Wednesday, May 16, 2012

An Open Letter To The PCHS Graduating Class of 2012

Class of 2012,

I am sure some of you realize this, but for those who do not, you guys are the first class that I have seen go from freshmen all the way through to graduation. I have looked forward to seeing you guys graduate since our first year together. You probably do not know this, but those of you who had me in English I that first year made my first year something that I will never forget. The next year, many of you were part of my first attempt at teaching Creative Writing. That semester of short stories and poetry is still the most fun I have had in a classroom. Whether it was in sports, on the stage, as part of the band, or just sitting in my classroom, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching you grow and excel in so many ways.

I know things were not always great. There were times when I was hard on you. I am sure some of you got very tired of my lectures and bell ringer prompts about responsibility and work ethic and countless other topics. There were times when I got upset with you to the point that I did not know what to do. There were times when you probably wanted to see me take a long walk and never come back, but I want you to know that the reason I was hard on you, the reason the disappointment cut so deep with me at times, is because I saw so much potential in all of you even as freshmen. Your personalities were so big, and your talent so evident, that as a teacher, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to make sure I was giving you everything you needed to be successful, because I knew you had the chance if I could only get you to see what you had in front of you. Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, said, “When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care.” I hope you all know that I never gave up on you. I never wanted to stop telling you to get better because I could not stand seeing you achieve less than your absolute best.

This time of year is always bittersweet. It is amazing to see a group of young people achieve a milestone in their lives and knowing that they are getting ready to embark upon a new and exciting chapter, but it is hard knowing that the people who have populated my life for four years are going to be gone when I walk through the doors this August. I have never known the halls of PCHS without you in them, and that will be hard to grasp next year. It already is. There is a song that always gets over-played during this time of year. The song is “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” by Green Day. The lyrics go like this, “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.” Here’s the thing; I hope you didn’t have the time of your life. Here are the things that I do hope:

  1. I hope you had a good time, but I hope the time of your life is still to come. High school can be great, but I hope it serves as a launching point for things so much greater. The idea of high school being the best time in your life is kind of depressing for me because you are still so young when you graduate. Having it be the best time gives the illusion that everything else is down hill. I hope you continue to climb.
  2. I hope you learned about yourself while you were here. The teenage years are tough. It is a constant juggling act of expectations. You have expectations from parents, teachers, coaches, and your peers. It is easy to lose track of what your expectations for are for yourself. I hope you found something while you were here that can help guide you through what is yet to come.
  3. I hope you realize that your toughest teachers were not tough on you because they hate you. Teaching is too difficult a job for someone to do if they hate their students. If someone just wanted to harass teenagers, they could get a much easier job and just go heckle kids at the mall on the weekend. The toughest teachers were the ones who saw potential in you that you did not see in yourself, and they drove themselves everyday to try to make you see what they saw. I hope you realize that they will always be available for you if you need them, no matter how many years it has been since you sat in their classroom.
  4. I hope you appreciate what graduating really means for you. It means opportunities. The world is tough, and there are no guarantees, but the more you educate yourself and make yourself an assett to the people around you, the better chance you have at always having the freedom to pursue your dreams and your passion. I hope that when the opportunities in life present themselves, that you are paying attention and give them everything you have.
  5. I hope that anytime you drive by this school, or whatever happens to be sitting here in the future, you can at least smile a little bit knowing that you made an impact here. The people you met while you were here, teachers and classmates, will forever remember you and all that you accomplished while you were here.

Graduation is a lot to take in, and it can be overwhelming, but take the time to stop and reflect on what you have done and what you have learned from it. The road ahead is anything you make it, and I know you will make us all proud.

Nathan Ogle

Sunday, April 1, 2012

West Side Story

I had the great pleasure of seeing the musical this weekend... twice. Mrs. Ogle and I attended opening night on Friday, and we were both blown away. I found myself being amazed at so many things that I knew I had to try to write it all down to share it with you, my amazing audience.

