How Do I Respond?

Each of us is more than the worst thing we have done.

Be a stonecatcher.

Fear and anger are a threat to justice.

Mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given.

All of us can do better for one another.

This evening I had the privilege of seeing Bryan Stevenson speak at Butler University.  Like most people, I became aware of Bryan through the movie Just Mercy and then through the book of the same name.  However, it wasn’t until I taught that book to my We the People class that he made a true impact on me.  Seeing how his words, actions, and mission affected my students moved me significantly more than I had expected.  And tonight, hearing those words directly from the man himself moved me even more.  His passion for justice and his compassion for his fellow man are attributes for which we should all strive.  I have listed above some of the most significant themes from Just Mercy.  As he spoke to the large crowd in Clowes Hall, these messages were reiterated again through his personal stories and his call to action for all of us.  I can’t imagine anyone walked out of there without thinking about how they were going to do better for those less fortunate and those who have found themselves facing injustice.  I was no exception.  

As I drove home, reflecting on Stevenson’s words, numerous ways for me to “become involved” ran through my mind.  I was ready to send money, visit prisons, contact politicians, volunteer for an organization…you name it.  Of course, this led me to reflect on my time and talents and where they would best be utilized.  It is not as if I haven’t had these thoughts before, but I want them to be more than thoughts.  I want to act on these feelings and not let them pass until the next moment I am stirred by someone’s words.  The reality is that I am not in a place in my life where I can add a new undertaking to my already busy schedule.  Fortunately, I have realized that “new” is not necessary.  I simply have to take this desire to an area of my life where it most naturally fits- school.

School is filled with those that need someone to listen.  School is filled with those that are victims of injustice. School is filled with those “less fortunate”.  School is filled with those that need mercy.  While I have always viewed myself as someone who cares for his students and someone who looks out for their best interests, I know that I can do more.  I vow to actively seek out those that need someone.  I will make sure they know I am there as an advocate.  I will show them that I know they are more than the worst thing they have done.  In Just Mercy, and in his talk tonight, Bryan speaks about those who are broken.  And he comes to the conclusion that not only is he working with those who are broken, but he is broken himself.  I believe most of us are broken (which I plan on writing about soon), however some students are in more need of repair than others.  It is comfortable to focus on the kids who “play school” well and just need a little push or challenge to move them on.  It is uncomfortable to address some of the issues these kids are facing.  It is uncomfortable to have difficult conversations.  It is uncomfortable to risk failing.  But I will not worry about the uncomfortable because, as Bryan said tonight, change never occurs without it.  I will do better for these students.  I will freely give them mercy and work to instill hope in them.  I will be a stonecatcher.

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Lessons Learned

I have debated for a while now as to whether or not to write about this past school year. Like most other teachers, I truly struggled in the COVID teaching environment. I can get pessimistic at times, but my nature is to be positive, so rather than complain, I have decided to focus on what I learned during this past year. That is not to say that there won’t be some negative comments because we can learn from negative experiences, but I prefer to make this focus on how I will be better as a result of this year.

1. Canvas is Not Completely Evil

For years I maintained my own website which I used to share files and information with my students, parents, and general public. Even when we were told to use Canvas, I always did the bare minimum (posted on the calendar, shared my syllabus, and had a link to my web site). Of course once we went virtual, I was forced to migrate. I maintained that I would run both sites, but that practice had to be scrapped quickly because I just didn’t have the time to duplicate my work. As I began to learn the features of Canvas I saw that there were some strong benefits to using it, even though it was way more aesthetically restrictive than my site. I will continue to use many of the features on Canvas as they will save me some time and allow for a little variety in my lessons. However, I WILL NOT deliver strictly digital content. I absolutely believe that kids need to write and read on paper and take a break from looking at a screen. Therefore, while Canvas will be accessed regularly for calendars, past work, and extra copies of digital files, in terms of instruction it will simply be an occasional tool used in my class.

