Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lean on Me

I just finished watching the movie Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman. The movie is about an inner-city high school plagued with gangs, drugs, and violence. Their test scores are dreadfully low, and the school faces being shutdown by the state. Morgan Freeman's character is recruited by the superintendent to come in as principal and turn things around. The movie was made in 1989, but I think the challenges Freeman's character faces, while far more extreme, are very similar to the ones we face today.

It was interesting for me to watch in light of all the discussions I have been having lately with Mr. Meister and other teachers in the building about how to improve our school. Some of the biggest things that we have talked about is community involvement, parental support, and student buy-in. In the movie, those are exactly the areas that Freeman's character focuses on, as well. He goes to extraordinary lengths to show the students that he cares about their future. He visits the home of a student whose mother says she can't take care of her anymore and offers to help the mother find a better job and a better place to live so that she could provide a better life for her daughter. He is a tough, demanding, unwavering disciplinarian, and at one point, almost his entire staff is on the verge of walking out on him because of his harsh approach towards motivating them to do better for their students, but he gets results.

I guess the biggest thing I got from the movie was a sense of motivation to try harder to reach my students, to impress upon them the importance of education, to continue to hold them to a higher standard, and to continue to push them until they meet that standard. Everyone in the movie thought he was the meanest, most selfish scoundrel imagineable to begin with, but when the school went from being a battlefield where no learning took place to one where students were excited to learn, it was all worth it.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Your Ideas

Usually, my posts on here are my own thoughts and observations about life, love, and the plight of the duck-billed platapus, but today I want to ask you about a topic that has been at the center of some great conversations among members of the faculty here at PCHS recently. We have been spending a lot of time discussing the ways in which the current way of delivering instruction to students may or may not be the best, most effective, way of doing it. I'm not talking about, "Oh man, my English teacher is sooooo booooooring! All he does is talk about pronouns." I am talking about the kinds of classes we offer and the context in which those pesky pronouns are presented to you. Now, we have had one student join our discussion (this all takes place on Mr. Meister's blog, which you can link to through the high school's website), and I would encourage more of you to join in if you would like, but it occured to me that since I offer extra credit for responses on my blog, I might get a little more feedback. So, this is your opportunity to sound off and let us know what kinds of learning opportunities you would like to see in a perfect world.

I would remind you that chances to voice your opinions should be treated with ultimate responsibility. I often hear students complain about one thing or another in regards to how the school operates, but I must remind you that if you really do want your voice to be heard, you need to make sure you are speaking out as a young adult if you want to be taken seriously.

Punctuating Dialogue

Creative Writing- Here is the link for the easy guide to punctuating dialogue that I talked about in class. I hope it helps with your revisions.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Buzzer Beaters

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."

-Albert Einstein

I know Einstein was a genius and everything, but I think he missed on this one. It is a fact that time exists, but this year it feels like everything is happening at once. I feel like we just went over syllabi yesterday, yet here we are in the closing seconds of the first quarter. It seems like I am assigning work and then collecting it three weeks later with the feeling that no time had even passed since I assigned it. If that is how I feel, I can only imagine how you all must feel.

I see the look on students' faces when they realize that the mad dash we have all just survived has left them with grades they simply don't want to take home to mom and dad. For these students, I have a couple of pieces of advice.

The first is to let this be a lesson. In the fast-paced world of high school, and even moreso in the faster-paced world of the workplace, allowing yourself to get off-track or behind by losing track of your goals and priorities can have far-reaching effects. Sure, we all want to take time now and again to just relax and not worry about the things in our life that bring us stress, but the difference between those who succeed and those who just show up is that successful people put that relaxation time after their work. They realize that doing what you want to do is far more enjoyable and, frankly, possible once you have done what you need to do.

