Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Extra Credit Deadline!!

The deadline for extra credit posts is midnight tonight (Tuesday 12/16). Any posts submitted after that time will not count for your second quarter grade. This should not be a problem as you should all be quietly tucked away in bed getting plenty of rest for your final exams long before midnight.

Sweet Dreams.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christmas Vacation

Like all of you, I am desperately looking forward to Christmas break. Don't get me wrong, I love my job and getting to spend all day with all of you makes me glad I chose the profession I did, but everyone likes a break now and then. I look forward to spending more time with my family and not having to worry about grading or lesson planning for a week or two.

My holiday plans are pretty hectic, but they should be fun. On Christmas Eve-Eve, we will be going to my parents house in Kansas sometime in the afternoon and will be spending the night. On Christmas Eve morning, we will wake up bright and early to open gifts and spend the day relaxing and enjoying each other's company. That evening, my wife, kids, and I will head home to attend service at our church in Mattoon. We will wake up bright and early again on Christmas morning to open presents. After that, we will pack-up and drive to my wife's grandmother's house in Pana for more holiday food, family time, and presents. Once we leave there, we will go spend the night at my in-law's house, also in Pana. The next morning, we will wake up bright and early once again to, you guessed it, open more presents. Hopefully, we will then be able to relax for the rest of the day and let our hands recover from wrapping-paper-shredding syndrome before making the drive back home to Mattoon.

I hope you all have exciting plans laid on for the holiday season as well. Feel free to share your plans with all of us.

Finally, I would like to ask all of you to keep our brave servicemembers stationed around the globe, as well as their families, in your thoughts. I know from experience that being away from the ones you love during this time of year is difficult. I spent two Thanksgivings, two Christmases, and two New Years in the middle east, and I have a bunch of friends deployed to Afghanistan right now as part of the 33rd Brigade Combat Team.

Happy Holidays!

Bow Before the Altar of Semester Exams!

"As long there are tests, there will be prayer in schools."

I don't know who said this, but it is funny only as long as it is true. Now, I will admit that I have done my fair share of praying before a big test, but I have never felt the need to ask for help from above when I walked into the test knowing I was prepared.

As a student, the worst feeling in the world is looking at the first page of a test and realizing that you did not study enough. I remember taking a midterm exam in a poetry class in college. I don't remember how or why I was so unprepared for this test; I only remember sitting there for over an hour fumbling through this monstrousity and feeling like I was drowning. As painful as the experience was for me, I learned a valuable lesson: The pain of really preparing for a test is far less than the pain of taking a test for which you have not prepared.

When the final exam for that class rolled around, I spent two days prior to the test doing nothing but living, drinking, and eating poetry. I had done the math, and my grade was such that getting an A on the test would not bump me up from a B to an A in the class, and all I had to do was not fail the test in order to keep from dropping to a C, but that was not important to me. Proving to myself that the content of this class was not more than I could handle was the only thing that mattered to me. I wanted to crush this test just to prove that I belonged in the class.

I realized early in my college career that judging my value or intelligence based on a series of five letters was about the most useless and destructive thing I could do. I have seen brilliant students get C's because of circumstances outside of their control and complete baffoons get A's because they are really good at "school". What really mattered to me was whether or not I got what I needed or wanted out of every class. Don't get me wrong, good grades can open a lot of doors, but do not make the mistake of thinking that getting less than perfect grades closes all doors. You may just have to find a window here or there.

What is the point of all this babbling? The point is that many of you either need or deserve to do well on the semester exams next week. However, I can tell you that needs, wants, and aspirations will not translate into a good grade. The only way to ensure that you do well on the semester exam is to pull out the material from the semester and make sure you know it forward and backward. It will be painful, but not nearly as painful as taking the class again next year.

Now, since you need to be studying instead of reading my musings, I will leave you with a final morsel for thought. After you finish your tests next week, you have sixteen days straight in which to recover. All you have to do is push yourself for seven days, and then you get to rest. Why does that sound familiar? Anyway, you all can do it. I know you can, or I wouldn't waste my time trying to help you do it.


*Author's Note: I totally owned that poetry final --I think I got one of the highest test scores in the class. I still got a B for the course.*

Sunday, November 9, 2008

One of my heroes...

