Thursday, May 29, 2014

Unbelievable! Healthy Skepticism

I always try to teach my students to never believe something because someone tells you to. Skepticism is healthy, especially in a republic. All citizens need to have an instinct to seek out, inquire, and question to find the truth.

More practically, a certain level of discernment is particularly desirable while researching information on the internet. I'll never forget the Wikipedia article on Sparta I read a few years back that replaced all mentions of Leonidas with "King Poopypants."

To drive the point home, I recently threw together a quick lesson for my students, disguised as a refresher on the difference between primary and secondary sources.

I explained primary sources, documents or physical objects from the time we are studying. Things like letters, journals, etc. Then I gave them an example:

The dead numbered in the hundreds.  As we dug a trench for their bodies, Mangini hit a stone.  In the process of removing it, we discovered that it was not a stone, but a large bone.  Assuming it belonged to some ancient and large elephant, we carried on.  The smell of the bodies left us no time to delay….
 …when we found the skull , all dropped to their knees and crossed themselves.  Immediately Luigi ran for a priest, who when seeing the monstrosity, ran back to his abbey.”

We had just finished studying the Black Death, so the students caught the connection between mass graves, decaying bodies, and Italy pretty quickly.

Then I showed them another primary document. A drawing I said came from the same place and time period

I added a strategically placed Spongebob over that weird leafy thing.
I asked the students to speculate what kind of skeleton they found. Common answers: giants and Sasquatch.

Next we went over secondary sources, books, articles, etc that use primary sources to summarize what we know or guess about a time period. I showed them this excerpt from an article called "The Giants of Florence"

Legends of giants living in the Apennines Mountains date back to the early Roman Republic.  When the Black Plague struck Italy, however, over a dozen enormously large skeletons were found as citizens hurriedly dug mass graves. Tales of the giant skeletons  spread like wildfire.  Fearing that the peasantry would begin to worship the bones and resurrect the religion of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the Pope ordered all bones destroyed….

The tale of giants faded back into myth, until a peasant farmer in Tuscany, near Florence, uncovered a skeleton measuring nearly 15 feet tall.  Scientists speculate that these remains are of early Greek setters.

I then showed them this picture:

Clearly not a hoax.
The students gasped. They ooh-ed and ahh-ed. "Is that real?!" they asked. I just nodded and gave them a quick quiz on the difference between primary and secondary sources, and the readings. Two questions were.

  1. How many feet long was the skeleton recently found?
  2. What do scientists speculate is the origin of the skeleton?
The answers:
  1. There was no skeleton
  2. It's all a joke. Don't believe everything you read or hear, even from your teacher.
My students were surprised and relieved that no creepy giant skeletons existed. While I hate to sow any seeds of distrust, I think the bigger message is more important. This nation needs skeptics. We need people to question authority, doubt the message. The alternative looks a lot like Orwell's 1984. The NBC interview with Edward Snowden (which I showed to my 8th graders today), drove the point home.

Here's a picture of James Clapper, our Director of National Intelligence. Here's a man we can trust, right?

A true American hero.
Well, no. He lied, under oath, before a Senate Committee about the extent of our government's surveillance on American citizens. And surprise, surprise, he's not the first government official to lie. The good news is, as long as we do have people like Edward Snowden who aren't afraid to bring the truth to light, our Republic is going to be in good shape. 

Like Orwell said, "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." So while my government wants to arrest Snowden for telling us the truth about how much our government is watching us, I'd like to thank him for standing up as an example of courage to our nation. 

PS. If you want, I'll be happy to email the Powerpoint of the lesson to you. It only takes about 10 minutes!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why Women Will Rule the World

If your only interaction with humanity was to observe middle schoolers, you'd be very surprised to learn that men, not women, are the historically dominant gender.

