How To Scream At Sasquatch

I ratcheted my shoes and then punched the right code on the keypad.

A few seconds later I was left trapped between the dark and the garage door I had just closed.

The only light I now had came from the lamp sitting on my bicycle handlebars. It’s a good light, and it took some time to find it, but in the dark it remained a narrow beacon that only lit what it was pointed at.

It was another typical early morning bicycle ride, except for the sound coming from the woods behind my house – a squirrel, sure a squirrel I reassured myself.

Let me now try to convince you that sounds are amplified in the dark.

What sounds like a bear walking toward one’s tent at 1 a.m. is usually just the wind tumbling a leaf in the woods. What convinces you is a madman with knife in hand lumbering toward you at 3 am are raindrops falling from the leaves above and hitting different surfaces in a very alarmingly rhythmic way.

It was a squirrel, sure a squirrel.

What came next happened quickly.

The noise of jumping or running or leaping or racing or catapulting was obvious and it was now coming toward me.

It was intentional.

And it was fast.

I was sure of it because what was quiet a moment ago was definitely getting louder by the quarter second.

I mentioned to you it was dark right?

What happened next is far more interesting than what I’ve mentioned to you so far because this is when I did what I have never done in my 46 previous years of life.

Before I really grasped what I was doing,  as whatever it was came closer, I had raised my bicycle in the air in front of me (in the direction of what sounded like a Sasquatch attack) and let out a god-awful noise / grunt / holler / scream.

This was not a planned scream of terror – but a very natural scream of terror.

No doubt it was spurned on by the tingling of hairs and what I will admit to you, without bravado, was fear.

Thinking back, my very manly scream was obviously a challenge to whatever was coming at me – I would not so easily be taken or eaten.

Out of the dark my now swinging handlebar light, which if you remember was above my head, captured for a moment a deer running toward me and then past me. It then took an impressive hard left in front of my neighbor’s yard and was as quickly gone as it had come into my early morning life.

I put my bike back down, wondered if anyone had seen my very manly act and genuine scream, and laughed to myself. I think I even talked to myself for a few seconds. No doubt trying to regain some composure and summoning up the courage to get on the bicycle to head down the dark street.

Although this happened some months ago now, it reminds me of how we react to others or to situations in our lives.

Do we…

  • Question before we answer?
  • Argue before listening?
  • Expect others to do what we would do?
  • Wait before saying hello?
  • Interrupt others while they share?
  • Assume things about others?
  • Allow ourselves to be overshadowed by others?
  • Overshadow everyone else?

And why worry or even think about any of this?

I believe that…

  • We deserve to listen to others.
  • We deserve to ask good questions.
  • We deserve to be heard.
  • They deserve to tell you their story before we even begin to judge them. And when we judge, we assume that they have little to nothing worthy of imparting to us.
  • Others deserve to be who they are, regardless if that pleases us.
  • Those we come in contact with deserve the time to share an idea.
  • Others deserve to be heard too.
  • And others deserve to be welcomed.

What is your autopilot setting? How do you react to others?

For me, I am certainly quick to interject. In the classroom rush to get to the end of my lesson, I too quickly overshadow what might be an excellent story a student wants to share with their class. In my desire to squash unruly behavior, I certainly think the worst before waiting to see what good will come from an action.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the classroom. Perhaps, though, it’s how I have learned to react from past experiences. These reactions being both successful as well as continued bad habits that impede my success at the front of the room.

And most importantly, is this reaction how we want to continue to be seen and treat those around you?

I think it’s a valuable lesson for not just our students, but for us to reflect upon as well.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you have imparted to your students the lesson of reacting to others around them. Please take a moment and share in the comments section.

The Journey of Paul’s Boots

This is a story about Paul Evans as I learned from an article I came across in Backpacker Magazine and a USA Today article. After doing some more Google searching, I came across a film. His life and the life of his boots moved me to share them with my Scouts at our last Court of Honor a few weeks ago.