I hear a lot of people say, "You are only young once, so you might as well enjoy it." They use this as an excuse to blow off school work and other responsibilities, choosing instead to spend time pursuing unproductive leisure activities. These people rarely become successful because their way of prioritizing and viewing the world doesn't match up with what it takes to be successful. I think a better motto would be, "You are only young once, so make the most of it." Whether people realize it or not, what we do and who we decide to be when we are young sets the tone for our entire life. Sure, there are people who make big changes and turn their lives around, but many times those changes are cosmetic. Who they really are, the things that drive them, change very little. I'm not saying that you shouldn't have any fun while you are young, but if you have too much fun when you are young, you might squander away your chance at a fun and fulfilling adult life, which is a much larger portion of your life.

The other advice I would give to those who find themselves with grades below what they would want: Fight like heck until the final buzzer. You still have a couple of days before grades are final. Make sure you earn every point possible. Your teachers don't accept late work? Fine. You can't change the past, so just make sure tomorrow's assignment is done, and done right. If teachers offer extra credit, make sure you get it. Disclaimer: Most teachers hate it when students who have slacked all quarter come to them in the last few days begging for extra credit, so this only works when teachers (like me) have already stated that extra credit is available. If there is nothing you can do to salvage this grade, start concentrating on second quarter. Remember, semester grades are a combination of your quarter grades and your exam grade, so if you can excel over the next couple of months, this quarter's letter grade will never really matter.

The clock is running out. How bad do you want it?

Friday, September 25, 2009


I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.
~Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Homecoming week is always a fun time. I remember looking forward to it when I was in school, and even now, as a teacher, I look forward to a week with a little different atmosphere. We are not that far into the year (well, actually, I guess we are over 1/8th of the way to the end already), but it is already refreshing to have something just a little different to look foward to.

What many of us don't take the time to reflect on is the reason for Homecoming. The tradition was started as a way of welcoming alumni back to visit their school and promote a sense of tradition. This Homecoming, I would challenge you all to spend a few minutes to think about what PHS alumni think when they come back to visit. Are they proud of what they see? What traditions do we emphasize? Are they as important as we make them out to be? Are there traditions we could start while we are here that might be more worthwhile?

I am not asking these questions because I think I know all of the answers. These are not questions for me to answer. These are questions that we must ALL answer, and I think that now is a great time to do it. This is the first Homecoming for PCHS. This is a chance for a new start if we want it. The important thing to remember, though, is that it can't just be the responsibility of a select few. We can't always say "Well, that's the way it has always been, so what can I do about it?" We must ALL continually look at who we are and who we want to be. We are ALL PCHS.

My Rewarding Weekend

There never shall be one lost good. All we have willed or hoped or dreamed of good shall exist.
~Robert Browning

Sometimes I find myself becoming very cynical about the world we are living in. I watch the news and see story after story about things that make me wonder if we are slowly losing our ability to do good for each other. I hear people talking about this generation of students we are educating right now, and they point out what seems to be a decreased level of motivation, empathy, and just about every other positive character trait I can think of. I hear about how their exposure to technology from such a young age has left them unable to make meaningful personal connections, that they would rather text or IM than have a face-to-face conversation. They seem to be short-sighted and in constant search of the instant gratification they have come to expect from a web 2.0 world. I hear all of these things, and I worry. What will my children's generation be if this is the direction we are going?

Here is the "but": But then I have an experience like I did on Saturday. For the second year in a row, I have been asked to provide a security team for the Special Olympics Family Festival at Lake Land College in Mattoon. The event is sponsored and planned by Consolidate Communicatons, which is where I worked while going to college, so I had volunteered before, but I had always just signed up for a job that would allow me to be done within an hour of two of the event starting. For this reason, I never really had a chance to see what a remarkable thing it really is. The last two years, however, have been completely different. I have had the opportunity to be there from the time the first participants show up until the last one leaves, and it completely changes my perspective.