The girls in my school get better grades, write good papers and have impressive critical thinking skills. The boys struggle with school work, comparatively. Getting them to use any of the higher order thinking skills is like trying to squeeze milk out of a turnip. It's not just natural ability, its work ethic too. Females just work harder, they turn in their homework on time. They go above and beyond the requirements of assignments. They lead, volunteer and participate. Of course, there are exceptions on both sides, but overall girls are hands down the better students.

"Me. Love. Video Games!!!" -Typical middle school boy 

"But!" you say, eager to defend the honor of the male sex, "boys are at least stronger and faster!" Not in middle school. We just had a track meet and I timed the sprints. Girls run faster. Significantly. I helped with discuss. Girls throw farther. Significantly.

A close approximation of a middle school track meet.
At some point, obviously, boys turn to men and get muscles and all. And for most of human civilization that mattered. Power belonged to those who could kill their fellow man in hand to hand combat. But what made men strong and women weak in the past might now flip the table to favor the ladies.

To survive in a world dominated by brute strength, women honed their interpersonal skills. We've known this intuitively any time we mentioned "women's intuition, and science backs it up. Women are much better at recognizing faces and emotions than men. And any more, application of brute force much more likely to get us locked up than help climb the power structures of society.

We live in the most peaceful time in human history. Our society rewards creativity, innovation, communication and collaboration much more than brute strength. Recent studies have shown that women have some serious advantages. They learn quicker, posses higher IQ's, and have better personal skills. In today's world, it seems men are outgunned at every turn. Women even make better managers and investors than men. As more and more women throughout the world receive an education, I suspect  our society might look a little more like a middle school classroom.

Maybe that's a good thing. A world with more equal participation from women in government and business might have fewer wars and corporate scandals. No matter what happens in the future, at least men can take solace in knowing that unique pain and privilege that comes from passing a kidney stone.

You can never understand the bond we have!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rubicon, the Best Book on Rome I've Ever Read

I'm sad to admit it, but until recently most of what I knew about the Roman Republic came from Gladiator, the HBO mini-series Rome, and my textbook. I knew they had a Senate and used the word veto. And I know that Julius Caesar put an end to it all and was stabbed a bunch for it.

A murder we recreate daily with a fork.
The Empire, by comparison, always seemed a little easier to grasp. Its Caesars alternate between fascinatingly horrible (Nero, Caligula) and fascinatingly grand (Augustus, Trajan).  Roads, aqueducts, battles against barbarians I understand. The intricacies of classical republican government? Less so.

The more I've dug into it the inner workings of the Roman republics government, the more confusing it became. The branches of government of the Roman Republic seem to compare to our own, but upon closer examination they devolve into a murky mess of praetors, quaestors and tribunes. Worse, half the time that don't even follow their own rules, exceptions abound. And why are there two Catos?!

Luckily, a trip to the ever amazing Powell's Bookstore in Portland led me to randomly select Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic by Tom Holland. This book fascinated me endlessly, and finally gave me a better understanding of what the Roman Republic really was. Highlights:

  • The Roman people expelled their cruel kings, and in their place created the position of consul.  The consul would have many of the powers of a king, but had to be elected by the people. He could only serve for one year.  And there were two of them!!

  • The word Republic comes from the Latin Res Publica or "Public Business"

  • Social class in Rome was determined by a censor, a guy who inventoried your wealth, and decided where you ranked.  The greatest achievement you could accomplish was to move your family up the class list. The greatest disgrace was to move down.

  • Roman citizens were expected to strive for personal and political greatness.  The two were the same thing.  Ambition in the political and civic arena was encouraged, and rewarded.  But that greatness must only be for ultimate glory of the Republic. Strive to become to great, and be shunned for life.

  • This system of government explains the aggressive nature of the Roman Republic conquered so much. Consuls, having climbed the highest highs of Rome's political ladder, were now expected to win honor and glory for Rome on the battlefield.  And they had only one year to do so.

