to middle schoolers in the past.

So what did I do? I gave myself a swift kick in the backside. When I went to bed Monday night, I evaluated my position and decided I can only control me and what I do in my classroom. I know times are tough and it is easy to be unhappy and place blame onto certain individuals, but face reality, who are we supposed to be there for? That’s right, the KIDS. We don’t need to waist valuable time worrying about what is coming down the turnpike next. We need to focus on the students and be the very best we can be in our classrooms. The kids in the classroom don’t need to suffer anymore than they have or will in the future.

You have the power to control your attitude and emotions. It took me almost an entire week to realize this. I got caught up in the Grumpy Gripers club and needed to put into perspective what was more important. I was being selfish about my own feelings.

I encourage everyone to look at their attitude as they start this new school year. Now is the time to embrace being positive and making the most of your situation.

New school year, no problem!

Cheers!


Motivational Fire

It wasn’t long ago I posted on Facebook how amazed I was about what motivates me as a person in the everyday things I do. Well, I am still amazed and often wonder where does my motivation come from. A lot of people might agree that attitude and motivation go hand in hand. Yes, I do agree that one does need to have a positive attitude in order to have any kind of motivation to accomplish anything from getting up in the morning to grading those spelling tests.

Before last night, my thoughts of motivation were focused more towards what motivates people to do dumb things instead of the positive attributes in life. Of course no one can probably answer that question. Anyways, my wife and I watched the movie Soul Surfer. If you haven’t watched it, I highly recommend it. Bethany Hamilton was a young lady who had her arm bit off by a shark while surfing. She had everything going for her prior to the accident and was well on her way to being very famous as a surfer. Needless to say, today she is very famous because of her story and her surfing abilities.

Surfing was everything to this girl and it seemed as if her life was going to change forever because of the accident. As the movie progresses, she participates in a regional surfing competition and doesn’t do well at all. First, I asked myself what motivated this young lady to try such a feat despite only having one arm? Was it her belief in God, her sheer work ethic, her desire to show everyone she could no matter what? Hmmm, I still can’t answer that question. I was at a point in my own personal thoughts, prior to the movie, believing kids are becoming more and more lazy these days and aren’t really motivated themselves to do much of anything.

I continued to watch the movie seeing a young lady that tried, but was starting to realize she may not be able to surf and as the movie moved along, she came to realize surfing isn’t everything and there are more important things to life. However, she never did forget about surfing. She worked incredibly hard and competed in nationals for surfing, eventually winning nationals.

Now, as the movie ended, I still couldn’t believe someone as young as her had such motivation, determination, and perseverance. It made me realize our youth today still has a lot of motivation and work ethic. The more I think about it, the more I am determined that it is my job as a parent and a teacher to find out what motivates my children and the children I impact each and every day when I am in the classroom.

These simple thoughts alone have given me more motivation to do my job as a parent, husband, friend, teacher, etc. Perhaps I should have learned this along time ago, or I am preaching to the choir. Nevertheless, I think we need to take a look at ourselves and figure out what motivates us to do what we do and see if our fire needs to be rekindled.

Cheers!


Testing Cell phone use in the classroom.

This blog is being written from my cell phone as I try to find some way to assess a students journal writing by letting them use a cell phone.

As some of us begin our walk through digital tools and what they can bring to our classroom, others are still crawling. The reality is technology is here to stay and we need to embrace something as simple as a cell phone and use it to our advantage as teachers.

I believe there are too many restrictions put into place by schools across the nation when it comes to cell phones. They need to be off, put in lockers, or left at home. I even heard about a school where if a student was caught with a cell phone, it was thrown into a fish tank full of water. Now, I don’t know exactly how much truth there is to this, but nevertheless, it’s out there.

Last year I allowed my students to use cell phones when they did their journal writing 2 days a week. When I implemented this into my classroom towards the end of the year, the response was overwhelming. Students were engaged to the fullest and they were genuinely excited about journaling.

In response to this I required students to respond to each others text messages. Again, they couldn’t get enough of the fact they could use their cell phones in class.

The problem was assessing an electronic journal of sorts. How could I monitor what they were writing or give them any kind of response when I was only viewing text messages as I walked around the room. I was not about to give my personal cell phone number to my students.

Even though it has been a slightly long road to finding an answer about assessing my students texts, I have found a solution. I have found that students can use blogging sites such as WordPress or Blogger and students can access an application for their cell phones so they can “text” or “blog” if you will.

So, let the journey begin and let’s see what happens and how many adjustments I may need to make.

Cheers!


Heroes

It is my belief that kids today don’t know what a hero truly is or what that means. In my opinion, kids think a hero has to be some individual with these traits like flying, seeing through walls, etc. These so called heroes have come alive on the Hollywood screen from written comic books in prior years and has deflated the idea of using one’s imagination. It has also caused society to forget about the real heroes such as parents, siblings, teachers, coaches, and certain public officials. I assure you there is a huge shortage of true heroes in this world.

Fortunately for me I have never experienced a shortage of heroes in my life: from coaches, to teachers, my grandparents, a sister who was a police officer for some time, my mother, and my father.

Although I could write a substantial amount about each person mentioned, I want to take time to write about my father who recently retired after putting in 40 years as a firefighter. Now, I have been teaching for ten years and can’t imagine doing it for 30 more years. At the rate the education system is going, I may be doing it longer. Anyways, I want to take time to write about my father and his dedication to his job and his work ethic. Both qualities I inherited and have taken with me through high school, college, and my career.

