Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Autumn of My Life

I always enjoy the days of fall as a time of reflection, looking back on the past six months of our growing season to ponder possible changes for next spring. While the air is crisp and cold, there's also a sense of finality knowing that winter is fast approaching. Trees shed their leaves, birds begin to flock, animals hibernate, and I spend time putting away outdoor furniture, dumping the compost tumbler, and moving the woodpile closer to the house. Although retirement is still 4-1/2 years away, at 66 years of age I find myself contemplating how many autumn seasons I have left on this earth. Without sounding morbid and pessimistic in my approach to life, I have a sense of realism of what life holds for me in those golden years to come.

The cycle of life is genuine and relentless in the way it demonstrates consistency and fortitude. Whether I live to 100 years of age or die tomorrow, I have a sense of fulfillment in all that I experience. I often think of those ancestors 400+ years ago who rarely traveled more than a few miles from home. No doubt there will come a time in the near future when my descendants journey into the far reaches of the solar system without giving any thought of my rather simple lifestyle. However, we all have an imagination to build our realities on.

The end of the day and the accompanying sounds of wildlife are treasured more than ever. My senses of sight, smell, taste and hearing are amplified in ways I never imagined. While those sands in my hourglass slip away, they represent unique memories of people I've met and interacted with. I'm excited about the journey ahead as never before.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Saying Goodbye to an Old Friend

One of the realities of life is that death is inevitable. It's the ultimate statistic that proves 100% of all individuals will at some point die. How we deal with it is another matter altogether. Some have a difficult time accepting it for what it is, others face it head-on. While others might consider 66 years of age "old", I often feel more invigorated than the time I was at 26. Life today is good!

I met Lewy when he was a 16-year old kid busing tables at the supper club I worked at back in 1974. He was scrappy, quiet, and always got the job done. As we came to know each other better, we'd joke around and make the most of working together. When additional help was needed due to someone being sick or shorthanded, he was the first to step in. He never complained. Over the next four years Lewy matured and took on important roles with tending bar and spring cleanups at the resort. As manager I could not have grown our resort business without his grit and determination. It was fun working with someone who always put forth 100% effort. He also played an important role as one of the initial members of the Silver Lakers, a softball team put together in 1976. When Linda and I married in 1978, we were proud to include Lewy in our wedding party. It was nonstop fun from start to finish.

Lewy and me
After those days of softball camaraderie, our friendship never waned...despite not seeing each other on a regular basis. When our paths crossed, we always spent a few minutes reminiscing about earlier times in our life. Only recently did I learn of Lewy's struggle with various cancers that had invaded his body. When I returned home for the summer, we finally connected with one another again. We recalled playing ball, winning championships, celebrating afterward, and how we lived life in the fast lane. He shared the fact that he knew his time was limited. He chose to ignore the early warning signs of failing health and doctor pleas to get treatment underway before it was too late. Rather than finding fault with his ailments, he accepted guilt as few as able to to do.

Upon receiving word from his family that Lewy's body was shutting down, I knew that it was important for me to see him one more time. Today was the day I needed to go. I realize this is not something that everyone is capable of doing with strength and fortitude; for me it was about respect for our longtime friendship. Sitting by someone's dying bedside and holding their hand might seem morbid and dark to some, but it is anything but that for me. I was there for Lewy, providing assurance that his pain and suffering would soon pass. Despite bring unable to speak and falling in and out of semi-conscious-state sleep, I felt him squeezing my hand when I recalled happier times at the ballpark. After awhile it was not a moment for saying 'goodbye'....only "until we see each other again one day." I am thankful to have called him my friend.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Student Teaching Experience

It was a time just seven years ago when I had the unique opportunity to be a student teacher at Weyauwega High School under the supervision of Mr. Pat Fee. It was a 4-1/2 month experience which I will forever relish and reflect back on in a positive way. I discovered much about the classroom environment, and it served as a springboard for my eventual landing at BDHS in the fall of 2012. I made a personal commitment to one-day open my classroom for future teachers so that I could serve as their role-model and mentor.

At the end of January I welcomed what I hope will be the first in a series of student teachers into Mr. D's classroom, and after six weeks it stirs my passion for good teaching- not only in providing a laboratory for a prospective teacher, but to invigorate my desire to seek excellence in my teaching skills. Almost two months into the process it has proved to be everything I sought and more, especially when it comes to demonstrating good classroom management, but the entire process is not as easy as one might think. It's more than just allowing a college student to observe and teach a few lessons, rather identifying what will be a series of transitions which impacts learning and classroom chemistry.