First, and foremost, the talent of our student body is remarkable. The singing, dancing, and acting were phenomenal. Aubrie Lamb and Stewart Arp did a fantastic job as Tony and Maria. I was in drama club in high school, and we never gave performances like I saw out of those two Friday night. Then, when I came back to watch my daughter, who also did an amazing job if I do say so myself, in the children's matinee, I was equally impressed by Kaitlin Neibarger as Maria. What a talented freshman, and she's in my homeroom, so I was beaming with pride and making sure everyone around me knew she was one of my kids. Additionally, I thoroughly enjoyed "Officer Krumpke" by the Jet boys. You could tell that group was having a great time on stage, and Zach Lueken anchored the crew masterfully. Olivia Underwood (and on Saturday, Hannah King) and J.C. White brought the Sharks to life with great skill. I was impressed by the acting chops displayed by Jake Whitacre as well. He had a tough role because he wasn't on stage very often, but when he was, he had to deliver some long passages basically to himself, which I know from experience is difficult to do.

Aside from the leads, I am always impressed by the shear number of students who put in the hard work and unbelievable amount of time to fill the stage as dancers and additional voices for the large numbers. That level of dedication is remarkable for anyone at any age, and it is great to see so many of our students getting involved in projects like this. All of the understudies did a great job on Saturday, and the solos by Leslie Rush, Meredith Blanford, Kenzie VanSickle, and Emily Turner were beautiful.

Of course, keeping it all running smoothly was an entire crew of students working lights and running the stage. I am still amazed that a student was the stage manager. Way to go, JD Hasler.

The pit orchestra sounded great at both performances. I'm no musician, but even I could tell that the music was complicated. Kudos to my good friend, Dan Tripp, and all of the talented musicians he was working with to make it all happen. It is a testament to the program he has put together that the orchestra included not only current students, but also alumni and band directors from our middle schools and even Chrisman High School.

Not everyone who contributed was on the stage. The sets were fantastic. Mrs. Phegley and her Advanced Arts students really outdid themselves. And Ms. Seaton's Desktop Publishing students put together very professional programs. From top to bottom, our students, and the teachers who guide them, really showed their stuff this weekend.

Last, but certainly not least, I tip my hat to Dan Lynch and the team he has working with him. I see him in the halls at school, and I know how hard he is working, but his enthusiasm for these kids and allowing them to share their talent with the community is an inspiration. He is what every teacher should strive to be.

In the end, I am so glad that I got the opportunity to go watch both performances. It gave me time to reflect on exactly what I was witnessing, and I'm glad it came when it did. Spring Break is a great time to recharge and make the final push through the last half of fourth quarter, and getting to begin the break with something like this really gives me a boost. It is easy, as a teacher, to get frustrated with students this time of year. They are getting burned out, and it sometimes feels like we are spinning our wheels, but when I see them deliver something like this, it really reminds me of how blessed I am to know them and have the opportunity to help them accomplish their goals, even if it is only in a small, indirect way.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Are My Expectations Ruining My Day?

A couple of ideas have been stuck in my head the past couple of days. One is a quote I used in my classes as a short writing prompt:

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
~Abigail Adams

The other is the idea of expectations. This too came from a discussion I've had recently with my students. We were talking about the things that affect our perspective. It was easy for all of us to see that expectations of an event or interaction has a powerful impact on our perception of it.

So these two ideas have bounced around in my head for about twenty-four hours, and since there is very little else in my head, it was only a matter of time before they eventually collided. I've had so many learning experiences in which I've "sought" learning "with ardor", and it is an incredible experience every time it happens. I've seen some students experience this in my class, but it is far more rare. Because it so rarely happens in my class, and I firmly believe it is possible and should happen (You could say I have an expectation that it will happen), I tend to get disappointed. The reality of my students' learning doesn't match my expectation, so my perception tends to be that I am failing my students. My class must not be challenging or engaging because 100% of my students are not inspired to actively engage in the learning process 100% of the time.