I want to take a break from Dr. Seuss for a special Veteran's Day blog. As many of you know, I served seven years in the Illinois Army National Guard and deployed overseas three times during that service, with one of those deployments being a year of combat-service in Iraq. This blog, however, is not about my service. You see, I will not be thinking about what I did this Veteran's Day. Instead, my thoughts will be with those still serving and those whose service was the last, great thing they accomplished for this world. I had the privilege of knowing, and serving with, just such a man. His name was Specialist Justin Penrod.

Penrod and I did not always see eye-to-eye, but I always knew that when the time came, he would have my back. That was the kind of guy Penrod was. He had not lived a very charmed life, but I believe somehow there was great character sitting dormant within him all along, waiting for an awakening. During high school, Penrod had a lot of discipline problems, both in school and in the community. Finally, in an effort to change the direction of his life, he was enrolled in a military-based alternative education program, which would teach him discipline and allow him to earn his GED.

This experience changed Penrod so profoundly, that he did not want to abandon it. Instead, he joined the National Guard in order to continue on with the great tradition of military service that he had learned from his instructors to respect so greatly. In addition, Penrod returned after basic training to the school which had taught him so much, and became an instructor himself. While there, he became a role-model for many young men, some of which have followed in his footsteps and are currently serving their country as a direct result of Penrod's influence on their lives. It was during this period of his life that I met Penrod and grew to respect him.

After our deployment to Iraq, Penrod, who married his wife only a few days before we shipped out, became a father. His son was born severely premature and had all of the medical problems that accompany such a birth. For weeks, the tiny child was hospitalized, and no matter how long the drive, or how many other things needed to be done, Penrod could always be found making visits to the hospital to be with his son. You see, for Penrod, this child more important than anything else he could ever accomplish. Fatherhood will have that affect on a great man.

Before long, it became clear that Penrod's civilian job and insurance would not be enough to handle the medical expenses for his son, both presently and in the future. When this realization hit, Penrod did not hesitate, but marched immediately to the recruiting station and signed an active duty contract. While serving on active duty, Penrod's son would be completely covered for any and all medical treatment. The inevitability of another tour in Iraq or Afghanistan did not phase Penrod, because the only thing he cared about was making sure his son would be taken care of. In basic training, we are taught to be selfless, Penrod showed his selflessness in a way that few ever could.

Not surprisingly, Penrod was deployed to Iraq with his new unit shortly after arriving on active duty. He made it to Iraq in July of 2007 to begin his second tour only a year after completing his first. One month into this second tour, Penrod was on a combat patrol, something he had done a hundred times before. This time, his patrol was walking down a street and began taking sniper fire from a nearby rooftop. Without hesitation, Penrod and three other soldiers set out to assault the building and take out the shooter. Moments after busting through the door, Penrod and the other soldiers fell victim to explosives planted in the house. He died the way he lived: selflessly trying to help others.

The remarkable thing about Penrod's story is that if you could ask him, he would tell you he was unremarkable. The inspiring thing about Penrod's story is that if you had the time, you would probably find that the story of every American service member who has given their life for this country is just as remarkable. You see, it takes a special quality in a human being to be willing to die so that others may live, so it should come as no surprise to find that those who have done it are truly special people.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

Not long ago, I was getting my daughter ready for bed, and she asked me to read her a book. I went to her bookcase, and pulled the first Dr. Seuss book I saw. It just happened to be Oh, the Places You'll Go!, and as I began to read, I realized that this book is much more than a fun tongue-twister. The message it delivers is so important that it seems wasteful to have it hidden in a children's book. For this reason, I have decided to discuss it on my blog -one of the most powerful and influential sites on the entire world-wide web.

Almost immediately, Dr. Seuss hits us with a realization that many of us struggle to deny, but ultimately have to accept: "You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy [or gal] who'll decide where to go." Now, we are not really on our own; most of us have family, friends, teachers, or others who are available to give us support when we need it, but what he is trying to say is that we are the ones who, in the end, are responsible for our direction. All of the outside influences in the world cannot relieve us of our responsibility for which path we take. This premise is the base for Seuss' entire book.

The story follows our unnamed hero as he wanders through Seuss' world of fancifully named creatures and mysterious places. One place that causes some real issues is "The Waiting Place." We are warned to avoid getting caught in this place, where everyone is just sitting around waiting for something to happen. Oh, how many of us find ourselves guilty of this in our lives? We tell ourselves that things will really start to happen when this thing or that thing comes true, and we just wait. Living is an activity that must be done, not waited for. The sooner we realize that things don't happen to us, we happen to them, the sooner we begin to see ourselves achieving goals instead of waiting on them.

