Tag Archives: students

Foundations of a Good Life

Being in education I see too many students carrying the weight of the world in their backpacks. Their faces straining as they drop their packs next to their desk. They sit at their desks, rolling out their shoulders. Sometimes they hold their head in their hands, trying to gain the strength to learn how to write a compare and contrast essay.

I know how they feel, I was that student. In some ways, this post is written for them. These are the top five foundational characteristics to a good life. 

Number 5

Curiosity. This world is filled with wonderful things. Staying curious about the world will open new opportunities. Curiosity is the willingness to be adventurous, even during a routine day. To not close your mind to the beautiful and cool things around adds depth to the ordinary aspects of life.

Number 4

Goals. I know some people might disagree with this idea, but goals do not have to be grand, they can be simple to-do lists you make for the day. They can be grand, though. Any level of goals creates action. Goals develop purpose for our lives. Even during the roughest moments, we can take steps toward the goals we have set. 

Number 3

Others. I’ve said this before. “Life is a team sport.” This is the most complex characteristic. Creating the right team is critical to achieving a good life, but it is hard to create that team at different times in life. I will acknowledge that (see number one characteristic). You don’t need a big team, you need a strong team that supports each other.

Number 2

Love. This might come as a shock for some of the faithful readers of this blog because I have written about Love in a number of different ways. Love is a foundation for a great life, no doubt. Keeping an open heart, being vulnerable to receive love, opens up a powerful way to live. I do believe that Love is the only way we create an incredible society and world. But…

Number 1

Strength. Every characteristic listed needs, in some ways, strength to accomplish. Strength to make hard decisions. Strength to keep your heart and mind open. Strength to choose to love others, even when they hurt you. Strength to endure when your backpack feels like it is carrying the weight of the world. You build strength by working on keeping your curiosity of the world, striving toward goals, finding the right team, and choosing love… you’ll find you are stronger than you know.

Tomorrow I will share the top five things that bring me joy in this life.

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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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I’m Not OK

It was a tough day.

I learned about the song, “comethru” from a senior for an assignment last semester. I like incorporating music into my lessons. It allows me to see a different aspect of my students. This song was shared during our study of the book, Night. In chapter 6, Juliek plays a last “concert” for the prisoners with his violin. The students had to share a song that lifts their spirits when life gets rough.

Life is rough right now.

This morning the students were allowed into the school to get their stuff and talk to teachers about how their classes would be handled online. They were allowed in by grade every hour. At one point I had about 20 seniors in my class. They were laughing, enjoying the chance to be together… maybe for the last time as seniors.

“Five More Minutes” by Scotty McCreery was a song submitted as a poetic song for our poetry unit.

A classroom, a school, is an intense snapshot of life. Everyday is filled with the full spectrum of emotions. Of victories and heartbreak. Personal growth and steps backwards. Each student has their own journey, yet it is shared with everyone in the classroom. Some of the fears are the same for every student as they walk the path to graduation. But right now, we are all sharing the same fear and anxiety of the present moment.

For a few moments, I felt OK this morning. After everyone left, a senior came back in, hand out toward me. “I need one more,” he said. And we did our handshake that we do everyday in class…

I’m not OK now… But again, I should listen to my students… Another song submitted for an assignment.

 

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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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Why It Matters

My three oldest children are dealing with tough situations as they try to accomplish their goals. Each of them are faced with obstacles that are out of their control, but stand in their way of fulfilling their dreams. We continue to support them and to encourage them to continue to work hard and be true to themselves. But, it has become such a stressor that my oldest son challenged me the other night at dinner.

“When has following my heart ever paid off for me?”

This challenge was in response to a specific goal he has. Now, I’m not going to discuss the specifics of each of my children’s situations. This post isn’t meant for me to just rant about how unfair things are… It’s going to be an honest post about being a dad during times like this. Times when my kids feel life is unfair. That no matter how hard they work, others have control of their goals. Times when it feels like success will never come.

If you search for “Motivational Video” on Google you will get, “About 382,000,000 results” (just did this search). I have a playlist of about 15 of these videos. They do motivate. The videos emphasize not giving up. The person yells about how success comes after pain, or when you least expect it. Success is right around the corner, if you work hard… In one way I am going to disagree with them.  And by disagreeing with them I am going to answer my son’s question.

First, the motivational videos don’t give a clear picture of success; at least not on a deeper level. Success is not around the corner… and for sure it is hardly ever a straight line! Reaching your goals is more like the path a jack rabbit takes when it is spooked. Right! Left! Hide in some grass, then dart off again!

Reaching a goal is hard (this part the motivational videos and I agree on), in part because of the path you have to take to reach it. Then the most complex aspect of success kicks in…

What you define as success changes as you travel on that path. Left! Right! Hide… change in definition of success… now what?

I have been involved in athletics and education for over 20 years. I have been a part of many athletes’ and students’ journeys.

I’ve seen goals reached in seconds, then taken away before the finish line.

