Tag Archives: high school

I used to

I used to get up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for the day. One cup of coffee, yogurt, and a banana. I would get back into bed (on my wife’s side) for a few minutes as my wife would finish getting ready for the day. I would shower while she ate breakfast.

But now, we get up at random times.

 

I used to teach in front of students. I could tell who was having a bad day. I could tell if my hyper class would have to be reined in because the lesson needed focus from them. My day was a roller coaster of grading, answering emails, and teaching.

But now, I answer emails and grade assignments as they are completed online.

 

I used to believe that I would live forever. That I had time to do everything I wanted with my life. Life was an open highway.

But now, well actually, I’ve realized that my days are numbered for some time now. This moment in time dealing with the COVID-19 situation has reinforced the reality that life is fleeting. As a society we are forced to deal with so many factors we take for granted in our everyday life. A handshake, eating out, graduations, and just the joy of an open highway.

 

I used to distrust people. OK, to be honest I still do, but that is a personal journey.

But now, I wonder what the effects of this pandemic will have on our culture. We were already dealing with anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness. Dealing with screen time and its connections to these emotions.

 

I used to go to church with my family, shake hands with others during The Liturgy of the Eucharist (Peace Be With You).

But now, we watch Mass on TV. Hearing the echoes of the few people in attendance during the filming of the service.

 

I used to make one box of blueberry muffins. When the boys were young, 12 muffins were enough for the family.

But now, we have added scrambled eggs and bacon or sausage, and we will have to start making 24 muffins as my oldest son has moved back home to finish his semester of college online.

 

I used to believe in love…

But now, I still do… There is no greater force in this life than Love. Oh, I know hate and other negative forces seem to gain more attention and seem to be more powerful. That the world is falling apart… but Love is what will rebuild the world.

 

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Snow Day Reflection

Yesterday was a snow day.

Yesterday was a good day.

Yesterday was filled with games, reading, a nap, and snacks.

It was a day of family, movies playing in the background, and laughter.

Yesterday was HOME.

I wondered how other people’s day was? Who was yelled at? Who spent the whole day on their phone? Who was hungry?

One of the challenging aspects of teaching is knowing that some students don’t have a home. For my faithful readers you may remember the student poem, “I Wake Up,” that I shared on my educational blog last year. As a teacher I wish I could change the world for all my students. But I can’t. That is a hard truth that is difficult to live with.

As a husband and father, I am proud of the home I have built. It takes work. It takes work everyday. But yesterday was a reminder of why it matters. Yesterday was a snow day. It was filled with joy. It was good to be home.

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Throwback: Graduation Speech 2000

I was doing some digital cleaning of files on my computer when I discovered my graduation speech for the class of 2000 at Pawnee City. This was my first year teaching. I had a thing about entering the room, making a “Grand Entrance”. This speech took me down memory lane…

 

About 18 years ago you all made a “Grand Entrance” into this world. You wailed, you cried.  Your parents wailed and cried.  Neither of you were sure of what was going to happen.  The future was a closed door.  But together you opened that door and traveled to this moment. This door.  Graduation.  Most people think of this moment as an ending. I ask you to think of it as a chance to make a “Grand Entrance”.

Yes, you are leaving the halls of Pawnee City High.  Leaving those oh so comfortable desks. Parting ways with my oh so efficient pencil sharpener. Never again to sit on the “sharing stool”.  No more watching us teachers lean against the wall. You are done with all the intellectual endeavors.

However, what lies ahead is a world totally different then what you are leaving.  This ceremony is your first step into that world. And your only chance to make that “Grand Entrance”.

Some of you will go on to college (a totally different type of intellectual endeavor), others the arm forces, while some will take on the responsibility of working. You may have an idea of what you are going to do, but deep down you are unsure of what lies ahead.  What is behind this door? I can’t tell you. Your parents can’t tell you.  But don’t be afraid. Open this door with passion. With the lessons we, your parents and teachers, have given you. With your heart and soul, open this door with your own style.

For unlike 18 years ago this “Grand Entrance” is a solo. This is your opportunity to change your world. How you enter this next stage, how you enter through this door, will set the tone for your life.

If you enter with your head down, scared to see what is there, you will miss so many opportunities.  The only view you’ll have is of your shoes. That’s not nice. Unless you spend as much as I do on shoes, then that’s a different story. Of course my wife has curbed my spending a little. But I do have a baby on the way and he or she will have the coolest shoes. Oh, did I just get off the subject?  Sorry seniors, a flash back to AP English!

If you enter looking back from where you came from you’ll never get the chance to be a better person. All you will have to measure your life by is what you did in high school.  Plus, you will probably be knocked down from any obstacles that lie ahead. That’s not nice.