The first stage required me to model assorted teaching styles and communicate expectations to students in ways that were easily understood by the ST (student teacher). I've always felt consistency in my message, lesson planning, and approach with classroom management were key ingredients for being successful with students, They are the first to recognize inconsistency, and will call you out either publicly or in private if they sense wrong doing. They will make or break you!

ST is quickly learning the ropes, sometimes discovering this insight on his own, sometimes pointed out by yours truly, and occasionally revealed when students see indifference. Together we've tried some new things, which is what classrooms should be for. Every once in awhile we discover something wonderful....be it knowledge, technical in nature, or new insight on managing the classroom. This is just one reason as to WHY I love teaching!

I should also note that sometimes it's not easy stepping away from something I love to do. When I "teach" I discover that I also learn in the process. I consider it a win-win-win situation. This is a great time to explore and update my lesson plans, reflecting on what works and what could be improved (win for ME). It provides my students with a fresh perspective on our curriculum by inserting a new voice (win for STUDENTS). And it gives a future teacher the opportunity to discover what 21st century teaching is all about (win for ST). Life is good.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Where Did They Go?

When I graduated from Stevens Point in May 2012, I found myself nestled within a group of younger educators who I felt confident would impact classrooms for many years to come.  For five semesters I interacted with many of them as we journeyed through the class offerings of UW-SP's School of Education. It was my pleasure to have gotten to know them personally, learning their reasons for wanting to teach. At that specific time in my life I would have given my right toe find a way to bring the entire group into a school setting, if only to see their strengths for collaboration and rigor come to fruition in a place where we, as educators, would thrive off one another. Of course it was just a dream and represented a false reality of life.

One by one fellow classmates found placements throughout the state, and I was excited for their prospects of making a true difference in education. Due to my circumstances with age and the area of the state where I resided, I was likely one of the final placements within the group of my comrades. In fact, I recall that time in July 2012 when I voiced my impatience with the process within a blog post which stirred an inner fire in my attempt to one-day reach the classroom. When the opportunity presented itself, I became a kid again, knowing that a life-long dream would become reality at last.

Despite the physical distance between each of us, I made a concerted effort to track the whereabouts of many of my Pointer alumni, anticipating news of ways they were impacting the younger generation. But rather than learning about excitement, I discovered just the opposite occurring. One by one they stepped away from the classroom, moving in other professional directions altogether. One into insurance, another to factory work, one to law enforcement, and others scattering into the traditional workplace. It's a trend I've  witnessed personally of late too many times at BDHS as good, young teachers choose to leave their classroom in lieu of better opportunities. These are well-grounded individuals who I considered to be excellent educators, suddenly doing an about-face in their young careers.

What is happening to our stock of young adults who are leaving classrooms? At the same time, what is driving so many good, experienced teachers to an early retirement? No doubt there is a unique set of circumstances which drive the decision making of teachers as both individuals and a collective. Some problems are unique, while others have a common theme.I recognize that everyone isn't cut for the demands put on today's teachers. There are issues of classroom management and student drama, social media, paperwork, standards testing, communicating with parents, in addition to lack of direction and poor support provided by administrators. In many ways education is truly at a crossroad right now, a quagmire at best, whereby the talent pool is being depleted at an alarming rate.

I have opinionated thoughts about ways to improve the system so a new generation of teachers feel valued in what they do, but these actions take time to institute. In the meantime I cherish the time I spend with my students, watching them grow with both curiosity and intellect.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Halftime at the 50 Yard Line

Six years ago I paused to reflect on life, poised to fulfill a long-awaited dream to teach high school. Although I was still three months away from beginning this new career with my placement at Beaver Dam High School, I was eager to be part of a profession in which many of my colleagues seemed to be running from. While I hoped to secure a teaching position in Wild Rose where I live, destiny and fate took me seventy miles to the southeast where I have enjoyed six years of teaching Economics to juniors and seniors and Global Studies- Eastern Hemisphere to fun-loving freshmen. I've yet to experience a day when I questioned my decision to return to the classroom.

My best days as a teacher are ones when I grapple with new ideas to my class, knowing students will ponder on once they leave my classroom...perhaps even discussing what they learned with one of their parents. Sometimes the realization is quickly absorbed, while other times it takes days to sink in. Regardless, I leave school every day feeling energized knowing I was living my purpose. "Purpose" is a key component of feeling relevant in my teaching and making a connection that I'm doing what I was born to do.

Within my initial tenure at BDHS I've attempted to make my classroom a warm and inviting place for students as I consider atmosphere key to forming a community of trust and learning. Based on my experience in the business world, much of the dysfunction in the workplace can be traced to a lack of trust; hence my focus on allocating time and effort to discuss character and competence. I sense that many of us, whether young or old, fail to genuinely talk and listen to one another. If I practice this on a regular basis, students come to know that I'm willing to go the extra mile.