2. I am a Face-to-Face Teacher

This is not a shock to me at all, or to most that have been in my class, but receiving confirmation is beneficial. I understand that some students can learn well through a virtual environment. And that some teachers are wonderful at creating digital classrooms. I am not. My class is so discussion driven that most of my lessons don’t translate to completing an assignment in the privacy of a student’s home. Sure, much of the work can be handled in that manner, but everything that builds to that moment can not. This is where most of the learning is done in my class, and it is where I make adjustments for a class or for individuals. I have to be able to look around and see how they are reacting to a reading, or discussion, or even an assignment they are completing in front of me. Typing up feedback in the comment section of an assignment on Canvas does not even come close to talking with a kid face-to-face.

3. Today’s Students May be Digital Natives, but They are Not Digitally Savvy

Keep in mind that this statement is directed to the students I experience in 7th grade. And I know that like all broad statements, this does not apply to every kid. But the reality is that while these kids have lived their entire life surrounded by technology, screens, and personal devices, they have never been taught how to use them effectively. Kids know how to navigate the key apps they use on a regular basis, and they know how to play games, but give them anything new and they are lost. Too many adults just assume these kids understand how navigate a new site or how to intuitively figure out a program, but they don’t. I have made this comment for a while now, but it was made emphatically clear this year when kids were not sitting in class and had to figure out some new programs without a teacher in front of them. As teachers, we have to be deliberately instruct the kids how to use technology, but we also have to help them with the transferable skills that can be applied across different sites and platforms.

4. School Is So Much More Than the Classroom Curriculum

Again, not a shock to anyone that has come through Fishers Junior High, but this was by far the biggest loss of the year, and therefore the biggest challenge for next year. Our students did not experience the culture of FJH, and it is this culture that makes our building so successful. There is going to be a significant push to close the learning gap that occurred during COVID, which could mean a heavy focus on classroom skills. While this does need to be done, we have to spend as much time on sharing the culture of our school. Some may say that since 7th graders always have to learn about FJH, it is only the 8th grade students who will come into next year lacking the experiences. But the staff has to reset also. From top to bottom we have to deliberately teach the culture of FJH and help each other get back into the swing of things. This will give us the opportunity to establish some new experiences while continuing to build on the best of the past 20 years.

5. I Still Love Teaching

If there was ever going to be a time to leave the profession, now would be it. Over the last year teachers were asked to make constant changes in their instruction, continued to fight for better pay, faced tremendous scrutiny while asking for safe working conditions, and, in my opinion, never received the public acknowledgment for what they were accomplishing during the pandemic. (Small side rant- “front line workers” have received accolades for doing their jobs during this year, and rightfully so. But how are teachers not included in this group?!? Medical professionals, police and fire, grocery workers, restaurant employees, but not teachers? Once again, we are taken for granted.) But despite all of the negative from this past year, there is still no other place I would rather be. I am excited about getting back into a normal classroom, having fun with my students, and watching them grow. And I am looking forward the to the changes I will make to my class as a result of what I learned over the past year. Next year will be my 25th year as a classroom teacher, and I can’t wait!

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Teaching is Hard

Teaching is hard.

And it is hard for so many reasons.  Some days my lessons don’t work. Some days the kids don’t work. Some days parents are upset because I did not give their child enough attention. Some days parents are upset because I gave their child too much attention. It seems that everybody feels like they could do my job because they’ve all been through school.

Teaching is hard.

I have to teach so that a standardized test, that truly doesn’t give me much information about the child sitting in my class, can tell me if I am “successful”.  I have to teach and adapt my lessons to fit my ever-changing students from year to year, month to month, week to week, and day to day.  And the reality is most of those kids could care less about the lessons I am teaching because they have other things going on in their lives.

Teaching is hard

I have to get to know my students and build relationships, because I understand that is really the only way to reach them and educate them.  And hopefully guide them in this difficult world.  I get to know many of my students on a level that most human beings rarely attempt to get to know each other.  I do this because I know it is what must be done.  But when I develop these relationships, I commit myself to help in times of struggle and difficulty.

Teaching is hard.

If I’m lucky I get to see my students fight through those struggles.  I get to help them deal with these tough years and help work through them.  But sometimes I fail.  And I just hope, with all my might, that someone else can help them.