  • As Rome conquered more and more land, small farmers got displaced by unimaginably large estates that used slave labor.  Whereas early in the Republic, farmer citizen-soldiers fighting for Rome's honor comprised the backbone of its army, towards the end its legions were made of landless men, loyal to their general and not the Republic.

  • As Rome grew richer and more powerful, so did its most eminent citizens. Battles for political office and power changed from debates between wealthy patricians into epic clashes between warlords with the treasure and strength of conquered empires behind them. 

After reading Rubicon, I'm convinced that the system of government that made Rome great was the same that doomed it to empire. Civil wars and Julius Caesars were an inevitable consequence of a system that rewarded ambition and daring. After so much infighting, the death of the Republic and reign of Augustus seemed blessedly peaceful. That's a weird thought for an American to have. 

Social studies teacher or not, I highly recommend Rubicon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Election Day, When Shoveling Poop Matters

It's Oregon's primary election day. The day when citizens vote to elect leaders to represent them in government. In theory.

Oregon has closed primaries, which are the worst way possible to elect our someone that really represents his/her constituency. But that's a blog post for later.

I hate our closed primaries, because as a registered Democrat I can not vote for this man

Public service at its finest
This is Vic Gilliam, the state representative for my area. I like him for two reasons aside from his moderate voting record.

1.)  He shovels poop at the end of the Silverton Pet Parade, which shows he doesn't take himself too seriously.
2.)  He responds to every single letter my students have ever sent him.  Which shows he cares about what his constituents, even the youngest of them, have to say.   

Do you have a local politician this cool? If so, please share. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Bad Teachers and Good Teachers

Bad teachers boil my blood.

I spoke with a student teacher today who had a horrific experience with his mentor teacher. This teacher didn't plan lessons, showed up after class had started, and had a horribly creepy habit of soliciting hugs from middle school girls as he walked down the hall. Yikes.

The number of truly bad teachers one comes across is small in my experience. Yet the damage they do to children, to learning, and to my profession can be immeasurable. Learning is awesome, and if it isn't, there is something wrong in the delivery. Teachers need to have something good for their students every day.  Something that challenges, engages, and excites them.  

What challenged, engaged, and excited you in school? You probably didn't think of filling out worksheet after worksheet, or coloring in countries on a map. You definitely didn't picture reading out of the textbook every day.

A typical day in my freshman geography class.
No, you probably thought of those teachers who made learning fun. Who taught you in a variety of ways. And that you knew cared about you.

What makes a bad teacher? Mostly someone who doesn't care. Someone who has the system figured out so they can collect a check every month with little sweat. People who care, but can't  handle a classroom or don't know their subject material are rarer, since the difficulty and frustration of the job usually wash them out quickly.

So why are there bad teachers? I'm not sure if this is the whole answer, but I do know it's damn hard to fire a teacher. Especially after our three years probationary period is up. Teaching can be a pretty easy job if I'm copy worksheets to give the kids every day. I'm not saying lets dismantle union protections, but if we want to demand better pay and more benefits, there needs to be a way to get rid of those teaches that don't do what they're supposed to and aren't working to get better. That's why I'm all for performance pay, teachers who care will have nothing to worry about.

If you're a teacher and reading this, you might be thinking "Am I a bad teacher?" The answer: probably not. Teaching takes a little bit of skill, a little bit of knowledge, and a whole bunch of caring. A struggling teacher is not a bad teacher. If you love working with kids and care about them learning and growing, then you're probably a good teacher.

That doesn't mean you won't make mistakes, have really bad days, or feel like a bad teacher on occasion. My first year was so tough I had to write "I am a good teacher" on my bathroom mirror. Even now, I look back and cringe at mistakes I made. Lessons that bombed, classroom discipline that went awry. I even ripped the crotch in my pants once right in front of the class stepping up on a chair. Seven years later, I still teach a lesson and think ,"well, that sucked."

I'd go so far as to say if you think, "I'm a bad teacher" and it makes you sad because you want to be a good teacher, then you are not a bad teacher. Because you care. A defining characteristic of the bad teacher: he/she does not care.