Perhaps Paul’s story will be worthy enough for you to share with your students. My Christmas wish is for you to read my short introduction, and watch the film below. I hope it moves you too.


Paul Evans, an Australian from Queensland, had always been an avid hiker. Every chance he had he had found him hiking along the trails near his home.

Later in life he moved back home to care for his ailing parents which occurred about ten years ago.

It was then that he met and married his wife M’Lynn who he had met online in a discussion group for caregivers. Together they took hikes around Australia whenever they were able to get away.

Sadly his Mom passed in 2010 of Parkinson’s and his father in 2011 of Alzheimer’s.

And then his health also began to fail.

During what became an ever worsening health condition, Paul had the dream of hiking the Appalachian Trail. In fact he did the research, bought all the gear and finally told his wife he was ready; setting three pairs of his size 13 boots next to the door.

Then, not much later in July of 2015, he had a heart attack at the age of 53.

He did not survive.

After donating most of his gear, his wife wondered if a part of him could still go on the AT. She put out a request on blogs and a favorite hiking podcast, Dirtbag Diaries.

She got over 400 responses.

And this is how Paul’s boots began their journey from Georgia to Maine, handed off from hiker to hiker. Each volunteer chosen agreed to complete a leg of the AT carrying them 2,189 miles through fourteen states and six national parks.

Some of those 40 people hiked along quietly, while others had conversations with Paul – a man they had never met, but whose four pound boots they were now willing to carry to help fulfill a dream.

It is now that Alex “Daddy Long Legs” Newlon enters this story.

An epileptic who was told he would never thru hike the AT, he was now four months into completing the goal, and now at New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

He was close to quitting.

He had been carrying those heavy leather boots strapped to his pack.

And during his moment of exasperation and doubt, Paul’s boots untied and whacked Newlon’s left elbow.

“I look up and there’s a deer standing in the middle of the trail staring at me,” Newlon remembers. “It was as if Paul was trying to tell me to pay more attention to my surroundings because, lost in my head and caught up in my own doubts and fears, I was missing the beauty of the world around me.”

Here’s the film that captures the trip that Paul’s boots took.

Seen well over eight hundred thousand times, there must be something about carrying someone’s else’s dreams upon one’s shoulders that sounds appealing.

Take a look and listen to some of those that self labeled themselves as Paul’s Protectors.

 

So the question that I asked myself when I read about the story of these boots, I now ask you.

How often do we miss the beauty that surrounds us? Are we taking the opportunity to do the type of things that Paul never could?

I am hopeful our Scouts see a world they may not have noticed before when each month we leave our church, and seek out a new adventure.

When we hit the trail or set up camp in the woods I hear the laughter of friends, the crackling of the warm fire, and the sizzle of a meal being made in a dutch oven.

It’s a time to spend some sweat equity arriving at one’s destination and in the process learn a little about ourselves in the process.

Hearing the birds begin their day shortly before the sun rises or the quiet of the woods around us has a way of adjusting our default setting back to reflection of what we do and contemplating why we do it.

This holiday season, I challenge you to take a day, or maybe more or even just a few hours, and spend time outside seeing the world our God has created.

Take a hike, a walk or a bike ride with those you love.

Let it be time away from the holiday rush and efforts to do it all.

Let it be a time in which we spend with our families seeing the world around us, perhaps differently than we have before.

Merry Christmas to each of you.

I hope you will do more than read these words and take up my challenge – doing something Paul’s boots were able to accomplish, but Paul never could.

Denay Haist Answers 12 Questions

Over twelve years ago I found myself sitting across from Denay as we both started in a new school. With a background in special education and specifically with emotionally disturbed students, Denay introduced me to a world in which students wanted nothing more than to be included, while also grappling with their own challenges.  She would became a dear friend and would be my classroom neighbor and teammate for over a decade. Here are her answers to 12 questions that I hope will bring insight into another professional’s experience in the classroom.