If you enter running just trying to get to the next door, more than likely you’ll end up missing the perfect opportunity for you and smashing your head against the wall.  That’s not nice.

But open this door. Take a second then make your “Grand Entrance.”  A 360-degree spin.  A high swan like leap. Walk through the door with an “It’s all good in the hood” swagger. Whatever kind of entrance you make let the world know who you are and that you are here to live.  You are here to view what is possible, to grasp the best opportunity for your goals.

I welcome you all to the graduation of the class 2000.  Be prepared for a little wailing and a lot of crying. But most of all let us enjoy the “Grand Entrance” of this class into the world.

Seniors you have my permission to go, but this time you don’t have to come back.

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What I Learned from My Students

It has been an interesting year for a number of reasons. But this post is about what I’ve learned from my students over the past year. Some background information, last year was my first year teaching a regular lecture college course for Central Community College (CCC). This semester I am teaching an online course for CCC. In the past I have taught the early entry courses for seniors taking dual credit courses through CCC. Even though I taught a college course, my everyday teacher life was centered in the high school routine. There is a difference between high school students and college students at CCC. This is what I’ve learned.

Education Matters

Even though I lost students over the year to a wide range of issues (I’ll talk about that in a few lines), students understood that gaining an education was important for them to reach their professional goals. I had one student who used her lunch break to attend my class. She would arrive a few minutes late, in her nursing outfit from work, and was raising a family. Another student had worked construction for almost two decades and loved it. But an accident kept him from returning to that job. He was studying business in hopes that he could return to the company in a new position.

My students understood that getting an education was going to help them reach their goals. But it is not easy.

Life Can Be a Hurdle

In high school, life is school. Football games, dances, school, they are all part of the everyday experience. For many of my students at CCC class was just a section of their life. I had students in class that ranged from 18 to 63 years old. I have a student right now who is traveling the world and taking my course online to get some general education credits handled before he comes back to the States. I had a young man at the age of 21 who had already gone through rehab twice.

I am proud to be a part, however small, of their lives. But life did cause some hurdles that challenged my approach to teaching. One aspect was the workload I expected from them. It made me think about what was really important for them in my course. This was hard for me because I love sharing extra material, to try to foster learning beyond the curriculum. I had to consider what I asked of them regarding assignments and homework. Not that I took it easier on them, but it forced me to align my course work according to importance and expected time spent on it. A simple example is that I used class time to handle small assignments and tried to give feedback on those right away because many of the assignments connect to their essays (which are the major assignments for the course). This allowed my students to work on the essay at home with more confidence in their ability to accomplish the writing.

Education versus Learning

This area is still challenging me, and maybe it always will. But not in the way you might think. I know many of my students only take my course because it is a general education course that all programs require. I actually lean on that idea to emphasize the importance of taking the course. I repeat, over and over, and over, that the number one goal is to help them become better writers for this course, for upcoming courses, and even for life. I present them with a WHY. Many of my students just want the credit, I know this. But their learning is their education which is their life, their goals. My battle is in creating a course, an assignment, or developing content that aligns to that WHY. And yes, I believe it matters.

The student who used her lunch hour to attend my class has two children and she revealed why it matters. During one session on writing with tone/voice, I was discussing how this characteristic of writing was the reason we like certain books, songs, and other media. I continued to expand on how important word choice  was in creating that tone or finding their own voice. Unbeknownst to me at the time I connected the WHY to her life when I lead a discussion on how hard it can be to write a personal letter to someone expressing our feelings (word choice/tone). I shared a personal example of writing a card for my son, and even how hard it was for me to get that card right. I happened to then share that that type of writing was just as important as an essay for my class, which I believe. At the end of that semester, which ended in December, that student sent me an email to tell me that she was excited to write a Christmas letter to her children and husband sharing how much she loved them. She wanted to make these letters a new tradition for her family.

What my students taught me was that education matters, for their goals, for their life.

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We Need Libraries

Last week I read, “School Libraries Are Under Attack,” by Debra Kachel and was saddened by the stats provided in the article, “In 1991, there were 176 certified librarians in Philadelphia Public Schools. Today there are 10.” Debra Kachel provides even more devastating statistics that reveal too many schools are losing their libraries. I couldn’t help but to remember how important libraries were to my intellectual and personal growth.

