Thank you

Over the last few days, several people have asked me if I’m excited to leave Bullock Creek. The short answer is no, but the short answer is not enough. I am excited for why I am leaving Bullock Creek—for my fiancée and me to start our life together. I’m excited to have one set of house keys. I’m excited to be able to see my soon-to-be wife on weeknights and not have to drive two hours to spend a couple days together. I am excited for the new challenges ahead; I am excited for my future. Leaving Bullock Creek is bittersweet.

In the three years I have spent here, the community has been nothing but supportive and welcoming. For the first year, it seemed every week someone new would come up to me, introduce themselves, then give me a hearty welcome. This is the spirit of Bullock Creek.

Shortly after accepting the position here, my then-girlfriend, now-fiancée and I stopped at the school. Even though I was unable to get in, we looked around for a bit. We looked at the tennis courts, not realizing I’d become the coach, let alone how much I’d love it; wandered down to the track, football field, and softball field; and stuck our faces in the windows of my classroom. Alexandra also insisted on a picture of me standing in front of a sign reading, “You belong at Bullock Creek.”

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At the time, I thought it was corny and a little goofy; I also wasn’t terribly pleased that I had been forced into another photo. Looking back, I see how true that statement was. There hasn’t been a day in this school I haven’t laughed. The staff is enthusiastic, happy, and willing to push for what they believe. The students are proud, eager, and just far enough on the right side of goofy. Every day has been great.

I am humbled and honored by the people who gave me a chance to teach here. Bullock Creek has taught me so much about my profession and myself. Colleagues, administration, and parents have always been willing to listen, help, and give advice. From trying something risky in class (writing novels in a month) to providing meals for tennis teams, I was never alone in my endeavors.

Thank you, Bullock Creek. It’s always a great day to be a Lancer!

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Moving Forward

Randall Munroe of XKCD fame runs a weekly blog called What If? It features weekly, hypothetical questions and their detailed answers. There are many graphs, figures, and equations. It’s fun. 

This week’s question deals with when dead Facebook accounts will outlast the living. While the answer was intriguing in itself, there was one section that stood out: “The basic pieces that make up a human life don’t change. We’ve always eaten, learned, grown, fallen in love, fought, and died. In every place, culture, and technological landscape, we develop a different set of behaviors around these same activites.”

It sounds so simple.

Instead of chastising people for communication through text and social network sites, it’s important to realize this is the new norm. Face-to-face interaction is still important, but we can stay connected and gain information in so many more ways. 

Teaching has (and should have) changed quite a bit because of technology growth. I can post lectures and screencasts online for students to watch for homework or allow them to see notes they missed when absent. Embracing the changing rules and altering our behaviors regarding technology in education is vital for teachers to stay current. 

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Burning Candle

I should be sleeping right now. It’s 9:50 and I have had way too little sleep this week.

The end of my first school year in Bullock Creek, summer at Camp Daggett, the start of coaching, the start of grad school, and the beginning of a new school year have all come and gone without a single post. Oops.

Camp ended, and sixty hours later I found myself coaching my first tennis practice. My team is young and small, and we’re learning (i.e. getting our asses kicked) a lot. The players are hilarious, fun, and often inappropriate–everything you’d hope for in varsity athletes.

School started with a huge change. English electives have virtually disappeared as there is now a required senior English course. This means no more Creative Writing or Drama. I am currently the sole English 11 teacher. While I’m going to miss my electives, teaching one subject is allowing me to make better plans and hone my lessons as the day progresses.

Then there’s grad school. I’m working on a Master’s in Education through Central Michigan’s Global Campus. So far, it’s surprisingly interesting. My current issues course has led to some good discussion, and it’s forcing me to keep writing through weekly essays.

I have to be at the tennis center at 7 in the morning for our tournament, and then I’m headed to see my beautiful alma mater for a football Saturday. Life is good.

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On Struggle

An eventful spring break is coming to a close. After venturing into the north for a few quality days with my family and a surprising number of snow fleas, I headed to metro Detroit. The girlfriend and I putzed around downtown, only to find most of what we wanted/tried to do was closed. (We were able to hit up the book store.) We went out to an absurd dinner (waiters going from table to table with meat skewered on swords) courtesy of her parents and headed over to Joe Louis to watch the Wings eke out a win against the Avalanche. Easily the best part of my break came at the end of my travels when I visited Mason.

