Tag Archives: teaching

The Weight of Living

I am unsure how this blog post will go, it might end up being poetic, and if so, cool.

Today I had a workshop as a dual credit instructor. I hurried after school to the college to make it on time. I was mostly excited to see my former colleagues that I worked with for three years. I sat patiently through the presentations, completed the tasks I needed to be ready for the second semester, then got to talk to my previous coworkers for a few minutes before I headed home.

I put on my coat, slung my computer bag around my shoulder and chest then headed down the hallway. It was quiet in the building. I was thinking of my time working with the college. At the end of the hallway was a row of large windows. The doorway was around the corner to the left. It was dark outside, so I could see a shaded reflection of myself walking. My footsteps soft but distinct because I was the only one at the time in the hallway.

I stopped three fourths of the way. As a wave of melancholy washed over me I stared at my reflection in the window. My face shadowed, my shoulders still broad, my computer bag on my hip, hands stuffed in the pockets of my coat. A stance I recognized because I’ve stood like that for decades… suddenly 51 years of living fell on my spirit.

It was only a few seconds, but it felt like eternity as my heart somehow felt every minute of my life pulsate through my chest into my mind. On one hand I felt grounded to the moment, my feet securely holding me up, but on the other hand I felt the wind of purpose, of meaning, blow right through me, as if I was the reflection I was staring at.

What had I really accomplished in 51 years? 

Too many times I had been on the cusp of doing, what I felt would be great things, only to turn the wrong corner and start all over.

My name felt fragile at that moment.

I understood that on the scale of time, I wouldn’t even be recorded.

I took a step forward, the melancholy turning into deep rooted sadness with each step. The darkness outside eclipsed my reflection as I approached the corner to turn toward the exit. The winter wind reminded me that I was here.

I texted my wife to let her know I was on my way home.

When I got home my youngest daughter wanted to show me her new shoes and to dance in them with me.

I found myself lost again, but this time in the music of my daughter’s laughter (it was hard to spin her in new shoes on carpet).

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Reading is Cool!

I know what you are thinking… You are a writer, a teacher, of course you think reading is cool. 

But hold on, this post is not just about how reading helps in academics or in writing.

Even though it is true… this post is about how reading is cool.

The first reason reading is cool is because it generates unexpected thoughts. When reading a new book you will come across a line or section that makes you think about something you would not have thought about on your own. A simple line can set you off on deeper paths of thinking. A paragraph can elicit emotions or bring you to a new understanding of yourself or the world. I’ve experienced this lately.

While reading a book of poetry by A.E. Housman I came across the line above. The line challenged me emotionally, so much so I had to make a creative picture quote of it. Poetry hasn’t been the only text to challenge me. Stephen King’s book, The Outsider, has generated a sense of frustration. And that is a good thing. Without giving away the book, the story is a great example of Dramatic Irony, where the reader knows something the characters of the book don’t. By reading I get to understand myself a little better because of this emotion. I get the chance to work through why I am frustrated. Reading gives us opportunities to be challenged, to learn more about ourselves. That is cool, but it is cooler to share that experience.

The second reason reading is cool because it can be a shared experience. There is nothing like handing a person a book to read, then talking about it later. There is a different connection when people read something together because of the emotions and thoughts that they can share. One of the cool things I enjoy as a teacher is reading with students. Even though there are grades involved with studying literature, most times students enjoy the discussions that center around their thoughts and emotions.

The shared experience goes beyond the classroom, I shared in a past post (“The Why”) how a former student had a dad moment that spurred a memory from a book we read in class. The shared experience of reading is timeless. It is like a literary photograph. We can mention a book or poem and the memories flood the conversation.

Reading is important for a number of reasons. But reading is cool! Reading allows us to think of ideas we wouldn’t normally consider. Reading can make us feel emotions. Yet, the coolest part is reading can be a shared experience that connects us through those emotions and thoughts.

Below I share 5 works (in no particular order) you can read to connect with me, then share your thoughts in the comments. I can’t wait to read about what you thought.

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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…


Filed under Education, Family, Life

Blueberry Muffin Success

It is Sunday morning. I am making blueberry muffins for the family. Big mixing bowl, muffin mix, two eggs, ¾ cup of milk (not water), and ¼ cup of oil. Blueberries are drained and waiting. It is a familiar routine. It is a foundation of our family. A simple thing that helps keep the family and me from getting lost in the turmoil of life.

This morning I am still reeling from the feelings of doubt and uncertainty. I had a number of opportunities that I felt qualified for, but wasn’t even given a chance to prove myself. No interviews, sessions not accepted for conferences. I know that there are so many factors involved in the process of selecting candidates for a position, but, honestly, rejection hurts. You wonder why. You wonder what didn’t they see in you.