Teaching is hard.

Caring about people is hard. Understanding people is hard. Going the extra mile for someone is hard.  Fighting for the successes and victories is hard.  Losing some along the way is devastating.

Teaching is hard.

But even at the lowest moments of the profession, even when I’m at a complete loss for what to do next, even when I can’t make sense of what could’ve been, there is no other place I’d rather be.  When times are hard, I fight through them. When times are hard, I cry with my friends.   When times are hard, I know that something better is around the corner.  Because no matter what happens, I get to walk into my classroom to a group of young men and women that inspire me to do better.  I get to walk into a building whose sole purpose is to build our future.  I get to make myself a better person, because of what I learn from my students.  So yes, teaching is hard, but…

Teaching is always worth it.

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Best Job Ever

Class my deskTomorrow is my 23rd first day of school, and I am still as excited as I was on my 1st first day.  Something about the wide-eyes and the wonder that exists on this day just makes me happy.  Plus knowing what these kids have in store for them over the next 180 days makes me even more thrilled.  I know that some teachers dread the end of summer, and some teachers immediately start a countdown to the end of the year, but not me.  Every year is such a joy, even when I am doing one of the things that I have done for decades, because I know that it is the first time these students are having the experience.  I am able to see things through their eyes and I feed off of their enjoyment and enthusiasm.

Recently I received an email from We Are Teachers which included an article titled, “11 Reasons Why Teaching Middle School is the Best Job Ever” by Emily Aierstock.  The list that Emily created is a good one, but I decided to ad my own thoughts to some of her points.  If you are interested in seeing her entire list and reading her own thoughts you can find the article here.

  1. Middle school students tell it like it is.

Maybe.  Some of them tend to not share at all for fear of being judged.  Some over share.  Some mean exactly what they say.  Some speak in nothing but code.  All this means for me as a teacher is that I have to really get to know my students to truly understand what they are telling me. And getting to know them on a more personal level is a great part of the job.

  1. They also have a ridiculous sense of humor.

Yes, it can be childish (but they are children), but my humor is ridiculous too, so I delight in the groans I receive from bad jokes and I love when a student or two understand my more subtle attempts at being funny.

  1. People bless you…often.

This is true.  When people ask what I do and I tell them I teach 7thgrade, they immediately begin to tell me how they could never work with that age and that I must be a little crazy to choose to work with them (that may be true), but I always reassure them that there is no place I would rather be.

  1. Middle school students have hope.

I actually have never thought about this in these exact words before, but they are correct.  These kids have not been beaten down by the world (even though some have struggled tremendously) and they all believe they will make a difference, or succeed, or get what they want.  I have written about hope in an earlier blog so feel free to check that one out.

  1. You have celebrity status.

Celebrity seems like a bit too much, and I don’t have desire to be “well-known”,  but it is true (as my children can attest) that it is tough to go somewhere without running into a person I know.  And seeing a past student is always nice.

  1. Middle school students need you.

Absolutely.  This is the key.  I feel like this age is such an important one and I realize that I am able to help some of these young ladies and men through a key moment in their schooling.  I know I won’t reach every kid.  I know that many will forget our time together as they migrate to the high school.  But I also know that even one great day, or lesson, or conversation with one of my students can have an impact that he/she (or I) will never truly understand.  It is a sum of all the of the small interactions and experiences that truly make us who we are, so I strive to make these positive for the kids that walk through my room.  I fail at times, and I need to constantly look to improve.  But each day is an opportunity for me to make an difference and an opportunity for me to grow as a person.

I really do have the greatest job in the world.Class nabooclass front

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How Do You Define Yourself?

