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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Parental Guidance Suggested (Dear Katie v2 #8)

Dear Katie,

Today, your grandparents, my parents, celebrate 50 years together.  So much of the man I am today, the teacher I am today, comes from them.  There were times I wondered how these two ever got together.  They were so different.

Your grandmother grew up the second of five children in the city of Elizabeth and moving out to the suburbs when she was in high school.  She was a National Honor Society student.

Her gift to me was her creativity.

The other day, a parent of one of my students complimented me on my back to school night presentation.  She said it was engaging, filled with information, and entertaining, and it was no wonder to her now why her child enjoyed my class.  That was your grandmother's influence in me.  She could see beauty and fun in the ordinary.  When I was a kid, every night it seemed she would be crocheting, knitting, gluing, doing something creative.  Halloween was always great, because she would come up with great costumes.  Your mother was a banana one year, Cleopatra another. I was a revolutionary militiaman and robot.  All homemade costumes.  One year she made me an astronaut outfit.  Her added touch to the costume was created by taking a plastic milk carton, cutting a 1/4 of it off to make it into a holder for my "moon rocks", which were plastic eggs spray painted gold with sparkles.  She figured out a way to make pillow footballs for me and my cousins with the color of our favorite teams.  I always had the best school projects because her creative mind always develop a presentation of top notch quality. (Yes, I was one of those kids whose parents did their projects)

Your grandfather grew up an only child in a rural area of NJ.  He was a motor head who enjoyed playing baseball and causing trouble.

His gift to me was analytical thinking and fairness.

A part of being a history teacher is explaining cause and effect to allow your students to understand why things happen.  Your grandfather was not a great student, but he is a smart man.  It was hard doing anything wrong or justifying what you did because he would win the argument, always showing the flaws of any argument.  He is one of the guys who know a little bit about everything.  He can fix a car engine and can discuss world events.  He is both mechanical and well read.

He also taught me that you need to be fair to everyone and that your character counts more than your place in life.  When I bowled, your grandfather always said if the rack would knock down a pin he would always give a kid the pin that fell, but would not give it to me so no one would accuse him of playing favorites.  When started playing baseball, I was awful and always played the outfield.  My Dad would help out the team whenever he worked days.  One game, our starting second baseman was out so the coach told my Dad he wanted to put me at second.  You grandfather let me know that he told my coach, "Don't put him there because of me."

The coach assured him it was because he believed I had played better over the past few games.  Your grandfather always believed something is more precious to you if you earned it rather than be given it.  And in terms of baseball, it was so true as I often point to that day as what began my love and devotion for a game that I played through college and still coach today.

The thing that both of them gave me is the value that you do things because it is the right thing to do, not because you gain some advantage or receive some compensation.  Your grandmother always traveled over to her parents house helping them with everyday things even when all her brothers and sisters (and all of my cousins lived) within blocks of their house.  It wasn't easy, but it was right.

I saw your grandfather aid two elderly aunts in their 90's because they had no children of their own to care for them (even though they had other nieces and nephews).  One of those aunts did not include him in her will.  A lesser man would have stopped providing aid at the point of realizing that he wouldn't be receiving any benefit for their time and effort.  Your grandfather is a better man who assisted his aunt until her dying day.

Your grandparents, from such different backgrounds, and at times you could wonder what keeps them together.  It is a mutual love and respect.  My father was your grandmother's strength, my mother was your grandfather's stability.

Your grandparents will never be in the pages of a history textbook from which I teach.  However, their influence is more widespread than they could have ever imagined, as students in CT and NJ over the past 20 years have benefited from the daily lessons they instilled in me growing up.

Without realizing it, they have built a legacy that will continue for another 50 years.

I love you Mom and Dad!


Monday, September 2, 2013

Being Rebuked Is Doing Your Job (Dear Katie V2 #7)

Dear Katie,

I am an MTV child.  I was a middle school kid when MTV hit the airwaves.  I stayed up to watch "World Premier Videos."

When I was in college in the late 80's, a professor of mine noted that he heard when making a music video, the creators attempt to change the scenes every 3 seconds in order to hold a viewers attention.  I never forgot this, and have always thought of ways to incorporate this fact into the classroom.

We live in a world that has gone far beyond MTV.

Cell phones give people 24/7 connection with each other.

Twitter and texting encourages conciseness.  

Websites link us from one page to another creating a journey for us that by the time we have completed our "surfing" of the topic we last looked up, it is far different than what we originally intended to learn about.

And too often we expect attention spans somehow to miraculously increase when students enter the classroom.

Too often we feel safer running classrooms "the way its always been done".

Our job is to reach kids, get them to think, and sometimes doing so "isn't safe".

A friend of mine was a recreation director at a Bible camp, who created crazy games in order to get kids attention and get them involved in the camp.

Some of the older counselors questioned some of his decisions as a little immature.  (As if middle and high school kids need to play and interact like they are adults)

One of the head pastors of the camp, a man well into his 70's, encouraged him to continue what he was doing b/c the kids loved it, and people's problems were stylistic rather than ethical or moral.  He also was realistic about "living on the edge", that it would provoke naysayers.  In encouragement, he gave my friend this bit of advice (that my friend paraphrased as):

"If you ain't being rebuked, you ain't doing your job"

It does not mean to seek out trouble.

It is a call to be innovative to the point that people question what you are doing because it isn't the way its always been done.

Be creative, try, dont worry about failure.

Be an innovator in the classroom.

Your job is to reach kids.  

Don't plan lessons and activities that fall into the comfort zone of your fellow teachers.

Plan lessons and activities that excite and motivate kids to learn.

I've been a teacher over 20 years, I try something new every year.

I am NEVER satisfied.

Just because we've added a smart board and iPads to a classroom, doesn't mean that we've innovated if they are just being used as the modern equivalents of the overhead projector and notebook.

Thinking back to the constant changing of scenes in MTV videos, it is something I am trying to do in the classroom.  I try not to have my class start an activity on the bell and end the same activity on the bell.

NEVER spend your whole class lecturing.

Don't say, "when I was a kid, I could sit through 45 minutes of a lecture".  Or "in the past, people could sit through hours of lectures"

You didn't grow up in their world.

Why fight the lack of attention, why not find ways to work within it?

In the future, I'll tell you some ways I attempt to do that.

Don't hate change, embrace it.

It's the adventure of life.

But what do I know, I'm a child of the MTV generation.

Uncle Kevin