My role as head of security allows me to roam throughout the event and really take in all that is going on. I get to watch as total strangers become "Friends-for-a-Day". I see nursing students spending their Saturday assisting those who need help using the restroom. I see literally thousands of volunteers blocking traffic on Route 45, waiting to find parking on campus so that they can come pitch in doing something, anything. This sight, in and of itself, is impressive, but when I take the time to really pay attention to who these volunteers are, I realize that a vast majority of them, especially the "Friend-for-a-Day" volunteers, are from the generation I was speaking of earlier. I see college students showing up in such amazing numbers that many participants have two "Friends-for-a-Day". I see high school kids showing up wanting to volunteer and being disappointed when they are told they must be eighteen to do so. I see all of this, and I realize that we are going to be okay. The things people worry about in regards to this generation may be true, but somewhere underneath all of those problems, they are still capable and willing to do good. Every new generation has to deal with criticism from those that came before them. We are constantly changing, so each generation is obviously going to be different from the one before. What we have to do is realize that different does not always mean worse.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Weeks

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. ~Winston Churchill

Play is the beginning of knowledge. ~George Dorsey

Normally, I like to begin these things with a quote, but today I found two quotes which address what is on my mind. The first, I think, is a pretty good summation of where we are right now. The first six days of school went by pretty quick. We talked about rules, schedules, more rules, goals, some rules, and just for fun, a couple of rules. Textbooks were distributed; seating charts arranged, but, alas, the beginning of school is over.

This, much like the end of school, can be a tough time to wrap one's head around. We are still learning each other's names, developing routines, and trying to find the proverbial "groove" while at the same time pressing forward as though we have done it all before. It is always tricky figuring out how to go from the mentality of the first day into the reality of the first assignment, but that is where the second quote comes in.

Tuesday afternoon, the faculty took a personality test, which identified each of us by one of four colors depending upon our responses to pictures, descriptions, and questions. In the end, I discovered what many people probably already knew about me: I am very, very orange. In fact, with a possible high score of forty-eight, I scored a forty-six for orange. What does this mean besides the fact that I have incredible school spirit? Well, according to the people who created the test, it means I like to have fun with just about everything I do. We were given some handouts that describe how people of our "colors" might behave as educators, students, parents, and children. I will give you look at what kind of a teacher someone as orange as I am tends to be:

-enjoys an acive classroom -seeks to energize students
-makes learning fun -expects student involvement and compliance
-uses competitive games and activities -unstructured discipline
-spontaneous, flexible presentations -hands-on, immediate applications
-uses a variety of action activities -strong use of innovative approaches
-learning linked to "here and now" -emphasis on immediate relevancy
-uses media

Now, I don't know how much some of these apply to me, but I do know that I want some of them to be true. I can tell you that I certainly enjoy an active classroom as long as the activity has purpose. I would love to think that I energize my students; I know they energize me. I hope to make learning fun. I have found that anything I have really been able to retain over the years was initially presented to me in a way that made me want to learn it, so I want to deliver that kind of instruction to my students.

I don't know how well I will achieve these things on a daily basis, but I feel like we are off to a fantastic start. I hope we can keep charging forward, together.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

August... Seriously?

I began the summer with the intention of blogging once a week. I didn't figure anyone would really read them over the summer; it was really just something I wanted to try since my fantasy career is to be a syndicated columnist. It is not that I don't love teaching, but I watched the movie Marley and Me last spring and it occurred to me that just hanging out and then writing about my life in and interesting and humorous way would be really fun.

Anyway, the first week went by with me taking full advantage of my wife's "grace period" in which I didn't have to do any work around the house. She let me sleep in, watch TV, read, nap, eat massive amounts of children's cereal out of an oversized bowl; it was great. One thing I didn't do in that week was blog. Week two began my summer of home improvement projects. The list was long and most of it was way over my head. To prepare, I DVR'd episodes of Home Improvement to draw inspiration from America's favorite handyman and spent many hours simply staring at the empty space where the patio would go, and the fence, and even sat in the bathroom trying to figure out all I needed to do to complete its renovation. Again, I did not blog.

Soon, I was up to my knees in piles of dirt and busted concrete leveling the patio area for fresh cement. I experienced operating a bobcat for the first time and only almost flipped it about ten times. The concrete truck came, and with a little help from my friends along with some expert supervision from my dad, I had a patio.