Good teachers learn from each experience, and work hard enough to fix their mistakes so they don't happen again.  One of the coolest things I've ever seen in my profession is the growth of a math teacher I know.  Starting out, he struggled with pretty much everything.  But I've never met a more self-reflective and hard working person.  He puts in countless hours planning better lessons and now he teaches the best middle school math class I've ever seen. He made math fun for them, and in doing so got them to care about it. Now not only do kids love going to his class, his test scores are shooting through the roof.

That's the kind of teacher our communities can be proud of. Why accept anything less?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Zombies are Great Teaching Tools, Ask the Pentagon

You will be glad to know that if a zombie apocalypse did break out, the United States military has a surprisingly thoughtful plan on how to respond.

Highlights include:
  • Distinguishing between zombies made through black magic and those made from excessive radiation.
  • Using robots to remotely operate critical infrastructure.
  • Preparing nuclear weapons for use in the United States to eradicate the hordes.
Comfortingly, it does address how to restore civil authority after the threat is gone.

It's safe now!  I promise...
The Pentagon uses a zombie outbreak as a training tool to teach "basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario."  Which sounds like the coolest class ever.  Sign me up, please!

I'd love to fight zombie hordes.  It'd be nice to fight an enemy with no moral qualms about taking a human life.  The older I get, the harder it is to see black and white in our military conflicts.  Zombies would be a refreshing change.

Another thing I like about the zombie apocalypse; it provides an excellent parallel to the disintegration of the Roman Empire in Western Europe.  Central authority breaks down, trade screeches to a halt, regional warlords take control.  And while survivors in the Walking Dead always have to keep an eye out for roving zombie packs, survivors in Western Europe soon had something much worse to worry about.  Vikings.

Vikings wallpaper
The original apocalypse.
In truth, the Walking Dead with the prison and Mayberry does a remarkably accurate job of showing the logic behind and development of small feudal kingdoms.  These are the kind of connections that 7th graders love.  Them, and our military leaders.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Cliches Exist for a Reason

Cliches become cliches because we use them too much.  A quick Google search of common cliches gives me a few of the following

  1. Actions speak louder than words
  2. The grass is always greener on the other side
  3. There's no time like the present
Gambit.  Not cliche.  Dude is original.
You hear them so often they lose their power  But there is truth to them, as I've recently found that out with this well-used motto/cliche "Just Do It."  I've been bombarded with this message since I could read.  I've paid a premium to wear it across my chest and on my feet.  Yet, in practice I rarely "Just Do It."

I plan it.  I write goals  I dream it.  But doing it?  Doing it is hard.  I suppose this proves the truth to "Actions speak louder than words."

Example: One goal of mine has always been to be more physically fit.  When I see pictures of myself in high school and college when I was an athlete I'm suprised at how fit I look and immediately look down to admire my figure.  It's then I find the belly I've grown.  Once clearly defined abs have turned into a little blob.  It makes for a depressing then-and-now juxtaposition.  Luckily, depending on how my stomach rolls on itself when I sit, sometimes the creases do appear like a six pack.

I intended to get in shape.  I have for years.  Nearly every day this school year I set my alarm 30 minutes early so I could work out.  And nearly every day this year I hit snooze.  I wanted it, just not enough to do anything about it.

A very unflattering mirror-lighting combo in a G.H. Bass changing room provided the catalyst I needed.  The mix of disgust and anger I felt looking at my pudgy self pushed me from wanting it to doing it.  I stopped hitting the snooze button, and got up early to run and lift.  I changed my diet, loading up on fruits and vegetables, and giving up processed sugar.  Same goes for fast food.  In a short two weeks I've slimmed down noticeably and have had way more energy. My mood has improved, my stamina has increased, and as my belly recedes I can almost make out an abdominal muscle or two.