Note: As you might guess from the picture above, Denay is not a fan of having her picture taken so this is a favorite from her school days that she shares on the first day of school.


1. Why did you want to become a teacher?

I became a teacher later in life when I wanted to find a more meaningful career. I felt I had something to offer young students, especially those with disabilities. I went back to school to get my Master Degree in Education.

2. How long have you been teaching and where?

I was a teacher of students with emotional disabilities for ten years at Wells Elementary and for the last eleven years I have been a fifth grade general education teacher at Beulah Elementary, both in Chesterfield County.

3. What has been your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is meeting all the needs of students from those with disabilities, to those who are gifted, those who didn’t have any breakfast that morning, those that have lost a parent and those who have yet to find the value of education. There is never enough time and no matter how much you do, you never feel you have done enough.

4. What do you think makes you successful?

I genuinely care about the students. I also think I am creative with lessons as it keeps students engaged in the learning process. I constantly reevaluate how I present concepts to make it as interesting as possible. I use many visuals and hands on activities. My room is a visual overload. I am also a big believer in that you train people how to treat you and I put a lot of work in the beginning working on how we are going to treat each other in the classroom.

5. How do you start your first day, first week of school?

On the first day I always read and discuss the book The Giving Tree. It has many nuanced lessons about life. I also play a PowerPoint on my life, many photos of me as a kid, and the students love it so much that they want to see it the next day. I model organization all day to set the tone for the year. I also smile as much as possible.

6. Do you have any daily norms?

I try to connect to each student daily with questions about their life outside of school or give them a compliment about how hard they are working or how well they are behaving. We also read daily from a shared novel and the students generally love the novel we are reading. I also try to provide writing time every day and whole writing I try to play music from other cultures. Currently my students love music from Iceland.

7. How do you motivate?

I motivate by trying to celebrate every time I see someone working hard or being kind. Kids love to be positively recognized, it can really turn around an unmotivated student. I also set the academic and behavior board very high and do not lower that bar. Students quickly figure out that they can achieve goals they never thought they could and this becomes the source of the motivation.

8. What do you hope students remember about you?

It is so rewarding when they tell me fifth grade was their favorite school year. I hope they remember that I cared about them and that I helped them academically to be life long learners. I am still in touch with so many students and I love seeing the path some of them took. I love receiving letters from parents about his grateful they are that I was their child’s teacher.

9. Favorite subject / topic?

My favorite subject to teach is math. I teach accelerated math and it is my favorite hour of the day. My favorite subject to learn about is science. I am continuing to learn about astronomy, biology and chemistry. I love how You Tube makes available scientists and educators from all over the world to keep the educational process going long after school is over. I love breaking down complex subjects so that students can easily understand, it is definitely an art form.

10. How do you teach challenging students?

Every class has challenging students and part of teaching them is to accept the challenge. I feel lesson preparation, staying even keeled emotionally and having supportive team members helps. Sometimes it helps to figure out what is making that student challenging – fear, loneliness, a disability, sad home life, lack of confidence. You have to be realistic in that you can’t fix every student, but you can be a positive adult in their life. Almost every teacher I know has turned around some of their challenging students.

11. Best memory teaching?

The best moments are never anything big, it is always the small quiet moments when students are being kind to one another either by encouraging one another or helping each other learn. I love watching kids who are working towards a goal with their classmates. I remember a time one student comforted another student. I also love that feeling with I can say to myself, “Well that was a great lesson!”

12. What have you learned while being a teacher?

Teaching is not for everyone. You have to be your own cheerleader and motivator. The amount of work is overwhelming and often you are made to feel you never do enough. You have to be selfless, but you should also have boundaries. It is all a huge balancing act, but I can’t image doing anything else!


What are your answers to these questions? I would love to hear them. Please comment here on the blog so others might hear about your experience. Thank  you for sharing with others teaching in classrooms.