At this point it is the first week of July. I had volunteered to be Paris High School's representative at a national conference in Atlanta, and since nobody else was going, I took my wife. We drove down early and did some touristy stuff before I had to start attending the conference. While there I met up with some people I met while student teaching in Charleston and hung out with them. All in all, the conference was a great experience. I learned a lot that I hope I can spread around to colleagues to better serve our students. I should also add that I didn't blog about any of it.

Upon returning from my trip, it was time to begin installing the privacy fence I had ordered a few weeks prior. I had never put up a fence of any kind, so I did what I always do: I called my brothers and we just started guessing at how it should go. It turned out pretty well. In the process of all the fence construction, I also built my kids the mother of all sandboxes. I could have blogged about any of that, but I didn't.

With the privacy fence up and operational, I realized it was one of my brothers' birthday: August 1st. Holy cow! I still have a bathroom to remodel or my wife is going to strangle me. It's not that she is really all that demanding. You see, I began this particular project over a year ago when I decided to replace the tub/shower. I pretty much gutted the bathroom, ripped up the old floor and pretty much left it at that. Sure we had a new tub/shower, but we also had bare drywall and concrete floors.

This all brings me to now. I am writing this blog at about 1:30 in the morning. I started, um continued, the bathroom last Sunday. This week has been spent finishing the demolition, rebuilding a wall, putting up more drywall, mudding, sanding, mudding some more, and as of now, putting up a fresh coat of paint. I have official overshot my budget for the project by about 70% and still have to complete the tile floor, custom cabinet, and finish work before the 17th.

This wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have so much going on this coming week. On Tuesday, my wife, daughter, and I will be traveling to St. Louis to take a tour of Busch Stadium before taking in the game that evening. Then, on Thursday, I think, I have tickets to take my daughter to Sullivan's Little Theatre on the Square to watch Aladdin. Seems like there is something else too, but I can't remember it. Did I mention I have never done a tile floor either? Anyway, I also put up a new garage door and finished out the cabinet space around the dishwasher I installed over Spring Break somewhere in there.

Well, that is how my summer flew by. If anyone is still reading this thing, drop me a comment to let me know what you've been up to. I look forward to seeing everyone back at school next week. It is going to be a great year. I have a new room (Mrs. Sherer's old room), a new class (Creative Writing replaced Eng 10c in my schedule), and a lot of ideas for how to make learning fun (okay, bearable).

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What's the Plan?

"A goal without a plan is just a wish."
-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

About a month ago, it was time to get my kids into bed for the night, and for whatever reason, I really don't remember why I did it, I told them to settle down in their beds, and I said, "Okay, here is the plan..." I then proceded to detail what they were going to do all the way up until the time I left for work the next morning. They were to snuggle down under their blankets and close their eyes until they fell asleep. Then, they would have sweet dreams and sleep in their own beds all night. In the morning, when they woke up, they were supposed to tip-toe across the hallway and cuddle up with Mom and Dad until it was time to get up and watch cartoons. As I said, I don't know why I came up with this or what I hoped to accomplish with it, but both kids quietly closed their eyes and slept in their own beds all night. The plan worked to perfection!

Much to my suprise, my daughter requested to hear the plan the next night at bedtime. It took me a little while to figure out what my wife was talking about when she came into the living room after going back to tuck the kids in and told me of the request. This routine has now been repeated every night since. After coming to watch one of my baseball games, my daughter insisted that we add a "breakdown" in which we all put our hands in the middle and say "goooooo team!" Not only does my daughter, and to a lesser extent my son, insist that the plan be detailed every night, but if anything does not go according to the plan, she gets very upset and scolds whoever "ruined the plan".

What does this have to do with you? Maybe nothing. Many of you have goals in life that you are very sure and passionate about, and you have gone the additional step of making a plan for yourself to reach that goal. Unfortunately, though, I have an alarming number of students who don't seem to have ever learned to make the connection between what happens next and what they are doing now. I ask students who rarely come to class and pretty much never complete assignments if they want to graduate from high school. With almost no exceptions, I am told that they do want to graduate. Then, when I begin to discuss with them the ways in which they can accomplish this goal, they nod their heads blankly and walk out of my classroom no closer to understanding the importance of making a plan and following through than when we began. Somehow, I accidentally taught my daughter a lesson that no matter how hard I try I cannot purposely teach my students.

