Throw out the lesson plan…

Thursday night I was coming down with a cold and was contemplating calling in sick. By the time I went to bed, I figured I should just go on in, it was going to be an easy day – a French Revolution timeline for world history and a causes of the Civil War activity for U.S. history – no problem. I could sit, grade some papers, and not over do it.


I decided that I should debrief the Bush/Kerry debate – after all I offered a little extra credit for students to watch it and then complete an assignment. As the discussion slowed down during first period I looked at the clock – 50 minutes had passed. Wow. OK, just this class. Didn’t happen. Each period we had very insightful discussions about the candidates, the issues, and the election. It was probably the best “interactive” day I’ve had all year. Now it is tough trying to be fair and balanced especially when a majority of the kids seem to lean VERY right. Luckily, I’ve been following this election so closely that I have the Democratic and Republican arguments down so when the kids accused me of supporting one candidate or the other, I was able provide the opposite argument.

Needless to say, I was tired at the end of the day, but the day went fast. I love my job, but some days, I love my job more than others. I guess I need to change my lesson plan calendars again.

The Most Disrespectful Child…

This blog has been far more serious (political) then I intended.

So let me throw this one out there. My three year old went to preschool for the first time three weeks ago. It is only once a week, but he is very particular. He likes certain things, certain ways. He likes to do things his own way. So we were worried. The first week seemed to go most well.

However, the second week was a different story. First he woke up a 5:00a.m. – and his mood reflects it. My wife said he seemed pumped, ready to go and listen and “make good choices.” We she picked him up 2.5 hours later, the teacher said that he was “the most disrespectful child she has ever had.” Wow. That’s big. Apparently he openly and immediately defied her several times.

First off, as a teacher, I would never say that. Second, my child – yes, my son, was that bad. You can imagine our devastation. We are well educated, very involved parents. What went wrong?

Well, he lost most of his privileges (computer, the little TV time he actually gets), and library books (he still has a million of his own), while gaining some serious room time. No doubt his behavior was in part due to his wake-up time. So a week went by focusing on listening, sleeping, and basically being good. Then he got sick so he couldn’t go.

After a restless night (for his parents), finally the day came. And, he was perfect. Well, not quite. But good enough, he is three. Hopefully it continues.

Why We Cannot Win

As a history teacher and social scientist, I have become obsessed with the news – the war, the election, and everything in between. CNN now updates the recent developments in Iraq in a special segment. The spotlight on events in Iraq is broad, but it seems like we aren’t seeing what is really going on. I know when I talk to my students about the election and the war, there is no depth to their knowledge, but their opinions are strong. We must election Bush or Kerry. Why? John Kerry will immediately withdraw the troops in Iraq and that is, like, not cool. George Bush is stupid. Kerry seems stuck-up. Bush lied about WMD. They really don’t know (that is where I come in, of course). There is even less knowledge about Iraq. We should nuke them. Don’t they understand we are trying help? Saddam was bad. We have to support our troops no matter what. Why are we helping – get our soldiers home.

Having been born in the last years of Vietnam, I do not know if the feeling of the general population was similar to today. Are the communists of the Cold War essentially equivalent to modern day terrorists, and are we blind to any other truth then they must be stopped, destroyed, or even contained?

In the end, the President (either one) must face the reality of the situation and make decisions that reflect the reality of this situation or it will become another Vietnam. Certainly the casualties will be lower, we’ve got cooler weapons today, better strategies, and terrain that allows greater movement of troops and supplies.

Why We Cannot Win is an article written by a non-commissioned officer in Iraq. He has spent 20 years in the army and makes several very valid points.

Perhaps Bono is right, we need to fight poverty. It makes sense that if people are more happy then they are now, they won’t turn to terrorism, or at least the number of people turning to terrorism will diminish significantly.

If America were Iraq

Regardless of your political affliation or belief in the solutions proposed by Bush or Kerry, we cannot ignore the current situation faced by the Iraqi population. Their day-to-day routine involves suicide attacks, checkpoints by foreign soldiers, religious rhetoric, political rhetoric, and limited supplies. This blog entry by history professor Juan Cole puts the current situation into perspective most Americans can understand.