When I manage to jump off of the hamster wheel long enough to think about this, it really bothers me. As an educator, I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to make learning this wonderful, even magical, experience for all of my students. I know that I am not alone, because as I watch the education reform debate unfold, I see an incredible willingness of my fellow educators to accept massive amounts of blame for the students who fail to learn. Don't get me wrong, we should never stop trying to reach every student, but when I read comments and hear conversations in which teacher react to students failing, I hate hearing it turn into a feeling on helplessness on the part of the teacher, and I realize I do the same thing. As a profession, I think our enthusiasm for student learning sometimes causes us to have unrealistic expectations about outcomes, and when those expectations aren't met, we tend to have the perception that we've massively failed.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating for lower expectations for ourselves or our students. If anything, this is just a reminder to me to step back occasionally and try to get a better handle on my expectations and how well I really am meeting them on a daily basis. I need to keep myself from dwelling on each student who fails as an indication that I am ineffective, and I need to spend more time understanding the little victories I achieve on a daily basis. I don't need to change my expectations, I just need to make sure I am looking at them in a way that allows me to achieve a better perception.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What Should Learning Look Like?

One thing I've noticed since becoming a teacher is that just about everywhere I look, I see things that make me think about how I teach, my students, or education in general. Sometimes these flickers of thought are inspired by the kinds of things you would expect- an article about education, an advertisement on the radio about increasing graduation rates, etc.- but sometimes, the spark comes from an unexpected place. I had this kind of experience yesterday. I was at my brother's house, and he put the movie Dolphin Tale in for our kids to watch. I had heard of the movie, and it is currently on my waiting list with Netflix, but I figured it was a movie my kids would enjoy, but that I would find fairly boring. I was wrong.

Dolphin Tale - 11 x 17 Movie Poster - Style A
photo courtesy of

While the movie has a very heartwarming message about helping others and the power of hope, that is not what made the movie worthwhile for me. The thing that caught my attention is the role education played in the film. Here's the rundown:

The main character, Sawyer, is a very introverted kid. He doesn't have many, if any, friends, and we learn that he fails pretty much every subject in school. As teachers, we all know kids like Sawyer. For Sawyer, school just doesn't seem to click for him. This is not to say that he isn't intelligent. Early in the movie, we find that he has his own little workshop in the garage where he repairs the remote-controlled helicopters he likes to fly as a hobby, as skill many of us would probably have a difficult time mastering. As the movie unfolds, it is revealed that Sawyer must attend summer school to get credit for the classes he failed. It is while he is on his way to summer school that things begin to happen. Sawyer is riding along the beach when a fisherman yells at him for help. A dolphin has washed up on shore and is caught in the rope from a crab box. Sawyer stays with the dolphin until a marine life rescue unit can come take the dolphin away, during which time he cuts the rope and apparently forms a bond with the animal.

After school, Sawyer goes to check on the dolphin and ends up making friends with the people at the marine hospital. Long story short (too late, I know), Sawyer ends up skipping school (where he was learning about prepositions in a way that makes me, an English teacher who does still teach grammar, want to run out screaming) to spend time working with the dolphin on her recovery. While there, he begins learning about the biology of all of the animals in the center and how to care for them. As an audience, we don't even realize he is learning because it just looks like a kid enjoying what he is doing and the people he is doing it with, but when he bring his mother to center, and she sees her chronic F student giving her an expert tour of the facility and interacting with everyone there instead of quietly sitting in the corner, she realizes what we need to realize as educators- learning is more genuine and more real when it applies to real things. She lobbies the summer school teacher to excuse Sawyer from the rest of the class so he can continue his work at the center, offering to have him write a report to receive credit for the course. The teacher, dumbly in my opinion, refuses. Sawyer continues his work and writes the report anyway. In the end, after seeing how much Sawyer accomplished when he wasn't chained to a desk, the teacher, wisely in my opinion, decides to give Sawyer credit.