99 invisibleI love podcasts.  They have become my main source of entertainment while driving, cleaning, casually working, mowing the lawn, etc.  As a result, I believe that many of my upcoming posts may be inspired by something I hear on one of these podcasts.  A couple of days ago I was listening to 99% Invisible and Roman Mars was spotlighting John Green’s (yes, the young adult author) podcast called The Anthoropocene Reviewed.  I had not heard of it, but have since binged numerous episodes.  During the podcast, Roman Mars interviewed John Green about a variety of things, but at one point Mars stated that he got a sense that Green, like Anthro Reviewedhim, spent the beginning of his life being defined by the things he hated, and then “took a hard pivot” and became defined by the things he loved.  Green went on to say that as a teenager if he was asked to state ten things about himself then he would have listed ten things he did not like.  He said, “I would have told you what I thought was stupid, and ridiculous, and embarrassing about the human experience.” He believes that this was due to an unwillingness to connect with his emotions, along with a desire to fit in and “be cool.”  His next comment intrigued me.  “To be cool is to be a form of cold.”  What a new way to examine the age-old concept of being cool.  I love it.  But what really got me thinking was the statement about listing the negative when asked to tell things about yourself.

I don’t know if I would have ever started with the negative if I had been asked to do this as a tween or teenager.  I have always been a fairly positive person with optimistic outlook on life.  But as a teacher (and parent) I frequently see kids share what they don’t like, rather than what they do.  They will tell you the music they hate, the shows or movies they think are stupid, their peers that are mean, and the fads that drive them crazy.  Is this due to immaturity?  Is it because they are truly negative people? Or is it, as Green said, simply that they are not yet comfortable focusing on their true emotions, and the negative is so much easier to explain and share?

My fear is that with the rise of social media (and yes, I understand the irony that many of you will read this via those same platforms) and the negative tone of today’s culture, more and more kids will not make turn that John Green did.  As they grow and continue to define themselves through the negative, I believe they will be less in touch with their emotions and less empathetic to the lives and struggles of others.  This is the exact opposite of what we need right now.

So, this year I am going to make a more concentrated effort to steer my students away from the negative.  To get them to share more about their actual passions, to focus on what they like, to see the good around them, and to understand why others are perfectly reasonable for having different interests and opinions.  I ask those of you who are around kids to do the same.  And I ask all of you to be honest with yourself- are you defined by what you don’t like or what really matters to you.  Below is my list.  What is yours?

Ten Things About Me

  1. I am a devoted husband who cares more for his wife than anyone will ever know.
  2. I am a father of three amazing children who have made me a better person.
  3. I am a passionate educator who is constantly looking to improve at my craft.
  4. I am a loyal friend and someone that can be counted on when needed.
  5. I am a huge fan of movies and can appreciate most types of film.
  6. I think pop culture is important to society and that everyone should.
  7. A mildly introverted person, but I love to talk and share with those that will listen.
  8. I am a Star Wars geek and believe that everyone has some form of “geek” in them.
  9. I believe that reading for fun and information is one of the most important things a human can do.
  10. I am kid at heart and don’t ever plan on losing that feeling of fun and whimsy.
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You’ve Got a Friend in Me

toy story logoThis weekend is the release of Toy Story 4, and I don’t know how to feel about it.  Like many, I am excited, but I also am a hesitant about the franchise for the first time.  I saw all three movies in the theater (yes, I was a recent college graduate when the first one came out but that didn’t stop me).  Each one was met with great anticipation and I was not let down with a single one of them.  However, I really felt that the third movie was a perfect ending to the story, so I am not sure if I need or want another.  Nevertheless, I will go to the theater to see it.  And with this one on the way, the boys and I had a three-day marathon of the rest of the films to prepare.

I have seen numerous polls asking people to rank the movies and every possible combination seems to get a vote. For me it is 3-1-2.  (And this is after the most recent marathon.  Prior to that I was voting 3-2-1.)  However, this post isn’t about the “correct” order (but it is 3-1-2), or what technical marvels the films are, or even to nitpick plot points and some repetitive plot elements.  Nope.  This is about what I consider to be the best ending to movies series ever made.