These questions fill my head as I get all the ingredients mixed and fill the muffin cups. The oven beeps that it is heated to 410 degrees. I place the pan in the oven and set the timer for 18 minutes. I grab my coffee cup (I make my coffee before the muffins) and sit at the table thinking.

Success is a tricky concept. It can be measured by money, titles, or objects if that is your definition. But what if you just want to do your best, to help people be better, to raise a strong family? What if your idea of success is happiness? How is that measured?

Part of the way we measure that type of success is from our jobs, from the impact we make in our field of expertise. Those are hard to measure and sometimes the most challenging aspect of success because of change. A new boss, chasing a goal, or a decision made by administration. Things change and sometimes we don’t know why. Life doesn’t always go our way and we don’t know why. That is why doubt can bring you down, you can’t argue against it when there is no easy measurement to counter its voice.

6294522979_685f90e4bc_zThe timer goes off. The muffins have a golden hue mixed with dots of blue. They smell warm and tasty. The family gathers around the table. Glasses are filled with orange juice and milk. Butter is applied to the muffins for those who want it. There is chatter, request for more drink, and even laughter.

Sometimes success is measured not by money or a job, but by a dozen blueberry muffins every Sunday morning.


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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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I was talking to my colleague Deanna Stall when she brought up an interesting point. She asked, “What if the system has plateaued? That this is the best that we can expect from school.” Good question.  It got me thinking about all the talk about changing school, from Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk “Bring on the Learning Revolution” to the book I am currently reading by Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse. One of the main points about education is how it must change, that it is broken.  But maybe Mrs. Stall’s question is more accurate.  Let me talk about the bench press first.

Not to get into the principles of conditioning, but I want to use the bench press to highlight the idea of a plateau. The bench press is a great exercise. But if you do the same rep set or keep the same weight everyday, you will soon hit a plateau in your development. The easiest way to break the plateau is a change in reps, weight, or the training cycle.  Change something, not stop doing the bench press.

School is a great place. Teachers work hard to provide an education for every child.  Activities, from sports to FFA to a school play, provide unique opportunities for students to express their talents. There are too many positives about school that get lost in the discussion of change.  Many times it feels like the discussion is centered on the idea we trash the whole system and start over.  But what if we think about it from the position of the plateau?

Change is growth, but the change is in the approach not the foundation.  An athlete will not stop doing the bench press when they hit a plateau; they change their training.

The question for a school, or even a teacher, is what to change to reach the full potential of the school or the classroom.  What can we change to break through the plateau?  Because the worst part of a plateau is the false perception that it is the best you can do…

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Coursebook is a personal video textbook.  Coursebook features videos from Ted, Khan Academy, Stanford eCorner, Yale, Railscasts and other educational sources.  You can also connect your Facebook and Linkedin accounts to see what your friends are studying with Coursebook.


Why I like it:

Coursebook is a simple idea, but designed so well that it is easy to get lost in learning.  The idea is to build your own learning path by selecting videos to watch.  Coursebook then keeps track of what you have watched, which ones you have tagged to watch later, and even which videos you have started to watch. The app then gives you recommendations based off your course work.  You can share your videos through Facebook and Linkedin; also you can share with the Coursebook community.

You can access your course work on their website, too.

 Use in the classroom:

This app is perfect for flipping your classroom or enhancing your curriculum.  At the moment Coursebook is just over two years old and you can’t just type in any keyword and get video results.  But I see great potential in what they are developing, and it can release the ownership of learning to the student.

For example lets use the study of cells in a high school class.  How can Coursebook be used in this situation?

First, I did a keyword search with “cells” and Coursebook provided 11 results.  The top three videos are “Using nature to grow batteries,” “Transplant cells, not organs,” and “Printing a human kidney.”  What an interesting way to enhance information about the importance of cells in our life!  What if there was a day or a project in the science class that allowed the students to connect the classroom lesson with a video of their choice?

OK, now let’s expand that science class to the whole year.  The student can build a coursebook with videos of their choice for the whole year.  If there were videos you wanted to use in your class, you make sure all students add it to their playlist.  This is the power of the flipped classroom idea.  It’s not about just watching a video, but about watching something that sparks the students’ imagination and you, the teacher, providing them the freedom and time to work with their ideas and questions.  With Coursebook the videos can be watched anytime and anywhere, the classroom is where you take that spark and ignite their learning.

Share your ideas with me via Twitter (jdog90).

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Our Reactions

Saturday morning I was working on cleaning the kitchen, getting recycling organized, cleaning counters, stuff like that.  The house was in full child mode, the older three were downstairs doing something that made a thud every few minutes.  The two youngest girls were in the recliners, movie on but their attention on the books in their laps.  My wife was getting ready for the day.