The message here- We, as educators, need to be paying attention to our students to see if we have any Sawyers in our midst. I, for one, have made an real effort to start including more project-based learning into my classroom, and I began a project with one of my senior-level classes last year, which I am continuing this year, that requires them to work with a mentor in the community to learn more about their intended career and work with that person to create a project/product that gives them real-world experience in that field, but that isn't enough. I need to open my eyes and ears to find out if there are any kids in my classes that are doing amazing things on their own and figure out a way to tap that enthusiasm and let them bring it to my classroom. So, to any students who may be reading this (for extra credit, which just makes the whole thing feel tainted), do you have a passion for some kind of learning that you aren't getting in school? Are you like Sawyer in any way? To any teachers who may be reading this, do you have any success stories of helping a kid like Sawyer by plugging into their passion, even when it didn't fit your curriculum? Do you have any stories of missed opportunities to do this? How can use what happened in this movie as an inspiration to allow our students the freedom to really learn while still meeting all of our accountability requirements? The challenge is large, but all of the really worthwhile in challenges in life generally are. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, January 16, 2012


"The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."
~Stephen R. Covey

I'm always amazed when I talk to people with hobbies. Whether it is golfing, making crafts, reading (for pleasure), or just about any other thing people do for no purpose other than the feeling they get from doing, I am always envious of hobbyists. It isn't that I necessarily want to do what they do; the fact is that many people's hobbies would bore the daylights out of me. No, the thing that paints me green is simply that they have a hobby. I've never really had what I would call a hobby. I've flirted with hobbies before, and there are a list of things that I would love to spend time doing, but I have to admit that I have always failed to establish something that I regularly do for enjoyment. Don't get me wrong, I do things for enjoyment, but not many of them are productive. I think hobbies should be productive. The problem I have is that by the time I'm done with all of the productive things I have to do on any given day, I don't have much left in the tank for something unnecessarily productive. Then, while doing something enjoyable but wholly unproductive- watching television- I had an epiphany.

I was watching a show called The Middle. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program, it is a sitcom that centers on a family of five in rural Indiana. The parents both work, and the kids are a strangely familiar mix of people you may actually know. They live in a house that has clearly been decorated bit by bit over a couple of decades of not being able to afford an interior designer, and their dishwasher requires duct tape in order to work. In a sentence, it is a show about my family and quite a few families I know. It is refreshing to see a sitcom that I can relate to. Don't get me wrong, I also enjoy shows about Naval Criminal Investigation Service agents and lovable physicists with a passion for all things nerdy, but I don't really connect with those characters. This connection to the characters in The Middle is the source of my epiphany. The mother, Frankie, comes to the realization in last week's episode that they spend so much time doing the unpleasant things they don't really want to do that they don't have time to the things they really do want to do. She references missing fun holiday events to do laundry and passing on birthdays and anniversaries in order to fulfill other menial household tasks. She realized her "To Do" list was out of whack. Her realization became my realization. My priorities are usually listed like this:

-Things I have to do.
-Things I really should do
-Fall asleep
-Dream about the things I'd really like to do
-Wake up

The fact is that I have a hobby. There are a couple of things that I really enjoy doing. In fact, I enjoy doing these two things so much, that I actually majored in it in college. I love to read books, and I love to write. The problem is that I put all of the things that are supposedly more important ahead of doing either of them as a hobby. Do I read? Sure. I read all of the time, but very little of it is based on enjoyment. I read emails, instructions, and homework assignments. Do I write? Absolutely. I write assignment instructions, emails, hall passes, and feedback on IEP progress reports. I've spent the last couple of years lamenting the fact that I don't have time to read the books I'd like to read or write the things I'd like to write. I find pockets of time here and there, spread out over months of time for these activities, but I'd hardly call that a rewarding hobby. That is until that episode of The Middle when I realized that much like the characters on the screen, I've had my priorities out of whack. I need to start putting my hobbies higher on the list. It depresses me to look at my two blogs (this post appears on both) and realize that children born on the dates of my last posts are old enough to walk. I am resolving with this post to change that. I am resolving to put my hobbies closer to the top of the list. I am resolving to blog once a week (I require my Creative Writing students to do it, why shouldn't I allow myself to do it?) and read a novel a month (A pathetic goal for someone who used to read a novel in a day, but it takes baby steps).

Just to prove that this isn't an empty goal, I am writing this post with a stack of work sitting next to me. I have student work to grade, lesson plans to create, hundreds of pages of assigned reading and assignments from my grad classes, and laundry to fold, but I am taking the time to do something I want to do before I even touch the things I need to do, and I feel better about the day already.