More than anything, it feels great to accomplish something I've been wanting for so long.  And looking back, the part of this that seems so strange to me is this: the only thing getting in my way was me.  Our own inaction obstructs so many of our goals.  Nike knew what they were saying.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Anger: The Least Effective Tool for Teachers (and all of us)

Anger is least effective tool in a teacher's tool box.  And I think that extrapolates out to almost every relationship we have.

Like all emotions, anger can feel so good, and that's the problem.  Righteous anger in particular imparts a satisfaction we rarely get elsewhere.  "I'm angry, and I should be!  You deserve this!"  While it might feel good, anger often does more harm than good.  Ben Franklin said it best, "Anger is never without reason, but seldom a good one."

A few ideas I've learned from teaching

Apply consequences to actions without emotion, kids notice when you get rattled
Kids will do stupid stuff.  Constantly.  Like the kid I saw doodling on a desk today.  Or the kid who paper glued paper towels to the paper towel dispenser.  "WHY!?" , you want to ask (or scream), but there's no answer.  They're kids.  And at my age, middle school, they are learning their value system and figuring out who they want to be.  Part of that is making mistakes and knowing you never want to do that again.  More often than not, there is no need to blow up at them because their guilty conscience is probably already doing that.

You can get angry at this constant parade of idiocy, and if you do you'll be angry a lot.  That's a tough way to spend your days.  Plus, you'll teach your class that you're easily rattled.  Provide discipline.  Be firm.  Deal with issues calmly.  Let your word be final.  A teacher in control of his/her class has no need to raise their voice.

Anger may stop the symptom, but rarely the cause.

Sometimes students do something they know is wrong.  Like the kid my first year who wrote F*** in big letters on my whiteboard while we were lining up for lunch.  While anger is the natural response, 99% of the time anger works against you.  It throws up barriers and you become an enemy, where you should be a mentor and a guide.  Students that act out, never do so without reason.

While your anger might shut them up, it sure won't help you why your student is acting up.  As teachers we get so busy planning lessons, grading papers, and going to meetings we can forget some of our students' lives are terrible.  Hunger.  Abuse.  Abandonment.  Neglect.  It's no surprise that those students are the ones that cause the majority of the issues.

As their teacher, you need to be their ally.  Apply discipline, always.  But take the time to talk to the student and understand them a little better.  See where they're coming from.  Ask them about their day, their night before.  Sometimes the answers will horrify you, but it will provide you a crucial window into their life, and potentially a chance to make a difference.

If your whole class is acting out all the time...
Don't get angry.  It's you.  Your lesson plans suck.  Don't take it personal, just learn from it and move on.  I've taught some really awful lessons before, and I always have the most issues when my students aren't engaged.  Good lessons=good students (most of the time).

If you use anger, do so rarely and only when you choose to.  And make that anger positive.

The longer I teach, the more I check the impulse to act in anger.  If I do get angry, I choose to.  And it's usually to tell a student that I know they are better than what they've been doing.  I direct that anger in a positive way, so they have to nod their head when I'm yelling at them because I'm actually complimenting them.  "I know you're a good kid!  I've seen you do (good thing) and (another good thing), so why on earth would you (bad thing)!"

They'll always agree with you.

Above all else, kids need to know you like them, and care about them.
If they know that, than they'll listen to your words however you say it, because they believe it's in their best interest.  And if they're listening to you, there's no need to be angry.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Finding G.I. Joe

My small town often reminds of how TV depicts 1950's America.

Tucked in between fields of grass growing for seed and Christmas trees, Silverton has a lot of charm.  There's a real downtown, complete with a barbershop, old-timey movie theater and lots of people out walking around.  You can't go anywhere without running into someone you know.  Murals adorn every blank space in town.  We have covered bridges and an annual pet parade consisting of kids walking their dogs, walking their cats, or pulling their lizards in red Radio Flyer wagons.