The greatest thing about the book, though, is that the lesson does not end with just one insight, or even two. The entire text is a handbook on life, but maybe more directly, the teenage years. Last Saturday, our fine football team made the trip to Quincy for the first ever appearance of the Paris Tigers in the state playoffs. All year, we have seen this team show how special they are by beating teams like Charleston and making a run at Effingham, only to see them defeated by a bunch of no-good cheaters who shouldn't even be allowed to play in the same playoff schedule with us because they are a bunch of cheating cheaters... but I digress. The important thing to remember is that while they may not have been the best team on the field last weekend, they were the best football team this town has had the opportunity to get behind, and that, in itself, is special.

And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all. Fame! You'll be famous as famous can be, with the whole wide world watching you win on TV. Except when they don't. Because, sometimes, they won't.

Dr. Seuss reminds us that even during times when it seems like we can't lose, eventually we will, and realizing that it is not the end of the road, not even a speed bump, is what makes us special. We can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and tackle the next challenge wiser for our experiences.

I could go on for pages about the lessons in this book and how they apply to high school students, but I will not. Instead, let me just say that, "be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea", pick a Dr. Seuss book and look for the meaning beyond the madness.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MonoMyth Video

Here is the link to that video with the guy explaining the MonoMyth as it applies to the Odyssey. It is really cool, but since it is sixteen minutes long, I didn't have time to play it in class. If you watch it, comment on this post to let me know what you think.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Coming Soon...

Keep an eye out on this blog, because I will be beginning my first blog series (that is multiple blogs with a common theme) in the coming week. The series will be called "Things I Learned from Dr. Seuss". If you like zingwhatsits and whomzoozits, you will love this.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Final Countdown

Athletes often talk about finishing strong. Whether they are pitchers trying to make sure they do not give up late inning runs, football players pushing to get a few extra yards farther into field goal range to set up a last second scoring opportunity, or basketball players running hard until the final buzzer sounds, we are all familiar with the idea that in order to be successful, one must finish strong. My father used to always walk around the house near the end of a grading period while my brothers and I were doing our homework loudly proclaiming, "We're in the home stretch, boys, go to the whip!" The idea behind all of this is that no matter how strongly, or not so strongly, we have done up to the closing moments of whatever race we are running, we are sure to fail if we just throw up our hands and coast the rest of the way.

For some of you, this first quarter has gone well. You have met every expectation and will likely be rewarded with a fine grade to show your parents. For those in this group, I urge you to not relax; keep pushing until the final buzzer sounds. Never become too relaxed or too complacent with your achievements. It only takes a couple of weeks with your eye off of the prize in order to lose all you have worked for.

For others, this first quarter has been less than extraordinary. For you, this message is even more important. You still have the opportunity to cross the finish line with your head held high. Sure, you may be failing this quarter... who cares? That's right, who cares? Not many teachers would probably have that attitude, but here is the way I see it. Every single one of you should have the goal to graduate from high school. With that singular goal in mind, is failing one quarter the end of the world? The answer is no, so why stop trying just because you failed half of a semester? Why throw in the towel after the first round? In order to get the credits you need to graduate, in order to not have to repeat this course next year, all you have to do is pass the semester. That means that even though you failed the first quarter, a strong second quarter and a good grade on the semester exam can pull your semester average up enough to move on. So I leave you with one, last question: Isn't your future, the promise of possibilities beyond those offered to dropouts, worth nine weeks (barely more than two months) of hard work? If you put in nine weeks of work to pass your classes for this semester, and then repeat that for however many quarters you have left until graduation, you can earn a piece of paper that proves you have what it takes to accomplish your goals; more importantly, it ensures that doors aren't closed on you before you even have a chance to start out in the world.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why Not Try?

It is not only for what we do that we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do.
-John Baptiste MoliƩre

Responsibility is a funny thing. We all like to consider ourselves responsible and then site all of the things we do which shine as examples of our responsibility. However, we all keep a dirty little secret. From time to time, we all are guilty of only being responsible for the things we want to be repsonsible for. Unfortunately, the things we want to be responsible for aren't the only things which need to be accounted for.

As I was driving home yesterday, I was listening to talk radio as I have become prone to do on long drives, and a story came across about two schools not far from here (which will remain anonymous for the sake of this discussion) that had not done as well as they had hoped on their standardized tests. Now, this should come as no suprise considering many schools are struggling to keep pace with an ever-rising bar for performance. The thing that caught me off-guard is how blatantly school officials blamed the impact of scoring by Special Education students.