Courtney was a freshman 400 runner for me at Centura. She still holds the school record at 59 seconds. In the prelims of the 400 at state she ran the fastest time to earn lane four in the finals, 59 seconds. But she would not medal. In fact for the finals of the women’s 400, lane four was empty. Courtney had broken a bone in her foot at the 200 mark in her prelim 400. Yes, you read that right. Courtney ran a 59 second 400 with a broken foot. She would return to state to earn a fourth place medal. But a goal was earned and taken away in a single race.

I’ve seen goals take miles and years to reach.

The above snapshot of Variety’s “About” page shows the name of one of their newest online video producers, James Aitken, who is a former student of mine that wanted to attend college in California to study film. He did not get accepted. James went on to the University of Nebraska to do some cool things in the media field. He graduated from UNL in 2014. He started his newest job last May, in California.

Working hard is an aspect of reaching your goals.

Another sprinter, Ryan, worked hard for three years. As a junior he was ranked third in both the 100 and 200. He worked hard for three years! He puked after practice. He strengthened his form. Ryan believed in the process… He won both races at districts to earn a spot at state.

But many times, dreams change as we grow.

The 2018 Miss Nebraska, Jessica Shultis, is another former athlete and student. Jessica placed 10th at the 2019 Miss America contest in September. She is living a dream I don’t think she had as she played basketball and ran track in high school, or as she battled cancer at the age of 19.

Now to address my son’s challenge.

You do have to work hard. That is important.

Success is not a straight line. Enjoy the journey.

Your goals will change. That is OK.

But always follow your heart as you pursue your dreams. In one way, the quality of your life is revealed in how you strive for your goals. You may succeed. You may fail. But if you follow your heart, your life will always be true.

 

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Off to Grandma’s house we go, talking all the way

Life can teach you powerful lessons, if you listen…

The last couple of days life has revealed how important talking and listening is to our relationships. Here are the dots I’ve been given to connect.

  1. Taking my youngest daughter to grandma’s house in the morning.
  2. An assignment in class
  3. Focus on the Family program

Dot 1

For the last two days I have driven my youngest daughter to grandma’s house because her preschool doesn’t start until next week. Grandma’s house is 35 minutes away. For the last two days I have answered questions like:

“Why does the moon move?”

“What is your favorite place to go?”

“What is your favorite stuffed animal?”

It has been a joy talking with my daughter. When she liked an answer, she would say, “Oooooh, I like that, too!”

With six children, we have a busy schedule. It is not often that we get specific time to just talk with a single child.  We do have family time at dinner, or traveling to an event, that allows us to talk. But the specific one-on-one time is rare. Answering questions on the way to grandma’s house has reinforced the importance of finding time for each of my kids.

Dot 2

To start the year I have a small unit for the seniors that focuses on being successful next year at college. They write an email to a professor, they create a resume, stuff like that. The first assignment is to answer some questions about their college and life next year. Questions like:

Where is the Registrar’s office? Who is a contact person?

Who do you contact for safety issues?

Where is your favorite restaurant from campus?

This lead to a lot of conversations, as a class and with a single student as we tried to navigate a college’s website. Through the class period we would also talk about break and Christmas gifts. One moment in class got me thinking about the importance of talking… one student asked me about my New Year’s resolutions. Then another student asked about what Christmas gifts I got.  This was the only class that that type of conversation happened, but it made me feel like someone else cared enough to know something about me. Isn’t that the heart of our life? To know that someone else in this great big world, which at times is so harsh, cares enough to listen to us.

Dot 3

After dropping my daughter off this morning, I listened to Focus on the Family. Jim Daly  interviewed Ron and Deb DeArmond about their book, I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last. One of the focal points was about communication in marriage. During an answer Deb said that you hear with your ears, but listen with your heart. True communication is not just talking, but listening, processing, and showing you care.

It is a simple picture when you connect the dots: real conversations matter. Real conversations are an act of love.

I think the world needs more talking and listening…

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#Life

Even for me, sometimes too many things happen at once that challenge us. Too many dots show up and it is hard to connect them in a clear meaningful way. Right now I am in that situation. I am hoping that writing this blog post will help me find the connections, while bringing something toward your life to think about.

So here are the dots that have happened over the last few days:

Dot One: Reading poetry by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Blake (to name a few) in English class. Poems like “Sonnet 60,” “To an Athlete Dying Young,” and “The world is too much with us.”

Dot Two: Attending the funeral of a family member on my wife’s side that battled cancer for four years. She was only a year older than I am.

Dot Three: Returning to Centura for a basketball game to connect with past colleagues. I also saw the school’s new academic display that had a section for the Teacher of the Year award, which I received in 2010.

Dot Four: Going through a “first year.” Dealing with all the positive and negative components of that.

Dot Five: Getting a chapbook of poetry ready for submission… actually, dot five is writing in general.