Today on my run I took my dog to a big grassy field.  There was no one there tonight, so I let him off to enjoy the cacophony of smells that makes up his world.  He romped through the grass, sniffing heavily around one clump of gross, until up popped a boy with binoculars and an "aw-shucks" grin, straight out of Normal Rockwell painting.

Minus the puppies. And wearing a Transformers T-Shirt
"You found me!" he said.

"I did?" I said, confused, "Why are you in the bushes?"

"I'm joining the army when I grow up, so I figured I should practice."  He then looked at me through his binoculars, proving his point.  Made sense to me, and I told him so.  "At least I'm not playing xBox." he continued.

And he's right.  He's out on a nice spring night playing with nothing but his imagination.  No TV, no cell phone, no electronics.  When I picture the 50's that's what I imagine.  Maybe he would have had a few friends or a puppy with him though. 
We had a nice little chat before he went back to playing G.I. Joe, and I finished my run.  Those little personal interactions, friendly, neighborly definitely add to the quality of our lives.  Research even shows, the better you know your neighbors, the more likely you are to survive a disaster.  And ironically while so much of the technology in our lives is about connecting us to other human beings, it often ends up preventing, or at a minimum distracting us from real human interactions when they happen.   

I had my headphones in when my dog sniffed out that kid.  I could have kept running, but I'm glad I paused for a second to take out the ear buds.  It was nice to get to know this kid, who'd rather play army man outside than play xBox.  How many more connections could we make if we took out the headphones, kept our phones in our pockets, or turned off the TV a little more often?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Gladiator and Braveheart, Movies with Meaning

Gladiator and Braveheart are two of the best movies of all time.  If you haven't seen them, stop everything, subscribe to Netflix and watch them now.  Spoilers ahead.
My Halloween costume the last three years.

Striking similarities exist between the Gladiator and Braveheart.  The hero's journey begins with a great injustice that provides both a noble purpose and an intensely hateable villain.  Next follows a series of intensely graphic and gratifying successes on the battlefield.  And just when justice seems at hand.... circumstances force our hero to sacrifice themselves for their cause.
Face paint is a fundamental human right! 
So much of these films appeal at the surface level.  Historical parallels (Rome and medieval Scotland).  Cool settings.  Awesome battle scenes.  Manly men.  Beautiful women.  Evil villains.

On a deeper level, these films tug at a string very deep inside my heart.  For 2-3 hours minutes I live vicariously through these men and find a purpose in life much bigger than myself.  I find a noble cause so great, it is worth dying for.  Their lives have a very tangible meaning.

I want that.  I think we all do.  Somewhere in the scary edges of my conscience lurks a fear of Oblivion.  Of not mattering.   Of living a life without consequence or meaning.  So I do things to fight back.  I blog.  I strive to make a difference in the lives of my students.  I work to be the best teacher I can possibly be.  I try to savor the little enjoyable moments that happen every day that I increasingly believe are the fundamental matter of a happy life.

But still, part of me yearns to be a part of something grand and good and noble.  Give me a ring to throw in Mount Doom to save Middle Earth.  Or magical powers like Neo to fight the Matrix.  Give me Russel Crowe's skill with a sword to oppose an evilly insecure emperor.  Or Mel Gibson's ability to yell gibberish and rouse Scots to battle.

I don't have that.  I'm just a fairly average guy.  A middle school teacher who drives an old Ford Escape and lives in a nice little neighborhood.  My life is very average.  I do realize that this is very much a first world commentary, I don't want for food shelter, or anything.  And I have a standard of living higher than 99.9% of all humans who ever lived.  But is the point of living just to live?

I don't know the answer.  I don't know why I have that small little voice in me crying out for meaning and purpose.  But I think we all do.  Earlier this week I sat down with a student who has been acting up lately, and I asked him to write down a list of all his fears and insecurities.  This is not an easy, or common task for a middle school boy, but this child did.  First on his list?

"I don't want to be forgotten."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

One Teacher's Thoughts on Standardized Tests and Teacher Pay

It's May, so its standardized testing time here in Oregon.