Just this past week I received an email from a former student who left the district at the end of his freshman year as a result of his father being transferred to another city almost two hours away.
"Hey Mr.D. I just wanted to let you know how this move to Wausau has been for me since you helped me towards the end of the year with my whole football situation and motivating me in general. So far it’s been pretty well and my coach really appreciated/was impressed with that email that I sent him which was overall your idea which I thank you for. It really helped with my introduction into the new school. I unfortunately have fractured my right thumb and tore a ligament in it during practice which has resulted in me being put into a cast. However I’m still able to practice and play as long as I have it fully padded. Not the best circumstance to be in right now but I have to make it into something better than what it is. I just wanted to thank you for helping me out enter the football program in a much more positive way and influencing that email. Hope you’re doing well Mr.D!"
These are the moments that make teaching all so rewarding...seeing how a former student creates intention in order to take advantage of an opportunity to better themselves in new surroundings. It involves being optimistic (yet also very realistic) about life and the importance of learning, the key ingredient in my specific style of teaching.

With six years of teaching now behind me, it's time to look ahead to the final six. I see myself at the 50 yard line contemplating changes that will take place in the community, state, country as well as the rest of the world. It's pretty exciting, yet still challenging. I remain the oldest teacher in the school, but also one who teaches with a young heart. My passion for teaching (and learning) burns stronger than ever. While some might choose to coast to the finish line, I have every intention to push myself with new and creative ways to enhance education in my classroom. I remain confident that my best days as still to come and tomorrow will be pretty special for Mr. D!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Bringing Michael Jordan to Life

All too often I want students in my classroom to see an issue in a 360 degree perspective. The present generation never knew Michael Jordan for who he really was...probably the most amazing basketball player ever. Not just for his fabulous moves to the basket, talent to transform defeat to victory or leadership on the basketball court, but for his ability to understand the difference between success and failure.

One of my insightful lessons centers on the concept of "failing your way to success." By a show of hands, I ask if anyone wants to have a successful business...perhaps become a successful athlete or singer? Then they need to get ready to fail. As humans we learn through failure, that’s something wired into our brains. Think about how do we learn to walk. We start by crawling, then we learn to stand up, then we make few steps and we keep falling on the ground, then one day we are suddenly running. Learn from your failures and you begin moving in the right direction. Remember...the key word here is LEARN.

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Very cool indeed!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

One of those Special Days

Every now and then teaching provides an opportunity for genuine relationships to perk like a pot of fresh brew.  While so much focus is placed on curriculum, I contend that relationship-building is often overlooked as a most important component.

This became a quick realization to me two months ago when the second semester in the current school year began. One specific class, Block 1 Global Studies, contained a larger than normal amount of freshmen students with attitude issues. Specifically, five young teens could be viewed as "punks" in the eyes of many teachers. They put up a front of distrusting authority figures and general dislike for school. I sensed they would be a hard group to deal with, but rather than responding with an iron fist I elected to shift my teaching style in order to better understand their logic of thinking.

Delving into their academic history, I discovered a pattern of ongoing failure over the past 3-4 years. Unfortunately previous administrations chose to kick the can down the road with meaningful interventions rather than sitting down to discover why these teens think the way they did, passing the problem down the system for someone else to address over time. As a teacher this involves ongoing patience and tolerance for an assortment of personalities, especially when I begin the day in front of these young people. But in order to understand, one has to face the perceived problem head-on. Although the semester is only halfway completed, it has been a rewarding experience. It's also consumed much of my time and physical energies, but I firmly believe this is what true-teaching is all about.

Tapping into a resource of one past BDHS graduate now majoring in social work at a state university, I invited a handful of my most challenging students to an after-school round-table discussion. In return for their input they would receive not only a hearty meal of their favorite pizza, but a reduction of assigned detentions for past deviant behaviors. From the very start it became a meaningful exchange of information which lasted for more than 90 minutes. While I doubt it will solve every problem associated with their conduct in school, it provided great insight into erroneous perceptions by staff and student alike. Best of all, these students want to keep the conversation going with future meetings between themselves and administration.

Before closing, I'd mention that their collective performance in my classroom has improved considerable since their first day back in January. Not only did they pass my class, a notable accomplishment in itself, but they have impacted students in a positive manner. This group of rabblerousers has the opportunity to turn their lives around, provided they are truly serious about identifying personal goals and making decisions in an adult manner. Time will tell, but at least I was able to nudge a stone previously unturned.