So let’s connect some dots with a quote from Macklemore:

Every dot is connected to this quote in some way. This life is fleeting. We all die. We don’t face that reality. We don’t live like our death is a truth. We have songs, we have graduation speeches, we have posters reminding us of the fact. Expressing the idea that our lives should be lived for something more deep and meaningful… but we watch another YouTube video, or retweet a meme, or spend time talking bad about someone. We simply waste time, waste our days on things that don’t make our life incredible.

See, the second part of the Macklemore’s lyric takes all the dots to a deeper level. What we do with our lives dictates how long it takes to die a second time… Think about that for a second…

Dot One: Reading poetry from the 1800’s.

Dot Two: Family. The love we create by being family.

Dot Three: Being involved in people’s lives.

Dot Four: Being involved in people’s lives. Even when it is tough.

Dot Five: Writing so that my words can be a part of somebody’s life.

When will Shakespeare’s name finally be said for the last time? When will yours? When will my name no longer be said?

I don’t know the answers, but I do know that what we do while we are here determines how long we will be remembered.

This isn’t about being famous. This is about facing the truth that we will die. At some point we will no longer see a sunset. We will no longer have a great cup of coffee. Be able to hold hands with the person we love. If we truly lived with the truth of death, our lives would be different. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t work, or that we wouldn’t watch a YouTube video. It means we wouldn’t waste our time and energy on hurting people. We would chase our goals. We would cherish the opportunities we have to learn, to read poetry, to drink a good cup of coffee.

But most importantly, we would love with an open heart. We would love our life and the people we get to share it with. I may never truly make it as a writer or poet (but I will keep trying), but I am a father, a husband, a teacher and a friend. How I live my life in those roles will determine how long it takes to die a second time…

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Blueberry Muffins and the Summer of Weddings

It is Sunday morning. There are a few blueberry and chocolate chip muffins left in the muffin pans. A pile of muffin cups on the island. The girls are watching The Greatest Showman while my wife is getting ready for church. Yesterday my wife and I attended another wedding of a former student. This summer we were invited to five weddings, two family members and three former students.

At the moment, we are going through one of the roughest times we have ever experienced. I only share this to set up the importance of this blog. There is no “Happily Ever After” for any story, but there are blueberry muffins to be made.

As I have mentioned, I got to see the start of new stories. I saw grooms get teary eyed as the bride walked down the aisle. I heard vows. Watched rings placed on hands. And witnessed the couples kiss for the first time as a married couple. The beginning of a new story for them.

Weddings feel like Happily Ever After.

But every story has a conflict. In fact, the longer the story, the more conflicts there are. Some last only a page, while other conflicts wage on for chapters. Each conflict has its own resolution. Sometimes for the better, other times the resolution leaves the characters changed.

Stories also have literary elements, like symbols, metaphors, and paradoxes. These are the things that make a story worth reading. That make the characters laugh and cry. Feel joy and pain. Our family has a symbol, as many of you know, and that is blueberry muffins. Throughout all of our plot twists we have had Sunday morning breakfasts of blueberry muffins. A morning when we are family, a foundation that has stood for 20 years.

As my wife and I drove home from another beautiful wedding, we talked about the past (how I was a part of the groom’s story in high school) and about how we were going to get through this conflict in our story. This morning as we made muffins, everything was swimming in my head, and I thought: I don’t wish all the new married couples a Happily Ever After, I hope they write a powerful symbol into their story that they can rely on when the conflicts come.

Blueberry Muffin

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Your Story. My Story. Our Story.

Your Story.

On Saturday, I attended the wedding of a former student, Jason. The wedding was centered on the couple’s Love Story. The program shared important dates for them; first road trip, first date, the day he proposed. The ceremony, also, intertwined their Love Story. It was a beautiful moment… in their Life Story.

The wedding party had seven former students; the officiant, the groom, an usher, and four of the groomsmen. Not to mention all the other former students I visited with during the reception. It had been over 10 years since I had seen many of them. Many of the conversations centered on how life had changed for all of us. Trying to tell our Life Stories in 10 minutes. In one way it saddened me. To know, that at one time, our stories were being written together. Now… the stories are separate. In fact, even though Jason and I have kept in touch (mostly through Facebook), the wedding was the first time I met his bride.

Isn’t that Life.

You have your story. I have my story.

But, even in small moments, it is our story. And that is the greatest aspect of life I know. Each of us plays the role of protagonist in our lives. We forget that we are characters in other people’s stories. I was the English teacher, the coach, and for some of my students, something more. Jason and I spent hours playing basketball and talking about life. For each of my former students there was a unique aspect to our relationship. For example, I gave one student a quote every month for a year. I will admit to feeling a sense of pride knowing that those memories were part of their stories. To remember the good times and the rough times because we wrote that part together, just in different perspectives.

Even though our stories are now being written separately, it doesn’t mean that we didn’t play an important part in the past. Because isn’t that what makes a great story? Moments that are worth remembering. Stories that are retold. Being remembered by someone. Yes, you have your story. I have my story. But really this life is our story.

(A little trip back to eighth grade…)

 

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