 

Overcoming Teacher Frustration

If you don’t get frustrated, then you don’t care.

I keep saying it like a mantra, it makes me feel a little better.

It’s the first week of December and I’m frustrated.

As the holiday music blares from the car radio and we feel compelled to sing about the wonderful time of the year, we’re also now into the not-so-wonderful part of the school year.

Assessment time. The first quarter has passed and people want numbers that will indicate our success at the front of the room.

In my county, we use benchmarks created by someone I don’t know in a far away office. This person has created a series of questions that will determine whether my students have grasped what I have taught them these last few months.

All of this is really important to some really important people I suppose.

Of course you could just ask me and I could tell you who has grasped the learning – no lengthy, confusing test is needed I assure you. I’ve been at the front of my classroom, after all, since early September.

Regardless, computer schedules have been determined, class schedules have been rearranged, and then the hold-our-breath begins as the scores roll in.

It’s then that percentages appear, heads are scratched, eyes are rubbed, and groans are heard throughout the building.

Each of us then finds our colleagues we trust enough with which to have a candid conversation. We lament, we commiserate, we voice our displeasure, we let our colleagues know how our students could have done so much better.

We carry on the way we do, because, well, we care about our students’ success.

Even if those computers keep shutting down and booting off our students. Even if my third graders, who have enough of a hard time concentrating, now have to sign in to their assigned Chromebook like it’s Fort Knox. Even if they can’t remember where their pencil just dove off to when they turned their head.

These same 8 year olds have to remember multiple procedures to begin an assessment that often aren’t even developmentally appropriate.

I care about my class’s scores, I care about my team’s scores, and I care about how our school is doing. The problem is that I only have control over one of those populations.

Well, control is a relative concept.

I’ve done my best to motivate my students.

I’ve logically explained why strategies work. I’ve highlighted to my students the future and why doing one’s best is in their best interest.

I’ve even talked about real estate values once or twice and how they’re tied to a school’s scores – I know, I know, that was probably over their head, but I couldn’t help myself.

I repeatedly tell my students, because again I can’t help myself, that each of them has the ability to overcome any challenge. I share that I care about them as soon as they were put on my class role. I tell them that I believe in them.

So what to do when you’ve taught all the right strategies that worked in the past, yet the students fail to do as you’ve asked?

What to do when students rush even after you’ve told them to double check – at least a hundred or two times?

Where to turn when it seems that all that time sharing life lessons seems to have fallen on deaf ears?

Here are some solutions worth considering.

1) Beat your head into your classroom wall until the result is that you’ve passed out and awaken later to only vaguely determine the square footage of the ceiling tiles – holding true to your desire to bring creative approaches to teaching state standards. Arise and continue.

2) Go home and refuse to return until all assessments have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Wait for all computers to be adequately equipped to work properly when called upon. This waiting will of course continue into the very foreseeable future and your students will progress into the next grade without your influence.

3) Climb onto the roof of your building and take it upon yourself to strengthen the bandwidth of your building’s internet signal by erecting the largest set of rabbit ears conceivable. You will of course be labeled a hero (like Don Quixote attacking the windmill) although the monstrous antenna will certainly not be seen as an architectural adornment.

4) Lastly, and I think the most prudent solution is this: hold fast to who you are and your care for your students.

Certainly not all will take to our instruction regardless of our desire for our students’ best efforts.

Our students may not yet understand that we care for them as individuals. Our students may not yet trust that what we teach and desire for them to do is in their best efforts.

Hold fast to your efforts to continue down the path that you know will lead to success.

Let’s not let an assessment that unnerves students of all ages to change the course that we know will be effective.

Teaching is not easy. Teaching is not selling widgets. Teaching is a craft that takes more than a quarter of a year.

Learning is determined by untold variables and cannot be assessed by one benchmark alone.

Hold fast my colleagues. I will do the same.