Before I begin to explain, we need some backstory.  I love toys. Not loved in the past tense, but LOVE still.  Obviously, Star Wars toys were, and are, my main go to, but growing up I had everything because my parents spoiled me.  Not to the excessive-entitled stage, but I noticed early on that I seemed to have more things to play with than most of my friends.  So, I grew up constantly playing with toys.  Creating large-scale outdoor battles with GI Joes and Star Wars figures. Tossing marbles at elaborately constructed block forts with army men to see who would remain standing.  I enjoyed it all.  When I had children, I made sure that they had toys to play with and loved going down the toy aisles in stores looking for fun things for them.  And of course, I love playing with them and their toys.  I still collect toys related to my fandoms and I still like walking through the toy aisles and seeing what is out there.  It is probably a good thing I am not wealthy because I could have quite a problem.

All of this means I am primed to love the Toy Story franchise but especially the final (or at least what was) film.  Andy’s choices as to what to do with his toys were choices I had to make at various times in my life.  But in that final decision, when he realizes that Woody was in the box of toys to give Bonnie, I feel Andy’s pain.  Toys are more than just hunks of plastic.  They expand our creativity.  They put smiles on our faces.  They allow us to work out difficult situations through play.  And yes, they become our friends.  When no one else is around; when everyone else is busy doing something else; when you just need to escape.  Toys are always there.  But the reality is that too many times kids are forced to give them up.  Or are told they are too old to play with toys.  And yes, I realize that as we age, as Andy did, there are times when it is not realistic to keep the toys.

toy story toysWhat we can keep is the heart and mind that were active when playing with the toys.  We don’t have to “get old” and stop playing.  We need to continue to see the world as we did when we were playing with toys.  Maintaining this fun approach brings so much joy to one’s self.  When my classes read The Outsiders,I stress Johnny’s idea of “Staying Gold” as the need to keep a childlike perspective on life.  To never get tired of experiencing the everyday.  Toys allow this.  Andy realized that he had the opportunity to pass this lesson on to Bonnie without losing anything that he gained from his life with Woody and the rest.  He knows that as he moves to this next stage of his life, things will continue to change, but he is a better person because of the time he spent with his toys.  When he looks out the window of his car one final time and says to the toys, “Thank you guys,” my heart melts and tears flow.  To all the toys that have come through my life, and will continue to, I simply say, “You’ve got a friend in me.”

toy story andy goodbye

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Thank you

Next20 years week marks the end of my 20th year of teaching.  As I have posted before, I hate the end of the year.  I am unapologetically emotional when it comes to my students leaving.  So much so, that my last day lessons and goodbyes have become me reading books and essays to the class which allows me to stay focused on someone else’s words.  (1. Remember the Three Questions.  2. Don’t take the shortcuts. 3. It isn’t easy for anybody. 4. Believe. Do. Think.) And my final words to the kids?  I have to write them on a slide show for the kids to read.  My own voice seems to disappear as I realize that my work with these young people is over.

I know that next year new students will arrive and over the course of their 180 days I will create connections with them and struggle to say goodbye again.  However, that does not diminish the sincerity of my feelings with each group.  Each relationship that is forged over the year means something to me.  This is why I teach.  I know that some of my students are impacted by my classroom and lessons, but it is me that ends up being a better person at the end of the year.  My job and my students do not allow me to be stagnant in the way that I live life.  My worldview grows and my understanding of others’ life circumstances improves me as a human being.  These are not things that would happen in any other profession.

And every now and then, I am lucky enough to create a connection with someone that lasts well beyond their junior high years.  My own three children mean the world to me, but I am luckier than most parents because I feel like I have many more adopted sons and daughters around this country.  These individuals are normally the most difficult to say goodbye to at each stage of their schooling- end of 7th grade, end of junior high, last Camp T breakfast, and of course, graduation- they are also the ones that I know will keep me apprised of their lives as they go out and make their mark on the world.

So, to all my current and former students- Thank You.  Twenty years is a long time to be doing the same thing, but because of you each year is a unique experience.  You all allow me to stay gold, give me flight, and provide me hope.

 

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Hope

leiaAs sentimental of a person as I am, the deaths of celebrities don’t normally affect me.  As much as I love movies, music, television, etc. I realize that I have no true connection with these figures.  So while I am sorry for their deaths, and understand others that are affected  by the losses, I just don’t find myself too upset or bothered by these events.  I can only think of three times that a celebrity’s death hit me harder than normal.

