Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Check it out...

I am a HUGE FAN of the National Parks. In fact, HUGE FAN doesn't even quite describe it. I fell in love with hiking when I lived and worked at a summer camp that overlooked the Long's Peek of Rocky National Park in Colorado. Now I'm only a 90 minute drive from Yellowstone. I've traveled through the South Dakota Badlands on my many road trips to and from Iowa. I've contemplated the "true history" of America's race across the continent at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Wyoming. This year I bought my annual park pass in the north branch of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. And last year, I found myself again as I looked over Lake McDonald from the Highline trail in Glacier National Park. I've been so lucky to have seen so many Parks and to have had such a rich experience in so many of them. Yet, I want to see more.

Thanks to Ken Burns, I've had the chance to learn even more about the National Parks I've visited, the ones I've haven't visited, and their amazing history from start to present. If you too are a fan of The Parks, I highly suggest you check out his latest work: The National Parks: America's Best Idea. As I type, I'm watching the fourth episode of six premiering on PBS this week. Seriously, check it out. It's an intimate history of the parks and those who fought to preserve some of the most amazing land in America. The show highlights the lives of the Parks' tenacious founders and supporters some of whom include: John Muir, Theodor Roosevelt, Mr. Mathis, and so many more. It really is inspiring and eye-opening. You won't be disappointed!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Patriots' Day: Remembering 9/11/01

Tomorrow marks eight years since the initial terrorist attacks on the U.S. It's hard to imagine so much time has passed, but as we promised, we still remember. I still remember where I was and what I was thinking when it happened. Where were you? What do you remember? How has it affected your life and perspective?

I'm choosing to share the YouTube video below with my students tomorrow in hopes they will remember and understand just how important September 11th is in our modern history. The kids I work with were really young when this happened-- some of the youngest only being around seven or eight-years-old that morning. It will be interesting to have them think about that day, what they remember, and to have them consider how the attacks have affected their lives and our nation.

That day changed so much for so many. It has shaped so much in our modern history. How will you remember September 11, 2001?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A three generation teaching moment...

(Image from here)

The most amazing thing happened today. Actually, a couple of amazing things happened. To understand their significance; however, you first have to know something about where I come from and why I chose to teach. As many of you know I come from a pretty amazing little town in Iowa. We are known for producing good football teams and kids who have been taught how to follow their dreams no matter how big or unrealistic. Of course, none of this would be possible without great teachers and mentors. I am so lucky because I can't pinpoint which teacher impacted me the most-- and not just my teachers at school but also the other teachers in my life who weren't part of the school.

Because of these teachers, I became a teacher. I knew what it felt like to realize my dreams with the help of my teachers and wanted to make sure that I could return the favor to the kids in my community- wherever that would be. See, my teachers taught me a lot more than just reading, writing, math, history, and science. They taught the important stuff too, like how to keep a positive attitude, how to reach goals even when they seemed out of reach, how to be a good person, how to do the right thing, how to use the accademic skills they taught to solve real life problems, and so much more. My track coach, Mr. Kerns, was among those teachers.

At the end of the school year last June, I handed out a very Mr. Kerns-esque farewell gift to my students. In fact, I remember him giving me something very similar when I was on his track team. I printed up a little colored sheet of paper that had all of the important lessons I had hoped my kids learned from our class throughout the year. I handed it to them as a reminder of what they had accomplished and that what they had accomplished really does matter. I also gave them a little gold dot of tape to stick on their phones. It was to remind them that they really can reach their goals as long as they keep trying their best to do the right things... At the time, I didn't know how well recieved those little dots and slips of paper would be. Today was the day I'd find out.

As summer passed and I had gotten word of what had happened to Mr. Kern's best friend, Coach Thomas, I couldn't help but think of what Mr. Kerns was going through. I began to think about his situation even more after I had heard Mr. Kerns agreed to take on a co-headcoach position to help fill Coach Thomas's place. I kept wondering what I'd be feeling if I were in his shoes-- if my best friend were to tragicly die and how I'd react. After mauling it over for several days I decided to send Mr. Kerns a letter. I wanted to let him know that I still cared about him and what he taught. I wanted to offer a word of encouragement espeically whith his new task at hand. I wrote it. I sent it off, and didn't expect to hear much back, especially concidereing how time consuming coaching can be. I should have known better. Mr. Kerns always found time for us. Why would that change now?

Today was an amazing day. At school a few kids stopped me and showed me they still had their dots. They gave me a hug, and I could see the important lessons really did get through to them. As a teacher, this is the best gift. This is why I do what I do. It was great. When I got home, I started in on my usual routine. I said hello to my neighbors, blogged a little, and washed the dishes. Then the phone rang. At first I thought it was long lost family friend, but it turned out to be Mr. Kerns. He had gotten my letter and the little pop can tab I had included to remind him that he "can" get through the loss of his friend and still manage to find the stamina to coach the team. He wanted to thank me and shoot the breeze.

I'll be honest the whole thing was surreal. Today, I was able to thank my coach over the phone- the coach who taught me far more than just running. I also had the chance to tell him I was not only able to use his lessons in my adult life, but I was also able to pass them down to my students. I even was able to appologize for "stealing" some of his really great teaching stratagies (He responded with a humble, "Everything I used was stolen. That's the stuff that works the best anyway"). I had the chance to tell him that my kids, thanked me today for sharing his lessons with them last year.

I don't quite know how to explain what this feels like, especially because it all happened in such an ordinary, matter-of-fact way. The kids just stopped by with no prompt at all. He just called out of the blue while I was washing my dishes. The only thing I do know right now, is that I feel really lucky. I don't know that many folks have a chance to have an experience like this. I also have a feeling it's one of those situations that few can truly appreciate.

So, today I feel lucky. I feel lucky for having had the chance to be a part of a three-generation teaching moment. There really are no words to explain how amazing that feels. :)

Thanks for taking a second to share the moment.

Starting Strong...

(Photo from here)

When I ran the mile in high school I had to start strong. It was part of my style and part of my survival plan. I would toe up to the waterfall start, embrace the nervous energy that gurgled around in my stomach, and sprint like mad to get to the front of the pack. From there, I worked with what I had left and dug deep when things started to get tough. I was never the meet's most valuable runner nor did I make it to state, but I sure did P.R. (personal record), and I got better at almost every meet. It felt good. It made me happy. It offered valuable coping techniques that I still use-- sometimes more than I thought I ever would.

As I start my fifth year of teaching I sort of feel like I did almost ten years ago when I "toed up" to the line. Granted "the gun" went off almost a week ago, I'm still working hard to stay in front of the pack. It feels good to be out in front, full of energy, and anxious to get after it. And, so far, I'm off to a great start. Just like track, I can feel myself getting better. I can diagnose things sooner than the first years I taught. I've found more efficient ways to work and organize. I can feel myself getting stronger and building stamina. Maybe someday I'll be the master teacher I want to become. However, I really do like the getting better process-- even if it stinks sometimes! At the moment, though, I'm savoring the start. It was a good one, now I just have to figure out how to maintain...