The standard line among teachers is we don't like standardized tests.  We complain about having to teach to the test.  We say its not fair to judge us by those tests because our students come from diverse backgrounds, some might have parents who read to them every night, while others might spend every night on a different couch.

All those concerns are valid, but I love standardized tests.

Weird I know.  And I don't teach in some rich suburban school.  I teach at a school where 20% of the kids  speak English as a second language and 57% percent are economically disadvantaged.

I like the challenge standardized tests provide.  I like competing against myself, year after year.  I like looking at a curriculum at the start of the year, and finding the best way to teach it to that unique group of students.  I like teaching my kids something in October, and seeing if I taught it in a sticky enough way that they remember it in May.  Having a standardized test makes me a better teacher.

I also love the idea of performance pay for teachers, based in part on standardized tests (no, not entirely).  Yes, the tests need to be valid.  And yes, we need to measure year-over-year growth and not just the bottom line of who got the highest scores.  Still, performance pay is hearsay in teacher unions.

Teachers are so important.  I believe I'm in the most important profession that exists.  Our Founding Fathers believed we needed to have free public education because a republic can only function with a well-educated citizenry.  And research shows that the largest factor in student growth isn't class size, or technology, or even socio-economic background.  It's teachers!

But we aren't paid based on our teaching ability. At all.  That's because teachers get paid based on
1.)  How long we've been teaching.
2.)  How much schooling we have.

That's it. I could go to school every day and give my kids maps to color and crosswords to fill out (I'm talking to you Freshman geography teacher), and I'll still get a raise next year.   That's insane.

The weird thing is, most a lot of teachers hate the thought of tying pay to test performance in any way.  We always complain about how little we get paid, but mention paying us more for our students performing well, and all the excuses listed above come out.

The thing is, most teachers I know would have nothing to worry about.  To teach right it takes a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of skill and a lot of art.  Nearly every teacher I know at my school works their tail off.  Drive past my school any given day at 5:00 or 6:00 PM and I bet you'll see a dozen cars or more still in the parking lot.  And that hard work has been reflected with some really amazing growth in our test scores in recent years, which is a source of immense professional pride for me.

And I think that should be rewarded.

Just one teacher's thoughts.

Monday, May 5, 2014

My Dog Stares Me Awake at 4:00 AM

My dog Winston sleeps a lot.  It's his third favorite thing after chasing his ball and waiting for his ball to be thrown.

Recently though, he's developed an unsettling habit of staring at me at 4:00 AM.  It works like this.  An ominous feeling enters my dreams.  I sense a presence.  Wake up panicked.  And then realize it's my dog.  

Perhaps my dog senses my deeply held fears of sleeping.  I've always had trouble sleeping, since I was a little kid.  I think it started in second grade when my babysitter let me watch Freddy Krueger and I learned that demonic janitors wanted to attack me in my sleep.
Preferred by babysitters everywhere.  
Then in 4th grade I read Goosebumps.  The book that really got me was about a boy that tortured ants, who then came back to torture him.  I never tortured ants, but my house had a lot of bugs so it struck a chord as I was trying to fall asleep at night.

As I got into middle school, my parents decided that watching X-Files every Friday night would be a thing.  Even the neighbor kids would come over and we'd make milkshakes as if the show wasn't the most terrifying thing a 12 year old could watch.  It was then I developed my fears of alien abduction, which are very much with me today.  In particular one scene that haunts me still:

A car is driving in the woods.  Out of nowhere, there is a bright light.  A UFO is hovering over the road.  The car shuts down.  Out come two creatures, short, with bulbous heads.  Humanlike, but clearly not human.  One approaches the drivers window.  There is a pause that seems to last forever.  Suddenly the alien shoots its hand out towards the window.  Fade to black.

So when my dog is staring at me at 4:00 AM, this is who I'm really picturing.

I have to pee.  Take me outside, take me outside, take me outside!