It had been too long since I had visited. Mason told me to tell the world how he’s doing, and gave me some specifics to share like only Mason can. He is working daily with occupational, physical, and speech therapy. Three times a week, he also goes out for more work at Level 11. He keeps pushing himself to accomplish the most difficult challenges. First was waking up, then getting out of bed, now is walking. He’s on a mission to prove everyone who doubted him wrong and surprise the world. He’s been walking with a straight cane and some assistance for one leg. He’s still pushing toward his goal of a full recovery and is getting closer. He was also bragging about his cavity-free status. After five months in a coma, I’m not sure he pulled that one off.

Mason is battling every day.

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On Lance’s (lack of) remorse

After spending the last week teaching about personality disorders, Lance Armstrong did me a solid with his Oprah Winfrey interview. I’m thinking Lance may be a bit of a psychopath.

Before we continue, it’s important to note that I am not a psychologist. I teach high school psychology. I also understand that the APA and the WHO do not have strict definitions of a psychopath, but it is something debated among psychologists.

First, take a look at some excerpts from the interview transcript:

Armstrong: Yeah, yeah, I was a bully. … I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative, and if I didn’t like what somebody said, and for whatever reasons in my own head whether I viewed that as somebody being disloyal or a friend turning on you, or whatever, I tried to control that. Say that’s a lie–they’re liars.

Oprah: Is that your nature when somebody says something that you don’t like? You go on the attack?

Armstrong: My entire life. My entire life.

Armstrong: The definition of cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe that they don’t have. I didn’t view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field.

Oprah: When people were saying things … you would then go on the attack for them. You’re suing people, and you know that they’re telling the truth. What is that?

Armstrong: It’s a major flaw, and it’s a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome.

In the transcripts, we see several issues. He rationalizes his behavior, saying doping didn’t give him an advantage, it made the game even. While I don’t disagree with him, (saying cycling is clean is like suggesting Manti Te’o has a beautiful girlfriend. (Sorry.)) he is justifying reprehensible actions. He also avoids responsibility. While he talks about transferring the blame back to others, he also doesn’t even refer to himself when talking about having a flawed personality. Suddenly “it’s a guy,” instead of taking ownership.

He goes on to talk about his lack of remorse. He says it’s scary he did not feel guilty, but he still exhibits little emotion in the interview. Not showing guilt is a huge red flag. Rick Reilly (a man who has known Lance for years) even describes him as cold and calculated.

What we lose in looking at transcripts is Lance’s charm. Obviously, (think LiveStrong, advertising, etc.) the man can captivate a crowd.

The man had power, prestige, and the admiration of millions. The only reason Lance is speaking now (way too late, and with absolutely no remorse) is he is realizing all he has lost, and he sees coming clean as his only way to cling to a little glory.

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Dogs.

Humans like dogs. We’ve bred them to be our companions, selecting the most desirable traits to create canine family members.

Writers also like dogs. There are countless books about dogs. It’s a genre that seems to never end. The dogs usually die. Despite the fact that I know this is going to happen, I usually cry.

I cried writing this today. I laughed a little, too. Mostly, I fondly remembered a member of the family.

This is Smudge.

Seriously. Blind.

Normally Smudge would hide from a camera. Luckily, in this picture he’s too blind to care.

My parents adopted Smudge, he was about two, while I was a freshman at Michigan State University, nearly eight years ago. He passed away this evening and left a large, bizarre hole in my family.

My father is a big softy. He doesn’t want anyone to know it, and I’m probably at risk for writing that, but it’s the sole reason Smudge was brought into our family. Ranger, our first German Shorthaired Pointer, had a penchant for leaving home, (read: chasing bitches. I can say that. This is about dogs.) and while he was on one of his trips, Smudge was at animal control, scheduled to be euthanized. He had many stitches in his back leg and was on antibiotics after being brought in by a man who claimed Smudge had been hit by a snowmobile.

The family quickly learned Smudge had a rough life before he was adopted into the world of couch surfing and taking over my brother’s bed. He ran at the sound of cooking spray and tinfoil, no one could approach him while holding anything in their hand, and he did not know what to do with a dog treat. We were fairly certain Smudge had not lived in a house before joining our family, and we were almost positive he had been abused.