Some of the earliest memories of my father as a firefighter are when he would come into my elementary school during fire prevention week and we would have fire drills and receive coloring books, plastic helmets, and sticker badges. I was always quick to say my dad is right there or my dad is one of the fireman who came in today. As an elementary student, I was never more proud to know my father was a fireman and what that meant to the community. I can also recall the numerous fire truck rides around town during this time as well.

Another memory is the countless Saturdays I spent with my father going down to the fire station with my dad to enjoy hot chocolate and doughnuts. Whether they were from White’s bakery or from Goff’s, to a kid, doughnuts were awesome. Heck I still love doughnuts! Of course my father always made sure I helped wash the fire trucks before I feasted on the long johns or glazed paradise that sat in the meeting room.

Other memories include the countless Christmas parties my father and mother took us to that were sponsored by the fire department. I can still remember the good food and seeing Santa come through the door and being excited about getting a present to play with. I can also never forget the numerous fire runs my dad had where I had to go with him to the fire hall because I was with my dad in either in his ginormous red station wagon, or his small, gray, gmc pick-up truck.

With all of these memories, which I know I can talk about many more, including going to the theater downtown and getting candy and watching a movie or serving hot dogs during the mint festival. All of these memories have something in common. My father took pride in who he was and what he represented from the time he was a firefighter all the way to when he served as chief for the last 2 years of his career as a public servant. He took pride in his work and he set an example for everyone around him to follow and set an even greater example for his children to follow. He wanted people to take pride in their own work. My father loved being a part of fire and fire science. He loved it so much he took time to teach others about the aspects of firefighting and spent countless hours in school getting specialized training.

To me that kind of deduction is being a real hero. My father wasn’t part of a huge fire department and I can only recall one instance where I was really scared about my dad getting hurt as a firefighter and that was the Clinton Home Center fire around my birthday when I was young where we could see flames from our house. Regardless, my father was still willing to sacrifice for others. Again, a true characteristic of a hero.

My father or my mother never pushed us any one direction in our lives. My father and mother did instill work ethic, dedication, perseverance, and courage. The courage to take a chance and stand up for what we believe in regardless of whether they liked it or not. With my father serving 40 years on the fire department, it is no secret he loved his job. I truly understand what he felt this past week when reality hit and he was done being chief. When I was done coaching back in April it was hard to fathom. I know my dad deserves retirement and who doesn’t after 40 years, but I know there is an emptiness that will still be with him for some time, just like with basketball for me.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a shortage of true heroes in this day and age and too many times kids are looking to professional athletes, music artists, or senseless Hollywood actors who don’t set good examples. Kids need to look closer to home at the people around them.

Parents, however, don’t need to be some super human to be a hero to their children. My brother-in-law is a police officer and a “stinkin” mailman as my niece once said. I see how my sister and her husband parent their children and my nieces adore their mother and father and I bet if I asked who their hero was, they would say their father or mother. Parents don’t need to be their children’s best friends. They need to set the example like my father did, yes and my mother too. If parents do their job and be parents, who knows their children may see them as a hero.

I wish my father the best not being a fireman. I love him dearly and I am glad I had such a good role model growing up. I am also glad he took pride in his job. It takes a hero to be dedicated for 40 years. Your service won’t be forgotten and I know you have touched many lives. Thanks for helping create all of he wonderful memories that I have and thank you for instilling in me the pride, work ethic, and dedication it takes to be successful in this world. I love you dad.


Weathering the Storm

Last night CRWP had our Spring Showcase and I was asked to present my experiences with the writing project and how I have transformed my classroom since being a part of NWP and how I personally have changed as a writer.

First, I would like to say thank you to the co-directors of CRWP for asking me to give my insight about the writing project.  I hope it was encouraging to the new recruits for this summer’s writing project.

Second, I don’t want to share a whole lot on here today about other aspects of my personal life besides what NWP has done for me and continues to do for me.  Recently I was asked to step down as the head coach at the high school where I was coaching (girls varsity basketball), which is different from where I teach.  The reasons were bogus but I believe in doing what is best for the kids, so with that aside, here is what I truly want to say.

Back in February at our leadership retreat, I was at a crossroads as to wether I should continue coaching.  There were so many opportunities for me with NWP if I was willing to embrace them and something was tugging at me.  Though I wasn’t sure my heart was completely into coaching anymore, my wife and I decided that I should give it one more year.

The idea of me not coaching became the storm in my life for about 4 weeks.  I still have rain showers from time to time if you know what I mean.  Anyways, a lot of opportunities were being set before me with NWP and our own satellite site and I started to embrace them and run full steam ahead.

Ultimately the decision had been made for me to stop coaching.  Some might call it divine intervention, others might call it a ironic.  I am a firm believer in being an optimist and where one door closes, another one opens.  I know I am supposed to be doing something else right now and I believe it is embracing the writing project and giving it my all.

All in all, if it wasn’t for NWP and my CRWP family, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing right now in my classroom and outside of my classroom.  I have so much confidence as a writer and an educator that I want the message to be spread.  NWP is worth while and is necessary for the future of children being competitive in this world and it is necessary so teachers can learn and receive the tools that are necessary for the classroom.


NWP – I Am A Writer!

I can’t begin to tell the importance of the NWP!  As a matter of fact, words don’t do it justice, not to mention the many people who are a huge part of a network that strives to dedicate their lives to making teachers better writers and learners of writing and passing on that knowledge to the students in the classroom.

I have always loved writing, but when I was finished with the Chippewa River Writing Project, I found my voice, my confidence, and my niche in writing.  I was given the tools to create more powerful writing and I learned to take those tools and enhance my student’s experiences in the classroom.
The National Writing Project has propelled me to leadership and to a level of confidence I did not know existed in me as a writer.  I have a goal of being a published writer now, which I never thought was possible.
Thank you NWP!  The legacy must live on!