In college I spent at least one night a week in the library. I miss looking through the microfilm and microfiche files. I used to read the New York Times from the 1800s. I got hooked reading it when I was writing an essay for my History of Psychology class. Even when I wasn’t doing research, the library was the place to study. Trying to study in my dorm room was nearly impossible. But at the library I could take up a whole table with my books, pens, and notebooks. It wasn’t all academic though, maybe it was the environment, or the question, “What are you studying?” when my friends saw me, but some of the deepest conversations with friends happened at the library. I was never kicked out, but I remember a number of times my friends and I would be asked to keep it down. Sometimes the conversation was based on class material, but so many times our talks developed into life questions we were struggling with. It was safe to explore our doubts and fears below the halogen lights and surrounded by shelves of ideas as the outside world became dark..

heartofschoolAs a freshman I was introduced to my favorite book of all time, Catcher in the Rye. I remember walking into the library and asking our librarian ,Bill Fagan, if I could check out the book. He stood behind the counter, looking down on me, and then said, “I think you can handle it.” The librarian is the identity of a library. The article, “School Cuts Have Decimated Librarians”  reinforces this idea,  “She (Bernadette Kearney, a librarian) knows who likes to read graphic novels and who’s a fan of biographies. She tailors her collection to teachers’ projects, and she is forever coming up with reasons – Harry Potter quizzo at lunchtime, anyone? – to make the library not just a place to study, but the heart of the school.” For the next four years I would discuss the next book I should read with Mr. Fagan.  Sometimes he would have a book waiting on the counter for me.  He would do this for everyone that used the library.

Besides helping me achieve my academic goals, to introducing me to a life changing book, a library saved my life.

During my junior high years my friends and I would play Dungeons and Dragons in a conference room at the Converse County Library on Saturdays. We unpacked our dice, decided on the adventure book, updated our character sheets and spent the afternoon being heroes. I don’t think my friends knew that the library was my second home.  That when we were done conquering a dragon and they went home, I would sit and read until the library closed, like I did almost every night.

My house was actually just across the street from the library. I ate breakfast, took out the trash, and would wait for my favorite song to play on the radio so I could record it onto a tape in that house for a year, but I lived at the library. My mother and her boyfriend lived at the house. This post is not about what happened, but to be honest the library was my safe haven.  I don’t remember the ladies who worked there (I am sorry for that), but I was safe there.  They suggested books for me to read, would let me ramble through the aisle, randomly picking a book to read in my favorite chair, which somehow was always open for me. I see my local library fulfilling the same role for others.

On most Saturdays you can find my family at the Hastings Public Library. There are a variety of people on any given Saturday. Kids playing Minecraft on the computers, someone filling out tax forms, another person getting copies, and a group of men, paper in hands, talking about the weather. The library is the heartbeat of a town, of a school, of a society. I don’t like to think about what that future might look like. Neither does Debra Kachel, teacher for the School Library and Information Technologies Program at Mansfield University (qtd. in “School Cuts Have Decimated Librarians”), “We are soon going to have an entire generation of school students who have gone kindergarten through high school and who have not known what a school library is, and have not had access to those resources to learn,” Kachel said. “I find that unconscionable.”

We need libraries, now more than ever.

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Open Letter to Mr. Holt

Dear Mr. Holt,

I wish you were here to see me finally live up to the potential you saw in me way back in middle school (1984). I have self published my first novel. I image handing you a copy and you smiling, your eyes would get lost behind your glasses and full beard, as you hold it in both hands. You would sit at your desk, messy as always, and thumb through some pages, stopping to read a section. You would then say, “I knew you could do this.”

But you passed away in 2001.

I am sorry that it took me this long to believe. Maybe not believe, but to embrace the talent you saw in me as an awkward seventh grader who wrote poetry in his notebooks instead of notes. You let us break-dancers actually have a class to work on our moves during our eighth grade year. You always read my poetry and stories with a caring but honest insight. I still have the book of poetry you gave me from your library because I borrowed it so much. I also have the copy of Dune you let me keep from class. And yes, I still have the “book” you put together of my poetry for my senior year. Giving me my first taste of being published, even if it was put together by hand and was only 25 copies.

IMG_5662As I look at my classroom I can’t help but laugh. My bulletin boards look just like yours did. Even when I didn’t have your class you would allow me to put stuff up on your walls. I remember Scott and I visiting you at your home. You always had time for us. You always had time for me, and I wish I had told you this when you were alive.

I was the kid who was too loud at times. Even Scott’s mom mentioned that to him in junior high. I had to move away a number of times, but you were a stable factor in my life for those six school years. You made me feel that I mattered. You expanded my horizons by suggesting books; yes, Catcher in the Rye is still my favorite book of all time. You let me sit by the window and understood that I heard you even while I wrote poetry instead of grammar notes.

It is teacher appreciation week. The best way I know how to say thank you is to share my talent with you and the world. A talent you helped develop. Writing. I miss you, Mr. Holt. Thank you for being my English teacher.

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