I did not sit down to write this blog with a clear plan of where I wanted to end up, which has led to the exact outcome I would have predicted: I am lost, which is exactly what awaits any of you who still has not made the connection between a clear plan and your future.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Another Hero...Lost

Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne(1572-1631)
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

A little over two weeks ago, I was eating dinner when my phone rang. It was my mother calling to tell me that she had just heard a friend of mine from high school, a guy I played baseball with for three incredible seasons, a guy whose wife was in my graduating class and an even closer friend to me, a guy whose brother had served with me in the National Guard for about five years in both Bulgaria and Iraq, a guy with four small children and a legacy of always doing his best to help those around him had died. Now, I had not really kept in touch with this guy very much after high school. We had both gone our separate ways, meeting occasionally here and there and catching up as best we could. He married his high school sweetheart, and I had immediately gone off to conquer the world. Nonetheless, the news of his death in Afghanistan rocked me. I didn't know what to say or how to respond. I only knew that it was tragic, and that it would stick with me forever.

I remember clearly the last two times I ran into Jared Southworth. The first was at the armory in Mattoon shortly before I left for Iraq. I was working there full-time getting ready for our deployment, and Jared had just entered the Guard as a cadet with the Eastern Illinois University ROTC program. It seemed fitting to me, seeing Jared in his uniform, showing off all the high-speed equipment he had bought to compliment his basic issue. He had always seemed destined to be a soldier. There was always just something about the way he talked about the military when we were playing ball together. I remember thinking, when his brother enlisted, that it was weird seeing Michael in uniform but not Jared. Little did I know that he was slowly making his way. He just had a little different plan in mind. From hearing the stories of those who served with him after he was commissioned as an officer, I know that Jared's path was the one most suited for him. While he would have made a tremendous enlisted soldier, he was an even better officer. I regret that I never served under his command. It would have truly been an honor.

The second, and last, time I saw Jared was some months after I had returned from Iraq. I was eating lunch with my grandmother in Charleston, and he came in with his wife and kids. Jared was a crazy guy in high school, always cracking jokes, and seldom seeming to take anything seriously, but seeing him as an amazingly loving and attentive father showed me an entirely different side of the man. I guess that was just it; he was no longer the teenage boy I had known, but a man who earned the respect of someone the minute he met them. While I am saddened that I did not keep in touch with he and his wife after we all left high school, I am eternally thankful that I was able to see him like this, because it is an image that will forever be etched in my memory.

In the weeks since I received the news of his untimely death, I have been at a loss for words to express my feelings about it. At the visitation, when I hugged his widow, the girl I had known so well nearly a decade ago, who had since become as strong a woman as any of us would have imagined back then, all I could manage to say was, "I'm so sorry." There was nothing else I could say, nothing else seemed adequate or appropriate, because I felt nothing else; only sorrow that she should have to endure this tremendous loss at such a young age.

It wasn't until I found myself sitting in the packed gym at Oakland High School during the funeral that I began to find words for what I was feeling in my heart. Yet, even then, the words were not my own. The words were from the opening line of a poem by John Donne, which I had read in some literature class in college. I couldn't remember the entire poem, only those first four words: "Death be not proud". I am not sure why, out of the vaulted recesses of my often scrambled memory, this poem sprang to my consciousness like a lightning bolt. I began thinking of all the circumstances and events that can lead to a person's death, and it seemed to me that in this case, death was indeed proud. What more noble or purposeful death could one offer than to die for one's country in service of his countrymen and those in faraway lands hoping desperately for freedom from violence and oppression? I remembered sitting at a training range in basic training, listening to my drill sergeant read the citation for the Medal of Honor awarded to the man whose name had been given to the range as a sign of honor. I no longer remember the heroic deeds of that long-dead soldier, but I clearly remember my drill sergeant looking at us with the most serious expression I had ever seen and saying, "That's how I want to go... in battle." Jared was just that kind of warrior. As much as I know he loved his family, I can't help but think that had he known what was going to happen, he wouldn't have changed a thing. I can't help but think that to Jared, death could be proud. Maybe I am just thinking all of this as a way of softening the blow, but maybe that doesn't matter.