I had started on the clean dishes in the dishwasher when my second son said, “Dad, I hit my nightlight and now all the lights downstairs don’t work.”

What?, I thought.  And I felt the knee-jerk reaction of parental frustration start forming in my head with the words already on my lips.  I don’t know why, but sometimes life gives us a moment to learn from, and I gave myself a few moments to think by saying, “OK, what happened?” in a calmer tone.  Just under the frustration a thought had pushed through, if I wanted my son to continue to talk to me when things happened, when he might have made a mistake, then I had better pay attention to how I handled this situation.

By bumping his nightlight he threw the breaker for that part of the basement.  Not a big issue, I switched the breaker back on and changed the light bulb in his nightlight.  Problem solved.  But I haven’t always handled simple situations with calm; too many times that knee-jerk frustration sets the tone for that moment.  I realize I need to change that habit.  If my son has a problem and he gets negative responses from me every time, even before I have figured out what is going on, then he will simply stop coming to me for help.  I don’t want that to happen.

We teach people who we are by our habit of response.  And they will act accordingly.  As I thought about how we influence students I thought of one of the most patient and strong colleagues I have worked with, Mrs. Moss at Centura.  Every morning she was helping students with math problems.  Every morning!  They knew she would be there for them, they could ask their questions and know she would help them.  Mrs. Moss’ habit was to smile and say, “Let’s look at that problem.”

I hope to be as good of a teacher and parent as Mrs. Moss, to create a habit of response that lights the way to a positive reaction to the situation instead of a knee-jerk negative comment.

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Grand Idea

In the month of April I had the privilege of presenting at two outstanding conferences: Mobile 2012 and NETA.  My goal was to inspire ideas on how to be a mobile teacher:  how to use the iPad to bring the world into the teacher’s classroom.

This week at work I am brainstorming ideas on how to make my CCC and TECHS class better.  I’m calling them my “Grand Ideas.” I filled my whiteboard with them for the TECHS class.

Grand ideas are exciting.  When we attend any conference, we come away with these ideas.  We feel energized.  We feel inspired.  The next year is a blank canvas for us. We are ready to take those ideas and create new lessons, but…

Grand Ideas are scary.  They push us out of our comfort zone.  We know the new lesson might just fail.  That is OK.  Run with your Grand Idea.  Fuel that inspiration by striving for it.  It will take work, a step back sometimes, but for teachers our lessons are our creative process.  The lessons are works of art for us.  But you have to pick up the brush.

One secret to success is to tell someone your goals, share your Grand Ideas with others in the comment section.  Contact me if I can help you in any way.  Just imagine what your classroom will be like next year…

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What a year… As the academic year winds down I have time to reflect on how much I failed this year.  But I have learned some interesting things about education and myself through these failures.

The first lesson:  Teaching is really about the relationships we build.  By teaching from an office over a codec system 100 percent of the time has reinforced how important personal interaction is.  For the students and the teachers.  And it is not just the connections we develop during the class; it is the daily vibe of school.  The interactions between class, lunchroom banter, and the questions before and after school.

I was unprepared for the drastic change in the environment of my classroom.  Trying to remember names, understanding strengths and weakness, and interacting with students to understand their personality.  I failed.  I have a few ideas for next year that I will try to use to create a better personal connection with the students.  Because, at the heart of learning, is the relationship between student, teacher, and the subject matter.

The second lesson: Technology is not a separate component to learning.  It is not a bonus feature to bring into the classroom and use because it is cool.  I failed in the use of technology this year.  Part of my teaching responsibilities is the TECHS course that ESU 10 has developed over the last seven years.  Since the class is centered on teaching all aspects of technology I thought I had to use technology everyday.  Which isn’t my personality (lesson three).  So, I saturated the class with technology instead of using the best tool for the lesson.

The third lesson: Teaching is an art.  I know that there are strategies that support an effective classroom, but I think those strategies work because they support a teacher’s personality. For the TECHS class, I used everything that was in place from last year (I did add some lessons but I used the timeline, test, and other assignments that were already set up unchanged). And I failed.  It was like trying to dance with another person’s shoes on.  Hard to find your groove.

Ironically, Mr. Stritt told me how each year the class changed, lessons were moved, new ideas added.  But I tried not to change it, to follow the great lessons that ESU 10 had built.  But it wasn’t mine.  It didn’t fit my personality.  Which connects back to lesson one; learning is a relationship between students, teachers, and the subject matter.

The fourth lesson: Failure can be a good thing.  I have learned a lot this past year.  Would I do it again? Maybe not, there were some hard times for me.  But to have the opportunity to come to a deeper understanding of education was worth it.  I am excited to see what I do with my failures next year.  I hope I can write a success blog next year.

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