The first John Lennon’s assassination, and I believe that was more out of shock than anything else. I was getting ready to turn eight at the time, so it wasn’t like I has followed the Beatles through their rise and break up and beyond.  I was just a little kid that loved the band because my brother did and now one them was gone.  I wasn’t overly upset at Harrison’s passing, though I don’t think I will take Paul’s very well.

The second time came decades later when Robin Williams was found dead.  That one was tough.  I was a fan of his, like many others, but I do truly credit his role as John Keating for eventually leading me into the teaching profession and inspiring my style of teaching.  And the use of Dead Poets Society in my class each year only made his death more difficult because I know the effect he had on my students as well.

Today was number three.

I was sitting in a theater in Lafayette watching Rogue One for the fifth time when I felt a text on my phone.  Being a good movie goer I didn’t check it during the movie, but when I left for a restroom break I saw the message from a friend telling me about the death of Carrie Fisher.  My entire body sank, which surprised me because, as I have stated, I am not normally affected by these things.  I had even been considering this possibility since the news of her heart attack had filled my social media feeds.  But deep down I knew she would be fine- she was a fighter, both on screen and off.  I went back to theater with the news and allowed myself to get lost in the film again, to let it take me to place of joy… until the final scene.  As it approached I found myself a little choked up (even though I knew it wasn’t really her), and had I been by myself, I am sure that I would have shed some tears when I heard the word, “Hope.”

People, especially my students, often ask why I like Star Wars so much.  I normally answer, “Because I was 5 when it came out and it blew me away.”  But that is just the quick and easy response to appease someone not necessarily interested in a long response.  I have blogged before about George Lucas  (Summer of Thanks 3- George Lucas) which explains much of my true answer.  But after today, and after the year we had, I also believe it has to do with that single word uttered at the end of this most recent film.

Hope has become a part of who I am.  I am an optimistic person that consistently looks for good in a situation.  I don’t expect gloom and doom when things go bad.  I know things happen for a reason and that reason will lead to good.  I trust others and expect them to do the right thing.  I don’t easily give up on my fellow man.  I believe that good will always win out in the end.  Star Wars has played a major role instilling these things in me.

Star Wars offers hope.  It shows that most everyone still has good in them, and can find their way back to the light regardless of how far they have fallen.  It shows how people who shouldn’t matter can play a role in great events and happenings.  It shows that trusting our fellow man is the best choice to make.  It shows that sacrifices from the brave and noble will not be forgotten.  It shows that faith in the unseen and unknown will give you strength in difficult times.  And it shows that a young girl with spirit, tenacity, intelligence, and inner-strength can do anything she puts her mind to.

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20 Years!

Tomorrow I begin my twentieth year as a classroom teacher. And I have spent all of these in a 7th grade English classroom in Hamilton Southeastern schools.  For some people spending that much time doing the same thing in the same place may seem constricting and boring.  Think about it… Every year you start with the same introductions.  You read the same stories, poems, and novels.  You hold the same discussions.  You grade the same essays, tests, and projects.  And you do these same things six times a day.  Not to mention that you deal with the same adolescent issues over and over and over again.  Why would you do this?

Fortunately for me, I am not you.  While I have been doing the same job, in basically the same place, for twenty years, I have yet to have a single one of those years be like the others.  Each year I make changes to my lessons.  Sometimes they are large, and I add an entirely new unit.  Or maybe I replace some stories, or articles, that I think will be of more interest to the kids.  Or I might simply redo an assignment so that I get more out of my students.  I absolutely believe to my core that in order to be effective teachers, we must never settle.  We can always get better.  When other teachers question this, I tell them changing something doesn’t mean you were doing a bad job, it just shows that you understand that there are different and better ways to approach something that will benefit your students.