Since the funeral, I have kept running those four words over and over in mind. Today, when I came home from work, I found the poem and began to read it once, twice, three times. I found that there is more in it for me than what I had first thought. It reminded me that death will eventually come to all of us; it will not be avoided, ignored, or forgotten. It will always be present, possibly waiting around the next corner. The last lines of the poem, however, leave a smile on my face because I learned at the funeral that Jared had become strong in his faith. I learned that he regularly attended church, read his bible every day, and even sang church songs to his children before bed. In the last lines, Donne says, "wee wake eternally,/ And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die." I am confident that Jared has awoken to an eternity of life without death. He will look down and see his children grow, learning of the hero that is their father, and he will smile.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Dawning of a New Quarter

“Destiny is no matter of chance. It is a matter of choice: It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” ~William Jennings Bryan

When I was in basic training, we used to sing the same cadence every morning while marching to Physical Training:

Here we go again.
Same old stuff again.
Marching down the avenue.
______ more weeks and we'll be through.

Some mornings, I loved this cadence. On other mornings, I hated it. The difference was always my attitude on that particular morning. If I was feeling motivated, the number of weeks remaining seemed so small, so achievable. If it had been a tough morning, the time I had left seemed insurmountable. The only constant was that I knew I could not fail. There was entirely too much riding on my ability to suck it up and continue to press forward no matter how much it hurt, how tired I was, or how much I missed home.

"But Mr. Ogle, what does this story have to do with the quote, and what do both of them have to do with the Third Quarter?" I am glad you asked. The first semester taught me a lot about myself as a teacher, but it also taught me a lot about some of you as students. Those students who work hard everyday to complete assignments on time and participate in class can stop reading now.

Now that I have the attention of the bunch of you who populate my gradebook with zeros and those of you who sit in class day-in and day-out with your head down staring blankly at the wall or the back of your eyelids, I want you to consider both my story and the quote very carefully. The quote tells us that destiny is not something that will just happen, it must be achieved. I know that all of you want something out of life, but you are making the fatal mistake of thinking that if you just wait around long enough it will happen. It doesn't work that way. With the way things are going these days, jobs for high-school dropouts are few and far between. There is no reason to believe that they will not continue to diminish both in number and salary. If you continue to approach school with the attitude that it is just an inconvenience to you, I promise you it will be something you regret for the rest of your life.

Still waiting for the explanation of my basic training story? Okay, here it goes. Much like many of you do not enjoy high school, I was miserable in basic training. Sure, looking back on it, it doesn't seem that bad, but while I was enduring it, I couldn't imagine it ever ending. I remember waking up for PT after only a few hours of sleep (like usual) and thinking to myself, "Will I ever get a good night's sleep again? I don't know how much longer I can keep this up." There were so many days when I just wanted to stay in my bunk, suffer the consequences, tell them I quit. I'm sure that the thoughts going through my mind on those mornings is pretty similar to the thoughts you have about coming to school, but I kept dragging myself out of my bunk and down to formation. I kept marching where they told me to march. I kept running when they told me to run. I kept shooting what they told me to shoot. The entire time hating nearly every minute of it. I could go on and on telling stories about how hard it was, but the point is I kept going even though I didn't want to, and it afforded me more opportunities than I could have ever gotten otherwise. For you, high school is the same way. You don't have to like it. It doesn't have to come easy, but if you just suck it up and do what you are told to do when you are told to do it, it will get over much faster than it will by just sitting around waiting.

Here we go again.
Same old stuff again.
Sitting in the classroom.
Eighteen more weeks and we'll be through.

Then I won't have to look at you.
Sleepy, sleepy, sleepy you.
And you won't have to look at me.
Awesome, awesome, awesome me.