Although I am early in my career as an educator, I have come to the conclusion that this reasoning is merely scapegoating. I have seen too many students express the view that the standardized tests by which schools are evaluated are "stupid" or "no big deal". Unfortunately, this is not the case. These tests are neither stupid nor a small deal. It is a shame that students do not take the opportunity to score well and allow their teachers and administrators to be recognized for all of their hard work. Now, I am not saying that all students blow these tests off, and I have been impressed with the efficacy of the incentives here at PHS, but I have also seen the attitudes toward school work that lead me to believe that even the students who are trying on the tests could score better if their attitude toward school were better.

I have been saddened by the number of instances where school work has come second (or lower) to athletics, clubs, jobs, or recreation. Don't get me wrong, I am coaching two sports this year and was involved in a number of extracurricular activities while in high school, but it seems like more and more, the purpose for attending high school is being diluted by all of the extras. It is tragic that none among us can envision a student ditching sports practice to write a big paper or passing up the chance to go out with friends to study for a test; on the other hand, we witness students failing tests or not turning in assignments because they had practice, or a game, or a dance to attend.

I do not know what the solution is to what I see as an upside-down priority list, especially since we, as a culture, put so much emphasis on the extras ourselves. I guess that I would really like to see what you all have to say about this. Why do you embrace the responsibility of a new car, being a member of an extracurricular activity, or a part-time job while shunning the responsibility to yourself to achieve an education?

Let this be the first post in which your comments are a continuation of the topic I present, and hopefully going forward we will see that is a much more fruitful activity.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Quick Week

Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.- Groucho Marx

Maybe it is just me, but it seems like this week has flown by. With the whirlwind sprint of the first two weeks behind us, we are settling into the routine of the year. Whether it is a seemingly endless list of short stories and Story Notes or a nagging deadline for a persuasive essay, remember that every assignment is one more rung on the ladder to your goals. Keep your eyes on the prize and don't let the day-to-day grind of the school year cloud your perspective on what we are accomplishing.

With every lesson we undertake, we are expanding our horizons; the base of knowledge with which we go out into the world. The skills that you learn in my class, and every other class you take, may not directly translate into whatever you choose to do with your life, but, if you let it, the determination and hard work it takes to acquire them will become a habit which will serve you well no matter what you choose to do in life.

If nothing else, please take this final thought with you. In life nothing comes without a cost. You will never have a life of comfort and success without sacrifice. If you can honestly tell yourself that you can be happy for the rest of your life knowing you never reached your potential, then so be it. However, if you don't think you can do that, buckle down and grind it out. I can assure you that the juice is well worth the squeeze. See you in class.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Labor Day Weekend

Vacation used to be a luxury, but in today's world it has become a necessity. ~Author Unknown

I know that a three day weekend is hardly a real vacation, but I think we tend to hit the first days of school with such force that we very quickly wear ourselves out. Hopefully, we have all made it through these first two weeks in one piece and have come to a fairly clear understanding of what lies ahead.

By now you should all know where your classes are, what you will be expected to do in each one, and I'm sure you have sized up all of your teachers. I would encourage all of you to take the time over this weekend to not only relax and regroup, but to also reflect on the past two weeks. What have you learned that can help you be successful this year? What resolutions can you return to school with on Tuesday that will help you reach your fullest potential?

For my part, I intend to use this time to reevaluate my plans for the semester and make sure that I am ready for the big push to Thanksgiving. That's right; I said Thanksgiving. By my understanding, we don't have many three-day weekends this semester, so this is a rare opportunity for us to have an extra day of rest to charge our batteries and refocus our efforts.

I hope to see you all well rested and ready to go on Tuesday. Take a deep breath while you can, because we have a lot of work to do.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A New Year

I would like to start this blog off with a quote that I believe is always relevent, but which seems even more important at the beginning of a new endeavor, like a new school year. This quote has become my all-time favorite and will probably be finding a home on a wall in class in the very near future.

If we did all that we are capable of doing, we would literally astonish ourselves. -Thomas Edison

I love this quote because it reminds me that we are able to achieve so much more than we give ourselves credit for. We constantly let doubts and fears stand in our way, when we should be looking for opportunities to push our limits.

We are embarking on this journey together, and I invite all of you to join me in my task to live a life of astonishment by doing all we are capable of each and every day.