(Time to go off on a slight tangent.) The reality is that doing the same thing everyday for twenty years will absolutely burn a person out.  (Who am I kidding? Doing the same thing for three years is enough to do it.)  Teachers have to keep things fresh because even though something is old for us, it is always the first time those kids are experiencing it. If a teacher isn’t excited about what he or she is teaching, the kids will pick up on that in an instant.  I know this sounds harsh, but if a teacher refuses to learn and make changes, continually doing the same thing year after year, and isn’t excited about what he or she is teaching, then that teacher needs to leave the profession.  I understand when teachers lament the end of summer, but if those comments accompany true regret to the school year starting, then it is time for them to go.  How are they going to inspire a new group of kids if they aren’t inspired themselves? (Now back on topic.)

I have to point out that my desire to look for ways to change my classroom and lessons doesn’t mean I constantly start from scratch.  Because while I do find change and progress valuable, I also appreciate tradition and classroom culture.  There are some lessons, assignments, and readings that I have done nearly every year.  I may have tweaked them as I’ve grown as an educator, but there things that any of my past students can talk to each other about because they have spent time in my classroom.  This creates a sense of community among my students; they are special because they have a shared experience with only a select few.  They have stood on my desk, learned to breathe, screamed in parking lot, read a movie, answered three questions, recited poetry in a coffee house… the list could go on for a while.

So… twenty years teaching 7th grade English and I am just as excited for tomorrow as I was two decades ago.  Actually, I am more excited than I was as the rookie educator back then.  Because now I know how exciting a single year of school truly is.  I am ready to try my new units, stories, and assignments.  I can’t wait to see how our discussions vary from past years and what I will learn from them.  I look forward to immersing them in the culture of my classroom so that they will join the other students that have come before them.  It is this excitement and anticipation that will keep me from sleeping well tonight, and that will keep me from sleeping well for twenty more first days of the year.

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The Wonders of Our World

In the span of 48 hours I had experienced three of the most amazing natural habitats on earth.  I began on the forest moon of Endor, the Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and drove what is known as the Avenue of the Giants.  Little did I know that I would soon encounter an Ewok, or maybe it was a bear, but either way I was six inches from hitting it with my car!  But this did not deter me from exploring.  I soon found myself walking among these ancient behemoths and in total awe of their size and beauty.  And yes I did film myself zipping through the forest as if I were on a speeder bike.  To realize that some of these trees are over one thousand years old is mind-boggling.

The next stop was not on my original itinerary, but after looking a map and realizing that I could adjust my driving route, I decided to take a detour through Yosemite National Park.  I was not able to spend much time here, but I did get to do a little hiking along the base of Bridalveil Falls, near El Capitan, and the drive through the park was spectacular.  I did attempt to work in a Star Wars connection (besides the “May the Forest Be With You” shirt I found at a gift shop) by comparing the numerous waterfalls throughout the park to the ones on Naboo, the overall landscape of the park was similar to that of Takodana, and near the top of the mountains there was snow throughout the forest, just like that of Starkiller base.  Regardless of the actual Star Wars connection, this visit was well worth the detour and subsequent late arrival into my next stop.

Death Valley may have been my favorite place (but I don’t know if I can actually pick a favorite), but much of that has to do with the fact that actual Star Wars scenes were filmed here.  And thanks to a website I found, I was able to match up many shots from the original movie, and a couple from Jedi.  But the landscape was mind-blowing.  I headed out early so that I would be able to avoid the oppressive heat of the afternoon.  I could easily have spent hours walking through some of the canyons I found, but with temperature hitting 119 degrees, it was good that I chose to shorten my trip.  What hit me the most was the deafening silence of many of the locations.  Most of the time I was there by myself and I could hear nothing.  It really made me feel insignificant in the grand scheme of nature, but at the same time it allowed me to respect her even more.

I continue to be inspired by our world.  Niagara Falls did this to me when I visited there, and to experience these three vastly different landscapes in a short time span, caused me to appreciate our world again.  I talk to my students about the need to “Stay Gold”, which refers to maintaining a youthful outlook on life and what our world has to offer.  As Johnny tells Pony in the book, when we are young, everything is new and exciting.  But as we get older we lose this and become complacent with our surroundings.  Visiting these natural wonders makes it easy to find this youthful awe that resides within all of us.  However, I will use these feelings that were stirred inside me to continue to recognize and appreciate the everyday wonders that I have come to take for granted.  I hope you can too.

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