“Thus, violence killed 300 Iraqis last week, the equivalent proportionately of 3,300 Americans. What if 3,300 Americans had died in car bombings, grenade and rocket attacks, machine gun spray, and aerial bombardment in the last week? That is a number greater than the deaths on September 11, and if America were Iraq, it would be an ongoing, weekly or monthly toll”

The complete article can be found here.

I love it when a plan comes together…

I have never been so prepared. I have submitted copies weeks ahead of time. I planned all of September and half of October in August. With my schedule this year, staying ahead is essential. While this great and I focus on fine-tuning instead of creating new lesson, I thrive on coming up and developing new ideas. The curriculum writing part of my job is one of my favorite parts. Last night when I was reviewing my lesson plans for the week I just was not happy with my introduction to my next unit. After dismal results on the last unit test, I really wanted to hook the students before we started in on the political revolutions of the United States, France, and Latin America.

Then it came to me. Sure it was 10:00pm and I had to teach it at 7:45am the next morning, but when I see potential for something good I just have to go with it. After a short class discussion about the concept of a revolution, I played seven or eight songs that exemplify revolutions in music. I started with a 1950’s song (Lollipop), move to Elvis, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, the Sex Pistols, New Order, and finally Nirvana. It obviously went well in part because it is something different, many of the kids were really involved – including some that haven’t said anything in class all year. I’ll have to see if the excitement about the concept sticks once we are knee deep in actual content, but it was a great start!

Choices Choices

Once again my wife and I had the “choices” discussion with the 3 year old. Everybody has choices in their lives, and many times there are good and bad ones. He seems to have a problem with choosing not to go back to sleep at 5:15 a.m. and directly disobeying his mom and I. While his choices not life altering at this point – though they certainly can ruin a morning or a day, we hope he can learn to think before he acts and affect his own life in a positive way.

If I think back at all the “good” choices I’ve made, only a couple float to the top. The choice to finally get the phone number of woman of dreams (and her good choice of keeping me around:). The decision we later made to have kids.

I’ve made one or two bad choices too, but I can’t seem to think of them right now.


Last Monday a former student committed suicide. He was in my class seven years ago, but he was one of those 1500 kids who have sat in my classroom for the last nine years that I vividly remember. He was a nice guy and he tried hard at everything he did. He was also someone who I had conversations with until he graduated four years ago. Apparently he suffered from depression and even had attempted suicide the week before – at the same place.

He is in the front row.

That year I had my classes adopt a child from one of those organizations that run commercials on late night television. We needed to collect about $200.00 and I had about 160 students. I asked the kids over a week to give what they could, maybe pass on a soda that day. On the first day I collected money, I had $40.00 in change, a number of one’s, and a twenty. I asked all the classes who had given the twenty; one kid came up to me and told me whom it was. Guess who? I asked him to stay after and said that he had given too much. If the class was short, I would make up the difference. He just looked at me and said that he wanted to give it. That this child we would be adopting needed it more then him.

Today there was a memorial service for him. Turn out was amazing. At least 150 people, probably more, were jammed into a small strip-mall style church in my school’s community. While there were other adults from the school, I was the only teacher in attendance. The standing room-only service will filled with people in pain, many of his friends questioned what they could have done, and no doubt there was some anger underneath the sadness. In his end there was no final contemplation as he stood on the brink. He stopped his car and ran for the edge. From what I have learned about him that is how he lived his life.

There is something wrong about this. No one should have to bury his or her children. I could not imagine the pain that this has caused his parents, let alone the guilt. My children are the absolute centers of my life. I hope he has found his peace and wish the best to his loved ones.

Student Simulation – Part 2

In the end the students actually did a decent job. Even the group that fell behind created a document that rivaled the other classes. In most cases it served as a microcosm of the greater voting population. About half the students were somewhat indifferent to the entire process (despite the fact a pass/fail grade was used as an incentive) – perhaps their education as a whole, while 30% or so were willing to support and help in the efforts of the remaining 20% who acted as leaders of the class and individual groups.

I’ll do some small tweaks for next year, but generally I am pretty pleased.