Smudge (colloquially Mudge, Mudgie, Mudgiebear, Bearskin, or Bear. And we wonder why he never seemed to respond to his name…) was trouble in every sense of the word. The stitches should have been a clue. Soon after adoption, and with my sister the only one home to deal with it, he tore up Ranger’s ear in a mad grab for power. Dog ears bleed a lot. When Ranger has a bleeding ear he shakes it. Hilarity ensues with a trip for a couple snips from the vet close behind. (While Andrea was not happy, this did lead to many “Ranger Van Gogh” jokes.)

My father, in his infinite wisdom, decided to hunt with Smudge. The dog had clearly hunted before, and seemed happy in the woods. He was not gun shy, and wanted nothing more than to be outside. Smudge, however, liked to go after porcupines. I have pulled more quills than I can remember from the dog, some appearing months after an encounter, and my father has pulled many times more than I have. Porcupines seemed to be the only animals with which Smudge held grudges. In one particularly nasty attempt to dequill a porcupine, Smudge picked it up and shook it. There’s a picture on my parents’ fridge. Not pretty. According to family legend, my dad was near the truck, straddling Smudge on the ground, and pulling quills from the dog’s face when Smudge kicked and hit the shotgun behind my father. He claims the dog kicked twice: once he hit the safety, the second the trigger. I don’t buy it. Details aside, my father, annoyed, decided he would rather pay to have a vet take care of the dog than risk death. Seriously, though, could you imagine the headline?

Smudge was also a master thief. He was frequently found cuddling with a loaf of bread. He wouldn’t eat it, mind you, just take it from the counter and keep it on the bed. He once brought a whole powdered donut to the back deck. We’re still not sure where that came from. One Thanksgiving, while grandma was visiting, Smudge brought back most of a nice little buck–in pieces. He brought back pelts, cleanly skinned, from various deer, and I believe at least one sandbox toy. This past December, with failing eyesight (it’s funny what a cataract and a few quills in the eye will do) he brought the head of a doe and left it sitting on the deck in the fresh snow before coming inside.

Smudge was a terrible dog. He cost my parents a ton of money, put them through terrible stress, and terrorized the neighborhood. He fit right in.

As he spent more time with our family, he began to run right to the cupboard where treats were kept when he came inside. He started to lay in the living room and hang out with the family. He was an affectionate, loving dog and always seemed grateful for a warm house, an ear scratch, and a belly full of food.

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Nanowrimo: TGNO

Thank God November’s Over.

Nanowrimo is done. It’s December 5th and this is the first time I have made myself write since 9:14 am November 30th. My class is over with its foray into novel writing misery/joy/despair/elation. The month was an emotional mess.

For the most part, my students and I started out ready and excited to write. The first day was met with trepidation, but as students worked, they saw they would be able to accomplish their goals. The first week was full of happiness and hard work. On day 5, I was ahead of my word count goal, as were many of my students. I soon saw and felt motivation dip. By day 9, I was nearly 5,000 words behind my goal. I had barely written a page in 4 days. I realized I was in trouble. My students echoed the sentiment. The first weekend, instead of being a writing frenzy, killed word counts. I heard disheartened muttering for days, but with candy, word sprints, and a few write-ins, we pushed through. By the time Thanksgiving hit, I had caught up to nearly on track, and then dropped back to 5000 words behind.

The 25th-29th were spent in a haze. My fingers ached, I was sleep deprived, and I had a headache every day. I drank too much coffee, held write-ins to force myself (and hopefully students) to pound out words, and stayed up too late trying to finish. I wrote thousands of words a day. By the end of the 29th day, I found myself ahead of schedule for the first time since the fifth day.

Several of my students had already hit their 30,000 word goals by the time November 30th rolled around. A couple had the intelligence I lacked and worked at a steady pace through the month. More of my students, though, had not reached their goals when class ended that morning. Many would not reach their word count goal. A few were able to finish that night before midnight. One student, and I don’t really want to know how, wrote 8,000 words on November 30th. (I did skim through his work, and did a few quick searches through, and it looks legitimate.) Seven of my twenty students hit 30,000 words. Only a couple of those who did not were not pleased with their results. For most of my students, this was the most they had ever written. They were proud and had every right to be.

When I went to bed on the 29th, I had about 1,500 words left to write and one day. I was feeling tired, worn, and confident. The next morning I finished. I had written 50,000 words in 30 days. It was grueling.

While the story reached the word count goal, I still haven’t finished it. I will eventually, but a short break was needed.

More about my students’ experience and our visit from a local reporter to come.

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